Yitskhok Rudashevski was fourteen years-old when the German army occupied his hometown of Vilna. Soon, the Jewish residents of the city were forced into a ghetto, where they were reduced to living in appalling conditions.
Yitskhok kept a diary during this time that proved that he did not give up hope. Instead, he continued to draw strength from religious, cultural, political and educational activities. Often, his diary entries were about these things. This does not mean, however, that he was unaware of the murderous nature of the Nazi regime. He knew that thousands of Jews from Vilna and the surrounding countryside had already been murdered at a killing site located in the Ponary forest nearby. Sometimes he had to record events that revealed the danger that he and his fellow Jews faced every day.
On March 25 1943, Yitskhok wrote about a new influx of Jews forced into the already overcrowded ghetto. “A command was issued by the German regime about liquidating five small ghettoes in the Vilna province. The Jews are being transported to the Vilna and Kovno ghetto. Today the Jews from the neighboring little towns have begun to arrive. …The newly arrived Jews have to be provided with dwellings. The school on Shavler 1 has been pre-empted for the newly arrived Jews. The school on Shavler 1 has been moved into the building of our school. They are teaching in two shifts. Today we went to class in the evening. Our studies somehow no longer have any form. We are all depressed. We are in a bad mood.”
At first, Yitskhok saw this disaster in terms of the disruption that it caused. The overcrowding made all of the activities in the ghetto more difficult, especially the distribution of the meager food supplies. Soon, though, he perceived the true nature of the event. Within two weeks, he wrote about a group of Jews supposedly being sent to Kovno, but instead being routed to Ponary for murder. His last diary entry, written on April 7, ended with the words, “We may be fated for the worst”. Sadly, this turned out to be true. According to a cousin who escaped to join the partisans, Yitskhok and his family went into hiding, but were discovered and sent to Ponary in October 1943.
Entries from Yitskhok’s dairy have been published in the book, , edited by Alexandra Zapruder.
You may find many photos and documents from Vilna during the Holocaust at the Chronicles of the Vilna Ghetto website.
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