Yitskhok Rudashevski was fourteen years old in October 1942. He lived in the Vilna Ghetto under the German occupation of his country during World War II. As a Jewish young man, he was subjected to discriminatory laws and brutally harsh living conditions. He was also aware by this time that the Nazis had killed Jews by the thousands and were continuing to do so, but he was probably not aware of the full scope of the murder. Under conditions such as these, it is a wonder that he was able to maintain any sense of hope or desire to live. Nevertheless he, like most of his fellow sufferers, continued to struggle to survive and even to thrive. They did so in a way that has come to be described as spiritual resistance.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Spiritual resistance refers to attempts by individuals to maintain their humanity, personal integrity, dignity, and sense of civilization in the face of Nazi attempts to dehumanize and degrade them.” Often, this attempt to maintain dignity came through the pursuit of educational and cultural activities in the ghetto, even at times when these were forbidden by the Nazis. On October 5th, Yitskhok wrote, “Finally I have lived to see the day. Today we go to school. The day passed quite differently. […] We waste less time, the day is divided and flies by very quickly… Yes, that is how it should be in the ghetto, the day should fly by and we should not waste time.” Two days later, on the 7th, he added, “Life has become a little more interesting. The club work has begun. We have groups for literature, the natural sciences. After leaving class at seven-thirty I go immediately to the club. …we have a good time and return home in the evenings in a large crowd.”
Yitskhok’s diary entries on the 5th and 7th of October revealed a startling change of attitude from what he had written just a few days before. The difference did not come from a change in the overall situation facing the Jews of Vilna, but rather from Yitskhok’s opportunity to engage in spiritual resistance. The chance to study and learn together with his friends gave his life a renewed sense of purpose and endowed him with additional strength to carry on.
You may read excerpts from Yitskhok Rudashevski’s diary in Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder.
You may read more about spiritual resistance during the Holocaust online here.
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