April 7, 1943
April 7, 1943
Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania
The Diary of Yitskhok Rudashevski
Yitskhok Rudashevski was fourteen years old when he began writing his diary in the Vilna Ghetto. He had already been imprisoned there for about one year when he began to record his thoughts and experiences on paper. Yitskhok endured much change in his hometown while growing up. In his early childhood, Vilna had been part of Poland. In September 1939, it was occupied by troops from the Soviet Union and became part of Lithuania. Vilna remained in the Soviet sphere of influence until June 1941, when it was taken by the German army. The biggest change for Yitskhok came in September 1941 when he was forced to live within the confines of the newly formed Jewish ghetto. This was a time of great violence against the Jews by the German occupation forces.
the atmosphere of slaughter
Throughout the summer and fall of 1941, the Germans carried out mass shootings in the nearby Ponary forest. By the end of the year, about 40,000 had been murdered. The ghetto residents were well aware of the killings and understood the murderous nature of Nazi rule. Nevertheless, the shootings diminished greatly in the spring. For about one year, there were no mass killings. This was the time when Yitskhok began keeping his diary. He dared to hope that the worst was over and that he could count himself among the survivors. He concentrated on education and culture as preparation for his future, looking forward to the time when he would be freed from the ghetto and Nazi tyranny.
“Monday proved that we must not trust nor believe anything. We may be fated for the worst.”
Yitskhok’s diary entries in early April proved that the hopes of the ghetto had been in vain. He wrote, “A group of three hundred Jews from Sol and Smorgon have left for Kovno with a large transport of provincial Jews that arrived at the railway station. As I stood at the gate I saw how they were packing their things. Gaily and in high spirits they went to the train.” The next day, the bad news arrived. “Today the terrible news reached us: eighty-five railroad cars of Jews, around five thousand persons, were not taken to Kovno as promised but transported to Ponar where they were shot to death. Five thousand new bloody victims. The ghetto was deeply shaken, as though struck by thunder. The atmosphere of slaughter has gripped the people. It has begun again.”
Yitskhok later observed that the ghetto residents were in despair, but determined to resist at any cost. Yitskhok and his family eventually went into hiding, but were quickly discovered. They, like so many others, lost their lives at Ponary.
You may read entries from Yitskhok’s dairy in the book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder.
Learn more about Ponary.