June 21, 1941 - Yitskhok Rudashevski


June 21, 1941


Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania

The Diary of Yitskhok Rudashevski

Yitskhok Rudashevski had witnessed much turmoil in his young life. He was born in the city of Vilna, one of Europe’s great centers of Jewish cultural life. His region, however, had changed its national identity several times in his early years. After World War I, Vilna was claimed by both Poland and Lithuania. By the time Yitskhok was born, it was considered Polish. That would change in September 1939 after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, when it became part of the Soviet Union.  Approximately one month later the Soviets transferred Vilna to Lithuania, but would return to occupy and annex the entire region in June 1940. In spite of all the changes that had already occurred, the biggest upheaval was still to come. On June 22nd, 1941, Germany violated its treaty with the Soviet Union and invaded with a massive army. Very soon, Lithuania would be in the hands of the Nazis. 

“They have forced a war upon us.”

Yitskhok wrote about these perilous moments in his diary. “Our cheerful conversation was interrupted by the howling of a siren. Bombs are bursting over the city […] It is war. People have been running around bewildered. It has become clear to all: the Hitlerites have attacked our land. They have forced a war upon us. And so we shall retaliate, and strike until we smash the aggressor on his own soil.”

The bravado with which Yitskhok imagined the Germans being driven back did not last.  A little later in the same diary entry he wrote, “No one knows what is in store for us. The anxious evening arrives. People await the coming evening with terror.” These fears were well-founded. It would be over three years before Vilna was liberated from the German occupation. During that time, approximately 95 percent of the Jewish population was murdered. Sadly, Yitskhok was among those who perished. His diary was found by his cousin in the last place he had hidden before he was captured and transported to his execution at Ponary. Even though Yitskhok did not survive, his writing endures as a testimony to his life.     

You may read entries from Yitskhok’s dairy in the book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder. 

Read more about the German occupation of Vilna.