The diary of a 14-year-old Jewish girl, dubbed the "Polish Anne Frank," unveiled by Israel's Holocaust museum more than 60 years after the teenager wrote it.
"The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter," Rutka Laskier wrote in 1943 shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz. "I'm turning into an animal waiting to die."
Within a few months Rutka did die and, it seemed, so did her diary. But last year, a Polish friend who had safeguarded the notebook finally came forth, exposing a riveting historical document.
"Rutka's Notebook" is both a daily account of the horrors of the Holocaust in Bedzin, Poland, and a scrapbook detailing the life of a typical teenager in extraordinary circumstances. The 60-page memoir includes innocent adolescent banter, concerns and first loves combined with a cold analysis of the fate of European Jewry.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II, after European Jews were herded into ghettos, banned from most jobs and forced to wear yellow stars to identify them.
"I simply can't believe that one day I will be allowed to leave this house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day. If this happens I will probably lose my mind from joy," she wrote on Feb. 5, 1943. "The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death."
Reports of the gassing of Jews, which were not common knowledge in the West by then, apparently filtered into the Bedzin ghetto, which was near Auschwitz, Yad Vashem experts said.
The following day she opened her entry with a heated description of her hatred toward her Nazi tormentors, but then, in an effortless transition, she speaks about her crush on a boy named Janek and the anticipation of a first kiss.
"I think my womanhood has awoken in me. That means, yesterday when I was taking a bath and the water stroked my body, I longed for someone's hands to stroke me," she wrote. "I didn't know what it was, I have never had such sensations until now."
Later that day, she shifted back to her harsh reality, casually describing watching a Nazi soldier tearing a Jewish baby away from its mother and killing it with his bare hands.
In addition to chronicling her life in the diary, between January-April 1943, Rutka also shared it with her friend Stanislawa Sapinska. The two met after Rutka's family moved into a home owned by Sapinska's family, which had been confiscated by the Nazis to be included in the Bedzin ghetto. Sapinska randomly came to inspect the home and the young girlsone Jewish, one Christian formed a deep bond.
When Rutka feared that she would not survive, she told her friend about the diary. Sapinska offered to hide it in the basement under the floorboards. After the war, she returned to reclaim it.
"She wanted me to save the diary," Sapinska, now in her late 80s, recalled Monday. "She said 'I don't know if I will survive, but I want the diary to live on, so that everyone will know what happened to the Jews."'
Yet, Sapinska stashed the diary away in her home library for more than 60 years. She said it was a precious memento and thought it to be too private to share with others. Only at the behest of her young nephew did she agree to hand it over last year.
"He convinced me that it was an important historical artifact," she said in Polish.
In 1943, Rutka was exactly the same age as Anne Frank, the Dutch teenager whose Holocaust diary has become one of the most widely read books in the world. Yad Vashem said Rutka's newly discovered diary was authenticated by experts and Holocaust survivors.
Rutka's father, Yaakov, was the family's only survivor. He died in 1986. But unlike Anne Frank's father, he kept his painful past inside. After the war, he moved to Israel, where he started a new family. His Israeli daughter, Zahava Sherz, said her father never spoke of his other children, and the diary introduced her to the long-lost family she never knew.
"I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka," said Sherz, 57. "I was an only child, and now I suddenly have an older sister. This black hole was suddenly filled, and I immediately fell in love with her."
"I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time," Rutka wrote on Feb. 20, 1943, as Nazi soldiers began gathering Jews outside her home for deportation. "I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it's over, you only die once ... but I can't, because despite all these atrocities I want to live, and wait for the following day."
However, Rutka would write again. Her last entry is dated April 24, 1943, and her last written words are: "I'm very bored. The entire day I'm walking around the room. I have nothing to do."
In August, she and her family were shipped to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. She is believed to have been murdered upon arrival.
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