An extraordinary collection of diaries, letters, and journals from the Warsaw ghetto.
Of the city’s 1.3 million inhabitants, nearly 30% were Jews, and they were a diverse group; as translator Boehm observes in his introduction, in a single family one generation might speak Yiddish or practice Hasidism, while another might speak Polish or German and practice no religion at all. When the Nazis arrived in Warsaw in 1939, the Jewish population, swelled by refugees from the countryside, was confined to an area about the size of New York’s Central Park. Most of the material assembled here by the late Polish historian Grynberg dates from 1939 to the destruction of the ghetto in June 1943; many of the testimonials were recovered from makeshift time capsules buried by the secret Oneg Shabbat documentary project, while others were delivered to the Jewish Historical Institute after the war. The documents are as diverse as the population, some pious, some cynical, some resigned, and they are altogether remarkable. One diarist, Stanislaw Sznapman, records that the first thing German soldiers did on arriving in Warsaw was to demand money and jewelry from Jewish residents; “anyone brave enough to visit the command post the next morning and file a complaint never again saw the light of day—having dared to impugn the honor of a German soldier.” He adds that the Germans set about driving a wedge between the Polish and Jewish populations by deploying “people with Semitic features” to litter “public places with small bottles and boxes filled with lice.” (Grynberg notes that this has not been confirmed.) Another, Samuel Puterman, writes of the SS commandant in charge of the ghetto: “His kindly handsome face never lost the hint of a sneer when he passed by an old man whose forehead had been split open by a whip.”
Grim and transfixing documentation of life in hell, providing an indispensable record for historians and making an invaluable addition to the English-language literature of the Holocaust.