The Secret Diary of the Holocaust, streaming on Amazon is actually a BBC documentary (originally broadcast in January 2009) recounting the life of Rutka Laskier. Rutka was just 14 years old but was best known as the Jewish Polish diarist writing her 1943 diary chronicling the last three months of her life during the Holocaust in Poland. Rutka was brutally murdered at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943.

Her 60-page, 3-month long diary authenticated by Holocaust scholars and survivors, wasn’t formally published in the Polish language until early in 2006. It had stayed hidden for over 70 years. The writing of Rutka Laskier has often been compared to the diary of Anne Frank.

Rutka was born in 1929 in Danzig (Gdańsk) to Dwojra and Jakub Laskier. Mr. Laskier worked as a senior bank officer. Theirs was a well to do Orthodox family. Rutka’s grandfather served as co-owner of Laskier-Kleinberg & Co, a milling company that owned and operated a large grist mill near Bedzin, Poland.

In 1939, the local Polish municipal government was forcibly taken over by the German Nazi Party (NSDAP) following the city’s surrender during the German invasion of Poland. The NSDAP quickly began to engage in anti-Semitic violence and German state-sponsored discrimination and terrorism. Most Jews were fired from their positions, Jewish shops were forced to close, or their shops broken into and looted, and as a result many Jews fled Danzig.

Rutka moved with her family to the southern Polish city of Bedzin, where her paternal grandparents lived. Unfortunately, quickly following the German invasion of Poland, the Nazis created the Bedzin Ghetto. The surrounding Jewish population were forced into this ghetto. There was little space or housing within the ghetto after the Jews of Bedzin and surrounding communities were all packed in there.

It was during the period from January-April 1943 that Rutka began writing her 60-page diary, chronicling her life under the brutal rule of the Nazis.

Rutka, like virtually everyone else from Bedzin, was eventually deported from the ghetto to Auschwitz concentration camp and was believed to have died in a gas chamber, at age 14, along with her mother and brother.

Rutka’s diary remained in the hands of Rutka’s surviving non-Jewish female friend Stanisława Sapińska (21 years old, at that same time) who kept it hidden for more than 64 years. She didn’t release the diary to the public until 2005.

However, when Rutka’s diary was discovered and brought to the public eye, it was revealed that she did not die in the gas chambers at the same time as her  mother and brother.

Zofia Minc, another survivor of Auschwitz, and now living in London, England, heard about the diary in 2008. She revealed in a published account of her imprisonment at Auschwitz that Rutka slept in the same barrack next to her, until falling victim to a cholera outbreak in December 1943.

Rutka begged Zofia to have her taken to the electric fence so she could kill herself, but the SS guard following them would not allow it. Zofia indicated that another prisoner pushed Laskier, still alive, in a wheelbarrow to the Auschwitz gas chamber.

Rutka’s father Jakub was the only member of the Laskier family who survived the Holocaust. Following World War II, he emigrated to Israel, where he remarried and had another daughter, Zahava Laskier Scherz. The senior Laskier died in 1986.

According to Zahava who was extensively interviewed in the BBC documentary The Secret Diary of the Holocaust, her father never told Zahava about Rutka until Zahava discovered a photo album when she herself was only 14. The photo album contained a picture of a child with what appeared to be her younger brother.

Zahava asked her father who they were, and he answered her truthfully. It was the first time he disclosed that he indeed had another family, but that family was totally lost during the Holocaust. The children in the photo were indeed Rutka and his son. According to Zahava, her father never spoke of these relationships again.

Zahava went on to explain that she only learned of the existence of Rutka’s diary in 2006 when she received a phone call from a man in Poland asking about her father. From there the pieces of this remarkable puzzle began to come together. Zahava flew to Poland to meet the historian who published Rutka’s diary. Zahava positively expressed how much it has meant to her to be able to get to know this young woman, through only her diary, as she now regarded Rutka as her half-sister that unfortunately she had never met.

The Rutka Diary…

From January 19th through April 1943, without her family’s knowledge, Rutka kept a diary in an ordinary school notebook, writing in both ink and pencil, making entries as one day led into the next. In her diary entries, she discussed the Nazi atrocities she witnessed first-hand, and described her daily life in the Bedzin Ghetto. She also pleasantly wrote and recalled her first love(s) and the innocence of her youth even within the desperation and human destruction she witnessed daily.

Rutka also wrote about in Bedzin about the reports filtering back from Auschwitz about the  gas chambers. She knew that it was only a matter of time that she would face that same fate.

Rutka’s diary began on January 19th, 1943 with her first entry “I cannot grasp that it is already 1943, four years since this hell began.” One of her final entries says “If only I could say, it’s over, you die only once… But I can’t, because despite all these atrocities, I want to live, and wait for the following day.”

Rutka’s diary, describes how her faith in God “has been completely shattered” in the concentration camp. She wrote: “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 gun butts or shoved into sacks and gassed to death.”

Discovery of Rutka’s diary…

In 1943, while penning the diary, Rutka shared its existence  with Stanisława Sapińska (then a 21 years old, at that time), whom she had befriended after Rutka’s family moved into a home owned by Sapińska’s strict Catholic family, which had also been confiscated by the Nazis so that it could be included in the ghetto.

Rutka realized in short order she would not survive the Holocaust, and, comprehended the importance of her diary as a document of what had happened to the Jewish population of Będzin. She than asked Sapińska to help her hide the diary. Sapińska showed Rutka how and where to hide the diary in her house under the double flooring in a staircase, between the first and second floors.

After the Jews in the Bedzin Ghetto were all “selected” and deported to the death camp, Sapińska returned to the house and retrieved the diary. She kept it in her home library for 63 years and did not share or speak about it with anyone but members of her immediate family.

In 2005, Adam Szydłowski, the chairman of the Center of Jewish Culture of the Zaglebie Region of Poland, was told by one of Sapińska’s nieces about the existence of the diary.

With help from Sapińska’s nephew, he obtained a photocopy of the diary and he was instrumental in the publishing of its Polish-language edition. Its publication by Yad Vashem Publications was commemorated with a ceremony in Jerusalemon June 4, 2007 in which Zahava Scherz took part. At this ceremony, Sapińska also donated the original diary to Yad Vashem. Szydłowski was the historian who called Zahava in Israel to let her know that this diary existed. Zahava then flew from Israel to Poland to meet with Szydłowski to learn more about the diary of Rutka.

The diary, which has been authenticated by Holocaust scholars and survivors, has been compared to the diary of Anne Frank, the best-known Holocaust-era diary. Coincidentally, Rutka Laskier was born the same day as Anne Frank. and, in both cases, of their entire families, only their fathers survived the war.

The Secret Diary of the Holocaust is an amazing BBC documentary which for me was one of the most emotional two hours of viewing I have experienced in the Holocaust genre. It is certainly worth your time as you will both witness and learn about what is an equally and paradoxically sad although beautiful true story about a young women’s courage.

The film highlights the amazing potential of this young lady with her incredible intelligence and poise way beyond her 14 years. Her writing style and her ability to capture the essence of this horrific time are extraordinary. The truly  incredibly sad part of this historic period is that Rutka and 1.5 million other children unfortunately had to live and die excruciating deaths during such a devastating time in our history. Rutka gave her life to be witness and say #neveragain.

This documentary is further enhanced by the true accounting of events and facts supported by two Holocaust survivors who personally knew Rutka, her talents and her unimaginable courage. Both of these survivors appear in the film and relate their own stories about knowing Rutka in their unbelievable distinctive and emotional way.

Also, I want to call out Zahava’s story telling, interviewing style along with her ability to educate students about the Holocaust. All of which now speaks to the use of Rutka’s Diary as a positive, productive educational tool to hopefully prevent future Holocausts and genocides. Zahava’s ability to weave her side of the family history throughout the documentary is truly impressive and valuable for everyone to witness. For those who have in interest in the Holocaust and its history make this film a must-see.  Bravo!

I would be interested to hear your reactions to this movie, so write me at jeff@shoppesimplenetwork.com with you comments.

A word of caution: Just like most if not all Holocaust films there are difficult flashback scenes depicting real Holocaust era footage that could be disturbing to some. However, these scenes are kept to a minimum in this documentary and the film instead focuses on the remarkable strength and fortitude of Rutka and those who survived to know her. This is a true story now more than 80 years in the making. It is intended for audiences over 13.

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Jeffery Giesener, former CEO of SourceMob, has both public and private company experience. Today, retired and enjoying life in San Diego, he’s a freelance writer who has a passion for both cinema and baking his Mom’s (OBM) European recipes.  This column is sponsored by Judi Gottschalk in memory of her parents, Agathe and Berek Ehrenfried.