Alice Ehrmann's Diary Entry Envisioning Life after the Holocaust, November 1, 1944

Entry from the diary of Alice Ehrmann from November 1, 1944, in which Ehrmann reflects on the idea of building a life after surviving the Holocaust. 

November 1, 1944

The urn chamber is being cleared. Thirty thousand urns, thirty thousand cardboard boxes, thirty thousand remains of people, mothers, children, loved ones. What is the point . . . More importantly, it is the knowledge that dead witnesses, substance, is being destroyed — and we are the witnesses, we who still live, I and you, my sister — and all those who are gone.

It is not a technical problem, but I cannot imagine it - and still - I am afraid to admit that I have understood it. And still I go to work in the morning, will eat, sleep, wash my hands, brush my teeth. Maybe even laugh. I will not think about it, but it will inform all my thoughts. Perhaps everything will grow quiet, and it will retreat into the background, and I will be permitted to “not think” once again. Or will it grow huge so that all my thoughts end in it, even my life and my time, until I myself come to an end in it?

O my Mother and you — am I afraid? I will read Faust and Isaiah and Jeremiah, and I will try to bear written witness as best I can so that it will survive me. That is what occupies my thoughts — not to have the world take notice of me — not to say: there was one who was beautiful and smart and open to the world, and she was seventeen and was snuffed out before her life could even start. No, to say to the world and time what was accomplished here; to read to them a chapter out of the Golah dated 1944 — above all, I want to call out to the young Jews all over the world and tell them: This was the form that our galut [exile] took — the form. The essence is within you, in your Jewishness; what do you want to hear? If you want to hear it? Deliverance has not been granted to us. We didn’t have any children, either. We beseech you; the path lies open. That is not pathos, not posturing; no, I beseech you in the name of our children who have been denied us — arise and go to Zion. No one should ever experience this again. No one. Away, away from here — do not believe in a “finality”; create a beginning.1

  1. Citations

    • 1 Alexandra Zapruder, ed., Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust, 2nd edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) 405–406.

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