Elsa Binder's Diary Entry on Ghetto Life, March 13, 1942

Entry from the diary of Elsa Binder from March 13, 1942, in which an unidentified writer reflects on the fear and difficulties present in life in a ghetto.

St., March 13, 1942 [unidentified writer]

I can hardly start writing again because I am out of shape, but I will try to define my feelings and emotions, so that one day I will read it again and today will belong to the past. I am twenty-two. It should be the most beautiful time in my life. When I look back at my life I see that it has been so joyless, filled with sad events and experiences. [. . .]

After the war broke out [in 1939] my mother opened a shop and started making money. I got a job and all the money I earned was mine, so I could buy myself a few things. Overall, I was in luck-for a while. At home food was never scarce. We had our apartment and I had money. But it didn’t last long. Today I fear for my life. When we get up in the morning, we don’t know whether we’ll sleep in our own beds; when we get sleep, we are not sure whether we’ll live safely until the next day.

On that unforgettable Sunday, October 12, 1941, my sister Bronka and I were in the ditches. Until the very end I didn’t lose my self-control. I couldn’t accept imminent death so I struggled hard to save myself. Death prevailed around us. [. . .] I was tough. I didn’t cry or lose my head. My cheeks were burning since my coat and sweater were torn apart. I was moving backward, slowly and easily. Trying to win some time I approached the Germans. I begged them to save our lives, to send us to labor camps instead.

Suddenly I saw my young, dark, joyless life and was helplessly furious at the injustice of the world. Now, when my youth is blooming-and this happens only once for each human being-I am to die without having experienced anything good in life? Why? Was it a sin to be born to a Jewish mother? Have I ever hurt anybody? Why is a man, who is my peer and whom I see for the first time in my life, my deadly enemy, why can he kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people? There are some naive people who believe in God and expect his mercy, or some answer. Unfortunately, I can only see the culture and the barbarism of the twentieth century, which are reflected in such acts.

In every newspaper article, in every poster in the town, there is a promise to exterminate all the Jews. We were locked in the ghetto like lepers with no chance to earn a living. People are selling their clothes to survive. Many of us were robbed of our valuables, so what is left? Like our relatives, we have never been wealthy, so we don’t own many things that we can sell for money. Everything comes to an end, the selling, too. People are dying, swollen from hunger.  Others are starving. There is hardly a home where regular meals are served (except, perhaps, for those on the Jewish Council, who know how to manage) since there is not enough bread nor a hearty soup that would satisfy our hunger.

We are utterly exhausted, our organisms are undernourished. We only have illusions that something will change; this hope keeps us alive. But how long can we live on the power of the spirit that is also fading?[. . .]

When I have a heavy heart, I so often wish I were dead.[. . .] Not so long ago I said I was afraid of dying. Today I remember how many wonderful, precious, and loving people died for nothing. I am a little self-centered and fearful. I have to learn how to face the atrocities, so maybe if I don’t avoid thinking about them, I will regain my faith and courage.1


[1] Alexandra Zapruder, ed., Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust, 2nd edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) 320–22.

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