ictims of the Holocaust left behind a genre of literature as documentation of the nightmare they experienced. Diaries, journals, letters, poetry all captured the daily horrors of life during the Holocaust. These personal accounts also testify to the resilience of spirit, the will to survive, and the effort to retain simple human dignity under unbelievably terrible circumstances. Ordinary people, even children and teenagers such as Anne Frank, as well as famous historians such as Emmanuel Ringelblum, left behind written testaments of human courage and determination. In doing so, they preserve the memory of their lives and the lives of others who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis. By reading and studying their words, students honor the memory of the fallen and keep their message alive. Students can also begin to understand how the Holocaust affected individual people with passions, dreams and agonies, rather than mere statistics. Reading quiet expressions of hope written by a concentration camp inmate or by a Jew struggling to hide from the Nazis, can be a poignant and even unforgettable experience. While these accounts do record actual events, it is important to note that these observations are filtered through personal experience and fallible human emotions.
The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank
One of the most famous accounts of the Holocaust is told by a teenage Jewish girl who from1942 to 1944, with her family, hid from the Gestapo in a tiny attic in Amsterdam. Young Anne wrote regularly in her diary and, despite impending doom, continued to believe in human goodness and to express hope that one day she might live in a world without hate. On August 4, 1944, her family and friends were captured and sent to Auschwitz. Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, probably of typhus, several weeks prior to the camp's liberation. The book is recommended for junior high school and high school students.
Saturday, July 15, 1944
It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!
--The Diary of a Young Girl, eds. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, p. 332
Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary
by Hannah Senesh
This eleven-year journal (1933-44) of a young Jewish woman from Hungary contains sophisticated and moving commentary on the Holocaust, its causes and its lessons. Hannah Senesh was an ardent Zionist who emigrated to Palestine from Hungary. When her homeland was invaded by the Nazis, she showed amazing bravery by first joining the Resistance and then returning to Hungary to help save Jews. She became a legend after she was executed by firing squad in 1944 and is still honored for her courage and convictions. Recommended for high school students.
Young Moshe's Diary
by Moshe Flinker
This young Polish teenager and his family lived in Holland until they were forced to flee to Belgium in 1942 to escape the Nazis. The Gestapo discovered the Flinkers and the entire family was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where Moshe and his parents perished. This diary, a living remembrance, records young Moshe's views on faith and suffering. The book's final impression is not one of despair, however, but of the transcendence of the human spirit. Young Moshe's Diary is recommended for junior high school and high school students.
by Janusz Korczak
The pediatrician and children's advocate Janusz Korczak, a Jew, began his diary in 1942 recording his thoughts and impressions of life in the Warsaw ghetto. In August, the same year, he turned down possible freedom and accompanied 190 orphaned children to the gas chambers at Treblinka. This emotional and very personal journal describes the brutal conditions of the ghetto and the cruelty of the Nazis. It is recommended for high school students.
Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto
by Emmanuel Ringelblum
In this detailed journal, social historian Emmanuel Ringelblum tries objectively to capture everyday life in the Warsaw ghetto (1940-43). While Ringelblum wrote the Notes himself, it is neither a diary nor a typical journal because he omits his personal opinions. He relied heavily upon sources from both within and outside the ghetto. He interviewed refugees, smugglers, friends, and even the Jewish police. The result is a systematic, thorough and detached view of ghetto life: the rising costs of living, the various techniques of beggars, and the attitudes of German soldiers recuperating in local military hospitals. The book is recommended for junior high school and high school students.
The Other Victims: First-Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis
by Ina Friedman
Most students are unaware of the millions who suffered at the hands of the Nazis who weren't Jewish. Ina Friedman's book is an extensive collection of the personal stories of Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, blacks, mentally and physically handicapped people, and others who were persecuted and targeted for extermination by the Nazis. This book is recommended for junior high school and high school students.
Hear O Israel: A Story of the Warsaw Ghetto
by Terry Walton Treseder
This short story follows the trials of a family of Polish Jews living in the Warsaw ghetto. The family's strong religious faith provides support during numerous tragedies. The worst tragedy, and the ultimate test of faith, comes when the family is sent to the Treblinka concentration camp. This book is recommended for elementary school and middle school students.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly
This book provides a collection of children's drawings, poems, and diary entries from Terezín concentration camp, 1942-1944
A poignantly beautiful legacy of art, poetry and words from the young prisoners of Terezín. Children, while enduring the horrible living conditions of this ghetto, received a form of therapy through the creative process of art. In the works of this collection, one can see the range of emotions, from fear to hope to despair, felt by these poor, innocent children, almost all of whom died during the Holocaust. One of the few who did survive, Inge Auerbacher, wrote a memoir of her experiences at Terezín (see Survivors section). The introduction provides background information on Terezin, as well as a summary of the Nazi war against Jews. Recommended for all ages.
Used with permission: Volavkova, Hana, ed. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, expanded second edition. New York: Schocken Books, 1993.
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone.
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live here,
in the ghetto.
The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads
To bury itself deep somewhere
inside our memories.
We've suffered here more than enough,
Here in this clot of grief and shame,
Wanting a badge of blindness
To be a proof for their own children.
A fourth year of waiting, like standing above a swamp
From which any moment might gush forth a spring.
Meanwhile, the rivers flow another way,
Not letting you die, not letting you live.
And the cannons don't scream and the guns don't bark
And you don't see blood here.
Nothing, only silent hunger.
Children steal the bread here and ask and ask and ask
And all would wish to sleep, keep silent, and
just go to sleep again...
The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads
To bury itself deep somewhere inside our memories.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.