Numbered Days

Numbered Days: Diaries and the Holocaust

Alexandra Garbarini
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Numbered Days
    Book Description:

    As the Nazis swept across Europe during World War II, Jewish victims wrote diaries in which they grappled with the terror unfolding around them. Some wrote simply to process the contradictory bits of news they received; some wrote so that their children, already safe in another country, might one day understand what had happened to their parents; and some wrote to furnish unknown readers in the outside world with evidence against the Nazi regime.Were these diarists resisters, or did the process of writing make the ravages of the Holocaust even more difficult to bear? Drawing on an astonishing array of unpublished and published diaries from all over German-occupied Europe, historian Alexandra Garbarini explores the multiple roles that diary writing played in the lives of these ordinary women and men. A story of hope and hopelessness,Numbered Daysoffers a powerful examination of the complex interplay of writing and mourning. And in these heartbreaking diaries, we see the first glimpses of a question that would haunt the twentieth century: Can such unimaginable horror be represented at all?

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13503-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. A Note on Translations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. 1 Historical and Theoretical Considerations
    (pp. 1-21)

    From April through October 1943, Kalman Rotgeber wrote about the previous three and a half years of German occupation from the vantage of a hiding place on the “Aryan” side of Warsaw. He filled twenty-three notebooks, all the while remaining conscious of the possibility that they might never reach his intended audience.² For Rotgeber as well as for other European Jews who were persecuted and killed between 1939 and 1945 providing the future with a written testimony of what was in the process of being destroyed was one response to living in the shadow of annihilation. Through their diaries, they...

  6. 2 Historians and Martyrs
    (pp. 22-57)

    On 1 September 1939, as Germany invaded Poland, Chaim Aron Kaplan recorded in his diary, “We are witnessing the dawn of a new era in the history of the world.”¹ For a man just shy of sixty years old (he was born in 1880 in Horodyszcze, Belorussia) who had witnessed some of the most tremendous upheavals in modern European history, including pogroms, revolution, and world war, this was a bold declaration. It reflected in part his discernment, in part hyperbole, and in part premonition. Kaplan had received a Talmudic education at the celebrated yeshiva in Mir and had attended the...

  7. 3 News Readers
    (pp. 58-94)

    “A few ounces of news” could become “a ton of hope.” So wrote Jurek Becker, a Holocaust survivor, in his novelJakob the Liar.Published in East Germany in 1969,Jakob the Liarvividly portrayed how news helped sustain Jews living under German occupation. In the narrative, Jakob, an inhabitant of an unspecified ghetto, convinced his fellow Jews he was in possession of a radio. Forbidden from having radios and desperate for news of the outside world, the characters in Becker’s novel hounded Jakob each day for the latest report on the Red Army’s progress. Jakob’s make-believe radio broadcasts buoyed...

  8. 4 Family Correspondents
    (pp. 95-128)

    For some diarists, diary writing was predominantly a family affair. For families that were separated during the war, diaries became an essential medium for communicating thoughts and experiences, albeit in an imaginary form, to absent loved ones, a function we have already caught a glimpse of in Lucien Dreyfus’s wartime diary writing.¹ Since no means of open communication were available to Jews living under German occupation, diaries became a form of correspondence, and correspondence became a form of diary writing, with diaries quite literally addressed to missing individuals. These letter-diaries were marked by the physical and epistemological distance separating the...

  9. 5 Reluctant Messengers
    (pp. 129-161)

    In what has become a well-known excerpt from his memoir of Auschwitz, Primo Levi described how he recited Dante from memory to a fellow inmate while retrieving the day’s soup ration. After first reciting a verse in Italian, he would attempt to translate the verse into his meager French for his French-speaking companion. The effect of the poetry on Levi was profound: “For a moment I forget who I am and where I am.”¹ Dante’s words momentarily transported Levi beyond Auschwitz. In a later work in which Levi returned to his memory of this incident, he reflected that, in Auschwitz,...

  10. Conclusion: “A Stone Under History’s Wheel”
    (pp. 162-168)

    In their diaries, Jewish men and women left evidence of their struggles to understand something that had never been conceived of before: the regimesanctioned extermination of an entire people. For them, the world was now fundamentally different, different in its suppositions as well as in the material circumstances to which they were daily subjected. In and through their diaries, they responded to the staggering psychical and physical changes. They reoriented themselves vis-à-vis the past and replotted their part in the future. And the diaries they created turned out to be not a separate and particular cultural response, but an integral...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 169-226)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-248)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 249-252)
  14. Index
    (pp. 253-262)