Friday, May 23, 2008

Review: Rutka's Notebook

Summary: In 2006, an 82-year-old woman in Bedzin, Poland, revealed a secret she had kept from the world for 61 years: she possessed a notebook written by her friend Rutka Laskier, a 14-year-old Jewish girl, in the months before she perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Written over a period of four months early in 1943, the diary provides a striking new perspective on the daily life of Jews trapped in the nightmare of the Holocaust. Like the diary of Anne Frank, to which it has often been compared, Rutka's story offers a moving portrait of everyday adolescent joys and sorrows, mixed with unimaginable horrors. With Rutka, we watch as a German soldier murders an infant before its mother's eyes, and as Jews are herded into a sports stadium and "selected" for destinies of life, labor -- or Auschwitz.

The diary became national news in Poland and Israel when first published in 2006. Now Time Magazine and Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocast Remembrance Authority, present the first U.S. edition of this historic document, with new annotations and photographs that bring Rutka's vanished world to memorable life. Read it -- and remember. -- book jacket

I'm not even sure where to begin talking about this book. When it arrived at my door this morning, I had every intention of placing it in my TBR pile. However, I started to read the first few pages and I couldn't put it down. I was just so deeply touched by Rutka's story. It seems like no matter how many books I read on the Holocaust, I am still blown away that this horrific incident took place.

The story surrounding this diary is almost as interesting as what occurs in its pages. Knowing that she would have to evacuate soon because of the Germans, Rutka told a non-Jewish friend that she would hide the notebook in her apartment. After the war ended, the friend found Rutka's notebook and kept it to herself for over 60 years. She was finally persuaded to share the notebook with the world, and it has since been published in numerous countries.

It's difficult to say that I enjoyed a book about this subject matter, but I did find it incredibly moving -- I can't stress how important I think it is that we never forget that the Holocaust occurred. I recently read ANNE FRANK: A LIFE IN HIDING with my 8 year old daughter for our Mother Daughter book club, but this book affected me much more (of course, A LIFE IN HIDING was written for younger children.) I think part of the reason that I am so haunted by RUTKA'S NOTEBOOK is that this book had so many pictures and notes to supplement her words. Seeing the pictures and documentation on every other page of the book just makes the entire story so much more real.

What I found incredibly difficult about reading this book was how much Rutka seemed to know about the atrocities of the war. She was only 14 years old, and yet she understood that her chances for survival were slim. At times her entries into her diary seemed so normal for a young girl -- stories about her parents, her friends and boys. Other times, however, she described horrific things that no 14 year old girl should ever have had to experience. I am truly amazed by how resilient she was even when faced with such a nightmare situation.

One thing I liked about this book was that it includes two essays by Rutka's half-sister Zahava Laskier Scherz. She described how she found a photograph album of her father's "first" family at the age of 14 (the same age as Rutka when she wrote her diary.) After finding these pictures, she and her father were able to talk about what happened to his family during the Holocaust -- a family that Zahava never knew even existed. The book also contained a few other essays by Jewish authors and historians that helped to supplement Rutka's diary as well.

I keep re-reading her words and I am continually amazed by her ability to express her thoughts so well. Here is an example of an especially poignant entry, "The town is breathlessly waiting in anticipation, and this anticipation is the worst of all." I wish it would end already! This is torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it's over, you die only one...But I can't, because despite all these atrocities I want to live and wait for the following day. That means waiting for Auschwitz or a labor camp."

I think RUTKA'S NOTEBOOK is an amazing book. I was deeply affected by it, and I know that Rutka's words will stay with me for a very long time.


Lisa said...

What a great review. Its obvious this book has effected you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

Heather Johnson said...

Thanks for the great review. I just posted my review of another WWII Jewish experience ... seems like this is THE topic for today.

I'm adding "Rutka" to my TBR list. Thanks again.

jaime said...

This will be added to my wish list immediately! I've been reading Holocaust literature since I was 11 or 12, and even took a class on it in college. There's so many incredible stories out there.