February 23, 1973 Friday Forum – firsthand account of “The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan”by Abraham K. Katsh
When this article was published in February 1973, Dr. Abraham I. Katsh was president of The Dropsie University in Philadelphia as well as the translator and editor of the Warsaw diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, who was born in White Russia and was a Hebrew teacher and author in Warsaw before WWII. (Kaplan wrote his diary entries in Hebrew.)
Dr. Katsh had first authored a hardcover English translation (of part of the diary) published by Macmillan in 1965 under the title “The Scroll of Agony.” This Friday Forum article was Dr. Katsh’s introduction to the paperback edition that Macmillan Company’s Collier imprint planned to publish in March 1973 under the title “The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan” and which would include additional portions of the diary that had recently become available.
While Kaplan’s diary survived the Holocaust, Kaplan himself did not. Kaplan and his wife are believed to have died in the Treblinka extermination camp in December 1942 or January 1943.
For his record of life in the Warsaw Ghetto, Kaplan wrote in small notebooks, and the surviving entries covered the period from the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, to August 4, 1942. The notebooks had been singly smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto by a Jewish man who worked outside the ghetto as a forced laborer. He gave the notebooks to a Pole for safekeeping and these were preserved in a kerosene can found after the war.
Dr. Katsh explains in the introduction that Kaplan never mentions his own name in the entries. For this reason it took Dr. Katsh a year and a half of detective work to ascertain the author’s identity beyond a doubt before beginning to translate and edit the diary.
The Warsaw Ghetto — established by the Nazis in the Polish capital between October and November 16, 1940, in German-occupied Poland — was the largest of all the Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII. The Jews who didn’t die of starvation or disease or direct killings in the ghetto were shipped to death camps.
On April 19, 1943, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover), the remaining Jews fought back against the Nazis in what is now known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which officially ended on May 16, 1943. A small band of emaciated Jews had managed to fight off the Nazi death machine for several weeks.
After the Friday Forum editor’s note for the article, this quote from Kaplan’s entry of January 16, 1942, appeared:
The whole nation is sinking in a sea of horror and cruelty … I do not know whether anyone else is recording the daily events. The conditions of life which surround us are not conducive to such literary labors … Anyone who keeps such a record endangers his life, but this doesn’t alarm me. I sense within me the magnitude of this hour and my responsibility to it. I have an inner awareness that I am fulfilling a national obligation … My words are not rewritten, momentary reflexes shape them. Perhaps their value lies in this … my record will serve as source material for the future historian.
Later in the article Dr. Katsh quotes this entry from the diary:
Some of my friends and acquaintances who know the secret of my diary urge me, in their despair, to stop writing. ‘Why? For what purpose? Will you live to see it published? Will these words of yours reach the ears of future generations? How?’ … And yet in spite of it all I refuse to listen to them. I feel that continuing the diary to the very end of my physical and spiritual strength is a historical mission which must not be abandoned. My mind is still clear, my need to record unstilled, though it is now five days since any real food has passed my lips. Therefore I will not silence my diary!
“The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan” by Abraham I. Katsh can be obtained from third-party sellers via Amazon. Click here for the book’s page on Amazon.
Click here to read the formal proposal for the Holocaust memoir SAVIORS AND SAVIORS, in which the above firsthand account is included.
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Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. Phyllis is available by skype for book group discussions and may be reached at email@example.com
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