BOOK: We Are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust

AUTHOR: Jacob Boas

GENRE: History

ISBN: 0-590-84475-X


PUBLISHER: Scholastic Inc.



What comes to your mind when you see the words “Six Million”? Nothing much, right?  what of “Six Million Jews”? What of “Nazi”? These words are sort of related. How? The Holocaust . Between 1933 and 1945, Millions of Jews plus other minority groups were murdered by German Nazis.

“Adolf Hitler set out to change the world from the ground up. The German leader dreamed of creating an empire that would last a thousand years and declared that millions of Jewish men, women, and children would have to be killed to bring it about. When the gas stopped pouring and the guns fell silent, six million Jews lay dead. A fourth of these were children” That is the first paragraph of the introduction part.

On justifying the murder of children, the Nazis reasoned that it was impossible to destroy a weed without yanking out the root. They viewed children as the “germ cell” from which a Jewish danger could grow. How callous.

Reading through this book made me emotional. I have heard and read about the holocaust several times but this book evoked fresh sad feelings in me. It’s like I had just heard about the holocaust. The book like the title suggests, is a collection of diaries written by five teenagers who died in the Holocaust. It has four chapters; Chapter one telling the story of  David Rubinowicz, chapter two Yitzhak Rudashevski, chapter 3 has Moshe Flinker’s story, chapter 4  Eva Heyman and an epilogue, that’s Anne Frank’s story.

I couldn’t help but shed a tear when I read David’s story. The young boy recorded how the Nazis considered Poles sub human. How every Jew in Krajno, a small village South of Warsaw was killed. Jews in Kielce were not allowed to travel in vehicles, they had to walk and were forced to wear an arm band to display at all times. David wrote of how he witnessed mass murders. Murders which happened for no reason. Arrests, humiliations and beatings.

Yitzhak Rudashevski, born in 1927, in Vilna, was the son of a typesetter at a Yiddish Daily newspaper and a seamstress mother. He wrote how he witnessed the shameful scenes where women and older people were beaten and kicked in the middle of the street by small bandits. The Germans issued new laws: That Jews now could not use sidewalks and had to walk single file on the right side of the street. How humiliating. On July 4, 1941, they were also ordered to wear “a yellow star of Zion on the left front and on the back”. Yitzhak felt like a freak. Yitzhak’s final diary entry is dated April 7, 1943. On the fifth, five thousand provincial Jews were rounded up and shot at Ponar. Rail road trucks were littered with corpses, children running from their homes, police dug dead Jews out of Ponar’s lime pits and schools were closed. The final liquidation of the ghetto took place in September 1943. Women and children were disposed off in Maidanek, the death camp near Lublin, Poland. Men were sent to Estonia, North of Lithuania, where they died. The final words in Yithak’s diary are: “We may be fated for the worst.” He died in 1943 :-(.

Eva Heyman born on 13th February 1931, grew up in Nagyvarad (Now Oradea in Romania). Like the other teenagers, her’s too is a gut-wrenching tale.

Though written in different locations, the teenager’s stories are almost similar: Killings, discrimination, beatings and other forms of humiliation. Jacob Boas did well by having the stories in one book. Of all the teenager’s, Anne Frank’s story is the most told. There are various journals and manuscripts which contain her story. Thanks to to this book, the author has introduced me to other innocent victims, whose stories I had never had of.

These are severe stories. As much as it happened many years back, these tales are still devastating. Innocent children got to experience the worst, and recorded their experiences. How agonizing it must have been for the five teenagers, and many others whose stories remain untold to date. The author did a superb job of compiling the five stories. Through the book, I’ve learnt quite a number of things about European villages, towns and cities in the 1930s.

The innocent teenagers had so much to live for. David was fond of school. He loved reading, but with the attacks, he could no longer attend school. “When I think of how I use to school, I feel like bursting into tears, and today I must stay at home and can’t go anywhere.” David wrote in his Diary on August 2nd 1940.

This is a good book for history lovers. It’s educative and has a lot of information about the German attacks on Jews in 1930s and 1940s. The stories written by the teenagers are mournful. It breaks my heart to know that fellow men could do the worst to each other. Killing people of a different descent like roaches, like they don’t matter. These despicable  acts by German Nazis will forever  be inscribed in man’s history, and future generations will read and listen in shame, wondering how a group of humans could turn into beasts.