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Diary of Irene Hauser

Hauser Diary
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH), Warsaw

Irene Hauser's diary highlights a new wartime reality for women in Europe: shouldering the burden of both caring and providing for their families. This reversal of traditional gender roles was felt profoundly within the ghettos in Poland.1 Hauser's disjointed, often unorganized diary lays bare these circumstances with a stark frankness that defies our expectations as readers of Holocaust texts. The result is a harsh account of even harsher circumstances that included starvation, familial dissolution, and potential spousal abuse.

Irene Hauser was born in 1901 near Linz, Austria. In October 1941, she was deported from her home in Vienna to the Łódź ghetto in the part of Poland annexed to the Reich 1939, along with her husband Leo and six-year-old son Erich (referred to in her diary as "Bubi"). Hauser's diary relates the collapse of her family under the pressures of everyday ghetto life. Irene and Leo's ultimate fate is unknown; Erich was most likely gassed in the Chełmno extermination camp, a victim of the wholesale deportation of the ghetto's children in September of 1942.2

The conditions of the Łódź ghetto—forced labor, mass starvation, widespread disease—were common across the ghetto system, and contributed to the disintegration of families and roles within them. Throughout her diary, Hauser references her family's desperate situation. She writes fearfully of her son's fragile health, and repeatedly expresses her gratitude for the generosity of the neighboring Fuchs family, who often shared their rations with her to prepare for Leo and "Bubi." The diary is also laced with her bitterness and resentment for Leo, and his inability to perform his pre-war roles as husband, provider, and father. Hauser recalls lining up for hours to buy groceries, and caring for her sick son who had "no help from his father." Leo, she writes, would spend the little money they have on cigarettes, and gave away "a lot of things foolishly to try to get bread and rations, and then the damage is that [this] is quickly gone and [we] have nothing for six days." At one point, she wonders whether she might have been better off alone. Indeed, while the details are difficult to confirm, Hauser appears to have sought legal separation from her husband in July of 1942. When her request for a separate residence was not granted, she moved in with a friend, only to return to her apartment with Leo shortly thereafter. In several diary entries from the summer of 1942, Hauser describes her husband's constant (yet unspecified) threats.3

Hauser's domestic circumstances highlight the dissolution of a marriage against the backdrop of increasing deprivation in the ghetto. Hauser's position—and her frustration with her additional responsibilities—were quite common.4 The disintegration of Jewish families in Nazi Germany assumed similar forms in different circumstances.5 Diaries like Hauser's demonstrate the ways in which families and familial roles diverged from their prewar counterparts. Traditional gender roles within families were determined by long-standing social norms. As this diary demonstrates, however, these norms were profoundly changed during this period. Family life, once the bedrock of gender expectations and roles, was destabilized and often destroyed.

In the final few entries of the diary, dated 2-8 September 1942, Hauser describes watching as all children under the age of ten were turned over for deportation to Chełmno. She recalls hours of waiting as the ghetto came to a standstill so that the deportations could be carried out. Relayed in terse, unemotional language, Hauser's diary represents a rare example of what was an all-too-common experience: a life pulled apart. Her words challenge us to rethink traditional norms, roles, and forms of expression in extreme circumstances.6

Michael Unger, "The Status and Plight of Women in the Łódź Ghetto" in Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman, eds., Women in the Holocaust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 123-142.

In Polish ghettos, Judenräte, or Jewish Councils, were appointed by the Nazis to implement their regulations as to how the ghetto should be run. Comprised of respected members of the Jewish community, these councils had only the illusion of authority. The Łódź ghetto Jewish Council was headed by Chaim Rumkowski (1877-1944)—a figure whose controversial role was debated both during and after the war. In an attempt to create what he viewed as an efficient workforce that would make itself neccesary to the German economic demands, Rumkowski caved to German demands to deliver the old, the weak and infirm, and children for deportation. His now infamous speech, "Give me your children," can be read as equal parts chilling, desperate, and misguided given the context in which he was living. See the related item Forty-two Weddings in the Łódź Ghetto.

For example, in a cryptic set of entries on July 28 and August 5, Hauser writes: "28 July (1/3) [...] No X-ray 2 August 31 July 3 August. Pick up rations myself, meat and sausage, stood in line 4 hours, hospital 1½ hours. Sold last dress.

5 August. Go to the office. He will be resettled and the bloody clothing will come back. More likely he intends to destroy all 3 of us. I have to act now, as he wants to have the child and I am supposed to move out so that he can still take advantage of it. He stops at nothing, threatens incessantly, and I can't stay near him a day longer. Today—decision."

Unger, 135-136.

Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

The selection presented here includes Hauser's entries for July 15 to 28 and September 2 to 8, 1942. For the full version of the diary, see the USHMM collections information available below.

German, Schalen mit Brennmaterial: In this diary, Schalen most often refers to potato peels or other vegetable peels. Here it probably means "bowls" or "cups," but there is not enough context to say exactly what is meant.

 

Yiddish, nile-tsayt: Time for the Neilah prayer at the end of Yom Kippur. The phrase is used in expressions like "s'iz nile-tsayt," meaning that it's closing time, locking-up time, all over.

"Dkg": Abbreviation for "decagram," the equivalent of ten grams, or about a third of an ounce. "Diakohle": Presumably a remedy for malnutrition.

 

 

The Łódź ghetto economy functioned in part on "receipts" or notes, known as marks, that could only be used in the ghetto.

Unknown term, perhaps slang for a kind of porridge or meal.

 

Yiddish: A German Jew.

Marysin was the northeastern area of the Łódź ghetto, home to fields, gardens, and cottages. A favorite of the ghetto elite, Marysin became a symbol of health and plenty to the ghetto's inhabitants. Here Hauser includes her own rendition of a popular Yiddish ghetto song:

"There goes a yekke, oy
with a briefcase.
He’s looking for
butter and margarine.
On no account,
nothing to buy.
He gets a visa
to Marysin."

The carts referred to in the song were used to transport human excreta to Marysin for disposal in large pits.

Location of the "Office for Relocated Persons," meaning German, Viennese, and Prague Jews.

German, "Hofrat": Privy Councillora courtesy title due to her husband's position as Hofrat.

In September of 1942, thousands of children were deported from the Łódź ghetto to be gassed at Chełmno.

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15 July 1942

Young woman fallen from the bridge and dead. In spite of something to eat for three days, [I] feel today that my strength is at an end and must now sacrifice the last to stave off starvation. For the child's sake. He gets no help from his father, who values only cigarettes and bowls of fuel.1 He is wasteful, and I have no power over him. We are lost with him. I'm supposed to take bread to him at the bank and I can't drag myself anymore. He's leaving us to die without batting an eye. I have sacrificed everything, money, belongings, and strength, and it's not even enough for him. He wants the last penny just for cigarettes. I can't go on, my protruding bones hurt. Washed [the] tricot dress for Frau Fuchs. It's about trading services now. Thank God, I've found people who will stand by me as much as can be possible here. I want to force myself once more to have the courage to live, God willing, for my child, the poor little thing. We are in such a bad state because there was absolutely no money sent to us. May God deliver us soon, at his will. The agony is so great, the sins are already expiated for the others. I pray for speedy release. God, let me fall asleep in peace and rest with my mother, my last wish, if I have to pass over. The child cries [from] hunger, the father [wants] cigarettes, the mother wants to die—family life in the ghetto. For now my heart still works, but it can't possibly outlast the war.

16 July (1/2)

I've been eating good soup for three days, and my strength is fading by the hour. Was at the housing office, as [I] can't get up the stairs anymore and everything is very hard to reach. Just cronyism [there], as the world over; I don't even have enough pull to die, and I'm not going of my own accord, my child has to have me, God have mercy on us in this last minute, there is no other resort anymore. [Have had] ration coupons for 6 days, and [they] aren't issuing [the rations]. Leo explodes because the rations are eaten up and today is Thursday. The next, not until Monday, they give out 3 bunches of carrots per family.

16 July (2/2)

Ms. Fuchs provided my most recent lifesaver. Lord stand by me and my child, because I can't go on, a miracle has to happen otherwise we're done, we can't go on. Erich is sweating in the bed from weakness, eerie to watch, the flies are sitting on his eyes and mouth, as intrusive as the people around here, awful people. To this day we haven't received mail from anybody and 9 months here, it's exasperating.

17 July

Kölln is supposed to be cleared, want to hope that this is coming to an end soon. Was in the hospital with Bubi, but have to go again on Sunday to get Leo's medical certificate and also because of the apartment. Going to mend Mr. Fuchs's pants. Trimmed for Ms. Schoß. Working besides the weakness a lot. Now we have 10 kg vegetables but no fat or flour.

18 July

Can't go on. Either a doctor helps me stand up or it's all over for me2 tomorrow I go to the hospital; Dr. Proskauer has prescribed 50 dkg of yeast and Diakohle3 for me and the child because of malnutrition, it would cost 75 marks. But in the milk shop 7 marks.4

May God grant that this helps, because I can't go on. Made muff for Bubi.5

19 July

Delivery of vegetables from 12 to 2 p.m. I come downstairs, [but it was] changed to between 7 and 8. So you go up and down the stairs for nothing, and this is the daily state of affairs. Stand in line for sausage for 5 hours in vain.

Bread at 5 a.m. Windows shatter, that's what happens, a matter of life and death. The clerks are worthless, you don’t get any information.

There goes a yekke6 with the blanket. He buys himself butter, margarine. He has no oven, no bread to buy, he buys himself a bonbon—a visa for Marysin.7 Ghetto songs.

My child goes hungry such a good boy and I cry quite silently and one can't be broken. The way from Marischin to the ghetto took 1 hour and the child was not wanted on the cart. 

Come along to Marischin, help us pull the cart,8 it's the greatest sport, in this climatic health resort. It would have been best if they had buried us outside on arrival, because one feels the atrocity of this life every hour.

Allegedly the people who were taken away from here between 5 and 15 May were gassed, and so exterminated.

21 July 

Bedroom changed, more cheerful, first yeast [was] eaten, mixed with roux and spread on bread.

22 July 

Have severe pain. Bubi rubs me with vinegar water, nervous breakdown. Have ointment from the doctor, very good remedy. Still have 30 dkg of yeast left from Dr. Konnstein. 

3 August summons for Leo to Fischgasse9 concerning separation.

6 August arranged to dissolve the marriage. Moved in with Frau Hofrat Wilhelm, 2nd floor, 28.10

Irene  19 March 1901
Leopold  22 May 1898
Erich  21 April 1936
Pipsi  13 November 1909
Ernst  27 April 1903
Irma  15 September 1895
Erwin  27 November 1898
Mother 1 January 1865
Father  15 June 1864 

Birthdates of the entire Hacker family and my husband and child. Hauser.

23 July

[Leo] goes and sells the child's jacket and trousers. He wants to take everything, if only it were already over. I'm lying here as if paralyzed, he's unwilling to call a doctor because he doesn't want to pay, I'm sorry for the poor child. Frau Fuchs went 2x to Dr. Konnstein with me. Was examined and prescribed medicine, also yeast, Bubi ate up my 20 dkg because he was hungry and there was no bread. Today [I'm] going to the hospital for an X-ray and then I'm supposed to work to get the coupon. Because of my severe undernourishment I have awful pains in my back and am hungry. 

24 July (1/2)

Today it's 9 months that we are here, also a Friday. 2 executions because of holdup murder. 1/2 bread and 60 Mark. 18-year-old lads are falling over. My neighbors, woman 46 daughter 17 daughter under me 2 year old child dead from starvation and so on. Soon there has to come rescue for us otherwise we are all destroyed, god help us. Mr. and Ms. Fuchs are helping me in every manner to ease this terrible situation and Bubi gets a bite, he is so hungry. These people are my saviors. Leo is going out today on an apartment matter, I wasn't, thought we should stay at home alone.

26 July

Sell summer dress for little bit of fat. All 3 exhausted. Medicine and yeast have to keep the wolf from our door for another week, have nothing left to sell. Leo has managed ineptly. All 3 of us have been ruined by it, last resort Herr and Frau Fuchs and Dr. Konnstein. There are lots of vegetables and no fat and flour, more than 100 people die every day from feebleness. Many young men. Must have a lung X-ray on 31 July.

July 24 (2/2)

Have written Ernstl in Hannover. Made aprons from dress lining and traded for vegetables. Sewed a small bag for Lukin. Leo foolishly gives away lots of things to the cooperative to get the bread and rations sooner, he's so greedy and we are the ones harmed, because it's gone fast and then there's nothing for 6 days, the child suffers so much and I don't know how to help myself, with the child alone I would have been better off. Now he has sold my last summer dress for 15 marks in exchange for 3 dkg of butter. We live on raw vegetable leaves, bread ration [has been] reduced [to] 1.90 kg for 8 days. Every hour one must live is a torment. Sell washables and child's clothes. The last things, what now?

28 July (1/3)

No X-ray 2 August 31 July 3 August. Pick up rations myself, meat and sausage, stood in line 4 hours, hospital 1 ½ hours. Sold last dress.

5 August. Go to the office. He will be resettled and the bloody clothing will come back. More likely he intends to destroy all 3 of us. I have to act now, as he wants to have the child and I am supposed to move out so that he can still take advantage of it. He stops at nothing, threatens incessantly, and I can't stay near him a day longer. Today—decision.

28 July (2/3)

Can't go, as I'm afraid to lose anything because I'm so thin. Today we have 3 butter, 2 farmer cheese, no saccharine for the day. Bubi gets in line for vegetables at 3:30. Nevertheless he's starved and looks bad. I've been praying since early morning for my child to stay healthy and not get as debilitated as I am. Leo tells me to fight against a shadow. He's on the wrong side to play the good one. He always promises to share but then leaves me no money. No power in the world can change him, if I live through this, I'll move somewhere else with the child. I'll gladly work for us and the child. Fischgasse has threatened him.

The rich sell bowls of vegetables to the poor or trade them for clothes of people who have been resettled here. Hunger drives the price of food sky-high, especially bread, flour, fruit and soup from the workshops. If no rations are given out.

28 July (3/3)

33 marks and no food. Vegetables 7.50, butter 1 dkg farmer cheese 14.50 + 5 dkg + 2 d. to stew for 3 people. Only bread for lunch. 1 ½ bu. … [illegible]

Days without food: 6 February 1942. 27 April 1942. 9 February 1942. 2 May 1942. 15 February (etc. etc. up to 18 April 1942)

1 September

I am lying down today with diarrhea from bad bread. Frau Lilly cooks the potatoes for us. Have no grain flakes and need them badly. At the pharmacy, still no strychnine. Leo has 8 days of sick leave and already on the 3rd day nothing to eat. We can't give him anything, potatoes are missing from my rations every day. 

2 September

Today they take all the hospitals, send them all away. Children from the apartments, if Erich has to go, I'll go too. Sudden drop in temperature and cold. Alarm. 2 September. No rain in weeks. Have diarrhea today 16 times. Frau Lukin brings Bubi potato soup with bread at 1:30 p.m., as Leo has let us down. I have my little piece of bread with water. 

3 September

Fuchs supplies yeast, eat with bread and 4 potatoes each by evening. Very hot day. Flies a nuisance. 

4 September

At embroidery workshop with Frau Lilly and Benedikt on trial. Will let me know in 2 days about acceptance. Rumkowky spoke [sic]5 4 p.m. They want to steal 13,000 children from us within 6 days. God help us. All the mothers are crying, and I don't want to believe it. 10:45 p.m. alarm. 11:15 light bomb on Gestapo next to us. 1:30 a.m. second alarm, rocket flares along the periphery.

5 September

Saturday. Children picked up at 6 a.m., Judengasse. Kirchgasse, awful yelling. Pull them down off the trucks and keep the police in check. Bread came 1 day early, 20 dkg too little per person. Have eaten it up in 4 meals, now I have none for 2 days.

Now 3 trucks are in front of building no. 3-5 and they don't know what to do because all the mothers ran away with their children. We did too. Stayed with Bubi until 2:30 in a shed, then posting of notice about 5 p.m. curfew. Everyone has to go home. At 3:30 a truck full of 65-year-olds and children up to age 10 drives away. Now a quiet night will follow, after this terror.

6 September

Wonderful Sunday rest. We have nothing to eat and drink. Thank God, Frau Lilly sends me 3 marks. In exchange for that, Frau Lukin gives me stalks and beet-greens. Make soup and greens. Was quite good but it gave Bubi and me diarrhea. The truck has been standing for hours at no. 5. Leo is downstairs at the front entrance. People are standing around nervously in the courtyards, the children in the rooms, and we're awaiting our fate. The truck left at 3:30 with the children, some mothers went too, and old people. Now it won't start again until 5 a.m. In the evening Bubi has diarrhea and is vomiting, caused by the soup.  I [have] diarrhea 5 times. We are all worn out. 3 days no bread and in addition the curfew.

7 September

No workshop is operating this week. Only police and firemen are allowed on the streets. Yesterday evening the biggest storm, dry from 7 to 10 p.m. and then 2 hours of rain with thunder and lightning. Thank God. Now it's 7:30 in the morning and I'm waiting to see if I will have soup for the child. Leo gets a second pair of shoes and lets the child go hungry. At 10 a.m. Bubi has jaundice. Face swollen. At no. 13 the truck drives away with children, maybe it would be better to go along. Bubi doesn't want to go voluntarily. Now it's 12:30 and nobody is fond of us, we have nothing in our stomachs.

Now the hardest days are coming, no money and not a morsel of bread, my poor child is already low-spirited from hunger, my heart bleeds, dear God what shall I do, jaundice on top of everything else. Leo is completely swollen, one eye almost closed, clubfooted from hunger. We live on cold, bitter tea.

8 September

At 4 a.m. the Kinderaktion11 continues with the help of the military, as it was taking too much time. We continue to fear. Bubi doesn't want to go with me voluntarily, I thought that we might get soup sooner, let's just rely on God, humans can't help us because there are none. Since 6 a.m. they have been standing, staying and waiting for bread, despite the curfew and closed shops, no one has work and we are 100,000 cowardly people and don't move a muscle.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH), Warsaw
RG Number 2.208M
Accession Number 1995.A.0867
Date Created
July 12, 1942 to September 8, 1942
Author / Creator
Irene Hauser
Language(s)
German
Location
Łódź, Poland
Document Type Diary
How to Cite Museum Materials