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Diary of Michal Kraus

Kraus, Michal memoir 1947
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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tags: children & youth family

type: Diary

Michal Kraus, from Náchod in Czechoslovakia, was nine years old when the war began in 1939. In December 1942, he was deported to Theresienstadt, and the following year from there to Auschwitz.1 While both of Kraus's parents were killed, he survived Auschwitz as well as a number of forced labor camps and death marches. Kraus had kept a diary during the war, but it was confiscated and destroyed. In 1947 he produced a three-volume illustrated memoir meant to capture his wartime experiences as completely as possible. While the format of this text and its exhaustiveness are unique, the effort put into it is not. Indeed, there were many such efforts by survivors in the immediate postwar period to document what they had endured. These writings are so ubiquitous, in fact, that a researcher aiming to examine wartime diaries must be careful to determine whether the manuscript in question was written as a daily record, or reconstructed after the war based on the author's memories of the events of the 1930s and 1940s. In Kraus's case, both the preamble and introduction directly address the status of the text as a "reconstruction" of events. Kraus—who was fifteen in 1945—demonstrates an awareness of the importance of his memoir, as well as its shortcomings, that is atypical for diarists and memoir writers.2

As a document, then, Kraus's writing is situated at the cross section of diary and memoir.3 While Kraus is explicit about the status of his notebooks as a reconstruction, other writers are not. Researchers must therefore interrogate both visual and content-related cues in order to determine when and how a document might have been composed.

The text presented here opens up several key questions:

How might we characterize memoirs written in the immediate aftermath of the events that they describe? How might they be different from those composed years after the fact?

How does Kraus frame the purpose of his memoir in the first place, and does it differ from the original purpose of the destroyed wartime document?

How does a document like this reveal a self-consciousness about its own creation? How might this sensibility color the way in which Kraus relates his experiences?

How does Kraus's experience as a teenager—not unlike Peter Feigl and Miriam Korber, at the time they wrote their respective diaries—color his observations and writing?

In the section of the memoir presented here, Kraus readily admits to failures of memory, attempts to reconstruct events, and perhaps most strikingly, doubts that his story could be properly understood at all. Above all, Kraus's memoir shows a remarkable understanding of his story as part of a larger whole, and as a part of an unprecedented event that demanded documentation and remembrance, no matter how imperfect the results. Kraus later described the significance of this memoir in his video testimony for the USC Shoah Visual History Foundation.

For a history of the Holocaust in the Czech lands, see Livia Rothkirchen, The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust (Lincoln and Jerusalem: University of Nebraska Press and Yad Vashem, 2006).

Kraus's diary has been published and translated in part, under his anglicized new name, Michael. See Michael Kraus, Drawing the Holocaust: A Teenager's Memory of Terezin, Birkenau, and Mauthausen, trans. Paul R.Wilson (Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College Press, 2016).

The distinction between diaries and memoirs is elaborated on in Alexandra Garbarini, Numbered Days: Diaries and the Holocaust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006).

Terezín is the Czech name for the town and Nazi concentration camp located there, referred to in German as Theresienstadt.

Osvěnčin is the Czech name for Auschwitz.

Abbreviation for Konzentrationslager, German for concentration camp

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PREAMBLE

Most people—for example, those here in Náchod—did not live through as much suffering and disappointment during the seven years of occupation, as we, the ten or twelve of us who survived the hell of Nazi occupation and returned home, alive, but not healthy, because many of us returned with serious illnesses.

I saw and heard so much during my years of persecution that I would like to write down succinctly what I remember. Last year, when I started to write the first part (of this diary) I still had many details etched into my memory. But today, two years later, what I want to write about I recall less, even though every day would provide a good author with an abundance of rewarding material.

I shall note only what remained in my memory, the most important events of my life during the war. Before ending this preamble, I would like to pay homage to those who did not survive the Nazi concentration camps. There were many of them, terribly many. They suffered unbearably. They perished under indescribable circumstances. And their sacrifices must not escape our consciousness, they must continue to admonish us: beware of Nazism, fascism and all unlawful authority.

 

INTRODUCTION

It is now three years since I started to write my first diary. Already then we were preparing ourselves for Terezín,1 so there was no shortage of news or interesting things to report. I spent a lot of time on this diary, as well as on several of my own writings and poems. In Terezín this activity continued more intensively because the children's house in which I was placed issued a weekly newspaper on which I also collaborated.

In December 1943, I left for Osvěnčin,2 where everything was forbidden. My beloved books and notebooks were taken from me and burned. So no written memories of those horrible times remain. That is why I will start anew and briefly recount that which I experienced during the six years of German domination.

It is impossible to describe the horrors of the K-Z3 as they really were, because no mere words can accurately describe the reality of the hardships and horrors. Surely nobody can believe the SS methods if he did not feel them on his own skin.

Who can feel with us?

Who can understand us?

And believe me, even if physical suffering was unbearable and many succumbed, the psychological suffering was worse than the physical one.

And when I now recall what was, I don't want—I don't want to—remember the horror: that I lost my father, my mother and lived with the expectation of death, that I miraculously escaped. On the other hand, I want to record all that I experienced during the supremacy of national socialism, retain it so that my progeny will not forget to hate the Germanic hordes.

I use the term "hordes" because it is impossible in the 20th century to use the term "nation" for a highly cultured and civilized people that conducted its affairs with medieval methods that were used by people 700 years ago.

I call these writings "diary" although I am sure that anybody who reads this will realize that the title "diary" is incorrect. But they are my experiences, written after the fact and that is why I chose to retain the title "Diary" though it is not completely correct. I don't intend to elaborate. In this diary I merely wish to describe the worst days under the supremacy of the Hitler hegemony.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1995.A.1067.1
Accession Number 2005.51
Date Created
1947
Page(s) 10
Author / Creator
Kraus, Michal
Language(s)
Czech
Location
Náchod, Czech Republic
Náchod, Czechoslovakia (historical)
Document Type Diary
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