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Holocaust Diaries


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Diary of Mirjam Korber

Korber, Mirjam Diary 1942
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Gift of Mirjam Korber Bercovici

The family of Mirjam Korber came from the northern Romanian town of Câmpulung. Korber’s family were artisans who had lived in the town for more than a generation. In 1940, as Romanian antisemitic legislation went into full effect, Mirjam was expelled from school in Botoșani, some 70 miles east of her hometown.

In October 1941, the Korbers were deported to Transnistria, along with up to 150,000 other Jews from Bukovina and Bessarabia in the course of that fall. Transnistria was an area in western Ukraine recently occupied by the advancing Romanian army. Romania was the ally of Nazi Germany, and participated in Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union by providing troops for the eastern front. Deportations to Transnistria were part of a ploy by Romania's authoritarian dictator Antonescu to "cleanse"—under the pretext of communist threat and security reasons—the entire territory of Romania of its Jewish population. Large numbers of Romanian Jews were thus dumped across the border. They were left to languish in a hostile area, without means to support themselves, in the open ghetto of Transnistria.1

In December 1941, about a month after the arrival of the Korbers in Dzhuryn in Transnistria, Mirjam, now eighteen years old, started keeping a diary. There are very few Jewish primary sources from Transnistria, and in this sense, Mirjam's diary is invaluable.2

After the early entries offered a brief retrospective description of the family's previous life in Romania and the tragedy of deportation to Transnistria, Mirjam's diary described everyday life as it was unfolding, in enforced segregation, poverty, uncertainty, and fear. Although Mirjam's family was able to secure shelter and was thus luckier than many deportee families, life was difficult, depressing, and, above all, precarious and uncertain. Mirjam's diary entries convey all these qualities, and allow us to glimpse the realities that Romanian Jews faced in this specific period and in this particular location through the eyes of a teenager. Important as they are for their documentary value, however, excerpts from Mirjam's diary also speak to a more subjective situation. The diary reveals the author's depression, sadness, and exhaustion; a five-month gap in writing epitomizes what Mirjam calls her "lethargy."3

Transnistria is often referred to as an open ghetto because it did not have walls or fences, but entrance and access was controlled. For a history of the Holocaust in Romania see Jean Ancel, The History of the Holocaust in Romania (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011) and Radu Ioanid, The Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies under the Antonescu Regime, 1940–1944 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000). See also the landmark report of The International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania.

Another source on Transnistria is the pamphlet written in an unnamed Transnistrian camp, included in the Post-Holocaust Testimony collection.

For biographical information on Mirjam Korber and her family, all of whom survived the Holocaust, as well for more details about the diary, see Alexandra Zapruder, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).

The German spelling of Dzhuryn.

Today this is Mohyliv-Podil's'kyy in Ukraine, a small city about 50 miles southwest from Dzhuryn.

Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907), considered one of the founders of modern Romanian painting.

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Tuesday, July 15, 1942

What I write is pointless. No one will read [this], and I, if I survive this, will be more than happy to throw into the fire everything regarding the cursed time I spent in Djurin.1 Yet I write. The most important event from last week that I noted: I received mail. It was Monday in the afternoon. I was just returning from Ruty with whom I stayed by the water. I was walking home with Sisi and saw people happy that [they've got] mail and I said to myself: of course we did not get mail. I remember other years, other autumns spent somewhere in a park, or in a park at home when at this time of the year the fruit exhibit was displayed, or the time I spent on the boulevard in Botoşani or in the garden. But I must forget, I must forget, because it is so painful, because maybe I'll never see those places, those people [again]. I must live in the present. I should try to make friends. It would be nice, but I have no strength to speak more than ten words to anyone, and even those words that I speak are the words foreign to me, not expressing what I really feel, only formalities. What I feel I cannot tell, I cannot describe. I have a pain in my soul, a great wound, enormous in size, that bleeds any time my thoughts turn to the past. But I am young, I should tell myself repeatedly, there are hundreds of youths in my circumstances who found happiness. Why can't I be like them? Why? It is a question to which I alone cannot find an answer. Maybe it is my nature to be alone, or maybe I lack will. I see only that I find it impossible to [spend time] with someone and have a laugh and be happy. Insteead, I watch the road leading to Moghilev rather than sit around and talk nonsense.2 When I watch the road toward Moghilev I have the impression that I am closer to home. And there are days when I miss home so much that I would do almost anything to get another glimpse of our house, even from afar. Evening is here. All appears as in a pastel by Grigorescu.3 The smoke rises from chimneys, the cows are lying down, the evening fog slowly descends upon Djurin.

[...]

 

Saturday, March 20, 1943

Why haven't I written for the past five months? Why did, every time I wanted to write, something stop me from opening myself up, from confessing to you, my diary, monthly journal rather than a daily journal, as is your name? How much I need you, dear journal! But it is so hard to let the words out, not only orally, but to push the hand [to write] is also hard. It has become difficult even to make the smallest decision, even [the decision to] wake myself up from the lethargy that I live in is hard to do. Why? Why the wish to confess, but the inability to find the words of confession? Even if my confessing words were diamonds, it would still be very difficult for me to confess. And how many things have happened since then! I could fill notebooks with events daily, [events] so minuscule in themselves but large in importance, I could write so many things every day, yet all [of them] are so uniform in their succession that, when viewed together, they look identical with those that took place a year ago. Who would imagine that we would survive this long, that we would still be alive here today. And still, a winter, and a difficult one, went by; after so much suffering we live and wish to live on. To fill in what I left out [from the diary] would be very difficult. I was so ill, six weeks with jaundice and fever, episodes of anger for no reason, mother's recent illness of the gallbladder, all this requires thick notebooks to be described, and described only in short. Today, after so many months of silence, of muteness, I write, because I can no longer keep silent. I call on Providence to explain why, why have you, doomed destiny, driven us to the ends of the earth (because Djurin is that), condemned us without reason to suffering and spiritual torment that is harder to endure than bodily suffering? For what sins this punishment? For what fault? The uncertainty with which we live is harsher than any death sentence. And today, the rumor is again spreading, as it has many times before, that we are about to leave, about to go home. And even though I'm certain that these are just empty words, that it is a lie wished by everyone, and even though I know in one hour someone will give us the sad news (something not going well in the camp or on the front), a ray of hope appears and I smile, I smile with tears in my eyes. Oh man, don't let yourself be fooled. For a year and a half we have lived in misery, kept alive only by the illusion, the hope of being home again, and until now these were merely hopes produced by our own desires. That typhus is furiously spreading, that acquaintances and others we don't know die daily, that prices on the market are astronomical, that the Popplicher family has moved, that we have strangers (and let it be said in parentheses, they are poor but nice) in the room, that we still received money, that outside is windy and cold, that occasionally I still receive a letter from Margit, that entire days I go bored, that I will become, not to jinx it, an English teacher, that I am a great cook, that I am exceedingly short-tempered—these are all nothing but rubble, insignificant things that I'll remember even without writing them, but if I could transcribe my thoughts, my feelings, as I feel them, that would be of some value. But sadly, I can't do it, so I forget all my thoughts and lose them. Perhaps it is better that I forget, that I forget that I am only 19 years old and forget not that I'm losing the best days of my life without investing them in anything, without work, without progress, without life, properly speaking, in a state of drowsiness. It is sad, but I have not made any friends I until today, and the old ones are far away, so far away.

[...]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Gift of Mirjam Korber Bercovici
Accession Number 2010.93.1
Date Created
July 15, 1942 to March 20, 1943
Page(s) 7
Author / Creator
Korber, Mirjam
Language(s)
Romanian
Location
Dzhuryn, Ukraine
Document Type Diary
How to Cite Museum Materials