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Diary of Moryc Brajtbart

Brajtbart, Moryc Diary 1943
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Moryc Brajtbart was seventeen years old when German forces invaded Poland in September 1939. His native village of Szczerców was destroyed by troops of the German army on the third day of the invasion. Moryc and his family—his father Samuel, his mother Kraydl, and two younger sisters, Roza and Bronia—found refuge in nearby Zelów.

Starting in late 1940 or early 1941, several streets in the center of the town were marked as boundaries of an unfenced ghetto.1 During late spring and summer 1942, German authorities deported the inhabitants and closed the Zelów ghetto. Most of the roughly 7,000 Jews living in Zelów were deported to the killing center at Chełmno, where they were murdered. Some were deported to the Łódź ghetto, and some were sent to forced labor camps in the Poznań region.

Moryc was among those Jews who were deported, but he managed to jump off one of the transports along with his uncle and two cousins. Hiding in the woods, they eventually managed to find their way back to their home region, where they had local contacts whom they hoped would help them. Moryc waited outside of a local peasant's house while his uncle and cousins went inside to negotiate the costs of a hiding place. But when Moryc peeked inside through the window, he saw the dead bodies of his uncle and cousins inside. Terrified, he ran away from the home. He eventually found refuge at the house of an older woman named Genia in the nearby village of Pożdżenice. At first, Moryc was hiding in Genia's attic. But after a search of the house by German soldiers, Genia dug a hideout for Moryc under her stable. He hid there until Soviet forces liberated the area in 1944.2

While in hiding, Moryc began keeping a diary to record the traumatic events he was experiencing. Within a short period of time, Moryc had been separated from his family during the destruction of the Zelów ghetto, fled from a deportation, and witnessed the deaths of his uncle and two cousins. Yet it seems that the part of the diary containing the description of these events is missing. The surviving entries provide very little information about his life in hiding, and the reader barely learns about Genia or everyday events at her house. Instead, Moryc's diary entries describe his inner thoughts and his nightmarish dream sequences. He explores the idea that Jewish people in Europe have become a sort of "dispensable" or "unneeded" man ("bezpotrzebny człowiek")—peering out at an indifferent world.

For more on the history of the Holocaust in Poland—and especially the relations and contested histories of Poles and Jews—see Joshua D. Zimmerman, ed., Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and its Aftermath (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003).

“I love you so much,” Yiddish transliterated according to Polish spelling conventions.

A diminutive form of the name "Rose."

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[Pożdżenice, October 16, 1943]

The ground was covered with white fluffy snow. And some man rendered unneeded by the world stands in an attic, looking through an opening upon this miraculous, white world. This man, not needed by the world, is a lonely, unhappy Israelite. Leprous to the human eye, the Jew, the eternal wanderer, for whom deadly enemies lie in wait around every corner—an innocent, unarmed prey [...]

I've had such a horrible week. I once saw grandfather and grandmother at night. Grandfather was crying so terribly. All night long I only saw old people, I saw how they were led away, I heard how they were shot, I saw their pale faces. I also saw papa standing in front of grandfather. I heard how he told him, "It’s not true. They don’t burn people," and grandfather cried so. I suffered so horribly all night [...]

And the unneeded man stands as still as a stone, as lifeless as a statue, with a shattered soul, and looks far into the distance, trying to pierce the horizon with his vision, waiting in his mind for something unreal, waiting for a miracle. The miracle of the liberation of his Nation, abandoned by God and man. And he dreams. A dream of happiness and youth. The ground is all white, snow falls in fine flakes and he stands in the company of his friends, giving instructions for a race. Next to them stand their sleds, which they use for their nightly races. Which one of us will take first place on their sled? The race begins, the first sled takes off, then the second, the third, the fourth. Laughter, screams, chaos, each person tries to go as fast as possible, but then the first sled falls over, followed by the second and third, and everyone is lying sprawled out on the white, fluffy snow. Next to them lie their sleds flipped over in the snow. I run to them and they get up, numb to the impact and the bruises, and the race starts again. And after such an evening of sledding, he returns home happily to his parents and sisters. His mother stands in the small kitchen (as we call it) and looks over her flushed and tired son with a maternal eye. Nearby stands our beloved little sister, who runs up, hugs me and says in her barely understandable lovely little voice, "Chob dich lib in chac,"1 kissing me. Supper is waiting on the table and he devours it like a wolf. It’s bright and warm in the kitchen, papa is sitting near the kitchen dozing off. On the other side stands my willow-green bed covered with clean, white linen. I lie down to sleep. Mama comes up, takes off the bedding to warm it up by the stove and looks at the smile of her pampered son. He falls asleep exhausted.

I wake up and look around for my beloved mama. Papa was dozing near the stove, my little sister was just sitting in my lap. My older sister, Rozka,2 was embroidering something. But there's no one here. I look around me and see that instead of my dearest mama, there stands a large, grey chimney. Instead of my papa, I see a grey, straw roof. So where is everyone, where is my mama, papa and my sisters? Where are they? Straining my eyes, I look through the crack and see that the ground is covered with snow, but my friends are not there. And I come to a realization, remembering that this was a dream, a dream of happiness and youth. That's how life was once, like a dream. And this life has passed by like a dream. I once had a mama, I had a papa, I had sisters, but that was back then. Today, in real life, I see that I have become a homeless orphan. And it was such a long time ago, on one summer day the merciless tyrants came and tore me away from my dear parents and sisters. I remember I was sitting down at work, papa was standing next to me talking to me, mama was doing something in the house, my little sister, Broncia, was playing outside and Rozka was busy with something. And I was torn away from my Nation and my brothers. Oh, the unhappiest day of my Nation. And today this unneeded Israelite wanders among strangers with the hope that maybe he'll survive and meet his dear parents and sisters. And the man rendered unneeded by the world continues to stand and dream, and all sorts of dreams and nightmares haunt him. And he dreams that he is surrounded by the Demon of death. He sees how they torment, attack, torture and murder him. He sees that he is surrounded by black prison walls and he sees his small prison cell. He sees his paleness and weakness, he feels hungry, so hungry, and he sees his white prisoner's uniform. He sees their terrifying faces, but he didn't commit any crime and was not a murderer [...]

And he continues to dream that when the tyrants torture this defenseless Israelite to death, he will fall into eternal, uninterrupted sleep. And the final deathbed thought comes to the Israelite, that when his mother, father, sister or brother appear and will want to place a headstone inscribed with small letters:

Here lies a victim of Hitlerism, an unneeded man of the world, an Israelite, a leper to the world around him, a Jew, the eternal wanderer.

Who will point them to the grave so they could visit at times to cry out the bleeding heart of the parent?

[...]

 

[May 14, 1944, "The Cry of the Homeless One," page 13]

A homeless orphan, scorned and condemned by the world. An Israelite, a castaway thrown about by the onslaught of tyrants, he stands in some forest, hiding from the shadow of man. He stands and looks at the miracles of nature, those green fields, those wheat fields, meadows and groves. He looks up at the blue sky, at the golden sun rays. Everything is alive and races to life. Nature has donned its robes and put on its golden valors, revealing herself in all her majestic bloom. I would take all of this in with my sight, the world is so marvelous, so beautiful, but not for me. These golden sunrays do not shine for me, the Israelite. The world does not bloom for me. This radiance is not for me. For me, the world is cut down. For me, the Israelite, there is only that dark, stifling grave or that dark, grey attic, where there is no sun, nor the light of day. For me and for the remaining members of my nation, there is only darkness. It is so dark, such a terrible tragedy is enacted in my heart, a wound runs through it, never to heal again [...] We have become a source of terror to our neighbors. When they see me outside, they run away from me. I have disappeared from their memories like a deceased person. Are our hearts supposed to be unfeeling machines? And will that great day ever come when the sighs of the prisoners are heard and resolved for those of us condemned to "death?"

[...]

And he stands, thinks and dreams. He feels that although he was torn away from his dear ones, he is still together with them. He feels those blissful kisses and tears of his mother. He feels how she clasps him, how she hugs him with her maternal love. And he sees his pale father, as tears flow down his face. He sees his dear sisters, the words of his beloved mother ring in his ears. Papa stands next to her, he does not say anything, he can't, his tears choke him. My dear mama, although I was torn away from you, although our hearts have been bled, mama, your son is still together with you. He loves both of you with the same son's love, he hugs you. Mama, I still kiss you, clasp you and hug you. I call out your name, but only in my dreams. In reality, this was all a long time ago.

[...]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1997.A.0301
Date Created
October 16, 1943 to May 14, 1944
Page(s) 4
Author / Creator
Moryc Brajtbart
Language(s)
Polish
Location
Pożdżenice, Poland
Document Type Diary
How to Cite Museum Materials

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