For January we are exploring documentaries on the Holocaust and today I will be reviewing The Secret Diary of the Holocaust documentary.
In 2005, a school notebook was discovered. It was written by a 14-year-old girl named Rutka Laskier. The diary was discovered in the floorboards of her home. She was dubbed the “Polish Anne Frank.” In here she recorded the last few months of her life in the ghetto of Bedzin. She wrote about the atrocities that she saw, the hunger, and the physical hardships she endured. This documentary tells Rutka’s through the eyes of her half-sister, Zahava Scherz.
The diary that Rutka wrote was kept hidden for 60 years. Her half-sister Zahava was not aware of Rutka’s existence until she was 14. She was looking through her family photo albums and discovered a picture of two children: her half-sister Rutka and her half-brother. It was a shock and surprise to her. Her father did not talk about the family that died in the Holocaust. So in Zahava’s mind, there would be no conversations about her half-sister.
That is until 2005 when the diary was discovered. When the diary was found, Zahava found herself going on a journey to discover her half-sister. The original handwritten diary is kept at the Yad Ysehm museum. Rutka’s diary provides a unique testimony about life in the ghetto. Menachem Lior was the scholar who found the diary. He was also a friend of Rutka’s.
Zahava was able to read a translation of the diary. She was able to hold the original diary. The diary covers three months from January and April 1943. Rutka was a veteran of the ghetto at 14 years old. Rutka’s diary provides vivid detail about the ghetto and the Nazi’s atrocities. It is the voice of a child becoming an adult. Menachem Loir, who works at the Yad Yshem museum, knew the diary was Rutka based on comments about a boy that was made in the diary. Rutka had a crush on Menachem’s friend.
Then Zahava makes her way to Poland to discover more about Rutka’s life. She grew up with no extended relatives and felt empty. So she decided to go to Poland to get to know this family that had been killed. She goes to Bedzin and sees the man who published the diary in Poland. He takes Zahava to the house where she hid the diary. During the war, the house was owned by a Polish family who was forced to move out. However, the family was allowed to check up on the house.
Stanislawa, a member of the family would be the one who looked over the house. She met Rutka and they became friends. On a tour of the house, Zahava sees where the diary was hidden. Rutka hid the diary between steps. Stanislawa had shown where Rutka could hide the diary and found it in the spot where Rutka hid it when the family returned to the house. Stanislawa treated it like her personal memory of Rutka and it was only by chance that the diary was discovered. As a thank you, Zahava gave Stanislawa a copy of the diary.
Zahava then tours a school in Benzin. The diary is now part of the Polish curriculum in Benzin. She discusses with the students about the diary. The students then read passages from the diary. Continue to watch this documentary to find out more about Rutka’s and Zahava’s story.
This is a fantastic documentary about the Holocaust. This one I would highly recommend showing to a history classroom, no matter what grade level. Zahava’s story about discovering her sister is very touching. There is no hesitation when it would come to show this documentary in a classroom. If I had a list of Holocaust documentaries to show, this one would be at the top of the list.
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