Hell on earth: account of the last days of the Warsaw ghetto found

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The Independent Online

A Jewish woman hiding in a lice-infested basement while the ghetto around her was engulfed by fire documented how "hell has come to Earth" in a graphic diary of the last, desperate, weeks of the Warsaw uprising in 1943.

A Jewish woman hiding in a lice-infested basement while the ghetto around her was engulfed by fire documented how "hell has come to Earth" in a graphic diary of the last, desperate, weeks of the Warsaw uprising in 1943.

The harrowing day-to-day description of a few dozen unarmed and starving people awaiting their fate in the surrounded and overcrowded shelter is the only surviving contemporary account of life in the burning ghetto as the Nazis systematically razed it to the ground.

The diary, which ends with the poignant observation that "we are living by the day, the hour, the moment", was only recently unearthed from among the archives at the Ghetto Fighters' House, a museum in the Kibbutz Lochamei Haghettaot in northern Israel.

It begins on 24 April, just five days after some 200 starving Jewish fighters began an uprising that lasted for almost four weeks despite the overwhelming superiority of the Nazi forces determined to extinguish it.

The diary's six pages, neatly written in Polish on graph paper with a precise diagram of the packed underground refuge, describes how as food starts to run out on the ninth day of their confinement, it is decided that each person will only receive one cup of coffee and one bowl of soup a day.

On the ninth evening of their stay, the young woman says there is suddenly a "horrible explosion" from a grenade thrown into the house above them. She adds: "A deep silence fills the room. The enemy surrounds the house, looking for us. Our sole method of defence is complete and utter silence."

The following day, she marks "ten days of struggle with our bloodthirsty enemy who plans utterly to destroy us. He started the war with grenades and tanks, and ends it with setting homes on fire. We must survive and we hope we will survive. We are fighting for justice and the right to live."

Writing her last entry on 2 May, while doing guard duty at the entrance of the makeshift bunker, she describes the courage of the 45 people of all ages confined in it. "Grenades are thrown at the house. People inside behave bravely. With complete tranquility they look death in the eye."

After it was discovered in the ruins of the ghetto, the diary was given to Adolph Berman, who bequeathed it in the 1970s to the museum which is now putting it on public show. Yossi Savit, the centre's archive director, told The Jerusalem Post yesterday that the fate of the young woman, in her late teens or early twenties, was unknown but that she probably perished in the Nazi demolition of the ghetto.

By July 1942 nearly 100,000 of the 450,000 Jews who had been confined to the disease-ridden ghetto had died. Some 300,000 were deported from that summer to death camps in Poland, the large majority to Treblinka.

By the end of the uprising in 1943, most of the fighters had been killed. The diary uses the phrase "hassidim of Hitler"- borrowed from a term for strictly observant Jews, to describe the relentless zeal with which the Nazis in Warsaw are carrying out the order that "by 1945 there will not be one Jew left in Europe".

The diary says "God is silent like a sphinx, and does not answer. And you, the nations, why are you silent? It seems the end of the world has arrived."

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