28 January 2005

Rainy Day Diaries from World War II

Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day blog, whose diary entries were among my first inspirations to start my own blog, has been commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (by the Soviet Army) by posting diary entries from that era. Who wrote the following entries? Rainy Day has the answers. Just scroll down.
  • 4 December 1940 "Watch the newsreel with the Führer, who is very pleased with it. The shots of London burning make a particularly profound impression on him. He also takes careful note of the pessimistic opinions from the USA.

    Nevertheless, he does not expect the immediate collapse of England and probably rightly. The ruling class there has now lost so much that it is bringing up its last reserves. By which he means not so much the City of London as the Jews who if we win will be hurled out of Europe, and Churchill, Eden, etc., who see their personal existences as dependent on the outcome of the war. Perhaps they will end up on the scaffold. We can expect little resistance to them from the masses at the moment. The English proletariat lives under such wretched conditions that a few extra privations will not cause it much discomfort. There will be no revolution, anyway, because the opportunity is lacking. England will thus survive through the winter. The Führer does not intend to mount any air-raids at Christmas. Churchill, in his madness, will do so, and then the English will be treated to revenge raids that will make their eyes pop."

  • 21 May 1941 "Sonnenstein has long ceased to be the regional mental asylum. The SS is in charge. They have built a special crematorium. Those who are not wanted are taken up in a kind of police van. People here all call it 'the whispering coach'. Afterward the relatives receive the urn. Recently one family here received two urns at once. We now have pure Communism. But Communism murders more honestly."

  • 1 July 1942 [Holland] "New measures again. Not only are we not allowed to cycle any more, we are not allowed to ride the trams either. We have to be off the streets by eight, and we are not allowed inside non-Jewish homes. Shopping is restricted for us to the hours between three and five p.m. It's a mess. I've moved back home. I couldn't stay with the Fernandes' [non-Jewish friends] any more. I did have a wonderful time there. At my last meal with them last night, I read them a poem of thanks I had written. We were all so moved and depressed because of the new measures, and crying so hard about everything, that we ended up sobbing with laughter. It was a comical tragedy, really."

  • 22 March 1945 [Bergen-Belsen] "The weather affects the mood of the camp most profoundly. Had it not been such a gloriously fine spring day today, we would all be feeling as dejected as on our worst days.

    Last night a transport of two thousand people arrived from Buchenwald concentration camp. The shouting, abusing, crying, taunting, groaning, cracking of the whips and thuds of the beatings could be heard throughout the night.

    This morning behind Hut 16 we saw hundreds of corpses being dragged onto a heap and stripped of their clothing. They also removed the gold teeth from their mouths. Never has it been as bad as this. All day, the heap of emaciated, naked bodies was left lying in the sun. Their facial expressions are frightening. They seem to know what is being done to them."

  • 6 May 1945 "Last week I would not go to see the Belsen horror-camp pictures. I felt the ones in paper quite dreadful enough. They were shown again tonight, as requested by someone. I looked in such pity, marvelling how human beings could have clung to life: the poor survivors must have had both a good constitution and a great will to live. What kept them alive so long before they dropped as pitiful skeletons? Did their minds go first, I wonder, their reasoning leaving nothing but the shell to perish slowly, like a house left untenanted? Did their pitiful cries and prayers rise into the night to a God who seemed deaf and pitiless as their cruel jailers?"
And Siberian Light cites a memoir in the Guardian by Yakov Vinnichenko, one of the first Russian soldiers to enter Auschwitz.
Just five survivors remain today from the three Soviet divisions which liberated Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945. I am the youngest - I was only 19 when the war ended. But the events of 60 years ago are as fresh in my memory as if they happened yesterday.

I come from Vinnitsa in Ukraine. But my mother took me to Moscow in 1934 because of famine. In the summer of 1941 I went to help my grandad in Ukraine with his vegetable garden. I arrived on Saturday June 21, and the next day we took his cow to the market. At noon, we heard on the loudspeaker that war had begun. Money became worthless immediately. We could have got twice as much for the cow, but it was too late.

Although I was just 15 years old, I was immediately conscripted. We were kept in reserve, but when I turned 17 I was sent to the front. I had my baptism of fire in January 1943, when we kicked the Germans out of Voronezh. The following month, we liberated Kursk. It was a bloodbath: a whole regiment was killed in three hours. Later, I was badly wounded in the chest in the battle of Kursk. On recovery, I caught up with my regiment, under the command of General Vasily Petrenko, who died not long ago. He was a great commander. Under him we liberated Lvov in the summer of 1944, and on January 19 1945 we freed Krakow, a beautiful ancient city

At about 4am on January 27 we approached Oswiecim (Auschwitz). It is a small town on the Sola river. We didn't even know there was a concentration camp there.

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