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The Warsaw Ghetto: Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan


March 10, 1940

The gigantic catastrophe which has descended on Polish Jewry has no parallel, even in the darkest periods of Jewish history. Firstly – the depth of the hatred. This is not hatred whose source is simply in a party platform, invented for political purposes. It is a hatred of emotion, whose source is some psychopathic disease. In its outward manifestation it appears as physiological hatred, which sees the object of its hatred as tainted in body, as lepers who have no place in society.

The masses have accepted this sort of objective hatred. Their limited understanding does not grasp ideological hatred; psychology is beyond them, and they are incapable of understanding it. They have absorbed their masters’ teaching in a concretely bodily form. The Jew is filthy; the Jew is a swindler and evil; the Jew is the enemy of Germany and undermines its existence; the Jew was the prime mover in the Versailles Treaty, which reduced Germany to a shambles; the Jew is Satan, who sows dissension between the nations, arousing them to bloodshed in order to profit from their destruction. These are easily understood concepts whose effect on day-to-day life can be felt immediately.

But the founders of Nazism and the party leaders created a theoretical ideology with deeper foundations. They have a complete doctrine which represents the Jewish spirit inside and out. Judaism and Nazism are two attitudes to the world that are incompatible, and for this reason they cannot coexist side by side. For 2,000 years Judaism has left its imprint, culturally and spiritually, on the nations of the world. It stood fast, blocking the spread of German paganism, whose teaching was different and whose culture was drawn from a different source. Two kings cannot wear one crown. Either humanity would be Judaic, or it would be pagan-German. Up until now it was Judaic. Even Catholicism is a child of Judaism, and the fruit of its spirit, and thus afflicted by all the shortcomings inherited from its mother. The new world which Nazism would fashion would be pagan, primordial, in all its attitudes. It is therefore ready to fight Judaism to the finish....

It is our good fortune that the conquerors failed to understand the nature and strength of Polish Jewry. Logically, we are obliged to die. According to the laws of nature, our end is destruction and total annihilation. How can an entire community feed itself when it has no grip on life? For there is no occupation, no trade which is not limited and circumscribed for us.

But even this time we did not comply with the laws of nature. There is within us some hidden power, mysterious and secret, which keeps us going, keeps us alive, despite the natural law. If we cannot live on what is permitted, we live on what is forbidden. That is no disgrace for us. What is permitted is no more than an agreement, and what is forbidden derives from the same agreement. If we do not accept the agreement, it is not binding on us. And particularly where this forbidden and permitted comes from a barbarous conqueror, who limits life to one made in his image, his murderous and larcenous views.

...The Jews of Poland – oppressed and broken, shamed and debased, still love life, and do not wish to leave this world before their time. Say what you like, the will to live amidst terrible suffering is the manifestation of some hidden power whose nature we do not yet know. It is a marvelous, life-preserving power that only the most firmly established and strongest of the communities of our people have received as a blessing.

The fact that we have hardly any suicides is worthy of special emphasis.

We have remained naked. But as long as that secret power is concealed within us, we shall not yield to despair. The strength of this power lies in the very nature of the Polish Jew, which is rooted in our eternal tradition that commands us to live....

October 2, 1940

Eve of the New Year, 5701

We have no public prayers even on the High Holy Days....

Even for the High Holy Days permission was not received for public prayers, although I do not know whether the Community [Council] tried to get it. And if it did not try that is only because it knew that its request would be refused. Even in the darkest days of our exile we did not suffer this trial....

The wonder is that despite all this we go on living. Our life may be one of scorn and debasement as it is seen from outside, but our human emotions have become so numbed that we no longer feel, and the awareness of insult that is concealed within every human being no longer rises up in protest against even the most barbarous and cruel of such insults.

To what can this matter be compared? To a vicious dog who does not treat you with respect; would you, then, be insulted? Is not that why he is a dog?

Again: everything is forbidden to us; and yet we do everything! We make our "living" in ways that are forbidden, and not by permission.

It is the same with community prayers: secret minyanim* in their hundreds all over Warsaw hold prayers together and do not leave out even the most difficult hymns. Neither preachers nor sermons are missing; everything is in accordance with the ancient traditions of Israel. Where there is no informer the enemy does not know what is going on. And surely no member of the Community of Israel, even if he was born in Poland, will go to lay information against Jews standing before their Maker.

Near the main synagogue some side room is chosen with windows facing the courtyard, and there hearts are poured out to the God of Israel in whispered supplications. This time it is without cantors and without choirs; there are only whispered prayers, but the prayer comes from the heart; even tears may be wept secretly, and the gates of the tears cannot be locked....

Sources:Yad Vashem

Extracted from C.A. Kaplan, Megilat Yissurin – Yoman Getto Varsha ("Scroll of Agony – Warsaw Ghetto Diary"), September 1, 1939 – August 4, 1942, Tel Aviv-Jerusalem, 1966, pp. 201-202, 350.
* The group of ten adult males making a quorum for Jewish community prayers.