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April 14, 2013

Ghetto's final hours revealed in diary 70 years after Holocaust

JERUSALEM — "People are suffocating because of the smoke. All shout for help. Many, almost everyone, call upon God, 'God show your power, have mercy on us.' God is silent as a sphinx and does not reply."

These were the final words from a makeshift diary scribbled on both sides of five pages of graph paper by an unidentified young woman hiding in a bunker as the Nazis closed in on what remained of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The diary runs from April 23, 1943, and ends 17 days later on May 10. It is the first real glimpse into the daily lives of about 40,000 Jews hiding in bunkers as the ghetto burnt above them and the Jewish underground fought the Germans, scholars said as it was shown to Bloomberg by Yad Vashem staff. Sunday's Holocaust Memorial Day commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising.

"We hear so much about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising from the fighters' point of view," said Havi Dreyfus, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University and the head of Yad Vashem's center of research into the Holocaust in Poland. "Here we have a Jewish youngster telling us important information, the experience that was common to tens of thousands of Jews."

The writing of the young woman reminds the reader of a much more famous diarist — Anne Frank, whose book "The Diary of a Young Girl," first published in Dutch in 1947, details her life hiding in a secret annex for more than two years to escape the Nazis.

"It's interesting when you juxtapose the two teenaged women with radically different Holocaust experiences," said David Silberklang, senior historian at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research. "Their stories end the same way, in death."

Frank was in hiding with her family for two years in relatively quiet conditions that allowed her to think about boys and her appearance "in the midst of terror," he said. The Warsaw teenager, on the other hand, wrote with "death staring her in the face, amid stench and smoke and suffocation."

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