The Assault on the Holy within the Human

The Account of the Holocaust Diaries
  • David Patterson


When addressing the matter of the singularity and the universality of the Holocaust, we have a sense that in this one event something of immense significance for all humanity has transpired. That ‘something’ is the holiness -the absolute, unconditional value — of every human being. In order to remove such a notion from the realm of abstraction, however, we must turn to the flesh-and-blood human beings who were targeted for destruction: the Jews. As God’s Chosen, the Jews are chosen to attest to the chosenness of every human being. Why did the Nazis target the Jews? Not because some Jews may have prospered during an economic depression. Not because they were an easy scapegoat for social problems. But because their presence in the world contains a testimony to the sanctity of every human being, and that testimony cannot exist in the same universe with Nazi ideology. Therefore the Nazis made the existence of the Jew a crime. And one way to begin to penetrate the core of that Jewish existence in the time of the annihilation is to examine the diaries that they wrote along the edge of annihilation. In those texts we discover the question that belongs both to the singularity and to the universality of the Holocaust: What is a human being? ‘At Auschwitz, not only man died, but also the idea of man,’ Ehe Wiesel has said. But what exactly is the idea of man? And how does it die? Or better: how does it come to be murdered in the murder that is the defining feature of the Holocaust?


Black Hole Jewish Life Human Image Immense Significance Nazi Ideology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Elie Wiesel, Legends of Our Time (New York: Avon, 1968), p.230.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism, tr. Victor Grubenweiser and Leonard Pearl (New York: Schocken, 1948), p.153.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Louis Newman, ed., The Hasidic Anthology (New York: Schocken, 1963), p.83.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Emil L. Fackenheim, What Is Judaism (New York: Macmillan, 1987), p. 109.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Yitzhak Zuckerman, ‘From the Warsaw Ghetto’, Commentary (December 1975): 64.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hillel Seidman, Tog-bukh fon Warshever geto (New York: Avraham Mitlberg, 1947), p.67. Unless indicated otherwise, all translations are my own. — D. P.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Yitzhak Katznelson, Vittel Diary, tr. Myer Cohn, 2nd edn, (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1972), pp.83–84.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hersh Wasser, ‘Daily Entries of Hersh Wasser,’ tr. Joseph Kermish, Y ad Vashem Studies, 15 (1983): 248.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Yitskhok Rudashevski, The Diary of the Vilna Ghetto, tr. Percy Matenko (Tel-Aviv: Ghetto Fighters House and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1973), p.38.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, tr. and ed. Jacob Sloan (New York: Schocken, 1974), p.24.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Josef Katz, One Who Came Back: The Diary of a Jewish Survivor, tr. Herzl Reach (New York: Herzl Press and Bergen-Belsen Memorial Press, 1973), p.153.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    See Louis Finkelstein, Akiba: Scholar, Saint and Martyr (New York: Atheneum, 1981), p.103.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Abraham Lissner, ‘Diary of a Jewish Partisan in Paris,’ tr. Yuri Suhl, in They Fought Back, ed. Yuri Suhl (New York: Crown, 1967), p.295.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Salmen Gradowski, Manuscript of Sonderkommando Member, tr. Krystyna Michalik, in Amidst a Nightmare of Crime: Manuscripts of Members of Sonderkommando, ed. Jadwiga Bezwinska (Oswiecim: State Museum, 1973), p.98.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Salmen Lewental, Manuscript of Sonderkommando Member, tr. Krystyna Michalik, in Amidst a Nightmare of Crime: Manuscripts of Members of Sonderkommando, ed. Jadwiga Bezwinska (Oswiecim: State Museum, 1973), p. 136.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Chaim A. Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A, Kaplan, tr. and ed. Abraham I. Katsh (New York: Collier, 1973), p.129.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Michael Zylberberg, A Warsaw Diary (London: Valentine, Mitchell & Co., 1969), p.160.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Eva Heyman, The Diary of Eva Heyman, tr. Moshe M. Kohn (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1974), p.45.Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    David Kahane, Lvov Ghetto Diary, tr. Jerzy Michalowicz (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), p.67.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Tuvia Borzykowski, Between Tumbling Walls, tr. Mendel Kohansky, 2nd edn, (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1976), p.151.Google Scholar
  21. 25.
    Zelig Kalmanovitch, ‘A Diary of the Nazi Ghetto in Vilna,’ tr. and ed. Koppel S. Pinson, YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Sciences, 8 (1953): 59.Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    Hanna Levy-Hass, Vielleicht war das alles erst der Anfang: Tagebuch aus dem KZ Bergen Belsen 1944 – 1945, ed. Eike Geisel (Berlin: Rotbuch, 1969), p.7.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    Philip Mechanicus, Year of Fear: A Jewish Prisoner Waits for Auschwitz, tr. Irene S. Gibbons (New York: Hawthorne, 1864), p. 148.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    Mirjam Korber, Deportiert: Jüdische Überlebensschicksale aus Rumänien 1941–1944: Ein Tagebuch, tr. Andrei Hoisie (Konstanz: Hartung-Garre, 1993), p.71.Google Scholar
  25. 32.
    Shimon Huberband, Kiddush Hashem: Jewish Religious and Cultural Life in Poland during the Holocaust, tr. David E. Fishman, ed. Jeffrey S. Gurock and Robert S. Hirt (Hoboken: Ktav and Yeshiva University Press, 1987), p. 103.Google Scholar
  26. 33.
    Aryeh Klonicki-Klonymus, The Diary of Adam’s Father, tr. Avner Tomaschaff (Tel-Aviv: Ghetto Fighters House and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1973), p.40.Google Scholar
  27. 36.
    Emil L. Fackenheim, To Mend the World: Foundations of Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought (New York: Schocken, 1989), p.209.Google Scholar
  28. 46.
    Rivosh , ‘From the Diary of the Sculptor Rivosh (Riga),’ tr. John Glad and James Levine, in The Black Book, ed. Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman (New York: Holocaust Library, 1980), pp.324–25.Google Scholar
  29. 51.
    Moshe Flinker, Young Moshe’s Diary, tr. Shaul Esh and Geoffrey Wigoder (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1971), p.75.Google Scholar
  30. 52.
    Janusz Korczak, Ghetto Diary, tr. Jerzy Bachrach and Barbara Krzywicka (New York: Holocaust Library, 1978), p. 164.Google Scholar
  31. 56.
    Emil Dorian, The Quality of Witness, tr. Mara Soceanu Vamos, ed. Marguerite Dorian (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1982), p.129.Google Scholar
  32. 57.
    Elie Wiesel and Albert Friedlander, The Six Days of Destruction: Meditations Towards Hope, tr. Cynthia Lander and Evelyn Friedlander (Oxford: Pergamon, 1988), p.48.Google Scholar
  33. 58.
    Emmanuel Levinas, Collected Philosophical Papers, tr. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), p.180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 59.
    Avraham Tory, Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary, tr. Jerzy Michalowicz, ed. Martin Gilbert (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), p.427.Google Scholar
  35. 65.
    Eliezer Yerushalmi, Pinkas Shavli: yoman megito Litai (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1950), p.229.Google Scholar
  36. 66.
    Shlomo Frank, Togbukh fon Lodzsher geto (Tel-Aviv: Menorah, 1958), p.333.Google Scholar
  37. 69.
    Helena Dorembus, ‘Through Helpless Eyes: A Survivor’s Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising’, Moment (April 1993): 59.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Patterson

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations