Today is a day set aside to remember one of the most somber events in history. International Holocaust Day commemorates the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and honors the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Yad Vashem, a museum in Jerusalem, Israel, dedicated to preserving the memories of those victims. “Yad Vashem” means “a memorial and a name,” drawn from Isaiah 56:5: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name [a yad vashem] . . . that shall not be cut off.”
Within the museum is the Hall of Names, a memorial to every Jewish man, woman, and child who perished in the Holocaust. It’s a place to remember the names of Jewish victims who have no one to carry their name after death.
Here are five quotes from the personal diaries of five Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust with their name included to honor them—that we might never forget they were just like us.
Winter in Gerresheim was particularly a happy time . . . I loved to watch the first snow falling; large gray flakes from behind the windowpane, settling soundlessly on branches, fences, and streetlamps. I loved the sense of warmth and safety it gave me . . . Snowball fights raged up and down the street and even grownups sometimes became involved.1
—Hannele Zurndorfer (age 11, Germany)
When I went to shul [synagogue], I made sure not to miss even one single word. This is how precious the Hebrew words were to me.2
—Leah (age 13), Czechoslovakia
I’ve turned thirteen, I was born on Friday the thirteenth. . . . From Grandpa, [I received] phonograph records of the kind I like. My grandfather bought them so that I should learn French lyrics, which will make Ági [mother] happy, because she isn’t happy about my school record cards, except when I get a good mark in French . . . I do a lot of athletics, swimming, skating, bicycle riding, and exercise. 3
—Eva Heyman (age 13, Hungary)
During the past few days when my mother raised the question of my future, my reaction was again one of laughter, but when I was alone, I too began to ponder this matter. What indeed is to become of me? It is obvious that the present situation will not last forever—perhaps another year or two—but what will happen then? One day I will have to earn my own living. . . . After much deliberation, I’ve decided to become . . . a statesman.4
—Moshe Flinker (age 16, Belgium)
When I grow up and reach the age of 20,
I’ll set out to see the enchanting world.
I’ll take a seat in a bird with a motor;
I’ll rise and soar high into space.
I’ll fly, sail, hover
Over the lovely faraway world.
I’ll soar over rivers and oceans
Skyward shall I ascend and blossom,
A cloud my sister, the wind my brother.5
—Avraham Koplowicz (approx. age 13, Poland)
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- Sources of Holocaust Insight: Learning and Teaching about the Genocide
- Stranger at Home: “The Holocaust,” Zionism, and American Judaism
- The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister
- Explaining the Holocaust: How and Why It Happened
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- Flinker, Moshe, Young Moshe’s Diary: The Spiritual Torment of a Jewish Boy in Nazi Europe, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1965, p. 19.
- Yad Vashem Archive O.48/47.B.1.