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The Story of a Dying Community: A Diary from the Amsterdam Jewish Community at the End of WWII

An anonymous Jew describes the last months of World War II in Amsterdam. This city, once a large and vibrant Jewish center, turns into a ghost town before his eyes, while he and a handful of Jews try against all odds to survive.


From the pages of the diary we come face to face with the perseverance of the anonymous author and his fellow survivors who, even in the most difficult of times, work to give their fellow community members a decent burial. Hidden between the lines of this unknown writer’s diary, is the story of their great strength and bravery as the writer prays for one thing: “that peace will come soon so that I may finish writing this diary and present it to the community secretary. Amen. So be it.”


But who is the author? What happened to him? We have no answers to these questions. Perhaps our readers will help us discover his identity. ​

עמוד מהיומןOn the eve of WWII the Jewish population of The Netherlands numbered approximately 140,000. The mass deportations of the Jews to the concentration camps began in mid-1942 and continued up until the end of 1944. In less than two years more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were murdered.

 

This anonymous diary, which we are presenting here for the first time, offers a detailed, first-hand account of the final months of the war at a time when very few had survived the liquidation of Amsterdam’s Jewish community. In these few pages we are exposed to the courage of those few who survived the atrocities.

 

“Nothing could prevent us from burying the dead”

 

One of the subjects that the writer describes at length is the great difficulty of burying the dead. At that time, it was impossible to get hold of a horse and wagon or any vehicle for transporting the dead and nearly impossible to find wood for a casket. Nevertheless, this writer, with the help of his few friends, made enormous efforts to overcome those difficulties. 

 

“Nothing could prevent us from burying the dead,” writes this survivor in his diary. He describes one incident in January 1945, when the snow was so high that “it was impossible to remove the dead.” He writes an update two months later, that he was able to procure a hand-wagon on which to lay the bodies and bring them to burial.

 

“I hope that peace will come soon”

 

These were indeed the last days of the war, but reality, as noted, was extremely harsh. The writer describes in brief the events unfolding around him in the Jewish neighborhood that was almost completely empty of inhabitants. One day the windows of the Jewish orphanage were shattered, and another day citizens broke into the abandoned homes of the Jews in order to take their furniture to use for firewood. The heavy snow had collapsed the roof of the synagogue, and by the end of January the writer prayed for one thing: “I hope that peace will come soon so that I may finish writing this diary and give it to the community secretary. Amen. So be it.”

 

עמוד נוסף מהיומן 


And still, in the midst of this horror, we learn about a few people who somehow try to live their lives. In entries written at the end of 1944 the writer tells that the few who are left tried to gather in the Great Synagogue and adjacent study house, but were prohibited from doing so. He also tells about how the Jews, who numbered less than the ten necessary for a prayer quorum, decided to gather for communal prayer in a private home, and he also describes a pleasant coffee break enjoyed by all. 

   
Help us solve the mystery of the author’s identity:

It is difficult to determine the identity of the writer who chronicled the lasts glimmers of Jewish life in Amsterdam on the eve of liberation, but there is no doubt that he survived the war, since he continues to write up to and even after that day. The only clue in the diary that may help identify him is the information that he was “appointed in place of Jacobson.”  We know nothing about this Jacobson, except that he was in all probability an Ashkenazi Jew and that he was sent “to the East” on 3 September 1944.


Feel free to browse the rest of the pages of the diary presented here and perhaps you – the readers – and especially members of the Dutch community, will help us to solve the riddle of the author’s identity. 


 

If you have any information about the writer or the diary, please let us know: reference@nli.org.il

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