Shawn Harding
Founder of The Holocaust Blueprint

A Trace of Their Soul

Memorial Monday

Terrible days—heavy cough, sweating at night, heart pain, have to take nitroglycerin, premonition of death for the first time. At the same time, rainy weather for days, which is actually beneficial for my asthma.—I have no hope for a good ending. [1]

Oskar Rosenfeld’s diary from the Łódź ghetto is an incredible testament of the abhorrent conditions of the ghetto. His writing elicits deep emotion from the reader, and it leaves the reader no doubt as to the cruelty of the Nazi regime.
Oskar documents significant events that show the level of mental and physical destruction that the Nazi regime exerted against the Jewish people.

… Meanwhile their beards began to grow—Chassidic Jews. When they were caught and taken to Czarnickiego, their beards had to be removed according to regulation. Beards in the ghetto are prohibited by German authorities for hygienic reasons.—’Shoot me, hang me, but leave me my beard.’. . . When he saw that his plea had no effect, since the Jewish police was dragging him to the barber standing at the ready, he begged him to leave at least a little bit of hair on both sides so that a trace of his Chassidic soul remains in his countenance. [2]

This level of intricacy is indicative of the Nazi regime – everything is planned out down to the most minute details to disrupt life. Everything they could do to destroy the Jewish people’s will, they did it. Aktions would take place on sacred holidays. The Nazis killed Jews in front of other Jews, and they instilled a fear so deep that even the mention of the Nazi regime today sends a shiver down the spine of humanity. Cruelty knew no bounds to the Nazi regime, and it is important to remember that they were human-beings just like all of us. Rosenfeld’s depiction of the crimes gives you a sense of the humanity in the ghetto – or maybe the lack thereof. The intent of the regime was to strip the identity of the Jewish people – shatter their willpower by removing who they are. Allow them to writhe and die in excruciating pain both physically and mentally.

“During the night: Schupo [German police] talks with Jewish policemen. Two Jewish policemen are leading a man. ‘Whereto?’ asks the Schupo. ‘To jail!’ ‘So? You have a jail? What for? You are all here in a jail.’” [3] This acknowledgement by the German policeman is core to the thought of the regime. No matter what status you held in the ghetto, you were still in a jail, but this was no ordinary jail. Every detail of life for the Jewish prisoners was planned, and this type of behavior would exacerbate the already bleak conditions of the ghetto. These jails were systematic functions of pure hatred and death. The lives of their prisoners were meaningless in the eyes of their captors. With Rosenfeld’s testimony, you are able to see into the eyes of the machine that was the Nazi regime.

Rosenfeld was an interesting man whose perspective is incomparable to other diarists due to his vast array of emotions in nearly every diary entry. He often has a section which he labels Humor, and this section becomes significant when you realize the environment that he was living in. Humor would be the last thing that a person would think about, but for him, this seemed to be something that drove him forward despite the odds. “Tidbit. Vegetable center. A woman lugs a sack with 2 x15 kg potatoes. The director asks her: ‘Why in such a hurry? Don’t you have potatoes left at home?’ She looks at him: ‘Because I ate the previous potatoes. I have the strength to carry these.’ General laughter.”[4] Rosenfeld’s humor gives you a sense of hope in an otherwise hopeless and diminutive environment designed to annihilate an entire race of people. Imagine the worst month of your life and then find humor despite all of that pain, sadness, and/or anger. It seems so unreal, but Rosenfeld found it. This could have been the driving force of his survival against the odds in the Łódź Ghetto.

However, Oskar Rosenfeld’s story does not have a happy ending. The Łódź Ghetto was liquidated, and Rosenfeld was sent to Auschwitz where he was murdered. Rosenfeld’s life may have ended, but his story lives on as an essential piece of Holocaust testimony. Rosenfeld’s testimony serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of hate, but it also serves as a testimony of strength. Rosenfeld did not falter in the face of the regime, and even with the deathly environment that strangled the life out of the Jewish people, he still managed to find humor to make it through the day.

Exhausted, exhausted.—The daily struggle, every hour anew. . . Who knows how long the suffering will drag on? [5]

[1][2][3][4][5] Oskar Rosenfeld. In the Beginning was the ghetto: Notebooks from Łódź.

About the Author
Shawn Harding is the founder of The Holocaust Blueprint. Shawn works to create educational materials for free for users across the world to visualize the Holocaust and obtain information in relation to it.
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