Annelies Marie Frank and Ruta Laskier were born on the same day: June 12, 1929. By a surprising coincidence, not only the date of birth turned out to be common to the fate of both Jewish teenagers.
The German Annelies Frank and the Pole Rutka Laskier came to grow up during the Second World War. They died in the Nazi concentration camps, leaving their diaries – a stirring testimony to the cruelty of war seen through the eyes of the adolescent girls.
Annelies Marie Frank is the famous Anne Frank who, despite being German, has become one of the most important symbols of Amsterdam. She herself declared in her diary love for the Netherlands and the will to be Dutch. Her family took refuge here in 1933 when the pogroms of Jews began in Germany.
Rutka Laskier spent most of her life in Będzin in the south of Poland, inhabited by about 60% of the Jews and therefore called the Jerusalem of Zagłębie (the name of this part of Poland).
And probably the world would not have learned about them – they shared the fate of millions of victims of the Holocaust – if they had not written their war diaries, originated as a result of the need to refer to both the current situation and the typical problems of adolescence.
Anne’s notes, written since June 12, 1942 to August 1, 1944, are not only an example of excellent diary literature (and a great psychological and sociological study), but were also added in 2009 to the list of the most valuable documents in the world – UNESCO Memory of the World. The Rutka’s notebook consists of only 60 pages with notes covering the period from January 19 to April 24, 1943, yet it is also an equally valuable testimony to the Holocaust. It should be mentioned here that both teenagers received a good education and displayed big literary ambitions. Anne wrote stories, tales and essays in her hiding place, Rutka placed in her diary two stories “Winter in Ghetto” and “In the Mountains”.
The following text is an attempt to compare the fates, personal experiences and thoughts of both girls and to show their similarities and universality, although the places and conditions in which they lived were very different. The quotes from Rutka’s diary keep the original spelling.
Basic biographical facts
Anne was born in Frankfurt am Main. Her father, Otto Frank, was – like Rutka’s father – a banker. In 1933, as a result of the increasing persecutions of Jews in Germany, the family emigrated to settle in Amsterdam, where Otto managed the Dutch branch of OPEKTA (supplier of pectin and spices for jams). The headquarters of the company was located on the Prinsengracht Street 263-267. The Franks family: Anne, her parents Otto and Edith and older sister Margot were hiding (together with the van Pels family and a dentist Fritz Pfeffer) in the annexed outbuilding for two years, from 6 July 1942 to August 4, 1944.
The Anne Frank house, 4th from left/ photo: Nationaal Archief
On August 4, all of them were arrested and after a 4-week stay in the Jewish camp in Westerbork, they entered the last train to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. From there Anne was sent with her sister to Bergen-Belsen, where in February or March 1945 she died of typhus.
According to recent discoveries Rutka was born in Krakow, where her parents stayed for a while. In the early 1930s the girl and her parents, Jakub and Dwojra, moved from Gdańsk to Będzin, to their home town where their son Joachim, called Henius, was born. The Laskiers lived in the city center, but after establishing ghetto in the Warpie district (May 1942) they were resettled there, and later to the even worse place – Kamionki.
Ghetto in Będzin, 1942 r., Modrzejowska Street; Wikipedia
The history of Rutka, who had been selected for work in Germany, could have gone differently if it was not for the reckless escape from the first floor of the building where she was kept. At the end of March 1943 the girl was forced to work as a seamstress in the Rossner’s Sheds. On August 1-8, 1943, as a result of the liquidation of the ghetto, she was taken to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. The date of Rutka’s death is not certain. Either she was murdered in the gas chamber on the same day, or – according to the Auschwitz prisoner Zofia Minc it happened in December.
Only fathers of the two families survived the concentration camps. Jakub Laskier was one of the money counterfeiters in the Sachsenhausen camp (“Bernhard” operation), which is described in the film “The Counterfeiters” (2007, Die Fälscher).
Both girls grew up in wealthy families, receiving a thorough education. Rutka attended the Furstenberg Middle School in Będzin, Anne the 6th Montessori School in Amsterdam. This girl was a cheerful, chatty and very lively teenager, trying to treat many things with humor. But she could also tell people directly what she thought about them, and she probably did not have an easy character. According to her diary the people around her perceived her differently than she would have liked:
January 30, 1943
Everyone thinks I’m showing off when I talk, ridiculous when I’m silent, insolent when I answer, cunning when I have a good idea, lazy when I’m tired, selfish when I eat one bite more than I should, stupid, cowardly, calculating, etc., etc. All day long I hear nothing but what an exasperating child I am, and although I laugh it off and pretend not to mind, I do mind. I wish I could ask God to give me another personality, one that doesn’t antagonize everyone. (30.01.1943)
Half a year later she added:
But I can see that a little hypocrisy gets me a lot further than my old method of saying exactly what I think (even though no one ever asks my opinion or cares one way or another). (11.07.1943)
At the same time Rutka also made a sincere and critical analysis of her character:
January 29, 1943
They say that I am intelligent, educated (…). I’m crazy, sometimes I’m melancholy tuned and then I open my mouth just to jeer someone and I like to jeer very much, although I do it moderately (…). another time, for example, like today I am full of exuberant joy and I would laugh all day. Then I’m supposedly eccentric, crazy, because I like to tell everyone what I think about them, which is not so desirable. (…) Anyway, I don’t care, I am what I am and nothing’s going to change me. (01.29.1943)
The direct impulse that prompted Anne and Rutka to write memoirs was different. Miss Frank began to write because she got a diary for her birthday.
Her first entry comes from June 12, 1942 and reads as follows:
I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support. (12.06.1942).
On June 20th she wrote:
Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. (20.06.1942).
Anne did not think that at some point she would start writing for publication. She changed her mind after the appeal of the Dutch minister of education, art and science, Gerrit Bolkestein, who on March 29, 1944, asked the Dutch to keep their personal memories and letters documenting wartime for archival purposes. The girl obeyed him and since May 20 she began to re-write her diary. Some of its records are known only from this rewritten version. After the first three months Anne’s entries took the form of letters to different characters, and then only to Kitty, because, as she explained, she did not have a real friend whom she could confide in. She wrote with a favorite pen (which at one point was destroyed), in Dutch language. She made her notes more attractive adding some photos and drawings.
Anne’s notes were not requisitioned when the Franks were arrested. Thrown on the floor, they were found and kept by a Dutch woman Miep Gies, who (along with others) supported the hiding Jews for two years. In 1945 Otto Frank received those diaries and published them in 1947 under the title “Het Achterhuis: Dagboekbrieven van 12 Juni 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944”. Currently, the Frank family archive is kept in the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt.
Rutka began to write her journal on January 19, 1943 as if by a sudden impulse, tired of war. The other reason was her fight with an ambiguous feeling to her admirer Janek. Her first post was as follows:
I cannot realize that it’s already ‘43, the fourth year of this hell. The days pass quickly, one twin similar to the other. Every day the same disgusting, sticky boredom. (19.01.1943).
Her notes are shorter, but in the note of March 7, she explained this as follows:
I do not understand why I cannot express my feelings even on paper. It’s very difficult to self-analyze. (03.07.1943)
She wrote with a pen or pencil, and the character of her writing perfectly reflects the girl’s mood. In calmer moments it is pretty, calligraphic, but sometimes pages are written with loose letters, sometimes difficult to read, one can get the impression that a tear fell down on the paper…
Writing was also a kind of therapy for her. On January 27, 1943, she noted:
Enough for writing. I noticed that I feel much easier, as I have confessed to someone. (1/27/1943).
Rutka was not writing for publication, but she wanted the diary to survive. She wanted to hide it somewhere in the house in the ghetto, at the then Kasenerstrasse Street 13 (today 1 Maja Street), in which the Laskiers were temporarily living. The house was owned by the Sapiński family. At this time the house was visited by the owners’ daughter Stanisława who made friends with the Jewish girl and suggested her slit in the wooden stairs. On the picture (left): Stanisława Sapińska.
A frame from the “Rutka laskier Diary”, documentary of BBC.
(The woman from right is Rutka’s half-sister Zahava Scherz)
After return, when the Laskiers had already been transported to Auschwitz, Stanisława found the diary which was a kind of a miracle because the house was completely plundered and robbed. However, it was revealed only in 2006. Jakub Laskier never learned about his daughter’s diary, but Rutka’s half-sister Zahava Scherz, who was born after the war in Israel, saw it. The document was handed over by Ms. Sapińska to the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem and it was also published and translated into several languages.
The war takes up a lot of space in the Anne’s and Rutka’s diaries, but it is obviously shown in a different light by each of them. Rutka was able to move freely around the ghetto, so she was an eyewitness to many of the German bestialities. On February 6, 1943, after describing her escape, she wrote:
That was all, oh, I forgot the most important thing, I saw a soldier snatching a few-month-old baby from his mother’s hands and hitting the child’s head at the street lamp with all his strength. The brain splashed on the tree, the mother went mad, I write it with indifference, as if I were an experienced soldier, while I’m still so young, I’m fourteen years old and I have not seen much in my life yet, and I’m already so indifferent. (02.06.1943)
The entry from this day begins with a shattering disclosure of hatred towards the Germans:
Something broke down inside me. When I pass by the German, everything shrinks in me, I do not know whether out of fear or hatred, I would like to mistreat them, women and children who are hallooing their salon dogs on us. To beat and choke harder and harder… (6.02.1943).
Anne has never witnessed such a scene. Until the closure in the hiding place at Prinsengracht 263-267 the war touched her personally only through prohibitions concerning Jews:
After May 1940 the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use street-cars; (20.06.1942)
A page from Anne’s diary
However, the Annex was being informed well about what was happening outside. The war news was spread by the radio and broadcasts of the Dutch government in exile as well as by the Frank family’s friends who often visited them. On March 27, 1943 Anne wrote:
Rauter, some German bigwig, recently gave a speech. “All Jews must be out of the German-occupied territories before July 1. The province of Utrecht will be cleansed of Jews [as if they were cockroaches] between April 1 and May 1, and the provinces of North and South Holland between May 1 and June 1.” These poor people are being shipped off to filthiy slaughterhouses like a herd of sick and neglected cattle. But I’ll say no more on the subject. My own thoughts give me nightmares! (27.03.1943).
Interestingly, wartime experiences have resulted in a different approach to religion for both girls.
Anne, April 11, 1944
We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. And we’ll have to keep on being Jews, but then, we’ll want to be. Be brave! Let’s remember our duty and perform it without complaint. There will be a way out. God has never deserted our people. Through the ages Jews have had to suffer, but through the ages they’ve gone on living, and the centuries of suffering have only made them stronger. (11.04.1944)
Probably because of her own experiences Rutka came to an extremely different conclusion, as on February 5, 1943 she wrote as follows:
That bit of faith I once owned had already spilled completely, if God existed he would certainly not allow people to be thrown alive into the oven, and small children heads to be smashed with rifles, or to be packed in sacks and gassed. (02.05.1943).
Rutka definitely had lost the illusions Anne still had… However, both girls shared the same constant tension and fear of being deported to Auschwitz as well as moods of depression and doubt in returning to normality.
Rutka, June 8, 1943
These gray houses have disgusted me [as well as] the fear on every face. This fear attaches itself to everyone with its tentacles and does not want to let go. (06.08.1943)
Anne, May 26, 1944
One day we’re laughing at the comical side of life in hiding, and the next day (and there are many such days), we’re frightened, and the fear, tension and despair can be read on our faces. (26.05.1944)
Rutka, February 5, 1943
I just can’t believe that someday I will be able to go outside without “Judensztern”, that there will be an end to the war… (5.02.1943)
Anne, 8 November 1943
I simply can’t imagine the world will ever be normal again for us. I do talk about “after the war,” but it’s as if I were talking about a castle in the air, something that can Ii never come true. (8.11.1943)
Similarly, it was not easy for the girls to endure the conditions in which they had to live, although Rutka’s situation was much better than Anne’s, who spent two years in complete isolation from the outside world. And the only luxury she could afford was looking out of the attic window at night.
Rutka, February 5, 1943, just before the ghetto was founded:
The circle is closing more and more. Next month there will be a ghetto, a real ghetto with stone walls. In summer it will be unbearable to sit in such a gray closed cage, not to see fields and flowers (…) (5.02.1943)
March 1, 1943.
I took a long break again. During these six days we managed to reduce our apartment to one room. It is very cramped, you do not know where there is anything. (03.01.1943)
Anne left in her diary an extensive, sometimes very biting description of existence in the annex. A few special notes from August 4, 5 and 9, 1943 are devoted to this topic. The girl shared her tiny room with the dentist Fritz Pfeffer (in the diary nicknamed Albert Dussel).
I sleep on a small divan, which is only five feet long, so we have to add a few chairs to make it longer. (4.08.1943)
I’m constantly being chased from one corner to another. I’m never alone in the room I share with Dussel, though I long to be so much. That’s another reason I take refuge in the attic. When I’m there, or with you, I can be myself, at least for a little while. (16.03.1944)
The attic, February 22,1962
Fot. Ben van Meerendonk / AHF, collectie IISG, Amsterdam
Also the relationships with the parents are mentioned in the diaries of both girls, which in both cases did not belong to the easy ones. This was probably due to the hardships of tedious existence in wartime conditions, moods of rebellion typical of teenage, but also personality traits that in Anne’s mother, Edith were manifested by the lack of tact and raping the feelings of a sensitive daughter. She had a terrible grievance with her mother for this.
Anne, 12 July 1942
They’ve all been so nice to me this last month because of my birthday, and yet every day I feel myself drifting further away from Mother and Margot. I worked hard today and they praised me, only to start picking on me again five minutes later. You can easily see the difference between the way they deal with Margot and the way they deal with me. (…) I don’t fit in with them, and I’ve felt that clearly in the last few weeks. (…) Daddy’s the only one who understands me, now and again, though he usually sides with Mother and Margot. (12.07.1942)
Anne, 2 April 1943
It’s hard to tell the truth, and yet the truth is that she’s the one who’s rejected me. She’s the one whose tactless comments and cruel jokes about matters I don’t think are funny have made me insensitive to any sign of love on her part. Just as my heart sinks every time I hear her harsh words, that’s how her heart sank when she realized there was no more love between us. (2.04.1943)
There are much more bitter remarks in Anne’s diary about her relationship with parents, especially with her mother.
Rutka, January 25, 1943
Every day the same over and over again, only my mother is screaming at me more and more because of Henius. (01.25.1943)
Rutka with Henius
February 24, 1943
Things become more and more complicated with my mother. Yesterday she saw me with Jumek, Mietek and Micka. Mother tried to rope me to confession. Can’t she understand that it is difficult to express feelings to an elderly person. ??? maybe I could confide in her, but not with everything. (24.02.1943)
In the next words the girl expresses her grievances against both parents:
Recently I love my parents much more. But sometimes they are so bad for me. It hurts me a lot and then I get nasty and angry. (24.02.1943)
The war came at a time when the adolescent girls were experiencing special emotional swings, and the experiences of war gave them a special character.
On June 8, 1943, Rutka noted:
What’s wrong with you, Rutka? You cannot control yourself at all. That’s not good. You have to bear it and not soak your pillow with your tears at night. Who, what am I crying for, certainly not for Janek, so who? Maybe for freedom. (06.08.1943)
In the annex similar moods were also experienced, as it is evidenced by Anne’s entry on October 20, 1943:
My nerves often get the better of me, especially on Sundays; that’s when I really feel miserable. (…) At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot don’t matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. “Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!” a voice within me cries. (29.10.1943).
Fourteen years is the age when the first longings for love arise, for a boy’s touch, for a kiss. Anne and Rutka, once adored by many boys, experienced it, too.
Rutka’s diary, February 6, 1943
It seems that a woman woke up in me, that is, when yesterday I was lying in a bathtub and water was splashing on my body, I wished to be caressed by somebody’s hands… I do not know what it is, I have never felt it before … (6.02.1943)
In Anne’s case the stimulus that caused specific desires was the dream of the former adorer Peter Schiff, a dream in which she felt a great pleasure to be touched by his cheek.
March 7, 1944
After New Year’s the second big change occurred: my dream, through which I discovered my longing for . . . a boy; not for a girlfriend, but for a boyfriend. (7.03.1944)
Both teens experienced a great fascination with the guys: Rutka with Janek, Anne with two years older Peter van Pels (in the diary nicknamed van Daan), who also stayed in the hideout on Prinsengracht 263-267. Rutka’s diary is in a large part devoted to the analysis of her relationship with an unidentified Janek, whom she sometimes loves, and more often hates (or at least thinks so) and whom she constantly humiliates cruelly.
February 15, 1943
Janek has not visited me since Wednesday, I must admit I miss him, I mean just his forehead, he has a beautiful white forehead. (15.02.1943)
February 20, 1943
I was hopelessly stupid about Janek, as if the husk had fallen from my eyes, I saw him clearly, not talking to even not seeing him; he’s a nasty fellow, one of those who murders in white gloves. (20.02.1943)
March 7, 1943
I am persuading myself that I am not in love with Janek, meanwhile I miss him and I suffer many a time when I cannot see him; I cannot hear him speaking. Sometimes I regret that I was so dry for him, I laughed at him so that he often bit his lips to the blood… (March 7, 1943)
Anne’s fascination with Peter van Pels took place only after a long period of joint stay in the annex. Earlier she did not consider him interesting.
August 14, 1942
Peter van Daan arrived at nine-thirty in the morning (while we were still at breakfast). Peter’s going on sixteen, a shy, awkward boy whose company won’t amount too much. (14.08.1942)
But she had no choice, and a wish to be close to a boy had already appeared. Here, however, a strong fascination after some time turned into a disappointment – Peter van Pels was identified with Peter Schiff too strongly.
February 18, 1944
Whenever I go upstairs, it’s always so I can see “him.” Now that I have something to look forward to, my life here has improved greatly. At least the object of my friendship is always here, and I don’t have to be afraid of rivals (except for Margot). Don’t think I’m in love, because I’m not, but I do have the feeling that something beautiful is going to develop between Peter and me, a kind of friendship and a feeling of trust. (18.02.1944)
February 27, 1944
From early in the morning to late at night, all I do is think about Peter. (27.02.1944)
June 13, 1944
Peter is kind and good, and yet I can’t deny that he’s disappointed me in many ways. I especially don’t care for his dislike of religion, his table conversations and various things of that nature. (13.06.1944)
The heart dilemmas were accompanied by dilemmas of a different kind – to give or not to give a kiss?
Rutka’s diary, 6 February 1943, after Janek’s confession that he would like to kiss her:
I would let be kissed only by the one I love and he is indifferent to me. (…) But I will not allow the kiss. I’m afraid that I will break this way something beautiful; bright… I’m afraid that someday I will be disappointed bitterly. (02.06.1943)
On February 15 a sensible decision was made:
And something else I’m going to accept a kiss by Janek, finally, after all someone will kiss me first, let it be Janek, I like him after all. (2/15/1943).
It seems, however, that the opportunity did not appear anymore, because Rutka had treated the boy with the girlish cruelty and he left her.
Anne was more fortunate than her Polish peer, because meetings with Peter in the attic were conducive to establishing a more intimate relationship.
Anne, April 1, 1944
And yet everything is still so difficult. You do know what I mean, don’t you? I long so much for him to kiss me, but that kiss is taking its own sweet time. (1.04.1944)
On April 16 the long desired moment came:
(…) before we went downstairs, he gave me a. kiss, through my hair, half on my left cheek and half on my ear. (16.04.1944)
After the first incomprehensive kisses, there were more mature ones:
April 28, 1944
(…) He came over to me, and I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him on his left cheek. I was about to kiss the other cheek when my mouth met his, and we pressed our lips together. In a daze, we embraced, over and over again, never to stop, oh! (28.04.1944)
But doubts also appeared:
April 28, 1944
The same question keeps nagging me: “Is it right?” Is it right for me to yield so soon, for me to be so passionate, to be filled with as much passion and desire as Peter? Can I, a girl, allow myself to go that far? (28.04.1944)
On August 5, 1943, Rutka Laskier and her family were put on the train and transported to Auschwitz. It was not possible to avoid this, and yet she was very afraid of Auschwitz! On February 6, 1943, after describing the beating of an old woman by a German soldier, she wrote:
(…) if only not Oświęcim! February 6, 1943)
August 5 was maybe the last day of her life, but it is very likely that she survived up to December, as it is testified by the Auchwitz prisoner Zofia Minc.
My colleague, 17-year-old Rutka Laskier from Będzin, slept next to me in the block. She was so beautiful that even Dr. Mengele paid attention to her. Then an epidemic of typhus and cholera broke out. Rutka became ill with cholera and within a few hours she had changed up to be unrecognizable. She was the shadow of herself. I took her in a rubbish wheelbarrow to the crematorium. She pleaded me to take her to the wires so she could throw herself on them and the electric current would kill her, but an SS man with a rifle followed us and would not let it happen.
Has the nightmare described by Rutka in the entry of February 5 fulfilled?
On August 5, 1943, when Rutka set off on the last journey of her life, Anne was focused on description of the annex daily existence. She was arrested along with the other inhabitants of the annex a year later, on August 4, 1944. After staying in the transit camp in Westerbork, on September 3, Anne followed Rutka to Auschwitz, but both Margot and her survived this camp and were transported to Bergen-Belsen at the end of October. There Anne met her two friends from Amsterdam, Nanette Blitz Konig and Hanneh Pick-Goslar, who were kept in the other part of the camp, but had the opportunity to talk to her. Years later those women described these last meetings with Anne. – It was not the same Anne I knew in the Netherlands. There was no alive, energetic girl. She was filled with fear and hopelessness – recalls Hanneh, who helped her friend with a modest food packet (quoted for “The Tragic Story of Anne Frank”, National Geographic, 2015). Anne died of typhus at the end of February or in early March 1945. It took a few weeks to get liberated…
The symbolic grave of the sisters Frank in Bergen-Belsen
“One death is a tragedy. One million is statistics” – Joseph Stalin
It is estimated that 6 million Jews were killed during the Second World War in the Holocaust. Among them there were two intelligent, thinking girls from Amsterdam and Będzin, whose personal notes contradict Stalin’s well-known expression. Every death was a tragedy, but not every tragedy, a life senselessly blown away, left a mark on paper. This is what we can learn from the Anne Frank’s and Rutka Laskier’s diaries…
Będzin, a mural devoted to the Laskier family, photo: Olo81
Published: July 8th, 2018 / All rights reserved
Translation: Renata Głuszek, Ewa Staszewska
Quotes of Anne Frank Diary come from: ww.rhetorik.ch/Aktuell/16/02_13/frank_diary.pdf
The author gives a warm thanks to Mr. Marek Sapiński for all the help in obtaining information about Rutka Laskier, and especially for providing a scan of the Rutka diary, which until 2006 was kept by his aunt Stanisława Sapińska, as well as the scan of the original Auschwitz testimony of Zofia Minc.
I would also like to thank Mr. Adam Szydłowski for his kind opinion and attention.
- Dziennik Rutki Laskier – a scan of the original
- Dziennik Anne Frank – Dziennik Anne Frank, ed. Krakow 2015 Znak, pdf
- Zofia Minc’s testimony – a scan of the “Report of the Witness’s Testimony”, Bytom, April 28, 1947
See also: Lights of hope