Scroll of Agony. The Warsaw Diary, transl. from Hebrew and ed. by A. I. Katsh

  • Chaim Aron
  • Kapłan
  • London
  • 1999
  • diary
  • yes
  • yes
  • Hebrew
  • Author of the diary, which was found 20 years after the Warsaw ghetto uprising and published in England in 1966. Teacher. Born in Belarus. His father died when Chaim was 21 - after his death, Chaim provided for his family. He studied Talmud in a famous Yeshiva - Mir, later he was a student of the Government Pedagogical Institute in Vilna. He moved to Warsaw ca. 1902. He founded an innovative Hebrew primary school and directed it for 40 years*. Before the war he was active in the Hebrew Language Amateurs Association. He used a direct method of teaching the language, which treated Hebrew like colloquial speech. He used Sephardic dialogue, used currently in Israel. He published several Hebrew textbooks, which popularised his method. He was active in the Association of Hebrew Writers and Journalists in Warsaw and co-operated with Hebrew magazines. In 1921, Kaplan left for the USA, and in 1936 - for Palestine. He was going to settle in Palestine, to which two of his children already emigrated, but he returned to Warsaw the same year, because of personal reasons. The same reasons (the translator doesn't precise what they were), influenced Kaplan's decision to stay in Warsaw in 1941, when he could apply for a visa**. In 1937, he published a book 'Pizzurai', a collection of essays and articles in Hebrew, written during his forty-year teaching career. In New York, he published an illustrated Pesah story for children - he is also the author of Hebrew textbooks and exercise books for children. He started to write his private diary in 1933. What's significant, his personal sufferings and tragedies didn't affect his everyday entries: despite the fact that he suffered from diabetes from 1928, there is not a word about his illness or about the difficulties with getting the medicines in his diary written during the occupation. The Kaplan family was evicted from their flat at the beginning of October 1939, without the right to take anything with them. The family got their belongings back illegally. He lived at his relatives' place with his wife. They regained their flat - totally plundered - in November; the Germans left it, because it was supposed to be in the ghetto area. In December 1939, Chaim organised lessons for three groups of students. He read German newspapers to draw conclusions, from between the lines, what is going on the world's fronts. In September 1940, he became a member of The Association of Private Teachers, which chose him as their representative. As one of the five members of the executive committee, he wrote letters to the Judenrat and talked to its authorities. In July 1942, he lost his last source of income, his debtors vanished as well - when the First Action started, Chaim Kaplan gets to know what hunger is, he lives on quarter of bread and unsweetened tea, he is unable to get out of his bed. He managed to save himself from the First Action in July 1942 thanks to the documents from the Jewish Self-Help centre, which protected him against deportation. On 4 August 1942, the author makes his last notes: he watches the Germans and the police surrounding his house. Somehow, miraculously, the blockade moves elsewhere and Kaplan decides to escape at dawn. He is terrified, has no place to go - but most of all, he only cares whether his diary will survive. He passes subsequent notebooks to Rubinsztejn, who goes to work outside the ghetto walls. Rubinsztejn passes them to a Pole, Wladyslaw Wojcek from the Liw village, who hides them efficiently. Both Kaplans probably died in Treblinka in December 1942 or in January 1943. Emmanuel Ringelblum in his book 'Zapiski z warszawskiego getta' ('Records from the Warsaw ghetto' - published in Yiddish, pp. 339-40) mentions that he repeatedly talked Kaplan into allowing him to secure his diary and assured him that he would get t back after the war. The author promised to give him only the copy of the manuscript, but obviously it was impossible to make it in the ghetto. Ringelblum was sure that the whole diary was lost when its author was taken to the Umschlagplatz.