Many people around the world know who Anne Frank was: a Jewish girl with a diary in which she wrote touching day to day entries of growing up during WWII. She died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at age fifteen. Years later, her diary was published and became instantly famous with several movie adaptations made as well. Anne Frank is probably the most prolific child diarist of the Holocaust but many other children wrote diaries of their experiences, including a thirteen-year-old girl named Éva Heyman, a young Hungarian Jew.
In 1941, WWII was in full swing and the Hungarian government cracked down on Jews who were not born in Hungary. These people were deported to Poland by the thousands, crammed into cars without luggage or food. Éva’s own dear friend, Marta, and her family had been arrested and deported to Poland where Éva later learned they were executed by machine gunners. Upon hearing the news, she realized the world would never be the same. She recorded her feelings about the terrible things going on that she could not stop. “Dear diary, you’re the luckiest one in the world, because you cannot feel, you cannot know what a terrible thing has happened to us. The Germans have come!”
For the next three years, the movements and activities of Jews were severely restricted. However, when German troops arrived in Hungary in March, 1944, the rules became even more strict and unfair. All Jews were ordered to wear a yellow, four-inch stars on their outer garment. Jewish business were closed and taken over by the Germans. Even Éva’s precious red bicycle was taken away by the police.
She describes that sad day, April 7, 1944 in her diary: “Today they came for my bicycle. I almost caused a big drama…My bicycle had a proper license plate and Grandpa had paid the tax for it. That’s how the policeman found it, because it was registered at City Hall… I threw myself to the ground, held onto the back wheel…and shouted all sorts of things at the policemen: ‘Shame on you for taking away a bicycle from a little girl! That’s robbery.’ … One of the policemen was very annoyed and said: ‘All we need is for a Jew girl to put on such a comedy when her bicycle is taken away. No Jew kid is entitled to keep a bicycle anymore. The Jews aren’t entitled to bread either.’”
Not long after her bicycle was taken away, her father was also taken away. He was arrested by the police and detained in an elementary school for a couple of days before he was released.
On April 30, the Nazis made a rule stating that all Jews could only leave their homes between 9 and 10 am. They could not leave at any other time. On top of that, news arrived that all the Jews would be forced to live in a ghetto in their town. “My little Diary, from now on I see everything as a dream…We started to pack…I know it is not a dream, but I can’t believe it. We can also take bed linens, but we don’t know when they are coming to take us, so we can’t pack the bed linen just yet…My little Diary, I was never so afraid!”
The police came to take the Heyman family in early May. Éva had a little gold chain that held the key to her diary and she wanted to wear it. A policeman cruelly refused and she had to hand over the chain. She then strung the key onto a velvet ribbon.
The family was taken in a truck to the old Jewish Quarter of Nagyvarad where the ghetto was located. It was more like a prison camp surrounded by a seven-foot fence. For the first five days of living in the ghetto, being held captive like a bird in a cage, Éva could not bring herself to write in her diary. But, finally, on May 10, 1944, she wrote: “I don’t even know where to begin writing, because so many awful things have happened since I last wrote in you. First, the fence was finished, and nobody can go out or come in…From today on, dear diary, we’re not in a ghetto but in a ghetto camp, and on every house they’ve pasted a notice which tells exactly what we’re not allowed to do…Actually, everything is forbidden, but the most awful thing of all is that the punishment for everything is death…It doesn’t actually say that this punishment also applies to children, but I think it does apply to us, too. The gendarmes came into the house and took all the food we brought along from the pantry…Every time I think: ‘This is the end, things couldn’t possibly be worse,’ and then I find out that it’s always possible for everything to get worse, and even much much worse. Until now we had food, and now there won’t be anything to eat.”
May 29 marked the beginning of the end of Éva’s precious life. It was announced that the ghetto would be divided into districts and deportations would begin. All Jews would be sent off to unknown places. On May 30, Éva recorded what she had heard about the cruel deportations: “They forced 80 people into freight cars and they gave them altogether only one bucket of drinking water. But it is still more awful that they were sealing cars with padlocks. People will surely suffocate in this terrible heat! The gendarme said he truly didn’t understand these Jews. Not even the children cried. They were all like sleepwalkers. They got into those cars stiff, without a word.”
The Heyman family grew desperate for a way out of the terrible deportations, but they could not avoid them. The day arrived when the Heyman family was to be deported and Éva desperately wanted to save her diary. Her last, panicked entry says: “Yet, my little Diary, I don’t want to die. I still want to live, even if it means that only I remain behind from this entire district. I would wait for the end of the war in a cellar, or in the attic, or in any hole, I would, my little diary…only not to be killed, only to be left alive!…I can’t write any further, my little Diary. I’m crying with tears…”
Mariska, the Heyman’s former maid, gained access to the ghetto and Éva was able to give Mariska her diary.
Éva never mentioned in her diary that her stepfather and mother did escape from the ghetto using forged documents and traveled to Switzerland. It is unclear why Éva could not be saved.
She was deported to KL-Auschwitz, one of the largest Nazi death camps, and arrived there on June 6, 1944. She only lived until October 17, 1944, when she was selected for execution in the gas chambers. A kind-hearted female doctor tried to hide Éva from Dr. Mengele, a notorious Nazi doctor, who was making the selections, but Mengele pushed Éva onto the truck and she was transported to the gas chambers where she was murdered.
Years later, after the war, Mariska gave Éva’s diary to Éva’s mother, Ági. Ági, was bombarded with intense feelings of guilt for not being able to save Éva’s life. She edited the diary, removing sections that might have troubled her, then had it published in 1947. After Ági’s own death, the complete diary was never found again.
Despite the horrible circumstances Éva endured and her terrible murder at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwiz, Éva would tell us to never forget the horrors of WWII. Schoolchildren must be educated about the Holocaust in order to ensure that such a terrible genocide happens never again. Music, dance, art, theater, and books help keep alive the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Auschwitz, where Éva was murdered, is now a museum where over 1.5 million people visit every year. Some who visit lay down flowers at the site of the gas chambers and the train station where freight cars full of Jews arrived. It is a quiet place, a silent memorial to the thousands who died within its gates. Over a million people visit the Anne Frank House a year, where another brave young diarist lived before going into hiding. On May 10, 2005, a memorial was dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust was opened up in Berlin, Germany. It was created by an American architect Peter Eisenman and is named ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.’ Memorials like these help keep the Holocaust from never being forgotten.
As Anne Frank said: “Look how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.’’
The Holocaust: The Orgins, Events, and Remarkable Tales of Survival by Phillip Steele
Auschwitz: Voices From the Death Camp by James M. Deen: The Holocaust Through Primary Sources (the photo of Éva was originally from the Yad Yashem Photo Archives but I took a picture of it from the book, Auschwitz: Voices From the Death Camp by James M. Deen: The Holocaust Through Primary Sources)
(Excerpts of Éva’s diary from Auschwitz: Voices From The Death Camp originally from Extracts from the Diary of Éva Heyman’’ translated by Susan Geroe)