According to the A.P.:
"The diary of a 14-year-old Jewish girl dubbed the 'Polish Anne Frank' was unveiled on Monday, chronicling the horrors she witnessed in a Jewish ghetto -- at one point watching a Nazi soldier tear a Jewish baby away from his mother and kill him with his bare hands."
Released by Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust museum, the diary was written by fourteen-year-old Rutka Laskier in 1943 shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz. From the sound of it, Rutka's diary juxtaposes the horrors of war, persecution and torture with the pre-teen awakenings of first crushes and the beginnings of romantic and sexual desire -- the incredibly human experience of an adolescent girl suffering through a grievous experience of man's inhumanity. In one breath she describes her longing for a first kiss, in the next her hatred for Nazis murderers, and the next her refusal to resign herself to death:
"I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it's over, you only die once ... but I can't, because despite all these atrocities, I want to live, and wait for the following day."
News of Rutka's diary strikes a deep chord with me. As a Jewish woman, an only child in a tiny family, and the daughter of a Polish immigrant father and the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, I grew up with the lonely knowledge that I would have had a much larger extended family if only the pogroms and camps hadn't claimed so many of my older relatives. My paternal grandmother, who died at 96 this past summer, told stories of being shipped off to a Siberian gulag and, as a tiny woman not quite five feet tall, was forced to chop down trees for years, faced constant death threats if she didn't chop the same quota as burly men twice her size, and had to barter her clothes for enough crumbs just to keep herself alive. She had been a journalist before that. I never got to read or see any of her writing, because she wasn't able to take any of that with her. World War II was never simply "history" in my grade school social studies classes, it was just the text accompanying my overly sparse family tree.
At the end of that dark time, the West and the world issued a promise: Never again.
Yet today, I read about Rutka's diary and I can't help but wonder about the diaries being written by 14-year-old Sudanese girls experiencing the atrocities in Darfur -- and by 14-year-old Iraqi girls in constant fear that today will be their last day alive, fear that their relatives will be kidnapped and tortured, fear that no future awaits them but pain and suffering. Then, the world said, "Never again." Now, most of us sit idle -- and more newsprint is spilled over Paris Hilton's exploits than the exploitation of innocent girls and boys, women and men abroad.
The discovery of Rutka's diary has been reported in numerous newspapers, broadcast outlets and online sources, with headlines "Polish girl's Holocaust diary unveiled after 60 years" being typical. I imagine it will likely get widespread coverage, as it should be.
My question, on behalf of Women In Media & News, is this: will we have to wait another 60 years for media to report the voices and concerns of girls like Rutka suffering through contemporary atrocities which, in some cases (such as the Iraq war) we have the power to prevent? Will media complicity shield the public from the uncomfortable knowledge that we need to get active enough to protect children in war-torn regions and refugee children (not to mention adults) from the inhumanity they are experiencing right now?
Until her passing last summer, every time the television news came on, every time the small screen blared with news of bombings, torture, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, my grandmother would cry, mumbled, pained words in Polish that I couldn't translate but whose meanings I instantly understood. Every time she watched the news, she made the connections between her own history, the slaughter of her relatives and the pain of her persecution, and what horrors are being faced by women like herself in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wonder -- will journalists draw any connections between the fears, hopes and experiences of Rutka Laskier during WWII and girls in Iraq and Darfur, who need our help now as much as Rutka needed our help then?
This post originally appeared at WIMN's Voices: A Group Blog on Women and the Media, a project of Women In Media & News, the national women's media analysis, education and advocacy group. To bring Jennifer L. Pozner to speak to your campus or community group, email info [at] wimnonline [dot] org.