News Archive

Researcher uncovers Holocaust victims' diaries

Coverage of Holocaust author Alexandra Zapruder's visit to R-MWC

3/24/2005 9:01:08 AM

The following story appeared in the Thursday, March 24, 2005 edition of The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, and is reprinted with permission.

By Darrell Laurant
The News & Advance

They were like bread crumbs scattered along a path into a dark forest - perhaps the only indication that a human being had passed that way.

Some were scribbled in battered notebooks, others on scraps of paper bags or envelopes. One journal that Alexandra Zapruder discovered was written over and around the text of a French novel in four different languages, none of them French.

“He obviously wanted whoever found it to be able to read it,” said Zapruder, author of the book “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” and a speaker at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College on Wednesday night.

Zapruder is, herself, young - just over a decade out of college, currently expecting her first child. And she happens to be Jewish, but says that until she accepted a job at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., after graduation, she felt little connection to the deaths of 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany in World War II.

“I knew about it,” she said, “but hadn’t really studied or read that much about it.”

She was originally hired by the museum for a different reason. With a dual major at Smith College in art history and French, she was uniquely suited to oversee a project involving the rescue of some Jewish artists in France just prior to the war.

“But then things changed and I was assigned to another project,” she said. “This was called ‘Daniel’s Story,’ revolving around the diary of a young boy that had been found.”

In researching that diary, she found others. And then, since the Holocaust Museum is at the crossroads of Holocaust research in the United States, others found her.

“People were told that I was doing this,” she said, “and they told other people. I learned about diaries that were in archives and museums, but also found out that a lot of them were in private hands.”

So Zapruder found herself traveling around the United States and beyond to view and perhaps copy these family relics, each with its own story. Some had been smuggled out of the country, others had been found in trash bins or alleys. Some of the young writers managed to survive, and Zapruder met them. More than half did not.

“There was a woman in Prague,” Zapruder said, “who kept her diary under the cushions of her sofa.”

In 1999, after some 60 diaries had surfaced, she quit her job at the museum to write her book.

“It’s had a couple of printings now,” she said, “and it’s out in paperback.”

Next month, a documentary Zapruder helped produce will be shown on MTV. Titled “We’re Still Here,” it will have young actors like Kate Hudson, Elijah Wood, Brittney Murphy and Zach Braff doing voiceovers of the diaries.

“They (the actors) all said they were very moved by doing that,” she said.

The granddaughter of Abraham Zapruder, famous for his home movie of the Kennedy assassination, Alexandra Zapruder is well aware that genocide didn’t end with the slaughter of the European Jews.

“We had the Balkans, and Rwanda, and now what’s going on in Darfur (a province of Sudan),” she said. “Nobody wants to think their society could be capable of something like that.”

Genocide, she believes, “is a sort of existential cruelty. One consolation in death is that we will be remembered. But in the Holocaust, often everyone who could remember was wiped out, as well.”

Except for those who found scraps of paper, something to write on, and the courage

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