Time Inc. Home Entertainment, which usually publishes books on popular culture and current events under the Time Books imprint, has collaborated for the first time with Yad Vashem Publications, the publishing arm of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Authority, in producing a YA title, Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust by Rutka Laskier. Rutka was a Jewish teenager incarcerated with her family in the Bedzin ghetto in southern Poland, and later killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1943. Her diary, dubbed by her co-publishers as the “Polish Anne Frank,” is being released in the U.S. with a 55,000-copy initial print run on May 2, which is Yam Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Unlike previous editions of the diary, which were published in Poland and in Israel (in both Hebrew and English editions) by Yad Vashem, this edition sets Laskier’s writings within their larger context: pages on the left feature her diary entries, typeset on what looks like parchment, while pages to the right feature maps, historical documents, or photographs (including several of Laskier with family members and friends), as well as historical commentary and annotations explaining obscure terminology. Rutka’s Notebook also includes essays by Yad Vashem scholars, to place Laskier’s story within its historical setting.
Rutka (r.), age 10, and her family, i n 1939. Her father, at rear, was the only family member to survive the war. Courtesy of Zahava Scherz.
“We thought the story would gain so much if we added more texture, another dimension,” Kelly Knauer, the editor at Time Books who edited Rutka’s Notebook, explained. “We really wanted to open this book up for an American audience.”
“It’s not full of sounds of footsteps, like The Diary of Anne Frank,” commented Richard Fraiman, president and publisher of Time Inc. Home Entertainment. “A girl is struggling to keep normality in her life as these extraordinary events were happening around her.”
The story of how Laskier’s diary, which covers only four months in the 14-year-old’s short life, was discovered more than 60 years after her death, is a remarkable tale in itself. Before being transported from Bedzin to Auschwitz, the girl told a non-Jewish friend, Stanislawa Sapinska, whose family owned the apartment building in which the Laskier family lived, that she would hide the diary under the floor. After the war ended in 1945, Sapinska returned to the apartment and recovered the diary. “She [Laskier] had asked her friend to look after it,” Fraiman explained.
For the next 60 years, Laskier’s diary remained in Sapinska’s possession, shelved on a bookshelf in her home, until two years ago, when her nephew persuaded her to share it with the world by handing it over to Yad Vashem. After tracing the Laskier family, Yad Vashem discovered that the only member of the family to have survived the Holocaust was Yaacov Laskier, Rutka’s father, who had died in 1986, but had left behind a daughter, Zahava (Laskier) Scherz. Scherz, born in 1949, is Rutka Laskier’s half-sister.
For her part, Scherz knew nothing of her father’s first family until she herself was 14 years old and discovered a photo album filled with pictures of her father’s first wife and their two children. That discovery prompted her to ask her father about his first family and their fate. Rutka’s Notebook includes two essays by Scherz: “Introduction: The Sister I Never Knew” and “The Three Lives of Yaacov Laskier.”
“I hope Rutka would have thought that we’ve looked after her diary,” Fraiman said, noting that Laskier had written that she knew that she probably wouldn’t survive the war, but hoped that her words would be preserved for posterity.
“If the public responds to what we’re doing, I’d like to get a line going,” Fraiman said of Time Books’ latest release, “It doesn’t have to be the Holocaust; it could be another artifact.”