Jewish and Polish Perceptions
of the Shoah as Reflected in
Wartime Diaries and Memoirs
At the close of the 1990s, I began work on the Holocaust and its social environment in the light of Polish wartime memoirs and diaries. The first results of the project were presented in 1999 in Warsaw at an international Holocaust conference, sponsored by Yad Vashem and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, as well as in a larger form in my recent book. 1 This essay on Polish and Jewish wartime memoirs begins from the premise that Jews confined to ghettos or in hiding had, for objective reasons (especially in the largest ghettos), a limited knowledge about events both on the so-called Aryan side and in other ghettos. The Poles, free to travel around the country, knew more of what was awaiting the Jews outside the ghettos. From the very beginning, Polish peasants inhabiting villages near the death camps knew what was going on behind the camp fences, and news of such horrors reached other parts of Polish society. This was not the case on the Jewish side, where news about the true destination of the deportation transports came only gradually.
Several wartime Jewish diaries confirm my hypothesis. A prime example is the excellent diary of Jakub Poznański, written inside the Òódź ghetto, where it is evident that he had a very inadequate knowledge about the outside world. Even the news about the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, which took place a mere sixty-five miles away, reached him in a very fragmentary and misleading form: as a common Polish-Jewish uprising. 2 Diaries written in the Warsaw ghetto similarly lack information about the world extra muros, for obvious reasons. One could mention in this respect the manuscript of David Fogelman written in 1944. 3 Even Emmanuel Ringelblum's work on wartime Polish-Jewish relations was based on a limited knowledge about the Polish scene.
Some Jewish diarists were conscious of their limited information and re-