Last Train Out: A 60-year old diary says nothing of the terror, but its message is crystal clear

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By Debbie Levy
Special to the Washington Post
Sunday, November 8, 1998

The diary was so bent it could no longer be called rectangular. It looked used. Handled. Clutched. But not quite broken.

"Let's put that away," my mother said as I pulled the diary out of the nightstand drawer. We were spring cleaning.

"Put it away -- why?" I asked, and opened the leather-bound volume to the front leaf.

The first entry was dated Sept. 28, 1938 -- "28.9.38" in the European style. It was written in a clear, rounded German hand. I pressed my mother for a full translation, and she reached back in her memory for the meaning of the words that were once her native tongue:

"I was dreaming. Suddenly I opened my eyes and today is my birthday. It was not yet daylight, and I got up from my bed. But I was still sleepy-eyed and I lay down again and fell fast asleep. In the meantime my sister Ruth woke up. She woke me: Jutta, wake up now.' I awoke with difficulty and Ruth said: Happy birthday.'

"I stood up and I saw my presents. Oh, how many! I got a red-and-blue pullover, four pairs of knee socks, two pairs of pants, stockings and a garter belt, handkerchiefs, a nightgown, two pairs of pajamas, and this diary.

"And from my girlfriends: from Ilse Stern, a bracelet; from Felicitas Mehl, stationery; Ilse Hesse, a tricolor pen; from Ellen Davidson, a book; from Ruth Sperbers, a book; Eva Rosenbaum, a jewelry box; from Ellen Rosenfeld, a book; Inge Weiss, a book; and from Herr Baum, stationery.

"At four o'clock all the kids were to come. They all came. We sat very cozily and drank coffee and ate whipped cream tart. Then we played. . . .

"So went the afternoon, very happily."

I insisted on the next entry as well. Mom complied reluctantly, protesting that it was all just schoolgirl stuff:

"29.9.38. Today is nothing special. I had physics and it was very boring. From Uncle David I got a birthday card in English and he promised me two English books. In the afternoon I read my new books. So went this day."

And the next:


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© 1998 The Washington Post Company

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