AN unremarkable diary with the most remarkable contents is set to be transformed into a book and documentary.
The diary, which belonged to Holocaust survivor Regina Honigman, was secretly written by 62 inmates of the Gabersdorf labour camp between 1942 and 1946 in the then-German controlled Czechoslovakia.
Although she was aware of its existence, Melbourne-based Fay Eichenbaum never asked her mother about the contents of the tiny notebook, too afraid of the memories that might surface.
“I knew it carried great pain from her past and I was too scared to ask her about it for fear of opening up wounds, hers and mine,” Eichenbaum explained. “Even after my mother’s death in 1992, I was not ready to delve into her unspoken past. Instead, I threw myself into looking after my elderly father.”
But Eichenbaum knew the time would come when she would have it translated.
Since discovering its astonishing contents, she has teamed with four people who share her passion, among them New Yorker Jeff Cymble, a genealogist, author and lawyer, and Marisa Fox, also based in New York, who is writing an article and book about her mother.
Fox also has plans to make a documentary and write a book about the diary. She will visit Australia next month with the hope of meeting and interviewing Gabersdorf survivors and their descendants.
The journey of discovery for Eichenbaum began upon her return from the Adult March of the Living in 2005.
She placed an ad for information in The AJN, and was contacted by Helen Leperere, a former camp sister who, despite living nearby, was previously unknown to Eichenbaum.
“Helen knew my mother from Gabersdorf, but worked and slept with a different group of girls. She translated some sections. She told me fascinating stories of some of the people who wrote in mum’s notebook. This brought to life the names on the pages.”
And so began a passion to find out more. With further translation assistance, the stories began to take shape. Eichenbaum discovered that the first entry was written on April 15, 1942, by Regina herself, with the subsequent pages including entries by many inmates.
Some simply wrote their name, the date and the town they came from, while others wrote poems and words of hope.
“Most just wanted to be remembered — not to perish without their name being written down somewhere,” Eichebaum said.
There are also pages with sections from the Haggadah written from memory and an acrostic of the Polish alphabet, each letter detailing the abuses of the camp.
The diary is now kept by Yad Vashem as a catalogued document of the Holocaust, but its existence is still very much with Eichenbaum, who is contacted regularly for information about other former inmates — some who perished, others who survived and have since died, and a smaller group still living.
“Now there are more pieces to the puzzle, the diary and the people who wrote in it are coming to life.
“They are not just writings in a dusty old book in a foreign language sitting in a drawer forgotten,” she said. “The history is real. It has come to life. And the family who we have made contact with have something tangible to reflect on about what their parent, grandparent and even cousin felt during this black war time.”