“It is much to my honour to know you take interest in my diary written during the reign of terror in Budapest, from March 1944 till January 1945… The diary I was keeping during the time mentioned above is not a usual one – as for example that of Anna Frank’s – because I had no paper, pen, pencil; neither a quiet room, nor a place to write it. So if I could catch any possibility, I put down the happenings with a word or half a sentence, sometimes in shorthand, notes which could be understood only by me… With sending to the Museum these relics which I have preserved during nearly half a century, a great concern of mine will be solved. Namely… [that] after my death these notes of documentary value would be reduced to nothing. However, now I feel sure they will get to the very place they belong and to a country which will never be soiled by Fascism – hopefully.”
– Letter from Klara Wolf in Budapest to David Altschuler, Founding Director of the Museum, August 13, 1991
The Museum’s collection contains 13 individuals’ diaries written during the Holocaust. These priceless artifacts act as a form of testimony, helping us understand what day to day life was like for Jews and others in Nazi-occupied Europe.
One such object in our collection was written and donated by Klara Wolf. Born in Budapest in 1909, Ms. Wolf studied English in London, worked for export companies, became an English teacher, and married her husband Paul Wolf in 1933. She spent the war years in the Budapest ghetto and was liberated by Russians on January 18, 1945. Her husband spent five years in labor camps, and was liberated at Mauthausen on May 5, 1945.
The journal, with entries from 1944-45, looks ordinary: it’s a spiral-bound notebook with tiny checks on cover. A portion of the cover is cut away and the first entry is glimpsed, script in blue ink.
The entries are not in chronological order; the first is dated May 18, 1945 – a few months after Ms. Wolf was liberated from the ghetto, and days after her husband was liberated from Mauthausen.
The entries inside the journal, which are written in Ms. Wolf’s native Hungarian, relate to her experiences in Nazi-occupied Hungary. She discusses marriage, life in the ghetto, and the difficulties of close quarters. She writes about the Schutzpass (a protective pass created by Raoul Wallenberg, who worked in the Swedish embassy in Budapest), and wonders if it covers two people or can only be used by one person.
The notebook is one of five journals Ms. Wolf donated to the Museum, along with two letters that she never sent, and loose notes about her life in the Budapest ghetto. Among the items documented in her writings are articles about the war that she read in newspapers; the Battle of Budapest; how her sister survived the bombing of a weapons factory where she worked; how László Endre ordered babies thrown into the Danube River; and “razzias” (round-ups of Jews).
Ms. Wolf donated other items to the Museum’s collection as well, including an ID document stating she had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1944. The ID was issued by the Organization of Jewish Christians of Hungary, an organization that existed before the war but began to be used as a cover for escape and rescue as early as 1940. She also donated a Hungarian yellow star, which she wrote, in the letter accompanying the donation, “was torn off my chest and put into my hand by a very young Russian soldier on the day of my liberation.”
At the time of her donations to the Museum, Ms. Wolf was still living in Budapest. Her husband died in 1984. It is poignant to us that her wish – that her notes of documentary value will be in a place where they can be of use – is a reality. Let us hope that her second wish – that they belong to a country that will never be soiled by fascism – holds true.