"A Mother's Diary
Surviving The Holocaust in Ukraine

by Sosia Gottesfeld Zimmerman

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This diary written more than seventy years ago describes how a Jewish family -the author (Sosia), her husband (Zysio) and their young child (Daniel) - living in Skala, a Ukrainian shtetl, survived the Holocaust from 1941 through 1944. 

After the Germans occupied Skala in 1941, the Jewish community faced constant harassment and degradation, sadistic brutality, and killings. The "final solution" began there when the Germans conducted their first “action" in September 1942. Together with the Ukrainian militia, they seized all the Jews they could catch. Those who weren't killed outright were sent to labor or concentration camps. Skala was now “Judenrein”.

For the next several months, Sosia and her family hid in various places in Skala, in a near-by town, and with various farmers for a few days at a time. In January 1943, Zysio convinced a Ukrainian farmer, Vasil, to hide them for a few weeks. This actually lasted six months until Vasil's fear of being caught helping Jews  and his wife's hostility led to his demanding that they leave.  The family again hid in Skala and with various farmers for short periods of time.  Once again, Zysio prevailed on Vasil to take them back. 

Sosia and her family spent eight more months in their cold, cramped space in the attic of Vasil's barn. Her diary vividly describes the terrible plight of the Jews in Ukraine and of her family specifically.  They faced continuous demands that they leave. Every time they pleaded to stay a little longer. Every day brought fears of being found out by neighbors, the Ukrainian militia, German patrols.  Every day brought depravation, hunger, cold.  All around them, the few remaining Jews were being caught and murdered. They were in a race against time.  Which would come first: Hitler's defeat or their end? Somehow, they managed to hang on for eight months until being liberated by the advancing Russian army in March 1944.

Their survival was of course due to extraordinary luck.  But the diary clearly shows that two people must also be credited for it.  First, Zysio, whose boundless energy, refusal to give in, and resourcefulness allowed them each additional day of life.  The other is Vasil, who  harbored  them for a total of 14 months despite his fear of being caught and the continuous nagging of his spouse to get rid of "his Jews”.

The hand-written diary in Yiddish was translated into English shortly after Sosia's death in 1990.  The original manuscript is now preserved in the Yad Vashem Archives  in Jerusalem. 

Daniel Zimmerman
(Author's son)

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Article copyrighted by Daniel Zimmerman
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Updated Mar 25, 2015. © Copyright 2005 Skala Research Group. All Rights Reserved.