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Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan [Paperback]

Chaim Aron Kaplan , Abraham Isaac Katsh
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Oct 1981
Warsaw resident Chaim Kaplan's journal begins on September 1, 1939, the day the Nazi blitzkrieg stunned the world-the Jews of Poland most of all. It ends in August 1942, when Kaplan realized that the Nazi noose was around his neck. Today Kaplan's diary stands as an extraordinary record of the Nazi destruction of Warsaw's Jewish community. It is as timely as ever.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Collier Books; Reissue edition (Oct 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0020340001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0020340003
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 769,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A precious record of Jewish life under Nazi rule." - New York Review of Books "Not only the material for history; it is history itself, agonizingly, triumphantly alive." - Saturday Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Chaim A. Kaplan was a teacher and writer in Warsaw. He is believed to have died in late 1942 or early 1943.Abraham I. Katsh is President Emeritus of Dropsie University in Philadelphia, and Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Culture and Education at New York University. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
DURING THE MORNING hours of the first of September, 1939, war broke out between Germany and Poland and, indirectly, between Germany and Poland's allies, England and France. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I was born in 1961, and I have never lived in a warzone or under occupation, and it is easy to guess how warzones and occupation are both horrible to live under, but it is difficult to learn how horrible they are-to volunteer for such an experience would be called masochism in this materialistic and irreligious society. Kierkegaard said 'life is lived forward but understood backwards' this book is life at it's worst, lived forward and understood forward and it is honest and unremitting.

The diary runs for just under three years, from Sept 1939-Aug1942. The first entry beams with optimism-of course the allied powers will rescue us, of course we will defend ourselves. But neither happens, the Nazis run through Polish government and military like knives thorugh soft butter, and the process of civil persecution starts small but grows rapidly. From banning jewsish businesses and trades, to restricting freedom of movement, to outright demands for bribery by individual guards for small releases from absolute tyranny, and then finally with three sides of the ghetto walls erected and jews dying indiscriminately on the streets the jews are shipped off to the death camps as the fourth wall of the ghetto is erected, and the ghetto becomes a tomb for the living. It is notable how tight and quickly put up the nazi news cordon is, very little news of The Allies' activities gets through. When the author writes an entry he has hope. When he misses days he implicitly loses hope, life would better unlived, unexamined. Each diary entry represents an examination of a day. The author's courage in writing this diary astoinished me. There is a level of gallows humour which leavens the text, for instance when Poles suffer rather then Jews and jews can watch, in the earlier part of the book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an eyewitness and a master storyteller 12 April 2001
By lisatheratgirl - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the 4th Warsaw ghetto diary I've read and the 3rd I've reviewed. If I had to do it over again, I'd pick this one first. The author was a teacher and more than just a recorder of events. He was a gifted writer and master storyteller who was never deluded for a moment about what was going to happen and who never lost sight of the universal perspective. He writes in a wry, almost sarcastic style that makes his point effectively as he blasts the Nazis, Polish and Jewish collaborators, corruption in the ghetto, etc. He had me asking myself deep questions as I was reading. He constantly refers to the Nazis he encounters as stupid people. It shows how dangerous stupid people can be when given power. At one point, he says cruelty is a sickness that can affect whole communities and even entire nations. You see from his writings how contagious a sickness it is, and the more that violent, sadistic, atrocious behavior is permitted, the more it occurs. He vividly shows what can happen when people lose their sense of outrage. He knew what was going on at Sobibor and Treblinka and that the people being "resettled" were not coming back. He never trusted the Nazis, saying only evil can come from evil people. Who can argue with that when you are talking about people who lied up to the minute they closed the door of the gas chamber behind you? The last line in the book is "If I am taken, what will become of my diary?" He was not afraid of dying, but afraid that all his effort would be wasted. Well, it wasn't wasted. If only one more person reads this book on the basis of this review, I'll feel I have done my belated bit for a man who had real guts and unfortunately didn't live to see the ultimate survival of his people.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A penetrating report of Nazi destruction of Warsaw's Jewry. 19 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Kaplan's comtemporaneous recording of the destruction of the Jewish community in Warsaw, starting with the Nazi invasion of Poland is most gripping and compelling. It is most interesting because it was written without the "benefit" of other purported historical accounts or the need to explain why the Nazis acted as they did. Although Kapaln has a perspective and knows he is writing for history, his maniscript is mostly reportorial. When he is providing his opinion, rather than telling what actually happened that day, Kaplan let's the reader know.
How refreshing to be able to read an historical work, without the "spin" that now accompanies most works about the Nazi occupation of conquered lands and the extermination of the Jews of Europe. This book is must reading for both serious scholars and those who are interested in the subject matter.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Description of Life in the Warsaw Ghetto 18 Feb 2007
By Eshtemoa - Published on
Having read many accounts of existence during the Holocaust, I recommend "Scroll of Agony" because it pulls the reader in on so many levels.

The reader can learn about the system the Nazis used to try and fragment Jewish morale, culture, health and lives by attempting to suppress every aspect of Jewish life. What a powerful and understated diary!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much Useful Information Despite an Initially Anti-Polish Tone 2 Nov 2006
By Jan Peczkis - Published on
Chaim Kaplan begins by blaming Poland's 1939 defeat on the "incompetence" of the prewar Polish government (never mind the fact that Nazi Germany was powerful enough to roll over most of Europe, and that it finally took several powerful, industrialized nations--combined--many years to subdue Nazi Germany). He also misrepresents the Poles as ones who were basically sympathetic with Hitler and who were only forced to change their minds when Hitler conquered Poland. In actuality, many prewar Polish politicians (e. g. Pilsudski) warned of the evils and dangers of Nazism. Then again, positive opinions of Hitler were common all over the prewar world. And just as some prewar Poles didn't mind Hitler so long as he was anti-Semitic but not overtly anti-Polish, so also some prewar Jews (especially German Jews) were ready to support the Nazi movement and its Polonophobia if it would only outgrow its anti-Semitism and behave more like the old-style German aggressive nationalism.

Kaplan implicitly refutes those who say that there was no Polish Quisling only because the Germans never wanted one: "You will not find one single public-spirited citizen among them [the Poles] who is willing to be the conquerors' representative, to talk to his people and make them realize that they cannot change reality and must accept the yoke of German rule--like Hacha in Czechoslovakia and Quisling in Norway. We could also add Petain in France, that stupid old man who willingly said Kaddish for his country." (p. 206).

In early 1940, Kaplan rejected the notion that the Nazis would be able to stir up the Poles to large-scale violence against Jews (p. 101, 114), but he realized that isolated attacks may occur because: "No nation lacks hooligan elements, and the conquerors have paved the way for them." (p. 114) and because: "Terrorists and troublemakers are not lacking among any people, and at all times and places they can be found in sufficient numbers." (p. 101). He characterizes the Easter 1940 events as follows: "The conquerors have begun a new political operation. Gangs of young toughs, Polish youth (you won't find one adult among them), armed with clubs, sticks, and all kinds of harmful weapons, make pogroms against the Jews." (p. 134).

Kaplan comments: "The conqueror tramples upon both `inferior' races, but the Jews are on the lowest rung and the Poles on the next to lowest." (p. 81). At other times, he comes close to juxtaposing the victimhood of both peoples: "Nazi pride is unlimited. The Poles and the Jews are classed together as if they were both `natives' of African jungles. Both were supposedly created only to serve the conqueror." (p. 73). Kaplan includes the following amazing statements: "At heart, the conqueror hates the Poles more deeply than the Jews. Once the head of the Warsaw district, Dr. Fischer, said, `The Poles we hate instinctively; the Jews we hate in accordance with orders.'" (p. 204).

Kaplan presents evidence that, in many ways, Poles were initially victimized by the Germans more than Jews. Consider the summer of 1940: "Today, Aryans were seized for work!...When pedestrians disappeared from the streets after the hunt began, they stopped the trolleys and took the male passengers off, whether they were Poles or Jews. After personal interrogation the Jews went home and the Poles were imprisoned. How good it is to be a Jew!" (p. 179). At other times, Poles wore the Jewish Schandeband to avoid forced labor (p. 150). Poles also sent their children to Jewish homes overnight to prevent the children from being seized by Germans for forced donations of blood for German soldiers (p. 152). In spring 1941, Poles hid in the Jewish ghetto during German mass executions of Poles (p. 254).

About 140,000 Poles lost their properties, along with a comparable number of Jews, during the German creation of the Warsaw ghetto (p. 212; see also p. 266). (The occasional postwar Polish killings of Jews over properties, much exaggerated by Jan Thomas Gross in his recently-published FEAR, must be understood in the light of the atmosphere of complete disregard for property rights that had recently befallen both Jews and Poles.)

Katsh, the editor, credits a Pole, Wladyslaw Wojcik, for preserving Kaplan's diary for posterity and for later discovering the second Ringelblum Archive (p. 14). Kaplan himself credits the Poles for smuggling food into the Warsaw Ghetto (p. 304, 316), and, in general, for not falling for Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda: "We thought that the `Jewish badge' would provide the local population with a source of mockery and ridicule--but we were wrong. There is no attitude of disrespect nor of making much of another's dishonor. Just the opposite. They show that they commiserate with us in our humiliation. They sit silent in the street cars, and in private conversation they even express words of condolence and encouragement. `Better times will come.'" (p. 82). Also: "Common suffering has drawn all hearts closer, and the barbaric persecutions of the Jews have even aroused feelings of sympathy towards them. " (p. 114). Later, Kaplan repeatedly credited Polish messengers for scouring the entire General Government to ascertain the fact that, up to that point, 40,000 "resettled" Lublin Jews were definitely no longer alive (p. 286, 291, 309).

In his entry for July 22, 1942, Kaplan is candid about the fact that, even at that late date, Warsaw's Jewish officials continued to insist that Warsaw's Jews would never be deported (p. 319). And, in common with many Jewish chroniclers, Kaplan criticizes world Jewry for its indifference to the fate of Polish Jews (pp. 76-77). During the deportations of Jews to the death camps, Kaplan lambastes the Jewish ghetto police "...whose cruelty is no less than that of the Nazis..." (p. 324), and says that: "It is the Jewish police who are cruelest toward the condemned." (p. 326).

Kaplan writes: "Nazism is not original. They took everything from Bolshevism, only that they expanded its rottenness." (p. 329).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A graphic description of life in a nightmare 20 Sep 2009
By George Haber - Published on
A must-read for students (by which I mean well-read adults as well as individuals in school)of WW II and the Holocaust...Far more effectively than the celebrated Anne Frank Diary, Chaim Kaplan's "scroll of agony" records the thoughts, emotions and observations of someone living through the nightmare of occupied Poland. Kaplan's is a graphic report on the day-to-day existence and persecution of his Polish friends and neighbors. Well written/well-translated, the book stands as a memorable first-person account of a life endured under the most horrific of circumstances.
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