Until now, we have read and seen all kinds of monstrosities and heartbreaking stories that the hell of World War II had caused.
However, most of the WWII stories state the people that died and suffered were merely as a statistic, whereas all of those people had their own story to tell.
A witness to their sufferings were their diaries and memoirs, fortunately, many survived after all these years.
David Koker, Concentration Camp Prisoner- February 4, 1944
Diary Entry: A slight, insignificant-looking little man, with a rather good-humored face. High peaked cap, mustache, and small spectacles. I think: If you wanted to trace back all the misery and horror to just one person, it would have to be him. Around him a lot of fellows with weary faces. Very big, heavily dressed men, they swerve along whichever way he turns, like a swarm of flies, changing places among themselves (they don’t stand still for a moment) and moving like a single whole. It makes a fatally alarming impression. They look everywhere without finding anything to focus on.
Many memoirs and diary have been written during the Holocaust, but only a few only have been recovered from the concentration camps. David Koker was a Dutch Jewish student who was sent to Camp Vught in southern Holland in February 1943. David’s story has strong similarities with that of Anne Frank. He had lived in Amsterdam with his parents and younger brother until he was captured. Unlike Anne, however, David began his diary after he was captured.
While most of the camp prisoners would have been prevented from keeping a diary, David had befriended the camp clerk and his wife, so he had had some privileges. In the diary entry, Koker describes the leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, one of the main architects of the Holocaust.Later that month, a camp employee smuggled Koker’s diary to safety. Koker himself was moved between camps as the Allies retook much of occupied Europe. He died in 1945 while being transported to the notorious Dachau concentration camp.[via]
Felix Landau, SS Officer- July 12, 1941
Diary Entry: At 6:00 in the morning I was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep. Report for an execution. Fine, so I’ll just play an executioner and then gravedigger, why not. Isn’t it strange, you love battle and then have to shoot defenseless people. Twenty-three had to be shot, amongst them the two above-mentioned women. They are unbelievable. They even refused to accept a glass of water from us.
I was detailed as a marksman and had to shoot any runaways. We drove one kilometer along the road out of town and then turned right into a wood. There were only six of us at that point and we had to find a suitable spot to shoot and bury them. After a few minutes, we found a place. The death candidates assembled with shovels to dig their own graves. Two of them were weeping.
The others certainly have incredible courage. What on earth is running through their minds during these moments? I think that each of them harbors a small hope that somehow he won’t be shot. The death candidates are organized into three shifts as there are not many shovels.
Strange, I am completely unmoved. No pity, nothing. That’s the way it is and then it’s all over. My heart beats just a little faster when involuntarily I recall the feelings and thoughts I had when I was in a similar situation.
Felix Landau a member of the German SS, belonged to an Einsatzkommando, a mobile death squad charged with exterminating Jews, Romani gypsies, Polish intellectuals, and a number of other groups within the Nazi-occupied territory. He operated throughout Poland and Ukraine, slaughtering his way from town to town.. This entry, from July 1941, records his actions in the city of Drohobych in western Ukraine.
Landau was documented as being particularly brazen in his ill-treatment of Jews, randomly shooting at them from his window as they walked down the street. Following the war, Landau managed to evade capture until 1959 when he was put on trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released for “good behavior” in 1971 and died in 1983.[via]
George Orwell, Resident Of London-September 1940,
Diary Entry: This morning, for the first time, saw an aeroplane shot down. It fell slowly out of the clouds, nose foremost, just like a snipe that has been shot high overhead. Terrific jubilation among the people watching, punctuated every now and then by the question, “Are you sure it’s German?” So puzzling are the directions given, and so many the types of aeroplane, that no one even knows which are German planes and which are our own. My only test is that if a bomber is seen over London it must be a German whereas a fighter is likelier to be ours.
During the war, iconic author George Orwell was among the 8.6 million citizens of London. Aside from his literary work, he kept an in-depth diary of his experiences during the war.
This entry comes from September 1940, as the RAF wrestled for control of the skies over southern England during the Battle of Britain.[via]
Ginger, Resident Of Pearl Harbor-December 7, 1941
Diary Entry: I was awakened at eight o’clock on the morning by an explosion from Pearl Harbor. I got up thinking something exciting was probably going on over there. Little did I know! When I reached the kitchen the whole family, excluding Pop, was looking over at the Navy Yard. It was being consumed by black smoke and more terrific explosions . . . Then I became extremely worried, as did we all.
Mom and I went out on the front porch to get a better look and three planes went zooming over our heads so close we could have touched them. They had red circles on their wings. Then we caught on! About that time bombs started dropping all over Hickam. We stayed at the windows, not knowing what else to do, and watched the fire works. It was just like the newsreels of Europe, only worse.
We saw a bunch of soldiers come running full tilt towards us from the barracks and just then a whole line of bombs fell behind them knocking them all to the ground. We were deluged in a cloud of dust and had to run around closing all the windows. In the meantime a bunch of soldiers had come into our garage to hide. They were entirely taken by surprise and most of them didn’t even have a gun or anything.
The diary entry above was written by a 17-year-old high school senior known as “Ginger” (her full name was not published along with the diary). Ginger lived at Hickam Field, on the eastern edge of the Pearl Harbor base.[via]
Hayashi Ichizo, Japanese Kamikaze Pilot -March 21, 1945
Diary Entry: To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine, coming from my heart. However, it is decided for me that I die for the emperor. I shall not be afraid of the moment of my death. But I am afraid of how the fear of death will perturb my life . . .
Even for a short life, there are many memories. For someone who had a good life, it is very difficult to part with it. But I reached a point of no return. I must plunge into an enemy vessel. As the preparation for the takeoff nears, I feel a heavy pressure on me. I don’t think I can stare at death . . . I tried my best to escape in vain. So, now that I don’t have a choice, I must go valiantly.
Japanese kamikaze pilots are fanatical imperialists eager to sacrifice themselves for their country. While this may have been true in some cases, other pilots had a very different story to tell. One such story was that of a Japanese student named Hayashi Ichizo, who was drafted in 1943 at the age of 21. In February 1945, he was assigned to serve as a suicide pilot. Just a month earlier, he had started keeping a diary.[via]
Lena Mukhina, Leningrad Resident -January 3, 1942
Diary Entry: We are dying like flies here because of the hunger, but yesterday Stalin gave another dinner in Moscow in honor of [the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony] Eden. This is outrageous. They fill their bellies there while we don’t even get a piece of bread. They play host at all sorts of brilliant receptions, while we live like cavemen, like blind moles.
During the World War II, estimated number between 7–20 million of Russian civilians died as a direct result of the conflict. In Leningrad alone, as many as 750,000 civilians starved to death as the Germans placed the city under siege for over two years, from September 1941 to January 1944. The above diary entry was written by 17-year-old resident Lena Mukhina just a few months into the siege.
As the blockade wore on, residents were reduced to eating rats, cats, earth, and glue. There were widespread reports of cannibalism. At the time the entry above was written, Lena was living with her aunt, who tragically died from hunger a month later. Lena managed to survive by concealing the death from the authorities, allowing her to continue using her aunt’s food card. In later entries, she begins to plot an escape to Moscow.[via]
Leslie Skinner, British Army Chaplain -August 4, 1944
Diary Entry: On foot located brewed up tanks. Only ash and burnt metal in Birkett’s tank. Searched ash and found remains pelvic bones. At other tanks three bodies still inside. Unable to remove bodies after long struggle—nasty business—sick.
The diary of Captain Leslie Skinner documents his experiences of the brutal conflict immediately following the D-Day landings. Skinner was not a combat soldier, but a priest, assigned as an army chaplain to the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry tank regiment.
Known as “Padre Skinner,” his job was to provide spiritual comfort and perform last rites. A more harrowing part of the job involved recovering the bodies of the dead to give them a proper burial:
Fearful job picking up bits and pieces and reassembling for identification and putting in blankets for burial. No infantry to help. Squadron Leader offered to lend me some men to help. Refused. Less men who live and fight in tanks have to do with this side of things the better. My job. This was more than normally sick making. Really ill—vomiting.
Padre Skinner donated his diary to the Imperial War Museum in 1991. He died 10 years later at the age of 89.[via]
Michihiko Hachiya, Hiroshima Resident- August 6, 1945
Diary Entry: We started out, but after 20 or 30 steps I had to stop. My breath became short, my heart pounded, and my legs gave way under me. An overpowering thirst seized me and I begged Yaeko-san to find me some water. But there was no water to be found. After a little my strength somewhat returned and we were able to go on.
I was still naked, and although I did not feel the least bit of shame, I was disturbed to realize that modesty had deserted me . . . Our progress towards the hospital was interminably slow, until finally, my legs, stiff from drying blood, refused to carry me farther. The strength, even the will, to go on deserted me, so I told my wife, who was almost as badly hurt as I, to go on alone. This she objected to, but there was no choice. She had to go ahead and try to find someone to come back for me.
When the bomb hit, a hospital worker named Michihiko Hachiya was lying down in his home, around 1.5 kilometers (1 mi) from the center of the explosion. His incredible diary, published in 1955, recounts his experiences that day. The above passage describes Michihiko’s short journey to the hospital just minutes after the detonation.
Michihiko and his wife were lucky to survive. The area of the city they inhabited saw a fatality rate of 27 percent. Just 0.8 kilometers (0.5 mi) closer to the center of the explosion the fatality rate was 86 percent.[via]
Wilhelm Hoffman, German Soldier July 29, 1942 and December 26, 1942
Diary Entry: The company commander says the Russian troops are completely broken, and cannot hold out any longer. To reach the Volga and take Stalingrad is not so difficult for us. The Fuhrer knows where the Russians’ weak point is. Victory is not far away.
The most vital and bloodiest battles of World War II were fought on the Eastern Front. The above diary entry comes from Wilhelm Hoffman, a soldier in the 94th Infantry Division of the German Sixth Army. The entry was written at the end of July, a month before Stalingrad. Up to then, the German army had seen victory after victory and Hoffman felt confident they could conquer Stalingrad and then the rest of Russia.
By December, it was the Germans who were surrounded. By that point, Hoffman’s diary had become pessimistic about the chance of victory. The entry from December 26, 1942 stands in stark contrast to his attitude during the summer:
The horses have already been eaten. I would eat a cat; they say its meat is also tasty. The soldiers look like corpses or lunatics, looking for something to put in their mouths. They no longer take cover from Russian shells; they haven’t the strength to walk, run away and hide. A curse on this war! [via]
Zygmunt Klukowski, Polish Doctor-October 21, 1942
Diary Entry: From early morning until late at night we witnessed indescribable events. Armed SS soldiers, gendarmes, and “blue police” ran through the city looking for Jews. Jews were assembled in the marketplace. The Jews were taken from their houses, barns, cellars, attics, and other hiding places. Pistol and gun shots were heard throughout the entire day. Sometimes hand grenades were thrown into the cellars. Jews were beaten and kicked; it made no difference whether they were men, women, or small children.
All Jews will be shot. Between 400 and 500 have been killed. Poles were forced to begin digging graves in the Jewish cemetery. From information I received approximately 2,000 people are in hiding. The arrested Jews were loaded into a train at the railroad station to be moved to an unknown location.
It was a terrifying day, I cannot describe everything that took place. You cannot imagine the barbarism of the Germans. I am completely broken and cannot seem to find myself.
The above diary entry was written by Zygmunt Klukowski, the chief physician of Szczebrzeszyn’s small hospital. Klukowski was an enthusiastic diarist and noted everything that occurred in his village during the Nazi occupation. He took a great risk in doing so, knowing that the discovery of his chronicle would have marked him for death.[via]