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Epilogue of the Unfinished Diary

Perl Marton

It might be the only surviving wartime journal written by a chassidic Jew for future generations, yet it was hidden away for decades. Would Chaim Yitzchok Wolgelernter’s diary ever be brought back to life? His son Feivel and grandson Nafti said yes. After two decades of painstaking work, they recaptured not only the horrific images of war, but also the spiritual resilience of Jews who refused to give up hope.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

It was a joyous time in Lucerne, that week in August 1964.FeivelWolgelernter, one of those rare child survivors born during the Holocaust, was marryingRachelErlanger-Silbiger. Amid the festivities, a package from Toronto arrived — Feivel’sUncleDovid had sent him a gift in honor of his wedding. Gingerly unwrapping the parcel, his eyes beheld a stack of aging sheets filled with tightly penned Yiddish lines. Feivel had never seen these pages before, but he knew instantly what they were. In his hands were his late father’s writings, a testimony of tragedy and faith thatChaimYitzchokWolgelernter penned while on the run from the Nazis. Feivel had known from his mother that the pages existed, yet the gift from his father’s brother,UncleDovid — who managed to salvage the writings during his own escape and now hoped the manuscript might somehow be publicized — strengthened Feivel’s connection to the father he could barely remember. But the thought of delving into the manuscript, both the tedious work of deciphering the script and especially the emotional load that went with it, was too heavy to bear. “One day I’ll do something with it,” Feivel pledged to himself as he slipped the package into his desk drawer. All that pain could be shelved for a while and retrieved when the time was right. Yet for over 20 years the pages lay hidden away, preserved from decay by a protective spray, but still untouched. “It was my son Nafti who spurred me on,” saysFeivelWolgelernter, whose family today lives in Zurich. “My uncle, and so many others who knew my father, kept on urging, ‘Why aren’t you publishing the memoirs in a book?’ The truth is,UncleDovid himself had sent a copy of the manuscript away in the 1960s to be published, but somehow it got lost and could not be located. Most of the people who would have appreciated it on a personal level are no longer alive. But it had to wait. It was a process.” It finally did emerge, and now, after over 20 years of painstaking effort and more than half a century after that priceless wedding gift reached Feivel Wolgelernter, the public can open up The Unfinished Diary: A Chronicle of Tears, and read his father’s riveting eyewitness account, cut short when he was murdered just months before liberation. “The diary was a very strong presence in our home,” Nafti explains, tracing the first steps in his own efforts. “I always knew where it was and felt this pull toward it — I wanted to learn about our family history, and most of all to discover within those pages the grandfather I never knew.”

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