Rutka’s Notebook: Getting the facts straight and its importance in history

Every Record Counts

Family historians researching the lives of their ancestors in Poland have marveled at what they have learned as a result of the remarkable number of Jewish records of Poland that have survived the upheavals of history and the ravages of war.

And the mission of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland is to safeguard that evidence of the 1000-year-old Jewish presence in current and former territories of Poland.

The JRI-Poland database serves the greater genealogical community, and academics, journalists and novelists have researched the database for major contributions to their articles, stories and books. And in doing so, they have sought to get the facts right.  JRI-Poland has contributed to their opportunity to do just that. 

In 2016, JRI-Poland provided documents to the Guinness World Records to prove that Yisroel Kristal was the oldest man in the world.  And, just days before it went to press, we corrected both the place and date of birth for Professor Ira Robinson’s latest book, A Kabbalist in Montreal, the Life and Times of Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg

Safeguarding Rutka Laskier’s Historic Record

Which brings us to the story of Rutka Laskier and JRI-Poland’s role in rectifying the published facts of birth and original name for this remarkable young diarist whose heartbreaking account will live on through the centuries.   

Rutka’s Notebook, now published in 12 languages, is an invaluable contribution to understanding the impact of looming death on a 14-year old Polish girl.  It will be a lasting example of hope and resilience in the face of ruthlessness and oppression.  All the published references to Rutka indicated she was born in Gdansk, 518 km north of Będzin where she and her family lived.

In 2018, JRI-Poland in collaboration with The Bedzin-Sosnowiec-Zawiercie Area Research Society discovered the family’s entry in the Będzin Books of Permanent Residents indicating that “Rutka” was born in Kraków just 84 km east. But Books of Residents are not primary sources and we quickly tracked down her birth record in the Kraków Civil Records Office.  Not only did it confirm Rutka’s place of birth but also indicated that she had been given the biblical name Ruth.  

And now that Rutka’s visceral true story of a young teen and her friends trying to find hope while trapped in the madness of the Ghetto in Bedzin in 1943 is being brought to life in a new musical, we take great pride in ensuring that such important facts of her birth will be forever accurate.

This week, the death of Chaim Topol, star of the film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, struck a chord with Jews worldwide.  While “Fiddler” was a fictional tale of life in a small European town and Rutka is an all-too-true Holocaust tragedy, both in their own way illustrate how historical depictions through the arts can help us preserve awareness of our origins and the stories of the Jewish journey.

About Rutka, the Musical

In development for some time, the adaptation of Rutka’s Notebook is being brought to the stage as a contemporary rock musical  and  there was a concert at Lincoln Center with selections from the show in January.  

The 2018 Video below provides an overview of the research and how it unfolded.