Nationality: Hungarian. Born: Nagyvárad, 13 February 1931. Career: Forced to live in the Nagyvárad ghetto, 1944; sent to Auschwitz. Died: Murdered, Auschwitz, 17 October 1944.
Yomanah shel Evah Hayman, edited by Yehudah Marton. 1964; as The Diary of Eva Heyman, 1974; as The Diary of Eva Heyman: Child of the Holocaust, 1988.* * *
The young diarist Eva Heyman began writing in her journal on her thirteenth birthday in Nagyvárad in northern Transylvania (the modern Oradea, Romania). Though she often addressed her diary, calling it "dear, sweet little diary" (much like Anne Frank , who called her diary "Kitty"), Eva never explicitly stated what had prompted her to begin writing. Her social and familial milieu, however, may shed some light on the matter. Her parents divorced when she was a child, leaving Eva in the care of her maternal grandparents and her Austrian governess. Eva's father, Bela Heyman, was an architect, who lived not far from her in Nagyvárad, but rarely saw his daughter. Her mother, Agi, married the well-known Hungarian writer Bela Zsolt and lived in Budapest. Wrapped up in a world of intellectuals, writers, and artists, Eva's mother rarely went to Nagyvárad to spend time with her daughter.
Eva was an only child surrounded by adults and, to a degree, neglected by her own parents. In her diary, she wrote frankly about the pain her parents' divorce had caused her, the jealousy she felt for her mother's second husband, and her own insecurity about her mother's love. In this context, the diary must be seen as much more than just a place to put down her thoughts. The warmth and affection with which she addressed it, and her treatment of it as a beloved friend suggests that she wrote, at least in part, to find some companionship and solace in what must have been a lonely and confusing world.
While there is little question that Eva wrote a diary, there is some question about the authenticity of the 1947 published Hungarian edition, upon which the English version was based. In the last entry of her diary, faced with imminent deportation from the Nagyvárad ghetto, Eva wrote that she was rushing to see Mariska Szabo, the family's Christian cook. Eva apparently entrusted the diary to her, for it was Mariska who returned the diary to Eva's mother after the war. Agi and her second husband had managed to escape the Nagyvárad ghetto without Eva, ultimately making their way to safety in Switzerland.
Agi's closest friend told Judah Marton (who wrote the introduction to the English edition of the diary) that she had heard about the existence of the diary immediately after liberation and that Agi planned to publish it. In his introduction, Marton reminds the reader that Bela Zsolt was a well-known writer, that Agi was "an intellectual with a literary bent," and that the diary was in their possession for several years before it was published. The implication is that Eva's mother—who was plagued with guilt for having left her daughter in the ghetto—wanted to publish the diary in order to preserve her daughter's memory. He further suggests that given Zsolt's literary inclinations, the diary could have been edited or changed.
Although Marton ultimately dismisses these doubts, a careful reading of the text itself reveals inconsistencies. Eva appears to have begun the diary long before the first entry in the published edition. She wrote, "Dear little diary, you were already around by the time they carried Uncle Bela off to the Ukraine …" This event occurred in the summer of 1942, a year and a half before the first published entry. On 5 May 1944, Eva wrote, "Dear diary, now you aren't at 3 Istvan Gyongyosi Street—that is, at home—any more, not even at Aniko's, nor at Tusnad, nor at Lake Batalon, nor in Budapest, places you've been with me too before, but in the Ghetto." In the published edition, the only two places in which Eva had her diary were at home and at her friend Aniko's. This would further suggest that the diary existed for several years before the first published entry of 13 February 1944.
Aside from these relatively concrete matters, there are many places where the language doesn't flow, where the text is contrived, or where the sequence or location of a story doesn't read smoothly or fit naturally with the surrounding text. While these are not explicit inconsistencies, they do substantiate the possibility that Eva's mother edited the diary and included information she felt was important, intending to keep the tone consistent but leaving clues to the changes.
The original diary was lost sometime after the first edition of the diary was published in Hungarian, rendering the matter inconclusive. It seems likely that Eva Heyman did keep a diary and that she did record in it not only her thoughts and feelings but also her observations and experiences of the German onslaught in Nagyvárad. It also seems likely that her mother, Agi, strengthened what might have seemed like a thin or weak text in order to ensure that her daughter's life would be remembered. Though this matter is unlikely to ever be completely resolved, Eva's diary nevertheless stands as a poignant and vivid record of the sudden and violent German onslaught that decimated Hungarian Jewry. Its vivid details about each stage in the German attack provide a unique window into the last months of the life of a young girl enduring and ultimately succumbing to the Nazi menace.
See the essay on The Diary of Eva Heyman: Child of the Holocaust.