Kaplan, Chaim A(ron)

views updated

KAPLAN, Chaim A(ron)

Nationality: Polish. Born: Horodyszcze, White Russia (now Belarus), 1880. Education: Institute for Jewish teachers, Vilna. Career: Founder, teacher, and principal, Hebrew elementary school, Warsaw; wrote for Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals. Died: Presumed murdered, victim of the Holocaust, late 1942 or early 1943.



Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, edited and translated by Abraham I. Katsh. 1999 (originally published in English in 1965).


Sefat 'ami (Hebrew grammar). 1917.

Dikduk ha-lashon ve-shimushah (Hebrew grammar). 1925.

Ketov ka-halakhah! Sefer le-h'atakot ule-hakra'ot sistematiyot, kurs-shimushi male ve-shalem shel ha-ortografiyah ha'ivrit (Hebrew grammar). 1926.

Hagadah shel Pesah: Iberzetst Yiddish (Jewish liturgy). 1926.

Pezurai; Mehkarim, reshimot u-felyetonim. 1900-1936. 1937.


Critical Study:

"Beyond Silence and Denial: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim Kaplan" by Frank Graziano, in The Polish Review, 29(1-2), 1984, pp. 91-96.

* * *

Chaim Aron Kaplan was born in 1880 in Horodyszcze in White Russia (now Belarus). After Talmudic studies he entered an institute for Jewish teachers in Vilna. He spent most of his adult life in Warsaw, where he founded and became the principal of a Hebrew elementary school. His publications included a Hebrew grammar book, essays on the Hebrew language and Jewish education, and textbooks for children dealing with Jewish history and tradition.

In 1933 Kaplan began to keep a diary in Hebrew. From September 1939, during the period of the war, the occupation, and the ghetto, his diary ceased to be a personal document and was transformed into what was to become an invaluable contribution to the history of the time. Kaplan chose to stay in the Warsaw Ghetto, although his contacts in the United States and Palestine might, in 1941, have secured him an exit visa. On 26 July 1942, he described recording the terrible events in the Warsaw Ghetto as "a historical mission which must not be abandoned." This motivation for keeping the diary in ever-deteriorating circumstances is described by Kaplan as early as 16 January 1940, before the establishment of the ghetto: "I sense within me the magnitude of this hour, and my responsibility toward it, and I have an inner awareness that I am fulfilling a national obligation, a historic obligation that I am not free to relinquish. My words are not rewritten; momentary reflexes shape them. Perhaps their value lies in this. Be that as it may, I am sure that Providence sent me to fulfill this mission. My record will serve as source material for the future historian."

The importance of the diary to Kaplan grew as time passed, and by 13 November 1941, it had assumed such a central role in his existence that he wrote a rare personal note: "This journal is my life, my friend and ally. I would be lost without it. I pour my innermost thoughts and feelings into it, and this brings relief. When my nerves are taut and my blood is boiling, when I am full of bitterness at my helplessness, I drag myself to my diary and at once I am enveloped by a wave of creative inspiration … Let it be edited at some future time—as it may be. The important thing is that in keeping this diary I find spiritual rest. That is enough for me."

Kaplan's final entry, recorded in the evening hours of August 4, 1942, concludes with the words "If my life ends—what will become of my diary?" Although Kaplan could not save himself or his wife—they are believed to have been murdered in Treblinka in December 1942 or January 1943—he managed to transfer his diary to the "Aryan" part of Warsaw.

In late 1942 Kaplan gave the diary to a Jewish friend named Rubinsztejn, who was working as a forced laborer outside the ghetto. Rubinsztejn smuggled the notebooks used by Kaplan to record his diary out of the ghetto singly and passed them on to a Pole named Wladyslaw Wojcek. Wojcek subsequently emigrated to the United States and sold the notebooks to the Jewish Cultural Foundation Library at New York University. The first English-language edition of the diary was published in 1965, and a Hebrew edition was published in 1966. A 1999 English edition included additional portions of the diary that were not available in 1965.

—Alan Polak

See the essay on Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan.

About this article

Kaplan, Chaim A(ron)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article