No Jus­tice in Ger­many: The Bres­lau Diaries, 1933 – 1941

Willy Cohn; Nor­bert Con­rads, ed; Ken­neth Kro­nen­berg, trans.
  • Review
By – July 30, 2013

Eye­wit­ness accounts that were writ­ten by indi­vid­u­als who per­ished dur­ing the Holo­caust are incred­i­bly impor­tant his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments. Their imme­di­a­cy, speci­fici­ty, and per­son­al per­spec­tive on his­tor­i­cal events make them valu­able gate­ways into the lives of indi­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties, as No Jus­tice in Ger­many: The Bres­lau Diaries, 1933 – 1941 by Willy Cohn makes clear.

Willy Cohn was a his­to­ri­an, teacher, writer, speak­er, and intel­lec­tu­al who active­ly engaged with Jew­ish his­to­ry. The por­tion of Cohn’s diary that is includ­ed in No Jus­tice in Ger­many spans the peri­od from 1933 to 1941. In his entries, Cohn explores his intel­lec­tu­al and reli­gious life; his rela­tion­ship with his wife, chil­dren, and extend­ed fam­i­ly; his trip to Pales­tine in 1937; the effects of the Nazis’ anti-Semit­ic poli­cies on the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Bres­lau, and his even­tu­al attempts to leave Ger­many for Pales­tine. Inter­est­ing­ly, Cohn became increas­ing­ly self-reflec­tive about what he chose to record for pos­ter­i­ty in his entries as anti-Semit­ic stric­tures tight­ened over time.

No Jus­tice in Ger­many is part of the Stan­ford Stud­ies in Jew­ish His­to­ry and Cul­ture series that is edit­ed by Aron Rodrigue and Steven J. Zip­per­stein. In the book’s Intro­duc­tion, Nor­bert Con­rads exam­ines how this Eng­lish trans­la­tion con­tains only a por­tion of Cohn’s exten­sive diary that was writ­ten dur­ing this peri­od. Notably, Con­rads also describes how Cohn was writ­ing his mem­oirs at the same time as his diary (an under­tak­ing that Cohn refers to in spe­cif­ic entries) and Conrads’s descrip­tion of the care which Cohn took to make sure that his mem­oirs and dairies would be pre­served is heart-wrench­ing. No Jus­tice in Ger­many also con­tains an excel­lent Translator’s Note by Ken­neth Kro­nen­berg in which he exam­ines the ten­sions in Cohn’s own view­points, the com­plex­i­ties of ren­der­ing Cohn’s writ­ing in anoth­er lan­guage, and the ratio­nale behind the inclu­sion in this edi­tion of metic­u­lous­ly researched foot­notes that are used to con­tex­tu­al­ize Cohn’s ref­er­ences to peo­ple and events. These foot­notes con­tribute a great deal to the reader’s over­all expe­ri­ence of this dense and com­plex text. In addi­tion, Cohn’s writ­ing is sup­ple­ment­ed by numer­ous photographs.

Notably, Cohn’s diary ends mid-sen­tence: fol­low­ing a com­ma, the rest of the final entry is blank. In the After­word by the Edi­tor, Con­rads describes how Cohn’s sub­se­quent entries have been lost to us and, there­fore, how the events lead­ing up to Cohn’s death, and that of his wife Gertrud and two of his five chil­dren, in a mass shoot­ing in Lithua­nia in Novem­ber 1941 have not been pre­served in his own words. As this final entry under­lines, Cohn’s diary is an impor­tant and haunt­ing record of a fam­i­ly and a com­mu­ni­ty that were shat­tered by the Holo­caust. After­word, a fam­i­ly overview, glos­sary, intro­duc­tion, time­line, translator’s note.

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