Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. His books include the novels Moving Kings, Book of Numbers, Witz, A Heaven of Others, and Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto; the short-fiction collection Four New Messages, and the nonfiction collection Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction. Cohen was awarded Israel’s 2013 Matanel Prize for Jewish Writers, and in 2017 was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. He lives in New York City.
Ponary Diary, July 1941-November 1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder
Once upon a time, Vilna (now Vilnius) was a Jewish city, the so-called Jerusalem of Lithuania. During the Holocaust over 60,000 Jews from Vilna and surrounding towns and villages were slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators in murder pits on the outskirts of Ponary, a suburb. Unlike other murder centers, the Nazis did not completely empty Ponary of its non-Jewish population. Thereby Kazimierz Sakowicz, a local journalist, was placed in the unique position of a witness to the massacres. Sakowicz acted as a chronicler. He did not add any comments— positive or negative — about the Jewish victims or the Nazi crimes. The account’s power derives directly from the lack of emotion: it is an objective view that cannot be denied and cannot be sugar-coated. Sixty thousand human beings were led to slaughter by hundreds of other humans while thousands stood aside and did nothing. Sakowicz (who did not survive the war) at least memorialized those who perished by recalling their last, painful trip. Illus., index, notes.
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