Ponary Diary, July 1941-Novem­ber 1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder

Kaz­imierz Sakow­icz, Yitzhak Arad, ed.
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By – July 26, 2012
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.

Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. His books include the nov­els Mov­ing KingsBook of Num­bersWitzA 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.

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