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Ponary Diary, 1941-1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder Hardcover – Dec 10 2005

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"This remarkable diary, written by a sympathetic Polish observer, gives a graphic and harrowing account of the mass murder of between fifty and sixty thousand Lithuanian Jews in the forest of Ponary just outside Vilna. It is a unique contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust."—Antony Polonsky, Brandeis University

(Antony Polonsky)

"Ponary Diary is a vivid, intimate account of mass murder, and chilling in its relentless detail. The Holocaust has few more compelling witnesses than Kazimierz Sakowicz."—Joshua Rubenstein, Northeast Regional Director, Amnesty International USA

(Joshua Rubenstein)

“[The Ponary Diary] is a chilling account of man’s inhumanity to man.”—Sheldon Kirshner, Canadian Jewish News

(Sheldon Kirschner Canadian Jewish News)

About the Author

YITZHAK ARAD is the author of Ghetto in Flames: The Struggle and Destruction of the Jews in Vilna and former chairman of the Directorate of Yad Vashem.

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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Shocking document Feb. 4 2007
By cccp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've decided to read this book because I visited Vilnius (Lithuania) last month and there I visited the KGB museum. The museum is very impressive, but where it does show a lot of wrongs of the KGB (when the Soviets were in power in Lith.), it hardly mentions anything at all about the significant role local Lithuanians played in the Holocaust during WW II. I stumbled upon this title by surfing Amazon, and then decided to order it. The 'Ponary Diary' is hard to digest realy. It is an almost casual diary of a Polish journalist who lived in the area of the infamous killing fields of Ponary. What I found so hard to digest, is the matter-of-fact style in which the entries are written. There is no emotion whatsoever, Sakowicz could have been describing the local cattle slaugther-house. But maybe it is a good thing he writes in such a distanced way, so the facts (the things he actually witnessed with his very own eyes) don't get blurred. I'm glad I read this book, but I would not want to read it again. It is that hard to take. (What bothered me also a bit, was the fact that nothing was written by way of an epilogue, of what happened to those sadistic Lithuanian and German mass-murderers. They remain nameless and faceless for the most part).
On "lack of emotions": response to cccp May 15 2015
By aile.verte - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I would like to focus my review on responding to cccp's review comment regarding the lack of emotion in the book. This is an important point to raise, and no doubt other readers may have had a similar impression. However, we must consider this: the emotion of the bystander has to do with the "I" of the writer, and not with the horror he is witnessing. I take it as a sign of respect towards the victims, as utmost care in recording the facts as objectively as possible, that the writer uses a style that may seem almost "clinical", but which is in fact taut with hidden emotion -- the reader's own reaction to the book, one's own emotion, testifies to the horror that the writer must have experienced. That he does not overtly express it, only goes to his credit: he doesn't want to talk about himself, about what *he* feels: anything he might say of his own reaction would be incommensurate with the crime he witnessed. Had he written about his emotion, we would be right to judge his writing as self-indulgent. If, as a witness to the horror, I speak of my own emotions, of what I feel, am I not feeling sorry for myself rather than the victims? We mustn't confuse lack of dramatized emotionality (sentimentality) with indifference (an indifferent, unfeeling bystander does not bear witness at all...). Another thing we mustn't forget in reading this account is that it was written under extremely difficult conditions: this is no leisurely writing in the comfort and safety of the writer's home. Recording the events he witnessed was dangerous. Were he caught with these notes in his possession, they would be destroyed and he killed. Hence the need to record, as accurately as possible, the objective facts witnessed, then to hide the notes in multiple hiding places. Sakowicz is acting as a journalist in the true sense of the word: he sees his own person as unimportant, as one who happened to be put in the position of a witness and whose duty it is to describe what he sees. And it is up to us to think, to understand, and ... to feel. This is a sort of book that precludes passive reading: as readers, we too, need to do some work. And we also need to put ourselves in the writer's shoes: if we do that, and let our imagination guide our empathy, we won't doubt that the last thing Sakowicz was was "unfeeling".
Excellent May 2 2012
By Franks here - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read many, probably too many, books on the holocaust.
I've written more than a few papers on the subject.
This book does stand out from the rest, not necessarily better than, but different than.
It is an excellent book, and it should be required reading for anyone interested in how "average citizens" ( the Lithuanians) could become the lapdogs of the Nazi machine.
Hatred is a powerful thing, and this book explains the banality of the power when an entire society succumbs to it.
Chilling and frightening March 19 2014
By LoveHarryPotter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I grew up with the Holocaust. I would wonder how people could let such things happen but came to realize how those who stood up were killed. Though this man could have done something to help those who were being killed, he made, at cost to his life, a record of what he saw and thus, what could have been considered a lie is truth. He detaches himself from what he saw and to protect his sanity. How would anyone believe such things happen.
4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Includes Insight into Jedwabne-Like German Non-Recording of All Their Massacres July 21 2009
By Jan Peczkis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The diary of the Pole, Kazimierz Sakowicz, is unique in that it is the only known surviving diary that records the mass shootings of Jews by Germans (and their local collaborators) in the wake of Operation Barbarossa. Sakowicz and Editor Arad note that the Karaites, a Jewish sect, were declared non-Jews by the Nazis and spared. (p. 18). The shootings at Ponary (near Wilno) were not only of Jews, but also of Poles, especially prominent ones, and later of members of the Polish Underground. Sakowicz quotes some Shaulists who said that Jews about to be shot cry and plead for their lives, while Poles don't. (p. 114).

In early October 1943, Sakowicz recorded the practice, by Germans and their Lithuanian (Shaulist) collaborators, of separating the last few Jews from those massacred before their eyes, and (briefly) sparing their lives in exchange for their going out and uncovering fellow Jews in hiding. He commented: "It seems that separating 4-5 Jews and temporarily offering them their lives yields good results for their executioners...excellent results for the executioners and a fatal ending for the Judases." (p. 127). (How many cases of fugitive Jews not surviving the war, automatically blamed on Polish denunciations, were actually the deeds of Jewish denouncers--coerced or not?)

On another subject, Editor Yitzhak Arad discusses a particular group of shootings, the largest of which was labeled an anti-criminal action despite the inclusion of child victims. He comments: "Six small Aktionen, the last in the first great wave of murder that began with the occupation of the city, were conducted in Wilno in December 1941. There is nothing in either Jewish sources or the Einsatzgruppen reports about an Aktion in late November or early December that would correspond to Sakowicz's December 5 diary entry about 360 prisoners, mainly women and children." (pp. 40-41).

Now consider the fact that Jan T. Gross has argued that the Germans couldn't have been responsible for the massacre of Jews at Jedwabne because, according to him, no Einsatzgruppen or other German records mention the Germans as committing the deed. His argument is, at best, an argument from silence. Moreover, the deeds recorded by Sakowicz show that the Germans are perfectly capable of massacring at least hundreds of people, yet for one reason or another failing to record that particular event in their Einsatzgruppen or other reports. [Note also, for purpose of numerical comparison, that the number of Jedwabne victims was very likely less than 360.]

The massacres of Poles at Naliboki and Koniuchy by Soviets and Jews are beyond the purview of this diary. However, Editor Yitzhak Arad candidly admits that: "Jews constituted a substantial proportion of the Soviet partisans in Rudnicka Forest." (p. 125).

Editor Arad excuses the banditry of fugitive Jews by saying that they needed to live. (p. 92). What he forgets is the fact that the local non-Jews also needed to live--to retain their possessions in order to survive the occupation. Moreover, Jewish bandits were very aggressive, and not lacking in provisions. Sakowicz comments (July 1943): "...attacking individual houses in the villages and even whole villages (Zwierzyniec). They also carry out attacks on the roads...They stole shoes and food and are ruthless. The villagers escaped and begin to defend themselves, turning Jews over to the Lithuanians...a manhunt...About 30-40 Jews were killed...Both the Jews and the Bolsheviks are well-armed...The attacks by Jews were not dictated by necessity, that is, lack of money. No, during the manhunt the Lithuanians found considerable sums of money on the bodies...In the forest, there are cows..." (pp. 95-97).

Unfortunately, Sakowicz's diary breaks off in late 1943, probably because more recent entries have not survived or been located. He was killed later in the war.