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Ponary Diary, 1941-1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder [Hardcover]

Kazimierz Sakowicz , Yitzhak Arad , Laurence Weinbaum

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Book Description

Dec 10 2005
About sixty thousand Jews from Wilno (Vilnius, Jewish Vilna) and surrounding townships in present-day Lithuania were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators in huge pits on the outskirts of Ponary. Over a period of several years, Kazimierz Sakowicz, a Polish journalist who lived in the village of Ponary, was an eyewitness to the murder of these Jews as well as to the murders of thousands of non-Jews on an almost daily basis. He chronicled these events in a diary that he kept at great personal risk.

Written as a simple account of what Sakowicz witnessed, the diary is devoid of personal involvement or identification with the victims. It is thus a unique document: testimony from a bystander, an “objective” observer without an emotional or a political agenda, to the extermination of the Jews of the city known as “the Jerusalem of Lithuania.”

Sakowicz did not survive the war, but much of his diary did. Painstakingly pieced together by Rahel Margolis from scraps of paper hidden in various locations, the diary was published in Polish in 1999. It is here published in English for the first time, extensively annotated by Yitzhak Arad to guide readers through the events at Ponary.

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Product Description


"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: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 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).
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Includes Insight into Jedwabne-Like German Non-Recording of All Their Massacres July 21 2009
By Jan Peczkis - Published on Amazon.com
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.

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