Some unknown members of the ghetto police chart both their own brief histories and the darkness of the human soul during the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Covering the period from June 1941 to the end of 1942, the text—written in Yiddish and buried in the old ghetto site—was found in 1964 by the Soviets, who sat on the material for 25 years. Carefully and unobtrusively edited by ghetto survivor Schalkowsky, the material chronicles the removal of Kovno Jews to the ghetto, the savage beatings and rapes and thefts along the way, and the grave and brave attempts of those confined to organize and to maintain some sort of humanity in the eye of the Nazi hurricane. The anonymous authors employ various narrative strategies. They present charts of the sorts of infractions they dealt with (sanitation offenses kept them busy), tell stories about the viciousness of the Lithuanian locals and the Nazi guards, narrate the horrors of not knowing what was happening, and chronicle the harsh Nazi punishments for even the most minor infractions, the mass shootings, the forced labor, the paucity of food, the insistence that Jews give up their money—even their books. The authors also tell us about their own failures—their own occasional violence against other Jews—and they also look at some of the ghetto residents who made life worse (if that’s even imaginable) for the rest. By the end, the police have organized an effort to maintain the cultural life of the community—concerts, lectures and other events. The detail is extraordinary, and while the authors occasionally assail their tormenters (in print), the tone is otherwise grimly, wrenchingly expository. An introduction by Samuel D. Kassow (History/Trinity Coll.) tells what happened, and there is no light whatsoever in that dark story.
Amid all the unspeakable brutality, cruelty, fear, loss and despair, hope somehow lingers until the final gunshot.