Scrolls Of Testimony

Written by Abba Kovner
Review by James Hawking

This book intends to remind the reader of the Talmudic scrolls, with a main text down the middle of the page and notes and commentaries down either side. Other scenes are reminiscent of a fictional thriller with gallant heroes fighting unspeakable evil in wartime Poland and Lithuania. Some of the sidebars are merely explanations, either added by the author in the original Hebrew text or by translator Eddie Levenston. At first some seem unnecessary, like the short biography of Hitler, but this reinforces the idea that the book is meant to be read three thousand years from now. Other notes include brief discussions of historical events, quotes from testimony by the author at the Eichmann trial, Biblical passages, poems, and short bios of Jewish freedom fighters or Nazi villains. The paintings of Samuel Bak add another dimension of somber reality to the book.

Vivid descriptions of extermination in the camps or mass shootings at the side of pits give the book a horrifying reality, but the main theme is resistance efforts, whether through military confrontation or cultural preservation. Courageous Jews and the occasional righteous Gentile resist the calculated madness of the Final Solution. The fight continues after the War when the same resistance forces, opposed by the British Navy, smuggle Jews into Israel.

Credited with refusing to go to extermination “like sheep to the slaughter,” Kovner was a leader of the resistance in the Vilna ghetto. A recent biography alleged that the now deceased Kovner plotted to achieve revenge by killing 6,000,000 Germans through poisoned water supplies. The events described here make such thinking understandable.