cover image Scrolls of Testimony

Scrolls of Testimony

Abba Kovner. Jewish Publication Society of America, $75 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-8276-0710-1

In this pastiche of Talmudic and modern genres, Kovner, an award-winning Israeli writer, gives a barely fictionalized account of the interconnected lives of dozens of Diaspora Jews in Europe from the early 1930s through the late 1940s. Kovner died before completing Scrolls, but made clear that it should be used liturgically to assist Jews in their remembrance of the Holocaust. One of his characters, the Italian doctor and rabbi Nathan Cassuto, voices this belief when he tells his cell mates at Auschwitz, ""Let each of us place his story in the safe keeping of his companion's memory and, God willing, the last of us fated to survive will be the first to write the scroll of testimony for his generation."" Similarly, Gonda Redlich, a Czech member of the pioneer youth movement, asks, ""Will it be possible for Jews, in times to come, to sit around the Passover table and tell of the Exodus from Egypt without telling of the exodus from Auschwitz?"" Woven together in the scrolls are testimonies not only from death camps but also from prewar Jewish communities, partisans and ghettos. Poems, quotations and commentaries surround the central text, like annotations in the Talmud, and add historical context to the fictional narratives. Kovner uses each device brilliantly to enumerate the sects of Jews and factions of Zionists throughout Europe, as well as the many anti-Semitic pogroms they had already suffered. Many survivors have written about the Shoah, as have many talented writers, but a sacred account offered by one who is both a survivor and a gifted author is a genuine treasure. Illus. by Samuel Bak. (Feb.)