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The Gelpernus Diary

Resistance in the Kovno Ghetto

by Chaim Yelin & Dimitri-Ghelpernus

Chaim Yelin, commander of the "Antifascist Struggle Organization" in the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto. He fell in combat in April 1944.

Writer Chaim Yelin, the organizer and leader of the ghetto partisan movement, dreamed of writing a book about the resistance, underground and Kovno ghetto partisans. The proof of that is in the material which he managed to have written during the war.

However, only some of that material has survived. Having devoted all his being to the underground movement, Chaim Yelin perished in the fight with the brown plague without making public the Resistance documents, which were at that time written in blood of Kovno ghetto fighters. These lines were written by his brother and his closest friend, who, from the very first days of Kovno ghetto,fought hand in hand with him.

The authors of the book aimed to describe the events with utmost precision. They see it as their duty both to the memory of those who were killed, who consciously gave their lives in the fight against the enemy and those who continue their fight for the reconstruction and growth of the new Soviet Russia.

May these lines serve as a historical document to the suffering of the Jewish people in the common fight of all Soviet peoples against the enemy of all humanity - German fascists.

- Dimitri-Ghelpernus  Author

Part 1    "In the Ghetto Grip

I. AMONG THE RUINS

Soviet soldiers view the ruins of the Kovno Ghetto

When at the beginning of August 1944 Kovno was liberated from the fascist invaders, partisan groups entered the city together with Soviet Army detachments. Among them was the group "Pirmin" ("Forward") and parts of the groups "Mirtis Ocupantams" ("Death to the Invaders"), "Vladas Baronas", "Laisvoi Lietuva" ("Free Lithuania") and others. Many Jews, former members of Kovno underground anti-fascist ghetto organisation fought among them. 

Having returned to their home town, without washing off road dust, with their sub-machine guns over their shoulders, Kovno ghetto partisans crossed the river Neris (Villia) and entered Kovno suburb of Villiampole (Village).

The partisans were going there with a heavy heart, where their fathers and sons, husbands and wives, friends and relatives suffered in the grips of the ghetto - all those who failed to make their escape via barbed wire fence and police cordons of the Jewish prison.

They faced a terrible picture: the whole ghetto was blown up and burned down. The remains of the burned and charred bodies could be seen everywhere. Smoke was still coming from the ruins of the houses. The bodies of people who resisted the Gestapo, who did not follow the orders of their oppressors, were lying under those ruins. These people resisted German orders and did not let the Germans to transport them to the west. They were prepared to meet death rather than to leave like slaves.

And so the partisans walked among the ruins. Could it be true that everything had perished and all life had been turned into ashes? A cowering figure of a man emerged from the ruins of a big block C (Varniu street 32; * now P.Zibertas street). His clothes were torn and soiled in clay and sand, his hands were bleeding.

Having seen the Red Army soldiers and the partisans, having heard his mother tongue, this exhausted man came to the manhole which he had recently dug out with his bare hands and shouted, "Jews, you are free!" Thirty four people, one by one, crawled out of the manhole. All were emaciated and painfully pale, even their skin was translucent.

They had sunken cheeks, they were screwing up their cheeks because of pain - they had not seen day light for three weeks! When the order to gather for transportation was issued, these people hid in a dug out, six-meter deep shelter. The house above them was blown up. The exit was buried under the ruble.

But the hope of the eminent arrival of the Red Army which would bring liberation aroused inhuman efforts and the people withstood everything: the lack of air, thirst, unbearable heat.

Ruins of the Kovno ghetto

Thirty four were from here, several dozen - from the ruins of the former ghetto public baths, eighteen escaped from a nearby saw-mill, about twenty were from the ghetto pottery and dozens and dozens of others restored to life; apart from them also those who came out of wells, sewage pipes and other shelters, where they had stayed for more than two weeks - they now acquire freedom.

A Lithuanian woman came up, she was leading a Jewish child whom she had been protecting throughout the war. Here was Yuosas Paulavichius. He saved fourteen Jews and three prisoners of war who had escaped from a concentration camp. He met the Soviet Army while holding in his hands a Soviet banner, which he kept in safety throughout the occupation. Maria Leshchinskiene - "a reliable mother" to twenty rescued Jews - was also present at this moving meeting in the ruins of Kovno ghetto.

A group of partisans and Red Army guards approached the ruins of a house. Sergeant Boruch Sedak showed a special interest in it. Here, he was told, used to live his family. Boruch went around the building. Under some bricks he found a book. It was a book by Lermontov. The sergeant went through the pages and stopped on one of them, marked with a blue pencil. "It belongs to Gershel! It is my brother Gershel's handwriting!" - he cried out.

It was written in Russian, "People! We are locked up like animals here. For seven days we had been hiding from our executioners in the loft without water, in terrible heat. Then we were attacked with grenades and our house was set on fire. We managed to escape into the cellar. A great number of people in the house have already perished. Their only fault was that their origins did not meet with the approval of the racist scum, who have acquired the guise of Hitler fascists. Comrades! Revenge us!

There used to be about forty thousand Jews in Kovno. We are only few remaining... People! Annihilate the fascist scum. No mercy! Let them have their just deserts. Let the mankind rid of the worst evil in its history. Comrades! May the sacred revenge become the essence of your life! One of the Jews killed - Ghirsh Sedack.15.7.44."

This note is one of the many documents from the ghetto. Several partisans, participants of a militant anti-fascist ghetto organisation, found a blown up cellar. Here, for a long time, were the headquarters of the organization, here they hid weapons and ammunition. From a nearby well they extracted a wooden box. In the box there was a small tin box. Having opened the box the partisans found some of the archives of the Kovno ghetto antifascist organization.

These documents were hidden at a critical time, at the beginning of 1944, when they were expecting the ghetto liquidation. The yellowed pages, which were handed from person to person in the ghetto, finally saw the daylight. These pages gave hope, lifted spirits, they helped to organize and to mobilize the fighting ghetto vanguard, who came out armed in order to take vengeance on fascists.

Leaders of the resistance movement in Kovno,     (Chaim Yelin top left)

Among the found documents, which are now kept in the State archives of the Lithuanian SSR, was the charter of the ghetto antifascist organisation. The first article of it states that the main aim of the organisation is the fight against fascism until the bitter end. A "combat programme" of the movement was also found. Aims, methods and tactics of the fight were also formulated in it.
 

Introduction of the "combat programme", written in the occupied territory, contains information on the origins of the resistance movement in Kovno ghetto. It says, "We were the first ones to experience the German invasion and occupation as we lived in the boarder region.

Having attacked the Soviet Union, Germans occupied Lithuania as early as the first week. Storm which is sweeping a country has a terrifying power. Many town and country people, having been accused of sympathizing with the Soviet power, were killed.

Tens of thousands of Jews, who tried to escape further into the country, were caught and executed. Hundreds and thousands of Jews were incarcerated in Kovno forts, prisons and synagogues in other Lithuanian towns and villages. From there they were led to an execution point. The dead and wounded were thrown together into prepared pits. 

A small number of surviving Lithuanian Jews were incarcerated in Kovno ghetto..." A number of other documents used by the author to write this book were found at the same time

II. IN THE TURMOIL

Kovno - a former temporary capital of Lithuania - is one of the most important industrial and significant cultural centres of the republic. The city, which is situated in the very spot where the river Neris leads into Neman, was not far from the then border with Germany (80 km).

On the 22nd of June 1941 Molotov said in his speech," Today, at 4 a.m. without making their demands to the Soviet Union, without declaring war, German military forces attacked our country, breached the state border in many places and bombed the cities of Zhitomir, Kiev, Sevastopol', Kovno and a number of others."

And so Kovno became one of the first cities to suffer from German fascists, who treacherously attacked the Soviet Union. The fascist hordes forced their way into Kovno suburbs as early as the night of the 23rd of June.

The German army attacks Kovno

A small group of city residents, having used transport means which were at their disposal, managed to evacuate; but many of those making their way eastward on foot were captured by the attacking fascists. Such a fate befell those Jews who were trying to evacuate further east into the Soviet Union, having left behind their houses and other property. 

200 kilometres from Kovno the attacking Germans also caught up with the authors of this book, who were trying to evacuate. Lithuania fell into the clutches of fascist executioners. The invaders attacked Soviet population with savage anger.

Hitler's command virtually outlawed Jews. Kovno was turned into a death valley. Order No. 1, signed by Oberführer SS Kramer,the "German commissar of the city of Kauen" (no longer Kovno!) declares:

1) Jewish population is forbidden to walk along city pavements. Jews must walk on the right edge of a pavement one behind the other.

2) Jews are forbidden to be in places for rest, to use public benches.

3) Jewish population is forbidden to use public transport. Every- where in public transport one should place notices which say: "Jews are not allowed!"

4)Those who break this law will face capital punishment!"

Order No.2 compels all Jews, irrespective of their gender or age, wear a star of David, 8-10 centimetre in diameter, on their chests and backs. Jews are allowed to be outdoors only at certain times of the day. They are forbidden to sell, exchange or dispose of in any other manner any of their property. Jews are forbidden to live with non-Jews.

The orders were getting tougher and tougher with time going by. Each new order tightened its grip on the Jewish population further... It was forbidden to buy food. Jews were condemned to hunger. On the basis of this order, at the beginning of August, in one day twenty six Jews were shot dead for trying to buy food from farmers.

Armed gangs of Lithuanian nationalists, former members of fascist organisations in bourgeois Lithuania - "Shauliu saiunga" (Riflemen), "Yaunoi Lietuva" (Young Lithuania), "Neolietuva" - various scum and criminals got the freedom of action. They began persecution of Soviet activists and families of Soviet Army servicemen, best sons and daughters of Lithuanian people were killed. 

There were endless arrests of Soviet activists in the city. A great number of people died at the hands of Gestapo: Budjinskiene, deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Pranas Zibertas, deputy of the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania, Girsh Sesitskii, Sender Aigulskii and Jeruchim Natanzon, trade union activists, Vitautas Montvila,famous Lithuanian poet, Joseph Witz, Shcherbakov, well-known worker, with his wife and a newborn baby son, and very many others.

Lithuanian Fascists march captured Jews with hands tied in Kovno

Over 1000 Jews were killed in a most terrible manner on the night of 26th of June in Kovno suburb of Villiampole. Ruthless executioners crashed children's heads with the butts of their guns. A six-year old girl was lying with a broken leg; she was grabbed and her body was hit against a telephone pole, this leg came off the body... Some bandits came across rabbi Salman Ossovskii while he was sitting clad in tallis with his prayer book. Those executioners cut his head off with a saw. They cut off the tongue and put out the eyes of the leader of Villiampole yeshiva Abraham Grodzenskii. 

The executioners slaughtered whole families living in the streets Paneriu, Vidurine, Jurbako, Arëgalos and others. But even then there were already people who did not give their lives without a struggle. Sarah Soifer saw worker Benzl Fain breaking the skull of the fascist who entered his home first.The executioners attacked the owner of the flat, his wife and his child. Benzl was torn to pieces. The child's head was torn off and thrown out of a window into the street. This severed head was left there for several days. 

A young Jew by the name of Strazh, an accountant in a Kovno bank, threw himself at one of the marauding bandits and put out his eyes. Blacksmith Shmuel Katz fought against fascists like a lion. But what could one do in the face of all rifles and machine-guns! And yet he fought for his human dignity till his last breath. 

Blacksmith Jitzik Fridman, a Jewish strongman, came out with an axe to meet thugs from the "New Order".  Such cases were numerous. Dead bodies of men and women were found at entrances into houses, in cellars, at entrances to those cellars and sheds, where they defended with axes and truncheons approaches to where their families were hiding.

A whole family was massacred in a flat at 10 Arëgalos street. Seriously wounded head of this family, Akiva Pukhert, metal craftsman in Kovno factory "Drobe", managed to write before his death in his own blood on a wall, "Revenge!" his body was found next to this inscription. 

The hunt for Soviet people continued in the streets of the city. Captured people were delivered to Kovno prison under a strict guard, and later, when the prison became full - to the Seventh Fort ( one of the forts belonging to the former Kovno fortress). At the end of June about eight thousand men, women and children were gathered here. Women and children were kept under lock in underground cells. People were deprived of food and water; they were not allowed out even to relieve themselves. Both dead and living were lying together. 

Bodies of Jews murdered by Germans & Lithuanians  in Kovno

Men and older boys were kept in the open, in a deep ditch surrounding the fort. Sentry posts with machine guns and sub-machine guns were set up around the ditch on the embankment. Day and night armed fascists selected and took away groups of people supposedly for work. Shortly after one could hear shots coming from nearby woods...

The guards constantly robbed the prisoners. If one of them took a liking to some clothing or a pair of boots, the unlucky owner was taken away to the woods and shot dead. A favourite pastime for the guards was shooting people who were kept in the ditch. Not every bullet used to kill a person outright. The wounded moaned, though all were under orders to keep silence and not to move. When one of the wounded would cry out with pain the sound of flying bullets could be heard again until silence would set in.

But people managed to resist even in those conditions. Aaron Vilenchuk and Gilel Mariner, who miraculously survived the terrible massacre in the Seventh Fort, remember several cases of people attacking armed guards with their bare hands.Famous Kovno doctor Boris Hodos ignored the order to stay down without moving and got up. He openly told the bloodthirsty animals in human disguise what they really were. "Your day of reckoning will come!"- he shouted at them. Boris Hodor called on his Jewish fellow- prisoners to resist the fascists. A guardsman opened fire and wounded the brave man. He was "allowed" to die in terrible agony. 

Worker Haim Hendle, teacher Moishe Goldman and many others acted in a similar manner. On the first of July, those men who were still alive were shot dead. The fascists' main aim of killing Jewish old and young men during the first days - to weaken the force of possible resistance - was achieved to some extend. 

There was a daily hunt for Jews. Those who were captured were supposedly sent to work. Yet nobody returned from this "work". The witness account of hairdresser Pinhos Markovich gives one a vivid description of what this work was about,

"A group of Jews, a part of which I was, was brought for work into the cellars of a school in Aukshtaichiu,52. All the walls of these cellars were spluttered with blood. Severed hands, feet, individual fingers, bits of human flesh lay everywhere on the floor. We were made to wash walls, pick up and dig into the ground in the yard the human remains. We were "encouraged" by whips."

Other Jews were forced to gather one afternoon in the courtyard of a garage at 43 Vitautas Avenue (now it is Lenin Prospect), in the centre of the city. Some of them were killed with shovels, iron bars or by other barbaric methods.

Bodies were thrown into a pile. One of the executioners climbed on top of this pile and began playing harmonica. The others, drunk on vodka and at the sight of human blood, sung with him and danced. Among those rushed to witness the terrifying event were German officers with cameras in their hands. The fascist were in a hurry to photograph the harrowing scene.

Jews beaten to death by Lithuanians with iron bars in Kovno

All those events showed the true face of fascism and deeply angered the whole city. Lithuanian doctors Kutorgene, Staugaitis, Alekna, Kairiukshtis, woman-writer Bortkiavichene and others tried to persuade the invaders to stop Jewish pogroms. German leaders warned them against interference in this matter; if they showed compassion for Jews they would finish up sharing their fate. 
 

Many Lithuanians took Jews into their flats thus saving them from executioners. Ionaitis, who lived in 16,Iurates street, hid in his house the persecuted during the worst days of massacre in Villiampole. He kept them there for a week and saved them from all dangers.

Father and son Boruchovich were near their place of execution by fire at a "shaulist house". Woman-worker Brone Lipskiene, wife of a communist, attacked the fascist who was taking them there. She shouted, "Murderers! Bloody dogs!" Risking her life, Brone Lipskiene, gave the two Jews an opportunity to escape.

Worker Stasis Iovaisha of Benedictine Nuns street ( now it is Pakalnes street) warned all passing Jews not to go to Villiampole when pogroms took place there. Iovaisha hid many people at his place and kept them hidden all the time while the massacre went on in the town. Lithuanian writer Kasis Binkis' house was turned into a real Jewish refuge. During the days of the gravest danger the persecuted found a shelter here. The Binkis family shared with them their remaining bread and clothing. 

One can cite many more examples of help given to Jews by Russians, Lithuanians and Poles. This help is a living proof that friendship among various Soviet nationalities found its roots during the first year of the Soviet power in Lithuania.

III. IN THE GHETTO

On 10 July a new decree appeared in the streets of Kovno making it compulsory for all Jews to leave the city by 15 July 1941 and to resettle in designated for them quarters of suburb Villiampole.

In order to lure Jews to the designated quarters ( Hitler's officers did not use the word "ghetto" ) they stopped temporarily anti-Jewish acts. Nevertheless, the majority of the Jewish population was not in a hurry to move in there. They hoped that in a little while the old order would come back... And when they started fencing off the Jewish quarters with barbed wire and turning them into a ghetto, people were still convinced: before the fencing would be completed one would have a chance to dismantle it...

Germans noticed that the "resettlement" was going at a very slow pace while the permitted time for it was running out. On the 7th of August a massive round up of Jews was carried out in the city. The rounded up were put into trucks and taken away. No information is available about those people. A few hundred men were still kept for a little while in Kovno prison. At times they were taken out for work in the city docks. Later traces of them were also lost. 1,400 Jewish people lost their lives on "black Thursday" - that's how people called that round up. 

While increasing the terror from day to day Germans drove the Jewish population of Kovno to a specially designated part of the city. Around 33 thousand Jews had to live in the quarters where there used to live 4 thousand people.

Jews from Kovno moving into the ghetto

A so-called "Jewish committee" was set up to oversee the distribution of accommodation, meagre food supplies and to keep some internal order. Former shop keepers, factory owners, representatives of the Church and people from various nationalist parties made up the majority of this "committee". When Kovno ghetto was established officially, Germans named this "committee" "Council of the Jewish Ghetto Elders" ( in the everyday language "Council of Elders").

When taking his office of a "commissioner of Jewish affairs" at Kovno German Commissariat hauptsturmführer SS Fritz Jordan, a short scum and a failed shop owner from a small German town Aitkuny by the Lithuanian border (*now it is village Chernyshevskii in Nester district of Kaliningrad oblast) defined functions of the "Council of Elders" as follows, " You have no right to address me. You must simply listen and carry out my 'orders!"

In order to give his orders Fritz Jordan used to arrive at the ghetto "Council of Elders" by car, kick the door open with his boot and burst into the building. Everyone had to leave the room.

Only the chairman of the "Council of Elders", seventy-year old doctor from Kovno Hona Elkes was allowed to stay behind; he had to listen to the orders while standing at attention without any movement or a single word. Jordan used to speak with an arrogance of a German sergeant major. He used to work himself up into hysterics, he growled, stumped his feet and hit the table with his fist. The fate of 33 thousand people lay in his hands.

"In three weeks time you must hand in all your money, gold, silver and other valuables. You are allowed to leave only ten marks for your family!" "Jews are not allowed to own electrical appliances, musical instruments, sewing machines, bicycles, cameras!" "In two hours time you must deliver to my office two large palm trees and two Persian rugs!" "Horses, cows, goats, and also chickens, pigeons,parrots must be handed over to Germans!"

Such orders were issued regularly. Jordan ordered to hand in textiles, suits, fur, leather, furniture, art objects. It goes without saying that if those orders were not fulfilled the offenders could expect only death!

Naturally, the gravest of all crimes was hiding weapons. Even Finnish daggers and theatrical props, such as swords, were seen as weapons. People lost their lives for keeping them too. If hidden weapons were found all residents of that house and even of the block faced death penalty. 

The sign forbids Jews swimming access

On the 26th of September Germans took over 1,000 people - men, women, children - from the ghetto and shot them in the 9th fort. They were accused of attacking a ghetto warden. From that day the 9th fort had become a mass grave for the Jewish population of Kovno. Pits 120-150 metres in length, three metres in width and two metres in depth lay ready to accept thousand of innocent victims. And not only Jews from Kovno ghetto - Lithuanians, Russians, Poles and also whole wagonfuls of people from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and other European countries (mainly of Jewish origin) were killed in the 9th fort.

 

Just in one month, December 1941, fascist murderers killed around ten thousand foreign citizens on the orders of the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Kovno residents called the terrifying place of mass murders - the 9th fort - "death fort". Gestapo people felt no shame when they officially designated the 9th fort as "Kovno extermination factory".

The first action after the formation of the Kovno ghetto undertaken by Hitlerites was directed against intelligentsia.On the 16th of August Jordan made a demand via his Lithuanian fascist adviser Kaminskas that the "Council of Elders" were to pick out five hundred men from intelligentsia for "light professional work in the city": to put in order old archives...

As by that time selection of people for forced labour had become a norm, that demand did not cause either concern or suspicion. Yet,only few turned up at the gathering point. Hitler bandits set out to gather the required number of people. 534 people were captured. They were led out of the ghetto under heavy guard. No one from that group returned later home... (* It has become known now that they were shot in the 4th fort).

Among those "five hundred thirty four" killed people were the leader of the Lithuanian State Opera, violinist Robert Stender, famous film director Marek Martens, who had made a number of Jewish films in Poland, engineers Mordhai Klein and Daniel Goldberg, economists Lion Beliatskin and Shmuel Bloch, artist A.Kaplan, journalist Max Volfovich, sportsman Nojahc Blat, director of Kovno furniture factory Shimon Zimmerman and other representatives of Kovno Jewish intelligentsia. 

IV. BEHIND BARBED WIRE.

The ghetto was finally fenced off from the rest of the world with the help of high lattice barbed wire and heavy guard. Germans declared territory of two metres on both sides of the barbed wire as a "dead zone". Guards were given an order to shoot without a warning anybody seen in that zone. All chances of meeting non-Jews, buying food from them, receiving medical and other help as well as getting information about the course of war became virtually nil.

However,the bravest of people used to come up to both sides of the fence and, having fooled the guards, they exchanged a few words, letters, packages. A sort of exchange trade took place there. Jews gave clothes, household goods and received in exchange bread and potatoes.

In the streets adjacent to Kovno ghetto fence one could frequently meet a dainty Lithuanian woman by the name of Bogushiene. Using a suitable moment she passed on bread and vegetables from her kitchen garden to familiar and unfamiliar Jews.

Jews move their possessions into the Kovno ghetto

Aleksas Miksha technica| shop foreman at rubber factory "Inkaras" - could not forget his former colleagues from work, who lived in dire need. He and his wife frequently came to the fence to pass on necessary things.

Not everyone managed to get away from the ghetto fence successfully. Nurse Maria Vaichiene from Kovno city hospital No.1 set out to help persecuted Jews during the occupation. Her son joined her too. But one day the lad was captured and then sent to Germany for forced labour. Nevertheless, the tragic experience did not undermine the spirit of this brave woman - she carried on with her help.

Germans shot dead 65-year old doctor Zhakiavichus for helping his colleague - Jewish doctor Matusevich. Nurse Leocadia Shlepetiene, who helped Jewish doctors Braun, Woshchin and others, was imprisoned in a German concentration camp.

Bronius Kutka,brought down by a guard's bullet,stayed hanging on the ghetto barbed wire. One can mention many more of similar examples!  Naturally, Jewish losses were even greater.

A different possibility of contacting the outside world was created in places where Jews were delivered for forced labour. It was virtually impossible to avoid compulsory work if you lived in a ghetto. All ghetto residents of 14 to 65 years old were declared as "able to work". In the mornings Germans stormed into the ghetto.

Like hungry animals they searched through the narrow winding streets of the old Villiampole and made people open doors and shutters of small bent wooden houses. Feeling still sleepy and tired, dressed in old rags,Jews dragged their aching bodies in the morning dusk. They went to the collection point at the ghetto gates in Arëgalos street. Here they formed groups which were sent to various places. Counted and formed into ranks of four (later also five), these groups under armed guard were taken to their place of work.

The biggest number of Jews were taken to do heavy manual work at Kovno airfield. Hungry and poorly dressed they dug ground, pushed trolleys, carried stones, bricks, iron in strong winds, severe frosts and heavy rain. Guards armed with rifles and supervisors armed with whips oversaw the work. Nevertheless, the work proceeded slowly and as soon as supervisors left their posts even for a short while, the Jews stopped working altogether.

When the Germans returned, the Jews warned each other with a special parole "Yale veiove" (the boss is coming). That meant that they again had to pretend that they were working. This is how the word "Yale" (rising) came into Kovno ghetto Jewish everyday language -symbol of a boss, a manager.

One song, which came from the "airfield men" (this is how men working in the airfield became known) gained big popularity throughout the whole ghetto existence. It was sung to the tune of "The Sea Stretched Out Wide". Here are some verses from this song: 
 

The morning is coming, it's dark outside,
And our bodies are aching.
Old clothes - worn out and looking like rags -
Would hardly keep warm us from freezing.

They chase us all out - no time to sleep,
Our work is hard and repellent.
Why has such a lot fallen to us?
Why does the fate treat us severely? 

Our bodies have weakened, our hands have gone numb,
The last of all hopes is dying.
The sound of the song is hard now to hear,
And final moments are near.

But, Jew, don't lose hope completely as yet,
Stand firm, find your courage. And then...
The dawn after terrible darkness will come,
The sun will rise up once again

Jews forced to live in the squalor of the Kovno ghetto

Jews were made to go not only to the airfield to perform forced labour, but also to construction sites, transport, timber felling. All types of work performed by Jews were hard and denigrating.

Using every available possibility Jews tried to avoid forced labour. However, hunger often made them go there: he, who did not go to work, lost his right to the meagre food "ration", which was at times distributed among ghetto prisoners. But the main reason lay in the fact that work in the city presented them with their only chance to meet non-Jews, to get at least a little food, to hear a word of encouragement.

To do this people dared to leave their place of work and to go to the city without their yellow stars. But police lay in wait for them. The captured people were shot dead. "The Master of Jewish lives" Jordan personally shot dead on the spot Sholom Rabinovich, who was captured at the market trying to buy a few greens from a peasant. Not a single day passed without a similar incident.

Even after people had managed to get some bread or a few potatoes, while risking their lives, there was no guarantee that they would succeed in delivering it to hungry members of their families. On entering the ghetto there was no certainty that one could enter it safely. Often people were deprived here not only of their hard gotten food but also their very lives. Leiser Fisher, Faivl Strashunsky, Meir Zwick were among the first in the long list of names of people killed at the ghetto gates while trying to smuggle food.

The ghetto gates were always the most dangerous place there. Often brutal Germans killed people for little reason. They killed if numbers of those sent to work were insufficient or because a guard did not like the way Jews were passing through the gates. They even killed for no reason at all - by shooting into a crowd of people who simply happened to be there.

Jews returning from forced labor are searched at the ghetto entrance

On the evening of 22nd of September one of the guards at the ghetto gates "greeted" with shots a group of people returning from work on the construction of a garage in Kiastutis street. The "occasion" was "Rosh Gashan" (Jewish New Year). Seven Jews were shot dead, one - Klugman, escapee from Warsaw - was buried alive.

Germans called their extermination of Jews from the ghetto "action". Actions in Kovno ghetto followed one after another. On 4th of October 1941 around 3 thousand people without work permits were arrested in the "little ghetto" ( a separate part of Kovno ghetto). They were sent in large groups to the 9th fort. Residents from an old people's home and orphans from a children's home were sent there by lorries too. During this action ghetto hospital with all the patients and medical staff still in it was burnt down.

Kovno ghetto residents remember the events of 28th of October as "the big action". On that day on gestapo orders all Jewish population were lead into Democrat Square for an "inspection of ghetto workforce". After a process of selection, which was accompanied by terrifying scenes, 11 thousand people were sent to the infamous 9th fort. Remaining people went to the empty ghetto streets not knowing what to do...

But in the very depths of the ghetto forces were growing which could see a way out.


Added by bgill

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V. RESISTANCE

The following text was taken from the above mentioned "struggle programme":

"...Jewish people together with all Soviet people are burning with desire to fight fascist murderers. There is already a basis for organising Jewish masses in their fight with the invaders in the ghetto. They simply need an organisation which is capable of preparing and leading people in an open fight with the enemy..."

The formation of the organisation began during the first days of the ghetto. It was done on the initiative of a number of communists and non-party bolsheviks who acted independently.

Communist Haim Yelin, young writer and former public activist in bourgeois Lithuania, lived in the ghetto in a flat at 18,Baioru street under the name of Haim Kadisson.

As a student at Kovno university Haim Yelin established links with underground activists. Haim Yelin performed various tasks on the orders of the banned Lithuanian Communist party: he gave speeches at various meetings, open debates, literary evenings, does underground work. In 1937 he was a delegate at the First World Jewish Congress of Culture in Paris.

Haim Yelin was one of the participants and organizers of the progressive group of Jewish literary figures in Lithuania; he worked on the magazines published by this group - he wrote stories, essays and articles on art. In those articles Yelin concentrated his attention on the position of working class people in a capitalist system. Yelin's sympathies were with courageous, brave fighters who constantly sought a way out of a difficult situation and are ready to give up their lives for the sake of "a better future, which must come one day..."

In 1940-1941 Yelin was appointed by the Soviet authorities a head of a printing trust. At the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War Yelin tried to evacuate further into the Soviet Union but his progress was interrupted by invading fascists. Together with other persecuted Jews Yelin found himself in Kovno ghetto. His inner energy turned to tireless activity: resisting invaders. Communist Haim Yelin became a central figure in Kovno ghetto resistance and struggle.

Chaim Yelin

Haim Yelin could not openly appear in the ghetto. Hitlerites sought him everywhere in Kovno. In order to avoid recognition Yelin grew beard and frequently wore a bandage across his cheek to give appearance of toothache. Outside his home he kept contacts only with his closest and most reliable friends.

Haim Yelin kept in contact with his old friend Dmitry Galperin (one of the co-authors of this book), former anti-fascist activist and MOPR secretary (*organisation helping political prisoners) in Kovno university, via his father Leiser Yelin. Rivka Uriash, director of a textile factory during the Soviet rule lived under the name of Etha Raibstein in the same house at 18, Baioru street. Alia Maisel, Leia Senior, Itzik Iuhnikov regularly came to that house. The flat became a gathering point for those communists and non-party bolsheviks whose aim was to wage a struggle against the worst enemy of their Fatherland and their people in the most severe ghetto conditions.

Initially they sought contacts with anti-fascists outside ghetto. The closest and most trusted of Haim Yelin's friends - Saul Finkel, Meir Yelin, Shabsai Fleishman and others - volunteered to do forced labour. On their return they told news they had heard in the town. When they succeeded in getting a newspaper and at a great risk smuggled it into the ghetto (even though that newspaper was published by the Germans ghetto residents knew how to read between the lines) - it was a special occasion.

At their meetings people listened to all the information brought from the outside and from the ghetto itself and drew their conclusions. Haim Yelin produced a map of Europe, kept in a safe place (it was a banned article and keeping it could lead to death penalty). They used to start their meetings with discussions of the latest war operations.

Then the speaker would report on the latest world events and later returned to the situation in the ghetto and the most important question - what they could do at that particular time. Nobody yet heard anything of the historic speech delivered by Stalin on 3,July 1941. There was no clear plan for struggle. Every day brought news of more closest friends losing their lives which lead to undermining of more and more initiatives. Germans delivered fresh blows on the ghetto without a let up. A decision was taken to primarily cheer up the residents of the ghetto and to bring hope. Those words of hope were passed on in the ghetto from mouth to mouth...

The main aim of the group was to create a strong resistance movement, to establish contacts with the town underground party organisation and to unite all ghetto Jews who strived for struggle and revenge with partisans.

Right from the beginning the organized group faced a problem of helping their comrades in arms who were on the verge of death from hunger. Communist Pinia Garmanik fell ill with tuberculosis, woman-communist Alta Fain was physically very weakened. This help was a matter of life and death for many fighters who had to endure many years of imprisonment in bourgeois Lithuania because of their fight for working class causes. Children of Soviet and party workers (Eda Schneider, Basia Toiba and Benzion Leibes and others) were also in the ghetto.

Their parents evacuated further into the country but had no time to collect them from camps in Palanga; it was paramount to take care of those children and save them from fascist beasts. And just like in the times of bourgeois Lithuania solidarity secret participation in MOPR actions were considered the most important friendly duty, so did the movement to help comrades in need began in the conditions of ghetto underground movement. 

A group of communists - Moishe Raf, Doba Haet, Basia Krepko and others - created a nucleus of most active members. Among them was Moishe Sherman - he came from an underground organisation of bourgeois Lithuania. He was completely devoted to the resistance cause; his comrades liked and respected him for his businesslike attitude, composure, ability to understand other people. Music teacher and director Jacob Gleser, Girsh Gutman and others former progressive public figures of Kovno actively persuaded not to carry out German orders, not to hand in money or other valuables.

Partisans from the Kovno Ghetto

Tireless Alta Boruchovich became group's secretary. She became also group's messenger. She would not be intimidated by the terror in the ghetto. From early morning till late at night she visited her friends in their houses; she knew all their needs. Alta Boruchovich used to find a way to help people before organized help could be arranged. She would get a pair of boots, mend clothing, help to get medicine or food.

The group organized a komsomol cell with Monia Golzberg as its secretary. An important point in the cell's existence was the appearance of a rather primitive radio, which was assembled by its members. This radio could receive only a local station but even from it it was obvious that Hitler's army was already experiencing difficulties in its war with the Soviet Union.

One more cell emerged in the ghetto around communists Mary Lan and Elia Shmuilova, secretary of Kovno city MOPR committee. Mary Lan, a long standing party member, introduced bolshevik principals to their work and passed on her underground work experience. Pesach Shater, Haia Shmuilova, Meilach-Leib Goldschmidt and others were active members of this group. They also supported friends and helped those pioneers who were without their parents, they also incited against carrying out German orders.

Haim Yelin established a link with Komsomol members, former Shalom Aleihem grammar school students. The first meeting between Yelin and Moishe Rubinson, secretary of the group took place in one of the ghetto streets.

It was arranged for Rubinson to approach a man dressed in a winter coat and a hat with its earflaps down and ask him the time. The answer had to be "a quarter to three". Rubinson met a passer-by who had an appearance of a peasant at the agreed spot.

The man was pacing the street to and fro. Rubinson hesitated whether to approach him. Then the passer-by - Haim Yelin - approached the young man and pretending to be mentally handicapped asked, "Is it not a quarter to three now?" The contact was made. Rubinson met Yelin, whom he had known since before the war, a few more times. However, Yelin so masterfully disguised himself that Rubinson was not sure who his contact was. Komsomol members received a plan of action and instructions on how to set up a circle.

Isolated in the ghetto members of separate resistance groups could not know yet that there were headquarters of Lithuanian partisan movement headed by Antanas Snechkus, first secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party. This body organized resistance of the population against fascist occupiers. The appeal of October 10, 1941 by the headquarters to the Lithuanian population stated,

"Resist the occupation authorities any way you can, harm them, make it more difficult for them to carry out military operations against the Soviet Union! Set up committees to fight the invaders, attack German military bases and headquarters, damage their transport, hinder its movement, damage telephone and telegraph poles, burn bridges, derail their trains. Destroy, blow up and burn depots and food storehouses of the German army, join the partisans. Give every help to the partisans! 

Communists of Lithuania! Be in the forefront of the struggle against the invaders! Give leadership to the masses in their fight against the enemy! May Lithuanian soil burn under the feet of the German occupiers! The victory will be ours!" The leadership of the ghetto resistance movement understood that their main task was establishing contacts and links with the city party organization. A number of courages attempts were made to achieve the aim...

A member of the Kovno ghetto underground retrieves a weapons cache from inside a well

Every minute outside ghetto compound represented a deadly danger to a Jew. But this did not frighten those whose goal was to devote his life to struggle and if needed to sacrifice his life.

Haim Yelin was among the first who attempted several times to go into the town.The main way out was over the ghetto fence. In the darkness, hiding from the ghetto guards, they used to cut the fence wire with pliers; the ends of the cut wires were rejoined again. When those ends were separated one person could easily get through an emerging gap. Such passageway in the fence became known as "reisferschlus"(lightning) among people. In Haim Yelin's papers of that time there was a short story which described one of his outings with his messenger R. through a "reisferschlus":

"We met with R. at an arranged place not far from the ghetto fence. We stopped some two dozen metres from a guard and waited for a suitable moment. R. got through the passage and disappeared in the darkness on the other side of the fence. Then it was my turn.

I put my leg through, then threw my body over and pulled my other leg. My shoulder stuck. I pulled my body again. The wire made a loud sound... The guard shot his rifle... I could hear him running along the pavement but he could not catch me. I took my contact partner by her hand and we went pretending to be a couple in love chatting happily and laughing.

The clothes of a Jewish beggar I left in the ghetto. My friends dressed me into very fashionable clothes - good coat, brown hat, cigarette... My heart was thumping in the chest - I had committed an offence: I, a Jew, took off my yellow stickers and went for a walk in the town to carry out a special task... That task gave me strength... I became a constant link between the ghetto and progressive circles in the town. The task was difficult but my friends were convinced I could do it..."

Haim Yelin managed to set up a link with those Soviet activists who failed to evacuate in time, with some escaped prisoners of war. He found out that a detachment called "Red partisans" was set up in Kovno. It prepared to go into the woods of Eastern Lithuania.

A group was urgently formed in the ghetto in order to join them. November 17 was the day of departure. Gestapo managed to trace the detachment and it had to leave before the set date with no time to inform their Jewish friends. People in the ghetto received neither news, nor instructions.As it later became known the detachment came upon a strong German group near Kovno and all its members died heroically in the ensued unequal battle by the woods near village Ibenai of Babtai district.

Elia Shmuilov (Lucy) searched for his pre-war Lithuanian friends in the town. He worked with them in the underground movement during the bourgeois period. On his orders Hana Videlevskaia, Hinda Markulevich, Haia Shmuilova went to make contact in the town.

They succeeded in establishing contacts with a group of anti-fascist fighters headed by P.Malinauskas. Shmuilov joined the leadership of the group. This komsomol member changed his appearance - he died his hair, put on glasses. His friends found him a secret address in the town. The group armed themselves and began their work.

They distributed leaflets, appealed to the population not to carry out German orders, to undermine mobilization and to carry out acts of sabotage. However their work did not last. Gestapo tracked down the group and surrounded the house where a meeting of the group leadership was taking place. There were exchanges of gun fire. Several comrades died in the fight. Others, among whom was E.Shmuilov,were kept for some time in Kovno prison and later shot dead in the 9th Fort. So Elia Shmuilov became one of the first fighters of Kovno ghetto to lose his life while organizing resistance in the enemy's rear.

Various "actions" continue to take place in the ghetto. Resistance movement experienced heavy losses: in a "big action" died Moishe Raf, Doba Haet, Basia Krepko, Jacob Gleser and others. Terrible life conditions: daily killings, robberies, hard labour, where everyone was expected to work without exception - this all interfered with the development of active resistance, complicated contacts between various independent ghetto groups.

A sentry stands guard outside the SS HQ in Kovno

Later such links between those groups and separate individuals were established. A basis for a broad military organization headed by communists was set up.

IV.WE ARE PARTISANS

December 31, 1941. It was nearly 8 o'clock. Biting frost. Darkness reigned in the ghetto streets. Only high snow hills looked white in the narrow, interlaced streets of the old town.

Ghetto streets seemed to be deserted. People were allowed to walk in the streets until 8 pm but as soon as darkness fell people did not dare to leave homes. The ghetto plunged into blackness. At times the silence was broken by the sound of shooting. In that darkness lonely figures minced along the streets.

They moved in various directions and at certain intervals, but their paths lead them to one place - a small house at the back of a large snow covered courtyard. Two people guarded it by the entrance in the shadow of the fence. Those guys had to meet their guests and to guard illegal gathering which took place in their small flat.

All arrived on time. People sat or stood up in a very small space. Even seriously ill Moishe Sherman could not stay at home that evening; he overcame his illness and got there. All participants arrived but the meeting did not start. Some kind of worried look could be seen on people's faces. It was the third day since Haim Yelin had arrived in the town.

He promised to come in order to participate in the first general meeting of the leaders of antifascist ghetto groups. Had any harm come to him? The clock indicated eight o'clock and no walking in the streets was permitted... All were waiting for Haim Yelin to bring latest news from the town and no one was inclined to start the discussion of the agenda without him. The meeting was to set up a united antifascist ghetto organization and draw out an action plan.

Suddenly the door opened and a young tidily dressed peasant of average height squeezed through the door. He took off his fur hat, lowered the high collar of his short fur coat and the gathered recognized Haim Yelin, who had died his hair white and grown long moustache which was pointing up. Yelin had just managed to get through the ghetto fence. The gathered drew a sigh of relief. Smiles appeared on their pale faces.

The meeting started. A unanimous decision was reached - all resistance units joined into one organization. It was necessary to work out an action plan and the rules of the organization, to establish the direction for further action. 

A decision was made to continue searching for links with Kovno city Communist party organization and to begin the fight against fascist occupiers under its leadership. They discussed the aims of the movement. Haim Yelin formulated those aims briefly but sufficiently clearly:

- We lived only a year under the Soviet rule. But we remain Soviet citizens! We will not leave the ghetto to its fate, but our main aim is armed struggle among partisans. A member of our organization is a partisan!
The gathered listened to those words with inspiration. "We are partisans!" - This sounds great!

"We are partisans!" - members of the meeting joined in saying those words and took them to all antifascist movement cells.


Added by bgill

The Gelpernus Diary~Part II "Underground Struggle"

Part II  "Underground Struggle 

I. THE FORMATION OF THE MILITARY ORGANIZATION

Jewish partisans group operating in the forests near Kovno

The main aim of the struggle for the antifascist and partisan organization in Kovno ghetto was formulated so: "Organizing resistance forces, mobilization of able people and a search for the ways to join general partisan movement". 

With time the organization began to develop in two main directions: setting up groups with the aim of taking them to partisan bases and organizing resistance on the spot while using all possibilities and attracting broad masses of the ghetto residents into the struggle.

 At the head of the antifascist organization was a committee of five (later seven) people. Every committee member was responsible for a particular area. There were six main operational areas:

  • Technical-military matters.

  • Organizational matters.

  • Agitation & Propaganda.

  • Communication.

  • Staff & special issues.

  • Public matters.

Until the end of October 1943 the committee consisted of the following members (with only slight alterations) : Haim Yelin - secretary with responsibilities for cadre and special issues, Peisach Gordon Shtein and Moishe Sherman - military actions, Dmitry Gal'perin - agitation and communications; Mary Lan was responsible for organizational issues; Alta Boruchovich-Teper was responsible for social issues. Moishe Rubinson was made responsible for activities of the komsomol group.

Comrades able to fight belonged to the military part of the movement. In order to preserve strict secrecy there were only three or four people in each primary cell with a secretary who was responsible for ensuring contact with the leadership. Seven cells made up a section with a section leader. Apart from a military section there was an auxiliary one which was responsible for material resources of the movement; mainly, it had to search out the ways of arms and weapons acquisition. People unable to fight joined this sector. Five to eight people made up an auxiliary sector cell with a secretary who ensured contact with  section leadership.

It was arranged for cell meetings in each sector to take place every week (depending, of course, on the situation in the ghetto). Each Tuesday the committee planned actions for the week. On Fridays leaders of the military and auxiliary sections were briefed, on Saturdays cell secretaries met, while meetings of the cells themselves took place on Sundays.

It was not easy to meet in small ghetto flats without being noticed by outsiders. Weekends were the "quietest" periods for ghetto inhabitants - not often people were taken away for forced labour. This time was used for meetings in the cells. At the beginning of the week the committee received a report from section leaders and cell secretaries about the carried out work. Conclusions were drawn.

Agendas for cell meetings were usually the following: 1) report on political and front situations; 2) discussion of week's events; 3) military and other briefings; the latter ones were also part of special meetings; 4) sabotage - a) reports of individual fighters on their actions; b) briefing on future actions and discussion of typical incidents; c) discussion and approval of action plans for each individual comrade; d) setting the issues concerning acquiring funds for the movement; 6) current issues.

Weekly cell meetings were an important part of their members lives. Cell members could rise above ghetto daily life on those occasions. The movement organizers wanted to call it "Activists' Union". But it failed to be accepted in everyday language. People became accustomed to using the word "organization". Both anti-fascist and partisan movements became known by this word.

II. SABOTAGE

Solemn oath! 

"I consider fight against fascists by all possible means to be my sacred duty and wish to be an active red partisan fighter. I promise to fight tirelessly, harm fascist invaders, their transport, bomb and burn bridges, destroy railway lines, organize and help to carry out acts of sabotage at every opportunity, and I promise to fight under any circumstances without sparing my strength and if need be at the expense of my life until the full liberation of my fatherland from the invaders.

I promise to be conscientious, disciplined fighter, to carry out orders implicitly in a brave and exact manner, to keep secrets and means of fighting entrusted to me, to observe rules of conspiracy. I know that partisans consider any break in discipline and rules of conspiracy to be a betrayal punishable by death."

 

Every member of the anti-fascist organization in Kovno ghetto signed such oath with his/her pseudonym. People who took this oath solemnly observed it.

The slogan of the organization - " to harm the enemy with all available means and everywhere" - became a precept for every member.

Meishe Rubinson, a member of Chaim Yellin's inner circle

One February evening in 1942 Kovno sky lit up in a red flame. The fire was clearly seen on the other side of the frozen river Neris, in the streets of the ghetto. It was obvious that three largest city saw-mills situated on the river banks were on fire.

"Saw-mill workshops and storehouses with completed products, for Wehrmacht detachments suffering from cold, are on fire,"-the word spread through the ghetto.

Though few of the Jews knew that some members of the ghetto underground movement were "to blame" for the fire starting. While active member Leib Segalov was directly involved in this act of sabotage.  "Leibka did not let us down. He has started paying back for the death of his wife and child!"- Haim Yelin wrote in his notes on that occasion.

April 1942. An empty German hospital carriage stood on the fourth line of Kovno railway station. Some Jews were unloading coal nearby. It was 3 a.m. Soviet bombers suddenly attacked. Germans left the scene for the bomb shelter in panic. Only Yankl Kopelman, a young lad, did not try to hide. Using the absence of the Germans he got into the hospital carriage and having noticed a burning iron stove, he turned it upside down. Hot coal fell onto the floor.

Few minutes later the whole carriage was on fire. The Germans were still in the shelter. Before they managed to leave it and started putting the fire out three carriages burned down.

Fifth Fort in Kovno suburb Panemune was used as an army depot. Jews were brought here to carry out a heavy and dangerous job of loading and unloading, but members of the underground organization volunteered to go there. Firstly, it presented an opportunity to hide grenades and ammunition as soon as the guard turned his head away. These could later be transported to the ghetto. Secondly, they often could remove fuses from grenades and bomb capsules and make these things unusable.

Once they managed to do something even more significant: when they had loaded assignment of grenades boxes of fuses finished up on a boat going in a different direction. Though the most significant act of sabotage took place in July 1943. Meer Lurie, Faivel Parad payed with their lives and Rachmiel Sheiniuk lost his left hand but a large amount bombs, artillery ammunition, hand grenades went up in smoke. Two Germans were blown to pieces. Many windows in parts of Kovno were caused to crack by the explosion.

Moishe Slaviansky in a group of Jews was sent to do forced labour. They had to unload several carriages of timber. German guards hurried them up with their rifles, "Schnell! Schnell! (Quick!)"

This order could not apply to Slaviansky- he was unloading his carriage quickly. Germans were even surprised at such a strong man being from an "inferior race". Slaviansky arranged beams so cleverly near the rails that Germans failed to notice that some of the big beams finished under the carriages. When the locomotive began moving several carriages were de-railed and turned upside down.

Sabotage increased with every day. Every member of the organization had not only to carry out acts of sabotage but also to involve other people. After performing his task whether on his leader's orders or at his risk when the opportunity arouse every member of the organization had to report. Those reports were kept by responsible members who systematically informed the leadership - committee - about the completed acts of sabotage.

Polowitchus Cleopas Juazos was arrested in 1944 for helping members of the Jewish underground

Every useful innovation used to become a norm for all. Leaders' reports about the acts of sabotage were kept for a long time by Haim-Dovid Ratner. We give now some examples from Ratner's notes found in one of his remaining exercise books.

"III. (Roman numbers refer to months). Comrade Pock (Moishe Zemelevich) added some snow when filling up sacks with grain. A large amount of grain perished." "

IV. 'General-commissar' receives 200 litres of petrol weekly. Similar amount of petrol was poured out by our comrades working in m/h (military hospital)."

"V. Medicine is of special importance in war times. When unloading a box with hundreds of ampoules from a truck, comrade S. (Motl Stern) picked up his side of the box in a manner which caused the Lithuanian driver to drop it. Ampules broke." It is neither first nor the last time"- happily commented the driver- "perhaps, I will also be able to near its end... Comrade S. found a reliable ally in his sabotage work."

"VI. When working on a consignment of gas masks intended for the front, our comrades removed six hundred filters."

"VII. Working in a garage comrade M. (Moishe Milner) filled  accumulators with  80% of acid and 20% of distilled water the opposite of the required proportions. The damaging effect is doubled: firstly, loss of valuable acid, secondly, acid destroys accumulators. 98 accumulators have been destroyed."

"VIII. Cobler A. (Haim Aron) and his team in g.w. (ghetto workshops), prepared a large number of boots with very thin soles and then cut diamond shapes on them. A short while later a thousand pair of boots were returned for repairs."

Ghetto resistance organization widely used experience of other organizations when performing acts of sabotage. It was reported on the radio that German transport suffered badly because of mix-ups in labelling and documentation. People trained for performing special tasks were sent to railway depots and workshops for forced labour.

They caused havoc in the work of the railway. Carriages were delayed or sent in the opposite direction. On the members' initiative parts of locomotives were removed and hidden, railway points switched without orders. At the beginning of 1942 a train full of goods passed at full speed near factory "Maistas", collided with a stationary group of carriages and completely destroyed them. Resistance fighter Lucia Zimmerman initiated this act.

Leib Gempl, Itzik Weiner and others working in the depot systematically removed and changed carriage labels which had information about necessary repairs. This resulted not only in chaos, constant arguments and quarrels in the railway workshops, but also one frequently heard of accidents with carriages which had only recently left the workshops due to remaining faults.

Ignac Shepetis helped members of the Jewish underground escape from the Kovno ghetto and join partisans in the Rudniki Forest

At every possibility electrical telephone, telegraph wires were cut. In June 1942 Leib Moshkovich cut the wiring of Kovno airdrome sirens - during an attack by Soviet bomber fighters those sirens were silent.

III. PREPARATION FOR STRUGGLE

The leadership of the organization was well aware of the damage caused by sabotage to enemy's home front. However, they considered joining the main forces in the armed struggle against the invaders to be their main aim. Hence among their primary tasks was acquisition of means of struggle - weapons, and arming of the military sector.

"Weapons can only be obtained by means of weapons!" - stated in an old partisan rule. Yet, this rule was of little help in ghetto conditions. One had to get weapons with bare hands. The organization sent its members to such places where such opportunity existed. David Teper was the first to get hold of rifle parts stolen from a German field command post. In the ghetto they put those parts together, added on a butt - and the first rifle was ready for young fighters to learn shooting.

Zalel Iofe, Mendelson and others had made it a rule not to return to the ghetto without some spares for rifles or hand guns which they stole from armoury workshops where they were sent to do forced labour. Metal worker Shmushkevich brought from the same workshop parts which he used to assemble two machine-guns. Real armoury workshops sprung up in the ghetto.

Alter Faitlson and Israel Miltstein manufactured knives and special axes. Saul Pinkes, Haim-Dovid Ratner, Alter Rashkovich manufactured rifles and missing parts. Joiner Efroim Rutnberg supplied all rifles with good butts. At the risk of losing life they even managed to smuggle complete rifles into the ghetto.

Shmuel Baron tucked a stolen rifle into the belt -with its butt up and barrel inside his trousers. Admittedly it was very uncomfortable to walk a long distance to the ghetto, also the Germans observed the workers very carefully. In spite of that Baron managed to smuggle several rifles into the ghetto. Iosl Michles managed to get through ghetto fence with two rifles at once. If you had to risk your life you might as well do it with maximum gain! Michles was followed by others.

Young Sulamif Lerman went to the town disguised as a besom seller. In those besoms arms were hidden. Meer Neistadt organized a delivery of rifles to the ghetto in the transport which usually delivered building materials to ghetto workshops.

Iankl Levi became soon famous for his trips to the town to obtain weapons for the organization. Short and slightly stooping he looked like a Lithuanian peasant with a walking stick in his hand, a pipe in his mouth and long moustache pointing upwards. No German guards would dream of checking his documents. But just in case the underground fighter was given a false passport in the name of Antanas Gudauskas. Iankl carried out the most dangerous tasks and delivered many weapons to the ghetto with characteristic composure, caution and at the same time energy.

Sonia Rubinson, Liuba Schwartz, Ghita Abramson obtained weapons at their place of work in a German hospital.They used various cunning ways. Once the girls hid two stolen rifles under a bed mattress in an empty ward. In the evening Ida Pilovnik came to the adjoining yard and took the rifles to the ghetto. The same girls smuggled revolvers and ammunition in a sauce-pan with a concealed bottom.  In those pans they used to leave a bit of soup as if it was their supper.

Lieb Sher -Partisan from Kovno

With the same aim Lowa "Lieb" Sher made holes in logs which he took to the ghetto as if for a stove. Some obtained weapons at work after stealing them from the Germans. In most cases Germans did not even suspect Jews of theft. But after suspicions had arisen those comrades had to live illegally.

Not every time they managed to get through inspection at the ghetto entrance successfully. A German inspector found parts for a rocket pistol hidden among firewood carried by Rachmiil Berman and handed him over to Gestapo.

 Enach Segalovich obtained a considerable amount of weapons for the organization. This experienced underground fighter braved the streets without any yellow patches. Though Segalovich did not have typical Jewish appearance, during one of his trips to the town to pick up arms he was recognized as a Jew by police and after torture he was shot dead in the 9th Fort.

In order to obtain more weapons the organization was forced to buy some. This needed a good network of contacts who had to breach the ghetto fence in both directions many times till they managed to obtain either a revolver, a rifle or some ammunition.

Committee members did not simply direct the whole process of finding, buying, delivering and safe-keeping those weapons but also actively participated in the work. Haim Yelin and Alta Boruchovich-Teper obtained and brought into the ghetto many rifles, hand guns, hand grenades and bullets.

Piotr Trofimov, Maria Leshchinskiene, Eliana Kutorghiene, Aleksas Puros and others helped to get weapons in the town. Juozas Vitkauskas got also considerable amount of weapons for the organization. Iosl Michles regularly received those weapons from Vitkauskas. Gestapo tracked down Vitkauskas and shot him with his wife and child.

Many ghetto residents tried to obtain weapons but outside a well- organized group it lead frequently to a failure. Benzion Harles and Sholom Melsak died while trying to get weapons. In November 1942 a guard stopped watch-maker Nokhem Mek when the latter was attempting to smuggle a pistol through the fence. Mek was publicly hanged in the ghetto, his family was also executed. Another 20 residents lost their lives in reprisals.

Military and technical sector began training its members as well obtaining weapons. This is what the "military programme" of the organization has to say about it:

"Military training includes lectures and practical classes on the following topics: military discipline, camp planning, forest life, building a dug-out, methods of fighting (attack and defence),  mechanisms of rifles, pistols, hand grenades, machine guns, shooting from different types of weapons (machine guns, tanks, cannons), arson, contacts, Morse code, scouting, topography (signs and instruments) and a course on medical treatment in battle conditions.

Israel Goldblatt - Partisan from Kovno

Systematic training took place in safe houses at 4 Broliu street, 36 Ariogalos street, 27 Puogiu, 8 Linkmianu street, 95 Krikshtshiukaichio street (* now Shimaite street). Fighters learned to use maps, and how to treat the injured. A lot of effort was put into learning Red guard's manual. Shooting was learned in well insulated and hidden basements of 7 Mildos and 3 Nashlaichiu streets.

The military-technical sector directed setting up of shelters for hiding weapons and also those comrades who had to leave in hiding, for secret meetings and conspirator purposes. The following extract was taken from article No.3 of the "military programme":

 

"The question of shelters was an important issue from the first days of the organization for a number of comrades had to leave in hiding for political reasons. With further development of our work documents, material and means of struggle appeared which needed to be hidden. Military training includes both fighters' training and preparation of means of struggle which enable this struggle. These means must be kept in special secret places.

All members of the organization (or a cell as a minimum) must find such a place for materials and other illegal objects.  Shelters for people, materials, objects are owned collectively and should be built according to a common plan. Shelters for people are meant for :

1) comrades who have to hide for various reasons;

2) hiding during German round-ups;

3) for secret meetings; 4) hiding during bombing.

For this to happen we need the following building materials : beams, planks, nails, cement, bricks and necessary instruments; it is important to ensure that each shelter has water containers, torches, candles, matches, shovels, crow-bars, axes, hammers, wire cutters, dry food (dry bread), certain amount of "hot macaroni" and "cold klotskas (dumplings)" - according to the size of the shelter and the number of people.

"Hot macaroni" and "cold klotskas" were secret names for fire arms and steel weapons.

Added by bgill

The Gelpernus Diary~ Resistance in the Kovno Ghetto

Part III  

IV BOLSHEVIK'S WORD

In February 1942 a five-lamp radio was installed into a shelter at 18,Vejeiu street. The entrance to it was masterfully concealed as an oven door. Considerable difficulties were involved in obtaining the radio. Great risk was involved in smuggling it through the ghetto fence. Death penalty was the punishment for any Jew caught using a radio, and discovery of it could lead to many people losing their lives. 

Three Jewish ghetto officials stand at one of the gates to the Kovno ghetto

The radio was linked to electricity supplies outside ghetto; a special moment was needed to make it work. During those moments a duty person put on his earphones and listened  to close to his heart voice of a Moscow radio announcer which came from a long distance. Organization's committee informed all members daily of the most important events heard on Moscow broadcasts and arranged weekly bulletins which were copied and distributed to all cells. Articles on important issues for the organization were distributed at the same time. Two copies of leaflets were sent to the archive. Part of that archive was saved and now is kept in the State Archive of Lithuanian SSR in Vilnius.

Reading of books was forbidden in Kovno ghetto. On February, 27 1942 civil servants from "Rosenberg's headquarters" undertook  "a book action". Agitators of the organization appealed to everyone not to give any printed material to Germans. Members of the organization and individual brave hearts hid books and saved many cultural valuables from destruction. In Kovno Germans liquidated public libraries and took materials from there to various storehouses and basements.

Germans used Jewish labour to do the work.  The organization sent its members there who brought back to the ghetto many valuable books and mainly political literature by hiding it underneath their clothes. There were several histories of the communist party in Jewish and Russian 

The organization collected and then set up a whole section of Marxist-Leninist literature. Every member had a right to use the library via his cell secretary. In order to increase political awareness and to arm them with Marxist-Leninist science a short course on party history was read in each cell.

Ghetto residents were eager to hear a word of truth about heroic struggle of the Soviet army, about its victories, about the struggle of Soviet peoples against the invaders. The organization set a broader aim for its work than simply work with resistance fighters. The following comes from paragraph 4 of the "military programme":

"While wishing to fight our enemy openly we must not forget that the larger is the number of our friends, that the better these friends are prepared politically and militarily, the more we will be able to do, the higher our chances of success. There is no way for us to develop into a mass organization due to the difficult conditions in which we live. The following task arises from the above: without directly involving the masses into our organization we must prepare them psychologically and bring them up in a manner which would involve them into the fight against the invaders."

The organization hoped to achieve this aim via mass political agitation. Every member of the organization had to influence people with whom he worked and lived. He had to pass on news of the Soviet army, explain the aims of fascists' regarding the Jewish people in general and ghetto residents in particular, disclose German plans of genocide of different nations and especially the peoples of the Soviet Union.

Members of the organization quickly distributed among ghetto residents latest news from the front and orders of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief... Germans were surprised and perturbed: how ghetto residents could be so well informed when they lived in complete isolation from the rest of the outside world. A decree was passed -" Jews are forbidden to hold political discussions! People passing on political news face death!" 

"We don't care a damn!"- these words became popular in the ghetto and political news continued to be passed from person to person with even greater enthusiasm.

Many people found a way to join the partisan movement and became brave fighters thanks to political work of the organization. It will be enough to mention Shmuel Martkovsky, Avram Faershtein, Jankel Kava, Jasha Broin. A circle close to the organization - the so-called "periphery" of the movement was formed from the masses.  At times secret lectures on political, scientific and literary topics within the framework of political work among masses took place.

Krikshtshiukaichio St in the Kovno ghetto

Special care was given to children who were left without parents. Children over 12 years of age were made to report for work by Germans. Their education was forbidden. Teachers Sonia and Shmuel Rosenthal with the help from teacher Esrachovich and comrades Leia Sher and Mania Barenblat set up and headed a secret primary school for the little ones.

Lessons took place in the ban of 101 Krikshtshiukaichio street. Light came from a hole in the roof. Instead of desks and chairs children used boxes. When a German went by the children quickly hid under boxes. An underground passage was dug out for an emergency.

Initially children were not involved in the underground work for conspiracy reasons. Later it became clear that thanks to their boundless loyalty and bravery of many of them could be of great use to the common cause. It was vital to change the difficult ghetto life for children and fill it with substance, hope for liberation. Pioneer groups were formed with Sheina Vechter, Leiser Silber and Pesia Karnovskaia at the head where they systematically educated children and inspired then with ideas of struggle.

Frequently it was dangerous for able-bodied people to walk through the ghetto during day time. On such occasions contacts were kept with the help of pioneers who did a wonderful job. Names of Taibele Leibes, Haim Kulvianski, Elia Lurie, Mark Moses, Haim Suraskin, Ilia Bloch - masters of providing contacts and avoiding Germans, brave collectors of necessary for the organization means -will always remain in our memory. Children got medicine and means of communication badly needed by the partisans as if from nowhere.

When the organization needed some disguises the little ones provided shoulder straps, ribbons and Nazi badges for German uniforms. Often those children wanted to perform bigger tasks. They wanted to perform dangerous missions. Once during mass round-ups in the city when it was dangerous for a grown up to leave home the organization was to receive arms near the railway station, as pre-planned (from comrade Mustekis). Pioneer Benzion Leibes got through the ghetto fence to warn of a change in the plan. He fulfilled his mission to the letter. Though one admired even more children's ability to keep secrets...

The organization got hold of a photographic camera. With its help many scenes from the life in the ghetto, and German barbaric treatment of Jews were secretly shot on film. Executions of Jews were also shot - in the case of Mek and others. Carefully prepared material with necessary explanations was sent from the ghetto to the partisan headquarters in Rudnizky forest.

V. CLASS CONTRADICTIONS IN THE GHETTO

As it has been mentioned above "a council of elders" was set up in the ghetto from the very start. With time Jewish administration in the ghetto had developed and grown. Apart from "council of elders" there were also "Jewish police", "Jewish labour exchange", "accommodation bureau", "ghetto court of justice", other bodies with branches, managers, assistant managers, assistants, inspectors...

The public hanging of Nahum Meck (Mek) in the Kovno ghetto

Ghetto administration was responsible  for assigning people to do a particular job, temporary release from work, sending people to labour camps out of Kovno, etc. By bribing guards Jewish police were able to arrange for people to pass through the ghetto gates without a check of their clothes or belongings. Managers from the Jewish administration sometimes succeeded in hushing up cases of people braking "Jewish laws" thus preventing them from being passed on to a higher authority. In addition employees of ghetto administration could learn about German plans regarding ghetto itself and other information.

The majority of the Jewish ghetto administration were officials from bourgeois Lithuania: former industrialists, well-known businessmen, religious leaders - remnants of the former exploiters. These people often used the situation to their advantage. They stole food meant for ghetto residents and had an easy life - they drank, had good time, indulged in lewdness. While the masses toiled in forced labour under inhumane laws newly-appointed bosses were idle, they dressed in expensive clothes, arranged light or profitable work for their protégé. They sent poor workers to forced labour outside Kovno.

But there were also those people in the ghetto who believed that their work had to be in the interests of incarcerated Jews and refused to profit from their positions. One of them was chairman of the council of elders doctor Elkes who on numerous occasions acted courageously in his dealings with Germans : both during actions ("big action" and others), and also during the liquidation of the ghetto. However, people like Elkes did not understand that by carrying out invaders' orders they were also serving them.

Yet people like Elkes were exceptional. Unprincipled carrier-makers made up a majority in the ghetto administration, like, for example, Avram Golub - secretary of the council of elders who were leading a sumptuous life style at the expense of Jewish suffering...

Benia Lipzer, Gestapo agent, played a special role among ghetto bosses. Having started his working career as a repairman of electrical equipment in Kovno Gestapo Lipzer reached a position of power which allowed him to sign his orders to the ghetto residents as "SD representative" (Gestapo).

With his masters agreement Lipzer set up an office for himself where he received visitors on Sundays, resolved complaints against Jewish administration... He also observed the activities of the council of elders which Gestapo mistrusted as they saw it as a body representing Jewish interests and playing a dual role.

The military section of the organization made it their goal to use possibilities arising from ghetto administration in the interests of the resistance movement and not of a few chosen ones. It was decided that members of the organization should participate in the work of the Jewish administration.

The Kovno Ghetto Jewish Council during the war. Chairman Elkes is seated third from left

True it was not possible for them to become bosses but strongman Haim-Dovid Ratner was honoured with a white strip with a blue star of David and a Jewish policeman's cap as he met all the necessary requirements. Gradually other members of the organization found jobs in various Jewish bodies (police and labour exchange). Members of the organization who served in the police helped to smuggle weapons and to get over wire fencing, guarded bunkers where military training took place.

At night during curfew such policemen under a disguise accompanied members of the organization delivering weapons, setting up bunkers, warning off forthcoming mobilization for forced labour outside town.

Members of the organization working in the labour exchange arranged for their fellow-fighters to be sent to places where they could be useful for the organization. On the organization's instructions such comrades obtained work releases for the members, removed files of the underground fighters who left the ghetto. Thanks to this act those who had left were not missed and their families went un-persecuted...

Reliable individuals appeared among ghetto administration personnel who worked in the interests of the resistance movement. Such people performed various tasks: sent people to work in accordance with the organization's wishes, helped to pass the gates unchecked, created opportunities for smuggling weapons. Sometimes they rescued resistance fighters from guards. They supplied them with false papers from the administration, enabled them to leave for the forest and most importantly helped to pass through the ghetto gates: for both individuals and whole groups.

We consider it necessary to mention those administration employees who helped the organization most - these are Moishe Levin, Judl Zupovich, Aisik Grinberg, Aisik Srebnizky, Girsh Levin. Moishe Levin who for a long time headed the work of the ghetto police carried out such operations which were requested by the organization. He paid for it with his life later.

Through their friends in the ghetto administration a special sector of the organization received information which allowed the members to predict future German moves in the ghetto and not to be caught unprepared. It was possible to make a list of the ghetto residents working for the Gestapo and people working for other German organizations. They obtained valuable financial and economic information. The gathered information was passed to the city by the underground leaders. A special sector had also the task of safeguarding the organization from  betrayal and provocation. 

VI. DEFENCE PLAN FOR THE GHETTO

Deputy Police Chief Yehuda Zupovitz at his desk in the Kovno ghetto

More and more new groups joined the organization. The foundations widened. There were young people who without finding a way for joining it set up more or less sizeable groups on their own. The organization looked out for such groups and tried to involve them in their work, to raise their political awareness and prepare them for independent work.

Various bourgeois parties that had operated previously in the old Lithuania renewed their activity in the ghetto underground. For a long time their leadership concentrated on cultural work with the members. In practice they limited their work to making use of the ghetto administration in their own interests only.

It was not difficult to achieve as the majority of the administration either belonged to those parties or sympathized with them. Even the most radical of those groups believed that defending themselves or dying "honourably" was their contribution to resistance movement. The leadership of those groups, however, put real efforts into building bunkers in the ghetto where "their" people could get through the difficult times. They advocated keeping calm and order in the ghetto.

Ghetto resistance movement fought against such false and faulty attitudes and exposed them.The leadership of various groups influenced by events and under pressure from their members had to start solving daily issues - such as firstly, establishing contacts with antifascist movement whose influence was constantly rising and its active and organized struggle against the invaders was becoming more obvious and it inspired masses to joining the struggle.

Some leaders expressed their readiness to cooperate with the military branch of the anti-fascist organization. The Council for cooperation was set up with this aim. Later a military- technical committee - so-called "VTK" was set up, whose role was to oversee weapons acquisition. Unfortunately, the VTK activity did not last. The burden of this work fell solely on the military organization. Under its guardianship partisan membership increased thanks to people from other groups like Moishe Zalinger (a partisan leader who died heroically in a fight), Aba Diskant (he later join Komsomol), Jankel Kava, Faershtein and others.

Many people joined from group "SORG" ("CARE") which was headed by Moishe Milner, Shloime Broer and Ovsei Taraseisky. They saw their main aim the defence of the ghetto in case of a German attack or ghetto liquidation. Initially they did not aim at partisan work which is clear from the group's name; "self-defence organization".

Seeing their main task in organizing struggle outside ghetto -setting up partisan groups and taking them to the forest - the organization did not neglect their responsibility of defending the ghetto. In case of an attack on the ghetto the organization was preparing to resist courageously and to call on all residents not to give up their lives without a fight.

The committee prepared a detailed "military plan" for the ghetto defence. A part of it was found among saved organization's archives. "The military plan" analyzed possibility of an enemy's attack and pre-planned its reaction in various cases. There was a detailed plan for the ghetto residents mobilization. According to it the ghetto was divided into eight parts. Two gathering points were assigned to each. One was for rank and file residents and the second - secret one - for district's headquarters. The plan for mobilization also assigned responsibilities to named individuals who had to head those gathering points after an alarm was raised.

Sign posted by the Jewish Council of the Kovno ghetto, dated January 24, 1944, warning ghetto residents against approaching too close to the ghetto fence

As there was a comparative shortage of arms in the ghetto, a large number of knives and axes were planned for manufacturing which then had to be distributed. It was planned for the armed ghetto residents to start a fight with the main German forces to divert their attention and to create a chance for other Jews to break through the wire fencing. An important role had to be played by a group of people whose task was to set fire in many places and cause havoc. Fire was to be started with pre-prepared petrol bottles.

Another important task was attacking ghetto guards' office. This had a dual aim of undermining main German forces and acquiring more weapons for the uprising. The primary goal was holding off for as long as possible in the tightest corner of the ghetto: so-called "bottle neck" (by the cemetery in Krickshchiukaichio street) in order to link the two parts of the ghetto.

Next shake up of the ghetto was expected in the summer of 1943. Because of that the organization committee issued an order, a part of which is given below:

"Very confidential! Committee memo to all group leaders and secretaries! Dear group leaders and secretaries! Days important for our future are getting nearer. Fascist beasts threaten to annihilate us. They try to achieve this by various means. We received a signal from our Lithuanian friends who cooperate in our fight against fascist tyranny. The signal warns us to be prepared - in the near future we can expect excesses in the ghetto.

There are other factors why we should be vigilant:

  • A mobilization is planned in Lithuania whose aim is to murder part of the state's population.

  • An order was issued to increase control over Jews.

  • A large group of people was requested to be sent to forced

    labour under duress.

  • New registration of the ghetto residents in order to select able-bodied.

  • There are more frequent visits to the ghetto by senior German ranks.

 Critical situation at the front adds to it.

All above mentioned factors make us to take some precautions and to prepare for mobilization. We consider the following actions by the enemy as a possibility.

  • First possibility: In daytime when the able-bodied are away at work and only the old, the infirm and the children stay behind these groups may be taken out of the ghetto district small groups at a time or all together for extermination or killed in their own houses.

  • Second possibility: (without the exclusion of able-bodied) extermination of residents in individual ghetto districts on the spot or away from the ghetto.

  • Third possibility: "legal" extermination (demand for a certain number of ghetto residents through the Jewish administration).

  • Fourth possibility: Total ghetto annihilation.

To avert any possible enemy action all organized comrades are expected:

1) Be prepared for an open fight with the enemy.

2) Be especially precise and aware in carrying out their responsibilities.

3) To have at hand at all times steel weapons and home-made primitive weapons (axes, hammers, long-blade knives, crow-bars, etc.).

4) To build new bunkers and to finish old ones as soon as possible.

5) To strengthen links between cells and groups.

 

Comrades! Do not succumb to panic!

Evaluate the existing situation with a clear head and calmly.

Comrades! Be ready to resist the enemy.

Long live red partisans - people's army of avengers!

Long live the invincible Red Army!

 

Added by bgill

The Gelpernus Diary Resistance in the Kovno Ghetto

I. COMMUNICATION

Arie Sapirsztein - A Jewish Partisan operating in Lithuania

A successful messenger working in a town needed to know how to get through the ghetto fence and to disappear from the ranks of a guarded group of people. A rushed move could lead to death - it was necessary to be brave and to be able to make a quick decision in any situation.

It was necessary to communicate with various people, it was paramount to avoid attracting attention by a false move or cause suspicion due an error in conversations. Even that was not enough. The most important thing was not to look like a Jew and to act accordingly. The ghetto organization selected and trained a group of messengers who answered those requirements.

Riva Uriash was a blue-eyed blond. When she in elegant clothes with painted lips and eye-brows went out for a walk in the town nobody would have suspected she was a Jew (only moments ago she had shed her ghetto dress with yellow patches and came to the town seeking revenge). Mother wit often helped her. A German soldier followed her with his eyes - this slim, good-looking woman obviously attracted his attention. He followed her then stopped," May I join you, madam?" Uriash smiled: she could walk streets with less fear when accompanied by a German soldier... She even used him to obtain rare medicine necessary for her friends from the ghetto...

Thin, short, with light hare and blue eyes Monia Holzberg could easily be mistaken for a Lithuanian pupil. The organization charged him with searching for komsomol members who failed to evacuate and with whom he used to work in the school underground cell. His old friends - komsomol members - Mechis Zumeris and Vitautas Kaminskas were surprised and full of admiration: their Jewish friend was alive and dared to leave ghetto to perform a task.

They passed news to the ghetto organization and also issues of Lithuanian newspaper "Tiesa"("Truth") which were thrown out of airplanes. Kaminskas was especially courageous and determined. He bravely attached yellow patches to his clothes and got into the ghetto where he met Haim Yelin and promised everyone to help the underground workers in any way he could.

Brave lad Itzik Miklishansky escaped from the ghetto and spent a long time in villages Tabarishkes and Podiarishkes of Kovno district. Dressed as a village boy he worked for various farmers. They knew he was a Jew but his appearance and the way he worked were no different from other village boys and helped his new friends to hide him. Farmers liked him. His name was changed to sound Lithuanian - "Itzutis".

Miklishansky hid with them for a long time. But he learned about a ghetto partisan group. He forgot his own safety and decide to join people's avengers. Itzik returned to the ghetto and joined the organization. On his comrades' orders he set up back up groups with his friends in the village. Partisans used them later when they moved from the ghetto to the forests of southern Lithuania. He also became well-known for his work as a messenger and a weapon supplier.

Alta Boruchovich-Teper frequently met her friend, worker Maria Klossaite. Klossaite passes on geographic maps and information on the situation in the town and terror by the invaders. She said that eighty families from Shiaulu street were sent to a concentration camp in reprisal for some Soviet soldiers found hiding in that street. Klossaite was also persecuted but she continued coming to the ghetto fence and pass information to her friends.

Numerous attempts were made to establish links with party organizations in Lithuania. Haim Yelin and Dmitry Galperin left ghetto and for a while lived in the town with false Lithuanian papers. They established contacts with anti-fascists - doctor Ye.Kutorghene, printer Antanas Rutkauskas, with Irena Vladimirova, I.Jukniavichus and others.

All those people were ready to help the struggle. Doctor Kutorghene was especially kind to Haim Yelin. Yelin involved her in the work of the underground  antifascist movement: she set up safe houses in the town, distributed antifascist literature, later helped partisans to find sources of weapon supplies.

In his article "Meeting with Doctor K." Haim Yelin wrote about his conversation with Kutorghene. She expressed her desire to cooperate with underground fighters:

"...You gave me courage, you gave a new lease of life, encouraged me. I feel I am stronger when I am with you and do not want you to go even though we both risk our lives and lives of our family members... Every morning I can see out of my window Jews being taken to do forced labour.

(*There is a memorial plaque in her honour on the facade of 93,Kiastutis street where Ye. Kutorghene used to live.)

Every day I write down in my diary what happened to the Jews... Every week searches take place in my flat. I hide my notes. I write down everything... Death, fear, executions day and night and yet, in spite of it you all go into the town, live, bear up. How do you manage it?!"

This is how Haim Yelin answered this question:

"How do we manage it?.. Later from a historical perspective the meaning of our optimism will become clear to everyone..."

The above mentioned Dr.Kutorghene's diary became one of the documents of the invasion period. After the liberation those notes were widely used to disclose the crimes of Kovno fascists.

The very first days of the ghetto antifascist organization heralded a beginning of hard search, successes and failures. Yet friends were found outside ghetto too; bases were set up in the city without which the work of the organization could not achieve sufficient success. There were only individuals at the beginning.  Better opportunity presented itself when a contact was established with Kovno antifascist underground movement.

In March 1943, during a trip to the town one of ghetto messengers Jacov Davidov became close with tailor Vazlavos Tamoshaitis who lived at 192,Savanoriu avenue (*now Red Army avenue). The feeling of mutual trust made Tamoshaitis tell Davidov about the existence of Kovno antifascist organization, so called "Union of Struggle against fascism in Lithuania", from early 1943.

The organization began a wide programme of sabotage in factories and plants, set up partisan groups, carried out a broad explanatory work among population. On his part Davidov told Tamoshaitis of the existence of an underground organization in the ghetto which shared aims with Kovno one. After the two messengers had informed their leaders a decision was reached for the leadership to meet  in order to set out a plan for cooperation.

Haim Yelin left the ghetto for the town to participate in the banned May Day celebrations. The meeting took place in the flat of Mikas Kiaupa in Archivo street. It looked like other flats from the outside but inside there was an atmosphere of celebration; this was done in spite of German soldiers in their green coats walking the streets, when one could hear constant sound of soldier's boots coming from the outside.

The gathered sat round a radio and listened to a broadcast coming from Moscow. A sense of joy was shared by everyone when Supreme Commander-in- Chief's order was read out. Leader's words were directed to all Soviet people including those who temporarily lived under fascist aggressors' rule. This speech inspired Soviet people who lived in the occupied territory to join the struggle for liberation.

After the celebration a smaller meeting took place. Only then members were told that a new comrade known as Vladas (this was Haim Yelin) was a Jew. They were surprised to hear that Soviet patriots joined the fight against enemy even in the harshest conditions of the ghetto. The gathered exchanged their information. After confirming the fact that the aims of their organizations were the same the participants proposed cooperation. Representatives of both organizations would meet to discuss current issues not less than once a week.

Eliezer Zilber, a Jewish partisan from the Kovno ghetto

Vazlav Tamoshaitis was appointed a messenger for the city organization and Dmitry Gal'perin for the ghetto.Meetings took place by the river Neris not far from the ghetto fence. Tamoshaitis got there by boat. Gal'perin climbed through the wire fence.

Messengers exchanged information about acts of sabotage. Political literature - leaflets, banned periodicals "Kova" ("Struggle"), newspaper "Tiesa" ("Truth"), "Taribu Lietuva" ("Soviet Lithuania") arriving "by air" - were taken to the ghetto... Stamps and seals, linoleum strips for leaflet printing and also a small printing press which was stolen by member Moishe Museslis from Germans were given to the city organization.

Primary task for both organizations was to set up a partisan group near Kovno in the forests of Betigal district. In an arranged place they built several dug-outs and stocked up on weapons. It was decided that the core of the group would be made up of Soviet military prisoners of war who had escaped from camps: their further presence in the town was not possible. Several Lithuanians wanted by the gestapo left with the same group. Ghetto organization was active in supplying the group with necessary equipment. So bandoliers, belts, boots, greatcoats, underwear were stolen from German storehouses.

The created partisan group was named "Piargale" ("Victory"). First group carried out all ground work to prepare for a big group of partisans from the city and the ghetto. The second gruopwas getting ready to leave for the forest. Meanwhile a confrontation took place between group "Piargale" and police troops whose numbers were overwhelming. Group's commander "George" and his deputy died in the battle

(*it has now come to light that the commander was a former Soviet Army officer, son of sunny Georgia, Georgy Dvaladze).

The first unsuccessful attempt of setting up a partisan group near Kovno did not undermine determination of the underground leadership. Construction of a new base in the forests of Chiakishkskoi region strarted. But shortly after it became clear that small forests near Kovno could not be used as a safe cover for partisans.

The new base was also discovered and a search for activists from the city and ghetto underground groups began. Some comrades managed to escape, but Mikas Kiaupa, Vazlovas Tamoshaitis, Ona Vaivadiene and others fell into gestapo hands and died. Tamoshaitis' wife was taken to gestapo for interrogation. She was tortured - her fingers were broken, teeth were drilled - they demanded the names of Jews who worked with her. No amount of torture could make this courageous woman betray her friends.

A number of ghetto Jews from the organization who in a hasty move gave their real names during contacts with the city group were also searched for. They however managed to disappear in good time: the organization hid them in one of their bunkers.

2. BREAKOUT THROUGH THE GATE.

Summer of 1943 was a trying period for the ghetto organization. A failure in the city had disastrously affected its work: valuable contact with the outside world was lost. Once again people had to rely only on their own strength, to be more secretive and discreet about their work. But the importance of the work did not diminish. Underground fighters put all their efforts into finding contact with partisans from Lithuanian forests.

Scouting groups were sent in various directions with that aim in mind. People performing those tasks were facing constant danger. But in spite of that there was a sufficient number of people who wanted to work in those groups. They wanted to find a way for other group members to join partisan groups.

On August 5 a group of five very brave people left the ghetto. Two from that group were sector leaders. Israel Milshtein, young,strong metal worker, one of the first and active ghetto underground fighters, was chosen to head the group. He listened to the order to depart with great enthusiasm; he looked forward to leaving the ghetto and start acting for the organization. His mother knew about his work; she said farewell to her only son who was leaving for an extremely dangerous operation. The partisan's mother joined the work of the resistance movement: secret meetings took place in her tiny room.

Israel Milshtein headed the departure of the following ghetto residents:section leader Zalel Iofe, excellent messenger of the organization Jasha Davydov, brave cheerful lad Moshe Slaviansky whose keenness of wit caused a lot of damage to Germans, and calm but courageous member of the organization Meer Teitl'. These fighters had to look for partisans in the forests of eastern Lithuania. The group was armed with revolvers and hand grenades, had maps and compasses and fully prepared for a lengthy trip.

A special decree was issued informing people of the departure by first independent group of fighters. They were in high spirits and fighting mood. Time passed with no news coming from the departed group. Later the organization learned of the tragic death of the heroic five in Eastern Lithuania.

(* group leader Milshtein was posthumously awarded order of the Red Banner)

Aharon Vilenchuk, in Lithuania, with his wife Ada and their daughter

Three weeks later another group left in southerly direction with the same aim. Aron Vilenchuk headed the new group. Partisans carried out reconnaissance in the forests around Eznas.

At the beginning of September three reconnoitrers, Motl Lipkovich, Motl Stern and Zalmen Borodavka left the ghetto. The group left in the direction of Ukmiarge. The young reconnoitrers came upon some policemen and died between Ionava and Ukmiarge. At the same time individual members of the organization went reconnoitring. Hona Padison penetrated areas over Ionava. Girsh Gutman went scouting in the district of Garliava-Maurchiay.But all those brave attempts to establish contact with partisans failed to bring results. Courageous fighters die or disappear without a trace. Gestapo was active in the city. Underground fighters from the city organization languished in the gestapo basement. Germans put all their efforts into finding links to the organization.

In that charged atmosphere a number of ghetto prisoners doing forced labour sent out a word that a certain person appeared in the city asking questions about "writer Haim Yelin" with whom he wished to meet. The leadership of the organization interpreted the appearance of this man as a consequence of failures in the city.

Hence the original decision was to make no contact. But the mysterious man in his quest for contact with Haim Yelin had an unexpected meeting with ghetto organization member Jankel Levi. The partisan recognized him, they both were imprisoned in a concentration camp for political prisoners in bourgeois Lithuania. Even though the two had not met since, the organization decided to organize the meeting.

On September 14 Dmitry Gal'perin met the mysterious person in a small loft room on Kiastutis street. Haim Yelin and Moishe Muselis, ready to help with their weapons in case of a provocation, hid in a nearby secret room. The stranger gave his name as Juozas Tubialis, messenger for Vilno underground organization. According to him it was not his first visit to Kovno but he was unsuccessful in his attempts to establish a contact with the city organization. Finally, he was ordered to find a contact with former Soviet activists who by then were incarcerated in Kovno ghetto, primarily with Haim Yelin.

Both men were restrained in their conversation but little by little some mutual agreement was established. At the end of the conversation Tubialis who could afford to be more open gave a hug to Galperin and said the following:

-I have a feeling I am on the right track. I may be able to deserve your complete trust when I present some firm proof!

The next morning Tubialis was again in Kovno. From Vilno he brought a letter addressed to comrade Levi and signed with letter G. Through a number of signs and hints comrades recognized the author of the letter - Gesia Gleser, famous trusted underground worker of bourgeois Lithuania - "Albina". Tiabulis was able to add that the letter was written by an underground worker who was sent to work there. "Albina" demanded that an important member should come to Vilno to receive instructions and orders. The Committee of the ghetto organization sent Yelin to do this important task.

This trip to Vilno presented Haim Yelin with a  dangerous task: to avoid being recognized as a Jew by numerous German guards. In Vilno Yelin was put in touch with Albina. The next day they both left for a partisan base in Rudnizky forest. In partisan groups "For Motherland" and "Struggle" Haim Yelin attended theoretical and practical courses, participated in military operations: destruction of a German garrison in Varena, blowing up of a bridge across river Miarkis. Having received instructions for further work Haim Yelin returned to Kovno two weeks later.

The leadership of the organization were looking forward to his return. On his arrival the work was renewed with fresh enthusiasm: all efforts were directed at achieving one aim - to take as many fighters as possible to the partisans. Shortly after Yelin's return Albina arrived in the city to work as an instructor of the Southern committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party. She established contacts with the ghetto organization and expressed a wish to find out more about their underground work.

Haim Yelin met Albina in the city.Their next meeting had to take place in the ghetto. Albina successfully got through the ghetto gates after she had put a yellow star of David on her front and back and carried traditional Jewish luggage,a sack, and a tin of poor woman's food. During her long work as an underground activist she learned how to disguise herself. With the help of this skill she penetrated the ghetto, masterfully avoided being checked at the gates and brought her personal weapon - her "trusted companion" as she called her revolver.

 

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Continued

In the ghetto Albina met only members of the ghetto committee but even in this circle of friends she was remembered by some for her previous work. In bourgeois Lithuania Albina spent many years behind a prison wall and in a concentration camp. But even iron bars could not stop  her revolutionary work.

The following incident showed well her mothers wit:

while imprisoned in Ukmiarg she managed to hang a red flag over the prison wall to celebrate May 1. The flag was so cleverly hung up that the prison administration unable to take it off themselves were forced to call for help from fire fighters. Both in prison and at large Albina spent a lot of time educating young people in whom she had a special interest. Pavel Korchaghin was her favourite character, she always talked about him as a model for the young. Her favourite song was "Eaglet" - lyrical and at the same time arousing fighting spirit. Albina sang the song in all situations; sang it herself and taught the others.

No committee meeting of the ghetto organization used to be so invigorating before Albina joined them. They at last achieved what they wanted from day one, what cost them so many lives of their friends - they at last had the opportunity to fight  invaders under  direct party leadership.

In a solemn occasion the party messenger shook hands of committee members thanking them for setting the organization and their work. This took place in a safe one-room flat at 10 Vidurine street. In a sign of the party approval of the underground work Albina presented them with a revolver.A motion was passed unanimously to present the revolver to Haim Yelin.

Deba Debletow, a Jewish partisan from Vilna

As far as the future plan of action was concerned the organization committee was ordered to do party and mass work in the ghetto. The primary task for the ghetto organization was always taking partisans to the forests. This issue was discussed for a long time. A decision was reached which was supported by Albina - to set up a partisan base in the forests of southern Lithuania, more precisely in August forest, 160 kilometres from Kovno.

With Albina's help the organization succeeded in making a contact with Leiba Solomin ("Petrovich"), CC CP of Lithuania messenger, who was sent with that purpose to enemy's side. (* comrade Solomin was a secretary of Kovno district party committee.

He started very active partisan work in Ionava, Karmelava, Vandjiogal and other districts). This contact was highly appreciated by the underground workers who sent their representative, member of the organization committee Mary Lan to meet him at his Ionava base. Mary Lan fought her way through to get there and joined comrade Solomin's group of activists. However, the contact with Mary Lan was soon lost for a considerable length of time.

At the meetings when Albina was present, questions of komsomol activity, propaganda work, weapon acquisition,cooperation with the city organization were discussed. On Albina's request Moishe Levi, one of ghetto Jewish police inspectors was invited for a talk. Levi already then was using the ghetto administration to help the organization. Due to Albina's influence Moishe Levi increased his help to the organization.

After a week in the ghetto Albina went back to the city where doctor Kutorghene gave her cover. During her work in Kovno (until February 1944) Albina kept a close contact with the ghetto organization: regularly met its leadership, mainly with Haim Yelin, listened to their reports and gave orders for further work.

She used contacts and bases of the organization, organized transportation of weapons made in the ghetto to partisans. Via Albina ghetto partisans made a fresh contact with the underground party committee. (*Later Albina left for party work in Vilno. When she was traced by the gestapo Albina started  shooting , she kept the last bullet for herself.)

Fascists were continuously attacked at the front. After each new defeat fascists aired their anger on residents of the occupied territory: they increased their terror, took able-bodied people to Germany for forced labour, arrested people and executed them.

After their defeat in Stalingrad Germans planned to mark their two day mourning with new rivers of blood. In Kovno hundreds of people were captured and shot, a sizeable "action" against half-Jews (children of mixed marriages) was carried out, as well as against non-Jews married to Jews. 60 families were taken in black cars by brutal fascists to the 9th fort... When Lithuania found itself nearer the front line the regime in the ghetto and the city became even harsher.

Vilno ghetto was already eliminated. From October 1, 1943 Kovno ghetto was formally considered to be eliminated as well. The ghetto was turned into a concentration camp and in all official documents referred to as "Kovno concentration camp" thus passing from the control of the gestapo into the control of the SS. This change in its status lead to the changes in the lives of Jews. The ghetto territory was considerably down sized, the regime became stricter, they began taking people to labour camps situated in Kovno suburbs of Aleksotas and Shanchiai, in small towns of Kedainiai, Kaishiadoris and other places.

Women and men were separated and put into different quarters. Those who were incarcerated in the labour camps were dressed in stripy clothes and put into barracks. Oberstumbanfuerer SS Goeke - "concentration camps" expert- was put in charge of the ghetto. He received his orders directly from the concentration camp headquarters in Oranienbaum. Before his arrival in Kovno, Goeke headed concentration camps and ghettos in Netherlands, Belgium, Poland...

After settling in Kovno, Goeke took the command of all Jewish camps in Lithuania - concentration camps "Kailis" and "GKP" which survived Vilno ghetto elimination, Shiauliai ghetto and others. Goeke's residence and that of his headquarters were set in a specially fenced off and guarded area of Kovno ghetto. His assistants - sturmfuerer Rink, unterscharfuere Pilgrem, Fiviger and others were always in the ghetto, studying the situation.

Due to the existing situation the underground fighters decided that groups prepared by the organization for departure to the forest should do it as soon as possible. Even though there was no possibility to arm them properly and  they would have to make their way without guides.

Four days after Albina's departure, a group of twenty four men headed by communist Leiser Zodikov left for southern Lithuania on a previously planned journey. With the help of trusted people from the ghetto administration they managed to obtain three carriages and false documents according to which it was a group of Jewish workers being taken for out-of-town work. And so the group left the ghetto.

Twenty kilometres from Kovno the group began their march. But the partisans found themselves in a German trap. The group dispersed. Several days later many of the pursued had to return to the ghetto. But some managed to continue their journey; doctor and communist Shloime Perelshtein and his friends moved  on. They looked for a possibility to get to a partisan base but died.

A few days later a terrible event occurred in the ghetto: on October 26 Germans captured over three thousand people. They were sent to concentration camps in Estonia. The organization succeeded in hiding its members and sympathizers. It was expected that after the first group more groups would be sent  to concentration camps.

The organization was faced with a task of sending large groups to the forests. In the next few days three to four groups left the ghetto daily. To achieve that various ways of leaving the ghetto were used: the ghetto gates, "raisferschlus" in the fence, bribing of the guards, escaping from work places. Each group had several pre-planned routes. About one hundred fighters had left the ghetto by October 31. More partisans were waiting for the order to leave.

On their way to the forest the partisans met police groups. This meeting lead to losses of human lives. Kadish Goldfarb died when crossing the guarded bridge at the river Esia. Commander of the first group Meer Salinger, Berl Levin and others died in a fight with Germans on the road from Kovno to Mariampole (* now Kapsukas). German guards pursued Jews, organized round-ups, systematically patrolled roads. Only a small group of partisans  managed to break through. Group commander Nechemia Endlin and his friend Shmuel Martkovsky reached their place of destination near lake Brujhana after overcoming all difficulties.

Over forty partisans fell into fascists' hands. But the Germans failed to succeed in their various attempts to extract any information from them about the organization and their departures for the forest. We must mention the names of our friends tortured to death by the Germans: Moishe Rojansky, komsomol member Itzik Kirkel, former director of publishing house "Spartak" Bonia Meskup, metal worker Haim Viruzky, Velvel Shuster, Girsh Gen, Leo Seeman, Ruvim Zweig, Iosel Hodos and others.

Messengers brought information about traps on the roads and the tragic deaths of the departed to the ghetto. The organization had to suspend temporarily further departures in that direction. However,the leadership did not lose its spirits; their conviction that they would overcome all difficulties did not diminish. The special order to all organization members read, "We have no right to feel down, to be afraid of difficulties and losses. We must find new ways and we will achieve this. Our strong bolshevik willpower and resoluteness to fight our enemy openly will lead us to  success."

3. BASES

Partisans based in the Rudniki forest

The organization began setting up bases near Kovno simultaneously with its marches to August forests. They planned for some of their fighters to gather in bases after getting through the ghetto fence in order to form groups for joining partisans.In those bases they planned to have weapons and other means of armed struggle for partisans. Main bases were to be set up near Murava, Zapishkis, Garliava.

Soon after Albina's arrival from a partisan base in Rudnizky forest (30 km south of Vilno) paratrooper Konstantin Radionov arrived in Kovno to head a partisan group. At the partisan base Haim Yelin arranged to meet Radionov in Kovno suburb of Murava where Radionov began to organize an underground group to fight the invaders. Activists of this underground organization Romas Kulvinskas ("Romka"), Foma Terent'iev and others made a contact with the ghetto resistance movement, and Radionov with a few of his friends returned to Rudnizky forest to set up  partisan group "Death to Invaders".

People who stayed in Murava built dug-outs in the forest between Murava and Vaistarishkes to keep weapons and give shelter to those who needed it. Though the ghetto organization was mainly concerned with sending the people to the forests of southern Lithuania the members also actively participated in setting up bases near Murava. Many underground fighters including Haim Yelin worked hard there.

Murava became the main base for weapon gathering operations in the forests around Kaishiadoris. One of such operations took place from 14 to 15 of November when the house of Kaishiadoris forester, German agent terrorising local population, was attacked. Ghetto organization members Elia Olkin, Leiser Klebansky, Bernstein and others took part in this operation. In one night they had covered 30 kilometres.

Having overcome forests and marshes people's avengers surrounded the forester's house and cut telephone wires. This fascists' lackey and his stooges got their just deserts, while the partisans got hold of a lot of weapons and ammunition. The fighters returned to Murava before dawn bringing with them rifles, bullets, pistols, radios. They hid it all in their dug-out. Later more weapons and other things required by the partisans were delivered from the ghetto.

The organisation attempted to set up a base near Zapishkis, 16 kilometres from Kovno. A group of ghetto fighters, among them Jankel Levi, Itzik Boruchovich, Jankel Ratner, Jankel Holzman and others whose task it was to build new dug-outs left for Zapishkis forest. But when the first dug-out was almost finished they were found out by Germans. The partisans managed to make their escape in time. However, Germans became more vigilant in the area surrounding  Zapishkis and the organization was forced to give up the idea of setting up a base there.

At this time the leadership of the organization learned of a partisan group operating in Eznas area. Members of the ghetto organization - Moishe Pushkarnik and Jankel Birger, who were born there and knew the area well, left to do reconnaissance at the end of October.Their work lasted a month. With the help of some Jews hiding in that forest they managed to locate the partisans. From time to time partisan groups from Rudnizky forest under Juozas Mikuliavichus' leadership came here.

The groups though did not stay there for any length of time. Pushkarnik and Birger succeeded in establishing a contact with partisans but they soon had to leave the area as they were pursued by police. On their return to the ghetto the scouts made a detailed report about their work and the gathered information. But because by then a direct line was established via Albina to the partisan leadership in Rudnizky forest, the organization decided against continuing their work in Eznas.

 

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The Gelpernus Diary~Part V "Death to the invaders"

 

4.TOWARDS THE GROUP .

The organization had new hopes after it had established direct link to the secretary of Southern Underground Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party and the head of the partisan movement in Vilno, Trakai, Alitus and other districts, comrade Heinrich Zimanas (underground alias "Jurgis") who was an experienced party activist and fighter for the Soviet rule in Lithuania. Comrade Ziman gave orders to send partisans from Kovno ghetto to Rudnizky forest and namely to the new group "Death to Invaders".

David Teper

After a failure in August forest, people in the ghetto became even more convinced they needed an experienced guide to overcome difficulties of a long trip. Three partisans were sent from group "Death to Invaders" in the middle of November with varied tasks. On their return journey they were to bring with them a group of fighters from Kovno ghetto.

Having overcome many obstacles members of Kovno ghetto organization prepared for departure with the partisans gathered at a designated place in Murava. On November 23 the first group headed by communist Elia Olkin and Moishe Upnizky left Kovno for Rudnizky forest. Among their belongings there was a radio.

Their journey to the base was hard and long. The enemy was guarding all roads. In every small settlement there was a German garrison. The partisans lost a number of their friends. Commanding officer was killed, wounded Upnizky was returned to the ghetto. Only a small group of partisans reached the base.

The first march to Rudnizky forest taught partisans some good lessons. It became obvious that only a few individuals would be able to break through the blockade around Kovno and then march for another 150-160 kilometres on foot. For group passage one needed a different route. It was suggested to make the first and most dangerous part of the journey by a vehicle. It would have also allowed a bigger group of up to 30-35 men to be sent simultaneously which would be greeted by the younger generation who wished to join partisans.

With a great deal of effort a reliable lorry driver was found who had agreed to take the Jews (who also happened to be partisans!) The sending off was planned for December 12. The fighters gathered at a designated place and at the agreed hour. Guides were waiting at their designated place in the town. But the driver failed to get out of the garage of the German office which owned the vehicle.

The fighters ready for departure had to change their combat gear for normal clothes of the ghetto residents, to hide their weapons and to avoid other residents. The next day the whole story was repeated. Only on December 14 the lorry appeared at the ghetto gates. The driver waited for a column of German vehicles to enter the ghetto,joined them and then drove to a side street in the ghetto.

The selected fighters gathered in safe flats. Messengers rounded all the fighters for the departure. The partisans quickly took up their places in the lorry. Thanks to the help of some members of the ghetto administration documents were obtained which suggested that the group were sent to work out of town. In case of a check up at the gates two fighters, Zundl Shtrom and Leiser Zodikov were dressed in German uniform. At approximately 7 pm the lorry successfully passed through the ghetto gates and the journey began. 8 kilometres out of Kovno the group expected to meet some guides but there was no one there.

They waited for over an hour. There were many German vehicles on the road. The situation was getting serious. Suddenly Haim Yelin who was accompanying the group noticed some Germans with a prisoner. It was dark. Yelin ordered the driver to direct headlights at that group, jumped off the lorry and approached the group.

As it turned out they were the guides who in disguise managed to fool  German patrol-men and to stay on the road for a long time. Three of the guides got into the lorry and it took the group to a place called Onushkis (110 kilometres from Kovno). The lorry returned to the city by morning time. The most dangerous part of the journey, railway line Vilno-Grodno guarded by fascists, the partisans made on foot and then successfully covered remaining 40 kilometres to the base of the group "Death to Invaders".

5. TO PARTISANS BY VEHICLES.

This successful attempt to get to the bases by a vehicle convinced the leadership that they should act in the same manner in the future. All activists began their quest for finding new vehicles and organizing further trips. Military instructors Haim-Dovid Ratner, Peisach Shater, Saul Finkel explained routes to the designated fighters, gave them last advice, checked and then gave arms, maps drafted by Moishe Aronson and Itzhack Minovsky, compasses made by Tevie Pilovnik. Doctor Rosa Golach and pharmacist Hasia Neviajskaia prepared and gave   the partisans individual packets and medication and bandages for  partisans' first aid box.

The majority of the group had worn out clothes and shoes on with wooden soles. Before their departure they received good leather boots, clothes and underwear. This became possible thanks to the work done by the equipment sector which was headed by two people: experienced Alta Teper and energetic and dependable Meer Grinberg. The latter put all his energy into the task of obtaining goods necessary for the future partisans. He also performed other tasks when it was required of him.

Avraham Panausow -Partisan

Leather and cloth were acquired by various means: from German storehouses, workshops, factories. On delivery necessary clothes was made from this. Every member of the organization tried hard to do all he/she could. Motl Goldschmidt, an excellent brush maker, found really good material which he used for making brushes, then sold ready made brushes and gave the money to the organization. Seamstress Hana Grinberg did the same with her slippers.

German greatcoats and other articles of clothing were delivered to ghetto workshops for repairs. Sara Friedman, Zilia Visgedriiskaia and others made jackets, trousers, gloves for the partisans. Sheina Levi organized making camouflage coats.

Ghetto workshops were a main source for obtaining footwear, clothes, bandoliers, holsters and other leather goods for the partisans. In daytime members of the organization brought out various materials while hiding it under their clothes. People were thoroughly checked every time they left a workshop. During those checks representatives of the Jewish administration were present. Among them there were organization sympathizers. On hearing a special password they helped the underground fighters to get through the check point...

Sending groups to partisans required money to buy weapons, to  pay for the transport. Money was gathered from membership dues from underground fighters, people from "the periphery" , by  selling  personal belongings of those who left to join partisans. Judel Visgardiisky, Hana Bravo, Gena Messia were especially active in gathering funds.

The preferred method of leaving the ghetto in large groups was through the ghetto gates. It was done by passing the leaving groups for workers. Those members of the organization who worked in the ghetto police informed the rest of who was guarding the gates. Among those guards there were such men who lost their vigilance when a large group of people returned to the ghetto. Members of the organization used the opportunity: they caused even more havoc at the gates and at the same time gave false papers for signing which allowed new groups to leave the ghetto. Friends from the ghetto police - Haim-Dovid Ratner, Itzik Shater - smuggled weapons in bags intended for personal belongings.

After each group departure the organization had to arrange "removal" of names of the departed from the files of various ghetto administrative offices. It was vital to avoid the persons being put on the escapee list and to stop the police from victimizing their relatives and friends.

Committee members D.Galperin and Shimen Ratner were personally responsible for preparation and sending off. Comrades David Martkovsky, Meer Yelin, Moishe Muselis , Wolf Shavlan and others carried out special tasks connected with sending partisan groups.

Haim Yelin and Jankel Levi were responsible for the contacts with the city party organization during periods of transportation. They had to overcome serious difficulties. City underground fighters Trofimov and Paulavichus and ghetto messengers Mendl Moshkovich and Itzik Miklishansky were responsible for organizing transport for the groups.

The organization managed to send all in all eight armed groups to Rudnizky forest by various means. All these groups succeeded in reaching partisan bases without losses. The idea to use transport proved to be a winner.

Long moustache grown by those getting ready to leave for the forest in order to change their appearance and short jackets became a symbol of a partisan in the ghetto. It stopped being a secret for most ghetto residents that an opportunity existed which allowed them to join partisans. The hearts were filled with joy, hard days were made to appear easier thanks to the first signs of hope. In the ghetto a song was written addressed to the freedom fighters.

( The author of the song was young girl Jashunskaia, who later joined partisan group "Forward").

Disappearance of hundreds of people from the ghetto could not have passed unnoticed. Friends and relatives, fellow workers, administration officers became aware. When the groups were leaving the ghetto outsiders were present at the gates. In spite of the fact that people saying goodbye were very careful about it and were supportive of the work done by the avengers, understandably the organization increased its strict conspiracy to safeguard the organization from traitors and provocateurs.

Kitel raged in the ghetto. He had already finished his bloody activity in Vilno - Vilno ghetto had been exterminated - and the Gestapo sent him to Kovno to make use of his "expertise in Jewish matters". Kitel did not hide his conviction that every ghetto had its own underground group. Thus, he issued an order to his assistants to search for such a group in Kovno ghetto. With this aim he tried to recruit help from ghetto Jews.

A certain Fain who shamelessly sold food at the black market was arrested during one of his "business deals" in the city. After a few days in gestapo he reappeared in the ghetto. The organization treated such people with suspicion. They began following Fain. The special sector of the organization was soon in the possession of facts confirming that the questionable luck of being returned to the ghetto was achieved by becoming a fascist agent.

During his visits to  the ghetto Kitel called Fain several times. Judel Zupovich who served in the ghetto Jewish police and had contacts with the organization heard Kitel ask Fain about people who kept gold, weapons and other banned things in the ghetto. Serious accusations were confirmed by the following incident: once, unnoticed in the darkness, he crept into a lorry taking a group to the forest.

While the lorry was moving he jumped off it - people in the lorry recognized him. The special court of the organization passed a guilty verdict and sentenced him to death. After the sentence was carried out (in a bunker where he was brought on false pretences) they found a piece of paper with Kitel's telephone number in the traitor's pocket.

Kitel searched tirelessly for Fain in the ghetto.  Kitel demanded from the then chief of  ghetto Jewish police Moishe Levin , who served the organization, to tell him into which well his (i.e. Kitel's) Fain was thrown... After this phrase many in the ghetto were expecting serious acts of repression. But the repressions came much later and in unusual form. The case of Fain was a warning - every traitor would be punished!

While groups were sent to the forest secrecy in the organization became relaxed. Leading figures were present at instruction sessions for those who were leaving, at weapons and clothes hand-outs, during passing through the gates.

People for those groups were drawn from various units. Not only members of the organization joined partisan groups. The movement was reinforced by new people. Ghetto youth enthusiastically searched out possibilities to join partisans. The "periphery" of the organization had also widened. The organizational foundation thus somewhat changed.

The Ninth Fort at Kovno

Kuanas/Kovno, Lithuania. Jews inside the Ninth Fort,
immediately after their arrival there and prior to their execution.

Under those circumstances a reorganization took place - membership was reviewed, cells were restaffed and new secrecy rules were introduced. "Practical instructions to members' activities" were issued. New people were involved in the work of the leadership after the departure of the old members.

So the committee membership changed several times before it became more or less stable for any considerable period of time: Haim Yelin -secretary and member responsible for communication and special issues; Dmitry Galperin - member responsible for agitation and propaganda work ( he also was Yelin's deputy performing Yelin's work when the latter was out of the ghetto liaising with the city organization);

Shimon Ratner - member responsible for military training and evacuation; Liusia Zimmerman was responsible for the membership and the organizational work; Meer Goldberg - responsible for financial and social issues; David Martkovsky was responsible for the work of the assistance sector.

6. 9th FORT

Starting from the beginning of November 1943 long tongues of flame could be seen from the ghetto every evening. North-westerly wind brought smell of burnt meat and bones...

Soon it became known that in the 9th fort they were burning bodies of people killed during the occupation. After Stalingrad Germans had a fear of retribution. They felt: the time was coming when they would have to answer for their bloody crimes. Wishing to sweep away any traces of their evil deeds fascists made a decision to open up mass graves and burn the remains. Kovno 9th fort had to be also "cleaned".

But the mystery of the 9th fort had long stopped being a mystery. Numerous living witnesses of German crimes were in and out of the ghetto. Farmers' houses were situated in a few hundred yards from the place of mass killings. Local residents saw with their own eyes how the doomed people were ordered to undress down to their underwear, made to approach pits into which they were thrown alive and then shot. Heart-rending scenes took place there. The cries of the poor souls could be heard everywhere.

The executioners hit people with the butts of their rifles, stabbed little children with their bayonets and then threw them into the pits. Farmer Vinzas Baniavichus told how one day a German covered in blood came running into his yard. His face was wounded, there were bites on his neck - results of an attack by one of the condemned Jews...

Only one man managed to escape alive during the times mass killings took place in the 9th fort. It was 11-year-old Itzik Bloch.  He came running to the ghetto and told how he and his parents with many other Jews were taken from the ghetto to the 9th fort. There they were divided into small groups. They were made to get fully undressed in the snow, in the frost. They were taken to the pits. His mother started pushing him away," Run, run!"; he obeyed his mother and started running.

He was shot at but a bullet only slightly injured him. He fell into some bushes. When it became dark and the sounds of bullets and terrible cries died out  the boy ran away from the terrifying place. In only his underwear, all covered in blood he managed to get through  barbed wire into the ghetto.

Aron Gafanovich and Ruvim Gorgel who avoided being sent to the ghetto and happened to be in the vicinity of the 9th fort had a chance to watch one of the mass actions. Later, however, even more reliable witnesses came up who both lit up flames of bonfires in the 9th fort and shed light on what had happened there for the rest of the world. To carry out the obliteration of mass graves  72 people, mainly Jews from the ghetto and prisoners of war, were brought to the 9th fort.

The opening of the pits and burning of the remains proceeded in the following manner: the top soil was removed by excavators. A group of prisoners cleaned bodies of stuck soil. The next group removed bodies from the pits. There the bodies were inspected. A specially designated person (*doctor Neimionov) pulled out gold teeth. Pockets were also inspected. The next turn was for the carriers - they took the bodies to the bonfires. When the pit was emptied the Germans checked it and ordered to fill it up.

The bonfires for body burning was arranged in the following manner: logs were put in a 4H4 metres square. Underneath a channel was dug up which was filled with inflammable liquid. A layer of bodies was put onto a layer of logs, then another layer of bodies and another layer of logs. 300 (*according to more correct information - 250) bodies, a "norm" for each bonfire,were put together. To light up the fire several charges were put into the channel and then exploded. A bonfire would burn for 24 hours. The fire was seen several kilometres from the place and its smoke stretched out a long way.

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External view of the solitary confinement cells at the Ninth Fort in Kovno

In order to cover up their crimes in the 9th fort gestapo sent there a number of people who made the journey to the August forest but were captured by the police. Brought up in the spirit of struggle the members of the ghetto organization together with prisoners of war soon started forming a resistance group in the terrible conditions of the 9th fort.Comrades Moishe Simelevich and Alter Faitlson joined its leadership. Under Aron Vilenchuk and Tev'e Pilovnik's leadership a komsomol group began its actions. People put to burn bodies were eager to get out to tell the rest of the world about the atrocity. Their aim was an obvious one - to organize a mass break-out and to try and join a partisan group.

At the beginning it seemed to be impossible. Every morning people were put in irons in pairs before they left for work. The chains were removed only late in the evening in the basement cells of the old fortress, behind iron bars. There was no work in the fog. Quite by chance they found an old filled up well in one of the cells. A ray of hope appeared. In the night they began digging  a tunnel in the well leading to the fortress exit. But after a short time they came against a stone wall. It was impossible to get through that obstacle.

(*in fact, the prisoners could only clean out the well , but failed to get through its walls)

The prisoners started looking for other ways of escaping. After a long search it was established that at the end of the corridor there was an iron staircase leading to a dark passage. At the end of the passage there was an iron door after which there was a long tunnel full of logs.The tunnel to the northern outer wall of the fort.

However, further problems arose out of that: 1) the need to create a possibility to leave cells which were locked from the outside; 2) getting through the iron door; 3) removal of logs from the tunnel; 4) making a wooden ladder to overcome six-metre walls of the fort.

At first the problems appeared to be difficult to solve, but this did not undermine people's determination and they started the work.

Metal workers Pinhes Krakinovsky, Alter Faitlzon, Israel Ghitlin were often left in the casemate for work. Even in their shackles they could have some freedom of movement. The prisoners found keys to the cells and created an opportunity for one of them to get through a cell into the corridor.

With some drills they made a hole in the iron doors; in a dark and full of rubbish tunnel it was possible to do it without Germans' knowledge. In the evening after returning from "work" until "retreat" (at 8 pm) it was possible to drill more holes. In order to muffle the sound of drilling  the prisoners always staged some sort of entertainment in their cells: singing, dancing, joking. The Germans did not interfere. On the contrary, they were pleased that the team was in high spirits, worked hard and increased daily "norms"...

(*in fact, the hole in the iron door was drilled by Krakinovsky in daytime, who faked some illness: two prisoners had a right to be unwell and stay behind. The elder of the group decided who was going to be "unwell" - this was one of the break-out organizers Podolsky-Hailovsky).

And so the hole in the door was ready. Now it was the turn to clear the tunnel from the logs. They told Germans that in order to increase their turnover they needed dry logs - this is how they got the permission to take logs out of the tunnel. Shakhov who was working in the fort workshop made wooden parts (steps)for the cord ladder. Having put those parts together they made a ladder of the required length.

One of the killing sites at the Ninth Fort in Kovno

On Saturday, December 25 1943 at about 10 pm they began preparing for a mass break-out. The prisoners left their cells in strict order and complete silence. To muffle the sound of steps the iron stairs were covered with blankets and other cloth. Two of the leaders were in charge of people getting through the hole in the iron door. They held knives in their hands which were found on the dead bodies (*incorrect). As it was expected the guards were having a drinking party that night.

The inevitable noise created by the escapees was drown in the wild cries of the drinking guards (*in fact, it was dead calm that night!). 15 metres separated the iron door from the entrance to the underground tunnel where there used to be logs. This distance had to be covered with great care: there was some snow on the ground and the guard on the watchtower could notice the shadows.

Four people dressed in white clothes held a large white blanket made from several sheets. Under that cover groups of eight prisoners (*sixteen) made this most dangerous part of their journey. When they left the tunnel the fugitives found themselves at the edge of a deep ditch and having gathered all their strength they made their way down. The inner side of the ditch they had climbed with the help of the home?made cord ladder. The last part of the obstacle in their way they had cut through with wire-cutters. The prisoners were at large...

The fugitives dispersed. One group went to the ghetto, among them 14 people from the ghetto organization and Soviet Army captain I.Vasilenko. With the help from the organization the fugitives were soon sent to a partisan base.

Only by the morning the fort administration realized that prisoners had escaped. All Kovno police, SS, gestapo and some army units were put into a search party. All territory around the 9th fort and Kovno suburb of Villiampole where the ghetto was situated were thoroughly searched. The Germans threatened the ghetto with extermination unless they handed back the escapees from the 9th fort. Only after a group of fugitives had been recaptured in different parts of the city and its suburbs gestapo people believed that none of the fugitives had managed to return to the guarded ghetto.

The organization hid those fugitives of the 9th fort who managed to get back into the ghetto in its bunkers. Medical help was given to those who needed it.Alta Teper put a bandage on metal-worker Pinhes Krakinovsky: because of the inhumane effort put into drilling holes he lost skin on his fingers...(* this seriousness of his condition has been exaggerated).

There was a terrible smell coming from the former "body-burners"' clothes. There was a danger of gestapo dogs finding the hide-out by that smell; "fort uniforms" were immediately burnt and the fugitives got new clothes after a wash.

There was urgency about preparing fugitives from the 9th fort for departure to the partisans. On January 6, 1944 together with their friends from the organization the fugitives set out for the forest by lorry. When they were passing through Onushkis, 100 kilometres from Kovno, local police tried to stop them. Thanks to Yelin's experience and sense of direction (he accompanied the vehicle) they succeeded in getting through a police cordon and hide in the night darkness before the police could take any action. The group successfully arrived at the partisan base.

Among documents taken by the group to the forest was a copy of the act describing German atrocities in the 9th fort. This act was compiled by the fugitives during their stay in the ghetto. The second copy was kept in the ghetto archives. Below is the text of the act:

(* the text is given from the original without any changes)

A c t

Kovno. December 26, 1943

We, the undersigned, prisoners from the 9th fort, Kovno having escaped the imprisonment on the night of December 26 of this year, including Vesel'nizky I.L.(Vasilenko I.L.), Diskant A. (Vilensky), Faitelson A., Gelbtrunk M., Pilovnik A., Gempel B., Eidelson S., Maneisky A., wrote the following act:

1.In the period between 1941 and 1942 the territory of the fort was used by the German command to perform mass killings by shooting.

2. To hide this fact the German command represented by Kovno gestapo leadership organized  opening up of the pits where bodies were buried and began burning of the remains.

.To do this work gestapo brought 72 people to the 9th fort by end October- beginning of November of this year, among them:

            34 prisoners of war (Jews)

            14 partisans

             3 Russians

             4 women

            17 ghetto Jews.

Jews assembled to be murdered at the Ninth Fort

4.To avoid discovery of the nature of that work by the local population or other people the work was strictly organized; so notices were displayed in the radius of 2 kilometres forbidding approach at the threat of death.

The place of work covering 2-3 hectares was surrounded by material. People working there were not allowed to leave the territory of the fort (one Jew who fell ill with appendicitis was shot dead on November 5th, and 7 prisoners of war, old aged and invalids, were shot on November 13 can serve as a proof ); thus, only 64 people remained at work.

5. During the work, i.e. from November 1 to December 25 of this year (the day of escape) 6.5 pits of 100-120 metres long, 3 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep were opened; 12,000 bodies of men, women and children were brought out. Those bodies were put into piles of 300 bodies in each and burnt. The remains of the fires (coal and bones) were turned into powder and mixed with soil to avoid leaving any traces.

6.To stop people from escaping during the work they were shackled in pairs. There was a watchtower with a submachine-gun, the guards had machineguns and pistols.

7. Among 12,000 burnt bodies there were 5,000 Jews brought from Vienna, Frankfurt-am-Mein, Dusseldorf, Hamburg and other German cities, small number of Jewish prisoners of war - 120-150 people some of whom were shot while others poisoned and about 7,000 Jews from Kovno. German Jews were shot and buried in clothes, others were undressed before being killed.

8.The position of the bodies in the pits suggested that people were brought there in groups, made to lie down in the pits, then they were shot at, as result of this action many were buried alive with or without wounds. The fact that many bodies were found without bullet wounds at all proves the point.

9. By the day of the escape 7.5 pits were left untouched. Gestapo leaders hoped to finish work by February 1, 1944.

10.Judging by the fact that in the first 6.5 pits 12,000 bodies were uncovered while 7.5 pits remained untouched we could draw a conclusion that 25-30 thousand victims of German atrocities inflicted on civilian population were buried in the 9th fort. The number 25-30 thousand victims was also mentioned in the conversations of the gestapo people overseeing the work.

Signatures

(After the liberation of Kovno the State Commission examining facts of the German crimes established that in 1941-1944 over 70 thousand people were killed in the 9th fort. (*It is believed now that around 80,000 people died there.)

The fugitives from the 9th fort brought documents and some evidence with them: gold crowns which were extracted from the mouths of dead people, two drawings made by Soviet Jewish prisoner of war, Anatoly Gran. (*In a number of documents and memoirs about the 9th fort the surname of this person was mistakenly given as Garnik.) One of the drawings depicted two prisoners carrying a stretcher with bodies to the bonfire under guard. The second one was a sketch of a cartoon drawn by Gran on the door of his cell before the escape - it depicted a German being given a V-sign... (* The collection of crowns and both drawings can be found in the Lithuanian Museum of the Revolution in Vilnius.)

Minutes of the komsomol meetings taken place in the 9th fort were also brought to the ghetto. One of the points talked about a proposal to give comrade Aba Discant komsomol membership for his fighting spirit, serious attitude and comradeship shown in the  severest circumstances.

 

Added by bgill

The Gelpernus Diary~"Overcoming Fences"

1 .WITH ONE'S OWN GUNS AND GUIDES

Polowitchus Cleopas Juazos- executed at the Ninth Fort for helping Jews escape from Kovno

When the fugitives from the 9th fort were being sent from the ghetto to join the partisans no news were available about the groups which had left previously. Nobody knew if they had succeeded in getting to their destination and joining the partisans.

The first greeting from them was received through a trusted man in the city: he received a double-meaning letter. Several days later, on January 11,1944 Nechemiia Endlin, Sara Rubinson, Boruch Lopiansky and Zundl Strom returned to the ghetto from a partisan base. They were sent as guides for the new groups. From that day on former ghetto organization members accompanied all groups leaving for the forest. Nechemiia Endlin gained his popularity as a guide in a short period of time.

He accompanied several groups to the partisans; each group contained more than thirty people. In January-February 1944 groups heading for Rudnizky forest were accompanied by Boruch Lopiansky, Israel Goldblat, Shmuel Martkovsky, Sara Rubinson, Zundl Strom, Hona Kogan and others.

The guides established a reliable link between partisan groups and the ghetto. Apart from the ghetto groups the guides also took groups of underground fighters from the city.

Shmuel Martkovsky and Israel Joels brought Albina to Rudnizky forest. Shortly after Haim Yelin went there with Kovno underground party committee member Grigory Krugliakov. They needed to discuss problems of sending armed fighters from Kovno to Rudnizky forest. Nechemiia Endlin accompanied them on the way back. Valia Pushaite (Anele Zinkiavichute) responsible for the work of city komsomol members came with them 

At the partisan base Haim Yelin was confirmed as a member of Kovno underground party committee. This lead to closer cooperation between city and ghetto organizations. City underground fighters helped the ghetto organization as much as they could. Piotr Trofimov set up a secret weapon depot at 53,Jonavas street (* now Itzik Meskup street), where ghetto fighters hid ammunition. At comrade "Olia"'s  near the ghetto (16,Puodjiu street) and at 8,Italiios street (*now Mazkiavichus street) permanent safe houses were set up for the fighters who were preparing to go to the forest. In their turn ghetto fighters took part in the work of the city organization.

A special task group was sent from "Death to Invaders" group to Kovno. On most occasions the ghetto organization got in contact with them and helped all they could. For example, at the end of February 1944 three partisans (Sofronii Orlov, Itzik Boruch, Tevie Pilovnik) got into the ghetto while carrying out some special task in the city. The organization put them in its bunkers, gave them new clothes and ammunition and sent them to the partisan base with their own group in a lorry.

At the beginning of 1944 the anti-fascist movement in Kovno suburb of Murava was struck a serious blow. Germans arrested the leaders of the movement and the relatives of those who left to join partisans and other residents of Murava. 40 people were killed.

Among the dead was Yegupla Radionov, the father of Konstantin Radionov, leader of partisan group "Death to Invaders". Among those arrested was Kulvinskas ("Romka"), one of the movement leaders. He found an opportunity to send a letter to his friends from the prison before his death. In it he wrote, "We were tortured but we have not given in. We know we will die. Carry on fight until a complete victory!"

The ghetto organization lost its important support in its work. Partisans coming from the forest could no longer use Murava base and had to seek shelter in the ghetto.

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Weapons! Weapons! this call became the  main call to the ghetto fighters. The more weapons there were , the more fighters could leave the ghetto and join the partisans. The condition requiring every partisan to be armed was severe but necessary. It was inadmissible to burden the detachment's situation by bringing in unarmed people. The organization carried out a number of operations to acquire weapons.

One of them was undertaken in January 1944 at the German  hospital warehouse situated at 28, Vitautas street (*now Lenin avenue). Ghetto Jews were brought there to perform various menial tasks. The organization sent its members there to make a detailed plan of the area and to study local regulations. Sonia Rubinson found a key to fit the warehouse door. At the stipulated evening Itzik Miklishansky, Mendl Moshkovich and Gegujhinsky got over  ghetto fence and went to the city.

Jewish partisans outside a makeshift hut in the Rudniki forest

They hid in the  cemetery adjacent to the hospital and waited for the city life to die down. In the darkness, dressed in white camouflage coats, unnoticed by the guards they started their approach.

With the fitted key the underground fighters opened the warehouse doors and brought out three sacks with rifles and bullets. In the morning, at the arranged hour a lorry  arrived (the driver was one of the fighters) to take hidden sacks to the secret depot in the city.

The next day Germans found that some weapons were missing. All police force was involved in looking for the "insolent burglars". Gestapo was especially enraged. The shameof it! The hospital was situated right opposite gestapo building...

The second successful operation took place in the workshop armoury of the German anti-aircraft defence forces. A Jewish brigade from a camp in Aleksotas was sent to the workshop. The underground fighters from the camp came with a solution how to acquire weapons from there but could not do this on their own.

The ghetto organization was informed of this by comrade Benzl Preis. He also passed on the fitted key to the armoury. At night "experts" left the ghetto to carry out the operation: Jankel Levi, Mendl Moshkovich, Itzik Miklishansky. They got to the guarded area, reached the chambers and took all weapons and arms they could find there.

Then like in the previous case they took these finding by lorry to the secret place in the city. These successful operations allowed the organization to send more and bigger groups of over thirty persons each from the ghetto in February and March 1944. Guided groups were taken by lorries 70-80 kilometres from Kovno. The partisans were excellently armed. For example, the group which left the ghetto on March 3 was armed with three submachine-guns with a lot of ammunition, three machine-guns and nineteen rifles, 4,500 bullets, numerous revolvers and hand grenades.

2. ACTION OF 27-28, MARCH 1944

Black clouds were gathering over Kovno ghetto. The number of the ghetto residents was going down. Death was hiding round the corner. The children's action was a tragic reminder: the days of the condemned were numbered.

Jewish children from the ghetto had a particularly tragic fate. The following picture had imprinted itself in the memories of all ghetto prisoners:

Spring evening of 1942. People began returning to the ghetto from work. Women and children rushed towards the ghetto gates to meet relatives. As always they looked forward to the return of the workers: it was not unusual for some not to return from "work"... The roar of a motorcycle engine broke the deafening silence. Just in case people began hiding. Children were seized with an instinctive fear. Like frightened little animals they helplessly clung to grown-ups looking for cover... The motorcycle roar was a familiar sound to everyone - it meant the arrival of Ernst Shtiz, gestapo representative for "Jewish affairs" in Kovno. He was coming to meet his assistant Lipzer, a Jew.

On that spring evening of 1942 he announced to ghetto residents that from then on every Jewish woman who had just had a baby "would be taken" with her baby away, while an expectant mother would be shot... When he was leaving the ghetto Shtiz met a pregnant Jewish woman. He wrote down her name and said that in spite of what was being said about him he was not an animal and so he would let her give birth, but the child would have to be brought alive to him...

From the very first days of its existence the ghetto organization began explaining to all its members and via them to the rest of the ghetto population that children faced real danger in the ghetto, and that they had to do all possible to hide their children with non-Jews.

Partisans beside a ziemlanka hut in the Rudniki forest

The organization formed a group of women who were responsible for finding accommodation outside the ghetto for the children, teaching them Lithuanian, acquiring necessary documentation and other things. Members of the organization - Ronia Rosental, Ida Shater, Sheina Berelovich-Hodes and many others - had to leave the ghetto on many occasions in search of sanctuary for the Jewish children.

Great wit and heroism were shown when children were taken outside the ghetto. Three-year-old Tamara Ratner was put asleep with an injection of luminal to ensure she did not make a sound. Ida Shater together with the child's father took the living parcel over the ghetto fence and left on the doorstep of Lithuanian children's home "Lopshialis". The home's director Baublis was informed beforehand on such occasions. His trusted teachers expected children and took them into the home as "deserted children". Six-year-old Liolia Rosental was taken out of the ghetto by her father in a sack. With this parcel on his back he walked for eight kilometres. In the village of Rojay farmer Maziasuskas took the boy.

The organization active policy of taking children out of the ghetto stimulated large numbers of the population into following suit. While risking their lives many people began looking for sanctuary for their children in towns and villages. Those who agreed to take in Jewish children faced mortal danger. Nevertheless, many people were prepared for sacrifice. Sofia Binkiene, wife of famous

Lithuanian writer Kazis Binkis who died unable to bear the new regime, did not simply hid Jewish children herself but also made it her aim to save as many of them as possible. She, her daughters Lilia and Irene travelled tirelessly around the area looking for places for Jewish children. Thanks to their efforts children of engineer Per, Margarita Stender,daughter of murdered leader of the Lithuanian state opera orchestra, Gita Judelevich, Kama Gink, Esia Goldstein, daughter of partisan Bobiansky and many more others. Worker Maria Mazinavichiene saved eleven-year-old Aleks Strom and seven-year-old Aviva Friedman.

Real tragedy befell teacher Helena Golzman  in the first days of the occupation: her Jewish husband was murdered so was her elder daughter, a komsomol member. But the woman did not lose her courage. Throughout the occupation she was helping Jews. Several dozen Jewish children and teenagers stayed with her while safe homes were sought for them.

Dozens of other Jewish children owe their lives to Natasha Pigalevich, Tamara Likiavichiene, Nataly Melioranskaia-Egorova, Lithuanian writer Sofia Churlioniene and her daughter Danute (* wife and daughter of famous Lithuanian artist Churlionis), engineer Zubov, worker Julia Dautartiene, academician and professor Pranas Majhilius, people's artiste of Lithuania Kipras Petrauskas, violin player Vladas Varchikas and many others, who risked their lives and lives of their families in the name of humanity and brotherhood between people.

Saving a Jewish child's life from executioner's hands - this was also struggle! Middle-aged worker Agrippina Lepetucha who hid two-year old Aliosha Aleksandrovich was forced to leave Kovno in a hurry as she was suspected of hiding a Jewish child. With this child she changed many places going from one Kovno village to another until the Red Army arrived. Lithuanian woman Chijauskiene was shot dead at the ghetto gates when she tried to take a Jewish child out.

Teacher Liuzia Doniene hid daughter of engineer Jacob Rabinovich. Gestapo learned about this, arrested the woman, took away and then murdered the girl. Fascists tortured Chijauskiene for a long time trying to establish who were the girl's parents and how the girl disappeared from the ghetto. The courageous woman did not utter a word. She was saved from a certain death by the arrival of the Soviet Army. Over four hundred Jewish children were by various means taken out of the ghetto and then given to private individuals or Kovno children's homes.

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Formally Kovno ghetto was already exterminated. In winter of 1943 it existed only as "Kovno central concentration camp" with attached labour camps in the suburbs of Kovno and some places in the periphery. Goeke and his assistants were in charge of those camps. Eighteen thousand prisoners expected the worst. But ghetto regime had not changed as much as some had expected. Suddenly, Goeke even increased food rations, talked about setting up of public kitchens, professional schools for the young, opening up creches for children whose mothers worked..

Even Kitel, newly appointed Gestapo representative for "Jewish affairs", refined sadist Kitel, suddenly performed "an act of good will" - some Jewish children found by the Gestapo in the city were returned to a children's home in the Jewish hospital. The majority of the Jews, however, did not consider such "favour" to be a good sign. Indeed, soon after March 27, 1944 the most terrible event of all events that had happened in Kovno ghetto took place.

Aleksander Jatzowski - Partisan from Kovno

After the work brigades were taken out for forced labour the ghetto was surrounded by reinforced guards. Soon lorries full of Gestapo guards moved into the ghetto. A car with a loudspeaker was cruising the ghetto; people were warned to stay indoors - he who dared to come out would be shot. Jewish police ordered to gather for a fire drill were surrounded by SS tommy-gunners.

-Enough! You won't have a chance to fool Germans any more!- Kitel declared and ordered Jewish police to get into armoured buses. Policeman Levner who refused to obey the order was shot on the spot. Three heavily guarded armoured buses with the Jewish policemen went towards the 9th fort. Some policemen tried to jump off the vehicles on the move but were caught by machinegun fire.

Everyone who could, tried to hide somewhere - in lofts, in barns and basements. Gestapo bandits searched from house to house. With axes and crowbars they opened up floorboards, walls, searched every suspicious corner - they were looking for people hiding. Children, old  and sick people, invalids were taken out of the ghetto in lorries. Bloodthirsty murderers searched house after house and gloated:

- Any kittens left here? (Germans called children "kittens"...)

Mothers who refused to let their children go were badgered with German shepherds. To muffle the terrible screams Germans turned on very loud dance and march music and broadcasted it through the loudspeakers on the lorries. Children were hidden in  and under beds. Some had suffocated as a result of that.

One woman from Lutaro street had no place to hide her child. She did the following: wrapped up her child in a tablecloth, tied it up and hung it up on a nail. - When Germans come I shall be quiet - the four-year-old child promised his mother. The child kept quiet even after one of the Germans pushed the parcel and asked what was in it. The boy was saved.

In the camp in Shanchai Germans managed to carry out their evil "act" with more ease. Here in one place about thirty children were kept. Two executioners came in and started a "game". Pretending to be bears they tied up children's hands and took the whole chain out into the bus...

The round-up lasted until evening. Around nine hundred children, old and sick people and invalids were put into lorries and driven under guard to the west. As it became known later the people were taken to Auschwitz where gas chambers and crematorium awaited the unfortunate.

But those figures did not add up. From the available to them data Germans knew that a large number of old people and children had not been found yet. The next day round-ups had resumed. Every suspicious place was carefully searched, hand grenades were thrown into basements and lofts. All newly discovered people were put into lorries and sent to the 9th fort. In spite of all brutality Germans managed to find only a smaller number of victims the next day - just about two hundred people were caught.

Everyone noticed that Lipzer, gestapo representative in the ghetto, was also taken to the 9th fort during the action. Several hours later he returned to the ghetto. He told one person (Lipzer thought that he enjoyed the confidence of the underground fighters) that some of the Jewish policemen betrayed names of the resistance fighters to the Germans. But as it was discovered later those names were betrayed by Lipzer himself: this fascist lackey served two masters. The organization managed to hide their members before the Gestapo came looking for them.

Exasperated by what had happened to Fain, Kitel aimed to get rid of the ghetto organization at any price during the "children's action". Head of the ghetto Jewish police, Moishe Levin who was indeed helping the organization was the first to be interrogated. Aghast at Levin's silence and unable to get from him required information Kitel shot him personally and ordered the burning of his body. Then the executioner started on the others. Having put the policemen in a rank Kitel began walking up and down threatening them:

Gesia Glazar - Jewish Partisan

-Now you will have to answer my questions: who belongs to a "terrorist group" in the ghetto, where do they hide weapons, where are the secret bunkers, who keeps gold and money in the ghetto, who killed "my Fain"?.. He who does not reply will burn like Levin!..

For three nights and days, threatening people with death and terrible torture Kitel tried to get some information about the underground resistance movement in the ghetto. Thirty six Jewish policemen including all their bosses were shot. Members of the Council of Elders were also interrogated in the 9th fort. But Kitel failed to uncover the ghetto organization, he failed to get any information at all. The organization refused to come out into an open struggle - after the departure of the recent group to the forest there were very few weapons left in the ghetto for them to resist properly.

Under the influence of the events in the ghetto the organization took special measures in order to send to the forest new groups of people. As early as the third day Haim Yelin succeeded in finding some vehicles to send a new group  to the partisan base.  Because of increased terror one could not hope to leave through the ghetto gates.

People had to leave one by one by climbing over the well-guarded fence. Four people died while trying to get through. In the group leaving for the partisan base in Rudnizky forest were Alta Teper, member of the ghetto committee, Jankel Levi, messenger for the ghetto-city connection, and also brave weapon supplier Itzik Miklishansky, experienced messenger Sulamif Lerman and other activists. Nechemia Endlin and Borech Lopiansky acted as their guides.

3. DEATH OF CHAIM YELIN

Kitel would not let up. What he could not get during the "children's action", he was determined to get through his daily activities. Kitel himself, untersharfuerers Pilgram, Fiviger, Auer with their assistants spent all their time in the ghetto. They blew up basements ( every building containing a basement was decorated with the word "bunker") and all the time they were hoping to find where the underground leadership were hiding and where weapon depots were.

One did not see children in the streets. 10-12-year-olds were dressed like older teenagers: children's heads were covered in tall hats, heels were attached to their boot soles... People of old age ( they also were under the threat of extermination) dyed their grey hair, shaven off their beards. The youngest children were hidden in specially arranged bunkers. At 10, Baioru street one boy lived in a clay pot...

There was no Jewish police any longer. A part of the police force returned from the 9th fort Kitel made an obedient instrument - so called "law and order services". The essence of this new "institution" became clear when one learned about traitor Lipzer's appointment as its head, his assistant became infamous hooligan from Jewish police Arnshtam (*after the war T.Arnshtam was severely punished by the Soviet court).

As a result the ghetto organization took more measures to secure their own safety, went deeper underground and continued its work. Simultaneously gestapo increased their terror in Kovno while sending thousands of people to forced labour in Germany. Fascist administration persecuted people after a slight suspicion of sympathy for the ever growing resistance movement. During arrests and expulsions the city underground organization also lost some of its members.

In spite of all dangers Haim Yelin stayed in the city. He sent a letter to his friends in the ghetto which he finished with the following words: "We need strong nerves! Tell our fellow-fighters that I shall stay in Kovno irrespective of dangers until the last of our comrades leaves the ghetto..." Haim Yelin with the help from city party comrades and, in particular, comrade Trofimov tried to get more weapons and transport to send new groups to the forest. He reported that on April 5 a new group was to leave Kovno. Future partisans were to meet in designated areas.

Remnant of a section of the inner courtyard of the Ninth Fort

Guarding of the ghetto fence was increased. Newly fledged members of the "law and order services" were devoted to their masters: they watched carefully to avoid mix-ups at the gates. It became impossible for people to pass through the gates unless they were members of work brigades. At the same time it became impossible to leave work or to slip out of a guarded column. There was one armed guard for each 7-8 Jews. Nevertheless, the organization managed to take out about 40 members thanks to slack guarding of the ghetto fence near the cemetery and the nearby saw-mill. The authors of this book were in that group too.

All gathered in safe houses. Over 20 Jews, who had left the ghetto and in the process taken remaining weapons of the organization, came to the house of one Russian woman "Olia" at 18,Puogiu street. But the vehicle which was to take them to the forest failed to arrive at the agreed time. Haim Yelin learned: the driver was arrested. The situation became critical. People had to disperse to various lofts and basements in the ruins of the former parts of the ghetto.

Round-ups in the city followed one another. It was impossible to march to the partisan base because of well-guarded roads in Kovno area, insufficient weapons and guides.  Haim Yelin tried to find transport. He arranged meeting with another driver for Thursday, April 6. But the gestapo had traced one of Kovno underground fighters; they were looking for a young man of medium height, wearing a sheepskin coat and twisting moustache, in a porter's or railway-man's peak-cup whose nick-name was "Vladas" - gestapo was looking for Haim Yelin.

Haim Yelin arrived at the agreed time to meet the driver. Suddenly he was approached by a gestapo agent from behind,"Hands up!". Yelin managed to wrestle a revolver from the gestapo agent's hands. They started shooting. Yelin succeeded in wounding the gestapo man's hand and then he got to another street by jumping over a fence in the neighbouring garden. However, having heard shooting policemen and soldiers came running from different directions; they began chasing Yelin. Having run through two blocks Yelin understood that all escape routes were cut off, he then turned into a familiar court-yard which to another one.

A German officer and a Lithuanian policemen turned up in front of him. Haim Yelin killed the fascists with his last bullets and disappeared in the next yard. The Germans sought him for about four hours. They surrounded the whole block. Haim Yelin was discovered only with the help of tracker-dogs. The courageous underground fighter managed to cut his own wrists and throat... (*it has since come to light that gestapo treated  and then tried to interrogate him. Information available about Haim Yelin's last days is contradictory and requires further thorough investigation.)

Diagram showing the escape route of prisoners from the Ninth Fort

Haim Yelin's tragic death was a real blow to the ghetto organization: he was more than a simple leader and co-founder of the organization; he also carried out the most difficult, demanding and dangerous tasks. He volunteered, frequently against the warnings of his friends, to perform most important and life-threatening tasks. Optimism, closeness to people, cordiality - typical of Haim Yelin's character - ensured that people who dealt personally with him liked him. Everyone saw him as a friend and devoted comrade ready to help anyone.

Yelin took participation, varied in its significance in the organizational work or helped with his practical advice. He composed texts of leaflets, instructions, appeals, headed the task of writing a military programme for the organization. Haim Yelin participated in  military training, taught other fighters shooting. In the autumn of 1943 Haim Yelin was wounded but in  spite of that he kept his contacts with partisans in Rudnizky forest, ensured availability of transport and guided groups to partisan bases.

As well as major tasks Yelin performed, what at first glance seemed to be, insignificant work. A few days before his death, feeling danger looming over him he carried a machine-gun wrapped in a bag through  Kovno streets. Haim Yelin knew it would allow yet another fighter to reach his aim - leave for the forest and partisans. By the decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet of 2 July 1945 Haim Yelin was posthumously awarded the Order of the Great Patriotic War of the First Degree, for his services in setting up partisan movement in Kovno ghetto and his heroism in the fight against fascist invaders.

 

Added by bgill

The Gelpernus Diary~Part VII "Work Camps"

1. JEWISH CAMPS

Zunia Shtrom -Jewish partisan from Kovno

Ghetto territory was constantly reduced. Hundreds and thousands of people were taken from there to so-called "working camps" or "Jewish camps" situated in the suburbs of Kovno - Aleksotas, Shanchai and some small towns - Kedainiai, Laishiadoris, Raudondvaris, Palemonas, Babtai and then to Ajerelis and Panevejis. All those camps were "branches" of Kovno ghetto, and later - "Kovno concentration camp".

The organization tried to keep its members out of those labour camps. There was even less possibility of an armed struggle there than in the ghetto. However, in those camps people appeared who made up near or far periphery of the organization. Wide Jewish masses strived for such struggle. This was proved by the appearance of underground antifascist movement in all camps.

Members of that movement sought and found contacts with the ghetto movement which played a leadership role for all fighters in "labour camps". Instructions for sabotage acts were regularly sent to the camps. Groups for partisan bases were made up there. Much attention was paid to using local conditions for obtaining weapons. They made contact with local population thanks to their messengers.

It was not easy to keep the contact between the ghetto and camps. Messengers frequently simulated illnesses to get into ghetto hospital. Doctors Goldberg and Shapiro, organization sympathizers, helped them with this. People, who were sent from the camps to the centre - ghetto - to get their meagre food rations, also were helpful in sustaining contacts.

In a Jewish camp in Aleksotas headed by psychopath unterscharfuerer SS Karl Mich doctor Abraam Silber, Shmuel Saidelson and Benzl Preis set up an active antifascist group. This camp was called "prisoners' of war" camp because previously Soviet prisoners of war were kept there. They died after experiencing inhuman conditions.

The organization received a large number of bullets and military ammunition: underground fighters stole them from German military warehouses where they were sent for forced work. Moishe Kaltinovsky and Gordon were leaders of Shanchiai antifascist movement. Even in a small camp in Palemonas there was a resistance group.

As disappearance of individual prisoners from a camp meant danger for the whole camp Kaishiadoris underground fighters prepared a break-out for a large group of people. In April 1944 over 40 Jews led by Shimon Kweskin, Woolf Miasnik, Josl Borkan and others managed to escape from the camp and join partisans in Rudnizky forest. Germans liquidated the camp after their escape.

The ghetto organization kept a close contact with a camp in Kedainiai from the very start. This camp was supplied with political literature, instructions for practical work. Camp fighters did their best to harm Germans. Rivka Levi and Alter Sadinsky led Kedainiai movement. The fighters established a contact with a small acting partisan group (commander - P.Z.Vasilenko) which operated from forests near Kedainiai and agreed on a camp group joining the partisans. But only ten people managed to break out while the rest fell into fascists' hands. Braina and Sheina Levi, Sonia Bloshtein and Ethel Karlin were caught while trying to get through the barbed wire.

Kitel himself arrived from Kovno to carry out investigation. In spite of all efforts by gestapo he failed to get a single word. Tortured women were finally shot. During their execution they stood with their heads high up, they spat into German faces. Braina Bloshtein (* previously due to a misprint she was referred to as Braina Levi) had time to shout, "Heads higher! Our comrades will revenge us!"

5. IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

David Levin poses in a hiding spot outside of Kovno

Kovno ghetto, which for some time had been referred to as "Kovno concentration camp", became a camp soon after the "children's action". Territory occupied by Jews was reduced once again. "The Council of Elders for the Jewish population" was dissolved and one person was put instead - "camp elder".

The band of "law and order" representatives poisoned daily life. traitors Benzion Jiamaitis and Woolf Vilenchuk served their gestapo masters especially hard. They kept everyone in awe. But these scum could not escape a terrible death: Jiamaitis was punished by the Jews  whom he persecuted before (* he was torn apart).

Jewish work brigades were substituted by Arian "kapos" - German criminals brought here from German concentration camps and put into isolated area of the ghetto. All ghetto buildings were numbered and called "blocks". Each "block" had a "block elder". Germans had carried out one more registration of the population which put the number of the central camp (former ghetto) residents at about seven thousand people. Every morning they checked each block numbers. A single missing person meant extermination for everyone in that block including "the elder".

Germans frequently inspected blocks, watched their residents. Fascists did not waste time on trying to find out the truth - any breach of "camp regulations" led to people being put into ghetto prison. Then "the offenders" were transferred to the 9th fort in black cars... Gestapo terror in the city became also unbearable. Resistance fighters, still at large, had to go deeper underground. There was a temporary break in communication between the two organizations.

But even in those conditions remaining leaders of the ghetto organization continued their work - they prepared new groups for Rudnizky forest. People could be delivered there only by transport. A driver was found. He agreed to take Jews who allegedly wanted to hide in the country. In the evening a vehicle was waiting for people in a side street in Villiampole, some 1.5 kilometres from the ghetto. The organization helped all of its members to leave the ghetto. All took up their positions in the vehicle.

Suddenly, after they crossed a bridge over the river Neris, the driver stopped and bullets started flying. It became clear - the driver was a traitor. Aba Diskant who was accompanying the group killed the traitor immediately. The fighters began exchange of fire with the gestapo men who had surrounded the vehicle. In the unequal battle many people died.

Among them energetic, enterprising committee member engineer Shimon Ratner, cheerful Saul Finkel who for a long time was responsible the organization depot, brave messenger Liuba Schwartz, partisans Menashe Sapojnikov, Moishe Marshak,Josef Manaiskin, Israel Shapiro with his wife. The rest managed to break through under the cover of darkness. Among  fascists  killed by the Jewish partisans was infamous sadist from Kovno gestapo, executioner of "criminal" Jews -Will.

Armed Plechavichus bands, formed by Germans to fight partisans, were raging on the roads to Rudnizky forest. A secret order to drivers from Kovno gestapo reached the organization: if Jews asked them to take them from Kovno, drivers must agree and then inform gestapo. The failure of the last group was most a result of that order. Ghetto fighters tried to set up a partisan base nearer Kovno. Scouts were sent in different directions.

The Kovno ghetto in flames

Benzl Prais, Avram Rosin and Shafransky left for Jeimiai. They learned from local farmers that partisan groups appeared there only at times. Having left one person to wait for those partisans the other two returned to Kovno.

A scouting trip to the forest near Kaslu Ruda, 30-40 kilometres from Kovno, turned out to be more successful. The ghetto organization began setting up a partisan group on the basis of the collected information. Three groups of fighters left for that forest. All three were guided by Iren Berman. The third group came twice under fire from policemen. Iren Berman,a brave seventeen-year-old who did this journey more than once, died in the shooting. Meer Silber also died in that fight. Local farmers, especially M.Pechkis, helped the partisans who reached the forest of Kaslu Ruda.   

In order to leave for the forest partisans had "to leave" Kovno concentration camp"(former ghetto) over barbed wire. Josl Michles and Peisach Shater headed this dangerous operation. At times they had to wait for two to three days for the right moment. Many people lost their lives while getting over the fence. In particular, trustworthy messenger Rachil Kaz and komsomol member Sonia Goldschmidt died while trying to leave the ghetto to perform a task for the organization.

At the same time they tried to re-establish contacts with the partisans of Rudnizky forest. Four well-armed people went there - Aba Diskant (group's guide), Ruvim Gorgel, Tev'e Pilovnik and Menachem Rubin. But 30 kilometres from Kovno the group met Germans. All four died in the fight. Some attempted to get to the forest on their own. The organization helped them to prepare the route and get over the fence.

Gradually new friends were found in the city - comrades-in-arms. Maria Leshchinskiene showed self-sacrifice more than anyone else. Neglecting her poor health and the fact that antifascist work had already cost her husband's life she devoted herself completely to the underground activity risking hers and her children's lives. Lishchinskiene's house was situated near ghetto - it became a depot and a meeting place for those who left for the forest and partisans. Lishchinskiene came daily to the ghetto gates to receive instructions and letters.

One could see her house from the ghetto. When Lishchinskiene had information  for the ghetto fighters she used to put out clothes of certain colour for drying outside her loft window. Every colour had its meaning. Thus, reliable one-way communication was set up. Under the floorboards of her entrance hall there was a bunker for hiding weapons. In that bunker ghetto messengers and partisans hid on numerous occasions during German round-ups.

Contacts were established with comrade "Laisvutis" (Musteikis) who returned to Kovno underground. Dmitry Galperin met him several times in the city. They planned to set up an underground printing house for printing leaflets and appeals to the population. With this aim the organization gave their city friends a rotator and other printing equipment.

Partisan and ghetto messengers used to treat the little house of Adolfas Gudas on the banks of the river Neris like their own. It was a very convenient place for illegal meetings. The owner of the house and his wife let antifascists use it. Several times Gudas took Jewish partisans going to the forests of Kaslu Ruda over the river Neman in his boat. Thus the chain of brotherly solidarity between nations suffering under invaders' yoke became stronger.

In the middle of June 1944 came a request from partisans living in Kaslu Ruda forests to send new armed groups. Benzl Preis, Avrom Rosin, Shmuel Daich and others left immediately. On their way there they met a group of Soviet paratroopers led by a major. The partisans established a contact with the paratroopers and put them in touch with the ghetto organization. Messenger "Tonia" was later put in charge of keeping the contact. Swift advance by the Soviet Army brought about rapid developments in the situation. In a few days advanced detachments of the Soviet troops approached the Lithuanian border.

Again fascists gave vent to their anger on the ghetto Jews. "Kovno concentration camp" was surrounded by a triple number of guards armed with submachine-guns. Many men from SS, Gestapo, Austrian (Vienna) SD, SS units formed from Hungarian "Volksdeutche" and Riga police were sent here. Kovno firemen were on full alert on the outer side of the ghetto fence. The final liquidation of Kovno ghetto began. Germans issued an order: at the designated hour all Jews had to gather at the ghetto gates for transportation to Germany, further from the front...

Dr. Elchanan Elkes and his family prior to the war

Commandant Goeke ordered the former chairman of the Council of Elders, Elkes, to visit him and told him: "We want to spare the Jews the danger of being in the front-line zone... Kovno Jews will be accommodated in well-organized camps in Germany,a country of high civilization and culture. They are not just camps, they are model-camps... That is why you must persuade Jews not to hide but to gather at designated places for evacuation. We wish all Jews well..."

The ghetto organization announced mobilization. All resistance fighters had to come to either 24 Gimbuto street or 8 Broliu street or 10 Vitianio street or other places. An appeal to all members of the organization and ghetto residents was read out:

 -No one should evacuate! .....Better to die here than to continue slavish existence!

The organization started digging a tunnel. In Kovno ghetto, situated in the suburbs, there were no sewage pipes which could serve the purpose well. The fact, that the ghetto fence stretched through wide unpopulated areas and waste land, made it impossible to dig a tunnel in "usual time". But they had to try everything. The most suitable house for this was a house at Broliu 2. From the basement of that house they began digging a tunnel which, they hoped, would bring them out to a sewage well at Krikshchiukaicho street outside  ghetto. One needed to dig a tunnel of 30 metres long.

Extracted soil was taken out in small bags and even pockets and spread about without German knowledge. Though the tunnel was re-enforced with planks, suddenly, when the work was coming to an end and they were near the top layer, the soil began to sink. In spite of all efforts they failed to finish the tunnel. People tried to resist the transportation to Germany as much as they could. Dozens of people tried to get over the fence but were killed by guards' bullets.

Time allowed for evacuation came to an end. Yet only some people had been evacuated - the majority were hiding. Germans inspected all houses, sheds, wells, lavatories. Those who were hiding were ordered to come out. Otherwise, places where they were hiding, would be fire-bombed. But even the smell of burning houses over their heads did not persuade many people to leave...

From captured Jews Germans formed several trains and sent them to the west. But the numbers of evacuated Jews clearly did not satisfy the Germans. They tried one more thing - children found hiding during the so-called "children's action" were promised to be returned to their parents if places of hiding adults were revealed.

(Goeke was ordered to take to Germany all registered in the ghetto Jews).

Even this terrible torture did not bring results. So the children were murdered then. At the ghetto cemetery old people, invalids and also people wounded during the recent fires and explosions were executed by firing squads. Once again ghetto hospital was bombed and burnt.

The liquidation of the ghetto lasted for a week. Thousands of Jews  hid for a week in basements - with no water, no food, no fresh air. Many could not cope - dead bodies lay next to those still alive... Ghetto executioners continued their work and did their bloody job -bombed basements, poured petrol over each building and then set them alight...

Kitel put a lot of effort into finding hiding Lipzer. The gestapo man wished to fulfil his promise that he made to his servant as a half?joke: "You are my very good friend, Lipzer. That is why I shall bestow a special honour on you - I will shoot you myself..." Kitel was in luck. He found Lipzer in one of the discovered  shelters and fulfilled his promise. In spite of only a small chance of success many tried to escape from guarded columns. They jumped off moving trains. Here are more details about one of such cases.

Remains of the burned out ghetto in Kovno

Several people headed by Kopeliansky, member of the ghetto organization, opened up floor-boards of the train. Through a hole in it the brave men tried to escape. But once the guards found out about it they stopped the train and ordered a chase. Kopeliansky had a revolver and some bullets. He started shooting and attracted attention to himself. In the uneven battle the komsomol member died but his friends could escape in the near-by forest. After July 13 no more trains were sent and all Jews were executed there.

During the liquidation the majority of the Jews died (about 4,000 people), while  others were put into concentration camps in Stuthof and Dachau.

(*in Stuthof they put women while in Dachau - men). Some of the evacuated Jews survived until the liberation by the Soviet Army.

(*prisoners who survived Dachau camp were liberated by the allied forces in May 1945)

Simultaneously with the liberation of Kovno ghetto - central concentration camp - liquidation of all Lithuanian "Jewish camps" took place. Some people managed to escape from those camps. One antifascist group from concentration camp Ejerelis succeeded in organizing mass escape during their journey to Kovno railway. 140 of 300 prisoners of that camp escaped and joined partisans of Kaslu Ruda forest. 

(* the escape succeeded because some of the guards from Vlasov brigade were persuaded to join them).

Added by bgill

The Gelpernus Diary~Part VIII "In the open battle"

1. IN THE FOREST 

Chaim Yelin with Moshe Moslis

As it has been mentioned above Konstantin Radionov began the formation of partisan group "Death to Invaders" in November of 1943 on party orders. The main core of it had to be Kovno underground fighters. This partisan group was one of many in the detachment headed by the secretary of Southern underground Lithuanian Party Committee - comrade Jurgis (Heinrich Zimman). Name "Jurgis" was well known not only to partisans but to many in the civilian population drawn into helping people's avengers.

At first the "Death to Invaders" lacked weapons and ammunition, their numbers were small. But later the group was re-enforced by Kovno ghetto partisans who brought with them a large amount of weapons and military ammunition - medicine, means of communication, clothes, camouflage coats, geographical maps. Partisans were overjoyed when a group of newly arrived brought with them a powerful radio - they could listen to the sounds of Moscow in the depth of the forest. Partisans listened with great attention to what comrade Antanas Snechkus, leader of the partisan movement, had to say to the population of occupied Lithuania. His appeal to fight gave them new strength.

Having got reinforcements from Kovno ghetto group "Death to Invaders" received an opportunity to participate in large operations alongside other groups from Rudnizky forest. In village Koniukhi, some 30 kilometres from the partisan base a German garrison took up position. Fascists followed partisans, set up ambushes on the roads. Several partisan groups, among them the "Death to Invaders", were ordered to liquidate this bandit cell.

At first the Germans were ordered to stop their actions and hand in weapons. When they refused to do so people's avengers decided to act according to the law:"If the enemy does not give in, the enemy should be eliminated"

Having left their base in the evening and gone through marshes and forests the partisans reached suburbs of the village by morning time. Red rocket was a signal for the start of the attack. Twenty partisans from the group "Death to Invaders", headed by unit leader Mikhail Trushin, went entered the village. Germans occupied several houses and started drum-fire from their submachine- and machine-guns. Every house had to be stormed. Incendiary bullets, hand grenades, flares were used to exterminate the Germans.

Kovno partisans Dovid Teper, Jankl Ratner, Peisach Volbe, Leiser Zodikov and others charged the enemy in the face of bullets. Strong Leib Zaiats stormed one of the buildings after using all his bullets, wrestled a rifle from a German and proceeded hitting the enemy with a butt so that the butt broke. During their military operations members of the "Death to Invaders" had to pass through the village Streltsy. German used to set up ambushes there and for that purpose they armed local population.

A group of partisans visited the village, explained the plan of the Germans and asked the farmers to hand them their weapons. The farmers were only too pleased to oblige. Weapons, prepared first to fight partisans, were then used to fight the invaders. Scouts from the group "Death to Invaders" learned that in the nearest village of Jagarine invaders' activities were livened up. Rider-scouts were sent to find out. Through local farmers they learned that Germans put a re-enforced garrison there.

All able-bodied partisans from the "Death to Invaders" headed by the head of intelligence Borisas Lisauskas attacked the fascists, making them leave the village in panic. The partisans set fire to barracks, blew up a water-tower and the narrow-gage railway station, demolished a railway depot, destroyed two locomotives and a large number of full and empty carriages, dismantled rails on a long stretch of road, blew up two wooden bridges. The "Death to Invaders" continued to grow. There was an acute lack of weapons. The group had to borrow some from their neighbours.

A group of partisans headed by Boruch Lopiansky left for Aukstadtwar region and unarmed local police and wealthy farmers. Partisan scouts reported that leaders of local nationalists in the village Gudakiemis of Onushkis region kept many weapons to fight partisans. Onushkis was on route from Kovno ghetto to the base in Rudnizky forest. The partisans received a double task: to liquidate the fascist lackey and to capture hidden weapons.

Yehuda Eidelman -Jewish partisan from Kovno

The partisans managed to get through blocked roads without losses and to reach their aim. They surrounded the nationalist's house. People's avengers were badly armed but Leib Zaiats shouted the order:"Prepare the submachine-guns! Machine-gun bearers follow me!"

The nationalists were in panic, they hid in the cellar. Several hand grenades were thrown into it and fascist lackeys met their just end. The partisans loaded their trophies onto their carriage: fourteen rifles, three machine-guns, about 4,000 bullets, a submachine-gun, a radio?transmitter, signal pistols and other military ammunition. On their return the partisans allowed themselves a de-tour.

They took six cows, five calves, four carts, two carriages with salt and other food products from a German farm. As a result they returned late. The leader of the group began to worry. Together with scouts' leader he went searching for the partisans. 15 kilometres from the base the joyous meeting took place.

2. THE EXPLOSION OF ECHELONS AND THE RAILWAY WAR

Destruction of enemy's echelons was like "daily bread" for  partisans. Communist Leiser Zodikov was the first among the partisans of Kovno ghetto to perform such act. Near Vievis, 80 kilometres from the base he caused a train full of men and weapons to derail. It was  heading for the front. In the same area Zodikov derailed two more trains. Under Lukianov's leadership he participated in organizing the explosion of a train carrying petrol to the front.

Group's "old member", komsomol member Moishe Meerov blew up five German echelons. This heroic partisan died during the explosion of the sixth train. Borech Lopiansky arranged four explosions on the railway line between Vilno and Vievis.

Shimen Bloch was also responsible for four acts of sabotage. Two of them were carried out 100 kilometres from the base: near Pravienishkes on the Kovno-Kaishiadoris line and near Gaijunai on the Kovno-Ionava line. His constant co-participant in those operations was Moishe Pushkarnik. Communist Haia Shmuilova, komsomol members Leiser Silber, Judl Eidelson, Alter Faitlson, Ida Pilovnik, Judl Birger and many others also derailed enemy trains, successfully waging a railway war.

Partisans Girsh Smoliakov and Aron Vilenchuk received orders to blow up railway on the Vilno- Grodno line. They needed to destroy a very long part of the line. Enemy trains stopped movements at night fearing partisans. They had to put mines under the rails during daytime. Having planted a mine partisans waited for a result. They could hear the sound of an approaching train. "Will it go up or not?" - the partisans worried. There was an explosion! Carriages carrying military equipment went up in the air. Several dozen metres of the railway line also went up.

On the Red Army day Jankl Ratner together with three of his friends derailed an echelon pulled by two locomotives. But the group itself was followed. They had to run 5 kilometres through territory full of Germans. The brave men came across several gendarmes. One of them threw a hand grenade at the partisans. Jankl Ratner's leg was wounded, also his left arm.

The partisan fell onto the ground. The other three escaped into the nearest woods using the darkness. Pursuing the partisans Germans saw the wounded man and began approaching him. Ratner allowed them to come close and then having gathered his strength he threw two grenades and opened fire from his machine-gun. He could hear the cries of wounded Germans.

In the confusion the fascists had to retreat. Ratner pulled himself towards a farmer's house. Having got over the threshold the partisan lost consciousness. Ratner was given first help, his wounds were bandaged. Partisans passing the house the next morning took him to the base. Young Haim Berman surprised partisans with his acts of sabotage. Left in the ghetto without an adult supervision he started committing crime: black?marketeering and even thieving. Later Berman acquired a weapon and joined a group leaving for the forest. But he  appeared to underestimate the seriousness of his action. For a start his conduct at the partisan base also left a lot to be desired. Several times he was caught thieving.

Partisan rules were strict - Berman was facing a death penalty. The young lad promised the party organization to change his conduct and prove with his actions that he deserved the honourable name of a "partisan". Berman tried hard to get on the right track. The party organization helped the lad - soon people could not recognize him. He became well-disciplined and showed desire to perform most dangerous tasks. When he was carrying out acts of sabotage on the railway lines he used to carry the heaviest load of tolite. "-I am the youngest, it is easier for me to carry."

Surviving Jews gathered outside the burnt remnants of the Kovno ghetto

Berman was in the group which came across an ambush on its way to perform a military operation. People dispersed. Berman was left on his own. In his search for the base he met another partisan - Moishe Shpanerflig from the group "For Motherland" who also escaped enemy ambush. Shpanerflig had some tolite too... The two partisans made a decision: to get rid of the "load". Across forests and marshes they moved towards the railway line.

 

It was easy to observe the railway from a long distance - Germans cut down all trees and bushes on both sides of the railway hoping it would be a good cover for their communication lines from sabotage. Fascists miscalculated!  Under the cover of the night  Berman and Spanerflig crawled towards the line, planted the tolite, attached a wire and went back to the forest. They waited impatiently for a train. Suddenly the silence was broken by a powerful explosion. The echo sounded several times...

They had to wait for the Germans to repair the line and renew the movement. Berman was stubborn; he wanted to prove that his promise was more than mere words. The partisans stayed for two days in the forest. Everything was repeated again. Partisans' patience was severely tested. "Having waited for so long we will wait a bit longer..."

At last the opportunity presented itself. This time nothing prevented the approaching train from getting there. The lights coming from the locomotive were nearing. When it crossed the tolite Berman pulled the wire. The ground shook with a terrible explosion. Their task was fulfilled! Though the partisans had to leave as soon as possible they remembered for good the scene of the explosion - blown up carriages, terrifying cries of wounded Germans. The fire was raging in several carriages and the flame continued to grow...

3. AT THE BASE. PRIVATE

New groups of fighters from Kovno ghetto continued to arrive at the base. The group "Death to Invaders" had grown so much it could no longer take in newcomers. Hence, under Konstantin Radionov's (Smirnov) leadership two new Kovno groups were set up: on January 11 1944 - "Vladas Baronas" - commander Karp Ivanov (Semionov), commissar Misha Belkin; and on March 13 1944 - "Vperiod" (Forward)- commander captain Zeiko, commissar - Haim-Dovid Ratner. The bases of the three groups were near-by; there was only one headquarters centre.

In between their military tasks partisans were arranging their temporary accommodation - partisan base. One after another appeared dug-outs for newly arriving fighters. Partisans' weapons should always be in fighting order. Leib Sher who started his business already in the ghetto set up workshops at the base where he checked and repaired weapons.

Jitzik Juchnikov, stonemason by occupation, "udarnik-worker" in the pre-war time, made sure that the partisans had a "bania" (sauna - A.H.). "Death to Invaders" 's bakery supplied bread to other groups too. Flour for the bread came from a flour-mill in Rudna. They  needed only the information when the invaders would bring grain and then the partisans would get there in a hurry.Among partisans arriving from Kovno ghetto there were many good artisans. In spare time tailors sewed and repaired clothes, cobblers mended shoes. In spite of two degrees in higher education Hona Kagan was a capable carpenter and he also did some other building work.

Jerachmiel Berman -Jewish partisan from Kovno

Via Girsh Smoliakov the ghetto organization sent to the base a copying machine for technical drawings; it was used to copy geographical maps. Smoliakov was transferred to comrade Jurgis's headquarters where he worked on drawing maps for all groups in Rudnizky forest. Also here they published Kovno groups newspaper "Boievoi Listok" (*named in Russian).

Among Kovno ghetto arrivals was printer Israel Ghitlin. In the group "Free Lithuania" he set up a press to print leaflets which were distributed by partisans among local population. Wonderful medical sisters were also found in Rudnizky forest. Zoia Tint and Riva Epstein stayed with Kovno partisans. Ester Streliz, Riva Diskant became partisans in the groups "For Motherland" and "Free Lithuania". Using every opportunity the ghetto organization sent medicine, bandages, surgical instruments to the partisans.

In the primitive conditions of forest life they had to deal with serious illnesses and carry out serious medical operations. Partisan Gafanovich fell seriously ill after coming back from a military operation. For about a month he lay unconscious. Zoia Tint never left his bedside. With her help Moishe Belkin recovered after a brain tumour. As it has been mentioned above he went on to become a commander of the "Vladas Baronas".

At first many partisans had gum inflammation. Somebody suggested to prepare ointment of copper vitriol to combat the problem. Zoia Tint took the "weapon" on board and soon everybody experienced the benefits of its magic qualities. 

Rivka Epstein - an experienced surgical sister - was completely devoted to her work. She used her own blood for transfusion to the badly-wounded head of the intelligence, Borisas Lisauskas. She frequently had to assist in many operations in different partisan groups. In exceptional cases she had to operate herself. This medical sister was always on the go. From early morning till late at night she used to help wounded partisans. Rivka Epstein had to cross enemy territory and mine-fields. During such dangerous tasks she was assisted by partisans Itzik Lifshitz and Israel Joels.

Partisan base was an island in the enemy occupied territory. But even there they could rely on other forces. Partisans received frequent signs of proof of close links to the "mainland" and were aware of fatherly care for fighters in the enemy area by the party and the government. Soviet planes flew over partisan bases and dropped "loads" in arranged places - weapons, ammunition, literature, parcels with food and medicine.

Literature was used for cultural events by the group. In the evenings, after returning from their battles, partisans sat in their dug-outs and read chapters from "Immortal Nation", works by Lithuanian writers Neris, Zwirka, Korsakas, Venzlova. One of the most popular books at the base -"Short Course in Party History"- was presented to them by ghetto komsomol members.

Every evening partisans listened to the latest news from Sovinformburo. Party organization of Kovno groups help the leadership to carry out military tasks, party and komsomol members were in the vanguard, were a model of courage and discipline. To those who were less staunch they helped to overcome difficulties of daily life.

The party organization created in the group an atmosphere of real internationalism. Lithuanians, Russians, Jews, Poles had very close friendship, ready to sacrifice their lives for the others. Ivan Dushin volunteered to do a dangerous job to help a group of Jewish partisans in danger. Haim Volbe saved Goriachev, the commander of his group, from a certain death. In a battle a German aimed his gun at the commander but Volbe threw himself at the German and brought him down. Under a shower of bullets commander Goriachev brought out from a battlefield badly wounded Haim Volin in another battle.

Everyone loved communist Borisas Lisauaskas, the head of intelligence and the special branch. In battles he was first to attack the enemy and made others to follow him. Lisauskas was a teacher and a real friend of young fighters. From the very first days new-comers from Kovno ghetto felt his friendly attention.

Lisauskas base for his intelligence work was in village Staryie Mazeli. He was, however, betrayed to Germans by a local kulak Jurgelevich. The fascists surrounded the house. Lisauskas who was there at that time started shooting. Though wounded he managed to get out. Badly bleeding Lisauskas got to the base and died there of his wounds.
 

Liuba  "Lieb" Sher

The death of their commander and friend enraged the partisans - they took their weapons and set out to revenge his death. They eliminated a group of fascists, Lisauskas' killers, took the traitor to the base where partisans sentenced him to death. The leadership and the party organization of the group informed all fighters of each incident and re-enforced the feeling of internationalism, heroism, readiness for self-sacrifice.

Readiness to help a friend, sacrificing oneself, resoluteness and heroism became typical character features of all partisans. Moishe Milner and Safronii Orlov were surrounded by the enemy in Novyie Matseli while doing intelligence work. To allow his friend to get back to the base and pass on their intelligence information Milner started a shoot-out but soon his bullets in the rifle ran out. He had only four bullets in the revolver which he was given by the ghetto before departure for the forest.Three of them he used for firing at the enemy. The courageous communist left the lsat bullet for himself - this shot ended his heartbeat...

In December 1943 on the way back to the base from a successful operation one group of partisans was ambushed by a strong group of Germans near village Kolemachiai. The partisans had to cross a slightly frozen river. Commander Trushin directed the crossing. Enemy bullets were flying by. Peisach Gordon (Stein) fell to the ground hit by one of them. All others managed to cross the river and to hide in the forest. Good shot Aron Gafanovich defended the crossing with a submachine-gun. The commander was the last to cross the river. But the ice gave in under his weight and Trushin found himself in the icy river.

Partisan Boruch Lopiansky came to his rescue. The ice was breaking under his feet while bullets were flying above his head. Lopiansky managed to catch Trushin by his hair, pulled him out of the water and onto the bank in doing so he saved his life.

4. IMPORTANT TASK.

Nechemiia Endlin felt proud and happy when G.Siman, leader of the partisan movement in Rudnizky forest, called him for the first time and sent him to Kovno ghetto in order to bring a new armed group of fighters to the "Death to Invaders". At the same time he was ordered to get in contact with Kovno underground committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party and asked for their instructions. 

Shmuel Martkovsky, Borech Lopiansky, Sara Rubinson and Sundl Strom armed with pistols left for Kovno with Endlin. They had to walk 160 kilometres to Kovno. On the way they found messengers among poor farmers: Kairis in village Posekai, Malinauskas in Jidaikishkiai, Kuznetsov in Kairishkiai and others who later became real partisan assistants.

When they were approaching Kovno, partisans faced two serious problems: firstly, five young people without any documents had to enter the city at the time when Germans inspected documents of all young people, secondly, they needed to get into the ghetto. Nechemiia Endlin, leader of the group,later told how they got over their problems:

"We got some yellow cloth from a farmer, cut out stars of David and put them on our clothes - on the left hand?side in the front and on the back - in accordance with German regulations.A farmer took us on his sledge to a nearest place where Jews were working. Sara Rubinson came up to a guard and told him in German she was a nurse who brought four sick men from another Jewish ghetto outside Kovno and they had to be delivered under guard to the ghetto hospital... We fooled the German, we were put into a brigade and as we were ill we even did not have to work. In the evening we were taken to the ghetto without a thorough examination at the gates - Germans were afraid of contamination...

The organization helped Endlin to leave the ghetto. He got in touch with the city underground organization and passed on Siman's message. He also successfully carried out the second part of his task - to bring new armed fighters from the ghetto organization- for this he was thanked by the group commander. Shortly after, Nechemiia Endlin became the main messenger between Kovno partisan groups and the city underground organization. On many occasions he guided armed groups from the city and the ghetto to the forest.
 

Meir Liberman -Jewish partisan "Death to the Invaders" battalion      -Kovno

On February 3 1944 Nechemiia Endlin was given a very important task - to guide several people from the base to Kovno. Among them were Grigory Krugliakov, member of Kovno underground party committee, Anele Sinkiavichute (Valia Pushaite), leader of the city komsomol group, and Haim Yelin who came to the base to meet Siman and to receive further instructions. In April 1944 experienced messenger Nechemiia Endlin successfully found Soviet Army officers who escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp but failed to find their way to partisan bases. Twenty nine professional commanders joined in the organized partisan struggle.

A heavily loaded cart moved along the road to Kovno. Nechemiia Endlin with a ready machine-gun walked in front, several hundred metres ahead of the rest. Jankl Levi walked behind the cart. Itzik Miklishansky sat on the cart. A farmer led the horse-driven cart. The load on the cart was special - among other things the partisans carried a radio-transmitter with a large number of batteries and an accumulator and also eight magnet mines. Parcels with antifascist literature were getting smaller in numbers - they distributed them among locals.

A quiet and shy Shmuel Martkovsky had all qualities of an excellent scout and guide. He "sensed" the situation from a distance. With his ear close to the ground he could tell about approaching carts. He could hear dogs barking before anybody else. That is why when they needed a guide for comrade "Genis", commander of several near-by partisan groups, Martkovsky became one of the guides. During one of his trips to Kovno Martkovsky delivered a new code for a group of Soviet paratroopers, he had to learn it by heart.

5. MILITARY OPERATIONS.

Vechorishkiai, some ten kilometres from the base, was where Germans got most of their timber for the army. Narrow-gauge railway and Vilno- Grodno road passed near by. Forestry commission was also there. A strong German garrison was billeted there in well-disguised bunkers with a round wire fence. On April 9 three Kovno groups - "Death to Invaders", "Forward" and "Vladas Baronas" went to storm the German stronghold. 

Partisans were divided into separate groups, each one with its own task. People's avengers came close to the garrison, blocked the road. Unit commander Trushin's shot had a double meaning - the bullet dispatched a guard from one of the bunkers, the sound was a sign to start the operation. Shouting "Hooray!" the partisans attacked the wire fence, cut out a passage and stormed the barracks.

Germans were caught in cross-fire. Pinches Krakinovsky was shooting at the building of German headquarters from his mortar. Machine-gunners Arn Gafanovich, Itzik Nemser, Michl Pasternak and others were shooting at the enemy. At first fascists taken by surprise could not understand what was going on. Scared to death they came running outside in their underwear, some managed to pick up their cases with stolen goods. Soon the ground was covered in dead German bodies. Among them there were five officers and a captain from German intelligence service. Resistance coming from the Germans still fighting from the bunkers, was put down by hand grenades.

Suddenly partisans were shot at from the barracks. Girsh Smoliakov threw his grenade first into an enemy machine-gunner and led his group into attack. Perets Padisson and Leiser Zodikov with their groups followed. Shimen Bloch led the fourth group. Sundl Strom, Judl Eidelman, Hona Padisson, Shloima Abramovich attacked the headquarters building. Borech Lopiansky got into the building through a window. He got hold of the machine-gun barrel which was attacking the partisans and pushed it down. Lopiansky broke the head of the enemy gunner with the barrel of his rifle.

Partisans, one after another, occupied garrison structures, Another, a more numerous group headed by Shchipakov carried out some acts of sabotage: pulled down fifty telegraph poles, took apart rails, blew up a tar factory. Sensing how strong the partisans turned out to be the Germans sheltered in the bunkers and kept very quiet.

Michael Pasternak - Jewish Partisan from Kovno

Individual partisan groups had to fight the Germans in various re-enforced bunkers. A group of partisans shot at Germans trying to escape to Rudniki and made them enter the battle. Using their advantageous position the partisans brought down one fascist after another. But several lorries with soldiers came to help from Vilno itself. The enemy had the advantage now. A group of partisans started a loosing battle thus giving the others a chance to escape taking with them tropheys and prisoners.

The partisan rearguard fought to the very end. Surrounded by the enemy, the people's avengers were killed one after another...

Taibele Vinitskaia ("Galia"), last of the survivors, with her shoulder wounded, raised her hands and went towards the enemy. At first the Germans were pleased:"This partisan will be taken alive!.." But on her approach Taibele pulled the ring of her hand grenade. The girl died but so did six fascists who stood near-by brought down by grenade fragments.

Thirteen of sixteen partisans who died heroically in the battle at Vechorishkiai were members of Kovno ghetto organization. The partisans swore to revenge their friends. The very next day after the Vechorishkiai operation the partisans ambushed the road leading to Vilno. They were successful. The partisans destroyed a car which carried seven German officers wounded in yesterday's fight.

This was not all. -Comrade commander,- partisans asked group commander Zeiko,- send us to revenge our friends. 

24 hours later a group of "Germans" left the "Forward". They smoked cigarettes, machine-guns over their shoulders. One kilometre from Vechorishkiai in Raviale there was a local prison. It was surrounded by a double wire fence and a deep water ditch. Guards' office and a weapon depot were situated inside the fence. A group of "Germans" from "Forward" headed there.

At 8 am the group reached their aim. Germans were sound asleep after a well-spent evening. The guard at the gates let the "reinforcement" in. When he faced a revolver barrel it was already too late for alarm. A part of the group headed by Shimen Bloch occupied guards' office, destroyed telephone lines. They found the guards' boss lying in his bed. He was surprised when he was ordered to get out in his underwear. The rest of the partisans captured several Germans from the guards' office, two with their were mistresses found still in bed.

At the same time another group headed by Leiba Zaiats broke the prison doors and liberated thirty nine prisoners. Some of them decided to become partisans and went to the forest with their liberators. Before their departure leaving the partisans set fire to the prison and the guards' office. People's avengers took with them considerable amount of trophies - weapons, bullets, clothes.

Several more attacks took place and the Germans decided to shut down their garrison in Vechorishkiaia. During one of their operations the partisans from the "Death to Invaders" group captured Mikalajunas, a commandant of a German concentration camp, a well-known bloody executioner of Soviet and party activists, a murderer of Soviet prisoners-of-war, an active participant of mass killings of Jews. The criminal was punished.

Germans tried to keep Rudniki, the main town of a large area where several main roads met, in their hands as hard as they could: they built fortification, dug trenches, kept their garrison in constant alert. The avengers could not be stopped. Group's rank-and-file members did not know when and where the Germans would be attacked next. But it was clear to everyone an attack was being prepared.

Jankl Birger, who recently arrived from the ghetto, was sent to the household sector first, as a "new-comer". It did not suit the lad and he addressed the commander:

-I came here to fight, to take a real revenge... Please, put me into a fighting unit and into the first operation... Group commander Radionov shook his hand:


-O'K, get ready!

Moshe Sherman -Jewish partisan from Kovno

The preparation lasted all day - they cleaned their weapons , checked ammunition, cleaned clothes. Then the partisans went to bed - they needed to prepare for a long night march. Everything started according to the plan. During the night they had to cover a long distance. By morning time the partisans reached their aim and blockaded the railway-line Jashuny-Rudniki.

Guarded trains arrived every morning in Rudniki. Invaders were taking forest trees, agricultural products stolen from the local population. Partisans wanted to put an end to that. They wanted to let fascists know that Germans were no longer masters in their home front. Two mines were planted under the rails. One mine was for a locomotive and the other - for the middle part of the train. The train was approaching. But one of the mines did not explode and the locomotive passed unharmed. Two carriages in the middle turned over and the guards using this cover started shooting.  -Attack the enemy! Forward! - the commander ordered.

Haim Volbe,a disciplined and brave machine-gunner, was as always in the front. With his machine-gun he went to the most dangerous place - the locomotive. An enemy armoured-machine-gun was firing from there. "Number Two" Volbe - Sundl Strom - followed him closely. They got far ahead, chose a good position and were ready to start the fight.

Tragedy struck! The machine-gun misfired, then it was silent. A bullet shower came from behind the locomotive. One of the bullets hit Volbe. Having noticed the silence the "father"- 60-year-old Vikentii Markovich, participant of the First World War and the Civil War which followed it - came running. Alongside the experienced "father" was young Jankl Birger. The machine-gun fire brought down them both...

German attention was attracted to the centre and partisan flanks got the freedom of action and surrounded the enemy. The people's avengers attacked the fascists from all sides. The Germans panicked. Only some managed to hide in the forest, the rest were brought down by partisan bullets and seven threw their weapons and raised their hands into the air. Among partisan trophies were two dozen rifles, antitank submachine-guns and several thousand rounds. When the Germans were brought to the base they turned out to be Vechorishkiai fighters. Those who avoided partisans' revenge last time had no way of escaping now.

Kovno groups undertook another large attack to commemorate May 1 1944. Perets Kliachko, Frieda Rutstein, Rachil Lifshits went towards a newly-built bridge across river Miarkis and exploded it with the guard still there. The explosion of the bridge was a signal for the start of the operation. They opened fire on the garrison. Famous machine-gunner Michl Pasternak discharged seventeen submachine-gun drums. His "number two" Nion Itzikson helped Michl in everything.

For over three hours Sara and Moishe Rubinson together with Aron Vilenchuk held the Germans under fire in their barracks. At the same time the railway station was blown up; Berl Stern, Shmuel Broer, Vasilii Zaporojets blew up a telephone exchange. Shachno Shilin, Leiser Silber and Misha Shipkov planted mines under roads which could be used to bring reinforcement for the Germans. Anton Bondar, Hona Padisson and Kasriel Koblenz turned a local tar factory into ruins. Partisans returned to the base without losses. May celebrations were particular joyous. Whenever it was possible distinguished partisans were given state military awards or thanked by their commanders. Forty nine partisans from Kovno ghetto were among those who received awards.

6. IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS

Six partisans from the "Death to Invaders" had to go a long way towards Kaishiadoris railway station. They had to stay a day in the village of Jalioi near Onushkis. A local kulak found the partisans. He informed Germans. Lorries with armed Germans on board accompanied by a small tank stormed the village. The partisans defended bravely. Several grenades flew towards the small tank, avengers' bullets brought down fascists. But they were outnumbered -all six died in the uneven fight. By night time Germans began erecting gallows in Onushkis.

When the locals came out of their houses in the morning, on the gallows they saw naked bodies of the six partisans full of bullet holes... These were bodies of those who died in yesterday's fight. By the gallows there was a sign:"Jews-bandits!"... Soon the sign was changed. Somebody wrote "Germans" instead of "Jews" and the sign had a true ring to it. Heroic death of six partisans was a great loss to the group. When the sad news reached the forest base a decree was issued: 
 

Order No.39, partisan group "Death to Invaders"

1) A group of partisans headed by comrade Lopiansky was surrounded by fascist bandits in one houses in the village of Jalioi while carrying out a military task. The group died in the bitter fight.

2) Boris Shliomovich Lopiansky, born in 1921, was a courageous partisan and received a military state award for carrying out a number of military operations.

3) Partisans Mikhail Jakovlevich Martkovsly, born in 1922, Leiser Jakovlevich Zodikov, born in 1916, Motia Romanovich Goldberg, born in 1922, Shlioma Haimovich Abramovich, born in 1914, Itzik Miklishansky (Izkutis), born in 1923, were exemplary fighters as well.

May their memory live for ever!

-Group commander Smirnov


The group "Vladas Baronas" was ordered to move to the August forest and start their military operations from there. On their way they had to overcome enemy ambushes. There was a serious battle with the enemy near a small place called Valkininkai. Experienced fighters destroyed German ambushes without any losses. Aron Gafanovich killed three Germans, one after another,took their weapons. Commander Karp Ivanov and sergeant-major Ivan Krugliakov ("uncle Vania") masterly led the group on that long and dangerous journey.

Having reached their aim the partisans carried out a number of military operations. Special attention should be paid to the explosion of bridges over the river Marich near Kapchiamiestis and on the road Kapchiamiestis-Grodno which were carried out during the peak of German retreat by experienced members of demolition squad Perets Kliachko, Israel Joelson, Mendl Daich, Itzik Lifshits, Shachno Shilin.

A group headed by Stepan Kulikov ( a favourite of partisans, known by his nick-name "pilot"), Dovid Teper, Sundl Strom, Israel Goldblat,Kalman Goldstein left the group "Death to Invaders" for central Lithuania. The group began their activity in Ukmiarge district. Near Pagelajai the partisans damaged and burnt down heavy-loaded German transport with weapons, having killed eight Germans. A group of guards from a near-by camp for Soviet prisoners-of-war ran to help the transport under attack. Using the opportunity the partisans attacked camp guards, liberated prisoners who then joined the partisans. The group was reinforced by thirty four fighters.

Sima Jasunski Fajtlson -Jewish partisan

In Siesikai the partisans burnt grain warehouses, destroyed the narrow gauge Ionava-Ukmiarge, pulled down telephone and telegraph poles, took a large amount of cattle and returned them to their lawful owners, local population. The head of Ukmiarge fascist police Kiaturka was captured by the partisans and he got the bullet he deserved. The people's avengers distributed among the locals Soviet press in Lithuanian and also newspapers "Tiesa" ("Truth") and "Uj Taribu Lietuva" ("For Soviet Lithuanian"). New fighters continually arrived from local villages. Ionas Rubashauskas, Iodaitis and others exuded from the new arrivals during battles with invaders. During German retreat from Lithuania the partisan group blew up a bridge on the Tauenai-Ukmiarge road, destroyed a small tank and a fast tank, successfully attacked a carriage with Germans, ambushed roads, preventing the enemy from retreat.

The group "Forward" (commander - captain Zeiko) left for the forests of south-west Lithuania stretching from Kaslu Ruda to former German border. Kovno partisans' commander Leib Solomin (Petrovich) went with them. Nechemia Endlin was given the task of taking the group along the dangerous and difficult road guarded all the way by German destructive units.








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The Gelpernus Diary~Part VIII "In the open battle"

On leaving Rudnizky forest the partisans met many problems. The Vilno to Grodno line was guarded especially thoroughly. Trenches and minefields stretched along the line. Endlin went to do reconnaissance work. Near Rudishki he took the partisans through a particularly well-guarded area - the Germans could not imagine that anybody would consider using the road. When the Germans realized what was going on, it was too late, the fire could not harm the partisans any more: forests served as a good cover for the avengers. 

The Neman was also on their way. One could cross the river in different places. Endlin who had logic and experience of a partisan guide decided to take the route they had taken before. Indeed there were many enemy points but the decisive factor was the help from locals who worked with partisans before and knew how to help the partisans to avoid most dangerous places. Solomin accepted Endlin's suggestion. The group crossed the river on the Darsunishkis-Kruonis stretch. Local farmers were enrolled for help. They delivered all available boats to the crossing. Large logs were also used. Even the moon was smiling seeing the unusual "fleet" heading towards the other bank...

July nights are not long. To reach the place of their destination on time they had to make use of morning and night time. One part of the way on their approach to Kaslu Ruda they had to walk along a country road one evening. Suddenly the partisans were shot at from behind some thick bushes. People's avengers fell down and started fire. Sounds of dozens of firing machine-guns, submachine?guns, antitank rifles could be heard. Partisans' bullets brought silence to the enemy fire. The avengers approached the forest on the other side of the village. Suddenly they heard Endlin's command:


-Back! Follow me!

The partisans ran along the village. Experience did not let Endlin down. He realized there may be ambush in the forest. Having run for a kilometre the partisans realized their guide was right - from the forest, they wanted to enter, five to six hundred Germans they got into their vehicles and went in opposite direction. Everyone got the message - having heard the fire fascists decided they were dealing with a large group trying to surround them...

It was easy to be ambushed on the line Kovno-Mariiampole (*now Kapsukas). Local farmers told the partisans that Germans kept this extremely important transport artery under strict night guard which was replaced at 8am by a single post every two hundred metres. They decided to cross the railway in the afternoon. The group crossed it at 10am.

With great surprise and joy farmers working in the fields met the partisans. They greeted them and waved to them for a long time... Having fought their way through for two hundred and thirty kilometres the group reached their destination and set up a new base for further struggle. With special tasks and the idea of obtaining weapons for large operations in the east special groups were sent to join Belorussian partisans. Having overcome all obstacles they arrived.

 

By that time the June offensive by the Soviet Army began and Kovno partisans stayed to fight shoulder to shoulder with their Belorussian friends. Alter Faitlson distinguished himself in the group headed by major Shostakovich. In the operation near Molodechno on June 21 he brought a lot of destruction with his mortar - totally destroyed watchtowers of a German garrison and enemy earth-and-timber emplacement. This allowed the partisans to capture fascist strongholds. Kovno partisan Jankl Kava was among Byelorussian partisans who destroyed 45 kilometres of the railway line that night. Judl Sherman courageously fought next to his new friends in Minsk partisan group No.106.

7. LIBERATING SOVIET LITHUANIA.
 

Tzadok Bleiman Evyatar -Jewish partisan from Kovno

Front line was fast approaching Vilno. In this situation fascists tried hard to provide a quiet home front. Strong German units supported by artillery, rocket-launches and aviation headed towards partisans. Skilful manoeuvres allowed people's avengers to avoid open battles and to regroup for new military operations.The group "Death to Invaders" received an order to liberate Rudniki and local villages during the advance by the Soviet Army on Vilno. Germans were supported by groups of armed Byelopoles. They ambushed roads and attacked partisans. In a bitter battle the partisans destroyed Byelopole units and liberated Rudniki. Red banners appeared over the roofs. Both liberators and liberated gathered for a mass meeting.

New tasks were awaiting the partisans.The Soviet Army surrounded Vilno and began destroying a large fascist garrison which was desperately trying to stay in Vilno. Partisans fought alongside Soviet Army troops. The "Death to Invaders" and other groups crossed the river Baltoii Voke (White Vaka) and stormed south-east suburbs of Vilno. Near Aushros Vartai (Sharp Brama) the group entered a fight with Germans hiding in buildings.

On 13 July 1944 the Soviet Army completed the liberation of Vilno by getting Germans from their strongholds house after house, street after street. Partisans helped to put down fires, brought order to Vilno streets, guarded streets and roads. Kovno partisan Bella Ganelina, who was on her post, had the honour of letting into the city the first civilian car with members of the Lithuanian government on board headed by the Chairman of the Presidium of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet Justas Paletskis.

At the same time another Kovno partisan group "Forward" continued their fight in the forests of Kaslu Ruda. For a long time partisans disrupted German work on Kovno-Mariiampole road. The partisans derailed several fascist echelons on the way to the front near station Mauruchiai. Shimen Bloch with his group kept under fire German crossing from Seriajus. They destroyed enemy cars, stopped an enemy tank, captured four gestapo men escaping from Vilno and dressed in civilian clothes.

Shiia Vershvovsky, Berl Sterb, Peisach Sadovsky ambushed and planted mines under roads. "We are planting mouse-traps," the partisans joked. People's avengers had a chance to observe a fascist tank which ran into one of their "mouse-traps". Local population tried to assist in getting the enemy out. Eidjulis, Gladinas and other new-comers were especially brave in battles.

A real pleasant surprise for the partisans was a message from their friends on the liberated territory. Among weapons which arrived by a parachute was a sniper's rifle with the words "Judl Eidelman" (partisan group "Death to Invaders") and eight crosses - one for each killed fascist. Faivel Beniaminovich was given this rifle. New crosses soon appeared on the rifle.

During one of military operations carried out by the group "Forward" Haim Dovid Ratner and Jankl Levi - true sons of the Communist party, brave fighters with fascist invaders - died while following their commander's orders. Haim Dovid Ratner was a member of the ghetto underground organization from its very foundation. He was known for his high fighting spirit, was a unit commander and Haim Yelin's assistant who carried out a number of very important tasks.

 

Jewish partisans outside the Ninth Fort after the liberation

Before he left for Byelorussia on orders with an important task, he was a commissar of the group "Forward". Jankl Levi - at first a rank-and-file fighter- quickly distinguished himself in the underground work especially in obtaining weapons and became one of the best messengers between the city and ghetto organizations.

In the forests of Kaslu Ruda the fighters from group the "Forward" met Soviet paratroopers. Partisans helped the paratroopers to find where Germans kept their batteries. This information was passed on to the command of the Soviet Army, and the partisans received a chance to see for themselves Soviet planes following the information and attacking the targets...

Battles round Kovno were coming to an end. The group "Forward" was marching towards their home?town. The commander called Endlin:
- You brought our group here. Take us to Kovno!

Nechemii Endlin marched in front of the group of one hundred and thirty seven fighters. Here is the Neman. In the distance one could see factory pipes and Kovno towers. The city was lying ahead of them... Native Kovno - liberated, Soviet.

The group joined Soviet Army units and continued its move forward accompanied by thousands of friendly glances and cries of "Hooray!" from the liberated population.

Many partisans continued their fight in the Soviet Army until the final victory.

The end.

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A woman and child pose on the street in front of a wooden house in the Kovno ghetto

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Children from the Jewish kindergarten (located at 9 Mapu Street) in Kovno, Lithuania

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Jewish women working on an agricultural plot in the Kovno ghetto

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Members of the Lithuanian militia prepare for a round-up in Kovno

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The Public Hanging of Nahum Meck

 


The public hanging of Nahum Meck in the Kovno ghetto

Nahum Meck, the only Jew hanged in the Kovno ghetto, was publicly executed after having fired a gun into the air when caught trying to escape from the ghetto. According to Leib Garfunkel, deputy chairman of the Jewish Council, Meck was en route to a meeting with a group of Lithuanians interested in smuggling Jews to Sweden in exchange for large sums of money. His accomplice, Shimon Katz, evaded capture. Though no one was injured, the Germans detained twenty additional Jews and the leadership of the Jewish Council, all of whom were eventually released. The Germans ordered that the Jewish ghetto police hang Meck in the public square next to the Jewish Council building and that his body be left for 24 hours as a deterence against future acts of resistance. Before dying, Meck supposedly told the two Jewish hangmen that he forgave them since he knew they had no choice but to carry out the execution order. He asked about his family as he was being led to the gallows and was told they were alive in the ghetto. However, the following day his mother and sister were taken to the Ninth Fort where they were killed.

Date: Nov 18, 1942 
Locale: Kaunas, Lithuania; Kovno; Kowno 

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Tarbut School in 1932


Sitting: Members of the school administration and the teachers.
From the right, Chaim Kaufman, Pinchas Sheinkastel, Shalit, the principal Zeitzik, Rozenhak the superintendent of Tarbut Schools in Poland, Yakov Yelin, Chaim Kleinmintz, Zitrinel.
Standing from the right: Avraham Ingber - - - B. Goldberg, Ms. Podlis-Shalit, Leibel Gruska, Mordechai Apter, Moshe Boikt, Tzas, Moshe Sheinbaum

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Partisans from the Kovno Ghetto

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Hinda Cohen

This article focuses on the shoe and mittens of the toddler Hinda Cohen, deported to Auschwitz in a children’s aktion (action, or round-up) that occurred in the Kovno Ghetto, on March 27, 1944. Hinda was murdered in Auschwitz.

When Hinda was taken from her bed to be deported to Auschwitz, her shoe was left behind. Upon finding it, her father etched the date on the shoe’s sole. Her parents, Dov and Zipora Cohen, survived the war. They kept their daughter’s shoe, the pair of mittens that Zipora had sewn for her from scraps of material, and her birth certificate, until they died.

Hinda Cohen’s shoe, with the year of her deportation etched in the bottom

The Story

Zipora and Dov (Braka) Cohen were a young couple at the outbreak of World War II. Before the war, the couple had suffered from a miscarriage. With the German invasion into Lithuania, the couple unsuccessfully tried to escape to the Soviet Union, and found themselves back in their home in Kovno. It was not long before Dov and Zipora were evacuated from their home and into the ghetto established in the city. Some six months later, on January 18, 1942, their daughter Hinda was born, named after Zipora’s mother.

At the end of November 1943, the couple was moved to the Aleksotas labor camp in Lithuania, where they worked under grueling conditions, assigned to exhausting tasks. During the day the men and women would leave for work and only the children would remain in the camp, with a handful of adults and elderly people. On March 27, transportation vehicles arrived at the camp.

The adults were told to leave for work through a different gate, so that they would not be able to see the vehicles that had arrived. At the end of the day, when the men and women returned, they discovered that all of the children had been deported to concentration camps in the East.

Later, they learned that their children had been sent to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Dov and Zipora went to their daughter’s bed and found one of her shoes, along with the mittens Zipora had made for her. Dov etched the date on the bottom of the shoe and swore to preserve it for posterity.

Shoe of Hinda Cohen, Toddler

Dov and Zipora later returned to the Kovno Ghetto and then fled to the forest. They were liberated by the Red Army and in 1947 they had another daughter. In 1960 they immigrated to Israel.

Dov and Zipora asked their families to deliver the items that had belonged to their small daughter to Yad Vashem. Indeed, after their passing, their granddaughter donated the artifacts to the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem.

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The Kovno Ghetto (Kaunas)

Lithuania

 

The Kovno Ghetto

(Kaunas)

Post Card of Kovno/Kaunas (circa 1900)

The town of Kovno was established in the year 1030 by the Lithuanian prince Koinas. Jaroslav, at the convergence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers. The  first settlement built stands on ground of the present day Kaunas old town, however due to continual invasions and war, the town was demolished and rebuilt fourteen consecutive times. Only in the year 1410, after the prince of Lithuania Vytovet (Vytautas) defeated the Germans near the villages of Grunwald and Tannenberg in Prussia, did the building of the town started progressing independently.

The first Jews to arrive in Lithuania settled in Trakai, Grodno, and Brisk, and later came to Kovno as merchants. Soon, however, Jewish families began settling there permanently.

Throughout history the Jews of Kovno were periodically exiled by the town’s leaders and were forced on many occasions to leave Kovno. Their good fortune was that they did not need to go far; they were allowed to settle in the nearby Vilijampole.  They would tend to stay there for some time before returning slowly to Kovno, only to start the cycle again. During almost every new ruler, they were once again expelled from Kovno.

In 1503, Alexander the First received a large amount of money and revoked the expulsion of the Jews, allowing them to return and returning some of their possessions. The residents of Vilijampole returned to the area immediately.

Map with location of Kovno/Kaunas

When Sigmund took control of the kingdom, he encouraged industry and commerce. During his rule, Jews came to the town without trouble or restriction and the Christian merchants now wanted Jews in town, for the Jews assisted them in controlling the revenue and taxation that was sent to Prussia.

Kovno soon become a center of Jewish learning. The yeshiva in Slobodka, an impoverished district of the city, was one of Europe's most prestigious institutions of higher Jewish learning. Kovno had a rich and varied Jewish culture. The city had almost 100 Jewish organizations, 40 synagogues, many Yiddish schools, 4 Hebrew high schools, a Jewish hospital, and scores of Jewish-owned businesses. It was also an important Zionist center.

In 1795, during the third division of Poland, the Kovno area was annexed to the Russian Empire. During World War I, in 1915, the town was conquered by Germany, although it was soon liberated from the German occupants and became part of Poland. Kovno became the temporary capital of Lithuania in the years 1919-1939.

At the end of 19th century the city of Kaunas was fortified, and by 1890 it was encircled by eight forts and nine gun batteries. The construction of the Ninth Fort began in 1902 and was completed on the eve of First World War. From 1924-on Ninth Fort was used as the city of Kovnos' prison.

Kovno (circa 1915)

In WW1 the first to suffer in result of the war among the Lithuanian Jews were the Jews of Kovno. Soon after the outbreak of war on the first of August 1914, thousands of residents left the town. As the warfront approached, a few thousand Jews transferred to Vilna and other settlements in the area. On May 18, 1915, the head of the Russian army, the great prince Nikolai Nikolaiovich ordered that all the Jews, without exception, be expelled from the city of Kovno.

This order was immediately executed with no pity or consideration toward even those who were sick or handicapped. The town was cleared of Jews. Jewish apartments and businesses were officially shut down by the police and military authorities; Lithuanian Christians took over the Jews’ possessions and looted their homes.

Members of the Central Committee of the He - Chaluts Zionist movement in Kaunas (Kovno) in 1922

Only a minor part of the exiled Jews were able to find shelter in Vilna; most were taken south and east, deep into Russia, to areas far from the border. After WW1 the Jews of Kovno were represented in all the various prominent municipal committees, and a large number of Jewish clerks were employed by various institutions at this time.

This situation continued until the end of 1926, when there was a revolution of sorts in December. Nationalistic Lithuanians (Tautininkai) politically took control of Lithuania, abolishing the democratic state of the municipalities.

The Lithuanians annexed villages and isolated suburbs that were populated by Lithuanians under the municipality of Kovno. The overall percentage of Jews in the town population therefore decreased. The mayor of Kovno became Vokietaitis; he was later succeeded by Markys. A spirit of fierce patriotism now spread through Lithuania and anti-Semitism took root in the offices of the local administration.

The nationalists tried to uproot the established Jewish financial institutions in town, limiting the contribution to Jewish educational institutions as well as decreasing cultural assistance for the Jews. They also limited the number of working clerks of Jewish background. The nationalists’ aim was to underscore and abolish the influence of the Jews in town, a town where at least 25% of the population was Jewish, and the share of the economy contingent upon Jews was greater than even that.

German forces attack Kovno

Most of the Jewish youth congregated in Zionist movements like Hashomer Hazayir, Beitar, the Zionist youth, majakiva, Gordonija, and the ZS. There were student unions and sports unions like Makaby, Hapoel, and others that developed sophisticated educational systems and trained young Jews for immigration to and agricultural life in Israel.

The Chalutz opened a training kibbutz in the town, which included the corporate carpentry of the Chalutz, managed by A. Shragovic. The activities of the left were limited, both because it had little influence on the community and because it was officially forbidden for many years. The communist left came out from underground only when the Soviets invaded and occupied Lithuania.  That year, all the educational and cultural institutions of the Jews were transferred to the control of Communist Jews.

On 28 September 1939, when Germany and Russia divided Poland, Russia also concluded pacts with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, obtaining from them rights to military bases. Russia ceded Vilna, which had been part of Poland, to Lithuania, whose historic capital it had been.

German soldiers move into Kovno

In recompense, Lithuania was forced to allow Soviet troops to reside in the country. A puppet Government led by J. Paleckis was formed and the ostensible elections to "the national Seimas" were organized. On July 21, "the national Seimas" proclaimed Lithuania a Soviet Socialist Republic and on August 3, Lithuania became the 14th member of the Soviet Union.

In1939, approximately 40,000 Jews lived in Kovno, constituting nearly one-quarter of the city's total population. During the Soviet rule, in 1940-41, the Hebrew educational institutions were closed down and most of the Jewish social and cultural organizations were liquidated; of the city's five Yiddish dailies, only one remained in existence, becoming an organ of the Communist party.

Lithuanians beat Jews to death with steel bars

On June 14, 1941, hundreds of Jewish families, among them factory owners, merchants, public figures, and Zionist activists and leaders, were rounded up and exiled to Siberia.

The newly formed republic was to be short-lived. In June and July 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans occupied Lithuania. During the German occupation, Lithuania was incorporated into the Reich Commissariat Ostland (Reichskommissariat Ostland), a German civilian administration covering the Baltic States and western Belorussia.

However even before the German occupation of the city on June 24, 1941, bands of Lithuanians went on a rampage against the Jews, especially those living in the Slobodka suburb. The murder of Jews continued when the Germans occupied Kovno and took charge of the killings.

The "Death Dealer" of Kovno Lietukis Garage

Thousands of Jews were moved from the city to other locations, such as the Ninth & Seventh Forts, where they were first brutally mistreated by the Lithuanian guards and then shot to death. It is estimated that 10,000 Jews were murdered in June and July of 1941.

The first pogrom was on 25 June 1941. On 7 July 1941, Avraham Tory noted in his Kovno Ghetto Diary: "Soviet rule has disappeared. The Jews are left behind as fair game; hunting them is not unprofitable, because the houses and courtyards of many of them brim with riches.”

When the Nazis later set up the ghetto they also spread Anti-Semitic propaganda which helped inflate the Lithuanian disdain for the Jews. Many Lithuanians saw the Germans as liberators and the propaganda associated the Russian-speaking Jews with the Soviet occupation and made the Jews a symbol of Stalin's unpopular rule.

An announcement  warning against approaching too close to the ghetto fence.

Additionally, rules were implemented which stifled the Jew's daily activities. One example was, "Order No. 1, signed by Oberführer SS Kramer, the "German commissar of the city of Kauen" declares:

The Jewish population is forbidden to walk along city pavements. Jews must walk on the right edge of a pavement one behind the other.

The area earmarked consisted of two parts (the “small ghetto” and the “large ghetto”), both situated in Slobodka, on either side of the main thoroughfare. A barbed-wire fence, with posts manned by Lithuanian guards, was put up around the ghetto, the gates of which were also watched by German police.

Karl Jäger

When the ghetto was sealed off in August 1941, it contained 29,760 Jews. In the following two and a half months, 3,000 Jews were killed. On October 28, the “Gross Aktion was staged, in the course of which 9,000 persons (half of them children) were taken to the Ninth Fort and murdered there.

As the Germans required everyone who remained in the ghetto over the age of 16 to work at factories supporting their war effort, the Council decided who was fit for which job. Additionally, the Council helped ration the limited food supplies and organize resistance groups.

By the end of August 1941, most Jews in rural Lithuania had been shot. By November 1941, the Germans also massacred most of the Jews who had been concentrated in ghettos in the larger cities.

A report submitted by SS-Standartenfuhrer Jäger states the following:

The Commander of the Security Police and the SD Einsatzkommando 3 
Kauen [Kaunas, Kovno]
1 December 1941

Today I can confirm that our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved by EK 3. In Lithuania there are no more Jews, apart from Jewish workers and their families. The distance between from the assembly point to the graves was on average 4 to 5 Km.


[Summary of the figures supplied in Jäger's report.  *not all murders are listed below]

2.8.41 Kauen-Fort IV 170 Jews, 1 US Jewess, 33 Jewesses, 4 Lith. Comm. 209 4.8.41 Panevezys 362 Jews, 41 Jewesses, 5 Russ. Comm., 14 Lith. Comm. 422 5.8.41 Rasainiai 213 Jews, 66 Jewesses 279 7.8.41 Uteba 483 Jews, 87 Jewesses, 1 Lithuanian (robber of corpses of German soldiers) 571 8.8.41 Ukmerge 620 Jews, 82 Jewesses 702 9.8.41 Kauen-Fort IV 484 Jews, 50 Jewesses 534 11.8.41 Panevezys 450 Jews, 48 Jewesses, 1 Lith. 1 Russ. 500 13.8.41 Alytus 617 Jews, 100 Jewesses, 1 criminal 719 14.8.41 Jonava 497 Jews, 55 Jewesses 552 15-16.8.41 Rokiskis 3,200 Jews, Jewesses, and Jewish Children, 5 Lith. Comm., 1 Pole, 1 partisan 3207 9-16.8.41 Rassainiai 294 Jewesses, 4 Jewish children 298 27.6-14.8.41 Rokiskis 493 Jews, 432 Russians, 56 Lithuanians (all active communists) 981 18.8.41 Kauen-Fort IV 689 Jews, 402 Jewesses, 1 Pole (female), 711 Jewish intellectuals from Ghetto in reprisal for sabotage action 1,812

I consider the Jewish action more or less terminated as far as Einsatzkommando 3 is concerned. Those working Jews and Jewesses still available are needed urgently and I can envisage that after the winter this workforce will be required even more urgently. I am of the view that the sterilization programme of the male worker Jews should be started immediately so that reproduction is prevented. If despite sterilization a Jewess becomes pregnant she will be liquidated.

(signed) Jäger 
SS-Standartenfuhrer

Elchanan Elkes

The next year and a half was considered to be a “quiet” time in the Kovno ghetto. Daily life activity was administered by the Council of Elders of the Kovno Jewish Ghetto Community (Aeltestenrat der Juedischen Ghetto Gemeinde Kauen), chaired by Dr. Elhanan Elkes, Leib Garfunkel, a lawyer and veteran Zionist leader, acted as his deputy.

The gate outside of the Kovno Ghetto

The Aeltestenrat appointed and supervised the Jewish police, which was responsible for the forced labor and the maintenance of public order. Health, welfare, and culture services were provided by the Aeltestenrat in the form of a hospital and medical clinic, a home for the aged, a soup kitchen, a school, and an orchestra.

There were concerts, lectures, literary evenings, and other cultural events. After public education was prohibited, it was nonetheless kept up under the cover of the vocational-training schools.

Life was still difficult for Jews in the ghetto during this “quiet” period; German authorities forbid pregnancies and births in the Kovno ghetto, declaring that women who are up to seven months pregnant will be shot if they do not terminate their pregnancies by mid-September 1942.

Despite the risks, some women carry to term and hide their babies from the Germans. One survivor provides this description:

“Spring evening of 1942, people began returning to the ghetto from work. Women and children rushed towards the ghetto gates to meet relatives. As always they looked forward to the return of the workers: it was not unusual for some not to return from "work"... The roar of a motorcycle engine broke the deafening silence. Just in case people began hiding. Children were seized with an instinctive fear.

Jewish workers returning to the ghetto

Like frightened little animals they helplessly clung to grown-ups looking for cover... The motorcycle roar was a familiar sound to everyone - it meant the arrival of Ernst Shtiz, gestapo representative for "Jewish affairs" in Kovno. He was coming to meet his assistant Lipzer, a Jew.

On that spring evening of 1942 he announced to ghetto residents that from then on every Jewish woman who had just had a baby "would be taken" with her baby away, while an expectant mother would be shot...

When he was leaving the ghetto Shtiz met a pregnant Jewish woman. He wrote down her name and said that in spite of what was being said about him he was not an animal and so he would let her give birth, but the child would have to be brought alive to him...

From the very first days of its existence the ghetto organization began explaining to all its members and via them to the rest of the ghetto population that children faced real danger in the ghetto, and that they had to do all possible to hide their children with non-Jews.

Childrens school in the Kovno Ghetto

The organization formed a group of women who were responsible for finding accommodation outside the ghetto for the children, teaching them Lithuanian, acquiring necessary documentation and other things.

Great heroism was shown when children were taken outside the ghetto. Three-year-old Tamara Ratner was put asleep with an injection of luminal to ensure she did not make a sound. Ida Shater together with the child's father took the living parcel over the ghetto fence and left on the doorstep of Lithuanian children's home "Lopshialis".

The home's director Baublis was informed beforehand on such occasions. His trusted teachers expected children and took them into the home as "deserted children". Six-year-old Liolia Rosental was taken out of the ghetto by her father in a sack.

With this parcel on his back he walked for eight kilometres. In the village of Rojay farmer Maziasuskas took the boy. “

Jews at the Ninth Fort awaiting execution

During intermittent periods between mass killings, Jews in the ghettos were exploited for slave labour and subjected to hunger and disease. In the summer of 1943 the Germans began to liquidate the surviving remnants of the ghettos (Bialystok in August; Minsk, Lida, Vilna in September; Riga in November).

Later that year in December, more than 60 Jews escape from the Ninth Fort. The SS had assigned them to exhume and burn the remains of Jews the SS had shot at the fort.

The exhumations and burning were part of Aktion 1005, the systematic attempt to eliminate the evidence of mass murder in Eastern Europe. Thirteen of the escapees hide in Kovno and document German efforts to destroy the evidence of mass killings at the Ninth Fort.

On July 8, 1944, as the Red Army was approaching Kovno, German forces and their Lithuanian auxiliaries begin the final deportation of Jews from Kovno. Over the next five days, they set fire to the former ghetto area to force Jews out of their hiding places.

Jewish women standby murdered corpses outside the Seventh Fort

The Germans used bloodhounds, smoke grenades, and firebombs to force the Jews out into the open; in the process, some 2,000 Jews died, by choking or burning, or as a result of the explosions.  Almost 1,500 Jews are killed and hundreds flee to nearby forests. 

The Germans deport the remaining Jews to the Stutthof and Dachau concentration camps. On August 1, 1944 Soviet forces liberate Kovno. A few Jews who had escaped the final destruction of the ghetto emerge from hidden bunkers in the former ghetto area.

Of Kovno's Jewish survivors, 500 survived in forests or in bunkers; an additional 2,500 survived in concentration camps in Germany.

Smoke from German shelling billows over the city of Kovno, June 22-25, 1941

German soldiers tearing down a border post, June 22, 1941

German soldiers and Lithuanians watch a "partisan" murder Jewish men at the Lietukis garage, Kovno, June 27, 1941

 

Added by bgill

The "Death Dealer" of Kovno Lietukis Garage

Added by bgill

Mass Murder in Lithuania

Report by SS-Colonel Karl Jäger of December 1, 1941, documenting the execution of Jews at Fort IX, Kovno, in September and October 1941 

Summary translation:
Top Secret:

From the Commander of the Security Police and the SD Einsatzkommando 3

Kovno, December 1, 1941

Complete list of executions carried out by Einsatzkommando 3 up to December 1, 1941 ...

[page 7] Today, I can confirm that our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved by Einsatzkommando 3. In Lithuania there are no more Jews, apart from Jewish workers and their families. These total:

In Shavli, about 4,500 
In Kovno, about 15,000 
In Vilna, about 15,000

I also intended to kill Jewish workers and their families but I came up against strong protests from the civil administration and the Wehrmacht. Instructions were issued that these Jews and their families were not to be executed. ...

   

In Kovno 1,500 Jews were killed on the night of 25 June and 2,300 on the 26 June 1941.

Pie chart indicating  populations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by ethnic group

Dr Franz Walter Stahlecker the head of Einsatzgruppen A in the Baltic States was particularly pleased with the understanding attitude adopted by the Wehrmacht, but this was only half the story.

An orderly occupation is not promoted by allowing 3,800 people to be killed in the streets of a city normally as stodgy as Stockholm. Field – Marshall von Leeb, commanding Army Group North, ordered von Kuchler of the 18th Army to stop such incidents recurring. Stahlecker had now to take responsibility for the killings himself.

We hear no more of the Lithuanian journalist Klimatis, whose four political groups so distinguished themselves on 25 and 26 June, but Stahlecker picked 300 of these citizens to serve in his Einsatzgruppe.

Henceforward the Lithuanians were to do the work for which they could be trusted, under a different authority, and seven months later Stahlecker was able to write that eight Lithuanians served in his commandos to one German.

By the summer of 1942, whole regiments of Lithuanian police had been sent to Poland, White Russia and Latvia to guard the camps and ghettos to man the extermination camps, and to cut down cringing old people and children in the streets during the “actions.”

A few days after the massacre in Kovno, Stahlecker summoned a council of the Jewish community and declaring that the Germans “had no reason to intervene in their differences with the Lithuanians,” recommended to them the virtues of moving into a ghetto – for which Stahlecker found the Viriampole district particularly suitable, since only one bridge across the Memel connected it with the town.

But there were too many Jews to be fitted into Vriiampole, even if flight and deportation had reduced their numbers to 24,000. On 11 July therefore Stahlecker ordered a “cleansing action.” All Jews not wanted by a labour office were to be committed to prison and executed daily in batches of fifty to hundred.  

Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker

The first executions at the Vilna killing site at Ponary took place on the 8 July 1941 one hundred Jews at a time were brought from the city to Ponary, to a waiting zone.

Here in what had been a popular holiday resort for Vilna Jewry, they were ordered to undress and to hand over whatever money or valuables they had with them. They were then marched naked, in single file, in groups of ten or twenty at a time, holding hands to the edge of the pits dug by the Soviet Army to store fuel.

They were then shot down by rifle fire, after they had fallen into the pit, no attempt was made to see if they were all dead. If anyone moved another shot was fired. The bodies were then covered from above, with a thin layer of sand and the next group of naked prisoners led from the waiting area to the edge of the pit. From where they had waited, the people had heard the sound of rifle fire but had seen nothing.

German soldiers described massacres in July 1941.

A driver’s statement:

I cannot whether we arrived in Ponary on 5 or 10 July 1941. While we were repairing our vehicles – I can no longer tell whether it was on the first or second day of our stay there – I suddenly saw a column of about four hundred men walking along the road into the pine wood.

They were coming from the direction of Vilna. The column which consisted exclusively of men aged between twenty-five and sixty, were led into the wood by a guard of Lithuanian civilians.

The Lithuanians were armed with carbines, the people were fully dressed and carried only the barest essentials on them. As I remember, the guards wore armbands, the colour of which I can no longer recall.

Bodies of those murdered in Ponary

I do remember that Hamann and, I think Hechinger went off after the column. About an hour later Hamann returned to our quarters. He was pale and told me in an agitated manner what he had witnessed in the wood.

His actual words were, “You know the Jews you saw marching past before? Not one of them is still alive.” I said that this couldn’t be the case, whereupon he explained to me that all the men had been shot. Any of them that weren’t dead after the shooting had been given the coup de grace.

The very next day – I think it was around lunchtime – once again I saw a group of four hundred Jews coming from the direction of Vilna going into the same wood. These too were accompanied by armed civilians. The delinquents were very quiet. I saw no women or children in either of the two groups.

 Together with some of my colleagues from my motorised column I followed this second group. As I recall the NCO’s Riedl, Dietrich, Schroff, Hamann, Locher, Ammann, Greule and possibly some others whom I can no longer remember came with us.

After we had followed the group for about eight hundred to a thousand metres we came upon two fairly large sandpits. The path we had taken ran between them both. The pits were not joined but were separated by the path and a strip of land.

We overtook the column just before we reached the pits and then stopped close to the entry to one of them – the one on the right. I myself stood about six to eight meters from the entry.

To the left and right of the entry stood an armed civilian – the people were led into the gravel pit in small groups to the right by the guards. Running around the edge of the pit there was a circular ditch which the Jews had to climb down into.

This ditch was about 1.5 metres deep and about the same again in width. Since the ground was pure sand the ditch was braced with planks. As the Jews were being led in groups into the pit an elderly man stopped in front of the entrance for a moment and said in good German, “What do you want from me? I am only a poor composer.”

Shooting at the edge of a pit

 The two civilians standing at the entrance started pummelling him with blows so that he literally flew into the pit. After a short time the Jews had all been herded into the circular trench.

My mates and I had moved up close to the entry to the pit from where we could see clearly that the people in the ditch were being beaten with clubs by the guards, who were standing at the side of the trench.

After this, ten men were slowly led out of the ditch – these men had already bared their upper torsos and covered their heads with their clothes. I would also like to add that on the way to the execution area the delinquents had to walk one behind the other and hold on to the upper body of the man in front.

After a group had lined up at the execution area, the next group was led across. The firing squad, which was made up of ten men, positioned itself at the side of the path, about six to eight metres in front of the group.

After this, as far as I recall, the group was shot by the firing squad after the order was given. The shots were fired simultaneously so that the men fell into the pit behind them at the same time.

Einsatzgruppe member kills a Jewish woman and her child near Ivangorod, Ukraine. 1942. Credit: Jerzy Tomaszewski, Poland

Mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) followed the German army during its invasion of the Baltics and the western Soviet Union, first killing Jewish men, Soviet political commissars, and others considered racially or politically dispensable. Months after the invasion, Mobile killing units turned to the execution of women and children. Open air killings continued in areas of eastern Europe during 1942 and by the spring of 1943, Einstagruppen units A-D had killed over million persons.

The 400 Jews were shot in exactly the same way over a period of about an hour. The shooting happened very quickly. If any of the men in the pit were still moving a few more single shots were fired on them. The pit into which the men fell had a diameter of about fifteen to twenty metres and was I think five to six metres deep.

Lithuanian militiamen in Kovno round up Jews In Kovno,  June 25-July 8, 1941

From our vantage point we could see into the pit and was therefore able to confirm that the 400 Jews who had been shot the previous day were also in there. They were covered with a thin sprinkling of sand. Right on top, on, this layer of sand, there was a further three men and a woman who had been shot on the morning of the day, in question. Parts of their bodies protruded out of the sand.

Folder that held charts, maps, and illustrations from the Summary Report of SS-Brigadier General Stahlecker to the Reich Security Main Office, Berlin, October 16, 1941, documenting Einsatzgruppe A's killing operations between June 22 and October 15, 1941 Credit: National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Documents of Destruction 
As mobile killing units moved swiftly throughout the Baltics, annihilating whole Jewish communities, SS-Colonel Karl Jäger and his superior, SS-Brigadier General Walther Stahlecker prepared top-secret reports. Their detailed records include elaborate statistical tabulations, illustrated maps, and charts that meticulously detail the achievements of organized mass murder.

Selected, translated excerpts from the first portion of the Stahlecker Report:

"From the outset, it was to be expected that the Jewish problem in the Baltic was not going to be solved through pogroms alone. Yet, according to the basic orders, the Security Police's cleansing activity had to aim at a complete annihilation of the Jews. Special commandos, reinforced by specially chosen forces in Lithuania, partisan troops, in Latvia, units of the Latvian auxiliary police, performed extensive executions in the cities and the outlying areas. The operations of these execution commandos went smoothly. ...

"In the first days of operations, not only were execution measures organized and carried out but also the process of creating ghettos in the larger towns. This was especially urgent in Kovno, where 30,000 of the total population of 152,400 were Jews. ...

After about one hundred Jews had been shot, other Jews had to sprinkle sand over their bodies. After the entire group had been executed the firing squad put their rifles to one side. This gave me the opportunity to talk to one of them. I asked him whether he could really do such a thing like that, and pointed out the Jews had done nothing to him. To this he answered, “Yes – after what we have gone through under the domination of Russian Jewish Commissars, after the Russians invaded Lithuania, we no longer find it difficult.” 

 During the course of our conversation he told me that he had been suspected of spying by the Russians. He had been arrested and had been thrown in and out of various GPU prisons, although he was in no way guilty.

He told me had only been a lorry-driver and had never harmed a soul. One of the methods they used to make him confess was to tear out his fingernails. He told me that each of the guards present had had to endure the most extreme suffering. He went on to tell me that a Jewish Commissar had broken into a flat, tied up a man and raped his wife before the man’s very eyes. Afterwards the Commissar had literally butchered the wife to death, cut out her heart, fried it in a pan and had then proceeded to eat it.

I was also told by comrades that in Vilna a German soldier had been shot dead from a church tower. For this another 300-400 Jews were executed in the same quarry. In this connection, I would also like to say that the very next day once again about the same number of Jews were led along the road into the wood.

Jewish prisoner behind bars in Kovno

Apart from that one day I did not go to the execution area again. I can only say that the mass shootings in Ponary were quite horrific. At the time I said: “May God grant us victory because if they get their revenge, we’re in for a hard time.” 

Co – driver’s statement

As already mentioned, we arrived in Ponary one afternoon in the first week of July 1941. The next day we heard rifle and machine gun fire coming from the woods to the south of Ponary. Since we were behind the front we wanted to get to the bottom of the matter. I can no longer remember now exactly whether it was during the morning or in the early afternoon that we went off to find out where the shooting was coming from.

Anyway, I set off with Greule, Hoding, Wahl and Schroff, who were all members of my unit, in the direction of the woods where the shooting was coming from. When we arrived at the spot, we saw people, who we subsequently learned from the leader of the squad were Lithuanians, in the act of carrying out mass shooting of Jews. On the path which ran between the two pits there was a light-machine – gun, pointing to the left, being used by the Lithuanians.

In front of the machine-gun, standing by the edge of the pit, were ten delinquents, who were shot with the machine-gun straight into the pit. I actually looked into the pit and saw that the bottom was already covered with bodies.

In the ditch that had been excavated on the other side of this execution area were the Jews who had not yet been shot. They were all men of different ages. I saw that they had to take off their shoes and shirts and throw them on to the side of the trench.

The Lithuanians standing above were rummaging through these things. I also noticed that at one spot in front of the ditch there was a big mountain of shoes and clothes. While the Jews in the trench were getting undressed the Lithuanians beat them with heavy truncheons and rifle-butts.

Lithuanian militia unit force a group of Jewish women  to undress before their execution in the Pajuoste Forest

They were then led out of the trench ten at a time to stand in front of the machine-gun. The leader of the Lithuanians spoke good German and we went up to him and asked what was going on, saying that this was a downright disgrace. He explained to us that he had once been a teacher at a German school in Konigsberg.

For this the “Bolsheviks” had torn out his fingernails. Moreover, some of the members of the immediate family – parents, brothers and sisters – of this young Lithuanian who was doing the shooting had been captured at the station by the Bolsheviks before the arrival of the German troops and were to have been transported to Siberia.

The transport did not take place because of the arrival of the German soldiers. As a result all the people who were locked up in the wagons starved to death. Why they were now shooting these Jews, if indeed this Lithuanian’s story corresponded with the truth, which I found highly improbable, and whether these particular Jews were the ones who had been involved in that action, he did not tell us.

On one of the last days – it was the third or fourth day of our stay in Ponary, I can no longer remember exactly now – I went to the execution site once again. If I recall correctly, no more shooting could be heard that day and I wanted to look at the place again. I do not remember who went with me.

When I reached the execution area there was a man in a grey uniform standing on the path between the two pits who had been gesturing at us to keep away from a long way off. We kept going, however, and when we got close to him I said there was no need to make a fuss, as we had already seen everything.

As we approached I saw that he was wearing a dark coloured band on his left forearm with the letters “SD” embroidered on it. I now saw that slightly to one side there was a coach with two horses, a landau. On the box of the coach stood a second SD man whom I did not look at more closely. In the coach sat two very well- dressed elderly Jews.

A Jewish man hangs from a tree in Kovno

I had the impression that these were high-class or important people. I inferred this because they looked very well groomed and intelligent and “ordinary” Jews would certainly not have been transported in a coach.

The two Jews had to climb out and I saw that they were both shaking dreadfully. They apparently knew what was in store for them. The SS man who had initially gestured to us to keep away was carrying a sub-machine gun, he made the two Jews go and stand at the edge of a pit and shot both of them in the back of the head, so that they fell in.

I can still remember that one of them was carrying a towel and a soap box which afterwards also lay in the trench. I would also like to say that we all said to one another what on earth would happen if we lost the war and had to pay for all of this.

At Ponary, outside Vilna, the shootings had continued without respite. A Polish journalist, W. Sakowicz, who lived at Ponary, and who was himself killed during the last days of German rule in Vilna, noted in his diary:

27 July 1941 Sunday

Shooting is carried on nearly everyday. Will it go on for ever? The executioners began selling the clothes of the killed. Other garments are crammed into sacks in a barn at the highway and taken to town.

People say that about five thousand persons have been killed in the course of this month. It is quite possible, for about two hundred to three hundred people are being driven up here nearly every day. And nobody ever returns.

30 July 1941 Friday

Civilians view the aftermath of a massacre

About one hundred and fifty persons shot. Most of them were elderly people. The executioners complained of being very tired of their “work”, of having aching shoulders from shooting. That is the reason for not finishing the wounded off, so that they are buried half alive.

2 August 1941 Monday

 

Shooting of big batches has started once again. Today about four thousand people were driven up, shot by eighty executioners, all drunk. The fence was guarded by a hundred soldiers and policemen.

This time terrible tortures before shooting. Nobody buried the murdered. The people were driven straight into the pit, the corpses were trampled upon. Many a wounded writhed with pain. Nobody finished them off. 

On 31 August 1941 in Vilna, before the ghetto had been established there, a young Jew, Abba Kovner, went to the Jewish Council building to try and find out about the whereabouts of some of his friends who had been taken away in the raids and abductions of the previous weeks.

“I still thought that part of these people, or most of them, would return,” he later recalled. Early that afternoon, the predominantly Jewish section of Vilna was surrounded by an Einsatzkommando unit, together with several hundred armed Lithuanians.

It was announced that any Jew who left his home would be killed, and that a search was in progress for those guilty of ambushing a German patrol. “The streets were surrounded,” Abba Kovner recalled, “but again a few hours went by, and nothing happened.”

“Then, when the sun set, “the action” began, Kovner recounted:

Lithuania militia guards Jews to be killed at Ponary

“People were taken out of their flats, some carrying a few of their possessions, out of all the courtyards, out of all their flats they were driven out with cruel beatings.

I don’t know whether out of wisdom or instinct or momentary weakness I found myself in a stairway, in a dark recess there and I stood there. Out of a small window I saw what was happening in that narrow street.

Until one o’clock, past midnight, this operation was still in progress. During those hours, at midnight I saw from the other courtyard on the other side of the street, it was 39 Ostrashun Street, a woman was dragged by the hair by two soldiers, a woman who was holding something in her arms.

One of them directed a beam of light into her face, the other one dragged her by her hair and threw her out on the pavement. Then the infant fell out of her arms. One of the two, the one with the flashlight, I believe took the infant, raised him into the air, grabbed him by the leg.

The woman crawled on the earth, took hold of his boot and pleaded for mercy. But the soldier took the boy and hit him with his head against the wall, once, twice, smashed him against the wall.

That night, 2,019 Jewish women, 864 men and 817 children were taken from Vilna in trucks to the pits at Ponary and murdered. Their fate was unknown to those who remained behind.”

Among those taken to Ponary on the night of 31 August 1941 were many Jews who were being held in prison, after having been arrested in the previous weeks, among them Dr Jacob Wigodsky and the young Jewish historian Pinkus Kohn. The fate of those taken to Ponary was still unknown 

But on 3 September 1941 a Jewish woman arrived in the city, bandaged, barefoot, and with dishevelled hair. Her name was Sonia. In the street she spoke to a Jewish doctor, Meir Mark Dvorjetsky – she had come she said from Ponary. No, it was not a labour camp, and then she told the doctor her story:

Corpses at  Rainiai

“She and her two children had been among the Jews seized, imprisoned and then taken out of the city on 31 August – how they were brought to Ponary, how Jews were trying to reckon with their own consciences, how they were trying to confess their sins before death, how she had heard shots and saw blood and fell.”

As the doctor later recalled:

She was among the corpses up to sunset and then she heard the wild shoutings of those who carried out the murder. She somehow or other managed to get out of the heaps of corpses, she got to the barbed wire entanglements – she managed to cross them and she found a common Polish peasant woman who bandaged her wounds, gave her flowers and said, “Run away from here, but carry flowers as if you were a common peasant, so that they shouldn’t recognise that you are a Jewess.”

And then she came to me. She un-wrapped the bandage and I saw the wound. I saw the hole from the bullet and in the hole there were ants creeping. Dvorjetsky hurried to a gathering of Vilna Jews to tell them the story. “This is not a labour camp where you’re going to be sent to, he said. “This is something else.”

But they could not believe him – “You are the one who is a panic monger,” they replied. “Instead of encouraging us, instead of consoling us, you are telling us cock-and-bull stories about extermination. How is it possible that the Jews will be simply taken and shot.”

Despite the establishment on 6 September 1941 of two ghettos, the “large” and “small” , the killers returned , taking to Ponary a further 3,434 Jews on 12 September and 1,267 five days later.

The Nazis chose the Day of Atonement for yet another raid and execution at Ponary, the men were shot first, then women. Even those who had not been killed outright, could not survive the whole day in the pit, lying there wounded as more and more bodies fell on top of them. Only towards evening, when the last of the women were being shot, did a few of those who were only wounded have some small chance of remaining alive until it was dark, and then of creeping away unseen – naked, bleeding, crushed, but alive. 

From the end of June 1941 to the end of December, at least forty-eight thousand were murdered at Ponary. After the killings of 3 September, six are known to have crawled out of the pit alive, and survived. All of them were women.  One of the survivors of the October killings, Sara Menkes, returned to Vilna, where she told Abba Kovner the story of a former pupil of his, Serna Morgenstern.

At the edge of the pit, Sara Menkes recalled:

A map that accompanied a secret undated report on the mass murder of Jews by Einsatzgruppe A

“They were lined up, they were told to undress, they undressed and stood only in their undergarments and there was this line of the Einsatzgruppen men – and an Officer came out, he looked at the row of women and he looked at this Serna Morgenstern.

She had wonderful eyes, a tall girl, long braided hair – he looked at her searchingly for a long time and then he smiled and said, “Take a step forward.” She was dazed as all of them were.

No one wept anymore, no one asked for anything – they must have been paralysed and she was so paralysed she did not step forward and he repeated the order and asked, “Hey don’t you want to live?  You are so beautiful. I tell you to take one step forward.”

So she took that step forward and he told her, “What a pity to bury such beauty under the earth. Go, but don’t look backward. There is the street. You know that boulevard, you just follow that.” She hesitated for a moment and then she started marching, and the rest, Sara Menkes told me, “We looked at her with our eyes – I don’t know whether it was only terror or jealousy, envy too, as she walked slowly step by step and then the Officer whipped out his revolver and shot her in the back.”

During the above mentioned killings on 24 October 1941 the Germans seized four thousand Jews who did not have work –passes and took them to Ponary. In vain the recently appointed head of the Jewish Council Jacob Genns, appealed to the Germans for additional passes.

Thousands of Jews hid in cellars, or in attics, but groups of Lithuanians went from house to house in search of them, often returning several times to the same house. In many of these cellars Jews resisted the Lithuanian “hunters” and refused to leave. They were shot dead on the spot.

In two days, more than 3,700 Jews were taken to Ponary and murdered or killed in the cellars – of those killed, according to the precise German statistics, 885 were children. Heniek Grabowski was sent by the Jews of Warsaw to Vilna, posing as a non-Jew, travelling with false papers and during November 1941 he returned to Warsaw to inform the Jews about the slaughter at Vilna.

Adam Czerniakow summoned the leading members of the Underground to hear Grabowski’s message: Zivia Lubetkin later recalled. “It was in the evening, there was no electricity, and Heniek told his story.” The story Grabowski told was about Ponary. “For the first time,” Zivia Lubetkin recalled, “we heard that Jews of Vilna are being deported by the thousands and tens of thousands, and being killed, children and women.”

Yitzhak Zuckerman had also been summoned to hear Grabowski’s report. “I am from Vilna myself,” he later recalled. ”I was born in Vilna – in Vilna I left behind all my parents and relatives. And here he brought this tragic news from Vilna. While still a child I had played amongst the trees in Ponary, and here he spoke about Ponary.

My Vilna, the Jews of Vilna, were being killed in Ponary, my playground.” A final action on 21 – 22 December 1941 reduced the population of the Vilna ghetto to 12,000. Thus altogether 25,000 to 30,000 Vilna Jews were killed. The slaughter had been prolonged over several months, being carried out by a permanent execution commando at a permanent killing establishment.

Thus, it provided a prototype for the death camps in Poland and the prolonged resettlement actions of 1942 -43. The Hauptsturmfuhrer of the SD in charge of this operation Martin Weiss, was to make a dramatic reappearance after the war when, after concealing himself for more than four years as a house-porter in Ochsenfurt, he was convicted by the Wurzburg Schwurgericht in February 1950 of 30,000 murders and sentenced to life imprisonment.

On 5 April 1943 three hundred Jews from the ghettos of Sol and Smorgon, in Macedonia,  were deported to Ponary. They had been told that they were to be “resettled” in the Kovno ghetto. On reaching Ponary they realised they had been deceived. That night, a fifteen year old Vilna schoolboy, Yitshok Rudashevski noted in his diary the story that reached Vilna within a few hours:

Like wild animals before dying, the people began in mortal despair to break the railway cars, they broke the little windows reinforced by strong wire. Hundreds were shot to death while running away. The railway line over a great distance is covered with corpses.”

All those Jews from Sol and Smorgon who survived the rail-side massacre of 5 April 1943 were shot in the pits at Ponary by the German and Lithuanian SS men.

A few hours later, five thousand more Jews reached Ponary, mostly young men from the ghettos of Swieciany and Ozmiana, whom the Gestapo feared might find a way of escaping from the ghettos in order to join the growing number of Jewish and Soviet partisans.

These five thousand were sent first to the Vilna ghetto. Then as with the Jews from Sol and Smorgon, they were sent on as if to the Kovno ghetto, “where there was more room.” Just outside Vilna their train came to a halt – they too had been brought to Ponary. Sensing the danger, these young men tried to break out of the freight cars and fought, with revolvers, knives and fists.

They were shot down in the cars themselves, and along the railway line. A few dozen managed to escape to Vilna- the rest were killed on the spot.

Lithuanians and a Soviet officer stand among the remains of twenty Jewish atrocity victims, who were exhumed from a mass grave in the woods near Utena

The Polish journalist W. Sakowicz, noted in his diary...

Bonfires burn near the station - They were kindled by policemen. Again a train from Vilna – they have arrived. The people were driven out from the carriages, and immediately a small batch was taken to the pit. The ones with poorer clothes on weren’t even undressed.

They were driven to the pit, and shooting began immediately.

Another batch of people were standing nearby and, on seeing what had happened to their nearest, began to yell. Some started running. A little lagging behind the others with her hair dishevelled, a woman is running pressing her child to her breast. The woman is chased after by a policeman, he smashes her head in with the rifle butt, the woman collapses

The policeman seizes the child by its leg, drags it to the pit. Among those participating in the Ponary massacre of 5 April 1943 was SS Sergeant Wille. “While shooting,” noted a German Security Police report, Wille “was attacked by a Jew” and wounded “by two knife blows in the back and one blow in the head.”

He was immediately taken to the military hospital in Vilna. “His life is out of danger,” the report continued, and added: “A Lithuanian policeman was fired at while some fifty Jews tried to escape, and he is badly wounded.” In Vilna the poet Shmerl Kaczerginski was standing not far from the ghetto gate. “I saw a young fellow sneaking in,” he later recalled, “bloody, weary, disappearing quickly into a doorway.”

In the security of someone’s home, the young man then pulled of his clothes, washed away the blood, tied up his wounded shoulder and whispered to those who had crowded around him: “I come from Ponary.” Kaczerginski added- “We were petrified. The young man told them: “Everyone – everyone was shot!”  The tears rolled down his face. “Who”, he was asked. Did he mean the four thousand who were being sent to Kovno? Yes.”

In 1944 at the Ponary execution site Szloma Gol was among seventy Jews, and ten Russian prisoners –of – war suspected of being Jewish, who as members of a “Blobel Kommando” , had to dig up and then burn the bodies of those who had been murdered  during the years 1941 – 1943.

Map from Stahlecker's report entitled "Jewish Executions Carried Out by Einsatzgruppe A" and stamped "Secret Reich Matter." It shows the number of Jews executed in the Baltic States and Belorussia in 1941. The legend at the bottom states that "the estimated number of Jews still on hand is 128,000."

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Continued

Each night the eighty prisoners were forced to sleep in a deep pit to which the only access was by a ladder drawn up each evening. Each morning, chained at the ankles and waist, they were put to work to dig up and burn tens of thousands of corpses. These eighty prisoners were supervised by thirty Lithuanian and German guards and fifty SS men. Their guards were armed with pistols, daggers, and automatic guns – one armed guard for each chained prisoner.

Two and a half years later Szloma Gol recalled how, between the end of September 1943, when their work began, and April 1944:

We dug up altogether 68,000 corpses. I know this because two of the Jews in the pit with us were ordered by the Germans to keep count of the bodies – that was their sole job. The bodies were mixed, Jews, Polish priests, Russian prisoners-of –war. Amongst those that I dug up I found my own brother. I found his identification papers on him. He had been dead two years when I dug him up, because I know that he was in a batch of 10,000 Jews from the Vilna ghetto who were shot in September 1941.

The Jews worked in chains, anyone removing the chains, they were warned, would be hanged. As they worked, the guards beat and stabbed them. “I was once knocked senseless on to the pile of bodies,” Szloma Gol recalled, “and could not get up, but my companions took me off the pile.”

Then I went sick.” Prisoners were allowed to go sick for two days, staying in the pit while the others worked. On the third day, if they were still too sick to work, they would be shot. Szloma Gol managed to return to work. As the digging up and burning of the bodies proceeded, eleven of the eighty Jews were shot by the guards – sadistic acts which gratified the killers, and were intended to terrorise and cow the prisoners.

Memorial at Ponary

But inside the pit, a desperate plan of escape was being put into effect – the digging of a tunnel from the bottom of the pit to a point beyond the camp wire, at the edge of the Ponary woods.

While the tunnel was still being dug, a Czech SS man alerted the Jews to their imminent execution, “They are going to shoot you soon”, he told them, and “they are going to shoot me too, and put us all on the pile. Get out if you can, but not while I am on guard.”

One of the sixty-nine surviving prisoners, Isaac Dogim, took the lead on organising the escape. Dogim had been placing the corpses in layers on the pyre one day, when he recognised his wife, his three sisters and his three nieces.

All the bodies were decomposed, he recognised his wife by the medallion which he had given her on their wedding day. Another prisoner, Yudi Farber, who had been a civil engineer before the war, joined in the preparations for the escape.

On 15 April 1944 the prisoners in the pit at Ponary made their bid for freedom. Forty of them managed to get through the tunnel, but a guard, alerted by the sound of footsteps on the pine branches, opened fire 

In the ensuing chase twenty- five Jews were shot, but fifteen managed to reach the woods, later most of them joined the partisans in the distant Rudniki forest. Five days after the escape, the remaining twenty-nine prisoners were shot.

 

 


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Group portrait of members of Irgun Brit Zion (ABZ) in the Kovno Ghetto


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Two year old Emanuel Rosenthal and five year old brother Avram, of the Kovno Ghetto, who were both later deported to the death camp at Majdanek and murdered by the Nazis.

Picture taken probably in February 1944, month before "Children's Action". The Kovno ghetto "Children's Action" took place on March 27-28, 1944. During the two-day action German troops and Ukrainian auxiliaries went from house to house and rounded-up the ghetto's remaining children who were below the age of 12. The 1300 victims of the "Children's Action" were either shot at the Ninth Fort or deported to Auschwitz, where they were gassed. 

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In the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania, a boy working at a machine in a ghetto workshop.

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Shoshana (Berk) Sarid (left) and Henia (Wisgardisky) Lewin in Kovno ghetto in 1943

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Kovno Ghetto Jewish Schools in Kovno

both before the war and in the wartime Ghetto

In Jewish culture there is always a supreme effort to protect children and to spread joy and hope via music and poetry even in the darkest time. In the Theresienstadt "camp-ghetto", where actual teaching was permitted, the adults laboured despite hunger and the everyday threat of death to give their children the broadest possible education, including much art and music. Thus it was that the genius of Peter Ginz was cultivated until he was sent to his death in Auschwitz. 

The Underground School 
Kovno


After the German invasion, Jewish residents of Kovno were confined within a Ghetto. For a little while the Judenrat conducted schools within the ghetto perimeter, using the available teachers. After the Germans closed the Ghetto schools in August 1942 secret classes were conducted in various hidden locations inside the ghetto. 
The photograph below is of a class conducted in the "underground school" -- actually in stables -- by Shmuel Rosenthal , who appears in the pre-War images above. 
All these "illegal" schools ceased after the removal of over two thousand ghetto children during the "KinderAktion" 27-28th of March 1944. 



The teacher Shmuel Rosent(h)al - survived -- as did -- miraculously -- his daughter Rona born in secret and smuggled out of the ghetto as a tiny baby. His wife, Ronia, the baby's mother, did not survive. After the war Shmuel Rosenthal once more taught in and supervised Jewish schools, until circa 1949 when Jewish education was once more made illegal by the Lithuanian Communist government. Rona who was re-united with her father after the war, was then thrust into a Lithuanian language school. In 1979 Rona came from Lithuania to live in Melbourne. 

 

 

Dachau Inmate 84841 
Sketch of Shmuel Rosenthal in Dachau shortly before liberation. Artist unknown.

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Ronia Rosenthal in 1936

Ronia Rosenthal 
Baby Rescue 
Organizer


Before the war, Ronia Rosenthal, the wife of Shmuel Rosenthal, educated in Brussels, had run a college in Kovno devoted to the Steiner Method (for teaching young children). She herself also did some teaching in Sholem Aleichem College.

Thus she had many ex-students in the wider community, including nuns, who were pre-school and kindergarten teachers. 


Once the Ghetto had been established, at great risk to herself, Ronia would travel outside the Ghetto, recruit foster mothers, and make arrangements for the transfer of babies and (tiny) todlers to the foster mothers. 


In order to disguise her activity outside the ghetto, Ronia Rosenthal, bleached her hair, and removed the Jewish Star from her coat. As she had studied in Brussels, her speech would not give her away. In early 1943 she herself became pregnant, and her own child (later named Rona) was, when eleven months old, smuggled out.

Before the ghetto's liquidation a bribe was paid to secure Ronia's own escape from the Ghetto, but as so often happened with extorted bribes it was not honoured. Her husband, leading teacher Shmuel Rosenthal, was transported to Dachau, but managed to survive. 

  Ronia Rosenthal
  in 1936

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Jews in a Street in the Kovno Ghetto, Lithuania

November 1943

In 1939 about 40,000 Jews lived in Kovno. The Germans occupied Kovno on June 24, 1941 and within 6 weeks, 10,000 Jews were murdered. When the ghetto was closed off in August 1941, it contained 29,670 Jews. By November of that year, another 12,000 were murdered. Kovno was liberated on August 1,1944. About 3,000 of Kovno’s Jews survived the war. 

 

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Nina Finkelstein Photos

"I met Nina Finkelstein Anshell in 1963 when I went to work as a physiotherapist at a Montreal hospital. Although she was much older than me, she was young in spirit and we became very good friends. She was a good administrator and always treated her employees very fairly. I was her assistant for many years and she became my mentor.

When she died of lung cancer in 1990, I came into possession of her photographs. For many years they were sitting in a box, but now that I am older and have more free time I decided that I wanted her memory to be preserved. Over the years that I knew her, she occasionally talked about her experiences during the war and now I would like to tell her story."

-Jo Ann Goldwater

The following photos are from the collection of Nina Finkelstein Anshell, a survivor of the Kovno ghetto. Nina Finkelstein was a member of an illegal anti-fascist partisan organization, led by the writer Chaim Jelin. Prior to the liquidation of the Ghetto, members of the partisan group hid together in the ghetto, but were discovered by the Germans on July 13, 1944. While being led towards what the Germans said would be work, Nina Finkelstein and Gita Abramson Bereznitzky escaped from the Germans by running to the home of Mania Lishinzkene, a non-Jewish Lithuanian member of the partisan group who assisted them in hiding for the rest of the war.


Nina Finkelstein is on the left (1945)


Gita Abramson (L), Nina Finkelstein (M) and Ida Shater (1944)
Unidentified child in the Kovno ghetto (1943)
Nina Finkelstein in the Kovno ghetto (1943)

Unidentified man (1944)


Unidentified man (1944)
Partisan fighter Rachi  
(Jerachmiel) Berman (1944)

Nina Finkelstein (left) with friend (1945)

 

 

The Horrible Days
 



MANIA WITH GITA ABRAMSON

Photo, above: Mania is on the left, and on the right is the woman who wrote her memoirs, Gita Abramson. 

She had Mania's name inscribed on the list of Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem.


During the time of the Kovno Ghetto, from Aug 1941 until its liquidation in July 1944, many, including Nina Finkelstein and the author of the story cited below,  joined the illegal anti-fascist partisan organization led by the writer Chaim Yelin. 
The following material refers to the experiences of Nina and others in the Kovno Ghetto that was, at the time, under the control of the Nazis. The narrative has been excerpted from "The Horrible Days: The Story of Gita Abramson Bereznitzky," as told to and translated by Regina Borenstein Naividel:


"Before the liquidation of the Ghetto, we, the surviving members of the organization, stayed in the Ghetto in a hiding place...On July 13, 1944 the Germans discovered our hiding place. They ordered all of us to leave and to stand up in lines of four people in a row, and told us that we would be led to work...I quickly threw away my coat with the yellow star, got up and continued to run. While I was running, a young Lithuanian ran after me and told me to stop. I thought that this was my end. He came running up to me and asked me whether I knew a woman named Sara and where she was.

I answered him that I did not know her and continued running. In this moment, I saw that Nina Finkelstein was running with me, and both of us turned in the direction to Mania's house. Mania was waited for us at her door, so that she could take us immediately to her hiding place, which was under the steps leading to her house. All this happened on July 13, 1944...

While standing in the row, I decided I would escape given the first opportunity. Each of us had one bottle of water, and a loaf of bread, but I gave this away. I didn't take it so that I could run more quickly. While running, I heard a shot, and at that moment I threw myself into a field of tall potato plants......In the same night, Lucy Zimmerman came to us; she had run from Alexot. All of us were very happy to have escaped and to be together. We slept over night and the next morning, one of us saw two German soldiers through the window. We crept into the hiding place, but Lucy went out through the door. (She looked Jewish).

She crept through the fence into Mania's garden and hurt her foot. Later, she went to the Ghetto and saw that the Ghetto was burning. All this we heard only later. While there, the Russian collaborators recognized her. She was a very good looking, dark-haired, Jewish looking woman. Her foot was bleeding. They approached her and asked her for her documents, but unfortunately, she did not have any documents. She pointed to the house and told them that she lived there. When they came back to the house, Lucy asked Mania for the document, and said that Mania was her sister. "Mania, you are my sister" she cried, "give me the passport, help me."

We were lying in the hiding place, and heard all that was being said above our heads. Mania called in one of the soldiers and offered him money, but he said that the older one was the commander and if he would take money, he also would agree. Unfortunately, when the second one entered the house, and heard that she offered him money, he shouted at her and said " you are a Jew too and you have to come with us." Mania also looked Jewish. Mania with her little son, Lucy and the soldiers left to the Ghetto. They were already standing against the wall waiting to be shot, when a Lithuanian neighbor of Mania's came after them and swore that she was not Jewish. Then, a German approached her and asked her for her passport.

Mania answered that it was in her house in the cupboard. The German soldiers, Mania with the child and Lucy came back from the Ghetto to the house. The door of the cupboard was pulled open and Mania showed the Germans her passport. The Germans said to her: "Sorry, dear lady." Afterwards they left with Lucy to go back to the Ghetto. Lucy was shot afterwards. Lucy had called: "Mania, you are my sister. Give me the passport." Until today, I can hear these words in my ears, but nobody could help her. This was the end of the second day after the escape...

A few days before the liberation of Kovno, which occurred on July 27, 1944, our dear friend Mattas did not come home to spend the night. We were very afraid and concerned and could not understand what had happened. The lock of the outer door was not in order, and so it was easy to enter the flat. Our window on the second floor was exactly opposite the gate of the courtyard. Nina and I decided that one of us would sleep and the other one would watch to see who would enter through the gate. When I was watching, I saw that Germans soldiers entered the courtyard. This was early in the morning. They knocked on the windows and called: "Get up, come out to work." I woke up Nina and we decided to creep into the attic, which could be locked with a key. We agreed that if they found us, we would say that we had escaped from Vilna, from the Russians.

Then we waited in silence. Suddenly we heard a woman at the door say: "You, old man, don't have to be afraid. They are only looking for people who can work." To the Germans she said: "There is only an old man living here, and he is not at home." It was our luck that they left. From the anxiety I had very strong stomach cramps. I crept out of the attic and on my belly crept to the toilet. When I left the toilet I noted the sofa in the front room.

I lifted the seat and saw that it contained a chest that was empty except for some soft potatoes. I told this to Nina and we decided that we had to hide in the chest in the sofa, and wait until dark until the siege ended. That is what we did. While we lay in the sofa, I put a soft potato between the lid of the chest and the seat, so that we would have air to breathe. We could not stop thinking about what might have happened to Mattas.

Maybe he betrayed us? Later we heard a woman come to the flat looking for the old man. She spoke as if to herself: "Don't be afraid, the Germans have already left." I saw her feet through the opening. I cannot recall how long we were in the chest. Suddenly we heard the old man Mattas entering the flat with his stick. He went to the parrot, which was in a cage and noticed that the plaid cloth, which was on the sofa, was in a different position than before.

He opened the sofa and saw us. What happiness that he had found us! With tears in his eyes he repeatedly said: "My dear girls, my good children." He told us that that night when he was coming home, he was called to work on the streets. He played a bit, pointing at his blue glasses and saying that he was totally blind and therefore could only walk with the stick and could not work. Thus, they let him go home. He was sure that they had already found us and taken us away. How happy he was to find us! The same day Mania's son Vitas came to us and brought us food. We asked him to have Mania take us back to her house and that is what happened.

She again came to us, dressed us up and brought us to the river. Tadas brought us to the other side of the river, one at a time with a small boat. We could not pass the Slabotka Bridge, because one had to show documents, which we did not have. When we came to Mania, we met a Jewish man who was also hiding there. Mania had found him in a public toilet and taken him in to her house. She called him the "shitty one", because he was full of dirt when she found him. 

On July 31 at night Mania went out to the street and noted that it was totally quiet. Suddenly she noticed the Red Army. She started to call and we all left the house. We all run to the Soviet soldiers on the street and out of joy kissed and hugged them, not knowing what else to do. It is impossible to describe our joy. This we will always remember and tell that only because of them were we saved."

After the War...



NINA FINKELSTEIN
Landsberg, Germany
Winter 1946

"After she was liberated by the Russians, Nina said that she was interrogated by them because they thought that any one who had survived must have been a collaborator. Following this, I believe that Nina went to Moscow with a team of gymnasts.
She was an accomplished gymnast and had participated in the Maccabiah Games in 1939 in Helsinki.

 Nina had a friend in the ghetto who had given her daughter, Judith, to a neighbour as she was being taken away to the ghetto. After liberation, this woman survived but was unable to find her daughter. One day when they were walking in the market, the woman saw a blanket that looked like the one that her baby had been wrapped in when she gave her away.

 The woman asked the vendor where he had found the coat. Eventually she was able to trace the coat that was made from the blanket, and she found her daughter. This is how she found Judith, who had been given away several times because it was very dangerous for the people keeping her. Judith was found in a convent, and for some time after used to cross herself.

 In 1945, Nina managed to escape the Russians by fleeing across Poland disguised as a peasant woman. She understood Polish quite well, but for obvious reasons was told not to speak. In Germany she spent time around Munich in some of the camps in the area. She didn’t talk about this very much, but her photos tell the story."


-Jo Ann Goldwater

 

Nina in New York City
 



NINA FINKELSTEIN
New York City
1946

 


A NEW LIFE

"Nina had an uncle in New York City whose family name was Lewin. Following the war he was able to bring Nina there on one of the first ships carrying refugees from Europe. She said that people found it hard to believe what she had been through because she looked pretty healthy after eating well and lying in the sun on the ship.

At this time, Adja heard about her arrival in New York and went to see her there. They married in 1946 or 1947, and settled in Montreal. Nina applied to the school of Physiotherapy at McGill University. Although she spoke little English (actually better French), they accepted her on the condition that she passed her first year. Nina did very well, and graduated first in her class.

Even though they broke up about twelve years later, Nina and Adja remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. Nina said that they couldn’t live together but they couldn’t live without each other either."

-Jo Ann Goldwater

NINA FINKELSTEIN WITH HUSBAND ADJA ANSHELL 
New York City
1946

 

 

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Chaim Yellin, a Yiddish writer and one of the heads of the Communist Underground in the Kovno Ghetto

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Timeline

1941 June 24
German forces enter Kovno at night, encountering Lithuanian "activists" engaged in pogroms against Jews.

1941 June 25
George Kadish takes his first photograph of the words "revenge" written in blood.

1941 June 25
SS Brigadier General Walter Stahlecker, Commander of Einsatzgruppe A, enters Kovno. Pogroms against Kovno’s Jews are accelerated.

1941 June 26
Lithuanian nationalists set fire to several synagogues, killing some 1,000 Rabbis and their followers.

1941 June 27
Lithuanian "partisans" kill 60 Jews at the Lietukis garage.

1941 July 2
SS Colonel Karl Jäger takes over security and police command in Lithuania.

1941 July 7
Avraham Tory begins working on his diary.

1941 July 10
Order issued for 30,000 Kovno Jews to move into the ghetto.

1941 July 24
Kovno municipal authorities confiscate property of arrested and murdered Jews.

1941 August 2
Einsatzkommandos lead mass shootings by Lithuanian auxiliaries of more than 200 Jewish men and women at Fort IV in Kovno. Most of the women held at the fort endure rape and other forms of abuse; some are released.

1941 August 15
The Kovno ghetto is closed under police guard.

1941 August 18
"Intellectuals Action" -- 534 Jews, including many professionals, are killed at Fort IV.

1941 September 15
Kovno Jewish Council issues 5,000 craftsmen certificates, also known as "life certificates," intended to protect holders by ensuring them work.

1941 October 1
Daily work brigades begin to Aleksotas military airfield.

1941 October 4
The "Small Ghetto" and the Hospital are liquidated. Some 1,800 people are killed.

1941 October 28
The "Great Action" in the Kovno ghetto.

1941 October 29
9,200 Jewish men, women and children, separated from the Kovno ghetto population during the so-called "Great Action," are shot at Fort IX

1941 October 29
Ghetto labor brigades resume.

November 1, 1941
A 22-month-long "quiet period" begins

1941 November 25
The Education Office is established under direction of cultural leader Chaim Nachman Shapiro. Shapiro also launches a secret archival project and encourages artists and writers to begin documentary efforts.

1941 November 25
Jews from Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich, destined for the Kovno ghetto, are shot at Fort IX.

1941 November 29
2,000 Jews (including 1,155 women and 152 children) from Vienna and Breslau are shot at Fort IX

1941 December 1
SS Colonel Karl Jäger reports that "our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved." He claims a total of 136,442 Jews are killed by Einsatzkommando 3 and Lithuanian auxiliaries.

1941 December 31
Communist resistance groups in the ghetto merge to form the Anti-Fascist Organization under Chaim Yelin.

1942 January 11 
SS orders the evacuation of a portion of the ghetto in order to make room for transports of German Jews. The deportees never arrive in the ghetto; they are sent directly to Fort IX and executed.

1942 January 12
Ghetto workshops begin operations.

1942 February 27
Germans confiscate books. Ghetto inmates hide many books and Torah scrolls, but those not hidden are sent to Frankfurt.

1942 March 12
A shoemaking workshop is organized to repair military boots and other footwear.

1942 March 25
SS Colonel Jäger orders an area of Kovno ghetto evacuated by May 1; 3,000 persons are forced to moved to other areas of the ghetto.

1942 April 21
Jewish Council appeals to parents to send their children to the ghetto school.

1942 April 26
Jewish Council issues regulations regarding the vegetable gardens and the communal soup kitchen.

1942 May 1
Germans again reduce area of the ghetto by redrawing boundaries. Crowding worsens.

1942 June 2
73 people are sent to dig peat in Palemonas, six miles from Kovno.

1942 June 28
The Ghetto Police orchestra plays for schoolchildren in former yeshiva. Organizers asked audience to refrain from applauding out of respect for dead.

1942 July 2
German order requiring work for all men older than 15 and all women aged 17 to 47 with no children under 6.

1942 July 24
Germans issue order prohibiting pregnancies and births in ghetto.

1942 August 16
Jewish Council calls on women with children under 8 years of age to register for gardening in the ghetto.

1942 August 26
Germans prohibit all religious observances and order schools closed.

1942 October 23
Germans deport 369 Jews from Kovno to the Riga ghetto (Latvia).

1942 November 18
Jewish Ghetto Police hangs Meck publicly in ghetto. The next day, his mother and sister are shot at Fort IX.

1943 February 28
Burial of Rabbi Avraham Duber Shapiro, Chief Rabbi of Kovno, who dies after a long illness.

1943 June–July
Zionist and pro-Soviet underground unite under the leadership of Chaim Yelin.

1943 July 24
Exhibition of Esther Lurie’s drawings in the graphics workshop.

1943 September
In anticipation of forced retreat, Germans begin to use Jewish prisoners and Soviet prisoners of war to exhume and burn corpses from mass graves at Fort IX.

1943 September 15
Gestapo transfers of control of Kovno ghetto administration and workshops. The transfer signals the transformation of the ghetto into a concentration camp and signals end to more than 22 months of relative calm in ghetto.

1943 October 1
Jews in the Kovno area concentrated into 8 labor camps.

1943 October 26
Russian and Ukrainian auxiliaries assist Germans in deportation of 2,700 Jews from Kovno. Those of working age are transported to Vaivara and Klooga, Estonia, while very young and old are deported to their deaths at Auschwitz.

1943 October 19
Dr. Elkhanan Elkes writes his "Last Letter."

1943 October 28
43 partisans try to escape for Augustow Forest. Only two men succeed.

1943 November 23
Ten armed partisans escape on foot to Rudniki [Rudninkai] Forest, 94 miles away; six reach their destination.

1943 November 30
Some 1,000 are taken to satellite camp in Aleksotas

1943 December 2
Chaim Nachman Shapiro and his family are killed at Fort IX after being led to believe they were to have safe passage to Switzerland

1943 December 25
Prisoners who had been forced to exhume corpses at Fort IX escape.

1944 March 27
In an effort to obtain information about the underground, Gestapo agents arrest and torture some 130 Jewish ghetto policemen at Fort IX. Thirty-six men are killed after refusing to cooperate, including Police Chief Moshe Levin and his assistants, Joshua Greenberg and Yehuda Zupowitz.

1944 March 27-28
After work brigades leave the ghetto for daily work assignments, Gestapo and Ukrainian auxiliaries begin to round up those left behind, mostly children under 12 and adults over 55. The so-called "Children’s Action" continued another day, during which a total of 1,300 Jews were murdered.

1944 April 3
Final meeting of the Jewish Council.

1944 April 4
Germans liquidate all remaining offices in the ghetto institutions.

1944 April 6
Underground leader Chaim Yelin is arrested in central Kovno after an exchange of gunfire with police. He is executed in early May after being tortured.

1944 July 6
Germans surround the ghetto, in preparation for its liquidation.

1944 July 8-13
As the Soviet army nears, the Germans begin six-day liquidation of ghetto, evacuating the former ghetto’s remaining population by train and by barge for deportation to the Stutthof and Dachau concentration camps in Germany. The camp is set aflame to smoke out those still hiding in underground bunkers.

1944 July 19
Stuthoff concentration camp registers 1,209 women and children from the Kovno ghetto.

1944 July 26
Jews from the Kovno and Siauliai ghettos are transported from Stutthof to Auschwitz.

1944 August 1
Soviet Army enters Kovno. A few Jews who survived hiding in bunkers are liberated.

1944 August 4
Avraham Tory returns to Kovno and retrieves three of five crates he buried containing his ghetto diary and other ghetto documents.

1944 October 17
Chairman Dr. Elkhanan Elkes dies in Dachau.

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Documents of the Holocaust

This document entitled "Numbers That Demand an Accounting!" is atrompe l'oeil in the shape of a memorial plaque found in synagogues to mark the anniversaries of the deaths of loved ones. It unfolds to reveal graphics about the numbers of Kovno Jews murdered between June 22, 1941, and December 31, 1942.

The yearbook, titled in Yiddish "Slobodka Ghetto 1942," preserves an almost daily record of that year's events. The yearbook begins with a miniature series of maps showing the reductions of the living space of the ghetto. Explanations in Yiddish detail the new boundaries and offer the number of people who were killed in organized actions, as the Germans continued their quest to reduce the size of the ghetto.

 

 

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Order #1"

 

Order #1" as printed in the Lithuanian Activist Front newspaper I Laisve [To freedom], July 28, 1941. Credit: Lithuanian Central State Archives, Vilnius

[translation]

Order No. 1

1. The Jewish population is not allowed to walk on the sidewalk. Jews are to walk single file on the right side of the street.

2. The Jewish population is not allowed walk on the promenades and are not allowed in any public parks. Likewise, the Jewish population is not allowed to sit on public benches.

3. The Jewish population is not allowed to use any public transportation such as taxis, coaches, buses, boats, and similar vehicles of transportation. The proprietors and owners of all public vehicles of transportation must post a visible notice on the vehicle stating: "Jews Not Permitted."

4. Any violations of these orders will be severely punished.

5. These orders are to be enforced as of today. SA-Colonel Hans Cramer, City Commissioner

An impoverished ghetto resident sells bread on the black market. Kovno, Lithuania, between 1941 and 1943

Jews move their household belongings into the Kovno ghetto

Members of the Kovno ghetto fire brigade pull the bodies of murdered Jews from the Viliya River

A group of Jewish women are gathered near the market square in the Kovno ghetto A woman and child pose on the street in front of a wooden house in the Kovno ghetto
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Letter from the Kovno ghetto by Shulamith Rabinowitz

Letter from the Kovno ghetto by Shulamith Rabinowitz to her children in Palestine, June 27, 1944Credit: Shmuel Elhanan, Israel

[translation]

My Dear Fortunate Sons, I perceive our end. This will not last much longer and they will make an end to us. It is both good, and very hard to die now. It is good to have lived to see that the end is coming, and it is very hard to die just a moment before salvation.

That is to say, for me it is not hard to die, and not hard for your father, but it is unbearably hard to know that Shmuel's end will come with ours. _ I wish that you could know about our life in these three years of torment.

I hope that just a few will be saved and will be able to tell of our suffering and death. The fourth year has already passed and the end draws near. It is not worthwhile to have lived through such torment and not to survive.

Then are the saints those who died among the first ones? We have learned so much and suffered so much in these years, and would be able to teach others so much, it is a shame that it will all come to nothing with us. If we could have been saved we would be able to build whole worlds.

Shulamit Rabinowitz was deported with her husband and child. They survived camps in Germany and eventually were reunited with their family in Israel.

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Elena Kutorgiene~Survivor

Elena Kutorgiene, a Russian-trained physician in Kovno, assisted many Jews from the ghetto to escape into hiding and maintained active ties with the partisan underground. In her diary, Dr. Kutorgiene records her outrage at the treatment of Kovno's Jews. A member of the Lithuanian Communist underground in Kovno, Dr. Kutorgiene provided major support to the ghetto resistance. After the war she and her son were honored by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial.Credit: Yad Vashem

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The Story of Avraham Tory and his Kovno Ghetto Diary

Avraham Tory was born Avraham Golub at Lazdijai, Lithuania, on December 10 1909, one of six children of a Jewish businessman. 

AVRAHAM TORY, who has died in Tel Aviv aged 92, chronicled in a diary the day-to-day lives and destruction during the Second World War of the Jewish ghetto community of Kovno in central Lithuania.

Tory was a young Jewish lawyer living in the ghetto which had, on the eve of war, a thriving population of some 38,000 men, women and children, with five Jewish daily newspapers, many Hebrew schools, and intense Zionist activity.

Tory (far left) with members of the Jewish Council of Elders, set up at Kovno by the Germans to answer to the Gestapo, 1943.

On the night of June 25 1941, soon after the German invasion, the first 1,500 Jews of Kovno were murdered by Lithuanians with a savagery that surprised even the Germans. Tory began his diary -- in Yiddish -- at about this time. "Soviet rule has disappeared," he wrote. "The Jews are left behind as fair game. Hunting them is not unprofitable, because the houses and courtyards of many of them brim with riches."

With Kovno under German occupation, Tory was appointed secretary to the Jewish Council of Elders, an administrative agency set up by the Germans to answer to the Gestapo and to carry out Nazi orders. In this post, Tory had access to Nazi decrees, Jewish council documents and minutes of secret meetings which he secretly stowed away with his diary.

"I wrote the diary," he later recalled, "at all hours -- in the early hours of the morning, in bed at night, between meetings of the Council. During meetings I sometimes wrote headings, quotes, summaries, dates, and names of places and people on scraps of paper or in notebooks, lest I forget."

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Testimony of Meri Michelson

Testimony of Meri Michelson

Written in Yiddish; dated September 1946. 
Meri Michelson was born in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, on April 6, 1934; she was the daughter of Hirsh and Stira (nee Skop).

In 1940, the Soviets entered Lithuania. 
In the summer of 1941, Meri went to a summer camp of the Pioneers in Palanga, Lithuania, near the German border. On June 22, 1941, the Germans began bombarding the area. Fires broke out and wounded children ran about in the streets.

When Meri escaped out into the street, a bomb exploded beside her, but she wasn't injured. She was pushed into a vehicle that was evacuating children, but it was soon damaged by a bomb, wounding some of the passengers.

Those who remained uninjured continued to flee under fire, on foot or by rides people offered. Roadside bomb craters were filled with the dead and wounded, some with limbs blown off.

The children entered a village to rest, but it came under bombardment and the nearby forest caught fire, so they had to continue in their flight. When they reached the Latvian border a truck took them across, although officially the border was sealed.

In Riga they stopped at an eight - story building and went down into its shelter. During a bombardment, seven floors of the building collapsed. In a forest on the way to Pskov, Russia, they were caught in crossfire between partisans of "Red" and Fascist factions, and at night they came under bombardment in Pskov.

The next day the children boarded a train and after a month reached the town of Perevoz. Meri fell ill there. The children were divided into groups of ten and sent to kolkhozes. Meri, aged nine, was sent with a group to the Kartashikha kolkhoz.

Later the children were placed in a children's home in the village of Garishkino [?] near Gorki (now Nizhniy Novgorod). Some time afterwards they were transferred to the Ichalki kolkhoz. 
In December 1944 Meri returned to Lithuania, where she stayed with acquaintances.

On January 23, 1945, Meri's mother was liberated from the Lowicz camp in Poland and was immediately drafted by the Soviets to run a mess hall for officers. After she completed this assignment and discovered that Meri was alive, she obtained a transit pass and dispatched a woman courier to bring Meri to her.

The woman took Meri in order to escort her to her mother in Lodz. On the way, four vehicles of a Jewish organization that transported children across borders, including Meri, were stopped by NKVD agents near Ponary.

Meri was forcibly placed in a children's home but escaped from it, and with the aid of the courier woman got to Lodz and rejoined her mother. They traveled from there to Szczecin (Stettin), then to Berlin and the Feldafing DP camp. There they reunited with Meri's father, who had been in an extermination camp but survived.

 

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Nessy Marks~Survivor

 Nessy with father and brothers before the war

Born: 1924 Pöszeiten, Lithuania
Survivor: Kovno ghetto

"My five friends and I made a commitment to each other in the ghetto," says Nessy Marks: "Whoever survives must teach and tell the others. I am the only survivor, and I have kept my promise."

 The family of Nessy before the war

Lithuanian survivor Nessy Marks, her parents, and her four brothers were relocated to the Kovno ghetto in October of 1941 after Nazis occupied their town. What she remembers the most is betrayal by others: "Lithuanian Jews may have had a chance, but the locals-police,
neighbors, it didn't matter- if you were Jewish, you were reported." 

"It was also a loss of all humanity," recalls Nessy. "We walked in fear, wore stars on our clothes to identify us as though we were criminals...our heads were so confused. You knew you were not dead but you were literally not really alive." She thinks about the children in
the ghetto: "They would come in and murder the children for one stupid, made-up reason or another. Every day you lived in fear."

Nessy's parents decided the only way to make sure she would survive was to place her in hiding. "I was slipped away and was hidden with a Catholic family for a few months. Rumors came to me that my parents were murdered and I wanted to return to the ghetto but my foster
family wouldn't let me." 

Nessy answered an employment ad seeking domestic help. Fluent in German, she took the position, but was warned by someone who guessed she was Jewish that bounty hunters were after her and would turn her in to the Nazis. Within days, she was offered safe transport to a farm in northern Germany, where she remained until liberation in 1945.

Below: Nessys' false papers

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The Story of Albert Beder~Survivor

 

Albert was born in Kovno, Lithuania (now Kaunas) on June 13, 1928. Albert lived through death marches, diphtheria, overcrowded ghettos and forced labor camps. He was just 13 years old when he was placed into his first ghetto internment camp.

He says, I had a family. I had two older brothers, two older sisters, one younger sister. I had a mother and a father. Albert was in a summer youth camp near the occupied East Prussia/Lithuanian border when his family, still in Kovno, attempted to flee from the advancing Nazis. "They managed to get maybe 30 kilometers before the Germans caught up with them. But they lost my little sister Reva on the road. She was 6 years old. There were many families running and trying to escape. Planes were shooting at them."

The Germans collected Albert, along with the other Jewish youth in the camp, and, like his family, he was returned to his Kovno family home, where Jewish citizens were preparing for their forced move into the Kovno Ghetto.

"In Kovno, we received orders that all Jews had to move and had to live in that area that was fenced in with barbed wire. It was August, 1941. The consequence for not following these orders was the death penalty. You had to wear the star. If you did not, that was also the death penalty.

Back then everything was the death penalty. They let us take everything into the ghetto. We didn't know in the end it wouldn't matter. Twice, as we were preparing to move, soldiers came looking for my father to send us to Ninth Fort. We knew there were lots of killings there. They came to the door and asked for my father.

My mother would say, 'He is sick and cannot come to the door.' She offered them silk stockings and soap to buy them off. The Ghetto was crowded. We ended up in a small schoolhouse with 100-150 other families. We had to leave our furniture out in the schoolyard. In the Ghetto I met Howard. He was 9 years old. I was 13. I knew his older sister in school."

At its height, the Kovno Ghetto interned nearly 30,000 prisoners. Over 5,000 Kovno residents were taken to Ninth Fort, also known as "Death Fort," and executed. He says, There was an old story in Lithuania. Jews needed Christian blood to make their Matzah. There were a lot of illiterate people then and this story was told over and over. But how could that be? Blood is red. Matzah is white. Where did the red go? If you say something and you start to believe it, anything can turn colors.

"In October of 1942, we were told we could take what we could carry out. But by that time there was not much left to take. We were sent to an Arbeitslager (a labor camp). In the beginning, Riga was better than Kovno. The Lithuanian Air Force was still in control, but soon the SS took over and quickly turned it into a real concentration camp. I could still see my mother and father after work hours. But everything changed. You had to stand in the cold with your hats off for a very long time during Appell.

It was in Riga that we heard from other Jews that my little sister was still alive. My mother was happy. There were so many causalities. In Riga they sent my father to Kaiserwald. He was
50 years old and died there. In March of 1944, Kinderaktion came to Riga. They took all children under 12 years old. I was 16 and Howard was 13."


The literal translation of the German word Appell means "to appeal." The Appell, or Roll Call, could last hours or days. Many prisoners, already weakened by starvation, disease and physical distress, could not endure the long hours of standing. The Riga Ghetto, located in
Latvia, experienced two mass liquidations. A total of 24,000 of its occupants were taken by train to the nearby Rumbula Forest. During the winter executions, prisoners were ordered to remove their clothes and then were promptly executed along the edges of mass graves. Prisoners sent to Kaiserwald, a work camp near Riga, labored for large German manufacturers producing electrical and mined goods.

Although Kinderaktion, or "Children Death by Action," preyed on the young, the elderly and sick were often included due to their feebleness and inability to work. As the warfront gained ground, Riga inmates were marched to temporary camps until they reached transports to take them to the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland.

"At Stutthof we had nothing. At the gate they checked your mouths and your rear end. Men and women were separated. I was told I could stay with my mother and sisters or go with the men. Howard and I knew they gassed the boys who stayed with their mothers. We decided we would go with the men. I still saw my mother and older sisters through a double fence. We tried to keep in touch, to let each other know we were alive.

Then they were not there anymore. I never saw my older sisters or mother again. Food was grass and a little bread. In Stutthof, Howard and I tried to get on a transport. They put two criminals in charge of us. They wore triangle patches so we knew they were murderers. They were not Jewish, but Polish. In order to keep strict order they would beat and chase us like chickens as we went. We tried to get on the transports. We didn't know where the transport went. Who knew how they decided who would go? If you were too short, you might not get to go.

All we knew was that no one lasted long where we were; anything would be better. One of the criminals took a liking to Howard and I and put us on a transport. 550 people went. We stayed on the train for four days with a bucket to use as a bathroom. We were lucky. They gave us bread to eat. They wanted us alive where we were going."

Camp prisoners were often forced to wear differentiating patches: green for criminals, purple for Jehovah Witnesses, pink for homosexuals. Survivor testimony suggests the yellow star made it easier for Nazis who were ordered to shoot Jews on sight. From Stutthof, Albert was transported to Camp Ten – a satellite camp of  the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

There they were forced to build barracks and construct parts for an underground airfield before being taken to Dachau's main camp near Munich. The SS training camp of Dachau was infamous for its cruel medical experimentation. More than 28,000 died within its walls.

"We walked through the iron gate. It read, "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Will Set You Free). At Dachau, they gave us showers and a piece of bread. We got new stripes. Our old ones were eight months old and full of lice. There was a man with us who took his time eating his small
bread. Another prisoner saw him and came like an eagle and took it from him. It was very sad. It is hard to explain what a small piece of bread was worth back then. I weighed 70 or 80 pounds."

"At Dachau, we saw the dead bodies. They were there on the sides of buildings. So many bodies, but there was no one to load them. The next morning we were told to go to the gates. We were given half a loaf of bread and a tin can of German meat! We could not believe it! It was a beef stew in thick gravy. I don't remember how we opened the cans. We had nothing. It was very good. They didn't tell us the food was supposed to last for 10 days. For 10 days they marched us.

We were forced to carry the SS rucksacks. Lots of people did not make it. If you fell behind you were shot. Howard and I walked together. Sometimes we lost each other but then found each other again. Howard found a dead horse. They picked the dead horse apart until there was nothing left. We ate the raw meat. Many of us were already sick…"

He says, People ask, Why did you not fight back? He says, They had guns. We had nothing. They had everything. "On the tenth day they marched us down into a natural ravine. At that time we were okay with death. Howard was 13 and I was 17. We could see the end of the war coming. Some never knew an end was coming. The SS surrounded the ravine with their machine guns. We figured we would be shot or be buried alive under those that were shot. The next day we were ordered out of the ravine and were taken to a large field.

There were about 2,000 of us, mostly men. The Germans demanded another Appell. At night we were ordered to lie down. In the morning we awoke covered in snow and the Germans were gone. They had just disappeared." 

Albert Beder and Howard made their way with others who had survived the cold night to a neighboring farming community with the assistance of two uniformed German soldiers who had elected to stay behind. The villagers made the survivors oatmeal soup. The next day American tanks rolled through. Of the 37,000 Jews originally from Kovno, only 3,000 survived.

Albert was transferred through a series of hospitals, and with financial assistance from Jewish Family Services, was sent to New York. In 1947, Albert began his life in Milwaukee. Three years later, he was drafted by the United States Army for the Korean War. In 1952, the Army sent Albert back to Germany where he worked at a German Youth center. He promoted tolerance and diversity in an attempt to create a  more positive image of Americans in the minds of young Germans.

Albert's youngest sister Reva was rescued by a Christian family who claimed her to be the niece of a dead relative. The Christian family picked her out of a group of children who were on the back of an open truck. Reva's blonde hair saved her. Reva now lives in Los Angeles.
One of Albert's two older brothers managed to survive as well. The other brother died in 1943, shortly after being placed in the Red Army. Today, Albert and his beautiful wife Ruth share four children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Albert and Howard remain healthy and happy and are still good friends today.

In 1988, Albert returned to Europe to visit the internment camps. He has given talks about his experiences to high school and college audiences. He acknowledges that Milwaukee is a segregated city, prone to hate crimes and violence. He wants to believe the hate is not as
pervasive as we may perceive it to be. He warns us to be cautious, as hate can bring with it many things for which we are wholly unprepared. He encourages us to deal with intolerance while it is still in our backyards. He avers that the greatest joys in his life are his wife,
his family and the chance to live life over again.

He says, The Holocaust is a story that needs to be told. I imagine my
grandmother, and I imagine her in a place where they killed 10,000.
They would have wanted their story known.

 

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Michael Pasternak - Jewish Partisan from Kovno

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Gesia Glazar - Jewish Partisan

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Moshe Sherman -Jewish Partisan from Kovno

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Sima Jasunski Fajtlson -Jewish Partisan

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Tzadok Bleiman Evyatar -Jewish Partisan from Kovno

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Jerachmiel Berman -Jewish Partisan from Kovno

Jerachmiel Berman.... Country Of Birth Lithuania ....


Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Kazlu Ruda Forest,  Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Kochargin Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 

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Yehuda Eidelman -Jewish Partisan from Kovno

Yehuda Eidelman, from Kaunas (Kovno). 
Idelman was a partisan in the "Mirtis Ocupantams" [Lithuanian: Death to the Occupiers] battalion.

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Kovno Partisans

 

Gita Abramson (Bereznicki) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Jurbarkas 
Date Of Birth 8/8/1919 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Liaison - Messenger (f) 
----------------------------- 
Cwi Abramson 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male 
Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kaunas Date Of Death 31/3/1944 Bat -

__________________________________________

Szewa Agranat 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
 
Masza Ajznbud (Rabinovitsch) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Israel Date Of Death 1/1/1981

___________________________________ 

Jehoszua Ancel 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Rudniki Forests 
Circumstances Passed away 

__________________________________
Pol Bagrijanski 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Za Pobiedu 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 30/11/1996 

 
Sejna Baron (Levi) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1909 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f) 

 
Ira Berman 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female 
Nickname Irena Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Kazlu Ruda Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Kochargin Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f) E

___________________________________
Jerachmiel Berman 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Kazlu Ruda Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Kochargin Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 


Jerachmiel Berman 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Kazlu Ruda Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Kochargin Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 

Rachel Berman (Antopicki) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f) 

____________________________________
Miriam Bernstein 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Klajpeda 
Date Of Birth 15/8/1921 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Beitar Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Belorussia 
Area of Combat Narotsh Forest 
Unit Battalion Nekama (Mest) 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 8/10/1943 

Brajna Blosztejn 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1921 
Gender Female 
Nickname Kozak 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kedainiai Date Of Death 1/7/1944 
Circumstances Murdered 

 
Szejna Blosztejn 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1918 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kedainiai Date Of Death 1/7/1944 
Circumstances Murdered 

_______________________________________
Zalman Borodavka 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Janovos, Lit. 
Unit Kaunas 

 
Icchak Boruchowicz 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Rudniki Forest Date Of Death 1/1/1944 

 
Moshe Bravo 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
 
Civia Cipkin (Kamai) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
 
Aba Diskant 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1924 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Proviniski Date Of Death 30/4/1944 
 
Jehuda Eidelman 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter

_____________________________________

Miriam Ejdls 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Female 
Nickname Mirka 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Ghetto Kaunas Date Of Death 13/7/1944 


Shoshana Ekerling (Zimon) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Klajpeda 
Date Of Birth 24/4/1927 
Gender Female 
Nickname Doli 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization A.B.C. (Irgun Brith Cijon) Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas 
Resistance Organization A.B.C. (Irgun Brith Cijon)


Masa Endlin (Jevsic) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Telsiai 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f) 
 
Sima Fajtlson (Yashunski) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kavarskas 
Date Of Birth 6/2/1925 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Bibliography 
* Faitelsonas Aleksas (Alteris) - Pabegimas is IX Forto, Kaunas, Cabija, 1998 
 
Dina Galeen (Gechtel-Murawich) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 27/3/1925 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 

 
Bejla Ganelin - Aron 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female 
Nickname Katyusha Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f)


Miriam Ganionski 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1925 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Beitar Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Belorussia 
Area of Combat Narotsh Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Nekama (Mest) Resistance Organization F.P.O 
Job Fighter (f) 

 
Menahem Ganoni (Sadovski) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 13/10/1914 
Gender Male 
Nickname Mendl 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Union of Z. S. Students, Kovno Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Unit Kaunas 
Details Of Death


Dimitri Gelpern 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male 
Nickname Dima 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member of Command Staff 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Vilnius Date Of Death 17/7/1998 


Berl Gempel 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Cook 

 
Leib Gempel 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male 
Nickname Leibke Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kaisiadorys Date Of Death 1/3/1944 


Mose Gerber 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1920 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 


Job Fighter 
Israel Gitlin 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Job Fighter


Michael Glas 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Union of Z. S. Students, Kovno Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member 

 

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Kovno Partisans~Page 2

 

Ester Glas (Szwec) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Not Indicated 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Union of Z. S. Students, Kovno Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Israel


Cwi Smoliakow 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 25/9/1922 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Bibliography 
* Smoliakovas Grigorius - Akistata, Vilnius, 1988.
* Smoliakovas Grigorius - Die Nacht die Jahre Dauerte, Konstanz, 1992. 

 
Efraim Sneion (Senior) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/1/1981

_________________________________

Jakov Sosnicki (Sisnicki) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1921 
Gender Male 
Nickname Jankale 
Before The Holocaust 
Marital Status Single 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair 
Occupation Student Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Vitschorishki Date Of Death 11/4/1944

_________________________________________
Izek Srebnitsky 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male 
Nickname Izke 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Union of Z. S. Students, Kovno Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Unit Kaunas 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/7/1944 

 
Mordehai Steren 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Virbalis 
Date Of Birth 1/8/1925 
Gender Male 
Nickname Motl 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Fighters Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Anti-Fascist Organization, Ghe 
Job Member 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Ukmerge Date Of Death 1/9/1943

_________________________________

Roza Straszuner 

Country Of Birth Lithuania 

City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1920 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Ghetto Kaunas Date Of Death 13/7/1944 
Circumstances Murdered

_________________________________

Ester Strom (Zlotnik) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 


Shulamit Sukenik 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas 
Unit Kaunas 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/7/1944 


Lea Szer (Skorkovic) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam

______________________________________

Iser Szmidt 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Pandelys 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1916 
Gender Male 
Nickname Didialis 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Battalion Hanokem (Mstitel) Resistance Organization Not Indicated 
Job Commissar


Chaja Szmuelow (Gluszak) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1918 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Lithuania 
Circumstances Passed away


David Teper 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 25/11/1917 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam


Rivka Teper (Boruchovic) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1921 
Gender Female 
Nickname Altke 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 15/8/1999 


Rachel Torn (Rozental) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Female 
Nickname Koka 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f)


Gita Turcion (Pogir) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 25/1/1924 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Marital Status Single 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Combat medic 

__________________________________
Szmerl Valonas 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Jonava 
Gender Male 
Nickname Szmerke 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Not Indicated Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Belorussia 
Area of Combat Kozyany Forests Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Battalion Kostas Kalinauskas Resistance Organization Not Indicated 
Job Section Commander 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kozyany Forest 
Circumstances Murdered


 
Luba Velikolud (Burstejn) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Keidainai For. Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Pabarupe Resistance Organization Not Indicated 
Job Fighter (f)


Jehosua Versvovski 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1916 
Gender Male 
Nickname Sike Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Kadima (Vperiod)


Feiga Versvovski (Zilberman) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female 
Nickname Fania Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam

_____________________________________

Benjamin Walowicki 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Jurbarkas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1921 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kaunas Date Of Death 5/11/1943 
Circumstances Murdered


Szejna Wechter 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1920 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Not Indicated 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kaunas Date Of Death 13/7/1944 
Circumstances Murdered 

 

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Kovno Partisans~Page 3

 


Abraham Weiner 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male 
Nickname Avremke Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Keidainai For. Rank Private 
Unit Partisans Group ``A`` Resistance Organization Not Indicated 
Job Fighter


 
Ida Wilencok (Pilownik) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1924 
Gender Female 
Nickname Eidke Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam

 


Jerachmiel Woskobojnik 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Troskunai 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1914 
Gender Male 
Nickname Rachmilke 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Ghetto Kaunas Date Of Death 13/7/1944

------------------------------------------------------

Lea Woskobojnik (Kaplan) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Ghetto Kaunas Date Of Death 13/7/1944

______________________________________________

Israel Zig 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 30/6/1944


 
Elieser Zilber 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 2/3/1925 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 


Gisia Glazer 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Shauliay 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1905 
Gender Female 
Nickname Albina 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Paratroops from U.S.S.R. 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/5/1944 

____________________________________
Mosze Henoch 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Ukmerge 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Belorussia 
Area of Combat Nache Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Kutuzov Resistance Organization F.P.O 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Gudelki Vil. Date Of Death 17/7/1943

_____________________________________ 
Meir Zilber 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Kazlu Ruda Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Kochargin Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kazlu Ruda Date Of Death 5/5/1944 
Circumstances Fell in combat 

 
Hanoh-Genrik Ziman (Zimanas) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1910 
Gender Male 
Nickname Yurgis 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/1/1987

_________________________________________

Moshe Zimelevitsh 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male 
Nickname Pok 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Fighters Country of Combat Lithuania 
Unit Kaunas


Arie Zimon 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Male 
Nickname Leo 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 12/11/1943


Meir Leib Zoref (Goldshmidt) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Jonava 
Date Of Birth 18/4/1920 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania Biography

Ruwen Glikman 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Not Indicated 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hehaluts Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Israel


Baruch Gofer (Grodnik) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Seduva 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1921 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Marital Status Single 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Israel Date Of Death 16/7/2002 


Pnina Gofer (Sukienik) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 17/7/1925 
Gender Female 
Nickname Petrute Sukauskaite 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania


Isreal Goldblat 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 2/1/1924 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 16/5/2003 

 
Kalman Goldschtein 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 31/10/1924 
Gender Male 
Nickname Nikolai Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 

 
Sonia Goldsmid (Borkajte) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1920 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas 
Unit Kaunas 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 26/4/1944 
Murdered
 
Pesah Gordon 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1912 
Gender Male 
Nickname Shtein 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/1/1944 

 
Josef Harmac 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Rokiskis 
Date Of Birth 23/1/1925 
Gender Male 
Nickname Julek 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Za Pobiedu Bibliography 
Harmatz Joseph - From the Wings, England 1998. 

______________________________

Mosze Henoch 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Ukmerge 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Belorussia 
Area of Combat Nache Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Kutuzov Resistance Organization F.P.O 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Gudelki Vil. Date Of Death 17/7/1943 


Zalman Holzberg 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Taurage 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Male 
Nickname Monik 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Israel Date Of Death 30/8/1981 

_______________________________
Natan Icikson 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Occupation Tailor Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Israel 
Circumstances Illness 

___________________________________
Mosze Ilionski 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1923 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/4/1944

________________________________________

Samai Jakobson 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 28/2/1923 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Udra Group 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Lithuania Date Of Death 9/8/1942 
Circumstances Fell in Combat

 

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Kovno Partisans~Page 4

 


Haim Jelin 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Vilkija 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1913 
Gender Male 
Nickname Vladas 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Anti-Fascist Organization, Ghe 
Job .......................... 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kaunas Date Of Death 6/4/1944 

 
Israel Joels 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1922 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Mina Joels 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1922 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kaunas Date Of Death 13/7/1944

_____________________________________________

Tsvi Joels 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1920 
Gender Male 
Nickname Grisha Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Kaisiadorys For. Rank Private 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Not Indicated 
Job Fighter


Mira Joels (Pilovnik,Wajner) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Prienai 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1924 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 


Jacob Jofe 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Jonava 
Date Of Birth 5/1/1923 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas 
Resistance Organization A.B.C. (Irgun Brith Cijon) 
Job Member

_____________________________________

Chemda Jonasewicz 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Ghetto Kaunas Date Of Death 13/7/1944 
Circumstances Murdered 

_________________________________
Avram Joselevic 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/12/1923 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Youth Movement Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Partisans Para Troops 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Lithuania Date Of Death 27/11/1942 

 
Icchak Juchnikow 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1905 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 


Chanan Kagan 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male 
Nickname Chone 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Section Commander 

 
Rivka Kagan (Epsztejn) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Occupation Nurse Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Medic (f) 


Ben Zion Kapit 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 4/11/1918 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Maccabi Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground 
Details Of Death

____________________________________

Etl Karlin 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kedainiai 
Circumstances Murdered

Rina Katif (katif1@bezeqint.net) on Monday, November 19, 2007 at
10:55:52

Message: I would like to correct some details about Ben Zion Kapit (Kovno partisans)
I am his daughter. He died in israel , 1997 . Rina Katif

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Icchak Kashiv (Kopcowski) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kapciamiestis 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1922 
Gender Male 
Nickname Izke 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Union of Z. S. Students, Kovno Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member


Lea Kizel 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1921 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Liaison - Messenger (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kazlu Ruda Forests 
Circumstances Not known


Perets Kliaczko 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Vilkaviskis 
Date Of Birth 10/12/1919 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 

 

_______________________________________
Kasriel Koblenc 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 15/3/1922 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Kadima (Vperiod) 

Sara Kojfman (Gempel) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f)


Haim Kolivianski 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Jonava 
Date Of Birth 8/6/1928 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Unit Anti Fascist 

 

________________________________________
Zusman Kopilovic 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 29/7/1944 
Gender Male 
Nickname Zuske Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas 
Unit Local Underground 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 15/7/1944 


Dov (Beka) Kot 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1925 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Beitar Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/1/1996

Pinhas Krakinovski 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 17/7/1923 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 27/7/1986


Zoja Kramnicki (Tint ) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Shauliay 
Date Of Birth 28/1/1916 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Beitar Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Details Of Death


Ester Krawczuk (Smoliakow) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hechalutz Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death

________________________________________

Simon Kveskin 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Svobodnaya Litva Resistance Organization Not Indicated 
Job Fighter 

 
Mera Lan 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Date Of Birth 1/1/1915 
Gender Female 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Communist Party Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Fighter (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kaunas Date Of Death 1/1/1948 
Circumstances Murdered 

 
Haim Lazar-Litai 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Panevezys 
Date Of Birth 31/5/1914 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Beitar Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground and Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Unit Battalion Nekama (Mest) 
Details Of Death

___________________________________

Ezriel Levi 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Gender Male 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hanoar Hatzioni Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest 
Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno

_________________________________________ 
Sonia Levi 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
Gender Female Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 
Details Of Death 
Place of Death Kedainiai 


Dov - Berl Levin 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Kaunas 
Date Of Birth 27/1/1925 
Gender Male 
Nickname Berke 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Rudniki Forest Rank Private 
Unit Battalion Smert Okupantam 
Job Fighter Bibliography 
* Gilbert Martin - Atlas of the Holocaust, 313. 


Nachman Levin 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Rokiskis 
Date Of Birth 25/12/1923 
Gender Male 
Nickname Nionka - Menachem 
Before The Holocaust 
Movement/ Organization Hashomer Hatzair Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas 
Unit Kaunas 

 
Rachel Levin (Rozencwajg) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Radviliskis 
Date Of Birth 9/10/1922 
Gender Female 
Nickname Rashel 
Before The Holocaust 
Marital Status Single 
Movement/ Organization Union of Z. S. Students, Kovno 
Occupation Student Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Underground Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Ghetto Kaunas Rank Not Indicated 
Unit Not Indicated Resistance Organization Underground of ghetto Kovno 
Job Member (f) 

_____________________________________
Rivka Levy (Levyte) 
Country Of Birth Lithuania 
City Of Birth Raseiniai 
Date Of Birth 31/5/1922 
Gender Male Holocaust Period 
Framework of Combat Partisans Country of Combat Lithuania 
Area of Combat Keidainai For. 
Unit Battalion Pabarupe

Details Of Death 
Date Of Death 1/11/1943

Circumstances Murdered

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Document

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Don't Forget Me- Basin Zina Ida

In Russian to the Winner family in America;For long and sweet memory
To my uncle, aunt and cousins ( males and females cousins)
Don't forget me- Basin Zina Ida

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Beile Feinberg nee Peshkin

From left to right, Sara, Yitzhak, and Beyla Peshkin. It must have been taken around in the mid-1920's, as the boy, the youngest, was born in 1920. Beyla Peshkin

(Beile Feinberg nee Peshkin was born in Kowno in 1919 to Hirsh and Sheine. She was married to Yosef. Prior to WWII she lived in Kowno, Lithuania. During the war she was in Germany.
Beile was murdered in 1945 in Sonnenberg, Germany),

Sara Peshkin
Stolbov and Yitzhak Peshkin emigrated to Israel in the 1970's.
Adrienne Baxt Lasky
Granddaughter of Ethel Chesler Baxt, aunt of the Peshkin kids
Lithuania. During the war she was in Germany.
Beile was murdered in 1945 in Sonnenberg, Germany), Sara Peshkin
Stolbov and Yitzhak Peshkin emigrated to Israel in the 1970's.
Adrienne Baxt Lasky
Granddaughter of Ethel Chesler Baxt, aunt of the Peshkin kids

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Khana Feiga Shneider

Khana Feiga Shneider was born in Rakov to Tankhum. She was a widow of Moshe Aharon. Prior to WWII she lived in Rakow, Poland. Khana perished in 1942 in Rakow, Poland. 

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Mashka Sznejder

Mashka Sznejder was born in Minsk to Moshe Aharon ( son of Chaim) and Chana Feiga ( daughter of Tanchum). She was single. She perished in 1942 in Rakow, Poland. 

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Executions in Fort Vll and Fort lX

Einsatzgruppen A

 

Executions in Fort Vll and Fort lX

 

Fort III destroyed by German forces in WW1

Kovno was surrounded by a series of forts built in Czarist times to protect the city from German invasion. Between the wars these forts were used as prisons for criminals serving long sentences. During the German occupation, 1941 – 1944, the forts were used as both prisons and execution sites, particularly of the Jews of Kovno. 

Kuanas/Kovno, Lithuania. The Ninth Fort,
where tens of thousands (more than 40,000) Jews fromKovno and elsewhere in Europe were murdered between 1941 and 1944.

The Seventh and Ninth Forts were close to the Ghetto – in time they became widely known as symbols of mass murder, as did the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, the Rumbuli forest near Riga and the ditches of Ponary near Vilna.

Report of a medical orderly:

About 150 m from my quarters there was a fort. Looking at the map I think it must have been Fort Vll, although up to now I had always thought that there was only one fort in Kovno. From our quarters my mates and I heard shots during the night. The next day and the days after that we went to investigate the matter, climbed on to the ramparts of the fort and saw a crowd of people below us guarded by armed SS or SD men.

The guards were all German – there were no Lithuanians. During one of these visits the technical inspector, whose name I do not remember, took these pictures with his camera. At that time we didn’t see any shootings during the day. We heard that these shootings took place at night. During the day the people – men, women and children – were brought from Kovno to this fort. If I remember correctly they were all Jews, at least they were the only ones that were talked about.

Fort IX courtyard

The bodies were thrown into a large crater that had a diameter of 15m and was, I should think, about 3-4 meters deep. Each layer of bodies was covered with chloride of lime. People used to say that the next group of Jews always had to throw the last lot to be shot into the crater and cover them with sand. I only went up to this crater once but couldn’t see any bodies because everything was covered with sand.

On one of my wanderings through the fort I lost my way as I was not sure where the entrances were. On this occasion a Jewish woman of about thirty ran across my path. She had been shot through both cheeks and the wounds had swollen up considerably. Seeing the red - cross on my armband she begged me for a bandage, which I wanted to give her.

I was just busy getting the pack of dressings I’d brought with me out of my jacket when an SS or SD guard with a rifle came up to me and told me to make myself scarce, saying that the Jewess had no further need of a pack of dressings. The Jewish woman was then pushed back by the uniformed German.

I was very shaken by this experience and told my colleagues about it – they were shaken too. It would have been pointless and dangerous for me to have disobeyed the SS man – they were very ruthless. He threatened to shoot me down if I didn’t get on my way. During my visits to the fort I estimate I saw at least 2,000 people of different ages, both male and female, who were all destined to be shot and indeed certainly were.

Following a round-up of Kovno’s Jews on 28 October 1941 in Democracy Square and selection by SS man Rauca, Jews were separated into two columns, left and right. Right was death, left was life, recalled Leon Bauminger. Thos Kovno Jews who were sent by Rauca to the right could still not believe that they really been marked out for death. “That morning in Democracy Square,” a Lithuanian doctor, Helen Kutorgene, noted in her diary, “nobody suspected that a bitter fate awaited them. They thought that they were being moved to other apartments.”

Hundreds of Jews are gathered near the entrance to Fort VII

They were indeed taken not to the Ninth Fort but to the houses of the small ghetto. On the night of 29 October Dr Peretz has recalled, everyone sent to the small ghetto “was trying to find a better place, there was better order, because they thought they would stay there.”

Then, at four in the morning, all those in the small ghetto were ordered to assemble again. It was still dark. But with the dawn a rumour began, that prisoners had been digging “deep ditches” at the Ninth Fort, and by the time those who had been sent to the small ghetto were led away towards the fort, Helen Kutorgene noted in her diary, “it was already clear to everybody that this was death.”

Dr Kutorgene added that once the Jews whom Rauca had sent to the right realised where they were being sent:

"They broke out crying, wailing and screaming. Some tried to escape on the way there but they were shot dead. Many bodies remained in the fields. At the fort the condemned were stripped of their clothes and in groups of three hundred they were forced into ditches. First they threw in the children. The women were shot at the edge of the ditch, after that it was the turn of the men.

Many were covered while they were still alive. All the men doing the shooting were drunk. I was told all this by an acquaintance who heard it from a German soldier, an eye-witness, who wrote to his Catholic wife. “Yesterday I became convinced that there is no God. If there were, he would not allow such things to happen.”

The massacre had been carried out by German SS men and Lithuanian police. On return from the killing, one of the Lithuanians boasted – as a Jew Alter Galperin later recalled – “that he had dragged small Jewish children by the hair, stabbing them with the edge of his bayonet, and throwing them half alive into pits.” "The smallest children “he just threw into the pit alive, because to kill all of them first is too much work.”

One of the few survivors was a twelve year- old boy. It was only when he managed to return to the main ghetto on 30 October that those in the ghetto realised the full horror. Avraham Golub, an assistant in the Jewish Council later recalled how the boy, “covered in dirt and smeared with blood”, stumbled into the Council office.

Golub’s account continued:

Jews gathered for Execution at Fort VII

He reported how everyone was forced to strip and made to march in groups of one hundred to the edge of freshly dug pits. The guards fired on each group as they stepped forward. Some were only wounded but they too fell into the deep pits and were covered with a layer of earth. The boy was with his mother, was covered by her, and so was not hit by the bullets. The boy and his mother were destined to be the second layer of bodies from the top of the grave.

His mother had embraced him and covered him. She bent forward and fell into the pit with him, so that he was not suffocated by the layer of earth poured on top. When it was dark, the boy slowly moved to the edge of the pit. With great effort he pushed away the bodies around him and crawled out.

There he was able to see that the earth which covered the pit was moving, meaning that many others were still alive in the pit but were unable to save themselves. Under darkness he escaped back to the ghetto and was later smuggled out. No one knows if he is alive today.

A few women also managed to survive the massacre. “Some tried to escape from the transport, Aharon Peretz later recalled. I was asked to go to a neighbouring house, where there were women with “dum-dum” bullets in their bodies. The number of those murdered was recorded, once again, in the precise statistics of the Einsatzkommando: 

  • 2007 – Jewish men

  • 2920 – Jewish women

  • 4237 – Jewish children

Jews from the Greater Reich were also sent to Kovno but only a small percentage were admitted to the ghetto. Most of them went direct to the Ninth Fort where they were kept some days prior to being shot in the execution pits. A Lithuanian guard testified before the Russian State Commission of 1945 that there were two executions of 3,000 – 4,000 Reich Jews on 10 December and 14 December 1941.

A  Kovno ghetto survivor testified that in January or February 1942, the Prague and Vienna Jews in the Ninth Fort rebelled before being shot. The Reich Jews, who began arriving in Kovno from Berlin, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Prague at the end of November 1941, numbered 15,000 according to this witness, but the portion admitted to the ghetto was determined by the number of native Kovno Jews who had been shot – apparently 5,000.  

Jewish women with bodies of executed men outside the VII Fort

Dr Aahron Peretz was an eye-witness in Kovno, and he later recalled how, as the deportees were being led along the road which went past the ghetto to the Ninth Fort, they could be heard asking the guards, “Is the camp still far?” They had been told they were being sent to a work-camp. But Peretz added, “We know where the road led. It led to the Ninth Fort, to the prepared pits.”

But first the Jews from Germany were kept for three days in underground cellars with ice- covered walls, and without food or drink. Only then frozen and starving were they ordered to undress, taken to the pits and shot.

The killing of these deportees was recorded with the usual SS efficiency:

On 25 November 1941 1,159 Jews, 1600 Jewesses and 175 Jewish children , settlers from Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt am Main – and four days later 693 Jewish men , 1,155 Jewesses and 152 Jewish children, settlers from Vienna and Breslau. Diary Entry of Avraham Tory following a meeting with Captain Vassilenko regarding the escape from the Ninth Fort in December 1943

The Ninth Fort

The Ninth Fort, a military fortress near Kovno, for a long term, served as part of the Kovno prison for dangerous criminals. During the Nazi occupation it became a place of torture and mass executions. In secret the Nazis called it Vernichtungsstelle Nr 2 – Extermination place number 2. Here were murdered some 25,000 of Kovno’s Jews, as well as 15,000 Jews deported from the Greater Reich, thousands of Jewish Prisoners – of – War who had served in the Red Army, and many other Jews.

 


Single and mass arrests, as well as “Aktions” in the Ghetto, almost always ended with a “death march” to the Ninth Fort, which in a way, completed the area of the Ghetto and became an integral part of it. A road three to four kilometres long led uphill from the Ghetto to the Fort, a special road called by the Ghetto inmates the Via Dolorosa. The murderers called it the Way to Heaven (Der Weg zum Himmel- Fahrt).

Before their execution, the detainees were incarcerated in underground cells known as “casements” in damp, darkness, and fear. There, people fought with one another for a brighter corner in the cells, for a piece of a straw mattress, for a scrap of food, or for a crumb of bread. There, Jews were shackled in iron chains, harnessed to ploughs in place of horses, forced to dig into peat-pits inside the fort, and often whipped to death. There, one soon lost one’s own – there, life turned into senseless pain, after which death came as redemption.

Keidan a father of four children was incarcerated at the Fort and tortured there for five months. With others he stood naked in the pit awaiting execution, miraculously escaped from the Fort. He was the first to bring an authentic report from the Hell on Earth. In fifteen mass pits, some 45,000 innocent victims found their awful burial, 3,000 in each pit. Thousands of Red Army Prisoners- of –War, all Jews were separated from the other Soviet Prisoners – of – War and were systematically massacred at the Ninth Fort.

As long as German troops went on with their “March to the East”, the digging of new mass graves at the Fort continued. When the German advance was blocked in July 1943, there was no more digging of mass graves. And when the Germans were forced to retreat, they hurried to erase all traces of their crimes.

In August 1943 the Kovno Gestapo received orders from Berlin to eradicate the mass graves – to exhume the corpses and to burn them. This was to be carried out by the end of January 1944, when the German retreat from the Baltic States was foreseen. The carrying out of this order was imposed upon seventy-five Jews who were already imprisoned at the Fort, among them Ghetto inmates who had been seized in the Ghetto and brought to the Fort, Red Army Prisoners –of – War, and youngsters from the Ghetto, who had been caught on their way to join partisans in the forest.

Eleven of the seventy-five declared at the outset they were ill, and not capable of doing the job. The Gestapo murdered them by injections of poison. The remaining sixty –four, sixty men and four women formed a labour squad. All of them, apart from one Polish woman, were Jews.

The work started in September 1943. Fiery beacons started to rise from the Fort, crowned by clouds of smoke. The labour squad had begun to carry out the German order. The sixty-four were divided into four groups, each of which carried out a part of the job. One group “the diggers” had to dig out the dead corpses – to scrape off the upper layer of the earth from the pits, and then, with spades, remove the first layers of the corpses. This group had to go down into the pit by ladder and, using pitchforks, toss the remaining bodies up to the surface.

Einsatz Action

The German supervisors used to make cynical remarks such as “stick the pitchfork in the belly of that disgusting Jew” or “toss up that Jewish woman – that Sarah – by digging your pitchfork into her hair,” or similar pearls. When the corpses were brought up, the gold teeth had to be extracted, all rings and bracelets removed, and searches made for gold and jewels in the rotting garments of the dead.

Then all valuables had to be cleaned and polished and handed over to the German supervisors. Most of the corpses were half or totally decayed, but some were well preserved. More than once, the diggers recognised their own acquaintances. On one occasion, a digger recognised his brother. Once the belly of a woman in her last month of pregnancy cracked in the terrible heat of the pyre, and from inside her burst a small baby’s body. The Jewish prisoners were stunned. Even the Nazi guards were astonished.  

The corpses of the Lithuanian Jews were naked, and lying on one another lengthways and crossways. Only rarely were bullet holes to be found. From the expressions on their faces and from the way they were lying, it could be seen that most of them had choked to death in the pits. The bodies of women with babies in their arms were also found.

The corpses of German, Austrian, Czechoslovakian, and other Jews were found in separate graves. These were clothed and bore all the marks of a bitter struggle. This confirmed rumours which had spread in the Ghetto during the “Great Actions” of 1941, that these Jews had fought against their murderers and had not undressed before being murdered. At the time some of the Gestapo men had returned from the Fort badly wounded and bleeding.

After the corpses had been brought out of the pits by the diggers, the members of the second group, “porters,” piled the bodies on special wooden pallets, counted them in the presence of a Nazi supervisor, and took them to the pyres.

There the third group, the “firemen” were at work, headed by an expert on burning – the “Brandmeister.” This group had to prepare the pyre once every twenty-four hours, as follows:

EK 3 1941 Report on Executions of Jews from Vienna  in Fort IX

In the courtyard of the Fort, not far from the pits, they would lay out a long row of logs, put a row of bodies on it, then lay another row of logs on top of the bodies and another row of bodies on the second pile of logs. The daily quota was fixed at three hundred bodies.

To make it easier to light the fire, kerosene was poured into holes dug in the ground, as well as over the corpses themselves. On either side were narrow trenches, into which ran the fat of the burning corpses. The firemen had to make sure the fire did not go out in the middle of burning the corpses. If as much as a hair was left unburned they were liable to pay for it with their own lives.

After each fire there remained heaps of ashes and bones, which were pounded in huge mortars. This “flour” was flung into the air, or dug into the soil. The fourth group was engaged on various tasks in the courtyard, the kitchen etc. One of this fourth group was Dr. Portnoy. He had previously worked with a German pastor by the name of Pollet, in editing a German – Lithuanian dictionary. 

One day Portnoy disappeared without a trace. The pastor had considerable influence with the Kovno Gestapo, but not enough to bring back his Jewish assistant. Portnoy was supposed to be dead, but finally he turned up among the sixty-four and served as their doctor.

The SS men at the Fort carefully watched every move made by the Jewish workers, to make sure that not a single corpse was left in any of the pits. It was absolutely forbidden to fill in with earth any pit from which the bodies had been removed. The workers could expect to be beaten murderously if an unconsumed limb was found in the ashes when one of the pyres was put out.

High Gestapo officers, and even Nazi generals, used to visit the Fort and watch the work. Some of them told the Jews that they were disposing of the victims of the Bolshevik terror; others claimed that the bodies were those of Communists, the blood –and- soul enemies of all humanity, and that it was a good deed to liberate the world from this peril.

All of them tried to convince the Jews that no harm would be done to them, that after they had completed this work they would be transferred elsewhere, as there was more than enough work for them. This consoled the Jews very little – on the contrary, it made them nervous. During one such visit, one of the Jews blurted out a bitter remark – when his pitchfork lifted up, from the pit, the corpse of a child, he cried out, “This is a dangerous Bolshevik, a great threat to mankind. Take him to the pyre. Burn his bones!”

The permanent SS supervisors at the Fort said more than once that the fate of the workers had already been decided, and that not one of them would ever leave the Fort. Witnesses of this kind cannot remain alive. The four work groups were ordered to speed up their work. The murderers had grown nervous all

Outside the walls of the Ninth Fort

of a sudden. Their dead victims had began to bother them, and they were in a hurry to destroy all traces of their crimes.

In general, the life of the prisoners did not change – they were forced to work in chains and subjected to the whims and caprices of their torturers. However, to increase productivity, SS Captain Gratt, the Fort Commandant, ordered that the prisoners be allowed to eat their fill, and even supplied them with tobacco and alcohol occasionally, to help them withstand the dreadful stench from the pits.

They were provided with pillows and blankets from the Ghetto, and three Jewish women were brought from the Ghetto to satisfy their sexual needs. But the prisoners did not delude themselves, they knew with absolute certainty that as soon as they had finished their dreadful task they would also be burned in the final conflagration.

Every pit that was emptied, every pyre that was put out, brought them closer to their own extermination. Before starting to born the corpses, the Germans erected special walls of white sheeting, to prevent people from looking into the Fort from outside, and thus to conceal the digging up of the mass graves and the burning of corpses.

It was impossible. However, to conceal the flames and the thick smoke that came from the Fort every twenty-four hours, it was impossible to suppress the terrible stench from the re-opened pits, which was carried by the wind for many kilometres all around. “Hell is burning” – so the peasants of the surrounding villages whispered to themselves while watching the glow of the flaming pyres.

“Our brothers are burning, our own blood is burning” – so observed the Jews, helpless and imprisoned in the Ghetto, a few kilometres away, in the valley. The red strip in the sky, the new crown on the Fort, whispered quietly the word “revenge.” Not one of the sixty-four prisoners believed he would remain alive. Yet a spark of hope nevertheless flickered in their hearts. Only a few, however, dared to think of rescue. They were reminded morning and evening, day and night, that nobody had ever escaped from the Ninth Fort.

Messages scrawled by Jewish prisoners on a wall inside Fort IX, shortly before their execution

In October 1943 a new prisoner, Captain Kolia Vassilenko was brought to the Fort from the Soviet prisoner-of –war camp near Kalvaria. At the camp, Vassilenko had been regarded as a Russian until he was compelled to go to the bathhouse, and was discovered to be a Jew.

From the first day of his detention at the Fort he made up his mind to escape. While at work he studied the internal and external arrangements of the Fort, observing the methods of guarding the place and the housing conditions of the guards. With the utmost secrecy, he gathered round him initially a small group, which he imbued with his own idea of escape and flight.

The original plan was to dig a tunnel that would be a kilometre long, and to go out to freedom through it. For several weeks the prisoners dug this tunnel with unskilled hands and without tools, digging beneath subterranean structures of the Fort.

They carried the earth out in their pockets and threw it into the pits. They succeeded in hiding their excavations from the guards, and also from their fellow prisoners. It seemed as though their plan would be successful, until they reached a huge rock below the surface and had to give up, filling the tunnel once again with earth, after all the toil and effort with which they had dug it.

In spite of this setback, however, Vassilenko and his comrades did not despair and sought other methods of escape. A second plan was to use gold and valuables taken from the corpses to bribe the SS guards, and to escape with them. At that time, however, not one of the SS men thought of deserting or of bribes.

The plan could not be carried out because the guards had already stolen so many valuables that more bribes would not induce them to take such a risk, and the danger to the lives of the guards was not so near or so threatening as it was for the prisoners. Besides, according to this plan, only a few of the prisoners would be able to escape.

The third plan was to disarm the two supervisors who came every evening to confine the Jews for the night in the underground cells, kill them quietly, steal their uniforms, kill the other two guards in the courtyard, infiltrate the guardroom, kill the guards on duty there, take gold and valuables from the safe, arm themselves, and then take the truck that always stood in the courtyard, kill the guards at the main tower, and drive away.

...more scrawled messages

The main difficulty of this plan was to break into the guardroom, entrance to which required a password that no outsider knew. To break in by force was dangerous because there was a complicated signal system between the commander of the fort, the central prison, the Gestapo headquarters, the police, and the military. Before someone could get into the guardroom the whole Fort would be flooded with reinforcements and surrounded by an impenetrable cordon of Gestapo and SS men. This plan was therefore rejected.

The plan finally decided on was this:

The prisoners proposed to prepare a key to one of the storerooms above the underground cell in which the group was locked up at night. From this store, a door led to a tunnel in the courtyard of the Fort. From this tunnel it would be necessary to dig a second one to the outer wall of the citadel. Within the Fort there were small workshops which supplied the Forts internal needs. A few Jews worked in these workshops – it was they who prepared the key. The hardest thing was to open the thick steel door to the tunnel. For this they had no tools.

It was a daring plan, but their situation was so desperate that they resolved to try and carry it out. A key was prepared, and the unused storeroom facing their quarters was opened. Every day, two men of the group remained behind, claiming to be ill – according to the rules, only two of the group were allowed to be ill and absent at any one time. One of them equipped with a penknife which had been found in the rotting clothes of a corpse and with a small hand-drill removed from a workshop, drilled through the heavy steel door, while the other kept watch.

Gradually they made holes through the door and sawed through the steel between the holes. They also worked in the evenings and used to sing songs and joke at the top of their voices to cover the sound of drilling. They were not discovered in their dangerous work, and were not interfered with even when they sang Soviet songs. After each drilling, they would conceal the door behind a pile of rags.

After weeks of strenuous labour, the hole in the steel door was finally made. It was thirty to forty centimetres, which was just enough for a person to pass through. The day for the flight was finally fixed for 25 December 1943, Christmas day.

Jewish Police make one final assemble prior to their execution at IX Fort

All preparations were completed, and partial rehearsals were begun. The tunnels through which the escaping prisoners had to pass were still blocked, however, with wooden beams that had to be removed. They complained that the wood they received for the pyres was wet and would not burn, either in the kitchen or on the pyres. They therefore asked permission to take dry wood from the tunnels. The Fort commandant suspected nothing and gave permission, and so the last obstacle was eliminated.

As the agreed date approached, the prisoners rehearsed their escape plan again and again, and their tension increased. The mere scale of the plan was enough to terrify them. They feared that a single un-cautious step would destroy all their preparations and put them in the hands of the murderers.

They were also afraid that they would be replaced before 25 December by a different team of workers, and thus be killed before they could carry out their plan. Each of the four groups had its own commander – details were given to these leaders, who were provided with full and detailed instructions.

They were warned that any incautious step might cause a catastrophe. Not a word was to be said. Not a step was to be taken without orders. Not the slightest sign of excitement was to be shown. Finally the long-awaited 25 December arrived. Only half –a day’s work had to be done, in honour of Christmas day, SS Captain Gratt addressed the sixty-four prisoners, and expressed his satisfaction at the tempo of the work.

Since the Jews were labouring so diligently he said he would try to improve the conditions under which they lived. Each of them would receive schnapps and cigarettes in honour of the holiday. They would not work for the two days of Christmas. Gratt wanted them to rest properly, so they would return to work the following Monday refreshed and with renewed strength.

Once again, he promised that not a hair of their heads would fall to the ground, and that when this work was over they would be given more work somewhere else. One of the workers answered the captain on behalf of all of them, thanking him for his kind attitude and for the schnapps and tobacco. He wished the Fort commander “a quiet holiday.”

Fort IV after Liberation

The Jews gave the drink and tobacco to the guards to make them get even more drunk, so they would not notice the excitement and nervousness of the prisoners. Tension increased every moment. By 7pm the workers were all in the underground structures, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the guards who would lock them in for the night and then go out on guard again as usual in the courtyard in front of the building.

About half an hour after the door was locked, the lights would be put out, to be put on again only at 5 a.m. During those hours of darkness the prisoners hoped to carry out their plan. But the guards did not arrive at 7pm as usual. They did not lock the workers in or put the lights out. Nobody understood what had happened – all feared the worst.

A full hour passed in tense expectation – precisely at 8pm, the two warders appeared and locked the doors. It turned out that in honour of Christmas they had wanted to give the Jewish prisoners some pleasure, and so had allowed their doors to remain unlocked. Half an hour later the lights were put out as usual and the guards left the building. The prisoners waited a little longer, and then began carrying out their plans.

First they broke through the thin layer of iron over the steel door, which had been sawed through in advance. Then one of them climbed through the hole into the corridor and, using the keys that had been prepared, swiftly opened the doors of all the subterranean cells.

The corridor floor and the iron stairs of the abandoned storeroom were immediately covered with blankets to deaden any noise of their movements. All the prisoners emerged into the corridor in absolute silence and assembled in their groups, two by two. The final instructions were given – once more the leaders warned them that any hesitant or wrong step by a single one of them might cause the death of all.

Any breach of discipline would be settled on the spot by a knife-blade in the heart. And so they mounted the steps, group by group, one after the other. They opened the storeroom with a key and reached the entry through the steel door. Vassilenko and another of the first group stood on either side of the door, ensuring that everything was done properly.

Without a word they all passed as planned through the hole and entered the tunnel. There the groups formed up again and slowly moved forward to the moat in the courtyard. There they crossed the moat, entered the second tunnel, passed through that to another moat, and reached the outer wall of the Fort.

A Rabbi conducts a memorial service at Fort IX ten months after the liberation

Beside the wall they put up a screen of white sheets they had brought with them, thus concealing all movement around the ladders they were lowering over the wall, which was six meters high. Each group was accompanied all the way by the leader of the next group, who then returned and led his own men, and the leader of the following group.

After they had all climbed over the wall and reached freedom, they were followed by Captain Vassilenko. Vassilenko and a number of the escapees made their way to Kovno Ghetto where he gave details of the escape and how in1943 how the Germans carried out the murder of the family of Chief Rabbi Shapiro, which he had heard about.

Early in 1943 the rabbi’s son, Dr Chaim Nachman Shapiro – a university lecturer – had been taken to the fortress with his wife, their fifteen –year old son, and his old mother, the rabbi’s widow. They were all shot that same day and their bodies flung into the flames.

The fugitives also brought with them evidence and materials they had collected in and around the graves during the excavations. “Let them be given to relatives in the Ghetto, to let them know for whom there is no point in waiting any longer.”

Vassilenko told us – the group had also brought with them the gold teeth of some of the slain – the gold weighed a quarter of a kilogram. The other groups had also taken documents and valuables with them.

 

EK 3 1941 Report on Executions of Jews from Vienna  in Fort IX

 

Transport list of Jews from Vienna Sent to Kovno and murdered in Fort IX

 

NINTH FORT, Nazi killing site four miles from the center of Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, which served as the execution and burial site for Jews from Kovno and for German, Austrian, and Czech Jews shipped to Kovno during the Holocaust. Originally built as a military fortress, during German occupation it became a site of torture and mass executions. Abraham Tory reports in his ghetto diary that "single and mass arrests as well as 'actions' in the ghetto almost always ended with a death march to the Ninth Fort, which in a way completed the ghetto area and became an integral part of it."

The road from the ghetto to the Fort was called the "Way to Heaven." Detainees were held in underground cells in conditions of dampness and darkness and above all fear. Jews were forced into pits inside the Fort, which served as mass graves.

In July 1943 the digging of mass graves ceased and in August 1943 under Aktion 1005 the digging up of bodies began. Jewish prisoners of war, ghetto Jews, and four non-Jews made up the squad of 60 men and four women who had to dig up the bodies, extract the gold teeth, and search for valuables in the garments of the dead before they were cremated.

Sixty-four prisoners escaped from the Ninth Fort on December 24, 1943. Some reached the Kovno ghetto; others escaped into the forest. Each escapee brought word of what had happened. Thus this killing field was known even before the war's end.

Some 45,000–50,000 Jews were killed in the Ninth Fort.

 

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Karl Jäger

Karl Jäger

 (20 September 1888 – 22 June 1959)

Was a Swiss-born SS-Standartenführer (Colonel) and Einsatzkommando leader who perpetrated acts of genocide.

äger was born in SchaffhausenSwitzerland. In World War I he received the Iron Cross (1st Class). He joined the Nazi Party in 1923 (serial no. 359269) and the SS in 1932 (serial no. 62823). He was assigned to Ludwigsburg, then to Ravensburg, in 1935, and to Münster in 1938, where he was named head of the local office of theSicherheitsdienst (SD). During the invasion of the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, Jäger was named commander of Einsatzkommando 3, a unit of Einsatzgruppe A.

Mass murders in eastern Europe Einsatzgruppen killing people in 1942 in the Ukraine at Ivangorod. Jäger organized thousands of murders like these.

From July 1941 until September 1943 Jäger was assigned commander of the SD Einsatzkommando 3 in KaunasLithuania. During this time, reports detailing calculated acts ofmass murder were routinely submitted to his superiors. Some of these reports survived the war and are collectively referred to as the "Jäger Report". Reassigned back to Germany near the end of 1943, Jäger was appointed commander of the SD in Reichenberg in the Sudetenland.

Escape, capture, and suicide

Jäger escaped capture by the Allies when the war ended, assumed a false identity, and was able to assimilate back into society as a farm hand until his report was discovered in March 1959. Arrested and charged with his crimes, Jäger committed suicide in prison in Hohenasperg while he was awaiting trial in June 1959.

The Jäger Report was written on 1 December 1941 by Karl Jäger, commander of Einsatzkommando 3, a killing unit of Einsatzgruppen A which was attached to Army Group North during the Operation Barbarossa. It is the most precise surviving chronicle of the activities of one individual Einsatzkommando.

The Jäger Report is a tally sheet of actions by Einsatzkommando 3, including the Rollkommando Hamann killing squad. The report keeps an almost daily running total of the liquidations of 137,346 people, the vast majority Jews, from 2 July 1941 to 25 November 1941. The report documents exact date and place of the massacres, number of victims and their breakdown into categories (Jews, communists, criminals, etc.).

In total, there were over 100 executions in 71 different locations listed there. On 1 February 1942, Jäger updated the totals to 136,421 Jews (46,403 men, 55,556 women and 34,464 children), 1,064 Communists, 653 mentally disabled, and 134 others in a handwritten note for Franz Walter Stahlecker.

The six-page report was prepared in five copies, but only one survives and is kept by the Central Lithuanian Archives in Vilnius

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Judith Meisel~Survivor~ Born: 1929, Josvainiai (Josvani), Lithuania

Upon her father's death, Judith and her family moved to Kovno. Soon, they were confined to the Kovno ghetto, which the Germans formed in August 1941. Judith, her sister, and her mother were deported to Stutthof, where her mother died. Judith and her sister escaped from a death march out of Stutthof. They posed as non-Jews, and found farm work and eventual refuge in Denmark. Their brother survived Dachau.

And then we came to a place with barbed wire and it became the ghetto, which was known under several--the Kovno ghetto and--but we really knew it as Slobodka ghetto, the ghetto of Slobodka. And there we stayed and food became very, very scarce and...uh...uh...there was a...um...man by the name of Motke.

And to these days, I wish I had any kind of connection with those people. I don't know what ever happened to them. Um...he taught...uh...he picked certain children who were blue-eyed, blond, and decided we didn't look Jewish, like people thought Jews should look, and...and he told us that if we are to survive we are to smuggle food into the ghetto.

So people gave me some valuables and he opened up a...um...barbed wire...um...with his pliers he showed how to open up the barbed wire and escape through it from the ghetto and then tell us where we could go and get food. I can remember carrying butter and bread in my underwear to bring back to the ghetto and to going through the sentry and being afraid.

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Israel Ipson~Survivor~ Born: 1911, Eydtkuhnen, Lithuania

Israel was raised in Kovno, Lithuania, and graduated from law school there in 1933. Because of anti-Jewish discrimination, he was unable to practice law. The Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, occupying Lithuania.

The Kovno ghetto was established that August. By claiming to be a mechanic, Israel escaped several massacres. He was forced to work on a wooden airport runway outside the ghetto. After he escaped, Israel, his wife, and son hid in a potato pit for 9 months until liberation by Soviet forces in 1944.

The airport, the Lithuanian airport was a field. In summertime, when it was dry, the weather was good, it was good, you can land it with a plane. But in wintertime, in the fall, was mud, you couldn't get landed with a plane.

Then the Germans decide they go[ing to] make a runway. What they going to do, they took wood, thirty-six inches, cut it in three, in twelve inches and put twelve inches straight in the ground, and over top, gravel. And with...uh...landing the planes it looks like it would be a runway. And that what they done. Then they put me--and there was hard to get to work. People didn't want to--it was the worst place was at the airport to work. First thing it is a field, they have nobody to surround it, and it is hard, hard work, and the Germans chasing you.

That's why I lost the two fingers. You see my job was to take the thirty-six-inch wood and cut it in three pieces, was a, a saw, electric saw, but the saw run by gasoline. You know, like a jigsaw. And I was staying and cutting in three pieces the wood and threw it on the ground, and there was women taking it away and moving it away where they need it.

And when I stand and cutting the wood, somebody hit me right over there with a, it was with a rifle butt, but so strong...and I looked around like this to see what's happened, who hit me. In that time I moved my hand and the finger got under the saw and cut my...my both fingers off. And it was the German guard, was staying there guarding us.

Well, a woman say, "Look, take a piece of wire, stop your blood, because you could lose all your blood you be, you be dead in a minute." Then they find me a piece of wire to tie it up here my wrist as tight as I can to stop the blood to...to go through. And I...and I had to stay like that, working with one hand until seven o'clock at night when I got into the ghetto and the ghetto had a doctor and...and he start curing me.

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Henny Fletcher Aronsen~Survivor~ Born: 1924, Kovno, Lithuania

Henny was born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania.

She and her brother attended private schools. In June 1940 the Soviets occupied Lithuania, but little seemed to change until the German invasion in June 1941. The Germans sealed off a ghetto in Kovno in August 1941.

Henny and her family were forced to move into the ghetto. Henny married in the ghetto in November 1943; her dowry was a pound of sugar. She survived several roundups during which some of her friends and family were deported.

Henny was herself deported to the Stutthof concentration camp in 1944, when the Germans liquidated the Kovno ghetto. She was placed in a forced-labor group. The Germans forced Henny and other prisoners on a death march as Soviet troops advanced. After Soviet troops liberated Henny in 1945, she eventually reunited with her husband and moved to the United States.

 

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Abraham Malnik Born: 1927, Kovno, Lithuania~Survivor

Abraham came from a wealthy family that was ordered into the Kovno ghetto after the Germans occupied Lithuania in 1941. Abraham's mother urged his father to flee, but he returned for them. Begging for mercy, he was able to save them from a massacre in the Ninth Fort, one of several forts around Kovno. Abraham and his father survived internment in five camps before they were finally liberated in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Abe's mother perished at the Stutthof camp.

And they...they they took the people on the Ninth Fort. They were...they put in bunkers, a hundred at a time...told [they were going to] be stripped in their...to their underwear, and they walked out a hundred at a time and they were machine gunned.

For three days...and then they covered them up with dirt. For three days, the graves were moving up and down. They took tractors and ran over the graves in order to squeeze out the last breath. And when the front came closer and the Germans did not want to leave no evidence, they undug the graves and they found mother with children hugged together, by dying, and with parents, with grandmothers.

They saw people together. And they burned them all up. We could see from the ghetto. Wasn't far from the ghetto. We could see the flames all the way to the sky.

 

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Hersh Gordon~Survivor~ Born: Kovno, Lithuania July 5, 1925

 

Hersh was born to a Jewish family in Kovno, the capital of independent Lithuania. Hersh's father was a mechanic in a textile factory, and his mother had worked as a hat designer until he was born. The Gordons lived on the first floor of Hersh's grandfather's apartment building. Eight-year-old Hersh was in the third grade at public elementary school.

1933-39: In the summers my mother and I would go to my Aunt Ettel and Uncle Abraham in a small town not far away. We'd take a boat down the river to get there. From May to September they operated a small restaurant and motel, and my mother would help out with the cooking. My father would come out on the weekends. I talked my uncle into buying a ping-pong table and used to win money playing table tennis with the tourists.

1940-44: I was almost 16 when the Germans occupied Kovno and forced all the Jews into a fenced-off ghetto. One day the door of our ghetto apartment flew open and two Germans with guns told us to run to a nearby bridge.

As hundreds of Jews from the ghetto walked along the bridge, people began saying prayers and wishing each other goodbye. Germans with heavy rubber clubs started beating everyone over the head. Then they sorted us out as if we were animals, inspecting us to see how fit we were. I was put with others my age.

That day the babies and elderly were killed. Hersh was returned to the ghetto. In 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz, then Dachau. After the war, he emigrated to the United States.

 

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Chaia Gurvitz Born: Lithuania ca. 1876~Survivor

From a Jewish family, Chaia lived outside Kovno, a city with a large Jewish population that was renowned for its Hebrew school system. Chaia ran a grocery store with her husband, a retired shoemaker, and their daughter Yenta.

1933-39: I'm expecting my daughter Feiga, her husband, Josef, and our grandson, Abraham, for dinner. Feiga works so hard all week in her beauty shop, I'm glad I can help out by preparing the big Sunday meal. I've baked a special cake for Abe. I hope the family get-together isn't marred by talk of politics. There's been so much disturbing news on the radio about what's happening to Jews in Germany now that the Nazis are in power.

1940-44: The Germans have occupied Kovno. They've forced all the Jews to wear the Star of David and to relocate to a fenced-in ghetto. Every day the guards take people away, never to return. This morning--a cold, drizzly autumn day--everyone in the ghetto has to report to Democracy Plaza for an inspection. We have to comply or risk being killed. Where will they take us? What will happen to us? We march to the Plaza over streets lightly dusted with snow--Yenta and I, and Feiga, Josef, and Abe.

On October 28, 1941, Chaia was taken with 10,000 other Jews to the Ninth Fort, outside Kovno. There they were killed by Lithuanian guards acting under Nazi orders.

 

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Feiga Malnik Born: Lithuania 1905~Survivor

Raised in a Jewish family, Feiga lived with her husband, Josef, in Kovno, a city with a large Jewish community of 38,000. Kovno was situated at the confluence of two rivers, and with its opera company, chic stores and lively nightclubs, it was often called "Little Paris." Feiga was a beautician and Josef was a barber, and together they ran a shop in downtown Kovno.

1933-39: Every day Josef and I walk to our shop, which is near our house. It's hard work, being a beautician--I'm on my feet most of the day and my fingers are swollen from the harsh chemicals I use to give permanents. It'll all seem worth it, though, if I can help my son, Abe, have a better life as a doctor or a lawyer. He's a good boy. He works hard at school and helps us out at the shop sometimes, sweeping the floor.

1940-44: The Nazis have occupied Kovno. They've forced all the Jews to wear a Star of David and to relocate to a fenced-in ghetto. Every day the guards take people away, never to return. This morning--a cold, drizzly autumn day--everyone in the ghetto has to report to Democracy Plaza for an inspection. We have to comply or risk being killed. Where will they take us? What will happen to us? We march to the plaza over streets lightly dusted with snow--Josef, Abe and I, my 66-year-old mother and my sister, Yenta.

That October 28, 1941, Lithuanian guards under Nazi orders killed 10,000 Jews. Feiga escaped. In 1944 she was deported to the Stutthof concentration camp, where she perished.

 

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David Levine Born:1929, Kovno, Lithuania~Survivor

David was born to a middle class Jewish family and attended a Jewish school. In August 1941, after the Germans occupied Kovno, he was forced into the Kovno ghetto, where he shared two rooms with his immediate and extended family. Many members of his extended family were killed during the Great Aktion in Kovno in October 1941.

David worked in a forced-labor brigade in the ghetto. In March 1944, he witnessed the Kinder Aktion and was able to save his nephew. During the destruction of the Kovno ghetto, David and his surviving relatives were deported to different camps. David and his father were deported to Dachau; his mother and nephew were eventually deported to Auschwitz and killed.

All of a sudden I, I heard a commotion and I heard noise outside the window. Our window faced the gate of the ghetto. When I looked out the window, there were buses lined up in front of the gate and I could see that the Ukrainians and Germans were taking the children into the buses. They were taking babies, children aged...all aged 10 or 11.

And, uh, I had a child. I had my little nephew. He was only two and half years old and I knew that they were going to come, uh, and I could see that. And, uh, so what I did very quickly, I, I pulled a suitcase out from under my bed and I put him in the suitcase and I told him that "You may not cry, you may not speak, and you may not say anything or shout because if you do,"

I said, "The Germans will take you and you will die." He understood that even though he was only two and a half. He knew exactly what, what was happening. They, he...he had a feeling and I put the suitcase back under the bed and I jumped on top of the bed a couple of times to, to cause the dust to settle on it, so it would look like the suitcase had not been opened recently and and and I went back to the window to see what happened.

Uh, the, uh...within, within a minute there was a Ukrainian soldier came through the door of the apartment, and he asked were there any children here. And I said, "No there aren't any." And he said, "I going to look and if I find any," he said, "Not only will I take the child, but you will come." Of course, in the beginning, he examined my papers to see I was only 14.

I was strong enough to be able to work, but he looked at my papers and said that since I worked, he let me alone. But he said that, if he finds a child, I will go with him. And I said, "Well there aren't any." And he looked and looked. Of course, he didn't find. The little boy didn't say anything.

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Ephraim Romm~Survivor

At the beginning of the Second World War, on June 22, 1941, I was 15 years old. I was a high school student in one of the four Hebrew high schools in Kovno, the capital of Lithuania. Our community also had a Jewish theater, a Jewish hospital, a Jewish orphanage, two daily Jewish newspapers, numerous synagogues, a Jewish technical college, one of the most well known yeshivas in the world (Slobodka), and many other community organizations, such as Jewish burial services, Jewish fellowships for assisting the poor, kosher restaurants, etc.

The Jewish community in Kovno had about 40,000 members and constituted 25 percent of the population in the city. Many of its members were professionals, including some of the country's leading doctors, lawyers and business people. Other members of the community were skilled artisans, merchants, small business owners and laborers. All major political sections within the Jewish community had organizations and youth clubs in the city, including, the Zionists, the socialists, and the various religious denominations.

The first day of the war found me in a small town called Balbirishok, which was located about 40 kilometers south of Kovno. My brother Arie, his wife Rebecca, and their 3-year-old daughter, Esther, lived there. Since it was the end of June and I was on summer vacation, my father and I decided to spend some time with my brother and his family. My mother was visiting my older sister, Celia, who had just gotten married and moved with her husband to Vilna, the largest city in Lithuania.

June 22 was a Sunday. What does a 15-year-old boy do on a Sunday morning on his summer vacation? In my case, I went fishing in the nearest river. After about two hours of less than successful fishing, I suddenly heard the sound of distant bombing that didn't exactly fit the pastoral environment around me. I decided to pack up my fishing gear and run home.

We walked four days to get home.

When I got home, it was clear that the war has started. My father decided that we should go back to our home in Kovno as soon as possible. Public transportation was no longer available, so my father and I started walking back. The roads were packed with German armored trucks on their way east, and poor us, were walking slowly, with all our belongings on our backs on the road to Kovno. It took us four days to get home. About a week later, my brother Arie and his wife and daughter arrived in Kovno and joined us.

By the time my brother and his family joined us in Kovno, the city was fully occupied by the Germans. We heard about the massacres that the Lithuanians have undertaken against the Jewish population in the city and the surrounding areas, so we stayed at home and didn't go out at all for a while. We lived on food that we prepared in the house ahead of time.

Within days, the German occupiers had placed posters in public places around the city announcing that the Jewish people have to wear a yellow star on their clothes and that they are not allowed to walk on the sidewalk.

Shortly afterwards, there were new posters announcing that the Jews are to leave their homes and move to one of the poorest suburbs of the city, Slobodka, where the Jewish Ghetto was to be established. We had to move before August 1, which gave us only a few weeks to prepare.

Moving into the Ghetto

This is how we found ourselves in the Kovno Ghetto, with a few clothes and a few pieces of furniture that we managed to take from our large house. In the Ghetto, we found ourselves in a tiny flat with two other families, with barbed wire and soldiers guarding us day and night. Our flat in the Ghetto was near the fence, not far from the synagogue and from the major entrance gate.

The synagogue was never used for prayer. The Germans organized classical music concerts there. They didn't have a problem finding musicians and other artists in the Ghetto. So I had the opportunity to listen to classical music of the highest quality right outside my home and I took advantage of this at every opportunity.

The food ration was 200 grams of bread per person per day, and 100 grams of horse meat once in two weeks.

Life in the Ghetto was not easy, to say the least. The food that was distributed to us was meager, 200 grams of bread per person per day, 100 grams of horse meat once in two weeks, and occasionally, a kilogram of potatoes. We starved most of the time and so it is no wonder that the black market flourished.

This market was based on provisions smuggled into the Ghetto by those who worked outside the Ghetto during the day. We didn't have any money, so we exchanged gold coins, clothes, household items and anything else that the non-Jews outside the Ghetto were willing to take in exchange for food.

Working outside the Ghetto was advantageous despite the harsh conditions and misery associated with it. You had to be up in front of the entrance to the Ghetto at 5 a.m. where the Appel (the counting and organizing into work groups) was taking place. About an hour after the Appel, in freezing cold, the work groups started to leave through the gate, accompanied by soldiers.

We walked slowly through the city on our way to various work places. We walked on the street, with the German soldiers walking on the sidewalk. Every Jewish person had a yellow star on his or her chest and on his or her back. As a matter of principle, Jews were not allowed to walk anywhere but on the street, with the horses. The yellow star had to be worn on one's clothes at all times, and a German was to guard the Jews at all times.

The work places we went to were quite varied. There was hard digging in the airport at Aleksot, and maintenance work for German soldiers around the city. The most sought after places were those where one could have some contact with the local population. Such contact was an opportunity to exchange valuables and clothes for food.

Returning to the Ghetto at night was an ordeal. Again, we would walk slowly in a group, accompanied by German soldiers. This time, however, we would be stopped at the gate to be searched. The Jewish police at the gate would allow a small amount of food for personal use, but anything beyond this was confiscated.

The normal procedure was that just before the gate, one would have to take off his hat, open his bag and raise his hands so the guard could check him. My father had an ingenious idea that allowed him to trick the guard. He would open his coat and raise his arms, holding his hat in one hand. They never found anything on him. After the checkup, he would take half a kilo of butter out of his hat. Half a kilo of butter was worth more than 20 kilos of potatoes on the black market. This would be enough food for us to live on for weeks.

There was another advantage to going out to work. As time went by, we discovered that the Germans took advantage of the fact that some of the Ghetto's inhabitants were out at work to round up people for executions (Aksionnen). Those who were out working were safer and less likely to be seized than those who stayed in the Ghetto during the day.

Building a Hiding Place

Soon enough we realized that it was essential to build a hiding place. We called the hiding place "Maline." When the Germans announced that certain houses were to be evacuated and the inhabitants rounded up for selection -- which would be followed by execution -- it was important to have a hiding place. This is what happened during the great Aksionnen of October 1941, which resulted in half the Ghetto's population beyond Panerio Street being liquidated.

Because of the crowded living conditions, it was important to build the hiding place in total secrecy and to equip it with electricity, a toilet, and enough food for a long stay. How can one do this when there is another family living in the next room? Well, in our small room, we moved the sofa, and underneath we opened a small square hole in the wooden floor, about the width of one's shoulders. From this opening, my father and I started to take dirt out.

But then, how does one get rid of the extra dirt without anyone noticing? We managed to find a vacant cellar nearby and started filling it with dirt. We worked for many nights, very quietly so our neighbors and the soldiers guarding the fence just outside the house would not notice anything. Given that we lived right near the fence, this was quite an achievement.

Our spider hole was equipped with electricity, a toilet, and enough food for a long stay.

After many nights of working on the hiding place (after which we would go to work in the morning as usual), our hiding place was ready and fully equipped. Our plan was to use it not just while the Ghetto was in existence but also for the time when the Germans may decide to liquidate the Ghetto. The idea was to hide until the Russians came.

Actually I prepared a second, alternative hiding place. At the time, I was working with my father on Putvinskio Street. We worked for a German military unit that provided services to other units in the region. My father, who was a master electrician, made me his assistant. This allowed me to work with him and learn the profession from him.

The Germans established a small workshop for him in one of the huts, and this was his kingdom. No one ventured into it. So, we decided to open a hole in the ceiling, and in the gap between the ceiling and the roof, we built a small room from wooden boards.

We equipped the room with everything that might be needed for a long stay, including a stove and wood for heating. We made sure that our hiding place had a second, alternative entrance, with a ladder that was always hanging outside in case there was no way of entering the hiding place from inside the workshop. Again, the idea was that this second hiding place could be used if we had to leave the Ghetto, and then we would be able to hide among the non-Jews in the city.

Russian Advance

This was not the last hiding place that we built. Later on, when the Russians advanced closer to the city, the Kovno Ghetto became a concentration camp under the management of the German commander, Goeke. This meant that those who worked outside the Ghetto were housed in small camps closer to their work places.

As a result of this, our family was separated. My parents were housed in camps outside the Ghetto, while my brother's family and I were moved to one of the huts inside the Ghetto. All the work that we invested in building our first hiding place came to nothing...

The Germans were already withdrawing from Russia and we had no idea what was to happen. There was an urgent need to build a new hiding place. Since there was a pantry at the entrance to our hut, I decided to make a hole at the top of that pantry that would allow us to get into the gap between the ceiling and the roof. It was impossible to stand in that area, but one could sit or lie down there. I organized a sleeping place there and installed some equipment. It was impossible to get electricity there.

There were rumors that the Germans were withdrawing and that the front with the Russians was getting close. We didn't know what was really happening. Right at the very beginning of the Nazi occupation, the Germans announced that no one was allowed to listen to short wave radio. The whole population had to give up their short wave radios, and, instead, the authorities provided small radios that could only access local, censored channels. Jews were not allowed to have any radios at all. So all the news we heard came from the Lithuanians we met at our work places.

In the Ghetto, the Germans would occasionally search for young people who were not working. The searches were usually carried out at night. When they found such young people, they would take them away and they were never heard from again. So I had no choice but to sleep at night in my hiding place. It wasn't much fun, but there was no other way.

Other than the searches at night, the Germans would also have sudden Aksionnen during the day. One of these was the children's Aksionnen in which they collected all the small children who were still alive in the Ghetto and executed them in the Ninth Fort (an area near the Ghetto where most of the Ghetto's inhabitants were killed during the three years the Ghetto was in existence). So we decided to get Esther, my brother's daughter, who was five years old at the time, into the hiding place during the children's Akstionnen. This saved her life, for then. At the end, when the Ghetto was liquidated, my brother, his wife and their daughter were all killed.

Building My Own Radio

I don't know who invented the transistor, but I invented a radio that worked without batteries or electricity. I had no choice. Lying for hours in the dark without electricity is not much fun. So if you take a regular three-point electrical plug that you put in an electrical socket, install a crystal on top of it and place an electric wire in front of it, and if you also add ear phones and start searching for some radio stations, you can actually hear a local station without using any batteries or electricity.

It was illegal for Jews to listen to the radio, but, then, it was also illegal for Jews to hide. I decided to ignore both. Hearing the news was very important because the rumors were that the front was getting closer. Even though the radio was censored, one could read between the words what was really happening. For example, if the Germans said that "our army has successfully pushed the enemy between Vilna and Minsk," one could gather exactly where the front was.

So here I was, lying in my hiding place for whole nights, enjoying classical music from the Kovno radio and following the progress of the war. When they no longer mentioned Minsk and only talked about "successful battles around Vilna," I knew that the last hour of the Kovno Ghetto was near.

My Miraculous Escape

Life in the Ghetto was actually quiet in the summer of 1944. From time to time we would hear explosions from a distance, but generally, things were very quiet. One day, the Judenrat (Jewish leadership of the Ghetto) announced that all the Ghetto inhabitants were to be transported by riverboats to Germany. We were to take only what we could carry by hand and be ready to leave immediately.

The first group was to leave on Saturday July 8, 1944. I didn't believe the Germans. My logic was that if the front were so close, they wouldn't bother to evacuate us to Germany. I thought their intention was to get the Ghetto population quietly into one of the ancient forts and then kill everyone just as they did in the preceding three years. I was determined to leave the Ghetto with the very first group, and once out of the Ghetto, to try to run away.

I decided not to take anything with me. Who needs to take anything when one is going to his death? I also decided to wear regular work clothes that would not arouse any suspicion, including attaching the yellow star to my clothes with a safety pin rather than with thread, so it would be quick and easy to remove.

I would have one moment to bend down and disappear under the parked vehicle.

So on July 8, 1944, I was at the collection area near theJudenrat building, waiting with the others to leave the Ghetto. I selected my place in the group carefully. I wanted to be five lines before the end of the group at the very right. My plan was as follows: When the soldiers surround the group, the soldiers at the very back would not be able to see me because there are five lines of people behind me. The soldier on the left of the group would not be able to see me because I would be on the right.

Only the soldier on the right side would be able to see me because he would be walking next to me. However, if there were a car or a wagon by the side of the road, the soldier on the right would be walking on the sidewalk and would not be able to see the length of the parked vehicle. This would give me a moment or so to bend down and disappear under the parked vehicle.

And, so, when the group left the Ghetto and I saw a wagon on the side of the road, with pieces of furniture on it and a ladder next to it, I decided this was it: I either do it and succeed, or this would be my end.

Exactly as planned, I took off the yellow star, put on a hat that I had in my pocket, pulled out a sandwich that was in my pocket with the hat, climbed the ladder that was leaning against the wagon and started eating the sandwich.

The group walked around the wagon and the soldier, who did, indeed, walk on the sidewalk, saw a pastoral picture, a wagon full of furniture, a man, who was holding the reins of the horse, and his young assistant (me), sitting on the ladder and eating a sandwich.

To reinforce the picture, I started talking to the man in Lithuanian. He didn't respond. He saw everything but remained quiet and continued to look ahead as if he didn't notice what was happening right under his nose.

Once the group was away, I went on the sidewalk, put my sandwich inside my hat and put everything back in my pocket. I knew I would need the food, as I had no idea where my next meal would come from.

And yet, despite this uncertainty, I was overwhelmed with the relative freedom that I suddenly had. At the same time, I was also curious to know where they were taking the group. So I decided to follow them from a safe distance, and on the sidewalk, like a free man.

I saw them crossing the Slobodka bridge and advancing toward the Aleksot bridge. Just before that bridge, they turned left toward the river Niemen. I was relieved because up the river Niemen there was a small port that had riverboats leaving from it to the Baltic Sea and from there to Germany. This time, it seems, the Germans did not lie.

I turned around and went back to where I came from. When I reached Panerio Street, where the wagon was, I couldn't find it. It disappeared and so did the man on it. I decided to return to the Ghetto gate. I deliberately walked close to the Ghetto fence. I wanted the Jewish policemen, who knew me, to see me and let my family know that they saw me outside the Ghetto as a free man. So I continued to walk near the fence for a while, until the fence ended.

Helping on the Farm

Now, what does an 18-year-old boy do who suddenly won a new life and wants to celebrate? In my case, I decided to go down to the river Vilia. I took off my clothes and jumped into the river for a long and very enjoyable swim. I have never enjoyed a swim as much as I did then, and even though I still didn't know what was ahead of me, at that moment, I was intoxicated with my new-found freedom.

After the swim, I put my clothes back on, went back on the road, up a hill and under the shade of a tree. There I finished my sandwich and started to plan my future.

In Kovno, during the month of July, the sun sets at around 10:00 or 11:00 at night, and rises at about 3:00 in the morning. So I had just a bit of time to sleep and plan my next steps. It was clear that I should not stay in the city. It was much better for me to start walking toward the front instead of waiting for it to get to me. This meant that I had to go east toward the city of Vilna.

I knew that I had to be careful. I had to use side roads and avoid any major roads where either the German or the Russian army might be moving. The countryside was best. And so, on my very first day out of the Ghetto, I managed to walk on side roads for at least 30 kilometers. By night, I reached Jonava. I stayed in this small town for just one night, and on the next day, continued my roundabout journey east.

By night, having reached what seemed like a desert that I didn't even know existed in Lithuania, I decided to try my luck with a farmer. I offered my services as a farm hand, telling him that I knew my way around the farm chores. I assumed that in summer there is always need for extra help. I was successful. He took me in and offered me some food in exchange for helping on his farm.

I wasn't worried that he would turn me in to the German authorities, because I didn't look Jewish and my language skills were impeccable. After three days of work, the farmer came home sad, saying that just across the hill, he saw a convoy of Russian armored trucks. I told him that I wanted to see it with my own eyes. It was true. The trucks were, indeed, Russian, and I was truly a free man for the first time in three years.

I went back to the farmer and told him my story. He was overwhelmed and told me that I did, indeed, look too thin and should not continue to work. He asked that I stay with him just a bit longer until I got better. I was happy to oblige. As it happened, he was right. It was another month before the Russians took over Kovno, and by that time I was indeed much better and ready to take on the rest of my adventures.

Epilogue

What is success? Well, at the beginning, there is an idea and this idea comes from God. To make it successful, one needs to start working on it. One needs to do it immediately, with determination and courage. In my case, the idea was to escape at the very last moment. I planned my escape carefully and executed it exactly as planned.

Later I learnt that another man from my group tried to escape and was killed right then and there on the bank of the Niemen River.

My parents survived the concentration camps and lived a long life in Israel.

In the Ghetto we used to cheer ourselves up by saying "we will survive them," but most of us did not survive. I was lucky. In 1948 I was able to go to Israel, the land of my dreams, and I fought in all the wars that followed Israel's 1948 War of Independence.

In 1955, I was able to find my parents and bring them from the Soviet Union to Israel. They survived the concentration camps in Stutthof and Dachau and lived a long life in Israel. I am fortunate to have four wonderful children and seven grandchildren, too. I am now waiting for my very first great-grandchild to be born one of these days.

But my brother, Arie, was not so lucky. He and his family, as well as, my sister, Celia, and her family, and several other close relatives died in the Ghetto and were not buried according to the Jewish law. Let this story of mine be their gravestone and may God avenge their blood.

In the Morning Prayer we say, "How happy we are, and how good our fortune, and how beautiful our destiny. We are happy that we are able to pray to You, God, every morning and every night." We conclude our prayer by saying, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." These words are not only in our daily prayer, but also the words that each Jew utters when he gives his soul back to his Creator.

I am happy that I was born a Jew and lived as a Jew. And when my time comes, I will die as a Jew, with the land of my forefathers under me. Despite everything that we have been through, we, the Jewish people, will live forever!

Added by bgill

Evidence of Jewish Escapees from Kovno On the Burning of the Bodies

Protocol, Kovno, December 26, 1943

We, the undersigned, a group of prisoners from the Ninth Fort, who escaped from there during the night from the 25th to the 26th of December of this year, consisting of: J.L. Vaslenitzki [Vasilenko], A. Diskant, A. Faitelson, M. Gelbtrunk, P. Krakinowski, M. Daitz, A. Wilenczuk, T. Pilownik, Gempel, Sh. Idelson, and A. Menaiski have put together this protocol regarding the following:

1. In the period of the years 1941-42, the area of the Ninth Fort was used by the German Command to carry out mass shootings.

2. In order to conceal this crime, the German Command, in the person of the Commander of the Kovno Gestapo, arranged for the re-opening of all the graves where the victims of the executions had been buried and set about burning the bodies.

3. In order to carry out this work the Gestapo collected 72 persons at the Ninth Fort at the end of October and beginning of November of this year. These were 34 Soviet prisoners of war, 14 Jewish partisans, 3 local Russians, caught while carrying out sabotage, 4 women – 3 of them Jewish, one Polish – and 17 Jews from the Kovno ghetto.

4. The work was organized in such a fashion that the surrounding population should not find out anything about it, and in fact that nobody should know what was being done in the area of the Ninth Fort. Notices were put up everywhere at a distance of 2 kms. forbidding closer approach under threat of execution. The working area of 2-3 acres was surrounded with a canvas (screen). None of the people who carried out the work was intended ever to leave the Fort alive. This is supported by the fact that one of the Jews from the ghetto, who was taken ill with appendicitis, was shot on November 5, and 7 of the prisoners of war – older men and invalids – were shot on November 13 of this year. There then remained 64 persons for the work.

5. During the period of the work, i.e., from November 1 until December 25 (the day of the escape), 4½ graves were opened, each of them 100-120 meters long, 3 meters wide and 1½ meters deep. More than 12,000 bodies were taken out – men, women, children. These bodies were piled up together, 300 at a time, to be burned. What was left after the burning (charcoal and bones) was ground down to powder in pits. This powder was then mixed with earth so that no trace of it should remain.

6. In order to prevent any escapes during work, the workers were linked together with chains. There were towers for machine-guns. The guards were armed with submachine-guns and pistols.

7. Among the 12,000 bodies burned there were about 7,000 Jews from Kovno....

8. The position of the bodies was proof that groups of people were driven into the graves and shot afterwards. The result was that many were buried when they were only wounded or even had not been wounded at all by the bullets.

9. On the day of escape there were many graves still unopened. The Gestapo Commanders had figured that they would finish the work by April 1, 1944....

Eleven signatures

Added by bgill

A Lithuanian Woman Doctor on the Jews in the Kovno Ghetto

Announcement in the Lithuanian language:

"Although sensible people, and they include the very great majority of the Lithuanian people, avoid contact with Jews, it can be observed that the Jews who leave the ghetto daily for work and return there succeed in establishing contacts with individual Lithuanian citizens. Therefore:

1. It is hereby forbidden to non-Jewish residents to maintain any form of relations whatsoever with Jews, even any simple conversation between a non-Jew and a Jew. It is forbidden to sell, exchange, or make a gift of any foodstuffs or any goods; it is forbidden altogether to trade with Jews.

2. The German Police and the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police have ordered that all contact between non-Jews and Jews be cut off. Any person contravening this Order will be severely punished."

A threat to think about. Thousands of people humiliated, without any protection, worse than animals, and all that because they have "other blood."...

October 30

Again (10.28), 10,000 people have been taken out of the ghetto to die. They selected the old people, mothers with their children, those not capable of working. There were many tragedies: there were cases where a husband had been in town and on his return he no longer found either his wife or his four children!

And there were cases where they left the wife and took away the husband. Eye-witnesses tell the tale: On the previous day there was an announcement that everybody must come at six in the morning to the big square in the ghetto and line up in rows, except workers with the documents which were recently distributed to specialists and foremen.

In the first row were the members of the Council of Elders and their families, behind them the Jewish Police, after that the administration officials of the ghetto, after that the various work-brigades and all the others. Some of them were directed to the right – that meant death – and some were directed to the left. The square was surrounded by guards with machine guns. It was freezing.

The people stood on their feet all through that long day, hungry and with empty hands. Small children cried in their mothers’ arms. Nobody suspected that a bitter fate awaited them. They thought that they were being moved to other apartments (the previous evening there had been arguments and even quarrels about the apartments).

At dawn there was a rumor that at the Ninth Fort* (the death Fort) prisoners had been digging deep ditches, and when the people were taken there, it was already clear to everybody that this was death. They broke out crying, wailed, screamed. Some tried to escape on the way there but they were shot dead. Many bodies remained in the fields.

At the Fort the condemned were stripped of their clothes, and in groups of 300 they were forced into the ditches. First they threw in the children. The women were shot at the edge of the ditch, after that it was the turn of the men... Many were covered [with earth] while they were still alive...

All the men doing the shooting were drunk. I was told all this by an acquaintance who heard it from a German soldier, an eye-witness, who wrote to his Catholic wife: "Yesterday I became convinced that there is no God. If there were, He would not allow such things to happen...."

 

Added by bgill

The Kovno Ghetto Orchestra (1943-1944)

Following the German occupation of Kaunas, many of the city's leading musicians, were forced to move to the Jewish ghetto. Most brought their musical instruments with them. However, on August 18, 1941, soon after the sealing of the ghetto, the Germans held a special "Intellectuals Action" which resulted in the murder of 534 of the most educated men in the ghetto. Afterwards, most musicians were afraid to publicly declare themselves as professionals.

The Jewish council decided the best way to protect these musicians was to make them policemen and issue them uniforms. During the summer of 1942, when the killing actions had stopped and the ghetto was in the midst of its "Quiet Period," the council felt it was safe to ask permission for the ghetto's musicians to regroup into an orchestra.

The orchestra consisted of 35 instrumentalists and five vocalists led by the noted conductor Michael Leo Hofmekler and the concertmaster Alexander Stupel. Performances were held bi-weekly, and a total of 80 concerts were given during the ghetto's history. Performances were given in the ghetto's Police House, the former building of the Slobodka Yeshiva.

They were coordinated by the ghetto's director of education and culture, the noted linguist Chaim Nachman Shapiro (who was also the son of Kovno's chief rabbi). Though the first concert, which began with a moment of silence followed by "Kol Nidre" (the opening hymn of the Yom Kippur service), featured only serious music, many in the ghetto felt it was unseemly to hold concerts in a place of mourning.

They considered these concerts to be solely for the ghetto elite and a desecration of the yeshiva. However, despite these criticisms, most felt that the concerts served a useful purpose in raising the level of morale in the ghetto. Ironically, though the musicians were initially made policemen as a form of protection, during the "Police Action" of March 27, 1944, only the musicians were spared transfer to the Ninth Fort.

Added by bgill

Esther Lurie, Artist of the Kovno Ghetto~Survivor

Esther Lurie was born in Liepaja, Latvia, emigrated to Palestine in 1934 and returned to the Baltic States several times for exhibitions. She was caught in Lithuania when the war between Germany and the USSR broke out in 1941 and survived the Kovno Ghetto and Stutthoff concentration camp. Many of her works survived in hidden spaces of the Ghetto....

Esther Lurie was born in Liepaja, Latvia, to a religious Jewish family with five children. Her family were forced to leave during World War I because the city's importance as a military port. In 1917 they shifted to Riga, where Lurie graduated from Ezra Gymnasium (high school). She already showed artistic talent in kindergarten and began to develop professionally from the age of fifteen, studying with various teachers. From 1931-1934 she learned theatrical set design at the Institut des Arts Décoratifs in Brussels, and afterwards studied drawing at the Académie Royal des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp.

In 1934 Lurie migrated to Palestine with most of her family and worked at various artistic activities. She designed sets for the Hebrew Theatre, as well as works for the Adloyada in Tel Aviv, the Bialik exhibition and the Eastern Fair. When events limited theatrical activity in Palestine, she devoted herself to drawing - producing many portraits.

Her favorite subjects were dancers and musicians. She also travelled to many kibbutzim, painting the landscapes of Palestine, and her works were exhibited in kibbutzim dining rooms. Her first exhibition took place in Kibbutz Geva in 1937. In 1938 she was accepted as a member of the Painters and Sculptors Association in Palestine.

She held solo exhibitions in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. In 1938 she won the Dizengoff Prize for Drawing - the most prestigious prize - for a work entitled "The Palestine Orchestra". This was shown at the general exhibition of Palestine artists in the Tel Aviv Museum.

In 1939 she travelled to Europe to further her studies, visiting France and attending the the Académie Royal des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp. That summer she visited relatives in Latvia and Lithuania, exhibiting work at the Painters' Association Building in Riga and also at Kovno (Kaunas) in Lithuania (both in 1939).

The next year she held another exhibition at Kovno's Royal Opera House on the theme of "The Ballet". Her works received great acclaim and some of them were purchased by local Jewish institutions and by the Kovno State Museum. After the Nazi occupation they were confiscated, being defined as "Jewish art".

World War II had begun while she was in Lithuania and during the Nazi occupation (1941-44) she was imprisoned in the Kovno ghettoalong with the other Jews. As soon as she entered the ghetto, in mid-1941, Lurie began to sketch views of her new world.

She has left behind a detailed written testimony of her life and work during World War II. This combination of literary and visual testimony make up a "living witness" (the name she would later give to one of her books). They enable us to enter deeply into her life as an artist during this period under these difficult conditions. She wrote:

 

    Everything that was happening all around was so strange, so different from all the ideas and practices of our lives hitherto. I felt that I must report on this new existence or at least make sketches. I must depict things as I saw them. Admittedly, it was only during periods of relative calm that I could devote myself to any such activity. But in the course of time I began to regard this work of mine as a duty.

 

Lurie has written about her sources of inspiration and about the extensive cooperation she received from the residents of the ghetto:

 

    The place where I first set out to sketch was the "Reserverat". The former school for handicrafts contained all the families who had been unable to obtain any other quarters. People lived in a big courtyard where they cooked on stones. There I found ample material: heaps and piles of furniture that had been transformed into queer barricades, and now served as residential quarters. 
    Here were children, old folk, all sorts of Jewish types. Life was going on everywhere, in every corner; conversations and quarrels, some folk attending to various things while others just sat doing nothing or studied a book. When I sat down in a corner of the courtyard I was promptly surrounded. My work interested them very much, and each and every one was prepared to help. Somebody would stand sentinel to warn me if the Germans came. The people very much liked the idea that I should make a permanent record of "how it was."

 

Later on, the members of the Ältestenrat (Council of Elders) were shown one of her works. Recognising the value of her work as historical documentation, they asked her to draw everything that was happening in the ghetto.

 

    Dr Elkes, President of the Committee, and his fellow members, welcomed this step of mine and asked me to go on collecting and recording material of this kind. Their attitude encouraged me. Henceforward I set out to sketch whatever seemed important to me; but this was not a simple or easy undertaking, for it was dangerous to do any sketching in the streets [...] strangers agreed to permit me to paint from the window of their home [...] The people of the house were friendly and concerned. "What should be done to make sure that your pictures will survive?" they used to ask.

 

The help that Lurie received from people - and their concern about how to preserve her art - shows the great importance that was attached to her work. In this period of destruction and annihilation, it seemed very likely that the subjects of the works would not survive, so it was all the more important that these documents and commemorations should last. This was why she was asked: "What should we do to preserve your paintings?"

Despite her sense of responsibility and the cooperation of the ghetto inmates - both the ghetto administration and the other prisoners - Lurie did not have the strength to draw all the time. Her written account sheds light on the connection between the emotional distress of the artist and the creation of art works - a concern expressed by artists in other camps with similar conditions:

 

    For a long time I stopped my drawing. These were days of constant fear, of a harsh and coarsening struggle for existence. The German method was: action followed by a brief relaxation until the next action, which again came as a surprise. I was also conscripted for forced labour. Only occasionally, on some free day, did the painter Jacob Lifshitz and I sketch "Ghetto Types". 
    Then once again I was invited to the Jewish Committee. There I was informed of a resolution to encourage all initiative in the Ghetto that could be connected with the collection of historical material. Secrecy had to be preserved. I was promised every assistance as long as I continued to paint the life of the Ghetto [...] A temporary release from forced labour was obtained on my behalf. It was not easy. I was placed on the list of "Ghetto workers", and received leave for two months.

 

In fact, this "conscripted" artist, for whom such a great effort had been made to enable her to concentrate on depicting ghetto life, drew extensively, covering every detail of the ghetto. She was assisted by both the residents and the local police.

 

    I went to sketch as much as was left of the Hospital of the Little Ghetto, which the Germans had destroyed [...] I sketched at the Communal Kitchen, where a little thin soup was distributed to old people and forsaken children. These people were quite indifferent to all that was going on around them, and paid no attention to me [...] I wished to make a record of the working people, the masses.

 

 

    Sometimes I was permitted to sit in the Jewish Police station and sketch from a window on the second floor, through which it was possible to see the main gate and the entire surroundings [...] There I sketched a number of people as they went out to work with big home-made gloves, carrying food containers and with knapsacks on their backs or at their sides.

 

 

    On several occasions I painted the Actions Square where, by the "Little Blocks" was the spot dividing the Jews who were sent "right" from those who were sent "left" on the day of the Big Action.

 

In addition to the characters and events, Lurie also depicted the landscapes, whose beauty was in direct contradiction to the terrors of life in the ghetto.

 

    A subject which I painted many times at all seasons was the road that led from the "Ghetto Valley" to the "Ninth Fort" on the hilltop]. A row of lofty trees at the wayside gave the road a singular character. The highway to the hilltop remains etched deep in my memory as a Via Dolorosa, taken by tens of thousands of Jews from Lithuania and Western Europe on the way to their deaths. There were days when the grey clouds gave this place a peculiarly tragic aspect which accorded with our feelings.

 

In the Kovno ghetto, as in other camps and ghettos, inmates attempted to preserve a semblance of normal life by sticking to normal routines and by maintaining cultural activities. These included an exhibition of Esther Lurie's works which Avraham Golub (Tory), the secretary of the Ältestenrat, wrote about in his ghetto diary.

In these writings he offers his own views and those of Lurie on the roles of artist and documenter. The artist had to be, he wrote, the "mouth" of the single, lone person, to commemorate also the "small" details, from which the mosaic of experience was composed. He wrote:

 

    In the afternoon there was an exhibition of drawings by the artist Esther Lurie for a small group of people. This is an artist versed in international culture, rich in ideas. From the first days of the ghetto she made it her goal to commemorate the visions of the ghetto, by means of drawings and characters meaningful to Jewish history [...]

 

 

    Every artist in the ghetto must commemorate - in Esther Lurie's opinion - in accordance with his method and ability, everything that happens in the ghetto. The important occurrences and major events will remain in the memory of the people, but the suffering of the individual will be forgotten.

 

 

    This testament obliges us, first and foremost, to remember and to draw events and facts, people and characters, important pictures and moments. To commemorate everything. In the spoken word and in writing, in sketching and painting. In every possible artistic method.

 

 

    Esther Lurie responded to this call and she does it wholeheartedly [...]. Every drawing is a piece of the history of endless pain, an expression of emotional and physical martyrdom. [...] Today [...] the faces of the participants lit up for a minute in the presence of Esther Lurie's drawings of the ghetto. Additional proof of the non-capitulation of the Jewish spirit under all conditions at all times.

 

 

    Kovno Ghetto, July 25, 1943.

 

In addition to her "conscripted" work on behalf of the Judenrat (Jewish Council), the Nazis also showed interest in Lurie's artistic talent. As the ghetto emptied out, after the aktion (roundup) of the children and elderly on 27 March 1944, the SS men now lived among the Jews and interfered with everything, causing constant tension.

At that time Lurie was working in the painting and drawing workshops, where the imprisoned artists were employed. They painted pictures to order for the German commanders, but this mostly consisted of large oil paintings based on color reproductions. The Germans also ordered artistic photographs, and for this they constructed a studio and brought in a Jewish photographer from a forced labor camp.

Lurie drew everywhere in the ghetto, including the various workshops. Among the workshops she was permitted to visit was the pottery workshop. During her visits there, Lurie got the idea of asking the Jewish potters to prepare a number of jars for her. She would use these to conceal her art works if the situation worsened.

The situation did grow worse. After the deportation of 26 October 1943, in which 3,000 ghetto inmates were removed to forced labor camps in Estonia, Lurie hid her art collection - approximately 200 drawings and watercolors of 25 x 35 cm - in the large jars she had prepared in advance. Some of her works were photographed beforehand for ghetto's hidden archive.

In July 1944, as the Red Army approached Lithuania, the ghetto was liquidated and those remaining were transferred to concentration camps and forced labor camps in Germany. The ghetto was set on fire and the buildings were blown up and burnt to prevent those hiding from escaping. Some people were burned to death in their hiding places.

Esther Lurie was sent to Germany, leaving her hidden works behind. After the war some of her drawings were recovered, surviving with the Ältestenrat's archive. Avraham Tory succeeded in rescuing 11 sketches and watercolors and 20 of the photographs of her works. He took these to Israel. Lurie was unable to discover what happened to the remainder of her works.

Esther Lurie, along with the other women from the ghetto, was placed in Stutthof concentration camp, where she remained until the end of July 1944. She was separated from her sister, with whom she had lived during the whole ghetto period. Lurie's sister and young nephew were deported to Auschwitz and did not survive the war.

As in the ghetto, Lurie continued to receive requests to draw and commemorate Stutthof inmates. More than once her art served her as barter for food:

 

    I managed to get hold of a pencil and some scraps of paper. I started to draw some of the various "types" among the women prisoners. Young girls, who had "friends" among the male inmates and who used to get gifts of food, asked me to draw their portrait. The payment - a piece of bread.

 

 

    I also did some drawings of women wearing "pyjamas" [view example] at the Stutthof Concentration Camp. They were drawn in pencil on poor-quality paper which I received from a girl who worked at registering the prisoners. These drawings I hid in my clothes for the five months we spent in the labour camp.

 

In August 1944 Lurie was moved, along with another 1,200 prisoners, to forced labor camps in Germany. She was sent to Leibitz, where she depicted several of the prisoners (view example). She has written about this time:

 

    The following are the circumstances which made it possible for me to produce these drawings. Each of us was required to wear attached to the left sleeve her prisoner's number and the Shield of David printed on a strip of linen, which we received when our clothes were handed out to us at the Stutthof concentration camp. 
    In the course of the time the linen was torn or numbers became blurred and had to be restored. This became my duty. When a certain quantity of number strips had been collected, I was excused from field work in order to attend to them.

 

 

    During our last month in the camp, when hundreds of women demanded the renewal of their numbers, I was attached to the "Innendienst" (Internal Service) of the camp and became "Nummerschreiberin" (Number Writer). I was permitted to stay in the sickroom. I was given ink and wrote with slivers of wood. Here at last I saw an opportunity to draw and sketch some of our women. To give me something to draw on, our doctor collected the white paper off the cottonwool.

 

 

    Once one of the guards saw me drawing and asked me to do a sketch of him. I did so and in return he brought me paper, pens and China ink.

 

 

    Naturally I had to be careful not to be seen or caught sketching by the Nazi guards. I could not spend much time at it. I succeeded in completing only a small number of sketches much as I longed to record on paper all that I saw. 
    Yet the presence of the camp commandant, Oberscharführer OLK, nicknamed "Schnabel" (Beak), filled the soul with dread and fear [...] The hope of remaining alive was so faint. Still less could I hope that the drawings would be left in my possession, even if I were to succeed in evading death. Day by day we expected to be sent back from there to the concentration camp, where everything could be taken away from us. This I knew by experience.

 

 

    These sketches [done in the labour camp] were drawn after OLK had been replaced and a more human commandant came to our camp.

 

Lurie was liberated by the Red Army on 21 January 1945. In March 1945 she reached a camp in Italy, where she met Jewish soldiers from Palestine who were serving in the British army. One of them, the artist Menahem Shemi, organized an exhibition of drawings from the camps, which resulted in the publication of a booklet Jewesses in Slavery.

This contained drawings by Lurie from Stutthof and Leibitz and was published by the Jewish Soldiers' Club of Rome in 1945. Lurie also created stage sets for the military song and dance group in the camp, which was founded by Eliahu Goldberg and Mordechai Zeira.

Lurie reached Israel (Palestine) in July 1945 and was received with great excitement. Her stories were published in the press and her drawings were exhibited in exhibitions. In 1946 she was again awarded the Dizengoff Prize for a sketch Girl with Yellow Badge, which she had made in the Kovno ghetto.

Lurie married and raised a family. She continued to create and exhibit in group and solo exhibitions in Israel and elsewhere. Although she lived in Tel Aviv throughout her life in Israel, Jerusalem became her focus after the Six Day War and its landscapes are found in many of her works.

During the Eichmann trial, which took place in Jerusalem in 1961, Lurie's Second World War works were exhibited as part of the testimony - giving an "official authorization" from Israel's Supreme Court to the rich documentary value of her sketches and watercolors. This is in addition to their aesthetic value as objects of art.

Esther Lurie passed away in Tel Aviv in 1998

Lurie donated her works from the Holocaust period to the collection of Beit Lohamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters' House Museum). Her works can also be found at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and in a number of private collections.

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Shmuel Daitch Ben Menachem

Shmuel Daitch Ben Menachem was born in Kovno, Lithuania, in 1924, to a religious family. With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the family was deported with the rest of the Jews of Kovno into the ghetto in the Slobodka neighborhood.

In October 1941, Shmuel's parents and older brother were murdered in the Ninth Fort in Kovno. Surviving the selection with his younger brother and sister, Shmuel joined the Zionist ABC Youth Movement in the ghetto, becoming a member of the underground.

He eventually fled the ghetto and joined the Zionist partisans, living in the forest and helping Jews escape from the ghetto. Wounded during a Lithuanian ambush, Shmuel managed to escape and remained hidden in the forest until liberation by the Soviet army. Immigrating to Eretz Israel after the war, Shmuel participated in Israel's War of Independence in the "Shimshon Foxes" battalion.

 

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Escape

What distinguished the Kovno Ghetto from the other Ghettos was that there the Judenrat and the Jewish leadership cooperated with the Jewish underground in attempting to resist the Nazis.

From the day after the German Army swept into Lithuania in 1940, the killing of Jews began. The local Lithuanian population was enthusiastic in cooperating with the Germans and on the first day 3,000 Jews were murdered in the streets, many were beaten to death with iron bars.

At first there were ca. 50,000 Jews in the Ghetto. By 1944, when the Germans razed the Ghetto, there were ca. 8,000 Jews left, and of these only 82 survived until the end of the war.

The Kovno Ghetto was also different in that the killing took place right there in the Ghetto and in the nearby Fort 9, one of the forts built by the Russian Czars to defend Kovno. The Germans converted Fort 9 into a killing place, they dug 14 deep pits, into which Jews were thrown, dead and alive.

In the Ghetto, a series of German actions were organized, each one focused on a specialized item, such as collecting of furs (anyone found with a fur not given up would be killed), the collection of books (for burning), the assembly of academics who were marched away and killed, and the collection of children - 1,500 were taken and killed - this is beyond my comprehension!

The resistance dug bunkers underneath the Ghetto and hid children and others there. The Jewish Ghetto police cooperated with the resistance, but there were traitors in the Ghetto that gave them away and they were arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, although they divulged nothing.

Near the end of the war a group of 64 Jews were taken to dig up the 100,000 bodies buried in Fort 9, including Jews from as far away as Berlin and Prague. The Germans hoped to destroy the evidence of their crimes against humanity, and this shows they were well aware of the evil of their deeds.

This group of prisoners found a small door at the back of their cell and were able to open it and dig a hole under the wall. On Xmas Day, while the guards were celebrating they all escaped. |Several of them returned to the Ghetto and signed a statement and this is how we know of this event.

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David P. Boder Interviews Ephraim Gutman; September 12, 1946

This interview documents poor relations between Lithuanians and Jews in 1941. Although Lithuanian contempt for the Jews is well known, Gutman’s sentiments suggest that it was heartily reciprocated by at least some Jews, who sneered at their neighbors as primitive "Lithuanian Klurnpes," named for the peasants' wooden shoes.

Far more graphic, however, are his descriptions of Lithuanian nationalists lashing out at the Jews at the moment of German conquest. These extremists were exacting revenge for what they regarded as Jewish sympathy with the USSR during its brief occupation of their country.

The Soviets had restricted Jewish religious and economic life but opened the doors to Jewish participation in higher education and politics, thereby attracting a following among young Jews. This association by Lithuanian nationalists of Jews with Communism had catastrophic consequences in the form of pogroms during the interval between the flight of the Red Army and the arrival of the Germans.

Gutman and his family were spared only by the intervention of a sympathetic Lithuanian acquaintance. His recollections also show how the Germans subsequently were able to draw ordinary Lithuanians into measures against the Jews by permitting them to share booty taken from the victims. Lithuanian volunteers would continue to assist the Germans in actions against the Jews throughout the war, both in Kovno and elsewhere.

Gutman is most intent upon describing the initial acts of Nazi violence against the Jews in the first months of the Kovno ghetto, as well as the last, heartbreaking deportation of children and old people in March 1944.

But he also shows how the Germans gradually whittled down the population of the ghetto to around 18,000 with executions and deportations. A close reading of his interview reveals that he and most others who survived in Kovno had, or were related to someone who had, a "Jordan card" attesting to the status of a skilled laborer working for the Germans in the ghetto.

These were issued by SA captain Fritz Jordan, the superintendent of Jewish affairs in Kovno and from all accounts a thoroughly sinister figure. In September 1941 he delivered 5,000 of these "Certificates for Jewish Artisans" to the Jewish Council, led by Dr. Elchanan Elkes. Elkes and his fellow Jewish elders were divided over the wisdom of distributing the certificates, but they finally bowed to demands from the Jewish workers themselves, who hoped that possession of a "Jordan card" might enhance their chances of survival

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Matters of Life and Death

Matters of life and death


Time and place: Kovno Ghetto 

Background: One of the harshest edicts imposed on Orthodox Jews was the shaving of the [tip of the] beard; this means of identification provoked the Nazis, who claimed reasons of hygiene and prevention of spread of disease for demanding its removal.

There were also great Jewish scholars among them who wished to avoid identification and were forced to this act. Jews fought devotedly to retain their appearance. Those who refused were in danger of their lives. 
Questions arose as to the manner of removing the beard. 

Question: Is it permitted for a Jew to remove his beard with a razor when in danger?

Answer: The Rabbi's answer was that since the men were in danger of their lives and had no other tool but a razor at hand, therefore even direct shaving of the beard could permissibly be done with a razor


 
Time and place: 5701 (1941), Kovno ghetto. 

Background: A family in Kovno was completely assimilated in non-Jewish society. They did not circumcise their son, and they had nothing to do with the Jewish religion.

When the Nazis ordered the Jews of Kovno to leave the city and move into the ghetto in Slobodka, this family was included in the decree. The family suffered doubly, since-despite having cut themselves off from their people and spurned G-d-they couldn't understand why this was happening to them.

After all, they thought, they were no different from the Gentiles. They couldn't understand that the Germans regarded all Jews as equally fit only for annihilation. Their uncircumcised son was strongly affected by awareness of this fate. His heart was filled with love for his unfortunate people, and he wanted to be one with them. But he was troubled by a particular question:

"If in death I will not be separated from my people and am likely to suffer the same fate as everyone else, why should I be separated in life, without the sign of the holy covenant on my flesh? Why should I be like those impure, uncircumcised ones who are devouring my people and devastating their homes…?" He therefore wanted to be circumcised according to halakhah, and to be like the rest of the Jewish people in all ways. 

The young man, now 27 years old, was desperate to be circumcised. At the time there was no G-d-fearing mohel in the ghetto; there was only a doctor who was known to violate Shabbat in public. 

Question: Could this doctor circumcise the man?

Answer: The rabbi ruled that the doctor should definitely be permitted to circumcise the man due to the urgency of the matter. While hundreds of Jews were being slaughtered daily, the young man was begging to be able to die as a kosher Jew among his people, if he was indeed doomed to die.

Source: Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, Mi-ma'amakim 

 
Time and place: Elul 16, 5701 (Sept. 8, 1941), Kovno ghetto 

Background: The question of the white cards known as Jordan Schein first came up when the notorious SS-Oberf?hrer Goecke arrived in Lithuania. Jordan, the commandant of the Kovno ghetto, had ordered the Judenrat to hand out 5,000 of these cards to skilled laborers.

The trouble was that 10,000 of the 30,000 ghetto inhabitants at the time were skilled laborers. It was said that holders of white cards and their families would be permitted to remain in the ghetto, while the rest would be killed.

The inhabitants of the ghetto were gripped by shock and fear, with everyone trying to get a white card, even by force if necessary. The panic and terror increased when it became known that the ghetto was surrounded by machine guns, and that there had been a Selektion in the Little Ghetto in which holders of white cards were separated from everyone else. 

In the midst of the uproar, the following question was asked. 

Question:

  1. May the Judenrat hand out white cards to only part of the population? After all, every card issued to one skilled laborer meant that another would be handed over to the German authorities, who would do with him as they saw fit. Thus the Judenrat was choosing one life over another. How could its members know that the lives of the people receiving white cards were the most important? 

  2. May a person grab a white card in order to save himself and his family? After all, grabbing a white card for oneself meant that another Jewish family would not be saved. "How could you determine that your life was more valuable than another's life?"
Answer:
  1. The rabbi ruled that the Judenrat should hand out white cards as it saw fit. Because the orders did not specify who was to receive a white card and the decree would have destroyed the entire community, the community leaders must save as many people as possible. 

  2. The rabbi permitted the stronger people to grab cards in order to save themselves and their families, even though the lives of other Jews would thereby be put in danger. The principle, expressed by R. Moshe Isserles, is that "someone who sees harm coming to him may save himself even if another person will be harmed as a result."
Source: Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, Mi-ma'amakim, part 5, question 1, p. 13; and the abridged translation in Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, Responsa from the Holocaust (New York, 2001), pp. 14-17

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Luba Okun of Brookline; survived Kovno Ghetto

Graveside services were held on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006, for Luba (Hajet) Okun of Brookline, who died on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006, at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. She was the beloved wife of the late Philip Okun; loving mother of Henry and his wife, Linda.

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Kovno, Lithuania Remembered by Greta Rafsky

Our Temple Israel member, Greta Rafsky, wrote the following account of her mother’s experience living in the Kovno Lithuania Ghetto. It contains several quotations from her mother’s memoirs.

Of all the Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust, Kovno, a town with more than 30,000 Jews before the German occupation, saw some of the most brutal treatment and execution of its Jews. Lithuania alone lost 95% of its Jews. In March 1939, when Hitler had marched into Memel, Lithuania, my mother’s family had to take refuge in Kovno.

In June 1940, the Soviet armed forces occupied Lithuania. My mother, Hilda Rubinstein Green, may she rest in peace, describes:

An atmosphere of tension and unrest was experienced soon due to the sudden occupation by Russian troops. Our feelings were mixed with fear and emotions leading us to believe that we were kept in the dark about what was going to be next. People became fearful being out in the streets. During nights we experienced constant unrest. Night patrols kept breaking into cellars and storage places to continuously search for anything hidden. But even in the day-time it felt frightening to be out. Jobs were hard to find. Days and weeks went on, hopeless and depressed.

On June 22, 1941, with the violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, German forces crossed into Lithuania. Lithuanian pro-Nazi partisans began terrorizing Jews in the city. Encouraged by the SS, ultra-nationalist Lithuanian “partisans” accelerated the pogroms against Kovno’s Jews, attacking rabbis and their followers in the suburb of Vilijampole.

The partisans set fire to several synagogues and burned down some 60 houses. Between 800 and 1000 Jews were killed. From July 4 to 6, the mobile killing units, run by the Lithuanian auxiliary police, murdered 2,977 Jews in mass shootings at Fort VII, one of several imperial Russian fortifications surrounding Kovno, used as prisons and execution sites during the war.

In August, 1911 Jews were taken to Fort IV and shot. In September some 1000 ghetto inhabitants were taken from the neighborhood of the Slobodka Yeshiva to Fort IV and shot. In October Germans liquidated the Small Ghetto.

After burning the contagious diseases hospital with patients and the staff inside, 1800 Jews, mostly women and children, were taken to Fort IX and killed. The end of October saw the “The Great Action,” the day-long selection process whereby all ghetto Jews were forced to assemble.

My mother, Hilda, wrote: “Mother, sister and I on the left side were trembling with fear when watching how friends on the right side were silently led away never to be seen again.” By evening, 9200 men, women and children, more than 30% of the ghetto population had been chosen to be killed the next day at Fort IX.

My mother wrote:

All Jews had to be out of apartments and moved into the ghetto by August 1941. We had to prepare ourselves with the Stars of David, which meant another stepping stone towards our tragic destiny we were forced to cope with. Continuous discouraging events kept affecting our minds and physical condition when the actual move to the ghetto was forced upon us. End of August - the ghetto was closed; in case any Jew was seen anywhere else, he was immediately shot. Throughout the nights the nerve-wrecking shootings made me weary and frightened... any second, a bullet fired through the window may easily kill mother, sister, or me.

I still see so much confusion and distress among single people and particularly helpless children running desperately back and forth in the ghetto to search for their missing mothers, fathers or loved ones.

How bitter and tragic it was not being able to help or to keep them from getting shot. I heard women scream and there were rumors of several suicide cases. People were dragged from their living quarters at dawn and driven away by trucks somewhere no one could tell.

I was a witness, having seen one of my mother’s brothers, together with his wife, climb on to one of those trucks waiting in line for so many innocent people. After so many inquiries after the war I got hold of the terrible news that this transport went to Estonia where these poor souls were put to death in Tallinn.

Every day in the ghetto we had to get rid of more and more of our possessions, by piling them up in the open lot: gold, silver, jewels, ornamental items and money. The Gestapo had their dogs ready to search for hidden things.

In case any person did not obey the strict orders, he was instantly shot. In no time a “Judenrat” of prominent people (a kind of Jewish police) was established to organize groups for work. We were assigned to work outside the ghetto, about a 1-1/2 hour’s walk to open grounds, supposed to become an airport.

After we were divided into rows, we were individually counted as our Jewish leaders were responsible for the number of people leaving and coming back. The Gestapo made us work very hard. We had to shovel sand, gravel, stone and cement; load it into heavy iron push-carriages, and then unload the carriages on the grounds.

As we were constantly watched, we felt forced to do this slavery work the best we could, no matter how tiresome it was; and besides, we feared getting beaten.

One frightening experience on our march back from work will never slip my memory. On one very exhausting and dark late afternoon, we suddenly got scared to death, when noticing from the distance some fire spreading in the ghetto. We were so frightened, some nervously crying, deeply worried about family members, mostly elderly ones.

After we had entered the gate, it was found out that nothing actually serious had happened. We assumed it was one of the Nazis’ tricks, to keep us more and more scared, as long as we were still among the living.

And so, life and death proceeded for almost two years. September 1943 signaled the transformation of the ghetto into a concentration camp. In July 1944, as the Soviet army neared, the Germans began the six-day liquidation of Camp Kauen, evacuating the former ghetto’s remaining population by train and by barge for deportation to the Stutthof and Dachau concentration camps in Germany.

The camp was set aflame to smoke out those still hiding in underground bunkers. About this event, Hilda recorded: “It was July 1944 when we were driven like sheep to the station, where cattle-trains were waiting for their mass transportation to the Stutthof concentration camp.”

Reports of the atrocities in Kovno came not only from the German administrative records illustrated with elaborate charts and graphics, but also from within the confines of the Kovno Ghetto.

The inmates prepared their own record of the horrors and annihilation. An extraordinary cache of documentary evidence had been prepared at great risk by the inmates and was revealed by the survivors. Two centuries before the Kovno Ghetto was created and destroyed, the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, wrote: “Forgetfulness leads to exile, while remembrance is the secret of redemption.” May the memories of all who perished be for a blessing.

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Einhorn Family

by: David N. Sasportas  http://dwp.bigplanet.com/dnsasportas/einhornholocaustmemorial/

On Tuesday April 25, 2006, the 27th day of the hebrew month of Nisan, the Jewish people remember the 6 million Jews killed during World War II. This day is chosen because it commemorates the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto uprising and revolt. The day is called Holocaust Remembrance Day. It has been 60 years since the beginning of what the Nazis called "The final solution to the Jewish problem". Most of the Einhorn family were killed soon after the German invasion of Russia in June 22,1941. I want to memorialize the members of the Einhorn family who perished during the years 1941-1945.

Let's also learn about the survivors from our family - the majority living in Israel today. I will include pictures, stories, interviews and a few web sites dealing with where the Einhorn family came from - Lithuania - Vilna and Kovna. Click this line to see the links.

This is just the beginning of this sad project as more information will be forthcoming. My grandfather Sam Einhorn left behind one half-brother and three sisters in Lithuania. I will try to introduce you to each one and share with you their fate and the fate of their families. Let us begin with grandpa's half brother NATAN EINHORN.

 

Natan Einhorn had seven daughters and one son from his first wife Bella and one son from his second wife, Luba.

His children were Leah (Mikovsky), Sarah (Platter), Chanah, Gital (Kalansky), Rivka (Bloch), Chaya Ester (Ament Bloch), Rachel (Scolnick) and Haim Ben-Zion. Natan had Yisrael from his second wife.

Natan Einhorn lived in the town of Nei-Vileika, northeast of Vilna with his family. Natan had cows, horses and three houses and fields. He was a fairly wealthy man.

On the first or second day of Rosh Hashana 1941 all the Jews of the town were taken to an old prison called Viluchan. There they were shot by the Lithuanians as the Germans watched from the side. The rabbi begged the Lithuanians to let them pray before being killed.

Among them praying was Natan Einhorn, a very religious man. They killed all the Jews. The story was told to the little boy in the picture, Hillel Ament, who as a boy of seventeen fled on foot eastward until reaching the Russian border. He survived the war and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1968.

Chaya Ester (Ament Bloch), her husband Tsvi Bloch, Leah (Mikovsky), her husband Yosef and two children Yacha and Berl, Chanah, Natan Einhorn, his wife Luba and son Yisrael were all killed in Nei Vileika.

Rivka (Bloch) was killed in 1943. She was living with non-Jews taking care of children. The Germans found out she was living there, took her away and killed her.

Rachel (Scolnick) was living in Rumania and perished during the war.

Gital (Kalansky) was living in Kovno, survived the Kovno ghetto and Stuttof concentration camp and immigrated to Israel in 1959 with her daughter Miriam Goldberg. Gital's husband Haim passed away in 1953. Gital's son Shemuel immigrated to Israel in 1965.

Sarah (Platter) and Haim Ben-Zion went to the states and survived the war. Sarah (Platter) had three children, Eddie, Muriel and Abbie. Eddie's two children, William and Gerald, are living in the states with their families. This is the picture of Natan Einhorn and part of his family. From left to right: Natan Einhorn, daughter Ester, daughter Rivka, son-in-law Yona, and wife Bela Einhorn. The child on the rocking horse is Hillel Ament.

Ester Einhorn Virshub lived in the small villiage by the name of Alita (Alytus), located south of Kovno halfway between Kovno and Grodno. Born in the Vilna region like many Jews she emigrated to Lithuanian between the two World Wars.

There were a lot of trees with a river in Alita. The relatives from Kovno used to come down to Alita during the summer to visit the relatives in the counryside. (Just like we used to go down to the "beach" in New London). Ester Einhorn owned a bakery and made bagels.

Ester's husband David died and she was left with five children. Their names were Chanan, Henya, Sarah, Shlemka, and Birka-Dov. Henya settled in Palestine with her husband Meir and daughter Chaya (Almog) in 1935.

The rest of the family remained and were killed in the war. These mobile killing units, Einsatzgruppen, massacred Jews of Alita in occupied Soviet territory. There is a mass murder site in Alita. The site today has multiple memorials, both Jewish and Lithuanian. There are about 10 large pyramids scattered in the woods and are probably located over the former killing pits. One of the signs there says in Lithuanian "Be still, for the ground you walk on is filled with blood".

This is a picture of the Ester Einhorn Virshub family taken in 1934. The postcard is shown with the Yiddish written on the back and reads "To Ida and Mendel Yudovich (Mexico) from cousins the Fonkatz's (Henya, Meir and Chaya (Almog).

Standing in the back row left to right: Shlemka, Lova (Chanan's wife), Sarah (Shind), Meir Fonkatz. In front row: David Yehuda (son of Chanan and Lova), Breina (daughter of Chanan and Lova), Ester Einhorn Virshub, Chaya (Almog), Henya (Birka Dov not present in picture).

Except for Henya, Meir and Chaya (Almog), all the men, women and children were killed. A second daughter Drora (Ben-Ami)was born to Henya and Meir in Palestine.

Chaya Einhorn Virshub married Ephraim Virshub,and had five daughters: Zelda, Sarah-Henya, Ida, Asna, and Rivka. The picture below shows Chaya with three of her children.

From left to right: Sarah-Henya, Ida and Zelda.

Chaya Einhorn Virshub died before the war but the entire family of Zelda was killed as were four of Sarah-Henya's children. Ida went to Mexico and survived the war, married Mendel Yudovich and had two children Ephraim and Martin.

Asna died in a fire accident while young. Rivka, the youngest, miraculously survived the Kovno Ghetto as a child, married Moshe Katavushnick and immigrated to Israel in 1966 with her daughter Chaya ( Kogen ). Rivka's son Ephraim, who survived the Kovno Ghetto as a child, immigrated to Israel in 1990. It is important to point out that two Einhorn sisters Ester and Chaya married two Virshub brothers.

Zelda Virshub Reshman is pictured below with her family. Husband, wife and five children were all killed by the German's. On the back of the picture written in Yiddish "From Reshman family to Yudovich family" (Zelda's sister Ida living in Mexico)

Sarah-Henya Virshub Zaretsky's Children - This is a picture of Sarah-Henya Virshuv Zaretsky's children, plus a cousin. The Zaretsky family lived in the suburb of Kovno called Slobodka latter made into the Kovno ghetto.

Standing left to right Mira, cousin Mina Shor, Ben-Zion Pearla and Fruma. Sitting are Efraim Yisrael and Haim Lieb. On the back written in Yiddish "From Zaretsky family to the Yudovich family" (To Ida living in Mexico).

Sareh-Henya was killed in the selection process in the Kovno ghetto. Four of her children were killed in the ghetto. Pearla (Salman) and Ben-Zion Zaretsky were in summer camp in Russia when the war broke out and survived. Mina (Shor), taken away from her grandmother Batya in the ghetto also survived. Pearla (Salman), Ben-Zion Zaretsky and Mina (Shor) are all living in Israel.

Batya Einhorn Gordon was born in the Vilna area and moved into independent Lithuania after World War I. She settled in the village of Lazdei (Lazdijiai). Jews fled the Vilna area because of anti-Semitism and because the Jews were accused of being communists. She had three sons and a daughter, Chono, Ephraim, Abraham and Sorka.

In 1929 when her son Abraham left for Palestine she went to Kovno to live with her son Chono. Batya was forced into the Kovna ghetto and during the first selection process she was yanked out of the grasp of her screaming granddaughter’s hand, and led to her death. Her granddaughter's name was Mina (Shor). Chono died in the Dachau concentration camp.

Chono's youngest son, Zundell, was one of the famous 131 children of Kovno who were separated from their families and sent to Auschwitz where they were used as "human horses" hitched to wagons carrying items from place to place. The children formed a cohesive group and gave each other support.

Zundell survived the war and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1969. His older sister Mina (Shor), who survived the Kovno Ghetto and Stutthof concentration camp, immigrated to Israel with her family in 1971. Chono's oldest son, Leib, survived Kovno ghetto, the Dachau concentration camp and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1973.

Ephraim Gordon, from Vilna, was killed fighting for the Russian army. His daughter Mera (Weber) immigrated to Melbourne, Australia. Abraham Gordon married Yaffa and had two daughters Aliza (Talmor) and Nachama (Vinograd). Both are living in Israel.

A picture of Batya Einhorn Gordon follows.

Sorka Gordon, daughter of Batya Einhorn Virshub, lived in a town called Kozlova-Ruda (Kozlowa Ruda) located southwest of Kovno. She was married with two children. When the German's invaded Lithuania, the mobile killing units massacred the Jews of the town including Sorka and her family.

Below is a picture of Sorka Gordon with Yiddish writing on the back which says "to my cousin Virshub from your cousin Sorka Gordon".

 

 

 

 

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Ruth ELPERN

  FAMILY NAME : ELPERN 
FIRST NAME: Ruth 
BIRTH DATE:  Aug 31st 1936 
BIRTH PLACE: Tel Aviv 
FATHER’S NAME:  Calel Bezalel ELPERN 
MOTHER’S NAME:  Hodes Hadassa ELPERN nee PILITOWSKI

RUTH’S STORY 

ERETZ ISRAEL BEFORE WORLD WAR TWO 

Around 1934 – 1935 two new immigrants met each other in Eretz Israel and married. 

They were Calel Bezalel Elpern, an engineer born in Alytus in Lithuania in 1908 (or 1902?), and Hodes Hadassa Pilitowski, born around 1912 in Lazdeij in Lithuania. In 1936 their only daughter Ruth was born in Tel Aviv. 

Bezalel worked for a building company that did projects both in Europe and in Eretz Israel, so he was going back and forth. In the end of 1938 the young family went to Lithuania to visit the grandparents and to look for work, as the economical. situation in Eretz Israel at that time  was difficult. 

CAUGHT IN EUROPE WHEN THE SECOND WORLD WAR BROKE OUT IN 1939 

In September 1939 the Second World War broke out and the Elpern family was not able to return to Tel Aviv. The family stayed in Kaunas (Kovno) under Soviet rule from September 1939 till the summer of 1941. In the summer of 1941 the Germans occupied Kaunas, and quickly established what is often referred to as the Kovno Ghetto. Before the ghetto was established, Grandfather Elpern was murdered by Lithuanians. 

GHETTO KOVNO 

In August 1941, Ruth, her parents and paternal grandmother were forced into the ghetto. The family managed to survive inside the ghetto till the summer of 1944. In March 1944 there a Children’s Action took place in the Kovno Ghetto. It is not known how Ruth survived this. At some point Ruth’s parents managed to smuggle Ruth out from the ghetto, but soon after she had to be brought into the ghetto again. 

RUTH SMUGGLED OUT OF THE GHETTO 

A second attempt to smuggle her out of the ghetto was successful. This happened two weeks before the ghetto was destroyed in July 1944. In the middle of July 1944 the Kovno Ghetto was destroyed.  According to survivor Sally Ganor, some of the survivors were evacuated to a camp near Danzig (Stutthof) by barges for four days starting July 8th 1944. Among those who tried to hide out in the ghetto fearing this evacuation, around two thousand survivors were discovered. These, including whole families with children and even some older people, were gathered at the Varniu gate. In groups of hundred, the survivors marched over the Viljampole Bridge, surrounded by heavily armed guards. Behind them the ghetto was burning and explosions could be heard. 

The survivors walked for around two hours, reached a railway junction, and were then packed on to cattle cars so tightly, they had to stand up. After a terrible journey they arrived at a station called Tiegenhof. Most of the families were separated at this point, women and children to one side and the men to another.  THE PARENTS AND GRANDMOTHER TO STUTTHOF 

Another short train ride on a narrow gauge railway brought the group to Stutthof. The next day in Stutthof, the last families were also separated. Four days after the arrival by train, those brought by barges from Kaunas arrived in Stutthof. We do not know if Ruth’s parents and grandmother were brought to Stutthof by barges or by train.  On July 20th 1944 an attempt was made to assassinate Adolf Hitler in Germany, and in Stutthof the rumor spread among the prisoners that Hitler was dead, creating some optimism for a very short time. Unfortunately it quickly turned out that Hitler was only wounded. After this many of the Kaunas prisoners were deported to other camps. 

Sally Ganor tells in his book “Light One Candle” that he himself was in a group deported by train from Stutthof to Kaufering ( a subcamp of Dachau)  in the middle of August 1944.  THE FATHER TO KAUFERING, A SUBCAMP OF DACHAU 

Bezalel Elpern arrived in Kaufering on August 1st 1944. 
The women in Stutthof stayed behind, and this is probably where Ruth’s  paternal grandmother died. Ruth's mother may have managed to stay alive till the end of the war, but then died of typhus, according to what Ruth has been told lately.


HER FATHER'S TRANSFER TO LEITMERITZ, A SUBCAMP OF FLOSSENBURG 

Her father stayed in Kaufering for some months and in January 1945 was then transferred to Leitmeritz, a subcamp of Flossenburg. Leitmeritz is not very far from Theresienstadt. 
Her father Bezalel Elpern died in Leitmeritz  in January 1945. 

RUTH AFTER THE WAR 

After the war, Ruth was in an orphanage in Kaunas for some time, before being sent through Vilnius, to the Zionist Koordynacja children’s home in Lodz, Poland. Later she was brought  through Dornstadt, Germany and Marseille, France to Eretz Israel. She arrived in Haifa aboard the ship Patris  on her  eleventh birthday Aug 31st 1947. 

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Michael and Robert Hofmekler

One of the remarkable reunions to take place in the immediate aftermath of the war was that of the Jewish brothers Michael and Robert Hofmekler, in June 1945, at the Saint Ottilien Displaced Persons’ hospital camp in Bavaria. 

Robert, having emigrated from his native Lithuania in 1938, was a US Serviceman who had been drafted in January 1941 and had served in Europe with the 9th Infantry and 10th Armoured Division. 

Michael, his elder brother, had spent the war years with their parents and sister in the Kovno ghetto.  There he had been a vital figure in the ghetto musical world, not only as a violinist, but also as the conductor of the ghetto orchestra. 

Michael and eight other members of the Kovno orchestra survived the war, and these men performed at one of the first post-war Displaced Persons’ camp performances.  It was also in this camp that the sole surviving members of the Hofmekler family saw each other for the first time in seven years.

The Hofmekler family was originally from the Lithuanian city of Vilna, and had a strong musical tradition.  The parents, Motel and Bertha, were quite musical, the father a respected cellist.  They had four children, three boys and a girl.  In the autumn of 1920, the family resettled in Kovno, where Michael continued his musical education. 

He was particularly attracted to the musical traditions of his homeland, and in 1932 was decorated by the Lithuanian president for his commitment to Lithuanian folk music. After the Soviet occupation in 1940, he became music director and conductor of the National Radio Orchestra in Vilna.  By then, Robert had already decided to try his luck in the United States.

The German invasion in the summer of 1941 was to destroy the family.  In Vilna, Leo and his wife and children were driven into the ghetto, where they were all to die.  Michael, his sister, and their parents, at the time still in Kovno, were forced into the ghetto there.  By the time the ghetto was dissolved, only Michael and Robert were still alive.

While Robert was performing his tour of duty, Michael had been deported in April 1944 to Germany, through Stutthof to Dachau.  In late April 1945 he was evacuated and was ultimately liberated in the vicinity of Landsberg, Bavaria. He also became involved, along with other surviving Kovno Jews, in the efforts to organize Jewish survivors. A few weeks later the remarkable reunion at the St. Ottilien Displaced Persons' hospital camp occurred.

The Jewish musician Michael Gofmekler playing a violin. circa 1930. 

Sources

USHMM, E. ed., 1997. Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto, Boston, New York, Toronto, London: Bulfinch Press.

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Kovno, Lithuania… 1941 – Survival

Kovno, Lithuania… 1941 – 

Soon after the Germans invaded Lithuania, the Jews of Kovno, including Maya Berelovich and her mother, Sheina, were forced into the city's ghetto. Maya’s father, Itzik, had been killed when the Germans first entered Lithuania.

Sheina was very active in the resistance, helping to smuggle as many children out of the ghetto as possible. Once outside the ghetto walls, the children were taken to a children’s home and orphanage run by Dr. Petras Baublys. Meanwhile, as she continued to smuggle children out of the Kovno ghetto, Sheina was trying to find a family with whom she could entrust her own daughter.

In 1942 Sheina obtained false papers for Maya and gave her daughter to Jonas and Juzefa Fedoravicus, a Christian couple. The couple cared for Maya for a short time until neighbors discovered that Maya was a Jew and threatened to report Maya unless she returned to the ghetto.

Eventually, Maya was again smuggled out of the ghetto, this time into the care of Sofia Aleknaviciene and her twenty-one-year-old daughter, Brone. Soon the family was hiding another Jewish child, Ludmila Shmuilova, who stayed with them until the end of the war.

While Ludmila was able to stay with Sofia and Brone, it became unsafe for Maya to stay in the home. In order to care for Maya as best she could, Sofia and Brone smuggled Maya to another village, where Vladas and Teofile Kverdaravicius cared for Maya and kept her as part of their family until the liberation of Kovno by the Soviet army in August 1944.

When the Kovno ghetto was being liquidated, Sheina managed to escape and sought shelter with Brone and her mother. Sheina remained with Brone and Sofia until liberation. After liberation, Sheina and Maya were reunited.

Brone is in her 90s and continues to live in Kovno.

Brone Aleknaviciene-Miliene and her husband

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ANTANAS ANDRAITIS

 

Kovno, Lithuania... 1942 – Dr. Gootman escaped from the Kovno ghetto in 1942. Having nowhere to turn, he sought out an acquaintance from before the war, Antanas Andraitis and asked him for help. Without any hesitation, Antanas agreed to shelter Dr. Gootman. Antanas took care of all of Dr. Gootman’s needs.

Dr. Gootman’s sons were also in hiding. They would come to the apartment to get some food and to wash. Antanas did everything he could to make it as comfortable as possible for Dr. Gootman.

Four months before Kovno was liberated, Antanas was betrayed to the police. However, Antanas was alerted by a friend that the Germans were coming, and he was able to find another hiding place for Dr. Gootman. Dr. Gootman and Antanas remained close friends until Dr. Gootman died.

Antanas passed away in February 1997.

Antanas Andraitis

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BRONISLAVA AND ADOMAS GECEVICIENE

Kovno, Lithuania… 1942 –

The Germans had entered Kovno in 1941.  By 1942, the situation for Jews had become desperate.  Bronislava Geceviciene was passing a Jewish slave labor group from the ghetto, when suddenly a Jewish man ran up to her and begged her to save the life of his child.  Bronislava, a Catholic, and her husband, Adomas, agreed to take the child.

The next night they arrived at the fence of the ghetto and walked around trying not to attract attention.  A portion of the fence was lifted and a sleeping baby was pushed through with a note – her name, Tikvah. 

The couple hid the child in their home.  Fearing betrayal by their neighbors, Bronislava took Tikvah to her aunt in the country and passed off the child as the twin sister of her youngest daughter. 

Tikvah, who had now become Teklita, stayed with the aunt on her country estate which became the headquarters to the German high command in Lithuania. In a few months, Teklita returned to live with Bronislava and Adomas, who had moved to a new neighborhood.
After the war, Tikvah was reunited with her aunt, one of the few members of her family to survive.
Bronislava passed away years ago.  Adomas died in 2008.

Bronislava and Adomas Geceviciene with their daughters

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REGINA KISLAUSKIENE

Siauliai, Lithuania... 1942 –

 Anna Laskin was eight years old when she ran away from the ghetto. She asked Dr. Jasatis for shelter. He was not able to hide her since too many people came to his office, which was in his apartment. He asked Regina Kislauskiene to take care of the child.

Regina was a student at the time and was not able to care for Anna, so Regina’s parents agreed to hide her. They were able to obtain false papers for Anna proving that she was Lithuanian. They taught Anna some prayers and would take her to church each Sunday, telling those who asked that she was their cousin from another village. Regina also brought food to the Blocha and Rosenberg families who were hiding in a nearby village.

In 1944, the area was liberated by the Soviet army. Anna was reunited with her parents, who had survived the war. The family later moved to Israel. Regina passed away in August 2002.

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JEKATERINA MINKEVICIENE

Vilna, Lithuania… Autumn 1943 – 

Jekaterina and Sergius Minkeviciene and their three children lived in a small town near Vilna in Lithuania. Sergius worked in a sugar factory. In late autumn 1943, a stranger came to their home begging them to shelter her six-year-old daughter, Golda. Jekaterina agreed to take the child.

Late the next night, Golda was brought to their home. She was malnourished, very sick, and in need of a physician. The family, too afraid to call a local doctor, went to the ghetto and bribed the policeman, saying that their own children were sick and needed a doctor. The policeman let a Jewish doctor from the ghetto go to their house to care for Golda. The Minkevicius family took care of Golda as if she was their own child.

Early in 1944 all the workers in the sugar factory were sent to Germany. The Minkevicienes and their children fled to the village where Sergius’ father lived. They hid Golda in a barrel, which they took with them on their cart.

At the end of that summer, the Germans occupied the house of Sergius’ father and the family was forced to flee again. For some months they lived in bunkers in the forest. When the Russians approached the village, the Germans began to kill all the peasants. Jekaterina, Sergius, and the children fled again. Golda remained with them the entire time.

After liberation, the Minkevicienes learned that Golda’s family had been killed. Jekaterina believed that Golda should be raised in a Jewish family. They approached Dr. Goldberg, a Jewish physician who had survived, and asked him to take care of the child. He adopted Golda and they left for Israel.

Sergius died a number of years ago. Jekaterina is in her late 90s and continues to live in Vilna.

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HALINA MOSINSKIS

Kovno, Lithuania... 1941 – 

In 1941, Halina Mosinskis was a young mother with one baby and a second on the way. She lived with her husband, a successful engineer, on the outskirts of town. By this time, the Jews in Kovno had been herded into the ghetto.

Sonia Gink, one of Halina’s classmates, escaped from the ghetto and begged Halina for help. Halina, without asking her husband, agreed and made Sonia her housekeeper. In order to avoid any suspicion from neighbors, Halina put an ad in the local paper advertising for a housekeeper. With Halina’s help, Sonia managed to obtain false papers.

Halina and her husband helped other members of Sonia’s family. First came Sonia’s brother, then his wife and son. Then came Sonia’s girlfriends Bela and Sarah Finkelbrand. They all found temporary shelter at Halina’s until a more secure hiding place could be found. Sonia stayed with Halina for more than three years and was treated like a member of the family.

In 1944, when the Russians liberated the area, the Mosinskis were afraid of the Communists and escaped along with the Jews. They were in a displaced persons camp until they settled in Brazil.

Halina passed away in July 2004.

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GIEDRUTE RAMANAUSKIENE

Skovagaliu, Lithuania… November 1943 –

 Lea Port and Samuel Ingel were members of a resistance group in the Kovno ghetto. The group received orders to escape from the ghetto on October 26, 1943, the day of an aktion. Samuel and Lea survived the aktion. Samuel escaped from the ghetto on October 27th and Lea on the 28th after saying goodbye to her parents and seven brothers and sisters.

After ten days of wandering, Lea and Samuel realized they were the only ones who had escaped from the ghetto successfully. The weather had turned cold; snow had fallen. Lea and Samuel had left the ghetto as members of a work brigade taking nothing with them so as not to arouse suspicion.

In ten days they had walked more than 100 kilometers and were tired and hungry. Near the village of Simnas, they met Semonas Tamulinas, a communist who had been hiding from the Germans for three years. He said his sister had a good heart and would take Lea into her home. Lea did not look Jewish and was able to pass as a Christian. Samuel, who looked Jewish, would have to hide in the woods.

Lea was brought to the home of Elena and Petras Ivanauskai. Elena, who was a deaf-mute, lived on a small farm with her husband and their two children, thirteen-year-old Giedrute and nine-year-old Gintautas.

They welcomed Lea into their home. At first Elena did not know Lea was Jewish; they thought she was the wife of a Russian officer. When Elena learned that Lea was Jewish, she decided not to tell her husband. Giedrute taught Lea sign language so she could communicate with Elena.

The family shared their small home and their meager food with Lea, who became close to Elena and the children. When the weather became bitterly cold, Lea asked Elena if Samuel could hide in their barn. Elena decided that she would help Samuel, too, but did not tell her husband.

Samuel hid in the barn and Giedrute and Gintautas brought him food when they fed the cow. When Petras found out about Samuel and that Lea was Jewish, he did not want to risk the lives of his family for two Jewish strangers. Elena said, “What would have happened if our children were in such a desperate situation and what are they guilty of.” He agreed to let Lea and Samuel remain on the farm.

Lea and Samuel stayed with the Ivanauskai family for almost a year until the area was liberated by the Soviet army in August 1944. Lea and Samuel left the farm and were married on December 31, 1944. They returned to the farm for one day before leaving Lithuania. They came to America in November 1949. 

Elena and Petras Ivanauskai died years ago. Giedrute is in her 80s and Gintautas is in his 70s.  They continue to live in the same home where Lea and Samuel hid.

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STASIA AND JONAS RUZGYS

Vilnius, Lithuania... June 22, 1941 – 

The Germans occupied Vilnius and proceeded to kill thousands of Jews in the Ponary forest. The remaining Jews were sequestered in the ghetto. The Christian population was warned to stay away.

This did not deter Stasia and Jonas Ruzgys from visiting their friend Lisa Aizenberg and her two-year-old daughter, Rita. Stasia arranged for Rita to leave the ghetto by having her admitted to the hospital as a non-Jew and then taken to a Polish family upon her release.

Stasia and Jonas then made plans for Lisa’s escape from the ghetto when Lisa’s work permit had been revoked. The mother and daughter were reunited at the Ruzgys’ where they were hidden in a recess behind the wall of a back room. Lisa remembered it as “a dark hole in which we hid and which we reached by walking through a clothing closet. We had to lie there for hours on end with a blanket covering our heads to mute the sound of breathing or any sign of human existence.”

Stasia was denounced by an informer and summoned to the Gestapo. Lisa decided to take her daughter and run into the forest to protect Stasia and Jonas – “to go any place, wherever my eyes might lead me, with only one thought, that the two of you would not pay with your lives for having given me shelter.” Stasia would have none of this. “Lisa, you’re not going anywhere. If we are going to die, we will all die together.” The Gestapo did not arrest Stasia.

Within a short time, the ghetto was completely liquidated – every trace of Jewish existence disappeared. In one of the main streets, three bodies hung from an electric pole with a sign: “Any citizen harboring a Jew will look like this.”

The Ruzgys helped a number of Jews to escape. As Lisa wrote to Stasia and Jonas before her death, “You, my dear friends, did for Rita as much as if she were your own daughter.”

Jonas Ruzgys passed away in August 1998; Stasia died in April 2006.

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KASTUTE AND VINCAS SAVICKAS

Navininky, Lithuania... Winter 1942 – 

Early one morning Kastute encountered an exhausted Jewish family on the edge of the woods. Kastute had come upon Samuel Feldbergas, his wife and daughters, Ada and Ruta. They were sick, cold, hungry, and tired. They had escaped the German roundup of the Jews in their small village and were seeking shelter.

Kastute took the Feldbergas family to her home and fed them. She and her husband decided to take in the family. Because Vincas and Kastute lived in a two-room house, they found another Lithuanian family to take care of Ada. Unfortunately Ada became sick and died.

For three years, Vincas and Kastute gave Samuel and his family shelter. They survived several raids by the Germans..Kastute died many years ago. Until his death in 1997, Vincas lived in the same home in Navininky where he had hid the Feldbergas family.

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CHIUNE SUGIHARA

Kovno, Lithuania… August 1940 – 

In November 1939 Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat, opened a consulate in  Kovno, Lithuania. In June 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania and ordered all consulates to close by the end of August. On July 27, Sugihara saw hundreds of people waiting outside the consulate. He learned that they were Polish Jews trying to escape from the advancing German army.

Sugihara agreed to meet with a group of the refugees. The delegation asked him to issue Japanese transit visas to the Jews so that they could travel east across Soviet territory and exit through Japan on their way to other countries. Many of the refugees hoped to reach the Dutch West Indian island of Curaçao, which did not require visas for entry. Even though they had a final destination, they would not be given exit visas by the Soviet Union unless they also had visas permitting them to continue their trip. Sugihara was moved by their plea for help.

After the meeting, he wired the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, explained the situation, and requested permission to issue the visas. His request was denied. The Ministry insisted that a Japanese visa be issued only if the refugee had a valid end visa and enough money to cover the cost of the entire trip. Sugihara knew that most of the refugees could not meet either requirement. Over the next few days, he sent further requests to the Foreign Ministry for permission to issue the visas. Each request was met with silence. Realizing the urgency of the situation, Sugihara began to issue Japanese transit visas.

Sugihara worked more than sixteen hours a day to issue 2,139 handwritten visas. He distributed them regardless of whether or not the refugees had the necessary supporting documents. In early September 1940, the Soviet authorities forced him to close the consulate in Kovno. As he and his family prepared to leave Kovno for Berlin, Sugihara continued to issue visas on the train platform. He handed out more once he was on board.

Upon his return to Japan, Sugihara was forced to resign from the Foreign Service. The official reason for his dismissal was the downsizing of the diplomatic corps, but the real reason was likely the disobedience he exhibited in helping the Jews of Kovno. None of the refugees ever made it to Curaçao. From Japan, most went to Shanghai, China, and others to the United States, Canada, and Palestine.

Since entire families were often included in a single visa, thousands of Jews survived due to the efforts of Chiune Sugihara, who passed away in 1986.

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ONA URBONAS

Kovno, Lithuania…1943 –  

Yerachmiel Siniuk had lost his arm in an ammunition storage bunker where he worked as a slave laborer. Now disabled, he was about to be killed by the Germans. Yerachmiel’s brother-in-law, while on a work detail outside of the ghetto, had a chance meeting with Andrius Urbonas, a farmer, and begged him to hide Yerachmiel. Andrius said if Yerachmiel managed to reach his farm, the Urbonas family would hide him.

Yerachmiel escaped from the Kovno ghetto and made his way to the Urbonas farm. Andrius, his wife Maria, his twenty-year-old daughter Ona, and fourteen-year-old son Juozas, warmly welcomed Yerachmiel. They fed him and made a place for Yerachmiel in the barn.

The Urbonas family was extremely poor and had barely enough food for themselves. Yerachmiel approached Andrius with the idea of the family hiding more Jews. This way they could all pool their meager resources and perhaps be able to purchase more food. After all, Yerachmiel said, if the Germans caught Andrius hiding one Jew or five Jews, the penalty would be the same – death. Andrius agreed to take in additional Jews.

Yerachmiel went back into the ghetto where he met Yitzchak Fein and made arrangements for Yitzchak, his wife, and two children to leave the ghetto and escape to the Urbonas farm. Once the Fein family was safely in hiding with the Urbonas family, Yerachmiel went back into the ghetto and came upon Henry Kacenelenbogen (now Kellen) whom Yerachmiel knew from before the war. Henry was desperate to escape from the ghetto with his wife and eight-year-old nephew who had just escaped the Children’s Aktion – the roundup of the remaining children in the Kovno ghetto.

Each time Yerachmiel brought another family out of the ghetto, the Urbonas family made the hiding place bigger. Ona brought food each day to the now eight Jews in hiding. She also washed their clothes. Juozas and Andrius would bring them news from the front lines. At first the Jews hid in the barn, then they moved to the house and were hidden in an earthen hole under a piece of furniture.

As Yerachmiel wrote in his testimony to Yad Vashem, “All the attention of this noble family was directed toward us, and they tried in every way they could to help make our lives in the barn easier.”

They stayed with the Urbonas family until they were liberated by the Soviet army in July 1944. Andrius and Maria died in 1973.  

Juozas died in 2009.  Ona is in her 80s and continues to live in Kovno.


Ona Urbonas and her husband Bronius on their wedding day.

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THE VORONIECKY FAMILY

Zlogty, Lithuania… September 1941 –

 When the Germans entered Soleczniki, just outside of Vilna, in June 1941, they ordered all Jews to report for forced labor. On the eve ofRosh Hashanah, the Germans began the liquidation of the Jews of Soleczniki.

Saul Leyman had been visiting his friends, three brothers – Gedalya, Herschel, and Gershon Schneider – when a Christian woman warned them about the pending aktion.She told them to run since the Germans had come for the Jews. Saul and two of the Schneider brothers, Gedalya and Herschel, fled deep into the forest and hid there.

Realizing that they could not remain in the forest, they decided to approach the Voroniecky family and ask for their help. The mother, Maria, had worked for the Schneider family before the war. Maria and Jozef Voroniecky and their four teenage children, Viktor, Zofia, Bronislawa, and Helena, welcomed the three men.

The family dug a hole – an earthen grave – in the floor of their barn where the men could hide. The men learned from Viktor that their families had been massacred. Days later, Gershon arrived at the farm and reported that all the Jewish men had been forced to dig a mass grave in the forest. While he was digging, a policeman hit him with a rifle and told him to dig faster. At that moment, Gershon decided to escape.

One night a German came to the Voroniecky farm and accused them of hiding Jews. He took Viktor into the barn, threw him to the ground, and beat him with a rifle while yelling, “You are hiding Jews.” Viktor withstood the severe blows, refusing to betray the four Jewish men who were hiding a few feet away under the floor of the barn. The Voroniecky family treated Saul, Gedalya, Gershon, and Hershel as if they were family. They protected them for three years and provided for their every need.

When the Soviet army liberated the area in the summer of 1944, Saul, Gershon, Gedalya, and Hershel left the Voroniecky home. The men returned several months later to build a new house for the Voroniecky family – it was their way of saying thank you. During this time, a Polish partisan came to the farm and found Gedalya.

As he was about to kill Gedalya, Viktor ran from the barn and killed the partisan. When the neighbors discovered that Viktor had killed the partisan to save a Jew, they came and severely beat Viktor and his father and attacked the three sisters. The Jewish men took the entire Voroniecky family with them to Vilna.

Viktor died in 2002 and Helena in 2004. Both Zofia and Bronislawa are in their 80s and continue to live in the same area where they hid Saul Leyman and the Schneider brothers.

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PASTOR ANDRÉ TROCMÉ~Survivor

 

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France… Winter 1940 – The village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, located in a mountainous region of Vichy France, was an enclave for French Protestants. From the beginning of the German occupation, the inhabitants of the village adopted a spirit of resistance, encouraged by their pastor, André Trocmé, and his assistant, Pastor Edouard Theis.

Late one night in the winter of 1940, a Jewish woman who had fled Germany knocked on the door of Pastor Trocmé’s home.  She was seeking shelter and thought perhaps the local pastor would understand her plight. 

Magda Trocmé, Pastor Trocmé’s wife, knew that the woman would need false identity documents in order to avoid arrest.  Magda went to the mayor’s office to see if he would help. The mayor refused saying that there were already French Jews in the area and that a German Jew would put the others in danger. 

Magda was devastated to have to tell the woman that she had to leave the next day.  Magda gave the woman food and the names of different people who might be able to help her.

As more refugees from northern France, Germany, and other central European countries arrived, the population of the area developed an underground network to hide people in homes, residential schools, public institutions, and on farms.  Magda and André Trocmé began to identify more families in and around Le Chambon who were willing to shelter Jewish refugees.

In the summer of 1942, French police descended on Le Chambon to stop the community’s rescue work. Pastor Trocmé delivered a forceful sermon to his congregation in which he urged them to uphold their religious values and to resist all actions that betrayed the teachings of the Gospel. Because of the increased police presence, many of the Jews were spirited out of Le Chambon and hidden in surrounding farms.

In February 1943 Pastor André Trocmé, Pastor Edouard Theis, and Roger Darcissac, the headmaster of the local public school, were arrested and sent to a French internment camp.  The camp commander demanded that they sign an oath of loyalty to the Vichy government. They refused and were released after five weeks. 

A few months later Pastors Trocmé and Theis had to go into hiding; however, they continued to oversee the community’s rescue work.  By the time France was liberated in September 1944, the villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the eleven surrounding villages had saved approximately 5,000 people, including about 3,500 Jews.

Pastor Trocmé died in 1971, and Magda Trocmé passed away in October 1996.

 

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Ilya Gerber: September 18, 1942

Ilya Gerber had a very different experience in the Kovno Ghetto than most of the other Jewish inhabitants. He was just as much a prisoner under Nazi rule as his neighbors, but he didn’t suffer the same level of deprivation as most others.

The reason for his privilege was a phenomenon known as “protektsiye”, which was a form of protection and favoritism extended to people who were well-connected to the ghetto leadership. These connections often resulted in more access to food and better lodging. Connections might also spare the privileged from being assigned to harsh labor details. Those who enjoyed “protektsiye” were often bitterly resented by the much larger number of people who did not.

Ilya had mixed feelings about his privileged status. On one hand, he did not ignore the injustices and deprivations that he observed in the ghetto. He wrote about his desire to see a more just and equitable world. He correctly blamed the overall situation on the German occupation, but he didn’t deny the role that his father’s “pull” played in bringing benefits to him. On the other hand, he did nothing to renounce these benefits. Perhaps there was nothing that he could have done anyway.

On September 18, 1942 Ilya wrote about the fate of his friend Beke Kot, which he had just heard about from another friend named Izke. Izke had been walking past the jail when he heard a voice call out to him from one of the grated windows. 

“Izke, help me! Try to get me out of here! Save me!” Beke had been captured in a roundup and was slated to be sent away to forced labor. He was desperately seeking a way to avoid that fate. Ilya concluded, “But Izke was unable to help Beke. How? In what way?! It was impossible at the moment. Beke has no one and is without pull, so he was taken away…”

In the end, “protektsiye” was just another illusion in the ghetto. Connections could offer protection only for awhile. Even the privileged were ultimately slated for destruction. The ghetto was liquidated by the Germans on July 8, 1944. There is no evidence to suggest that either Ilya or his father survived.

You may read entries from Ilya Gerber’s dairy in the book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder.

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Harry Gordon (1925 – 2010)~Survivor

 

Name: Harry Gordon (1925 – 2010)

Birth Place: Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1951, Madison

So many times I was near to death and I felt like, 'This is it. This is the end.'

— Harry Gordon

Biography

Harry Gordon was born in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, on July 15, 1925. He was the only child of an Orthodox Jewish family with deep roots in Lithuania. In the summer of 1940, after Harry's second year of high school, the Russian army occupied Kovno. A year later, Lithuania fell to the Germans.

Shortly after the Germans arrived, Harry's ailing mother was poisoned along with all other patients at the Jewish hospital in Kovno. His remaining family members were herded into a ghetto with 35,000 other Jews. Harry's father was deported. Harry was shuffled between the ghetto and forced labor camps for the next three years.

In 1944, he was deported to Dachau, where he dug ditches for the disposal of corpses. In 1945 Harry escaped from a trainload of prisoners and walked to Landsberg-am-Lech, Germany, where he was met by Allied troops. By then he weighed only 50 pounds. Harry was hospitalized for eight months and recuperated at a rehabilitation camp for displaced persons. While there, he met and married Genia Lelonek, a Polish survivor.

The Gordons immigrated to the U.S. in March 1949. They lived in Pennsylvania and New York City before arriving in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1951.

Harry moved from job to job before becoming self-employed as a scrap metal dealer. The Gordons had three children before divorcing in 1969. Harry wrote a book about his Holocaust experiences, The Shadow of Death: The Holocaust in Lithuania (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992). Harry died in 2010.

 

 

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Photos

The silent forest of Paneriai.

An excavated pit used to cremate corpses

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Helen Yermus ~Survivor

Helen Yermus was born in Kovno, Lithuania. She had to endure hardship, intimidation and fear in the Kovno Ghetto. Her brother was taken away and presumed murdered.

In 1944 the ghetto was liquidated, and her father was deported to Dachau, where he died of starvation. Helen and her mother were taken to the Stutthof concentration camp in Germany. Both survived the camp and immigrated to Canada together in 1948.

________________________________________________

 

Helen Yermus draws a couple of deep breaths, and then like a torrent, the words begin to flow.

In little more than an hour, she condenses years of unthinkable horror and loss, culminating in the murder of half her family. Her eyes tell the story of how Nazis snatched her six-year-old brother from her arms; her voice simply recounts the words.

"The last thing I remember is he turned his head to see if I was following," recalled Ms. Yermus, speaking to several dozen high-school students at the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto.

The 77-year-old is among a shrinking contingent of "survivor speakers," people who lived through the Holocaust and came out of it willing to share their stories, over and over again, with today's youth. It is painful and emotionally draining; for some, it means feeding a perpetual nightmare.

But they do it for the dead: "They said, 'Don't forget us, don't forget us, somebody survive, let the world know,'" said Peter Silverman, the 85-year-old co-founder of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, which is helping to organize Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies this weekend.

They also do it for the living: "If I reach even one mind ... frankly, that is my purpose," Ms. Yermus said. The students who listen know the Holocaust as an abstract event. But when Ms. Yermus speaks about hiding from soldiers in a gap between two walls in darkness and silence -- "Even the baby knew not to cry"--their faces are rapt.

Glimpses of such long-ago atrocities are new and horrifying for her audience. She remembers windows rattling during a 1941 bombing of Lithuania's central airport; her environment morphing into the crowded and colourless Kovno ghetto; watching as friends and neighbours were selected for a grim death march to waiting graves.

The detail of her story is incredible and breathtakingly sad. In defence forts built with the same tiles her father used to build heating systems, Jews were pulled aside and murdered, identified by their telltale yellow stars. Her father eventually starved to death at the Dachau concentration camp.

When she finishes speaking, Ms. Yermus thanks the students for "your ears, your eyes, your hearts." Telling the story "gives me credence," she says. "Now I know why I survived."

Mr. Silverman, who fought with the Jewish anti-Nazi resistance and is decorated with more than a dozen medals, was 16 when the Germans descended on his town of Jody, Poland. The following year, after escaping the slaughter of his townsfolk, he was stopped by police and made the pivotal decision to use his pistol -- intended for his own suicide --to kill a German officer.

When Mr. Silverman, who has shared his past with thousands of students, talks about the war, he focuses on the details of the resistance army; how they bought weapons using gold coins they had sewn into their clothing, and amassed more guns by killing enemy soldiers.

He leaves out some of the worst parts, the detailed stories of his captured peers' gruesome torture. "I don't want to give you nightmares," he said. For years after the war ended, "I would wake up at night screaming."

When he began retelling his stories, Mr. Silverman said, those nightmares returned. "I see Germans. I see Nazis. I'm trying to run but I can't run. Every night it's the same thing, I can't run."

Survivor Judy Cohen, who has been speaking about the Holocaust for nearly two decades, says she focuses on the historical context more than her own story -- the loss of human rights and the treatment of women during the Second World War.

"I am beyond being emotional about it," she said. "It happened 65 years ago. I am now an 81-year-old woman. I no longer consider myself a victim.... I am more of an activist."

"The day-to-day life in Auschwitz was not a life.... You may have awoken in the morning but you weren't sure you would be alive at night," she said. The fearful "pit of my stomach" feeling returned many years later, when Ms. Cohen encountered a neo-Nazi group demonstrating in downtown Toronto. She refers to this as her trigger point, the day she knew she had to speak out.

"I was wondering, 'Is this the past I'm seeing? Is this the future I'm seeing? What's going on here?' " Ms. Cohen recalled.

As the number of aging Holocaust survivors dwindles, centres such as Neuberger are grappling with the challenge of how to keep these stories, tragic yet vital, alive for the next generation.

Marilyn Sinclair -- whose father died in January at 82 after years of speaking publicly about his time in Auschwitz -- says she is working on a plan to train sons and daughters of survivor speakers to retell their parents' sagas.

For a long time, her father never spoke of the days he spent in captivity. But "when he started to tell it, he didn't stop. He said it was always his greatest pleasure and his greatest pain."

 

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Oshry, Ephraim~Survivor

 

(1914–2003), rabbi and halakhic authority, known primarily for his book She’elot u-teshuvot mi-ma‘amakim,a collection of halakhic rulings issued in the Kovno (Kaunas) ghetto during the Holocaust period.

Ephraim (Efroim) Oshry was born in Kupishok, in the district ofPanev?žys (Ponevezh) in Lithuania. He studied in the finest yeshivas in Lithuania—Khelm, Ponevezh, and Keneset Yisra’el in Slobodka. Oshry discussed halakhic issues and the clarification of Talmudic passages with prominent authorities, including ?ayim Ozer Grodzenski and Avraham Duber Shapira, with whom he maintained a particularly close relationship.

In the Kovno ghetto during the Nazi occupation, Oshry taught in the Ye?ezkel Kloyz and in Tif’eret Ba?urim, lecturing before the community at large on such topics as the place of science in the Gemara.

Throughout the Nazi occupation and immediately thereafter, he was the source for answers to questions raised by Jews who wished to follow Jewish law even under the most extreme conditions. 

Some of the questions had been directed to Shapira, who was ailing and who consequently redirected them to Oshry; many other questions were sent directly to him. Oshry recorded the queries and answers on scraps of paper that he buried in containers in the ghetto; these writings were found following the liberation.

With the final deportation from Kovno beginning on 8 July 1944, Oshry and 33 other Jews concealed themselves in a hiding place they had carefully prepared in advance. On 1 August, the Russians liberated them.

Oshry then served for some months as the rabbi for the remnant of the Kovno Jewish community, working at rehabilitating Jewish life. Among other things, he provided Jewish burial to about 2,000 Jews who had been executed, and identified children who had been concealed in monasteries and hidden with Christian families.

After leaving Kovno, Oshry established yeshivas in a number of refugee camps in Austria. In 1946, he arrived in Rome and established—with other rabbis—the Me’or ha-Golah yeshiva, which he then headed.

In 1950, Oshry and some of his students moved to Montreal, and in 1952 he settled in New York, where he served as rabbi of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

From then until his death he devoted all his energies to his congregation, to Jewish education, and particularly to writing about the Holocaust and perpetuating its memory. He headed an association of rabbis who were concentration camp survivors, and often expressed his views on issues related to the Holocaust. He opposed the normalization of relations between Jews and Germans.

Oshry’s uniquely important work is his four-part She’elot u-teshuvot mi-ma‘amakim (1959–1976), in which he collected the halakhic rulings that he had issued during the Holocaust and immediately thereafter.

(A much shorter work, Divre Efrayim . . . Kuntres me-‘emek ha-bakha’,appeared in 1949 in New York.) This work is the most comprehensive collection of responsa from the Holocaust period, containing invaluable historical material about daily life in the Kovno ghetto, especially concentrating on its religious dimensions.

As Oshry himself states, he draws “a comprehensive and striking picture of a deeply rooted and creative Jewish community standing on the brink of destruction . . . but nevertheless all of its thoughts and concerns are directed to matters of Torah and religion, matters of spirit and eternity” (vol. 2, p. 3).

It should be noted that some of the questions may never have been actually asked, but rather were composed by the author (for example, vol. 1, no. 27, describes how the Nazis used Jewish women for institutionalized prostitution, the historical truth of which is in question).

 

Rabbi Ephraim Oshry conducting a memorial service at the Ninth Fort, where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered by the Nazis, Kaunas, 1945. With him are four Jews who succeeded in escaping from the fort in 1943: (left to right) Pinia Krakinovski, Israel Gitlin, Berl Gempel, and W?adys?aw Blum 

 

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The Jewish child who became President of the Supreme Court – Judge Aharon Barak’s story

Judge Aharon Barak (President of the Supreme Court from 1995-2006) was born Arik Brik in 1936 in Kovno, Lithuania. When he was eight years old Aharon Barak was smuggled out of the ghetto in a potato sack and was hidden, together with his mother, by a Lithuanian farmer who saved their lives

Aharon Barak entered the Kovno Ghetto together with his father, Zvi Brik, a lawyer by profession, and his mother Liba in 1941, when he was five years old. Although they could have received certificates for aliya to Eretz Yisrael, Barak’s father chose to remain and help the Jews there. The family lived in the ghetto for three years.

Aharon Barak tells of life in the ghetto: “Always the four closed walls. I could not go out. I cannot remember any joy. I have no memories of happiness. I can remember only the fear and worry of the daily deprivation. No food.

I remember that one day I dropped a pot of soup, - a tragedy because you have no food… a rotten potato which has been smuggled in from outside turns the day into a festival. I saw my mother and father… I have no siblings. I saw no children in the ghetto because the Aktions against the children occurred much earlier, so I never saw any children. I don’t remember that I ever played in the ghetto. .I remember that I was afraid…a life of fear”.

In March 1944 a large Aktion of children took place in the ghetto: Aharon survived thanks to the resourcefulness of his parents, who managed to hide him from the German soldiers. Afterwards, Aharon went out to work with his father, dressed as an older child, since he was one of the last remaining children in the ghetto. His parents searched for every possible way to save him.  In the end they reached the conclusion that the only way to keep him alive was to get him out of the ghetto.

Leaving the ghetto

Aharon and his mother fled the ghetto to the home of a Lithuanian villager whom they knew. They hid there until liberation in August 1944. His father, Zvi, stayed in the ghetto together with his brother-in-law. In July 1944 all the men in the ghetto were deported toDachau, but Zvi and his wife’s brother survived by hiding in “melinot”, a sort of bunker.

This is how Judge Barak described what happened, in a speech he gave in 2002:

“In July 1941, when I was five years old, the Germans occupied Kovno, Lithuania, where I lived. Hell had come to us. The Lithuanians carried out pogroms against us. There were 25,000 Jews in Kovno.

They took us to one of the surrounding areas where they carried out the pogrom. We were pushed into the town square with the interesting name “Constitution Square”. Many were strangled, many died of hunger, or were shot in the streets. The rule of law was formally in force there, because everything was done according to orders. In 1944 there was the Aktion against the children. They wiped out all the children.

Miraculously I remained alive and thanks to a number of miracles I found myself with my mother at the home of a Lithuanian farmer – a Righteous Among the Nations – who saved our lives, until the Red Army came and liberated us from the Germans”.

The end of the war

On returning to Kovno, Aharon was able to recognize his uncle, who had survived, by the jacket which he wore. Later he was reunited with his father.

After the war, the family did not want to remain under Soviet rule in Lithuania, and fled to Italy. In letters which the father, Zvi, wrote to friends in Eretz Yisrael, he said: “The days pass. There is a group of 800 refugees from Italy going to Eretz Yisrael, but I am not among them. They need to distribute 800 certificates between 1,600 refugees”.

In another letter he wrote: “They have all gone and I am still here. That is my fate, to sit here, far away, when there is a need for working hands in Eretz Yisrael. We are impatiently waiting for the day when we will meet. At the moment we are busy with one central purpose, to reach Eretz Yisrael. To have a roof over our heads and a permanent home! Never did we feel this so strongly or aspire to it so much as we do now”.

In 1947 the family made aliya to Eretz Yisrael, after rejecting visas for the United States, which they had received.

His life in Israel

When the family reached Eretz Yisrael Aharon Barak studied in the high school connected to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He studied law at Hebrew University. When he completed his doctorate he worked as an intern in the office of the Legal Advisor to the Government, Gideon Hausner. When Hausner began the preparations for the Eichman trial, Aharon Barak decided, since he himself was a Holocaust survivor, not to take part in the trial.

In 1975, at the age of 39, he won the Israel Prize for Law and later served as the Legal Advisor to the Government. He was a member of the team which negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt in 1978. From 1978 until his retirement 28 years later, he served as a judge on the Supreme Court. For his last 11 years on the bench, Barak served as President of the Supreme Court.

Conclusion

At the conference which established the committee to mark the contribution made to the State of Israel by Holocaust survivors, at Yad Vashem, Judge Barak said: “I ask myself, what are the lessons I learned? The centrality of the State of Israel [..]

In the Western countries of today the task of the state is narrow and limited: to enable us to live together, and not much more than that. That is not my view. For me the state is the fulfillment of a dream of generations, it is hope, it is something we dreamed of for thousands of years and finally we have realized the dream – but this is not obvious…The second lesson is, in some ways, a contradictory lesson – it is the importance of the individual, of man.

The importance of the freedom of the individual…Living in the ghetto, for instance, showed just how this ‘human dust’ not only managed to survive, but also to preserve the human dignity within him…

Those of you who are familiar with my rulings know the centrality of human freedom about which I have written extensively. The state on the one hand and the individual on the other, and what is necessary is to find the balance between the individual and the collective.

A powerful state without individual rights – that is not the lesson I learned. An individual, who has freedom but no state – that is not my lesson. The lesson I learned is the daily uncompromising attempt to find a fair balance between the needs of the individual and those of the public”.

 

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ELKES, ELCHANAN

ELKES, ELCHANAN (1879-1944) Physician and chairman of the Council of Elders in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania. He earned the respect of the Jewish ghetto population through his courageous dealings with Nazi officials and his support of the resistance. Despite his appeals, the Kovno ghetto was liquidated in July 1944, its inhabitants sent to camps in Germany. He died of illness on 17 October 1944.

 

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Sima Yashonsky-Feitelson ~Survivor

 

Sima Yashonsky-Feitelson was 16 years old when she lost both her parents and sibling in the Kovno Getho, Lithuania, during World War II.

Her young husband was taken to a forced labor camp near Kovno, in which all of the Kovno Ghetto Jews were shot. His job was to burn their bodies.

Sima documented her life and experiences in the ghetto in a booklet of poems in Yiddish, which bears witness to the atrocities, her feelings of fear, loss and doubt whether she would see her husband ever again. She also documented her resistance activities in the underground movement, which was formed there against the Nazis.

Sima immigrated to Israel (with her husband, who survived the Holocaust) and re-united with friends from the Ghetto, including soprano Raya Gonen’s parents.

As a token of their friendship, Sima gave an autographed copy of her poems to Raya’s parents. After reading the poems, Raya felt compelled to be able to sing them, and thus commissioned Andrea Clearfield to set these poems to music so that they could be included on Raya’s touring Holocaust songs program. The work was premiered at Monmouth University, N.J. in 2008.

 

 

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A Young Holocaust Survivor: A Boy Named "Emke"

24 Hours Between Life and Death
A Young Holocaust Survivor: A Boy Named "Emke"

By Abe "Emke" Malnik

 

Foreword

I'm enclosing herewith an article about the fate of a young boy who together with his family, was incarcerated in the Kovno Ghetto and was almost a casualty of the great "action," but due to his intuition, patience and will to survive he won the fight, and came out alive.

The total destruction of the Jewish community in the Kovno Ghetto the high point of the Jewish tragedy is the big "action" October 28, 1941. The day of the "action" is not to be forgotten.

The surviving Jews from Lithuania, who are dispersed all over the world, commemorate that day as a day of mourning for the destruction of Lithuanian Jews and their history.

                                                                                      Very Truly Yours,

                                                                                      Alex Faitelson

 

Preface

     

 14-year-old Abe Malnik next to Kovno Ghetto fence, 1941

   

This Article was published by the Yiddish newspaper in Israel, at the 50th Anniversary of the State of Israel and the anniversary of Lilly and myself, from the archives in Yad Vashem #10956 by my friend Alex Faitelson, the leader and organizer of the largest escape from 9th Fort, the killing fields in Kovno (Kaunas) Lithuania. My wife's cousin Bella Borreda translated it into English.

   

Feiga & Josef (Kalman) Malnik

     

I wrote this manuscript in memory for my dear father Josef Malnik, who was my hero, my savior, who almost without hesitation gave his life to save the lives of my dear mother and me. In many instances saved the lives of people in the Ghetto who tried to commit suicide by jumping in water wells.

In this article I touched only a small part of my father's devotion and love for his family during the four years in Kovno ghetto at #5 concentration camp.

I hope this will be a legacy to my father and my wonderful mother who perished early in her life just days before liberation at Stutthof concentration camp, and as a remembrance for my children and their families who never knew their Bubby Feiga and will only have good memories of the Zeide Josef.

My love and memories will always stay in my heart with them.

                             Emke (Abe)

 

Editor's Note: In the story below, Emke's father Josef is referred to by his Yiddish name, Kalman.

 

THE FATE OF THE PEOPLE
EMKE………

 

In the total destruction of the Jewish community in Lithuania, is a chapter of the great "Action" in Kovno Ghetto, the high point of the Jewish tragedy, October 28, 1941 the day of the big "Action" is not to be forgotten. The surviving Jews of Lithuania who are scattered all over the world commemorate that day in various commemorations. That day is to honor the memories of the Lithuanian Jews.

He was an only son, they gave him the name Abraham, his mother and father used to call him Avramke, when they used to ask him when he was knee high, what's your name he answered Emke, and so he grew up with that name, that he gave himself. With that name he went to study in the "Yiddish Komertz Gymnasia" in Kovno.

With that name he went with his parents to the Kovno Ghetto.

 

 

 

Abe Malnik helping build the
Kovno Ghetto fence, 1941

 

 

His father Kalman Malnik, was a barber and in his youth a volunteer fireman. Therefore in the ghetto he became a fireman also, in the ghetto fire department. The ghetto prisoners age 12 to 55 were forced to work. Because of Emke's young age (13) his father got him a job at the Fire Department as a courier (eilbote).

The functions of the young boys was to carry messages to the elders of the various community depit in the Ghetto. On the 28th of October 1941, the Germans issued an order that the entire Jewish population of the Ghetto should assemble at an empty field in the ghetto.

This field was called "Democratic Platz." On that field the Germans announced that they would conduct a survey of the ghetto Jews. The Jews went into the "Platz" to be counted like sheep. There they put everybody in columns according to their place of work. Emke and his family were in the Fire Department column; all the fireman wore armbands with the lettering "Judische Ghetto Fuerwehr" (Jewish Ghetto Fireman).

The Jewish Ghetto Police together with the Lithuanian Police Battalion, their was Major Kazi Schimkus, kept order. The Lithuanians Police from this particular Battalion called themselves "Partisans Liberators of Lithuanian," who had already accomplished to kill all the Jews of Lithuanian Provinces and a third of the Kovno Jews.

They came now to continue their bloody work in the Kovno Ghetto. This battalion was organized and initially supported by the provisional Lithuanian Government and Prime Minister Yosas Ambrazavitius and unfortunately there is a street named after him in Kovno in the vicinity of the 4th fort where on the 18th of August 1941 they filed 534 Jews of the intellectual "Action" with the usual German punctuality at 9 in the morning, the German murderer Helmut Rauka, started sorting (not counting) the Jews on that field. The Jews did not understand what was happening.

The first column was composed of the Jewish Ghetto leaders and their families; the second column was Jewish Police Force and their families. Rauka immediately motioned for these two columns to move aside from the rest of the columns.

The Rauka started sorting the fireman and their families. Emke and his parents, grandmother, and his hunchbacked aunt stood in on row of that column. As soon as Rauka saw his grandmother and his aunt he waved his hand and sent them to the right. They still did not understand what's going on or what was happening.

They went where Rauka pointed. But Emke's heart told him something was wrong. This 13½-year-old young boy felt that a tragedy was about to occur. The Lithuanian police surrounded them with pointed guns and drove them in the direction that Rauka pointed at. Emke's mother did not lose her composure. She begged Emke's father to escape and maybe later he'll be able to rescue them.

Emke's father would not hear of it, our fate is together but the mother insisted and with tears in her eyes begged him, Kalmanle, "escape now" there is not much time left. They were getting close to the small Ghetto*, which was also fenced in and separated from the large ghetto. They were assembled like sheep.

As they were driven by the Lithuanian Police with guns pointed the father slowly started to move away from them. Because he was a Fireman his armband was similar to the Jewish Police armband, therefore the Lithuanian police did not pay much attention to him and he was able to blend in with the Jewish police.

The Malnik family understood that their fate was preordained, the outcome was already set, but didn't understand the scope of the tragedy.

*The Germans had established a large ghetto and a small ghetto; the two ghettos were connected with a bridge. The small ghetto contained a hospital and the overflow of the large ghetto was housed in the small ghetto. The Germans had already planned without the people's knowledge, that when the big action occurred, they planned to eliminate 10,000 people as a holding area before taking them to the ninth fort to be executed. On October 4th, they surrounded the small ghetto, burning down the hospital with doctors and patients still inside, and transported the residents of the small ghetto to the ninth fort where they were exterminated.

They were the first to be driven into the small ghetto, along with other Jews, which included Emke's aunts, cousins, school friends, gymnasium teachers, neighbors and many other friends.

Because they were among family and friends they were more hopeful and optimistic. They encouraged each other, clung to each other like sheep and were hopefully that the Germans would give them work and they would still be useful. But this mood of hope soon dissolved, as they saw with what ardor the Lithuanian police were beating the incoming Jews in the small ghetto with their rifles, and to see the broken heads and bones of the old and weak people.

Emke stood by the side and watched with horror and disbelief at the hate emanating from the Lithuanian police and how could they possibly do such a thing. Among the people who were brought in to the small ghetto, were young and productive people but most of them were the elderly and the sick, and Emke with his childish mind, came to the conclusion, that this is going to be the end.

As the Malnik family were the first to be brought to the small ghetto and as Emke was the only male left in his family, he told them they must fund a house for the whole family. Since all the houses in the small ghetto were empty, due to the October 4th action.

So the twelve of them, eleven women and Emke, the only male, they moved into a large story house. They occupied the first floor; those who came later took up the second floor. The situation became one of panic, Jews were running around looking for housing, people fought and cursed, they were fighting for a place and a roof over their heads.

The Jews lost their minds. Broken morally, depressed, torn apart from their families (as some were separated when the sorting took place) so they needed an outlet to vent their anger, the situation was very chaotic and made unbearable by the cursing and beatings of the Lithuanian Police.  The whole burden to protect the family of women fell upon Emke's small and slender shoulders, on that day Emke became older.

He felt the heaviness and responsibility for his family.

The windows of the house in which they were staying faced the barbed wire fence, around which the Lithuanian Police stood guarded with guns pointed. As if a voice from above said to Emke, "Emke, this is not a house for you," his mother and grandmother and the rest of his family had already settled in, there were no chairs in the house, so you were forced to sit on the floor or iron beds which were still there.

Emke stood in the middle of the room and pronounced in a loud voice "that he did not like this place, the house is too close to the barbed wire fence, we must leave this place." At first they would not hear of it, they were laying there tired, broken and beaten. Emke did not stop talking and pleading, finally they decided to leave the house.

Evening fell and houses were hard to find, all twelve of them were walking and looking where to put their heads down. Everywhere houses were already filled up. All were sorry that they had left the first place. How long they walked Emke can't remember, but when they did finally find a little broken down house at the end of the Ghetto it was already night. Hungry and thirsty dirty from the dust, they all stretched out their bones wherever they could on the floor, there were not beds and they all fell asleep on the floor exhausted.

In the middle of the night Emke's father risked his life. He gave a gold piece to a Lithuanian guard to let him in through the barbed wire fence, in order for him to find his family. He was running through the small Ghetto and calling the name of this family. He wanted to rescue them. Unfortunately he couldn't find them and had to return to the large Ghetto.

Emke and his family woke up in the middle of the night to shooting and screaming. Emke does not remember how long he slept, but when he awoke for the bullet's exploding penetrated the dark night. The Lithuanian Police were shooting all night long in the air, which caused a fright among the Jews.

This was to warn them not to leave the houses and try to escape from the Ghetto. The continuous night shooting around the Ghetto was always a warning to the Jews of an upcoming German action. The loud banging of the rifle butts on the doors of the houses and yelling they should get out, was an announcement that the murders had arrived.

God had little pity on the Jewish victims and sent sunrays that illuminated but not warm their souls; they were frozen from fear of death. The march from the small ghetto started with the typical German efficiency. The victims did not know what's happening up front, they all came in a small line from the house onto the sidewalks and next to them walked the Lithuanian with rifles pointed.

Emke let everybody move ahead, he was standing as if a magnet held him back, he held back his family until everybody passed him. They were the last 100 people left. Emke was learning against a wooden fence, standing next to him was his mother, grandmother and aunt, in front of him in a couple of rows was the rest of his family.

All of a sudden as if the sky opened up, Emke heard a loud scream, "Feiga, Kalmale is coming." Like lightening, tore away from the row- his father walked fast, his top coat open, his hair disheveled from the wind and with fire in his eyes was searching the rows. This was the last column of the 100 Jews and his family was standing in the rows of this column.

Next to his father was walking a German officer. The officer was walking fast, but his father was walking faster. In his heart Emke knew that his father would come, he ran to him and embraced him, the German looked saw the resemblance of father and son and asked is "this your son?" "Yes" answered Emke's father. "And where is your wife"? Emke's father pointed to his wife, Feiga. "Heraus" shouted the officer.

They all three held hands with tears in their eyes. From fear they did not turn around to look for the last time at their beloved family. This was the last two minutes before the liquidation of the Jews. The rest of the people were taken by truck to the ninth fort. With that was the final emptying of the Jews of the small ghetto from the "Big Aktion." With broken hearts the three of them returned to the large ghetto. There Emke had enough courage to turn around and see how the last truck departed on the road to Hell-The ninth fort.

Then they all realized what a terrible tragedy befell the family. Emke's mother Feiga, fainted and his father Kalman Malnik cried with bitter tears. Every one of us Jews-Emke wrote-had his own fate and how he survived life in the Ghetto.

It started when a German officer went to check with the Lithuanian Police who were guarding us. As I recall it was approximately 10 minutes before noon. Because at 12 noon, the small ghetto where the 10,000 Jews were kept before being transported for liquidation in the ninth fort was emptied out.

We were already the last group to be taken to the truck for transportation. As the German officer passed by our group, he recognized a woman who used to work for him, he ordered her to step out and follow him the large ghetto.

When she reached the large ghetto she realized that she had left her child with our group and she fainted. As fate would have it my father happened to be standing next to her, he tried to revive her and succeeded. When she opened her eyes, he asked in a trembling voice, maybe you saw my family there?

Yes she answered in a weak voice, they are still there. As he heard that he started begging the same German officer to save his family. The head of the Jewish Ghetto Police (Michael Kopelman) happened to be standing next to them, and also started to pleading with the German officer. Telling him that my father was a good fire fighter, and when the German officer asked my father who do you have there?

My father did not lose his composure due to his experience from the previous day. Because of my elderly grandmother and my aunt who had a hunchback, we had all wound up in the small ghetto and destined to die-so his answer was only my wife and son.

As the German officer was looking at my father begging on his knees, he barked out" come on follow me." As I was standing in the last group to be taken away, all kinds of thought went through my mind. I was in a row with my grandmother, aunt and my mother.

I was leaning against a fence in from of us were more members of my family, aunts-cousins. My mother also recognized the principal of my school, whom I knew most of my life, but I couldn't recognize him, because in the past 24 hours he looked 20 years older, he became an old man.

All of a sudden I heard screaming, Feigele, Feigele (my mother's name) Kalman is here. To me it was if an angel from the sky or the Messiah had arrived. I ran out from the row and I saw my father running towards me with the German officer behind him. His hair was disheveled from the wind and his eyes were looking for us.

As we approached each other I jumped on him. The officer observed all that and in a harsh voice while seeing the resemblance between us, yelled out "is this your son?" "Yes my Herr" said my father. Then he said. "Take your wife and follow me." The words of my mother still ring in my ears. "Kalmale can you save my mother and sister" My father told her "don't even turn around, I can save only you"

And this the miracle of how we survived the liquidation and murder of the 10,000 Jews which was called the "Big Aktion" of the Kovno Ghetto, October 28, 1941. Reference of this tragedy written by me can be found in Yad Vashem.

14-year-old Abe Malnik next to Kovno Ghetto fence, 1941

Feiga & Josef (Kalman) Malnik

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Zvi Goldberg

Kovno Letters From 1938

By Zvi Goldberg

Preface (By Abbye Brenner):  There are two letters, one from October 1938 and the other from December 1938. The December letter was the last one my grandmother received from her brother Israel (Zvi) Goldberg. The letters were written in Yiddish and were translated for me by the uncle of a Rabbi in California. My grandmother "Bessie" Goldberg lived in New Bedford, MA. She married Abraham (Abram) Miller and had five children, four boys and a girl (Martha, my mother). If anyone remembers the Zvi Goldberg family from Kovno or Semeliskes, please contact me, Abbye Brenner.

 

The First of October 1938

Beloved, Dear Sister, Brother-in-Law and Beloved Nephews and Nieces. In reality my beloved dear Sister, I already 2 weeks late in answering you. Besides the letter I just got from you can probably understand, my beloved and dear Sister how crazy my life is and I hit the wall. I feel totally isolated. I leave At 6 in the morning to go out to work and I was in Semelishok [Semeliskes] but I find myself remain hungry.

Now beloved Sister, how are you doing, all my dearest and healthy, they all ask about you who are living high up. Imagine my beloved Sister, they are all thinking that everything is fine. I Imagine my Beloved Sister that we are all doing thankfully well.

We came up with fear, imagine my beloved sister with your poor health and so much fear that happened to you. So we need to permanently accept. Don’t think my dear sister that I refused your advice to go shopping. With the various troubles the whole world forget you.

You are in America and your life is safe and you have a democracy and you are safe and relaxed at home. Until now it was here not bad as well but going forward is a question. We are not looking at better times.

Now my dear sister write me all that is happening by you and with your health and how is our dear brother-in-law, your husband doing, and also your kids and grandkids.

You are thank G-d a grandmother, until 120 years, write me dear sister of everybody.

You don’t know how happy you make me with your letter and there will be something to read. Now I can write you that Mendel’s daughter came to us. She makes a living, she bakes at home. She lives with the child Rachel. She is using the clothes that you have sent my dear sister. The shoes were too small for Rachel and thank you for all my dear sister.

We are all wishing you good health, and strength and wealth to you and your entire family. I enjoy writing you and I wish that my letter finds you in good health.

From me your brother and brother-in-law and uncle Zvi Goldberg.

Now a special greeting from Rachel and the kids. She wanted to write herself but she does not feel good for two days already. She wishes you health and good business from me as well.

 

       

Return Address on Envelope
Italijos gatve N 79B5

   

December 9, 1938

Dear Sister, Brother-in-law, Nephews and Nieces, you should live happily and satisfied.

Dear Sister I don’t know what to think that such a long time I did not hear from you. So please write me a letter so that I will not be worried and filled with fear and that will know what is happening with you. So that I will know that everything at yours is all right.

We are now in Kovno and not in Semelishok because my wife is having the other thing G-d forbid. We did not know what it was so she went to the Doctor. He said they need to give her a shot and they need to operate on her or she will die. They said that maybe the last operation was not good and needs repair.

I can’t tell you what it is but I thought it was much less serious. My wife has refused to go to him and show him what she has. She also refused the shots and the operation. She went a second time to a second Doctor and the second doctor also told her the same thing. Now she is talking about going to a third one and it is going on for five weeks already.

Hershel is staying up with me and never mind, what shall I write you, I called the doctor over and the other doctor and imagine my dear sister that doctors have told us how the operation will come out and they are asking me to sign. What shall I do, they are making me crazy so I telephoned my brother from Semelishok and I asked to come right away on Saturday morning at eight. '

They immediately operated and took three and a half hours. Now it is Shabbat, five weeks ahead and she can’t even be alone. You have to watch her like a little kid. It is a wonder now that she is still alive, never mind the high cost and we did not have to ask anybody for anything. Imagine my dear sister that the five days and the operation cost me four hundred LIT.

The best doctor of Kovno operated on her and now we have to pay the most expensive and the best but she is with us again. So much fear and troubles. So I begging you my dear sister write me soon what you are all doing and your health. Why my dear sister I get all these troubles that I am so unlucky. Write me soon why, why and what you are doing .

Be healthy. Your brother Zvi Goldberg.

Postscipt: Zvi Goldberg, wife and family were all killed in the Holocaust.

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Rhona Liptzin Speaks

WASHINGTON --by MARCIA H. KAY, Washington Jewish Week

Rhona Liptzin grew up with the Holocaust. Her mother and father, Rachel and Saul Leibowitz, and her oldest brother, Melvin, were survivors of the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania.

Rhona and her other brothers, Sam and Mark, listened to stories their mother told of life in the ghetto. But she had no pictures of herself -- nothing to document five years of her life filled with hatred, suffering and, ultimately, survival.

All that changed several months ago. While walking through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's "Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto" exhibit in December 1997, Liptzin was stopped in her tracks when she saw a 4-foot tall photo of her mother standing on a mud-filled street in Kovno, bundled in a coat but shivering from the cold. She was apparently conversing with an older women whose head was covered by a large scarf.

"I saw the picture and I was blown away," said Liptzin, a successful businesswoman in Mineola, N.Y. "I could identify her immediately."

In a letter to the museum, she wrote: "In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined this scenario. I hoped I would be lucky enough to see a picture of her. It would make her story real. I never dreamed I would see a full-sized picture of my mother in the museum. I stood there and stared right back at her. I stood there frozen in a particular space and time. I no longer noticed anything or anyone around me and forgot I was in the museum. I was in Kovno -- and it was 1941."

From the photo and her mother's slim figure, Liptzin estimated that the picture was taken sometime in 1941, soon after the Leibowitzes were herded, along with Kovno's other Jews, into the ghetto that was to become their prison for three years.

During the summer of 1942 and against the orders of the Nazi dictatorship, Rachel Leibowitz became pregnant with her oldest son, Melvin. She immediately went into hiding, and on March 26, 1943, her son was born. During her pregnancy, she never set foot outside, but in one of many acts of defiance, Rachel and Saul Leibowitz had their son circumcised eight days after his birth.

Leibowitz' profession as a jeweler and a craftsman gave him access to valuables that he used to bribe a Lithuanian policeman, who saved the baby from certain death.

When Melvin was 11 months old, he was drugged and smuggled out of the ghetto in a potato sack to be hidden with a Lithuanian family. One month later, the infamous "Children's Action" of March 1944 occurred when thousands of children were rounded up and exterminated in Fortress IX in the ghetto.

Eventually, Melvin ended up in an orphanage outside the ghetto walls. He remained there until the end of the war.

"I stayed in the exhibit for six hours," said Liptzin. She could not pull herself away. As she wandered through the pictures, which included one of her uncle, a member of the Ghetto Firefighters Brigade, she recalled stories her mother would tell her every night of her life and survival in the ghetto.

She also saw pictures of her father taken by photographer George Kadish, whose clandestine photography of the Kovno Ghetto was another act of defiance.

Liptzin immediately called her brother Sam and told him of her discovery. At first, he didn't believe her.

Sam Leibowitz said his mother always wanted to be able to tell her story, something his father never could bring himself to do. "With her photo at the entrance to the exhibit, she is telling her story."

The Kovno Ghetto was liquidated in July 1944 as the Germans began regrouping and moving further west. Rachel Leibowitz was transported to Stutthof concentration camp, where she was liberated by the Russian army in the spring of 1945.

Saul Leibowitz was taken to Dachau, along with his two brothers-in-law, and they were liberated by the American army in April 1945.

In a letter dated July 25, 1945, to her cousin Sarah in the United States, Rachel Leibowitz wrote: "Finally, the time has come that we are free to write to you again...We have suffered terribly at the hands of barbarians. We have lost everything. Our parents have been murdered...I have lived through hell, yet I am a fortunate mother. My son was born in the ghetto, but with God's help, we were able to save him from the hands of the barbarians. They took all the children from their mothers' arms and murdered them...

"I am living with a horrible nightmare. I cannot understand why this happened. It is difficult for me to go on. The horror of it all is constantly before my eyes. I cannot forget. I cannot stop crying. Yet I know I must go on for my child's sake..."

Rachel Leibowitz returned to Lithuania soon after the war's end in search of her husband and her young child, by now over 2 years old. She found him in an orphanage but could not secure his release because she did not have the proper paperwork. She offered her services as a volunteer, and one day, after having worked there for several weeks, walked off with her son. She later found her husband and they eventually made their way to Brooklyn, N.Y., in June 1949.

Sam Leibowitz was born in the American sector of Germany in 1947. His brother Mark was born in 1950, and Rhona was born in 1955.

Saul and Rachel Leibowitz died in 1979, eight weeks apart.

For Sam Leibowitz, there are still unanswered questions. But, he said, "my mother made two critical choices. She decided to have a baby [against Nazi regulations], and she had him circumcised on the eighth day."

Liptzin calls these not only acts of defiance but acts of faith.

Despite surviving the Holocaust, Liptzin's mother "never achieved closure," her daughter said. One of the issues is the fate of her own parents, who were rounded up to be slaughtered. "She wishes she had a grave to visit. She never said Kaddish because she didn't know if her parents were really murdered."

But after the war and once they were in America, Liptzin said her parents led a life built around their family. "They made big celebrations with family and children. They had several wishes: that we [she and her siblings] should remain friends and that we would tell her story."

Her story has been told, said Liptzin. "Now she can rest in peace."

 

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Sam Wise~Survivor

Sam Wise, originally Shmerale Visgardiski, was born in Vendzigola, Lithuania, and grew up in Kovno. Sam and his family were forced to move into the Kovno ghetto, known as one of the most brutal ghettos, after the Nazi forces occupied Lithuania. Sam and his brother, Isaac were deported to Dachau, where at the end of the war, Sam was found barely alive by American troops in a pile of dead bodies.

Sam and his wife, Ida, lived in Munich, Germany, for several years with Isaac and his wife, Rachel, waiting for their quota numbers to come up, which would allow them to emigrate to America. In 1949, Isaac and Rachel were able to leave for Atlanta, and eight months later, Sam and Ida joined them. Sam and Isaac opened Wise Brothers Grocery in northwest Atlanta, and everal years later, Sam opened his own grocery. Sam and Ida raised two daughters in Atlanta.

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Abe Gerson (originally Gershonowitz)~Survivor

Abe Gerson (originally Gershonowitz) was born in Lodz, Poland. His father died when Abe was six months old, and his mother died of cancer when he was about eight, at which time Abe went to live with his grandparents.

In 1939, the Jewish community of Lodz was forced to move into the ghetto established there after the Nazi invasion. Abe's grandparents both died due to the inhumane living conditions within the confines of the ghetto, and Abe first lived with an uncle, who was soon caught and deported, and then with his aunt and her three children.

Abe was a forced laborer in a shoe factory that produced shoes for German pilots. His supervisor there would hide Abe during aktions. When the ghetto was liquidated in 1944, Abe, his aunt, and her children were deported in cattle cars to Auschwitz. When they arrived, Abe was separated out for slave labor and his aunt was sent to the gas chamber with her children.

At Auschwitz, Abe was recruited to play the violin in a small band that entertained drunken Nazi guards and their girlfriends in the evenings, for which they were given extra food.

One of the kapos (inmate guards), understanding that the musicians would probably end up in the crematorium after receiving such special treatment, arranged for Abe to be sent to a work camp in Germany. Abe worked in three labor camps in ammunition factories and was liberated by American forces in 1945.

Abe was taken by the Red Cross to St. Ottilia, a Catholic monastery, part of which was turned into a hospital for the survivors. It was there that he was reunited with his friend from the Lodz ghetto, and his future wife, Miriam. It took two years for Abe to recuperate. He made contact with the help of an American captain with his uncle, Max Gerson, who had emigrated to Atlanta before the war. Abe and Miriam married and came together to America in 1947.

Abe and Miriam first lived with relatives in Columbus, Georgia, then moved to Atlanta, where Abe worked as a tailor for several fine department stores. Abe also rekindled his love for playing the violin, and is concertmaster of the Atlanta Community Orchestra. Abe also composed "Rhapsody," which is a musical reflection of his experiences in Auschwitz. "Rhapsody" has been performed numerous times in the Atlanta area.

Abe and Miriam have two children and two grandchildren.

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Bernard Albert Birnbaum ~Survivor

Bernard Albert Birnbaum was born in Paris, France, in 1936. Bernard and his parents were in hiding with false papers, but he and his father were arrested in a sweep and sent to the Drancy internment camp. Bernar'd father did not survive. Bernard was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and later survived in hiding with false identity papers. He was reunited with his mother after the war.

Bernard served with the French Army in Algeria and then studied political science at the Sorbonne. In 1960, Bernard immigrated to the United States and in 1962 met his future wife, Anne Zwern, in New York. They were married in 1966.

In 1983, Bernard started his own textile import company in Atlanta and built it into a very successful organization,. He continued to work there until his death in 2006.

Bernard established the Anne & Bernard Birnbaum Holocaust Education Fund at The Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum in the hope of providing continuity for educating adults and students about the Holocaust and the need for teaching tolerance and respect for difference. Bernard's legacy is that of a devoted husband, a loving father and grandfather and a strong Jew committed to his people and the State of Israel.

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Clara Eisenstein~Survivor

Clara (Klara) was born in Boryslaw, Poland. She and her family were forced into the Boryslaw ghetto, which eventually became a labor camp. She survived the aktionen, in which her community was decimated through mass murder.

Clara escaped from Boryslaw into the forest with her baby, Irene. She was caught three times: the first time she was thrown on a truck with other Jews, but she jumped down and ran with Irene; the second, the Gestapo found them hidden in a cave and took her back to their headquarters, where they interrogated and tortured her for 24 hours only to let her go briefly back to the ghetto to get the gold and jewelry she promised to give them;

The third time, she was hiding in a haystack with her baby and five other people, and local people called the German police. Clara escaped with Irene, but four others were shot. Towards the end of the war, Clara and Irene were hidden by an old woman in a nearby village in a hole that was dug next to her house. Clara was the only member of her entire family to survive the war.

Clara's husband, Leon, also survived, and after living in a DP camp, the family moved to Atlanta in September 1949. Tragically, Irene was never able to recover her health and she passed away while still a young woman. Clara and Leon's daughter, Pola is a psychologist, their son, Aaron, is a rabbi living with his family in Jerusalem, and his twin, Harry, is an attorney.

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Dorothy Rosenberg Holzer~Survivor

Dorothy (Dora) Rosenberg Holzer was born in Rozwasdow, Poland. Her father, Gedalia Rosenberg, headed a branch of a German company that specialized in lumber and construction, so her family was quite well off. When the Germans invaded Poland, the family tried to escape. They ended up fleeing to Stryj, where the family of Dorothy's future husband, Marion, lived.

By the end of 1942, Marion's whole family had been murdered in aktions in the ghetto and Dorothy's father, her mother, Sima, and sister, Leah had been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dorothy and Marion, who had married by that time, were able to secure false papers through a friend and were thus able to pass as Polish Christians. They moved to Lvov, or Lemberg, where Marion, who was an electrical engineer, found employment for the rest of the war.

After liberation, the Holzers made their way illegally with the Bricha across the border into Czechoslovakia and then to a Displaced Person's camp in Austria. From there they immigrated to Israel and then to Montreal, Canada. Dorothy and Marion moved to Atlanta in 1994, where Marion died a few years later.

Dorothy and Marion have one son, Gil, and four grandchildren.

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Eva Dukesz Friedlander~Survivor

Eva Dukesz Friedlander was born in Budapest in 1921 to Margaret and Geza Duksz. Eva’s mother was a celebrated actress and her father was a civil engineer. Eva remembers her parents as both highly educated and sophisticated people.

Eva’s parents separated when she was a teenager, before Germany invaded Hungary, and Eva did a year’s study in a secretarial school so that she could get a secretarial job to help keep her mother and herself afloat financially.

Even though Eva had to drop out of high school to start working, she was able to at least continue her education in the areas of art and literature when her mother arranged to have her spend occasional afternoons with the wife of one of the prominent journalists in Hungary, who took her under her wing.

After Nazi sympathizers and the Germans and came to power in Hungary, Eva and her mother went into hiding with false papers from friends who were working with the Underground. Eva’s mother, Margaret, became a live-in nanny with a family and Eva dyed her blonde hair brown and moved from Buda across the river to Pest. At first, she and a friend pretended to be newlyweds (he as a Hungarian officer), but when neighbors started asking questions, they separated and Eva found work as a secretary in a small office.

Near the end of the war, Eva and her mother reunited and hid with a small group of people in an the basement of an abandoned villa on the Buda side. They were liberated by Russian troops, who proceeded to loot, plunder and rape throughout Budapest.

Eva and her mother returned to their apartment, which had also been looted, but they were able to reclaim it and clean it up. Eva and her mother opened a small secretarial office. Eva’s father had been deported and did not return. Despite all the years of trying to discover his fate, even with the recent opening of archives in Eastern Europe, Eva has not been able to determine where and when he died.

In 1947, Eva met her future husband, George Friedlander, a survivor of two forced labor camps. Eva describes him as “a very good-looking, into-life individual. Lots of fun, lots of unexpected pranks and sense of humor and, a little bit of a playboy, but at the same time a very serious man and very intelligent, extremely resourceful.” George had been educated in Italy and after the war received the assignment from the Italian government to help repatriate Italian prisoners of war and citizens who were stuck in Hungary. George put announcements in the papers offering to help Italian citizens return home, which caught the attention of the Secret Police, and he was arrested and detained for several weeks, until his father was able to have him released due to a hefty bribe. George decided to return to Italy after his release, and Eva went with him.

 

In Italy, George became an assistant to a Nobel-prize winning professor who was conducting research for the Italian government on penicillin production, and Eva was offered a position with the American Joint Distribution Committee, which was trying to resettle survivors who were in refugee camps in Italy.

In 1950, the couple decided to emigrate to America, to Atlanta, where George became part of a research team in the Biochemistry Department at Emory, and he later started his own chemical company.

Eva was immediately hired at Rich’s Department Store in the antiques and connoisseur gallery as an assistant buyer, and she remains actively involved in an antiques dealership. Eva’s mother eventually joined them in Atlanta, where she spent her remaining years. The Friedlanders have two children, Lewis and Lynne.

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Frieda Kiwetz Amir~Survivor

Frieda Kiwetz Amir was born in Zbaraz, Poland, and grew up in Krakow. Frieda worked for Oskar Schindler throughout the war, first in his enamelware factory in the Plaszow camp and later in Brunnlitz, in Czechoslovakia. Before the Brunnlitz factory was completed, the Schindler Jews spent several weeks incarcerated in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

After liberation, Frieda emigrated to Israel, where she married and raised her family. Frieda moved to Atlanta to be near her daughter and her family.

 

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Ida Tavor~Survivor

Ida was born in Bialystock, Poland, the youngest child in a very Orthodox family. Her father was a well-known and respected businessman. Her brothers, seeing no future in Poland, emigrated before the war, as did a sister, who emigrated to Shanghai.

Ida graduated from high school in 1939, the year the Nazis occupied Poland. Her family was forced into the Bialystock ghetto and Ida worked in a factory making shoes for the Germans. Her husband, Joseph, was forced to join the Russian army and Ida was left behind to take care of their daughter, Tzipporah.

In 1943, she was bringing her niece, Chana, home from the hospital when they were accosted by Nazis soldiers threatening to take away Chana, still weak from an appendectomy, for forced labor. Ida begged to be taken in her place. She was indeed taken instead, and spent the war years in concentration camps Stutthof, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Ravensbruck. On May 1st, 1945, the Red Cross liberated her from a labor camp in Hamburg, Germany.

After liberation, she was taken by the Red Cross to Sweden to recuperate, where she made contact with her brothers and her sister living in China. She learned that her husband and her child, her other two sisters, her parents and her niece, Chana, did not survive.

After regaining her health in Stockholm, Ida joined her brothers in Israel in 1946, where she remarried and had two children. In 1957, the family moved to New York, where Ida was hired at a well-known bakery, taking birthday cake orders in the many languages she learned in Europe.

In 1988, Ida moved to Georgia to be close to her daughter and her family. Her son lives with his family in France.

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Jaap Groen~Survivor

Jaap Groen was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1925 to Abraham and Lena Rootveld Groen. His parents, who were Dutch Jews, decided to return to Amsterdam, where his father worked in the diamond industry, when Jaap was three-and-a-half years old.

The Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, and in 1941, Jaap, age 16, and his parents were arrested and imprisoned in a theater in Amsterdam that had been converted into a makeshift prison. The family managed to escape with the assistance of the Dutch Resistance, who hid his parents in Amsterdam and Jaap in a small village.

Jaap, afraid that he would be caught, moved to Utrecht, where he worked as a member of the Underground making counterfeit identification cards. The Gestapo was informed of the group’s activities, and they were arrested and imprisoned.

Jaap had made a new identity card under the non-Jewish name of Cor Rosenbrandt, but one of the young Nazi guards had been a schoolmate, and turned Jaap in to his superiors. Jaap was deported to the Westerbork transit camp and then to Auschwitz, on a trip that took five days in a packed freight car with no food, water or seats and an oil drum for a toilet.

In September 1944, Jaap was selected, along with 27 other men, to be a guinea pig in “medical experiments” conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death” of Auschwitz. Dr. Mengele and his assistant, Dr. Heinz Kashub, gave injections in the arms or legs of the prisoners. Four weeks later, Kashub returned to remove (without anesthesia) cancerous tumors that had developed at the site of the injections.

Fifteen men died from this procedure. The remaining 13 men, including Jaap, were force-fed bread that had been soaked in sulfuric acid, which killed another ten men. Only three men survived: Simon Jacobs and Jaap, both from Amsterdam, and Thomas Bardi from Budapest, all of whom were isolated. Jaap, fearing that all they would all be shot as the Soviets advanced, chose to go on a “Death March” to Mauthausen – the wrong decision, as it turned out.

At Mauthausen, Jaap was forced to work at the stone quarries, where those prisoners who were too weak were routinely shoved off the edge to their deaths hundreds of feet down. Before the Americans liberated Mauthausen in May 1945, Jaap had already been sent on to perhaps the most diabolic camp of all, Ebensee, under the sadistic SS Sturmfuhrer Anton Ganz. In Ebensee, slave labor was used to construct tunnels inside a mountain which would provide protection for an armament factory intended to produce V-2 missiles.

Jaap was set to work blasting holes for dynamite with a pneumatic drill that weighed considerably more than he did in his state of starvation and exhaustion. They worked with water up to their knees with guards playing shooting games using their immersed feet as targets. When he could no longer work, he was sent to the A-socialen Block to wait for death. The U.S. Army liberated Ebensee on May 6, 1945.

Jaap was taken to a US Army hospital at the Linz airport. Although required to stay and recuperate, Jaap, still in his pajamas, snuck onto a plane going to Paris, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and flown back to Holland.

Back in Amsterdam, he found out that his parents had survived the war, hidden by a fearless woman who helped many Jewish families, Ree van Voorthuyzen, whom Jaap later married. It took 18 months for Jaap to recover from TB, after which he started on a path to a long career in advertizing.

Jaap and his family immigrated to the United States in 1957 and made Atlanta their home. Jaap and his wife, Patricia, retired to the north Georgia mountains, where they are both very involved in the arts community.

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Jacob Szczupak~Survivor

What’s my feelings about [the Holocaust]? I cannot say it with words, I cannot say it with words…it’s painful to me, if any person anybody wants to say something diminishing about the Holocaust or the Jewish people, I am very sensitive about it.”

Jacob Szczupak was born in Warsaw. When World War Two broke out, his father, Schlomo, fled to the Soviet city of Brest-Litovsk. Soon after, he wrote a letter to Jacob and his mother, Miriam, beseeching them to join him. In November 1939, they did so, illegally crossing the Polish border into the Soviet Union.

Miriam gave birth to a baby boy in Brest-Litovsk. The family then departed and moved to Chernivtsi, a large city in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. From Chernivtsi, they traveled to a small town in the Caucasus Mountains, where Schlomo worked on a collective farm, and his mother worked in a vineyard. When the Germans broke their non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and attacked their eastern neighbor in 1941, Schlomo volunteered for the Soviet Army, leaving his family behind.

When the Caucasus region was threatened by the encroaching Nazis, Jacob, his brother, and mother fled across the Caspian Sea and wandered through the Betpak-Dala Desert of Kazakhstan, reaching the town of Chilik. They settled on a collective farm, where Jacob’s mother picked potatoes in exchange for food and shelter.

Towards the end of 1944, Miriam wrote a letter to the chairman of a nearby collective farm asking if he knew the whereabouts of her husband. Miraculously, Schlomo wrote to the same chairman asking about his wife! The chairman informed the couple of each other’s survival and helped them to exchange addresses. After the war ended in 1945, Jacob’s family was reunited.

Schlomo was discharged from the Soviet army in 1946 and chose to resettle in his hometown in southwestern Poland in attempt to find his family. Upon his arrival, he learned the remarkable story of their deaths…

During the war, the town mayor learned of Nazi atrocities and built a cellar under his barn to hide Jews. Jacob’s paternal grandmother and aunt hid in the cellar until 1944, when the mayor’s daughter, a Nazi collaborator, discovered them and informed the Gestapo of their location.

The mayor rode on horseback into the forest and found his son, a partisan engaged in armed resistance against the occupying Germans. The son gathered his comrades and prepared to attack the Gestapo. But they were too late—the Germans had burned the barn, killing the Jews hiding inside. The partisans and mayor fled back into the woods.

Jacob’s paternal grandfather also perished during the war. Forced to construct buildings by the Germans, he fell from the fourth story on a rainy day and died.

Jacob remained in southwestern Poland with his family. His second brother was born in 1947; his father died in 1965. Under communist rule, Jews were treated fairly well in Poland; they allowed Yiddish presses and theaters to operate. Jacob attended a university and earned a Master’s Degree in Russian. He became a Yiddish and Russian teacher and married his wife, Lucy, in 1967.

Jacob directed Yiddish plays and wrote for a magazine. The Six Day War occurred in the Middle East in June of that year. Israeli forces launched preemptive strikes on their hostile Arab neighbors, seizing the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula in a rout of Arabic forces. The Israeli victories fueled a new bout of anti-Semitism in Poland, causing Jacob and his family to flee the country. They immigrated directly to Atlanta with the help of an aid agency.

Jacob arrived in Atlanta on July 16th, 1969, the day the crew of Apollo 11 landed on the moon. He taught Yiddish, Russian, and Polish at temples, Jewish community centers, and Emory University. In 1974, he was hired by the Cobb County School District to teach Russian in a foreign language magnet program.

Although active in the Jewish community, he still finds praying in English unusual. Jacob writes poetry about the Holocaust in multiple languages. He has two children and four grandchildren. Jacob would like to stress the importance of the past, whether it is literature, the Holocaust, or history in general .

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Janina Prinz Kozma~Survivor

 

Janina Prinz Kozma was born in Golatin, Poland. Her family moved to Gdynia before settling in Krakow. Janina spent the war years in hiding in a convent in Krakow.

After the war, Janina met her husband, Ike Kozma, with whom she fled to France, where their son, George, was born. Janina and Ike lived in France for ten years before emigrating to Atlanta, where Ike's sister, Cecile Kozma Dziewienski had resettled with her husband.

 

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Lillian Skovronek Abramowitz~Survivor

Lillian (Szyandle Laya) Skovronek was born in Krzepice, Poland. During the war she was a prisoner in Niederkirchen and Graben labor camps and was liberated from Bergen-Belsen.

After liberation, Lillian immigrated to the United States, where she worked for AT&T for twenty years. She was a founding member of Congregation B'nai Torah in Atlanta, where she was a frequent volunteer. Additionally, Lilly volunteered at several nursing homes and was voted the Atlanta Jewish Times' Volunteer of the Year 2002.

Lillian passed away in 2004 in Atlanta.

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Margaret Jastrow Klug~Survivor

Margaret grew up in Berlin, Germany, and survived Auschwitz-Birkenau and several labor camps. She and her husband, Salomon, met in a DP camp after the war and emigrated first to Israel and then to Atlanta.

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Maria Dziewinski~Survivor

Maria (Mania) grew up in Krakow, Poland, and was forced to live in the Krakow ghetto. She survived Plaszow, Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Litchtwerden labor camp. She and her sister, Sonja Gajtler Beckman, were the only members of her family to survive the war. Maria married Herman Dziewinski and came to Atlanta with him and their daughter, Erna, in 1950.

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Marty Storch~Survivor

And I wonder, why? What have I done, being a Jew, to go through all that kind of life?”

Marty Storch was born in Ozorkow, Poland, in 1924. The Storch family lived an affluent and happy life in Poland. Marty’s father Moishe spoke six languages and was in the food industry. The family was able to employ a full-time maid in their beautiful home.

After Hitler came to power in 1933, anti-Semitism grew in Ozorkow, a city of 27,000 not far from the German border. Marty’s Christian friends turned against him, and the Storch family became second-class citizens.

When the German Wehrmacht invaded Poland in September 1939, Ozorkow was instantly occupied. For the initial few weeks of Nazi occupation, life was normal for Marty. The Germans took the villagers’ food, but unlike their neighbors, the Storks were not reimbursed because they were Jews.

The Germans then began to pass anti-Jewish laws. Jews were forced to wear the infamous yellow star, a 5 PM curfew was imposed, and Jews were literally banned from walking on the sidewalks. For the third of Ozorkow that was Jewish, life was miserable. The Nazis began to kill Jewish civilians. They hanged Marty’s step-uncle and other Jews that had served in the Polish army.

In February 1940, Marty was separated from his parents and siblings and sent to work on the German Autobahn. However, by the end of the year, he was allowed to return to Ozorkow and worked as an electrician. Miraculously, his family was still alive in the ghetto. Shortly after Marty’s return, the ghetto was liquidated, and the Storchs were sent to the much larger ghetto in Lodz, where they remained until 1943.

Marty was separated from his family and sent to Auschwitz in February 1943. He survived selection by the war criminals Josef Kramer and Dr. Josef Mengele. While in Auschwitz, he found two of his brothers, Jack and Will. Jack survived the war, but Will died shortly after liberation.

At Auschwitz, Marty was forced to wake up every morning at 4:00 for roll call in the freezing weather. Daily rations were a piece of bread and a bowl of “soup”. After spending thirteen months in Auschwitz, Marty was sent to Goerlitz, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen, where he worked as an electric welder.

Marty remained in Goerlitz until the April 5th, 1945, when he woke up and the Germans had vanished. The prisoners opened the gate to the camp and saw Russian tanks. Marty was treated extremely well by his Russian liberators, who fed and gave medical treatment to the survivors. After leaving Goerlitz, Marty found his brother Jack.

They recuperated on an abandoned farm and earned money by selling cigarettes given to them by the Joint Committee, an aid group. Marty returned to Ozorkow and married a girl from Lodz. While in Ozorkow, Marty was detained by the Russians but freed by a sympathetic Jewish judge. He and his wife left Ozorkow and settled in Germany.

With the help of a cousin living in America, Marty, his wife, and Jack left Europe and settled in Paterson, New Jersey. Amazingly, their father had survived the war and was living there. Jack later moved to Atlanta, and Marty followed in 1949. He opened a restaurant and joined a local synagogue. He closed the restaurant in 1955 and bought a grocery store. He and his wife had three children and several grandchildren. He and his granddaughter lectured about the Holocaust together. He died in 2007.

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Miksa (Mike) Mechlowitz~Survivor

Miksa Mechlowitz was born in Bilke, Czechoslovakia, a village that was for a time under Hungarian rule and is now found within Ukraine. Miksa can trace his family roots in Bilke back six generations. Miksa was the youngest of the family. Two of his siblings emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, and one sister moved to Paris. Miksa and his brother were left at home when, in 1943, their mother died suddenly, followed by the death of their father five months later.

In 1944, Miksa and his brother, along with a nephew who was staying with them, were deported to the Berechowa ghetto, and then were sent in a boxcar to Auschwitz. Miksa and his brother were taken a week later to Mauthausen, and then several days later to Melk, a labor camp which was a subcamp of Mauthausen. Miksa's brother died in the camp.

As the Russian Army approached, the prisoners were sent on a barge down the Danube River to Linz, Austria, where they were unloaded and taken to Ebensee, another camp in the Mauthausen system. The camp was liberated by the American armed forces in May 1945, and Miksa started trying to make his way back home.

After finding surviving siblings and wandering around from city to city, Miksa eventually found himself in a displaced persons camp in Germany. In 1948, Truman passed a bill allowing 400,000 refugees beyond the number allotted through the quota system to enter the United States, and Miksa was able to emigrate at that time.

A year and a half later, Miksa was drafted into the Army and was sent back to Germany. After his tour of duty was up, Miksa came back to the States and started college at Penn State, where he met his wife, Olivia.

After graduation, Miksa saw an advertisement for teaching positions and decided to take a chance, beginning a thirty-five year career teaching mathematics in Abbington, Pennsylvania. Additionally, Miksa was very active and involved as a representative and elected officer in the teachers' union on the local, state, and national levels.

Miksa and Olivia relocated to Atlanta after Miksa's retirement to be near one of their four children and to enjoy the warm weather. During his years in Atlanta, Miksa was a tireless speaker at The Breman Museum about his Holocaust experiences. Miksa died in 2005 at the age of 76.

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Rachel Lager Wise~Survivor

Rachel Lager Wise grew up in Kovno, Lithuania, where she was forced to move into the ghetto after the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Rachel's, and her husband, Isaac's, five-year-old son, Chaim, was murdered in a massacre of children that took place on March 27, 1944.

Rachel was deported to Stutthof concentration camp. After liberation, Rachel made her way back to Kovno, now occupied by the Soviet Army, to look for family members, and was only able to escape using false papers when she found out that Isaac, who had been a prisoner in Dachau, was alive in the American zone.

After several years waiting for permission to emigrate to America, Rachel and Isaac were allowed to travel to the United States, where they made a new home in Atlanta, where Rachel had relatives.

 

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Rella Solski Sloman~Survivor

Rella Solski Sloman grew up in Kovno, Lithuania, where her parents owned a mill. The Solski family was forced to move into the Slobodka ghetto in Kovno.

In 1944, Rella and 35 members of her family were in hiding in a basement within the ghetto. When Rella realized that they all might suffocate from lack of oxygen, she started to cry, alerting the Germans to their location. Her father blamed her for their arrest. He was murdered by the Nazis and she never saw him again.

Rella is a survivor of the Stutthof and Thorn concentration camps.

After liberation, Rella was taken to a hospital in Munich, where she was treated for tuberculosis. She then continued to recuperate in Switzerland before returning to Germany. Rella and her husband, Bernard, were eventually allowed to emigrate to America and settled in Atlanta, where Rella had relatives.

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Ruth Grunkraut Lowenberg~Survivor

Ruth Lowenberg (nee Grunkraut) was born in the southern Polish town of Bielsko in 1925. She attended a secular Jewish elementary school before enrolling in a convent-run high school, the finest girls’ school in town.

Even prior to the onset of the Second World War, antisemitism was prevalent in Ruth’s life; in June 1939, all the Jewish girls were expelled from the convent’s school. Ruth recalls that ironically, only the Germans, Austrians, Italians, and Swiss accepted Jews into their universities. Ruth recalls that the Poles thought that Jews “should be wiped out from the surface of the earth”.

Poland was only able to resist the Nazi and Soviet onslaught for a few weeks, and had surrendered by mid-October. Ruth, her parents, and younger brother were forced to move into the Krakow ghetto. The family was able to survive as Ruth’s father, an Austrian-educated merchant, worked as a bookkeeper for the Nazi authorities.

The family remained in the ghetto until 1942 or 1943 and were then sent to the Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp. Erected in 1942, the camp housed Jews from the Krakow ghetto and was ruthlessly ruled by the infamous war criminal Amon Goeth, who was later tried and executed for the murder of tens of thousands of people. Ruth and her mother were used as slave labor in an upholstery workshop while at the camp.

By late 1944, the Soviets had advanced into eastern Poland and were beginning to threaten Nazi garrisons in Warsaw and other occupied cities, while the Western Allies had liberated Paris. The Nazis, realizing this, began to accelerate deportation rates, and all remaining children in Krakow-Plaszow were sent to Auschwitz.

Ruth and her mother were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in August. Her father was not sent with them, and Ruth never saw him again. She later found out that he perished in Mauthausen in 1945. Ruth and her mother were shipped to Bergen-Belsen, where her mother died in her arms only six days before liberation.

After being liberated, Ruth and her fellow survivors were terribly weak. Typhus and other diseases ravaged the camp. The British took Ruth to a hospital where she recovered. Neutral nations were beginning to accept Jewish refugees, and Ruth chose to settle temporarily in Sweden.

The Swedes were extremely friendly to Ruth and treated her injuries. Displaced persons camps were established by nationality, thusly Ruth was relocated to a Polish camp in the Swedish mountains. King Gustav V visited the camp, and Ruth was able to thank him for his hospitality.

Ruth had previously taught herself English from a German-English dictionary and therefore moved to England to stay with her father’s cousin. She lived in England for 11 months before moving back to Sweden and marrying Natan Lowenberg, a fellow Polish survivor.

They moved to New York in 1950, where her husband eventually owned a chain of bakeries. While never religious, Ruth and her husband retained their Jewish heritage. They belonged to a temple and their sons had Bar Mitzvahs. The Lowenbergs had four children, all of whom attended college. Ruth, now widowed, currently lives in metro-Atlanta.

While the Swedes treated Ruth with nothing but kindness and generosity after the war, she faced some discrimination in America. People made fun of the number tattooed on her arm by the Nazis at the concentration camp, and a neighboring Irish woman humiliated Ruth and her family until the point where Ruth slapped her in the face. The woman took Ruth to court, where Ruth won, claiming that “in America even a Jew has the right to live”.

Ruth briefly returned to her hometown after the war in search of her father, only to find that the Jewish community had been practically annihilated. As her mother, father, and brother had all been murdered by the Germans, Ruth was alone in the world; however, Ruth was able to survive both the war and the psychologically traumatic post-war years.

When asked what personal qualities enabled her to survive the emotional and physical hardship, Ruth responded, “I think the hatred against the Nazis, what they did…they took the blood from my veins. I think that hatred, that we can stand up and be human beings again…”.

Ruth was a strong woman, surmounting the incredible physical and psychological hurdles to rebuild her life after the war. Her desire to overcome the hatred, to stand up and be a human being once more, enabled her to overcome the unimaginable emotional pain she felt in order to live life.

 

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Avraham Tory~Survivor~His Diary

Diary Told of Nazi Brutality in Lithuania Obituaries March 23, 2002| DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After German troops rolled into the central Lithuania city of Kovno in June 1941, 30,000 of the city's 37,000 Jews who hadn't escaped or been killed were herded into a ghetto. For the next three years, Nazi edicts ruled their lives--and their deaths.

"From now on, the Germans declare that any pregnant woman will be killed on the spot," read one edict. 

"Jews must pull all wagons themselves, including funeral hearses," read another.

"The mother and sister of the hanged Meck [an escapee] must be taken to the Ninth Fort for execution," read yet another. By war's end, all but about 3,000 of Kovno's Jews had perished, many in mass executions. But a record of their lives--and deaths--survived to tell their story.

Avraham Tory, a Jewish lawyer who risked his own life by keeping a detailed diary and gathering official Nazi documents that bore witness to what happened to the doomed inhabitants of the Kovno ghetto, died of natural causes Feb. 24 at his home in Tel Aviv. He was 92.

As deputy secretary of the Jewish Council of Elders, which administered the Germans' rules in the ghetto, Tory was able to record the German decrees and regulations, council deliberations and conversations with Nazi officials in his diary.

"Every day, I put into writing what my eyes had seen and my ears had heard, and what I had experienced personally," Tory later wrote.

Working with other council members, he collected Nazi documents, orders, warnings, notices and commands that documented what he wrote in his diary, as well as gathering clandestine photographs and artist's drawings made by ghetto inhabitants who witnessed Nazi atrocities.

Tory buried all of the documentation in five wooden crates beneath a ghetto apartment house, inserting into each box a note, written in Yiddish:

"With awe and reverence I am hiding in this crate what I have written, noted and collected with thrill and anxiety, so that it may serve as material evidence--'corpus delecti'--accusing testimony when the Day of Judgment comes."

In case none of Kovno's Jews survived the war, Tory instructed a Lithuanian priest to dig up the crates and forward them to the World Zionist Organization.

Couple Escaped Into Countryside

Tory, along with his fiance, managed to escape the ghetto to a hiding place in the countryside in the spring of 1944. They returned to Kovno after Soviet troops occupied the city in August. Tory later smuggled out his diary and the most important documents, which he had buried in a rucksack.

His diary, which is among the most comprehensive surviving official Holocaust diaries, was later used in war-crime deportation hearings against the mayor of Kovno and the SS ergeant who personally directed the mass murder of 9,200 Kovno Jewish men, women and children in what was called the Great Action.

"He wrote the diary because he wanted to leave evidence so that the world would know what the Germans did," Tory's wife, Pnina, said by phone from Tel Aviv on Tuesday. "He was a very brave man."

She was equally brave, keeping the latest pages of Tory's diary in her room and sometimes writing down what he dictated to her.

The Torys, who were married in August 1944 after the liberation of Kovno, had planned to flee Lithuania together. But when Tory received word in February 1945 that he was going to be sent to Siberia, he was forced to immediately leave alone.

His wife and her young daughter from a previous marriage left about three weeks later and joined him in Poland.

After arriving In Israel in 1947, Tory practiced law and became secretary general of the International Assn. of Jewish Lawyers and Jurors.

In 1988, his diary was published in Hebrew. Two years later, it was published in English as "Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary."

"It is a painful document," a Chicago Tribune reviewer wrote, "its pages a collage of retold events, scraps of news, official German directives, firsthand testimonies, whiffs of rumor and terror."

In one passage of the diary, Tory writes of the morning roll call on Oct. 28, 1941, by Nazi SS Master Sgt. Helmut Rauca, in which he condemned to death entire families with a simple wave or a nod.

"From time to time," Tory wrote, "[he] feasted on a sandwich--wrapped in wax paper lest his bloodstained hands get greasy--or enjoyed a cigarette."

The next morning, more than 9,000 Jewish men, women and children were gunned down at the edge of a deep pit.

"In every house a void had been created," Tory wrote. "The homes, the furniture, and the belongings of the victims ... seemed to exude the odor of death. Hardly anyone dared touch them or make use of them."

Emotions Delayed Diary's Publishing

Pnina Tory said it took so long for her husband's diary to be published "because when we got to Israel, it was like fire for him to touch it. He didn't speak about the Holocaust because it was so emotional. He couldn't get over it for a long time."

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Shapira, ?ayim Na?man

(1895–1943), historian of Hebrew literature, author, and translator. ?ayim Na?man Shapira was born in Minsk. His father was the chief rabbi of Kovno (Lith., Kaunas) and his mother came from a distinguished family of rabbis.

Shapira received his education at a heder and at several yeshivas. In 1921 he began to study Semitic philology in Vienna, earning his doctoral degree in 1925. That year, he began lecturing in that field at the University of Kaunas, and was promoted to professorial rank in 1931. He was also involved in Lithuanian Zionist activities and served on the boards of numerous cultural and literary societies. In 1935, he was a delegate to the Zionist Congress.

Shapira published stories, articles on current affairs and philosophy, and research papers in such publications as Ha-‘Olam, Gilyonot, Moznayim, Hed Lita, and Mizra? u-ma‘arav. In 1927, his two-volume translation of Animal Heroes by Ernest Thompson Seton appeared in print, followed one year later by his book Avraham Mapu of Kaunas, which was written in Lithuanian. In the latter work, Shapira argued that the scenic descriptions in Mapu’s biblical novels had actually been created in the image of Lithuania.

In 1931, Shapira translated an article about the writer Vincas Kr?v? from the Anthology of Lithuanian Literature, publishing it under the title Meshorer ha-agadot mipi zikne ha-‘am asher be-Dainavah ha-arets (The Poet of Legends from the Mouths of Old Folks in the Land of Dainava).

In the last years of his life, Shapira embarked on a major literary project, Toldot ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-?adashah (The History of Modern Hebrew Literature), which he intended to produce in 12 volumes.

He brought the manuscripts with him to the Kovno ghetto (Slobodka) during the Holocaust, but they were not recovered after his death. Only the first volume, dealing with Haskalah literature in central Germany (beginning with the founding of Ha-Me’asef in 1784, through developments of the year 1829), appeared in print in 1940. In his approach to literary history, Shapira stressed the importance of spirituality and historical views, as well as the poetic and artistic aspects of writing.

Active in the Kovno ghetto, Shapira headed the education and culture office of the Ältestenrat (the Jewish “elders council” appointed by the Germans; precursor to the Judenrat) and even organized schools.

The Nazis shot Shapira, along with his wife, mother, and only son, in December 1943. In 1944, his friends and disciples illegally published a book in his memory, Ha-Yatmut be-ma?aneh ha-sefer (Orphaned in the Literary Corps), in the ghetto where he had died.

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Azriel Levi~Survivor

Azriel Levi was born in Shkodvill, Lithuania, to a wealthy, traditional, and Zionist family.

He studied in a Heder and local yeshiva, and was a member of Hanoar Hazioni youth movement. After his family moved to Kovno, Azriel continued his studies in a Hebrew gymnasium.

In 1940 the Soviet Union gained control over Lithuania, and in June 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Azriel’s family returned to their hometown and was murdered. Azriel was imprisoned in the Kovno ghetto. He tried to escape with his friends to the forest and join the partisans, but was caught, tortured, and sent back to the ghetto.

In 1944, the surviving Jews of Kovno were deported to the Shtutthof concentration camp, and from there the men were transferred to other camps. In the final days of the war Azriel jumped off a deportation train and managed to escape from the Germans.

After the liberation he, together with several friends, walked them to the Displaced Persons’ camp in Landsberg, and after a short time was transferred to a convalescent home. From there he moved to Italy, to a large youth village founded by soldiers of the Jewish Brigade. He immigrated legally to Palestine in November 1945.

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