"Partisan & Poet"
Abba Kovner was born in 1918 in Sebastopol, Crimea, on the shores of the Black Sea. His early life was the typical model of Jewish youth of the time. He was raised in Vilna, the preeminent center of Jewish learning since the seventeenth century and was exposed to every variety of Jewish thought and the teachings of traditional and modem persuasions, from orthodoxy to socialism. Abba attended the University of Vilna as an art student, learning to sculpt. and later developed a passion for poetry.
Like many other boys his age Abba became interested in the Zionist movement and joined a local youth group, the "Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'r". However Abba Kovners' destiny would be anything from typical, and the Nazi war machine would ensure that was to be the case.
On June 24, 1941, two days after Germany launched its surprise attack against the Soviet Union "Operation Barbarossa", the Germans occupied Vilna. Several thousand Jews fled eastward with the Soviet army, but the rapid German advance traps the majority of the Jews in Vilna. and almost 60,000 Jews remain in the city at the time of the German occupation.
Less than a month after the Germans occupied Vilna, they conducted their first Aktion. Einsatzkommando 9 rounded up 5,000 Jewish men of Vilna and took them to Ponary, an abandoned Soviet oil storage facility with large pits designed to house fuel.
The Germans found these pre-dug "pits" a convenient place to dispose of the bodies of not only these Jews but also the thousands of others they would bring there under the pretense of being sent to labor camps, when they were really sent to Ponary to be murdered.
The Nazis then staged What be came knows as the "Great Provocation", it began on August 31, 1941, led by SS officer Einsatzkommando 9 Oberscharführer Horst Schweinberger.
The SS established two ghettos in Vilna, referred to as Ghetto No. 1 and Ghetto No. 2. The following day they swept through the city and forced the remaining Jews of Vilna into the newly created ghettos.
About 30,000 Jews were forced into Ghetto No. 1 and between 9,000 and 11,000 Jews into Ghetto No. 2. However, Kovner and sixteen other members of the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir chose not to be locked away in the ghetto and fled the city. Hiding out in a convent of Dominican nuns a few miles outside of Vilna, they watched as the Nazis conducted one series of actions, after another.
Though they had experienced unabated terror and destruction since the Germans arrived, the Jews of Vilna were still not ready to believe the truth about the mass shooting of Jews. On September 17 1941, SS squads, assisted by Lithuanian auxiliary units, shot more than 1,200 Jews from the Vilna ghetto, including almost 700 women and 250 children in the pits at Ponary.
On November 6, 1941, the Germans then ordered that Jews without work permits move from Ghetto No. 1 to Ghetto No. 2. and during the transfer, they seized almost all the Jews without work permits from Ghetto No. 1. These they held for two days in Lukiszki prison and then marched them to Ponary for execution. - Read more about Ponary [Here]
Those who remained in the ghettos learned nothing of the fate of their missing loved ones and when a survivor of Ponary actually, came back to the ghetto and told of her experiences, few wanted to believe her story. But Abba Kovner had no illusions about the German intentions for the Jews of Vilna.
He had seen first hand the treatment the Jews had received during one of the early actions; watching through a window, he saw a woman dragged by the hair by two soldiers, he later told his comrades what he saw:
"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 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!"
Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/revolt/kovner.html
The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2009