The Gelpernus Diary
Resistance in the Kovno Ghetto
Chaim Yelin & Dimitri-Ghelpernus
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May these lines serve as a historical document to the suffering of the Jewish people in the common fight of all Soviet peoples against the enemy of all humanity - German fascists.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/revolt/gelpernusdiary.html
The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2010