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Kovno Cemetery Database 1941-1943

Compiled by Sylvia Nusinov

The Kovno Cemetery List was produced by the Chevra Kadisha, the burial society of Viliampolė (Vilijampolė [Lith], Vilyampolskaya [Rus], Slobodka [Yid], Wiliampol [Pol]), a suburb of Kovno (now Kaunas, Lithuania).

It is a document which is held in the archives of the Beit Lochamai HaGetaot (the Ghetto Fighters' House) in Israel.  The document was produced by Yitzhak bar Moshe Devortsky, and is a list of those who died in the Kovno Ghetto between 18 August 1941 and 31 December 1943, and were buried there.  It is considered to be a list of those who died "natural" deaths — as opposed to those who were murdered by the “killing squads”.

The American Jewish Archives, in Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of many repositories of vital Holocaust manuscripts.  Following a phoned query I had made regarding information relating to Kovno, a photocopy of the original Kovno Cemetery List was found in the AJA's Jacob Rader Marcus Center's Holocaust Vital Statistics File.  Mr. Zvi Shner, of Asherat, Israel, had sent the manuscript to the Archives in 1982, where it was subsequently placed in their Holocaust file, waiting to be rediscovered.

This 44-page Yiddish manuscript was mailed to me within a month, and included two cover pages, printed in English, describing the contents.  Each page contained 8 to 12 columns and approximately 20 lines, with surnames listed in the first column.  I estimated the list contained nearly 900 surnames of the Jewish dead buried in the Kovno Cemetery between the years 1941 to 1943.

The list contains the following categories [reading from right to left on the Yiddish pages, and in the English translation from left to right]:

  • Family Name
  • Given Name
  • Father's First Name
  • Address
  • Age
  • Hebrew Date of Death
  • Secular Date of Death
  • Location and Row # of Burial

After a month of searching for translators, at the suggestion of Arline Sachs, coordinator of the IAJGS Cemetery Project, I appealed for volunteer translators by posting on the JewishGen and LitvakSIG Discussion Groups.  The volunteers who so ably contributed their time and expertise to the Kovno Cemetery List project were:

Dr. Joseph Ash, Rabbi Edward Cohen, Marc Dver, Prof. G.I. Esterson, Rodney Falk, Prof. Zvi Griliches, Ellen A. Jacobs, three members of Dorothy Kohanski's Senior Group [Harold Friedman, Yetta Gotsyn, and Alex Malkin], Martha Lev-Zion, Avi Lishower, Jeffrey Maynard, Kevin Ossey, Harold Rhode, Robert Weiss, and Jim Yarin.

Prior to entering the Kovno Cemetery List into the database, I asked Robert Weiss if he would proofread the completed project, due to obvious transliteration variations by the volunteers.  Additionally, the original list is identified as being written in Yiddish, while Bob defines the List as being written in Hebrew script.

While the 44-page Hebrew manuscript, through translation, and Bob's annotation, has grown to 126 pages, it has been kept intact, retaining the original volunteers' translations, while linked to Bob's notes and transliterations.

For further information, contact: Sylvia Furshman Nusinov and Robert Weiss.

Notes on the Transliteration of the Kovno Cemetery List

By Robert Weiss, July 1998

The list is in an easy-to-read Hebrew script but the reproduction makes small sections difficult to read.  An attempt has been made to standardize transliteration of the personal names and place-names in the Kovno Cemetery List.  The original transliteration was done by over a dozen volunteers, who brought with them varying backgrounds and knowledge bases.  This resulted in variations in the transliterated names.

For example, the many different ways the common surname "aleph-raish-aleph-nun-aleph-vuv-vuv-yud-tet-shin" was transliterated as "Aaron/Aran/Aron-o/a/e-witz/wicz/vits/vitch/vich".  The Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, fortunately, would have captured all of the variations in a search, but it is desirable to standardize the transliteration within a single database.  Then a Yiddish name on the list would be transliterated in the same way each time it occurred, and the rules would allow unambiguous transliteration back to the Yiddish or Hebrew spelling.

The names on the original list were written in Hebrew script.  Surnames were, for the most part, written in their Yiddish (not Hebrew) forms, making their transliteration a simpler job, since the vowels are explicit in Yiddish.  Common Biblical given names such as Yaakov, Shlomo, Shimon, Moshe, Rakhel, Sarah etc. were written in their Hebrew form without vowels (unpointed).

Since the locale of this list was Lithuania, and the language was spoken with a Litvak Ashkenazic accent, some of the names were actually transcribed as they were spoken instead of in their formal biblical form.  In other cases, the local dielectical pronunciation was actually chosen for the transliteration of the biblical name (e.g. Rokhel, Yisroel).

Some arbitrariness occurs when transliterating Yiddish into English in the case of certain letter combinations.  For example:

  • א: "aleph" in Yiddish can be transliterated as either an "A" or as an "O".  In some (but not the majority of) cases a "patakh" or "kommatz" are used by the scribe to distinguish between alternatives.  But in most cases the reader must apply additional information in transliterating that simple letter.  In the surname cited above, "aleph-raish-aleph-nun-aleph-vuv-vuv-yud-tet-shin", one recognizes that the first four letters are the given name "Aron" and the patronymic is "-ovich".  The three "alephs" then transliterate as "A, O and O".  But some choices are not as clear, such as the surname "kuf-raish-aleph-memsoffis", which could be either Kram or Krom.

  • ו: "vuv" is another vowel that can transliterate into either an "O" or a "U" when the pointing is not given.  It is sometimes transliterated by Israelis into a "V", but in Yiddish this is usually not correct.  In most cases the transliteration of the Yiddish "vuv" into a "U" sound turns out to be the correct choice.

  • וו: "vuv-vuv" is commonly transliterated into "W" in English and other languages that have that letter.  But in Russian, it transliterates into "V".  So the name "vuv-vuv-aleph-lamed-faysoffis" has been transliterated into "Wolf" and not the Russian "Vol'f".  But the diminutive given name "vuv-vuv-ayin-lamed-vuv-vuv-ayin-lamed" is transliterated "Velvel" instead of "Welwel" mainly to preserve its pronunciation.

  • טש: "tes-shin" would normally be transliterated into "tsh", but this diphthong is often used to represent the "ch" sound, and has therefore been transliterated as "ch", such as in the "-ovich" patronymic ending, mostly written as "aleph-vuv-vuv-yud-tes-shin".  Contrast this to the "tes-samakh" diphthong, which is transliterated as "ts", and to the "tzaddisoffis" ending which is transliterated as "tz".  These equivalencies have been maintained in the edited transliteration to indicate differences in the Hebrew spelling of the name.

  • ח, כ: "khes" and "khaf", although completely different Hebrew letters, have both been transliterated as "kh", thereby avoiding confusion with the "ch" sound as in "cholent".  This results in the less familiar spelling of the familiar names Khayim, Khayah, Khanah, Khavah, Yitzkhak, Borukh, Yekhiel, Mikhel, etc. that preserves the sound.  But it also provides a path back to the original Hebrew in less-familiar names such as Khayot (khes-yud-tet or khes-yud-yud-tet), spelled alternately in English as Chait, Hiat, Hyatt, etc. — none of which spellings preserve the initial "khet" and the derivation of the name from the Hebrew word for "tailor".

  • ב/בֿ, פּ/פֿ: "bais/vais" and "pay/fay" present problems when the original text is not pointed.  A best-guess must be made on the basis of the context of the letter in the name.  In Yiddish names, the "bais/vais" usually is a "B", and the "pay/fay" can be anyone's choice.  Examples where the choice is obvious include: Pere, Feige, Pesa, Refael, Feivel, Kaplan, Kuper, Fisher, Fridman and Rozenfeld.  Examples where the choice is not so clear include: Lipshitz/Lifshitz and Shofer/Shoper.

Street names have been authenticated against a list of the streets of Kovno in 1937.  In cases where the street was not listed, a question mark ("?") was used to indicate that the name could not be authenticated.  In some cases, a possible match is given in parentheses with a question mark indicating an educated guess.

Robert Weiss
July 5, 1998

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