I. THE FORMATION OF THE MILITARY ORGANIZATION
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: 1)technical-military matters; 2)organizational matters; 3)agitation and propaganda; 4)communication; 5)staff and special issues; 6)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.
"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.
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. 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.(Roman numbers refer to months).
"III. 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 ampules 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.
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. With the same aim Lowa 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.
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 conspiratory 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.
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.
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.
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...
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. 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 unpersecuted...
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
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 preplanned 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.
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:
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:
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!
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Kaunas, Lithuania Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2016 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 12 Sep 2005 by LA