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[Cover page]

Yosef Gar

The Extermination of the Jews of Kovno (Kaunas)


Published through the Association of Lithuanian Jews in the American Zone
In Germany, Munich, 1948

Translation by Dr. Ettie Zilber




Reuven Rubinstein

In fire and flame, in suffering and wincing-agony of death, a large, beautiful, strong, succulent Jewish world was destroyed. European Jewry was stamped out under the boot of the bloody Nazi-German uniformed beast.

Hundreds of Jewish communities, cities, and towns, filled with Jewish life and spiritual creation, were destroyed, and annihilated under God's skies. Among them, also, Jewish Lithuania. Among them, also, Kovno.

This was a city which first began its national Jewish splendor after the first World War, in the years 1917-1941. From a small provincial city, it grew into a modern city, and became heir to the best traditions of the historically famous Lithuanian Jewry, with traditions from the nucleus of Jewishness, culture, learning, modern social-political movements, and people of Israel.

Kovno became the representative of the Lithuanian-Jewish people, who were renown throughout the entire Jewish world with its steadfast Jewish genuineness and with its creative national potential.

During the horrific three years between 1941-1944, during the vile killings by murderous German occupiers and their cruel Lithuanian collaborators, this same Jewish Kovno was entirely cut down. Kovno shared in the fate of the murdered Jewish people.

The story of this slow, fatal extermination is depicted in Joseph Gar's book. This is the first book about the life and extermination of the Kovno Ghetto. It was written by a person who experienced the dreadful transformation of the life in the Kovno Ghetto, through which he, himself, went walking on the thorny road of death and destruction.

As an academic, a writer, an editor, a person with a high sense of responsibility and feeling for systematic knowledge, and one of the most important remaining representatives of the Lithuanian-Jewish intellectuals, Joseph Gar endeavors to unroll the horrible story of the destruction of Kovno in this monograph.

He describes the tragic events objectively, precisely, and scholarly. He suppresses the vestiges of his personal shocking survival and how they were even possible.

Joseph Gar is therefore the most honest and most convincing witness and historian to the horrific finale of Lithuanian Jewry. Herein lie the historical words from his work, in which he invested enormous energy, labor, and great gusto of literary composition.

We, the remnants of Jewish Lithuania, and all Jews in general, accept this valuable book with deep appreciation.

  1. The Association of Lithuanian Jews in the American Zone of Germany was honored to help our friend, Joseph Gar, publish this book and owe him a debt of gratitude.
  2. This is a story of suffering, tears, destruction, and dreadful life events of one of the most beautiful communities of our martyred and blessed people and will be immortalized for generations through this book.
Reuven Rubinstein
Chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in the American Zone in Germany
Munich, May 9, 1948

[Page 9]

Dr. Philip Friedman

In a speech at the conference of Jewish writers in the Land of Israel, our great poet, David Schmonovitz, offered these advisory, sad, and bitter words:

“…we know very well, what happened to the Jews in all the lands that were occupied by the Nazis. To the terror and horror of all humanity, we also know how small and feeble the reaction was on the part of the residents of the occupied lands against the dreadful events that happened to their neighbors. We know even more. We know that the Polaks, the Ukranians, and the Lithuanians, with all their possibilities, helped the Germans in their extermination of the Jews.”

In no other country of Europe did the criminal Nazi-propaganda find itself such fruitful terrain, nor did it find such huge numbers of enthusiastic helpers for its bloody work, as in this accursed border-realm between East and West. These lands, where nationalistic hate and chauvinistic intolerance raged for decades, and where the strengthening of the generations-long political and social tensions and conflicts, turned to the heads of Jews. It became designated by the Nazis to become a mass grave for millions of Jews from all over Europe. According to the horrific crimes against Jews, the role played by the inhabitants of this realm, the performance which they took on, was already illuminated in numerous works and articles. At least it was in this manner that the Lithuanians participated, because they played such a fatal role in the macabre performance, and their dark Jew-hatred motivated them to spill Jewish blood widely throughout the borders of their land and made them conduits of mass murder in foreign territories and countries.

To my knowledge, Yosef Gar's book is the first work which gives us multi-faceted and clearly established material about the role of the Lithuanians during that tragic period. True, Yosef Gar's work does not include all of Lithuania, and it isn't competing to give a picture of the Lithuanian politic and of the Lithuanian murder of Jews over the wider territory, “just because it is there.”

However, various methods exist to get to the bottom of the known truth. The nature researcher who plans to test the taste of ocean water, does not have to research, and demand the entire amount of water existing in the ocean. He takes in drops and lays it down under a microscope. From the microcosm as it were, he teaches the meaning of the macrocosm. Yosef Gar took it as his goal to analyze one city, the capital city of Lithuania. He analyzes it perfectly and thoroughly. He analyzes the battle and the struggle, the worries and the laments of the victims, the abyss of villainy, murder, and outrage of the persecuted; and what we receive from this picture is the role of the “Aryan” neighbors in the capital. We can imagine how it approached the macrocosm, everywhere, where the Lithuanians “collaborated” with the Germans in their “solution to the Jewish question.”

And then, from a different standpoint, this story of Jewish Kovno presents more than just a simple local concern. Kovno, like Lodz in Poland, was the only Jewish settlement in the Eastern circles which was spared utter extinction by the Germans until the end of the Summer of 1944. Jewish Lodz and Jewish Kovno endured the suffering of destruction and agony for a longer time and slower speed than the other communities. Here, the stages of decline and battle for life were stretched out longer. Here, specific characteristic processes of the tragedy came rife with expression, more than anywhere else. Here, the historian, studying the years of destruction, gets a more profound view of the painful and horrific details of its development, which in other settlements developed at rapid fire speed.

Josef Gar endeavors to disclose to us, step by step, the tied-up knot of these complicated processes in his home city, Kovno.

To control the enormous number of problems and materials, and shape them carefully and clearly for the reader, he divided his work in two parts:

The first dynamic part describes the breath-taking events in the Ghetto in chronological order, the struggle with the enemy, the shivering between life and death, the worries, the cruelty of the murderers, the resistance, the destruction, the tragic numbers of those liberated too late.

The second part is a static one. It is more analytical and reflective. He gives a systematic overview of the social structure of the Ghetto. He analyzes the complicated phenomena of the ghetto structure -both social and psychological (especially the “pros” and “cons” of the Elders Council and Ghetto Police).

Thus, this author put together, in story-like examination, all aspects of Jewish life during that tragic time. At the end, he also included political life and Kovno Ghetto folklore.

We lay down this book with the feeling that the editor has given us much material to construct a general picture of Jewish life, its decline during the Nazi era, and a lot of matters to remember.

Josef Gar's work is not simply a thorough chronicle or collection of facts and events. It is a serious attempt to go deep into the problems of that time, and to analyze them systematically. Gar's work is an important contribution to the history of the destruction years without any judgment. His serious, knowledgeable approach is a model for many authors who work according to a recipe of “a super-fast timeframe.” They twist and vulgarize the story of the destruction years, have little use for the study of Jewish history and little honor for the dear memory of our martyrs. In the ocean of written works, Gar's work is to be welcomed like a rare exception and as a good example of responsible, conscientious research work.

Dr. Philip Friedman
Munich, May 11, 1948

[Page 12]


In the book Extermination of Jewish Kovno, the author endeavors to exhibit a picture of the horrific destruction of the largest Jewish community in Lithuania, the city, and the people of Israel - Kovno.

Jewish Kovno had the misfortune of being captured in the early days of the German-Soviet war at the end of June 1941. During the horrifying Nazi years, it went through a path full of suffering. In the final accounting, it brought most of the Jewish communities in the occupied domains to complete annihilation.

As we know, every Jew who languished in that Nazi hell, strove to survive until liberation. They also had a deep desire to tell the world about the appalling Jewish existence under Hitler's rule. This was especially the dream of those people who had some relationship with the pen.

However, conducting such record keeping was not a simple thing, particularly on site in the Ghetto. Such expository texts and such work were life-threatening. Unfortunately for us, most of the writings, scribed during that period did not survive. Together with the annihilation of the writers, no trace remained of their writings. That is why most of the published descriptions about those years were written after liberation.

[Page 13]

This work was also created in the post-war period. After a lengthy period, this heavy work was finally finished, and the book will be brought to the Jewish reader. At this opportunity the author allows himself to make the following comments:

  1. The book includes two basic parts:
    1. A chronological description of what the Kovno ghetto settlement was exposed to during the occupation period, and
    2. A Monograph about the Jewish institutions in the Ghetto. During this period, the first part mainly exposed the deeds of the Nazi-murderers and their various collaborators toward the vulnerable Jewish population; then, in the second part, the activities of the Jewish ghetto institutions and their impact on shaping the relationship to Jewish suffering and on the innermost ghetto life. A few additional notes are included at the end of the book.
  2. The first pair of introductory chapters, such as, “Observations on the State of Lithuanian Jewry in the years 1918-1940” and “One Year of the Soviet Period in Lithuania” were to pitch out the most important features of Jewish-Lithuanian life during the period between the two World Wars. It finally clarified what the stages of the earlier periods were preceding the catastrophe, which in the early occupation days took on such an exceptionally bloody course. The aim of the last chapters, “After Liberation” and “The Horrific Blood-toll,” was to give a picture of the destruction. At the same time, it highlighted the main problems of the cluster of Jews who became survivors during those early years after the destruction.
  3. Completely remarkable details, known only to certain people who were close to the leadership of the Jewish administration, are available in this martyrs' history of the Kovno Ghetto. The Jewish community was especially interested in the negotiations of the offices of the Elders Council, the highest representatives of the Kovno Ghetto collective. During that period, there were various decrees, for instance, Actions, relocations, and other abuses. The author did not belong to the best-informed people in the Ghetto, so, unlike an employee of the Jewish administration, he didn't have an opportunity to be in-the-know about the ghetto events more than any other Jew. Secondly, he had a longer time frame to collect information from competent people, to present a more complete description. And, finally, he made sure of the existence of the details in the book.

[Page 14]

  1. Aside from the descriptions of the prelude to the annihilation, this book brings forth a major overview of “normal” ghetto life – from one slaughter to another. The Kovno Ghetto existed longer than other ghettos in the East for certain reasons, which are partially described in the book. So, in a certain way, it was a typical ghetto from whose story we can learn a lot about the tormented situation of the Jews during the occupation years. True, the Kovno Ghetto did not demonstrate armed resistance against the Nazis, like for example, the ghettos of Warsaw, Bialystock, Vilna, etc., not because of lack of courage, perseverance, and security. Although the Kovno Ghetto seemed superficially passive, it dealt with internal daily battles of the Jews to surmount all the harsh blows of immediate ghetto realities like, slave labor, hunger, cold, overcrowding, dirt, and other evils, to eventually survive until Hitler's downfall. And, in addition, with the partisan movement in the Ghetto, the construction of the bunkers, and the like, it becomes clear that the Kovno Ghetto conducted a heroic struggle to avoid being squashed between the stones of the Nazi death mill.
  2. Not only dry facts were presented in this book, but the events of life in the Ghetto are also more or less commented upon. Thus, it is to be expected that certain differences of opinion and critique about specific facts would arise, specifically from one or another surviving Jew from the Kovno Ghetto. This is only natural because there can be various opinions about such fresh and sensitive material. In addition, it seems that each person views life through the prism of his own eyes and world view. Also, some will be unhappy that the book mentions the names of ghetto Jews who were active in the Jewish administration and, in certain cases, includes short characteristics about the role of these specific people in ghetto life. However, this was done because the editor was deeply convinced that ignoring the personal details would, without a doubt, negatively impact the wholeness and authenticity of the description.

[Page 15]

While writing this book the editor was committed from the start to only one goal: to give an exact and objective picture of what happened. While working all by himself, especially after the fact, with such rich and complicated material, and almost without documents on hand, understandably, work imperfections snuck in. In any case, the imperfections were not created deliberately, but only unintentionally. Regarding where and how many errors were allowed, the author saw to blocking them out, or at least to keeping them to a minimum. Whenever this essay will be updated, the improvements, made by those who are knowledgeable, will be taken into consideration gratefully, and the errors will be corrected.

The editor knows very well that whatever is included in the book, especially the first part, is not more than a very weak echo of what really took place. It would be foolish to think that the pen of a decent human being, a scribe, would be able to reconstruct what took place in that other horrific time, during the indescribable Jewish catastrophe.

The unique intent of this work is a double one: to construct a type of tombstone to the destruction and the destroyed past of Jewish Kovno and, to bring together some raw material for our historians and artists, to get an idea about this bloody topic: “Edicts 1940-1945.”
Y.G. [Yosef Gar]



Finally, this author would like to express his appreciation to the other institutions and persons, who allowed him the opportunity to release this book. Firstly, the following should be recognized: the Union of Lithuanian Jews in the American Zone in Germany, at the head, the Chairman, the Manager and leader of Lithuanian Jewry, editor Reuven Rubenstein; the Secretary-General of the Union, Engineer Avraham Shuster; Management Committee members, Engineer Faivush Goldshmidt; Y.D. Sheinzohn for his title page drawings, as well as all the other good friends who in this, or in other ways, had a hand in the publication of the book.

For the few dozen photos, which are included in the book, a great thanks to the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Munich, and a host of other individuals.


[Page 16]





Leisvus Aleya, one of the main streets.
In the foreground the building of the Jewish Central Bank Health Center of the “Oze” Society


Old Beit Hamidrash [prayer study house] in Kovno
(constructed in the middle of the 19th century)


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