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The First Relocation Action to Riga

- On the eve of the relocation Action. - Early recruiting of people for the relocation. - The failure of the Jewish authorities in recruiting. - Means taken by the rulers to perform the recruiting. - End of the relocation Action. - The fate of the relocated Jews.

[Page 91]

The Ghetto did not yet manage to catch its breath from the horrible experiences of the Actions and other afflictions that took place. It was suddenly in the second half of January 1942, when rumors started circulating that they needed 500 Jews from the Ghetto to go to Riga.

We must say that at first, few paid enough attention to all these rumors. Later, these same rumors became much stronger, until it became entirely clear that it really had to do with an order from the regime unit to the Elders Council. At the end of January, it was completely certain that during the upcoming days the Ghetto would have to withstand a difficult and painful experience.

According to the regime, the official reason was that Jews are being sent to Riga to work. However, based on the tragic experience of the multiple mass Actions, the Jews didn't believe the regime's official version and considered it an Action, under the overcoat of traveling to work in Riga. Therefore, the atmosphere in the Ghetto became even more tense from day to day.

At this opportunity, it must be added that at that time, the institutions of the Elders Council, especially the Jewish Ghetto Police and the Jewish Labor Office, managed to set up specific organizational formats and began to lead “normal” activity. The Jewish ghetto administration already managed to conduct an exact registration of the remaining Ghetto population after all the extermination Actions, and had information about each ghetto Jew, their residence, workplace, family status, age, etc.

[Page 92]

The regime unit ordered the Elders Council to organize the recruitment of the needed number of people. Thus, during the compilation of the list of persons chosen for Riga, the Elders Council decided to look for candidates according to the following guidelines: in first place they took into consideration skilled men or women who are not supporting families, as well as heads of households who don't have any small children.

The unrest in the Ghetto became greater during the first days of the month of February, when it finally became clear that in the upcoming days, they would have to recruit people for Riga.

Because the ghetto population didn't know exactly on which day this would take place, they were afraid that any day, upon their return from work, a portion of them would be caught at the Ghetto Gate to go to Riga. So, many people, mainly the younger and independent ones, stopped going to work in the city and sought to hide themselves until the Riga issue passed.

We must add, however, that at this time in the Ghetto they had not yet constructed any special hiding places, “malinas,” as they were later called. The hiding places were then mostly primitive, for example, somewhere in a cellar, in an attic, in a stable, or in an uninhabited building, etc.

Those Jewish workers who worked in the city and managed to establish better relations with whichever German in the workplace, could arrange with the German to allow them to remain overnight somewhere in the workplace in order not to have to go to the Ghetto and be exposed to the danger of being captured for Riga.

Finally, the 6th of February 1942 arrived – the day when the Jewish ghetto administration had to collect the pre-selected persons for Riga. Considering that certain Jews would put up resistance against the unarmed Jewish Ghetto Police when they came to take them to Riga, the Jewish Police arrived in the evening accompanied by German guards from the Ghetto Guard to collect them.

[Page 93]

By nightfall, no movement was seen on the Ghetto streets. Furthermore, like every day, this evening the little ghetto houses were sunk in darkness. Jews who didn't even have any underlying suspicion of being included on the lists for Riga, were also sitting at home anxiously awaiting the inevitable events.

At around 9 o'clock in the evening, a bigger group of guarded N.S. K. K. people came into the Ghetto and they, together with the Jewish Ghetto Police, started going into the houses to collect the pre-selected persons.

But right from the start, it turned out that many of the identified persons were not in the houses, because they were in hiding. Those people, who were found at home – especially single girls and women, older men, etc., were taken into the building of a former small synagogue (on Velioner Street), which was set up as a collection point for the collected Jews.

The hysterical screams and cries were carried through the streets of the Ghetto, disseminating the terrible horror throughout that dark freezing night.

Those who strongly opposed and didn't want to go with the police, were aggressively dragged to the collection point.

For hours during that tragic night the orgy continued in the Ghetto. It was heartbreaking and horrible. After the police collected everyone according to the special lists, they didn't manage to get more than about 200 persons, the majority of whom were women, older and weak people.

Among the captured ghetto Jews there were many people of little means, so the Elders Council saw to it that they got some underwear, warm clothing, a little food, and a few dozen German Marks before departure. The unlucky Jews didn't even consider taking that little bit of help from the Elders Council and they didn't stop complaining about their tragic and bitter fate.

[Page 94]

In the dimly lit synagogue building, the people selected for Riga were collected and held. These unlucky ones were seated on the floor and with uneasy heart palpitations, they awaited their fate with uncertainty. The outstretched shadows on the abandoned walls of the synagogue made the entire tragedy even more horrific. It was a true picture of another Hitler-style forced Action over the Jews, who were, meanwhile, still allowed to live.

Around 3-4 o'clock at night, they brought together the entire group of Jews under a strong convoy of the Ghetto Guard and took them off to the train station.

When they arrived at the train, the bosses of the Ghetto, the City-Commissar Kramer and his “Jew-representative,” Jordan, were already waiting for them. They saw that first, instead of 500 Jews, as were ordered, there were not more than 180, and secondly, most Jews were made up of women and older weak men. So, they decided to send the entire transport back to the Ghetto and, without Jewish assistance, they themselves would collect the people for Riga from the Ghetto.

In the morning, it was unexpected for the Ghetto population to see the people who were transported to Riga being brought back to the Ghetto. Jews understood that today and tomorrow would be a dark time in the Ghetto, because it was more than certain that the recruitment would be conducted by the Germans themselves.

Those persons, who were brought back from the train station were allowed to enter the Ghetto freely. They immediately ran to hide themselves before anyone else, so that they shouldn't be able to find them a second time to take them to Riga.

In the morning the Jews who worked in the city did go out to work, as usual. Figuring out that something would happen in the Ghetto this day, this time there were many more people than before who went to work in the city, not wanting to remain in the Ghetto.

At around 11 o'clock in the morning, the Ghetto commandant, Jordan, appeared at the Elders Council and made a real scene there, accompanied by various rumblings, because the Elders Council showed themselves to be unskilled in organizing the recruitment. Thus, he delivered the following order:

[Page 95]

The entire adult population, which does not go out to the city to work and remains in the Ghetto, excluding the workers from the Ghetto workshops and the colleagues from all the Jewish Ghetto workshops, must appear at 12 o'clock noon at Democracy Square, where he alone would recruit the Jews for Riga.

The connection that Democracy Square conjured up because of the selections during the Actions, didn't bode well among the ghetto population.

Many ghetto Jews decided not to go to Democracy Square, and they hid themselves wherever they could, just not to be in the house when they came to check the houses for whoever remained. At the assembly place about 1000 men were collected, among them almost all colleagues from the Jewish ghetto administration, workers from the ghetto laundry, etc.

Jordan appeared at the site at around 1 o'clock, accompanied by a larger group of German guards, and he started the recruitment. Many employees from the Jewish ghetto system were found among the people who were selected for Riga, as well as older and weaker people who appeared on the Square, being certain that they would not be taken to Riga. During the selection, even Jordan failed to attain the full count of the required 500 persons.

The ones selected for Riga were immediately taken and chased out of the place to the train, accompanied by a strong guard. Those who were not able to keep up with the march to the train were murderously beaten by the accompanying guards. This all reminded the ghetto Jews of the tragic scenes during the infamous Actions that took place. It also strengthened their suspicions that the people are not being taken for work in Riga but are being taken somewhere to be exterminated. Therefore, the panic grew minute by minute.

Thereafter, as they transported the pre-selected party of Jews out of the Ghetto, inside the Ghetto, groups of German police spread out and started going through the houses to capture Jews.

Before that, those Jews who were away working in the city started to return to the Ghetto. Because the German police caught too few people in the houses, because of those who managed to find themselves a hiding place, the needed count of 500 Jews was not yet complete. It became clear that these remaining missing Jews would be taken from among those returning from work through the Ghetto Gate. And that was what happened.

[Page 96]

Of those Jews who returned from the city, some were taken at the Ghetto Gate and selected for Riga. This same selection was conducted by the Germans together with representatives from the Jewish ghetto administration. The panic and confusion of the Jews who were returning from work was great. Not to underestimate the shock of their family members, who didn't know the fate of those returning from work. In a few hours, the removal of the Jews took place directly from the Ghetto Gate and they were transported in columns to the train to Riga.

At 7-8 o'clock in the evening the storm in the Ghetto slowly quieted down. The families of those who were caught for Riga were terribly upset because of the misfortune which befell them.

Certain high Jewish ghetto officials, travelling with the Jews to the train, had the opportunity to free a few captured persons during the morning selection by Jordan. But then many people whose close family members were taken, started running to these Jewish ghetto functionaries, to get them to return their relatives from the train. This, however, did not help, and the transport with the exact number of 500 Kovno Ghetto Jews left for Riga.

The relocation Action to Riga was mainly conducted by the German themselves, and the last tally absolutely did not account for whether the hidden persons did or did not leave behind families in the Ghetto. Thus, this caused many families to be torn apart.

Many families then remained without a breadwinner when the husband or grown son was sent away to Riga. That is why the material situation of these families became pitiful. The little material help from the Jewish ghetto institutions was trivial according to the minimum requirements for existence. So, this relocation Action left behind long term after-effects on ghetto life.

[Page 97]

A short time later, a few messages arrived in the Ghetto from those Jews who were sent out, saying that they really found work in Riga. These regards impacted and calmed the Ghetto, because the suspicion that the people were taken somewhere for extermination finally fell apart.

Finally, it must be added that in the Spring of 1944, on the segment of the northern front, the Soviet offensive forced the Germans to “clear up” in Estonia and Latvia. Thus, from Latvia a specific number Kovno Ghetto Jews, who were dragged to Riga during the two relocation Actions in 1942, were brought to Ponevesh. In Ponevesh at that time a Jewish work camp was established to build the Aerodrome there.

Due to the approach of operations on the front in July, 1944, the Jews from Ponevesh were deported to Germany together with other Jews from the rest of the Jewish labor camps officially belonging to the “Kovno Concentration Camp.” There, they shared the fate of all the Jews dragged into the German camps.



Life in the Ghetto in the Period Between
the Two Relocation Actions to Riga

(February-October 1942)

- “Action” of books and holy books. - Partial stabilization of the situation in the Ghetto. - The problem of using the Jewish labor-force. - Large Ghetto Workshops. - Signs of intensification of social life. - The struggle between Kaspi-Serebrowitz and Liptzer about the management of ghetto life. - Remarks about Liptzer's role in the life of the Ghetto. - Problems of nutrition in the Ghetto. - Smuggling of food produce. - A few words about ghetto livelihoods. - Decrees and more decrees: a. clearing up of ghetto neighborhoods, b. prohibition of pregnancy, c. closing of religious schools and schools for young children d. establishment of a “no-money” economy, e. prohibition to import food produce, f. recruitment for labor camps.

[Page 98]

After all the Actions and decrees which had the underlying goal of physically annihilating the Jews, there came to the Ghetto an “Action” of books, holy books, and other published items.

It turns out that our murderers' intention was not just to kill, to defeat, and to annihilate us Jews, but at the same time also to decimate our cultural creations, our spiritual treasures, so that there would remain no trace or remnant of us.

According to a decree from the regime organization, all ghetto Jews had to hand over to the regime all religious books, secular books, and other published items in whichever language they might be, by the 18th of February 1942. As was always the Nazi style, this order was accompanied with much pressure for not obeying the decree punctually.

[Page 99]

When the Jews entered the Ghetto, almost everyone brought with them many of their books and holy books along with their possessions and household items. They thought that the book and the scroll would be the only spiritual nourishment for the brain behind the barbed wire. And that was really the way it was.

The decree announcing the relinquishing of all available books and holy books was not accepted with a light heart by the ghetto residents. For the ghetto Jew, the book was, for a while, the only means of removing from one's head the leaden thoughts of what was happening in the world. Many were served by the Public Ghetto Library, which existed in secret near the Synagogue Office[a] of the Elders Council.

Whoever had the possibility and character, took some of the books which were especially dear to him, and hid them. Others decided that it was better to burn the books rather than give them up to the hands of the Nazis.

At this opportunity it is necessary to add that during the Book Action some youths who belonged to the Zionist youth organization “Abetz”[b] succeeded in smuggling out a few thousand more important works, especially in Hebrew, from one of the collection points set up to deliver the books. A high functionary of the Jewish Ghetto Police, I. Grinberg[c] helped them. Later, the above-mentioned youth group established an illegal library of these books, which mainly served Zionist youth. Aside from that, other social groups hid huge numbers of books which had special interest for them.

Finally, tens of thousands of books and holy scriptures were requisitioned by the regime. Among the books that were given up were many valuable and rare works in various languages.

[Page 100]

As was known, the Third Reich employed the “Reich's operational staff person, Rozenburg” to “order” the looting of Jewish libraries, archives, museums, and other spiritual treasures. These had affiliates in all locations where there were larger Jewish communities before the occupation. In Kovno, there was also a division of Rozenberg's “operational staff” which, among other things, was involved in confiscating the books in the Ghetto. During the sorting of the collected books, ghetto Jews were also employed: Lemchen (liberated in Dachau), Kizel (died in the liquidation of the Ghetto), Gutman (shot in 1942 for smuggling food), etc.

The more valuable creations, mainly of a Judaic character, together with the most important works from the confiscated Jewish libraries, archives, and other Jewish documents and materials from this Nazi “scientific” institution were sent away somewhere in Germany. All the other stolen books and holy books were given over to a paper factory to make them into paper.

Discounting the few saved books and holy books, the Ghetto remained almost “book-free” after this “Action” and for the common ghetto Jew, a book became a dear treasure.

After the first accursed Action to Riga, the situation in the Ghetto became more stable. This change for the better was first characterized by no further mass Actions, during the period between the accursed Action to Riga, that is, from the beginning of February to the end of October 1942.

The truth is that during this time, dozens of Jews were killed by the Gestapo in individual ways. There were those who fell into their hands at various moments, usually by going out of the workplace to trade with the Christians for food products, or by other attempts to meet familiar Christians. However, as mentioned, these were individual cases.

In a certain sense “lenient” relations between the occupation forces and the Ghetto had, at this moment, caused an estimated rise in an economic sense, and a period of “prosperity” began in the Ghetto. This increase in economic well-being took place mainly due to the changes in transforming the work activities of the Ghetto.

[Page 101]

In the first days after the establishment of the Ghetto, when there were exactly 30,000 Jews in the Ghetto, the issue of properly ordering Jewish work duty was not known. The Jewish Labor Office, whose task was to satisfy the demands of the regime for Jewish labor, would carry out their functions with the help of the Jewish Ghetto Police, who would from time to time bring together, more correctly said, would capture, the necessary number of Jewish workers.

Later, due to the implementation of the mass murders, the Jewish ghetto population became smaller by almost half. Yet, the demands from the regime for Jewish workers increased. So, after some time, the Jewish Ghetto administration introduced a work-duty schedule for the Ghetto. The work duty consisted of men between the ages of 14 to 60 and women, from 15 to 45, and later, to 55 years[d].

Until that time, that is, starting from Autumn 1941 until the start of Spring 1942, most Jewish workers were utilized to work at the Kovno Aerodrome. The remaining Jews worked in various military workshops in the city.

At the start, mainly Soviet war prisoners were employed in the building of the Aerodrome. But already by the 21st of September 1941, for the first time, the Ghetto needed to provide 500 workers for work at the Aerodrome.

At this opportunity it is worth mentioning that on Erev Rosh Hashana 1941, when aerodrome soldiers came into the Ghetto at night to take Jews for the night shift, the Nazi murderers captured Jews at work and shot about 10 Jews near the Ghetto Gate for no reason.

From day to day the demand for Jewish aerodrome workers increased, since the largest portion of Soviet prisoners of war died due to the inhumane living conditions, and those remaining were transported elsewhere for work.

[Page 102]

The night before the Big Action, the number of Jewish workers at the Aerodrome each day was approximately 4000 persons. At the Aerodrome, the work continued around the clock in various work shifts each day.

Work at the Aerodrome was exceptionally difficult and punitive hard labor in dampness and cold, in open fields over a long workday (alongside prior Jewish hunger, abuse, and lack of minimum clothing and shoes). For the ghetto Jew, work at the Aerodrome meant a life of hunger. It was because Jews who worked there never encountered Christians with whom they could possibly exchange the remnants of their belongings for food products. Thus, for the ghetto Jew, working at the Aerodrome meant not having any possibility of staying close to the family, slaving hard, total exhaustion, and having to accept the hunger rations which the regime would deign to throw to the ghetto residents.

Going out to work at the Aerodrome was one of the harshest punishment strategies for various violations between Jew and Jew, according to the “legal code” of the Jewish ghetto administration. But even the regime institutions would typically send a Jew to work at the Aerodrome as a hardship punishment, for violating a “rule” of the occupation regime.

To compensate the Aerodrome worker for his especially difficult fate, the Elders Council, on their part, introduced various bonuses for the punctual aerodrome worker, i.e., for those who worked the entire 6-7 days a week. The weekly supplement of food would consist of 2 kilograms of bread, a few kilograms of potatoes, a few hundred grams of flour, etc.

In addition, the aerodrome workers at that time had a “privilege.” During the time when the Jews from the other work units would have to go through the Ghetto Gate where there was an inspection to confiscate illegal commerce in food products, the aerodrome workers could go through the Ghetto Gate without risk.

Truth be told, the inspection of the aerodrome workers wasn't strong, because they would come back from their work with empty hands, and the inspection for smuggled food was for naught.

[Page 103]

These “bonuses” and “privileges” affected the aerodrome workers very little, as their goal was: the faster they could finish with the aerodrome, the faster they could get a different work detail. The “Aerodromer,” which means a worker at the Aerodrome, was therefore a derogatory name and meant that they found themselves at the lowest level of the social ladder of the Ghetto. And even folk songs were created about the Aerodromers[e] lamenting their bitter fate.

The situation of the other ghetto Jews was not much better, as they worked in various smaller work brigades in the city. Here, in the city, the Jews encountered Christian workers with whom they worked. At these opportunities, they would exchange items for food products with the Christians, which they would bring back and smuggle into the Ghetto.

True, at the Ghetto Gate there was an inspection by the Ghetto Guards, to confiscate the products that the Jews would bring into the Ghetto illegally. Jews would take a risk by bribing the guards at the gate, so that while going through the Ghetto Gate they would conduct a superficial check or give back some confiscated products to the owner. An important role was played by these functionaries at the Ghetto Gate.[f]

At this opportunity it must be added that, over time, the Jews learned tricks to hide smaller amounts of products. Thus, many Jews would succeed in getting through the checkpoint in peace. At the time there were the following types of masquerades, for example: in a long, narrow sack they would fill up flour or grain and tie it around the body like a compress (this was really called: “making a compress”). Or, for example, in the leaden eating utensils, which were taken to work with them, there would be a double cover and in between the covers there was a space to put a piece of butter, bacon, cheese, meat, etc. These individual inventions would very often become true curiosities.

Aside from that, the price difference for foodstuffs between the Ghetto and the city was great. Thus, it was still worthwhile, as it was called, to “burn” at the checkpoint from time to time. That meant letting them confiscate a portion of the products. The loss of the products which were confiscated was covered by selling the products that got through.

[Page 104]

Thus, for the ghetto Jews, working in the city brigade was considered a privilege to secure a livelihood, to be able to afford to eat better, and to always have a few extra Marks.

The previously mentioned social contrasts between the aerodrome workers and the city brigade workers were visible, so that even by their external physical appearance and self-esteem, you could differentiate between Aerodromers and a worker in the city brigade.

At the time, the Aerodromers usually appeared torn and unraveled like a genuine pauper. They would look unfortunate, gloomy, and anxious, by comparison to the workers in the city brigade, who were better dressed and mostly made a satisfied and cheerful impression.

At the start of Winter 1941-42, the occupation regime in Lithuania started mobilizing Lithuanians - “in a good way” - for various border construction works and, also, for work in Germany.

Through various open and masked terror strategies, the occupation forces succeeded in collecting thousands of Lithuanians as “volunteers,” and send them to the Nazi “Reich service work.” In many city factories and other work places a phenomenon developed with a considerably exclusive composition of various factory specialists and assistants.

The pace of the war, especially those exhausted by the German winter battles, forced the German hinterland to work with full steam to be able to cover the needs of the poor fate of the Eastern front.

At that time, the Kovno City Commissar found himself slowly forced to use the Jewish craftsman forces, which were, until then, not proportionally used for their specialties, and who were mostly working out at the Aerodrome like common laborers. The reserve of the under-utilized Jewish craftsmen had to be urgently utilized in the city factories and work sites.

[Page 105]

For the Ghetto, this phenomenon had a double meaning: first, for the Jews, it strengthened their hope to remain alive; they need the Jews, right? And second, it aligned strongly with the economic needs of the Ghetto: by working in the city, Jews will be able to buy food products – one of the most important issues for the ghetto Jew, if he didn't get killed…

With the arrival of Spring 1942, the Kovno City Commissariat, the boss of the Ghetto, started allowing various military and civil workplaces to employ Jewish craftsmen and assistants more often. This shrank the Jewish work contingent at the Aerodrome, and because of this, the number of Jews working in the city places increased.

For those Jews who were removed from work at the Aerodrome and transferred to work in a city brigade, it meant a real transition from darkness to light. That meant that their economic situation strongly improved, and the question of livelihood became easier, as opposed to working at the Aerodrome.

In March 1942, an affiliate of the German Labor Office in Kovno was established in the Ghetto. The first step of the newly established German Labor Office was to introduce a general registration in the Ghetto. Many Jews, who were not even artisans, registered themselves as skilled laborers, with the belief that the chances of an artisan would eventually be better than an unqualified worker.

According to this registration, it turned out that there was a large reserve of under-utilized artisans in the Ghetto, and this made it possible for the German Labor Office to be generous and give employment possibilities to Jewish artisans in city workplaces.

[Page 106]

All the people from the German Labor Office in the Ghetto were designated to S.A. man, Captain Herman. He was not too big a Jew enemy. Aside from that, he would go on a spree with the frequent and fat Jewish “gifts.” (When the Ghetto was taken over by the S.S. in Autumn 1943, and converted into a concentration camp, this S.A. man, Herman, had to leave his warm bench in the Ghetto. However, he had the sense to extract a written document from Dr. Elkes, that the Ghetto didn't have any grievances against him. Thanks to this letter, after the Nazi capitulation, he saved himself from various unpleasant punishments in the American Zone in Germany, in connection with Nazification.)

Through the Elders Council, the newly established German Labor Office in the Ghetto appointed Dr. Itzhak Rabinovitz,[g] a well-known Kovno resident, and, by the way, a close relative of the famous, righteous Kovno Rabbi Itzhak-Elhanan, R.I.P.

Due to all these planned factors, the number of newly established Jewish work-brigades in the city increased. This meant that from week to week the economic status of new families was improving. Then the Ghetto slowly started to recover materially. Fewer ghetto Jews had no source of livelihood. This process of economic improvement took place in the Ghetto during the entire Summer of 1942.

In parallel to the growth of the Jewish work-brigade in the city, the noisy construction of ghetto workshops began. This took the place of the Jewish work at the Aerodrome.

The manner of development of the large Ghetto Workshops belonged to one of the most interesting and studied chapters in the history of the Kovno Ghetto settlement, and it would be worthwhile writing about it in a larger monographic work. At this juncture, it is worth telling only the most important details about these workshops.

The idea to establish special workshops in the Ghetto, where Jews would work on various orders of merchandise for the German Wehrmacht, was started at the end of 1941, when the Ghetto started to slowly recover after the Big Action in the Ghetto. The plan to establish these workshops came from the Jewish side, and it was accepted by the German ghetto bosses.

[Page 107]

The Jewish calculations were as follows: first, most ghetto Jews suffered terribly by the inhuman service of forced labor at the Aerodrome. The reader can get an impression about this slave labor in the previous chapter. Jews wanted to create easier work conditions in the Ghetto itself, which would be appropriate mainly for women, weaker men, youth, etc.

Secondly, by then, Jews had in mind that the existence of the ghetto workshops could, with time, raise the degree of the Jewish “usefulness” in the eyes of the occupation powers – a factor which, we must admit, was really justified in huge measure.

From the standpoint of the German Ghetto Governors, they were interested in the establishment of the Ghetto Workshops for the following reasons:

With the looting of Jewish belongings, which took place in Autumn of 1941, the City Commissariat, the boss of the Ghetto, aside from money, gold, and other valuables, also brought in large amounts of clothes, furs, footwear, etc. In addition, the City Commissariat would also get his “portion” of the items, shoes, etc., which were collected from the murdered Kovno and foreign Jews. The City Commissariat would store these items in various warehouses in the city, mainly in the buildings of the City Council House, in the former prayer houses, etc.

A Jewish work commando, called “the Jordan-Brigade” named after the big Jew murderer, Ghetto Commandant Jordan, worked on the organization and sorting of these items. The best Jewish tailors, Uncles Kirshner, Shuster, Yovelirer, Zeigermacher, etc., artisans in this brigade, worked on private orders for these officials of the City Commissariat and their families.

For various reasons, the Germans from the City Commissariat advised relocating these Jewish workshops into the Ghetto itself. In addition, they knew very well that they would gain large material use from the Jewish ghetto workshops. And this was how it really was; over time these workshops became an inexhaustible source of robbery, bribery, and other combinations.

[Page 108]

So, why at that time did the Jewish and German interest in establishing the Large Ghetto Workshops fall apart?

After long preparations by the Jews, various large spaces at Krisciukaicio Street 107 were remodeled. Here there was once a Lithuanian vocational school and in the Ghetto times, it was the biggest refuge for ghetto Jews without shelter. On the 18th of January 1942 the large Ghetto Workshops were finally opened.

In the beginning, only a few small workshops were established for tailors, and shoemakers, and then the Jewish workshops from the previously mentioned “Jordan-Brigade” were also brought over.

The Large Ghetto Workshops grew very quickly to a wide branched combination of various workshops, like, for example, tailor shops, shoemaker, knitting, hat and furrier shops, laundry, locksmith, carpentry, basketry shop, brush shop, and many other types of workshops. From the beginning a few hundred Jews, and later, three to four thousand Jews worked in two shifts: daytime and nighttime.

The work in the Ghetto Workshops was quite comfortable, like the work in the city, but here in the Ghetto Workshops where the Jews were assigned, no one, neither Germans nor non-Jewish supervisors, sat on your head.

In addition, while working in the Ghetto Workshops they would not have to deal with the long trip going to work in the city and back, day in and day out. Many city workplaces were located 4-5 kilometers from the Ghetto, if not further. Walking there and back was approximately 10 kilometers to travel daily across the city bridge in the rain, in the heat and in the cold, etc.

Working in the Ghetto Workshops, by the way, would lessen the exhaustive procedure and extremely high tension of going through the Ghetto Gate in the morning on the way to work, and at night through the checkpoint for the incoming foodstuffs. These were indeed the benefits of the Ghetto Workshops.

[Page 109]

The disadvantages were obvious in that the workers in the Ghetto Workshops didn't have any opportunity to procure foodstuffs for cheaper prices than what was available in the city. Therefore, in the Ghetto Workshops the only ones who could afford to work there were those of more means in the Ghetto. And that was the way it was from the beginning.

In addition to the genuine artisans, the Ghetto Workshops would take in such ghetto Jews who, because of their age or health status, were not assigned to a job in the city. Many older and weaker men and women and many grown youths worked there.

It was not so easy at that time for someone from a city workplace to get into the Ghetto Workshop. The Jewish Labor Office, which would always fill shortages of those interested in going to work in the hard and distant workplaces, especially at the Aerodrome, would control transfers from the city to the Ghetto Workshops very strictly.

The Ghetto Workshops played a great role in the life of the Ghetto. They were a meaningful factor in the structure of the Jewish work obligation. At the end of 1943, quartering took place in the Ghetto, that means, the separation of the Ghetto into separate Jewish work camps. In Spring of 1944, after the Action of the children, elderly and infirm, for a list of reasons, the role of the Ghetto Workshops grew even more. At that time the Ghetto Workshops were an important factor in sustaining the existence of the Ghetto community.

In 1943, the youth started the movement to get out to the partisans in the forest. With arms in their hands, they could go to fight against the Nazi enemy. So, in the Ghetto Workshops they would secretly steal German military uniforms and other items that were necessary for those going out into the forest.

To have control over the activities of the workshops, the City Commissar would have his officials there. A few of them were big monsters and the Jews would suffer greatly from them.

[Page 110]

In Autumn of 1943, when the Ghetto was transferred to the authority of the S.S.[h] the workshops stood on the edge of a crisis, because the new Camp Commander, Goecke, was set against the existence of the workshops from the beginning. Thereafter, when he “tasted the taste” of the workshops, he, too, became an advocate for their existence and designated his substitute, S. S. Captain Ring, as the supervisor of the large Ghetto Workshops.

From the beginning of the establishment of the Large Ghetto Workshops, G. Gemelitzki was involved. He was an old timer from the Economics Office of the Elders Council. But later, right after their establishment, the Elders Council set up Jewish management of the workshops, headed by M. Segalson.[i] Aside from him, the workshop activities were managed by the previously mentioned Gemelitzki, B. Fridman, Ch. Kagan (all the indicated persons were liberated in Dachau), H. Brick (saved himself in a ghetto bunker during the liquidation of the Ghetto), Y. Shwartz, Agr. Kelzon (both died in Dachau), etc.

Some specific people from the management of the Large Ghetto Workshops were as good as useless and set the tone for the other ghetto institutions, which were not free from favoritism, bribery, corruption, and other amoral and asocial impairments.[j] These workshops, as previously mentioned, played a very important role in ghetto life.

The Ghetto Pottery Shop, which until the Nazi occupation belonged to the Slabodka Jewish residents, the Michles brothers, was also formally attached to the Large Workshops. The potters' shop was located on Aldonos Street number 9.

[Page 111]

They started to work in the potter shop during the Summer of 1942, when the Large Ghetto Workshops were flourishing, and they opened a complete row of new divisions. Thereafter, the Ghetto mental institution, which from the beginning was quartered in the spaces of the potter shop, was transferred to another location, so the potter shop renewed its work.

Together with the former owners of the potter shop about 30 Jews in total were employed. In the potter shop they would manufacture various clay utensils, like bowls, pots, etc. The manufactured utensils would be exchanged among the residents of the Ghetto and later, in the Jewish camps which belong to the Ghetto. In addition, the potter's shop would manufacture drinking jugs, etc. ordered by the Nazi ghetto rulers.

The prior owners supervised the work of the potter shop, as well as a German ceramic artisan, George Hauer (by the way, he was not a bad German and later, for unknown reasons, he ended his life by committing suicide).

The potter shop existed until the liquidation of the Ghetto in July 1944. During the ghetto deportations, in a well-hidden bunker in the potter shop, a dozen Jews were successfully hidden and, a few weeks later, were saved after the liberation of Kovno by the Red Army.

In addition to the Large Ghetto Workshops, Small Ghetto Workshops also existed in the Ghetto. As noted, if the Large Ghetto Workshops were working for the needs of the German military institutions, the goal of the Small Ghetto Workshops was to serve the residents of the Ghetto and of the Jewish work camps which belonged to the Ghetto.[k]

The situation in the Ghetto became relatively more peaceful and the state of the ghetto residents improved. Various ghetto institutions were stabilized under the authority of the Elders Council. The Ghetto started showing signs of an anticipated social life.

[Page 112]

Socially active people from the old-time parties and administrations, especially from among the Jewish youth, started to take on leadership in the Ghetto. They organized secret social activities in homes with their ideological supporters.

On one side All sorts of Zionist groups started to display special activities, and on the other side from the left-leaning elements.

In the case of Zionism, whose ideal was to solve the ongoing Jewish diaspora problem, the ghetto Jew didn't need clarification what diaspora means! As well as with the Soviet Bund, the big and powerful kingdom, which carried on its shoulders the heaviest burden of destroying the murderous Hitlerism, the biggest blood-enemy of the ghetto Jew! On both sides, the social consciousness of groups of ghetto youth was strongly awakened.

The strategies of a few of the above-mentioned social groups were on the periphery and maintained the mood, through covert organizational activity, kept up by a sympathetic cheerful spirit, and a guardedness regarding the events in ghetto life.

The left-wing elements in the Ghetto not only managed to organize their supporters, but at the same time they tried to set up contact with the left-oriented elements in the city.

Little by little, specific contacts between the various social groups in the Ghetto started to be set up, with the aim of establishing coordinated activities on the part of all the socially active leaders. Later, from this same collaborative work of the disparate streams, the united movement of ghetto youth grew with the aim of escaping into the forest to the partisans, to line up as fighters against the Nazis.[l]

Later, when the building of “malinas” in the Ghetto became actualized, that is, bunkers, to hide oneself in the time of roundups and captures, these organized groups were the first active builders of malinas.


A warning not to come close to the Ghetto Fence


Benno Liptzer, one of the most important Jewish authority figures in the Ghetto


Left: Dr. von Renteln, General-Commissar of Lithuania,
Hans Kramer, Kovno City Commissar

Right: Lithuanian troops were sent over the borders of Lithuania to carry out
“special” assignments, Kaunas Newspaper, number 27, November 11, 1941

[Page 113]

Aside from this illegal organizational work among the youth, a partially legal cultural activity was started at that time in the Ghetto (of course, in very borderline measure), which was organized by the Shul Office by the Elders Council.

They opened a few public schools for the children of school age at that time. A vocational school with a few departments to learn a trade was opened for the older children. From time to time, they would also organize semi-legal lessons, recitations, cultural presentations, which would bring in a huge audience.[m]

Frequently, on Saturday and Sunday, a Jewish orchestra was organized in the Ghetto.[n] The orchestra gave concerts in one of the buildings of the once famous Slabodka Yeshiva, to which, aside from Jews, a representative from the City Commissariat and ghetto command also “deigned” to come.

For just a moment, there was the impression that a thin film was slowly covering up the open wounds of the ghetto population. But only for a second could the ghetto Jew forget his historically tragic fate. The Nazi regime in and around the Ghetto was ensuring that the Jews should feel their place is in the world wherever they turned.

In the Kovno Gestapo circles, for a specific time (from the beginning of the occupation until approximately Summer of 1942) a visible role was played by the Lithuanian Jewish young man Caspi-Serebrovitch. Already from the time of the Smetona control in Lithuania, this young man had a dark past behind him and during the Soviet regime in 1940-41, he was placed in jail together with many others who were arrested. He was liberated by the Germans when they entered Kovno.

[Page 114]

Due to his connection with the Gestapo, Caspi-Serebrovitch received the right to live in the city, ignoring the fact that he was a Jew. By the way, he was the only single Kovno Jew who enjoyed such an outstanding “privilege” from the Gestapo. In the Gestapo, Caspi was active as an official for Polish or other issues and in addition, was empowered by the Gestapo to supervise the Ghetto. Furthermore, he really showed an active interest in Jewish life in the Ghetto and would come to the Elders Council very often for guidance about the Jewish Ghetto Police.

Due to fear of his position with the Gestapo, the Elders Council agreed to all his wishes and opinions about various issues of ghetto life, especially in determining the higher functionaries of the Jewish ghetto hierarchy.

At this opportunity it would be interesting to add that Caspi stood close to the Revisionist movement in Lithuania before the war. He tried convincing his Gestapo bosses that the old-time Revisionist stream of Achimeir's “Against the Tide,” was an anti-English argument, and it sympathized with Hitler and his state. In this manner he wanted to establish more “security” and supervision in the Gestapo's eyes. By coincidence a package of letters got through, sent from the Kovno Ghetto to Vilna and fell into the hands of the Gestapo.[o] As the researcher of this issue, Caspi wanted to protect his Revisionist friends who sent the letter to Yosef Glazman in Vilna when their letters also fell into the hands of the Gestapo.

Caspi-Serebrovitch's influence on the Elders Council revealed the jealousy from another Jewish young man, Beno Liptzer, who, as already mentioned, was the Brigadier of the Jewish work brigade in the Kovno Gestapo. He also had special connections with high Gestapo people. Liptzer also tried his influence on the Elders Council.

The camp competition between the previously mentioned Jewish young man and Liptzer continued for a few months until the beginning of Summer 1942. Liptzer at last, using an opportune situation against Serebrovitch, achieved his goal. For specific reasons, Caspi-Serebrovitch fell out of favor with his Gestapo bosses, and they killed him and his family on the way from a mock assignment to Vilna. Liptzer then became empowered by the Gestapo to oversee the activities of the Elders Council and their institutions.

[Page 115]

Before the war, Liptzer was a salesman for the Kovno radio company. He was a person in his 40's, almost without education, and only with a strongly developed ambition for power. In the Ghetto he always loved to allow people to feel his power status and would speak with the tone of a high “lord.” Thanks to his close connections with specific Gestapo big shots, he became the uncrowned Jewish “dictator” of the Kovno Ghetto population.

In truth, we must also add that dozens of Jews who during various situations fell into the Gestapo, were saved from certain death due to Liptzer's familiarity with the then representative of Jewish issues in the Gestapo, the hideous Jewish murderer Shtitz,[p] who he would “grease” with great amounts of bribes.

There were also cases, however, when Liptzer would allow himself to save the life of one arrested Jew instead of another one. This was because very often the Gestapo was only interested that a Jew be killed - and it was not important which one.

In any case, Liptzer's influence in the Gestapo circles very strongly impressed the ghetto Jew, legally or protectively, especially the brow-beaten “folk” person from the Ghetto. There were dozens of stories and legends about how Liptzer saved Jews from death at the very last minute before being transported to the 9th Fort to be shot. These stories circulated among the ghetto folk and his high esteem and popularity in the Ghetto grew very strongly.

Indeed, with his demagogic appearances in favor of the simple folk, he very quickly gained their sympathy. He would take on laments and requests from the Jews about past injustices by the Ghetto institutions and would give appropriate orders to the indicated institutions, which would carry out his decisions punctually, just like an order from the regime.

[Page 116]

Going to complain to Liptzer was a threat not only for a lowly official from a ghetto institution, but also for the leading functionaries from the Jewish ghetto administration.

In November 1943, when the Ghetto was converted into a concentration camp and S.S. Captain Goecke, was designated as Camp Commander, Liptzer's star started to decline. His esteem sank even more, when his work brigade stopped going to work in the city at the Gestapo because in the Ghetto itself workshops were organized especially for the Gestapo workers. His contact with the Gestapo was thus made more difficult and his influence in the Ghetto became greatly reduced.

Liptzer played a very suspicious role during the time of the arrest of the Ghetto Police, which took place at the end of March 1944, and at the same time during the Action of the children, elders and infirm.[q]

After the liquidation of the Elders Council in Spring of 1944, Liptzer, became Chief of the “Service workers.”[r] These Service Workers had to replace the liquidated Jewish Ghetto Police, and his star started to lose its shine again. His newly acquired influence held on until the deportation and liquidation of the Ghetto.

At the time of the liquidation of the Ghetto, Liptzer hid himself in one of the ghetto-malinas. His hideout was uncovered by the Gestapo, and they forced the people to climb out. Prior to that, Liptzer managed to take poison, but it didn't take effect. Liptzer wanted to go with the deported Jews, but the Camp Commander, Goecke, was searching for him for a few days, while he hid out in the malina. The Gestapo had their eye on him because he knew too many “secrets of the court.” They didn't allow him to go with the deported Jews. The next morning, Liptzer was shot and, as witnesses recounted, was thrown into the flames of the burning Jewish hospital while still alive, where he was burned together with other murdered ghetto Jews.[s]

[Page 117]

Chaim Matematik, a co-worker from his brigade was also shot, together with Liptzer. This young man would hear secret foreign radio news in the Gestapo, which he would relay to the Ghetto.

Although Liptzer's connections in the Gestapo remained unclear, it is almost sure that he played a very suspicious role regarding the Ghetto. It was particularly clear to see his provocative double role at the arrest of the Jewish Ghetto Police. It was also almost certain that he “contributed” to the liquidation of the Elders Council.

The fact that he was in contact with the sophisticated Gestapo Jew murderer, Kittel, the tragically infamous liquidator of the Vilna and Kovno Ghettos, testifies that in the last critical period of the Ghetto, Liptzer, maybe against his will, brought many problems into the Ghetto.

As seen, Liptzer played a colossal role in the peculiar service of life in the Ghetto and, he and his name are tightly bound with the most important events in the Kovno Ghetto community.

As was told many times, one of the most important existential questions of the Ghetto was the problem of nourishment. The largest portion of food products which the Ghetto needed, was brought in by the workers of the city brigades.

The fear of hunger prodded the Ghetto Jews to take risky steps to procure food. As usual, they removed the yellow patches and “posed as non-Jews.” They would circulate among the Christians at the workplace, from whom they would be able to buy something.

More than a few Jews at this time fell into the hands of the Lithuanian police, who would immediately extradite the “guilty” directly to the Gestapo. For such “sins” the Gestapo would send them to the 9th Fort.

Furthermore, in cases of catching a Jew in the city, the old-time horrific Gestapo murderer Shtitz, the one in charge of Jewish issues, would immediately shoot not only the perpetrator, but his entire family at the same time. In this manner, dozens of Jews together with their families paid with their lives for the attempt to acquire a piece of bread and something with the bread, for themselves and for their children.

[Page 118]

For those ghetto Jews who were taken to work for a day or two somewhere in the provinces, it was a great stroke of luck. By the way, this was the best opportunity to acquire food for cheaper prices, and with less risk of capture by the Gestapo. In such cases, those traveling to the provinces would be greatly envied. Many ghetto Jews would wish to have this right to be able to travel in the province, at least once, as was said in the Ghetto, to “make a good package,” which meant, to be able to buy food products for lower prices.

In the Summer of 1942, they also started taking Jewish women and youth to work in the gardens and fields in the big homes around Kovno. For the Ghetto, this was again a double opportunity: first, the possibility to steal vegetables, grain, and second, to buy various food products from the peasants nearby.

During the time of the existence of the agricultural work brigades, the Ghetto had enough vegetables to satisfy their appetite.

When the German military or agricultural organizations would take Jewish women to pick potatoes, vegetables, etc., or they would require Jewish workers to load grain, and other food products, in these cases the Jews, with or without the approval of their supervisors, would also steal some potatoes, vegetables, grains, etc., for themselves.

If a Jew was caught in such a “violation” he would be beaten murderously, and very often would be given over to the Gestapo. It was worthwhile to “organize” something, as such work was called in the Ghetto and in the concentration camp. They would bring full backpacks into the Ghetto and there was enormous happiness.

The smuggling of food products through the Ghetto Gate also played a specific role in nourishment. In the Ghetto there were special gate managers who had connections with the city merchants, who would set them up with various food products in greater amounts. Of course, in such a business there were also specific guards spread out around the Ghetto Gate, which without their agreement, this kind of smuggling would not be possible.

[Page 119]

The gate managers would sell the food products to illegal food stores in the Ghetto for resale. The competition between the gate managers themselves actually regulated the prices of the food products on the “ghetto market.”

Very often, it would happen that upon bringing larger amounts of food products into the Ghetto, the difference between the prices of these products in the city and in the Ghetto were so minimal, it was simply not worthwhile purchasing such products in the city.

Therefore, it would be better for Jews, to buy such products inside the Ghetto, even paying a bit more for it. In this way they would minimize the danger of harm when the inspection at the Ghetto Gate would eventually confiscate some of the purchased food products from the city.

For a while, the Jewish Ghetto Police even attempted to establish regulated prices for the food products in the ghetto shops, so that they would not tear the ghetto residents apart.

The gate managers were the best situated Jews in the Ghetto. The majority were bold and cunning youth, and they would be stuffed with thousands of Marks.

The truth is that more than a few of them paid with their lives if they fell into the hands of the Gestapo in cases when there was a failure. The biggest earners among the gate managers would not stop the other gate managers from earning a living, which played a very important role in feeding the Ghetto.

There were various ways for the ghetto Jews to make a living. A large portion of workers made a living from the better city brigades. A smaller number of workers made a living from the good workplaces at the Aerodrome. Details of the best ways to make a living: First, on the way to work they would bring products with them to the workplace, various clothes, shoes, underwear, etc., to sell for money or exchange for food or things which were still found in the Jewish network. Second, on the way back from work they would bring food products into the Ghetto, a portion of which they would use for themselves, and the rest they would sell to other Jews for prices which would obviously make a profit.

[Page 120]

In this way the workers who were in the better jobs would, on a given day, have double earnings: once in the city upon selling the items, and a second time in the Ghetto, by selling the food products.

In the Ghetto there were also special middlemen, who dealt with supplying various items to the workers from the workplaces to sell in the city. They would buy these items from various ghetto Jews, who could not go into the city to work themselves. There were also middlemen in the Ghetto who sold the food products which were brought into the Ghetto. Both types of middlemen also had a way of making a living.

We must not forget about the issue of clothing and that the clothes of the Jews deported from the Actions were usually transferred to their relatives, or to their neighbors, and often even to unfamiliar people. A portion of these clothes would also be transferred to the network of social offices, to distribute to ghetto Jews who were without means.[t] At that time, there were sixteen thousand Jews in the Ghetto, who, in fact, earned money from the clothes which belonged to the nearly thirty thousand Jews who entered the Ghetto in August 1941.

The truth is that the better Jewish clothes were robbed during the big house searches, which took place in Fall of 1941. But even the simple clothes had a value in the city. The Christian population in the city and especially in the villages eagerly purchased even the used Jewish clothes. Because, first, new things were then very difficult to get, and second, the Jews would give away their very good clothes for small amounts of food products.

The craftsmen, for example, a tailor, a shoemaker, etc. at that time, when they were free from their work duty, would make private orders in their homes, either for the ghetto Jews or to sell in the city. In this way these craftsmen earned well.

There were also Jews who took advantage of the dearth of items, such as women's kerchiefs, shirts, hats, etc., among the Christian population in the villages.

[Page 121]

Thus, in the Ghetto, an “industry” was developed which would produce these items. In this Ghetto production more people were pulled in. Some of them would occupy themselves by going around the Ghetto homes buying up used sheets, pillowcases, linen, etc. and others would occupy themselves with decorating these fabrics, by painting ornaments on the various kerchiefs, so it should look as if it was manufactured in a factory, etc.

In the Ghetto, Jews would also produce baked goods, poppy cakes, etc., sweets to sell in the city. Dozens of Jewish families made their wretched ghetto livelihood, from such “illegal” businesses. In addition, in this way they could spite their bloody enemies to survive all the horrors and survive the defeat of the Nazis, at any price.

During the intermediary time between both abusive Actions to Riga, the Nazis didn't forget to “favor” the Ghetto with an entire new list of decrees and little decrees, which had a serious impact on the life of the Ghetto. We will note only the most important ones.

The Ghetto population was often hit with decrees to clear out Ghetto quarters. Because living space for the ghetto Jews was minimal, even after the clearing out the Large Ghetto, one can understand how great the crowdedness in the Ghetto would become with another decree to clear out specific ghetto areas.

During extremely freezing temperatures, like the freezing weather of those days in the middle of January 1942, suddenly the ghetto Commandant, Jordan gave the Elders Council an order to clear out quite a huge ghetto quarter. Within a time-period of just a few hours, this Vienazshinski area of the Ghetto had to be vacated. Jordan's “motive” was - on this same day 5,000 Jews from Vienna would come to live in the houses in the cleared-out areas.

The Ghetto area was cleared up in the required time, but no Viennese Jews came to the Kovno Ghetto. At first, we thought the whole story about the Viennese Jews was just an “excuse” to clear out the Ghetto area, or Viennese Jews actually came, but instead of bringing them into the Ghetto, they took them to the 9th Fort. It turned out that a group of Viennese Jews were, indeed, brought to the Riga Ghetto. It was originally planned to bring them to the Kovno Ghetto, but at the last moment they transported them to Riga.

[Page 122]

Later, this specific area in the Ghetto was reinstated and in the beginning of October 1942 it was once again taken out of the Ghetto domain - this time for good.

A second ghetto quarter clear-out took place in May 1942, when Paneriu Street was cleared out. Also, the remainder of the Jewish houses which were located on the side with the odd numbers, and all the Jewish houses from the neighboring little streets were all cleared out.

On the 7th of May 1942 the regime announced an order to the ghetto population, which forbade any Jewish woman to be pregnant. For breaking this specific rule, the death penalty was expected for the pregnant woman and for the child.

The dreadful experiences due to the Actions, the daily decrees, and, in addition, also malnutrition caused atrophy and worsening of life for the ghetto population. For example, young men became impotent and young women lost their menses.

At the end of 1941, the wave of mass murders quieted down and in Spring and Summer of 1942 the economic situation in the Ghetto was somewhat better than before. Thus, the horrible life of the ghetto population returned in stages to its more- or- less normal character.

Many women became pregnant, but they each explained it with the same reasons. Since they did not have their menstruation, they themselves didn't know they were pregnant in the early months. In this regard, menstruation was a dependable source in the earlier ghetto times.

Regarding the rule about forbidding pregnancies in the Ghetto, the Jewish Health Office sent nurses and midwives around to the Jewish houses. They demanded that young women who didn't menstruate come to the Ghetto clinic for an examination, to know if this specific symptom was not connected to pregnancy.

[Page 123]

If it was determined that these women were certainly pregnant, they had to have an abortion. Among the pregnant women who were in their later months, they tried to cause early births. These women would not show themselves on the street, so that they would not be noticed by the Germans, and the births would take place in their homes and not in the hospital.

The new-born children would in such a case be registered in the Statistics Office of the Ghetto with a date from before the rule, so that they would be “legal.”

Therefore, performing abortions in the Ghetto was not only lawfully allowed, but, even more - it became obligatory.

The Nazi bosses in the Ghetto wouldn't rest knowing that in prayer houses in the Ghetto, Jews were conducting religious prayers to the Jewish God. Also, they couldn't understand why Jewish children, who would sooner or later be killed, should study in the children's schools.

To regulate these issues in the Ghetto, a law was announced on the 26th of August 1942 from the powers, to lock all the prayer houses and prohibit Jews from holding religious prayer in public. In truth, the Jews continued to pray in the homes in Minyans, as always, but the power organs were not supposed to know. At the same time, the children's schools were locked up.[u]

A ghetto Jew must not have any money, was a rule the entire time since the Nazis robbed the Jews of all their possessions.

The Elders Council oversaw an entire list of institutions, which would take various fees from the population, such as in the food stores, where the Ghetto population gave out the official food rationing, in the Ghetto Gardens, pharmacy, hospital, Small Ghetto workshops, etc. They had to pay the price officially determined by the Workshop Office of the Elders Council.

[Page 124]

From these payments, the Elders Council would have quite a large revenue, which they would utilize at their own discretion.

In the month of August 1942, the previous ghetto boss, Von Keppen appeared at the Elders Council quite unexpectedly. He confiscated the treasury box of the Elders Council which contained the sum of 30 thousand Marks. Other than that, it was strongly forbidden for the Jewish ghetto administration to take any payment money.

From then on, in the Ghetto a “non-monied” economy was introduced. That is, all the needs of the ghetto Jew, like nursing, medicine, clothing, etc. had to be satisfied without any reward. However, illegal payments for all these things remained as it was before.

To end the illegal smuggling of food products in the Ghetto, the Gestapo announced that starting from the 26th of August 1942 it would be completely forbidden to bring rationed food products (and almost all food products were then rationed) into the Ghetto.

Since these orders were announced 4-5 days earlier, Jews wanted to take advantage of the time to prepare a small reserve of food products, so that they should not have to be dependent on the official hunger rations in the future.

Just during these days, hundreds of men and women who were working in the Ghetto Workshops, or in the ghetto institutions, or those who were freed from work due to their age or health condition, would come to the Ghetto Gate in the morning to go along into the city with a work brigade and buy some food products there.

In those days around six to seven thousand Jews would line up by the Ghetto Gate, together with the permanent city workers and, with all their strength, would fight to get into a better city brigade, where they could have more favorable conditions to procure food products. The noise and the hurly-burly near the Ghetto Gate were like at a gigantic holiday market.

The prohibition against bringing in food products to the Ghetto held for a short time. But, from day to day the actual harshness of the prohibition became weakened and quickly the Jews continued to bring in vital sustenance, illegally, just like before.

[Page 125]

One time, in the Summer of 1942, the Ghetto had to give up a specific number of Jews to the work camp in Palemon (a railroad station near Kovno), where various foreign workers were dragged in and worked at hard labor.

The recruitment for the Palemon work camp was conducted by the Jewish institutions, and it took place with all the well-known sad accompanying phenomena like coercion, crying, wails, and helplessness coming from those who were assigned to travel out there.

One of the transports to Palemon left on the first day of Rosh Hashana 1942, giving the Ghetto a true “holiday.”

At the end of the Summer, rumors were circulating around the Ghetto that the regime was going to demand people for work in Riga for a second time. Finally, it became clear that there was such an order. The Ghetto suddenly forgot the day to day worries and started “living” with this standing decree, and there was nothing to stop it.


Original footnotes:

  1. See  “School Office” in the Monograph “Jewish institutions in Kovno Ghetto.” Return
  2. See  “Zionist activities in the Ghetto” Return
  3. See “People who were involved with the partisan movement in the Ghetto” Return
  4. Details about the question of forced labor -see Chapter “Work Office” in the Monograph “Jewish Institutions in the Kovno Ghetto.” Return
  5. See “Samples of Folklore in Kovno Ghetto” Return
  6. See “Labor Office” in the Monograph: “Jewish Institutions in the Kovno Ghetto.” Return
  7. For particulars about him, see “Work Office” in Monograph, “Jewish Institutions in Kovno Ghetto.” Return
  8. See, Chapter-Cut off: “Fight between S.A. and S.S. for leadership in the Ghetto” and “S.S. – the new ghetto bosses.” Return
  9. By the way, he played a big role in ghetto life, when the Ghetto was under the authority of S.S. Captain Goecke. Return
  10. For more about these specific issues – see the Monograph: “Jewish Institutions in Kovno Ghetto” Return
  11. About the Small Ghetto workshops: see “Workshop Office” in Monograph “Jewish Institutions in the Kovno ghetto.” Return
  12. Details about this issue – in the later chapters. Return
  13. See “Shul Office” Return
  14. See “Police orchestra” in Monograph: “Jewish Institutions in the Kovno Ghetto” Return
  15. See “Failure of the illegal letter connection between Kovno and other Ghettos” in Monograph: “Jewish Institutions in Kovno Ghetto”. Return
  16. In the Summer of 1943, Jewish partisans conducted an attack against Stitz near Vilna, from which he died a few days later Return
  17. See Action of the Children, Elders and Infirm Return
  18. See Capital-segment “Establishment of the Service-workers” Return
  19. See “Deportation and Liquidation of the Ghetto.” Return
  20. See “Social Office” in the Monograph “Jewish institutions in the Kovno Ghetto” Return
  21. See “School Office” in the Monograph: “Jewish Institutions in the Kovno Ghetto.” Return


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