|- Founding of the Economics Office -Appointments and activities of the Economics Office and its functions at organizing economic life.
It would be worthwhile to say at least a few words about some ghetto offices which not only have their story, but also their history.
Already in July 1941, the newly created Jewish Committee started organizing the relocation into the Ghetto. As we know, the Committee created various commissions which had to deal with housing, transportation, judicial and social help, etc. In addition to all the other problems after the locking of the Ghetto, a full list of issues of an economic nature developed.
From the beginning, Jews had to build and organize everything in the Ghetto. Thanks to Jewish initiative it only took a short time to create various economic institutions which had important significance for public life of the ghetto population. It was necessary to coordinate the activities of the newly established economic institutions very quickly. To this aim, a special office was established in the Elders Council which was tasked with organizing economic issues.
This Economic Office, like every other ghetto office, completed quite a huge path of development, until it became a self-sustaining, widely branched ghetto institution. To carry out its economic functions, the Economic Office oversaw the following appointments and activities:
Small Ghetto Workshops
The Small Ghetto Workshops belonged to the Elders ghetto institutions. They were founded earlier than the Large Ghetto Workshops.
Furthermore, because of the shortage in housing during this period of relocation to the Ghetto, the destitute ghetto population was set up in communal dormitories, that is, in larger community buildings. Thus, arose the necessity to create a division to carry out smaller renovations in the communal dormitories.
After a while, the sphere of activity of these small renovation workshops grew mainly because they also had to carry out renovations in private apartments. The first most important work of the renovation workshop was to bring order to the clean-up of the Large Ghetto Workshops.
After the Big Action, large amounts of clothes from the transported Jews were sent over to the authority of the Social Office. There they were distributed to the distressed Aerodrome workers. The renovation workshop was then requested to set up workshops for tailoring, shoemaking, furrier, etc. Thereafter, in stages there arose a combination of smaller workshops in which they worked for the needs of the ghetto population.
To get the needed material for the Small Ghetto Workshops, like leather, fabric, etc., from time to time, the City Commissariat would throw random goods out to the Jews, which were designated for the civilian population in the city. The problem, however, was that most of the better materials were claimed by the higher Jewish ghetto officers for their own aims, and thus, only the crumbs remained for the rest of the Jews. Large swaths of the ghetto population had strong and justified complaints about this custom.
When the Ghetto was converted into a concentration camp, the Small Ghetto Workshops were transferred to the authority of the Camp Command. But even then, they mainly worked for the needs of the Ghetto and the neighboring labor camps, and partially also for the orders of the command itself.
At the head of the Small Ghetto Workshops was Lurie (died in Dachau); his colleagues were D. Trener (liberated in Dachau); Varantz (died in Dachau); Srebnitzki (died going out into the city); and others.
The renovation workshops were led by: Bunim, Engineer F. Goldschmidt (both survived in a ghetto hideout); Segalovski (died in Dachau), and others.
The Transportation Division had under its authority 10-15 horses and served the transport needs of the various institutions, enterprises, and workshops.
The people in the Ghetto looked dark and depressed, and even the horses didn't give a better impression, so to speak, of the entire transportation capability. It was difficult to imagine how such skinny shapes carried fully laden wagons with their last energies over the unpaved sandy little streets. In this same ghetto picture, we saw how the fearfully degraded level of the ghetto Jews' lives played out.
The Transportation Office would also carry out sanitation works. Since movement was forbidden at night, they would carry out this work during the day. This work would pollute the air even more in the already tight and thickly populated ghetto streets.
The wagon drivers of the Transportation Division played a certain role in helping smuggle food products into the Ghetto. When the movement arose to give up the children to Christians, many children were transported out of the Ghetto with the help of the Jewish wagon drivers.
Active in the Transport Division were: Nayvidl (liberated in Dachau); Rabinovich (liberated in Dachau); M. Bramson (died in Dachau), and others.
The Electric Division organized the use of the flow of electricity. The Jewish population could only use electric lights during approved hours of the day, at night, and in the morning.
Since there was always a shortage of wood in the Ghetto, and in addition, many families lived in one room, not everyone could use the electricity at the same time, as there was only one lead oven or plate on which to cook a little bit of food. People were therefore forced to use the electric current for cooking.
As we know, all electric appliances were confiscated during the robbery of Jewish possessions. Ghetto Jews figured out that in lime pots they could install simple iron nails or metal teaspoons, forks to which they could tie up an electric current and they would get a full electric appliance. True, from such ghetto cookers the tea or the food would be full of iron rust and other poisons from the metal items, which would slowly melt off the electric current. However, the ghetto population didn't have any other option.
Due to the use of such primitively made electric equipment, the strong current soon became overloaded. Therefore, the light from electric bulbs would shine so weakly that very often they couldn't even see the lamp itself. In addition, the transformers were spoiled, and entire quarters would remain in darkness for a long time until they could fix the electric network.
In the battle against the overload of the electric current, the Electric Division would come to check the homes and confiscate the electric cooking utensils. In ghetto life, even rulings on this topic did not have any integrity. After a while, the privileged strata would freely use the electric current, but the simple ghetto Jew had their cookers confiscated, thus taking away the possibility of enjoying the comfort of cooking.
Those active in the Electric Division were Dr. Razin (died in Dachau); as a worker there were: R. Segal (liberated in Dachau); Balkin (died in Ghetto during the liquidation); Indursky (liberated in Dachau); Milshtein (taken to Estonia and from there to Dachau, where he was liberated), and others.
At the start, in July-August 1941, approximately 30,000 Kovno Jews went over to live in the Ghetto. At that time, there was no bath, nor any other public sanitary facilities, like water supply, plumbing, etc. The extreme crowding in the apartments and, in addition, the fact that Jews were forced to work not only the most arduous, but also the dirtiest work, very strongly raised the question of building a public bath and a delousing facility[d] in the Ghetto.
On the eve of Spring, 1942, with great effort, the Jews themselves built a bath, which the ghetto population could use a few days per week. The bath fully contributed to maintaining the sanitary hygienic condition in the Ghetto - at least at a minimum level.
At this opportunity it is worth mentioning that when all the ghetto houses were blown up and burned during the liquidation, for some unexplained reason, the building with the ghetto bath remained undisturbed and a few Jews survived in a hideout which was set up in the bath house.
The bath house was managed by: Epstein (saved himself during the ghetto deportation) and others.
Pharmacy and Laboratory
Thanks to Jewish efforts, a pharmacy was established where you could get various medicines- for money.
From time to time, the Pharmacy would receive a portion of more simple medicines in the city at official prices. The expensive ones would have to be purchased at speculators' prices in an illegal way.
Through the mediation of the Social Office, the poor ghetto Jews would receive medicines for free.
Also, on the topic of receiving medicines, this is when the principle of protectionism started: the better medicines would be accessible mainly for the ghetto big shots, but for an ordinary human it was not easy to get foreign medicines.
Aside from a pharmacy, there also existed a laboratory to conduct various medical analyses. This Laboratory was used both by the hospital, as well as by the general ghetto population.
The Pharmacy was run by: Srebnitzki (killed by the Gestapo as he was hiding in the city); the laboratory by Dr. Schmidt (liberated in Dachau). Those working in the Pharmacy were: Levin (killed during the ghetto deportation); Segalson (freed in Dachau); Mrs. Kadushin (saved herself in the country), and others.
The Ghetto Laundry was established with the aim of serving the population by washing laundry. In this laundry a few dozen Jewish women were employed.
It was declared, formally, that the ghetto population could freely make use of this laundry. However, this ghetto facility was mainly used by the higher office functionaries of the Jewish ghetto administration.
It would take four or five weeks until an ordinary ghetto Jew could pick up the little bit of laundry that he gave in to wash. The fact was that these Jews did not have many clothes, therefore, they couldn't afford such a long wait. Therefore, the laundry had no practical value for most of the ghetto Jews.
Later, when a larger number of Jews were relocated to work camps where there was great difficulty with clothes washing, the camp Jews started to use the Ghetto Laundry.
Seletzky (died during the ghetto liquidation) and others were involved in the Laundry.
In order to raise some vegetables for the ghetto population, the Economics Office acquired about 25 hectares for gardens under its authority. The gardens were located inside the domain of the Ghetto and were worked by skilled women.
The Ghetto Gardens were worked very carefully. The City Commissariat, under whose authority the Ghetto found itself until Autumn, 1943, even found it necessary to organize modern inspections in the Ghetto Gardens. This was to ensure that the higher officials of the City Commissariat would have vegetables from the Ghetto Greenhouse for a full year.
Once again, during the distribution of vegetables from the garden, the higher ups in the offices of the ghetto unit were the privileged ones. The simple Jews would have little benefit from the gardens.
Aside from the communal gardens, some ghetto Jews made individual efforts to use the empty pieces of land around their home to plant some vegetables. A well-supervised garden would have great significance from the perspective of nutrition. By the way, it is necessary to remember that at first the planting of private gardens was deemed obligatory by the Jewish ghetto administration to ease the problem of food.
So that no one would steal vegetables from the gardens during the summertime, a special Jewish guard would protect the gardens around the clock. Later, they organized a youth organization in the Ghetto called ESHL,[e] to protect the gardens.
The Ghetto Gardens were overseen by: Agronomist Kelzon[f]; Agronomist Gershovitch (liberated in Dachau); Krom (saved himself with Christian friends in the country); Mudrik (liberated in Dachau); Vilenski (died in a concentration camp in Estonia), and others.
Cemetery and Burial Society
Between the end of July and the beginning of August 1941, after the largest portion of Kovno Jews transferred over to the Ghetto, the question arose of creating a place in the ghetto domain for a cemetery, and at the same time of founding a Burial Society.
Except for the normal cases of death, at that time many Jews fell victim to the Nazi murderers or the Lithuanian partisans who would shoot people without any motive, day in and day out. The number of Jewish dead was especially high during the robbery of Jewish property. Thus, the Burial Society had plenty of work.
At the end of 1941, the huge wave of extermination Actions passed, after which more than half of the ghetto population was killed, mainly the old and physically weak people. At that time, a younger and healthier element remained in the Ghetto. In addition, as we know, material life became comparatively easier than in the earlier times. Because of that, the death count was comparatively low.
By the way, it is necessary to add that thanks to Jewish efforts, no large-scale epidemic illnesses came to the Ghetto. Jews knew very well that an outbreak of an epidemic would be an existential danger to the life of the Ghetto. In such cases, the Nazis were skilled at exterminating both the sick as well as the healthy people.
During the three-year existence of the Ghetto there were about 700-800 Jews interred to their eternal rest in the Cemetery. According to a decree by the regime after the liberation of Kovno by the Red Army, German POW's dug open a few larger mass graves in the Ghetto cemetery where bones of those holy souls killed during the liquidation of the Ghetto were buried. The largest portion of dead people, however, remained lying under the ruins of the blown up and burned ghetto houses.
The Burial Society didn't have in its authority any cart to transport the dead to their grave. Therefore, they would have to carry the dead in the coffin themselves from the house to the Cemetery. Jewish life looked lonely and depressed in the Ghetto, and even more pitiful was the look of a Jewish funeral the Ghetto.
At this opportunity it is worth mentioning that in Kovno, just before Spring, 1946 there was an extraordinarily large flood where many people died. The Vilya River, which flooded huge areas of Slabodka also completely disturbed the former Ghetto Cemetery. The flood at that time also drowned a children's home in Slabodka and many Christian children died. Since this happened on the 28th of March, the Catholic priests in their churches declared that the flood was a punishment from God for the murdered Jewish children.
Those active in the Burial Society were: Dvoretsky (died in a ghetto hideout); Kantorovich (died in Dachau); Kaplan (liberated in Dachau), and others.
|- Official provisions for the ghetto population. - Institutions of the Provisions Office.
The job of the Provisions Office was to organize the distribution of the official provisions that were decided upon for the ghetto population by the occupation regime.
To give an idea about the hunger-nourishment which the Nazi regime established for the ghetto Jews, we submit the following numbers referring to ghetto rations, decided upon by the Kovno City Commissariat in the Summer of 1942:
Amount of food products per person per week:
a. Bread… 700 grams b. Meat… 125 grams c. Flour… 122.5 grams d. Coffee/tea substitutes… 75 grams e. Salt… 50 grams
For the working population additional food was also anticipated, which consisted of the following amounts of products (also per person per week)
Bread…… 700 grams Meat… 125 grams Fat/oil… 20 grams
Aside from that, they would, sometimes, distribute to each ghetto resident a few kilograms of potatoes, mostly rotten, and in the wintertime, frozen ones.
These numbers speak a language which clearly demonstrates the generosity of the Hitlerites, specifically for Jewish provisions. And for this, there is no need for further commentary.
But even for this insignificant amount of food, the full amount would not even be delivered to the Jewish population. The City Commissariat would do some deals so that some of the food products would always remain undelivered, ostensibly, like a debt. These debts would never be covered by the regime; for the officials of the City Commissariat, it was a source of enrichment, on the ghetto's account.
Therefore, it was understandable why the ghetto Jews had to find other ways to acquire food for themselves in order to maintain life. Practically there remained only one way: to smuggle food products into the Ghetto illegally.
Through various schemes[a] the unique ways and means to which a ghetto Jew would be forced to supply a piece of bread for himself, and his family have been described. To survive the horrors of the Nazi regime, this battle against hunger remained one of the most heroic points of daily life of the ghetto Jews.
As crazy as this must sound, we must add that there was a partial improvement regarding the Official Provisions. This took place just after in Autumn of 1943, when the Ghetto was removed from the authority of the City Commissariat and was converted into a concentration camp under the supervision of the S.S.
As previously mentioned, the Camp Commandant, Goecke, wanted to gain the trust of the ghetto Jews and at the same time hide his evil plans regarding the Ghetto. He decided on enlarging and partially improving provisions for the ghetto residents.
According to his orders, they started to give the Jews not only the full food rations which they officially deserved, but from time to time he even gave the ghetto population certain amounts of butter, marmalade, sugar, etc. The Jews, however, understood very well that the improved provisions were not more than a maneuver to create the impression that the new ghetto bosses were not so badly disposed regarding the Ghetto.
Goecke would typically improve the provisions especially on the evening of a significant decree for the Ghetto. This went so far as after distributing the butter or sugar to the Jews, they would start looking around for a new bashing and calamity for the ghetto Jews. Therefore, the Jews couldn't care less about Goecke and his generosity on the topic of food products.
To properly carry out its work, the Provisions Office had in its authority: a) a base for food products, b) distribution centers, and c) meat markets.
At the head of the Provisions Office for almost the entire time was Rapaport (died in Dachau); his colleagues were: Bernstein (died in Estonia); Ullman, Lapidus (both died during the ghetto liquidation), and others.
Base for food products
The food products were stored in a base, and the food was received by the regime to distribute to the ghetto population. The products were transferred from the base to separate distribution stores.
With the help of the wagon drivers from the Transportation Division, the base would pick up the products from the food distribution centers in the city. Having few means of transportation, it was not one of the easiest things to bring the products into the Ghetto.
Aside from the general base, there was also a potato base which would be open only when potatoes arrived for the Ghetto. As mentioned, they gave potatoes to the Ghetto only sometimes. Afterwards the City Commissariat distributed the same genuine potatoes - but for the Jews, simply the trash. The effects of the rotten potatoes would often be heard throughout the Ghetto.
From the end of 1941 to the beginning of 1942, when the issue of nutrition became catastrophic, the ghetto Jews would be happy with the frozen potatoes, as if they were gems. For hours, the Jews would stand in line to get the little bit of potatoes even though it was more garbage than potatoes.
First, with the general improvement of the economic situation, most ghetto Jews were already less focused on the shortage of official food products, especially of potatoes.
Those working in the general base were: Kovarski (died in ghetto); Baicovitz (liberated in Dachau); Fin (saved himself by going into the city); Advocate Shinberg,[b] and others.
Those working in the potato base were L. Gurvitch (died in Dachau); Steinberg (died during the ghetto liquidation), and others.
To distribute the official food rations to the population, there were distribution centers in the various ghetto areas.[c]
Since there were few distribution centers in the Ghetto, they would have to stand in line for hours to pick up that little bit of food. One would mainly see children in the lines, and not any work duty people. To maintain order in the lines, the Gestapo restored the Jewish Ghetto Police. It wasn't so easy for the ghetto Jew to be able to pick up even these hunger-rations.
In the beginning, they would have to pay a certain monetary payment for food products. At the end of Summer, 1942, a money-less economy was introduced in the Ghetto, so they would receive the food products for free.
The distribution centers were run by: Joels (died after jumping from a train during the deportation); Rochelson (died in Dachau); Edelstein (died in Estonia); Fentster (died during the ghetto liquidation), and others.
In general, it was decided that the ghetto population would get only horse meat. Rarely, however, was the meat in any condition to be eaten. It would often happen that the horsemeat which they brought for the Ghetto, would have to be buried immediately to avoid an outbreak of an epidemic.
The guys who were employed as butchers in the markets were: the brothers Telzak, Resnik (all died in Dachau); Bliacher (liberated in Dachau); Lipman (saved himself in a ghetto hideout) and others. As employees: L. Yellin[d], Shalit (died in Dachau) and others.
Also, in the institutions of the Provisions Office, as in all the other ghetto institutions, there was no lack of abuses or other awful acts.
Both in the bases, as well as in the distribution centers there were certain criminal elements who made various deals on the backs of the community. It was no secret in the Ghetto that responsible functionaries from the Provisions Office had a hand in these operations.
|- Painful question about living space in the Ghetto. - Extermination Action to clear out needed apartments. - Larger clear out of the ghetto areas. - Activities of the Housing Office.
By July of 1941, the occupation regime published an order to the Kovno Jewish population to relocate to a newly established ghetto in Slabodka. It became clear to everyone that the settling of approximately 30,000 Jewish souls in the demarcated ghetto area would be an extraordinarily difficult problem. Whatever Jewish efforts that could be mustered to enlarge the area of the Ghetto never reached actual resolution because of the anti-Jewish attitude of the Kovno Lithuanian Magistrate.
Also, as we know, the Jewish Committee was mainly occupied with organizing the issue of relocation into the Ghetto. Large portions of the Jewish population, mainly those with material means, started searching for apartments in the ghetto area without waiting for the Committee. In this way hundreds of families managed to get an apartment in the Ghetto on their own. But most Jews had to wait for the Jewish Committee to distribute a residence.
Already at that time, the Housing Office[a] tried to introduce a bit of order to the painful question of apartments in the Ghetto. First, they had to record the entire living area of ghetto houses so that they could somewhat logically divide the available living spaces.
In the ghetto area, aside from private houses, there were a few large blocks and a few dozen smaller blocks, which were built in later years for the Kovno working population. Immediately from the start, these large and small blocks, which were in much better condition than most little private houses, were grabbed by the higher ups, who had access to the Committee in general, and to the Housing Office, specifically.
Also, the Jews with less access tried to arrange for an apartment somehow. Those families which were not able to acquire a room for themselves, did it together with another family. The poorer Jews were quartered in the communal dormitories. Thereafter, there were still hundreds of Jewish families which remained without shelter.
That is why the Housing Office at that time was laden with work to find a resting place for Jews without shelter. In cases when someone got more living space than was established by the Jewish ghetto administration, they would have to take in more people. If, however, he did not want to carry out the instructions of the Housing Office willingly, the Ghetto Police would carry it out by force.
There were great difficulties in acquiring a piece of living space for all ghetto Jews. The crowding in most houses was huge. During the day this issue was somehow bearable. However, problems started in the evening when they had to set up a bed for everyone to sleep.
It is certainly unnecessary to describe the way the communal dormitories looked, where hundreds of people were lying on the floors in crowding and dirt. In such a place, the cry of children would mix with the groans of the sick and elderly. The fighting and motion in such a human beehive would continue for a full 24 hours around the clock.
But very quickly the ghetto Jew had to deal with problems more serious than apartments. The extermination Actions which took place in the early period of the ghetto's existence, put all the daily worries and plagues on the back burner. Also, they had not yet properly understood the planning and systematization of Hitler's extermination work. At that time, things such as crowding and discomfort in the residence didn't enter anyone's head. More space in Jewish homes was the result of Jews removed for extermination.
However, the high point of thinning out the ghetto population was achieved through the Big Action, after which there remained in the Ghetto only a bit more than half of the Jewish population that entered at the start. After three and a half months, only 16,000 souls remained of the 30,000 Jews. The problem of living space indirectly disappeared with the help of the Gestapo, which, in a short time, managed to kill 13-14 thousand Jews, not counting the victims up to the entry into the Ghetto.
After the Big Action, the Housing Office, along with all the other ghetto institutions, gradually started stabilizing their activities. At that time, this Office still didn't have much work. As previously mentioned, this was because the extermination Actions reduced the ghetto population almost to half, and they already arranged shelter for some ghetto Jews.
From time to time, the Housing Office would, once again, become stationed in the center of ghetto life. This happened when the regime organization gave out unjust decrees to clear out entire ghetto sectors.
The Nazi plans for Jewish extermination included, among others, the continuous moving around, here and there, of large groups of Jews. This was done so that they could undermine the ability to resist against the regime of terror. Also, these frequent relocations from one ghetto area to another caused these people the loss of much of their, you could say, acquired comforts, like a bed, a bit of provisions, and the like.
These relocations typically happened in a great hurry. After such relocations, the relocated Jew had to streamline his living standard in his new resting place and give up much of what he had in his former place. Furthermore, after each clear-out of a ghetto quarter, the new modest living space became even smaller, and it became evident why such an event meant real punishment for the Ghetto.
During the three years of the existence of the Ghetto, the following ghetto areas were cleared out: [b]
Aside from these larger clear outs during the ghetto's existence, there were also smaller clear outs of ghetto quarters. Such clear outs meant a harsh decree for the Ghetto, and they had to go along with it, willingly, or unwillingly.
As was noted, the Housing Office had a huge bit of work in the early period of the ghetto's existence and during the clear out of entire ghetto areas.
Also, we cannot deny that this ghetto agency had no easy task satisfying everyone's demands, specifically regarding housing. It never happened that a simple ghetto Jew could come upon a better residence in a normal way. All the claims and responses from such ordinary Jews were useless because the Housing Office conducted its activity in such a way that it made the Yales, happy by fulfilling their requirements first; that meant, the important people of the Ghetto. In addition to that, there was no shortage of corruption, etc.
At the same time when the Ghetto was dominated by horrible crowding, and people really didn't have a place to lay their head, there were quite a few families who lived in comparatively large spaces. That meant that all these hard restrictions on living space never applied to the various higher-ups of the ghetto hierarchy and their friends. Like for many other details of the ghetto reality, this detail mirrored the unique social differentiation which ruled all aspects of ghetto life. It was therefore understandable why the Housing Office did not enjoy any sympathy from most of the ghetto Jews.
In Spring, 1944, when the Jewish ghetto institutions were liquidated, and their functions were transferred to the authority of the German Camp management, the Housing Office remained in existence until the liquidation of the Ghetto. This Office, however, did not carry out any important work because there were other worries and problems greater than apartments at that time. Some Jews at that time dreamed about getting themselves out of the Ghetto, as the soil under their feet was becoming hotter from hour to hour.
Working in the Housing Office from the early ghetto months were: Advocate Girshovich.[c] Later, Meshkotz was appointed (died during the ghetto liquidation) and served in this Office until the end of the Ghetto. As leading colleagues there were: Katz (died in Dachau); Weintraub (liberated after he left the Ghetto); Svirsky (died during the ghetto deportation), and others.
|- Problems of the state of health in the early months of the ghetto's existence - Medical institutions in the Health Office and their significance in ghetto life.
The problem of the health of the Jews became evident from the first days of the outbreak of the war in Kovno. During their first acts of terror on the defenseless Jewish population, the Lithuanian Hitlerites, among others, also threw Jewish patients out of the hospitals. The sick people who were not killed on the spot were forced to lie in their home without clinical attention. The sick didn't have any possibility of getting private medical attention because a Jew would be in danger of death if he showed up on the street in the early occupation weeks.
A long list of medical issues became evident after the relocation to the Ghetto. Before anything else, they had to organize hospitals for the seriously ill. In August 1941, two hospitals were set up in the Small Ghetto: one for infectious diseases and a second one for surgery and internal illnesses. The horrible details of the tragic fate of this hospital, especially the one for infectious diseases, were already described,[a] when the patients were burned alive, along with the medical personnel.
After this unprecedented Nazi barbarism, they were afraid to create new hospitals in the Ghetto because it was logical to be suspicious that the Nazis were apt, once again, to repeat similar murders of Jewish patients. Therefore, the Ghetto remained without a hospital for a certain time.
After the Big Action, the strain in the Ghetto was slowly reduced and the Jewish ghetto institutions started their intense activity. By then the Health Office was established and also started addressing the medical problems of the ghetto population.
Like all the other ghetto offices the Health Office had at its disposal numerous institutions in order to support its work. The following institutions belonged to the Health Office, a) Hospital, b) Ambulatory, c) Medical branches in other ghetto institutions, d) Publications Institution, and, e) Crazy House [Mental Clinic].
In the last months of 1941 the Health Office first addressed the creation of a hospital. The number of patients grew, and the founding of a hospital became an extremely urgent issue. Waiting any longer was impossible. The most important medical instruments and facilities for the hospital were collected from Jewish doctors who had hidden a portion of their medical instruments during the time of the robbery of Jewish possessions, in August-September 1941.
The Ghetto Hospital had divisions for internal, surgery and other illnesses. Until May 1942, the hospital also had a maternity division. Thereafter, when the decree was announced by the regime about forbidding pregnancy in the Ghetto,[b] this division was liquidated.
No division for infectious diseases existed in the hospital because, as mentioned, they had a basic fear that the Nazi governors would kill these patients. Therefore, in the reports given to the regime organization, there were no infectious diseases in the Ghetto. The patients with infectious diseases would have to be kept at home, or they would be brought into the hospital under another formal diagnosis.
The Jewish doctors had a hard job which they carried out with success. Despite such inhuman conditions, there were no epidemics during the ghetto's existence. In this regard, the Sanitation Commission supported the Health Office which coordinated its work with the tasks of the Sanitation Division of the Jewish Ghetto Police.
The Hospital also had (with certain disruptions) their own X-ray cabinet which greatly contributed to the success of the medical activity.
Also, the Pharmacy and Laboratory, which formally belonged to the Provisions Office, stood at the disposal of the Hospital and other medical institutions of the Health Office.
Thereafter, because a large portion of Jews were transported to the labor camps near Kovno and in the provinces, they organized sick rooms in the camps for the slightly ill. The seriously ill would be brought to the Ghetto Hospital for attention.
The hospital which only had a few dozen beds and had to serve 15,000 souls, was one of the most needed ghetto institutions. The hospital fulfilled a very important function as it offered clinical attention to seriously sick Jewish patients.
B. Outpatient Clinic
Aside from the Hospital, the Health Office also had a well-established Outpatient Clinic, with divisions for various illnesses (internal, surgery, eyes, nose and throat, women, children, etc.). A dental branch was also active. All these divisions were visited daily by dozens of patients who received necessary medical help there.
In 1942, when the area of the Ghetto was relatively large, medical branches were organized in a few sections of the Ghetto, which were affiliated with the central clinic. These medical positions made it easier for the ghetto population to get medical attention. During Goecke's time, these medical institutions were liquidated because the area of the Ghetto was cut down.
C. Medical branches in other ghetto institutions
Aside from these medical institutions belonging to the Health Office, the Ghetto also had a few other active medical facilities. They functioned under the authority of other ghetto institutions but were in contact with the Health Office.
As was seen, there was a Medical Division in the Labor Office which took care of medical issues of the labor duty population.
Aside from the Medical Division of the Labor Office, as previously mentioned, there were a few larger labor positions at the Aerodrome and in the city, in which a sanitation post was active, to give medical help to the working Jews in case of a misfortune during work.
Also, the Large Ghetto Workshops had a separate medical branch, which served the few thousand men and women who worked in the workshops. These branches were subject to Jewish oversight by the ghetto workshops.
Both the Medical Division at the Labor office, as well as the medical branches in the ghetto workshops together served almost two thirds of the general number of ghetto Jews. These played an important role in the state of health of the Ghetto.
D. Delousing Facility
There was also a delousing facility in the Health Office, which greatly helped maintain the cleanliness of the ghetto population. In this ghetto institution, which was built thanks to Jewish initiative, a Jew would be able to wash himself well, and finally clean his clothes of lice and other parasites. From time to time, during their work duty, workers could receive passes from the ghetto administration for this purpose.
Crazy House [Mental Clinic]
There was also a Mental Clinic under the authority of the Health Office, where a few dozen mentally ill men and women were supported. During the Action on the children, elderly and sick, these sick people were transported to be exterminated. Among the victims was also Professor Shimon Belatzkin.[c]
The Health Office organized courses for medical nurses to prepare a cadre of doomed nurses. A few dozen women studied in these courses and afterward became active in their occupation in the hospital and in other medical institutions.
Despite not being free of crippling protectionism, the accomplishments of the Health Office for the benefit of the ghetto population must be highlighted. Within the framework of their very limited ghetto possibilities, the institutions of the Health Office did very important work. The fact that the ghetto Jew could receive medical help relatively easily, was of great significance.
Dr. Zacharin was the Head of the Health Office. More details were described earlier[d] about his shameful role as a leader of the sick bay in the labor camps of Dachau Concentration Camp. He was also a leader of the Ghetto Hospital.
After the liquidation of the autonomous Jewish ghetto institutions, the activity of the Health Office also was minimized. At that time, the designated S.S. Commissar of the Hospital was the one in charge of ordering the state of health of the population in the Ghetto and in the labor camps.
Those active in the hospital, in the clinics and other medical institutions (aside from those already mentioned) were the following doctors:
Dentist Akabas, Dr. Berman, Dr. Braunz, Mrs. Dr. Bar-Vishtagetzky, Dr. Goldstein, Dentist Griliches, Ms. Dr. Yochelson, Dentist Dr. Lurie, Dr. Brinberg, Dr. Segal, Dr. G. Elkes, Mrs. Dr. Gurvitch-Eliashkevitz, Dr. Pertzikovitch, Dr. Kaufman, Dr. Katz, Mrs. Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Klibanski, Dr. Klebanov, Dr. Kagan, Dentist Ms. Kagan, Mrs. Dr. Rosenblum (all liberated in the concentration camps in Germany); Dr. Gershtein, Dentist Dr. Glickman, Professor Lazerson (all died in Dachau); Dr. Blumberg (died in Estonia); Mrs. Dr. Kamber (were taken to Estonia and committed suicide in a camp); Dr. Orlianski, Mrs. Dr. Golach, Dr. Gurvitch, Mrs. Dr. Tankel, Dr. Zaltzberg, Dr. Mattis Dr. Yakin, Dr. Feldstein, Dr. Tzaytel, Dentist Mrs. Stein (all died during the deportations); Dr. Eisenstadt (died in a Christian's hideout); Dr. Abramovich, Dr. Ipp, Dentist Mrs. Olitzky, Dr. Blasberg, Dentist Mrs. Leibovich-Goldschmidt, Dr. Vidutchinsky, Dentist Mrs. Margolis, Dentist Mrs. Nementchik, Dr. Richman (all saved themselves before and during the ghetto liquidation), and others.
It is necessary to mention the nurses in the medical institutions:
Mrs. Levin (killed in Stutthof); D. Igdalski (died after liberation); R. Glagovski, R. Lipschitz, B. Lipshitz-Weiner, Mrs. Gotz, R. Slove, Ingel, D. Shapiro, Mrs. Sudak-Katz (all freed in the camps in Germany); R. Epstein, A. Strelitz, Z. Tint (all were in the partisans and survived to liberation); Ch. Leibovitz, Shevtz, Flink-Yoselevich, Krok (all saved themselves during the ghetto deportation), and others.
At this opportunity it is worth mentioning that immediately after the Big Action at the end of 1941, two Kovno doctors, Dr. Nabriski and Dr. Voshtshin, escaped into the city where they were hidden in a hole by a Christian. In the Summer of 1943, during a Gestapo inspection in another section, they were found, arrested, and were to be killed. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Elkes, Liptzer, and others, they finally succeeded in saving them from death and they were brought back to the Ghetto. The reason why the Gestapo needed just these doctors in the Ghetto, among others, was because they were both gynecologists and were very necessary and needed in the Ghetto since the regime decreed that all pregnant Jewish women must have abortions. Dr. Nabriski was liberated in Dachau and Dr. Voshtshin saved himself by leaving the Ghetto a short while before the deportations.
Social Welfare Office
|- Necessary resources for large portions of the ghetto population. - Establishment of the Social Welfare Office and its activities.
The Jewish population had the misfortune of falling under the Nazi authority. At the passing of the first wave of mass murders against the helpless Jews, it became evident to them that what stood before them were also large material profits. The various Lithuanian knife-wielding heroes couldn't imagine, even in their wildest dreams, such a lucky time, when they could directly and freely murder Jews and rob their possessions. In the early chaotic days, they took advantage of this opportune moment as much as possible.
The efforts of many years of Jewish toil fell into the hands of the Lithuanian Jew-murderers in the blink of an eye. Those horrific days meant life and death for every Jew. So, understandably, the question of losing or not losing their property wasn't on their mind. The one and only worry at that moment was how to survive this extermination storm.
Thousands of destitute Jews, who had made a very fine living until the outbreak of war, were added to the community dormitories after the thorough robbery of Jewish possessions in August-September 1941. Over time, while the professional beggars didn't hold back and reminded the Jewish Committee about social support, the impoverished upstanding Jewish families suffered in silence.
After the thorough robbery of Jewish possessions, the unceasing mass Actions halted complaints about worries of livelihood. How was it possible to think about the fact that not a penny was earned for months, at a time when, week in and week out, thousands of Jews were ripped out of the Ghetto for extermination?!!!
The Big Action, which stands as the high point of the mass slaughter in the Ghetto, left the surviving Jews so strongly depressed that for a certain time after the huge blood bath no one could imagine worrying about their material existence. Various ghetto Jews started thinking about whether they would become candidates for a new Action which would come today or tomorrow.
The first series of mass exterminations was concluded after the Big Action, and then came a period of relative quiet. The exhausting forced labor at the Aerodrome, where thousands of Jews worked day and night; the hunger in all ghetto homes; the lack of clothing and footwear and other material problems for many ghetto Jews, made for the founding of a special institution which would at least lighten the material troubles of the destitute. The newly established Social Welfare Office was to help with these scarcities in ghetto life.
The Social Welfare Office was established after the Big Action, and the following reason was attributed to its foundation:
As mentioned, many ghetto Jews tried to grab clothing from completely unknown people who were taken away during the Action. With the agreement of Jordan, the designee of ghetto issues of the City Commissariat, the Elders Council decided that the clothing of the transported Jews, who did not leave behind any close relatives in the Ghetto, were to be given over to the authority of the ghetto administration. They were to be distributed to the destitute entities. The first in line were many needy Aerodrome workers who had to carry the heavy yoke of slave labor. Organizing the issues of social support was given over to the established Social Welfare Office.
With the help of the Jewish Ghetto Police, huge amounts of bedding, clothes, underwear, footwear, and household utensils, which belonged to the exterminated Jews were collected in the storehouses of the Social Welfare Office. Afterwards, the better items were chosen as gifts for the Nazi ghetto bosses and other needs of the Elders Council, and the remaining items were slowly divided among the needy Jews based on individual requests.
Aside from the support in clothing, the Social Welfare Office would distribute some food products to the destitute Jews from time to time, which was received by the Provisions Office and other economic ghetto institutions for this purpose. On occasion, the Social Welfare Office would throw in some products which were confiscated from Jews during the searches at the Ghetto Gate. For a certain time, workers from the better city work brigades systematically contributed charitable cash or food products to benefit the Social Welfare Office.
In the Summer of 1942, the Social Welfare Office established a kitchen where the destitute could eat lunch. The food consisted mainly of a vegetable soup without fat or meat. Sometimes the cooking would include the bones of horsemeat. For lunch, each one had to bring bread from their own bread rations. It is certainly unnecessary to talk about this satisfying and appetizing lunch.
For a certain time, the Social Welfare Office had its own bakery. The earnings from the baked bread would be applied to the support of the Office. The Social Welfare Office would also give out little notes for the Pharmacy, Clinics, Small Ghetto Workshops, and other ghetto institutions which would unofficially take cash payment so that they could take care of the needs of the needy Jews for free. In the summertime, the needy would receive some vegetables from the Ghetto Gardens and in winter, occasionally, a bundle of wood.
In summarizing the role of the Social Welfare Office in ghetto life, we must conclude that, in general, its accomplishments were varied. This institution, which was supposed to lighten the social needs in the Ghetto, fulfilled its task in very limited measure. This is explained, not only by the lack of wider resources, but also because the better confiscated clothes and belongings, the material basis of the Social Welfare Office, were designated for totally different purposes. And the poor ghetto Jew received almost rags. It should be added that, like in all the other ghetto institutions, there was also a ruling bureaucracy and even certain abuse. It became clear just how minimal the activity of the Social Welfare Office was. And, therefore in this needy world, this ghetto institution, did not have a very good name.
As the material situation of the ghetto population improved after the Summer of 1942, so the significance of the Social Welfare Office became narrower. Many Aerodrome workers who deserved social help were transferred to work in the city brigades and the question of making a living was a partially alleviated for them. The main clients of the Social Office were then only the older and non-working entities of the ghetto poor.
Once again the problem of social help became relevant with relation to the transfer of large numbers of Jews to labor camps, where life was fairly similar to the Ghetto itself. At that time, as with the Social Welfare Office (with the help of the Labor Office) a few collections of clothes, underwear, footwear etc. were conducted for the benefit of the needy in the labor camps.
During the liquidation of the ghetto institutions in the last months of the Goecke period, the Social Welfare Office was trashed even further. Practically, its activity didn't have any significance. Also, on the eve of the upcoming ghetto crisis, the destitute ghetto Jew was by then completely interested other problems.
In the beginning, the head of the Social Welfare Office was Dr. Segal;[a] later, it was Shauchet (liberated in Dachau); positions of responsibility were held by: Yeglin (liberated in Dachau); S. Goldstein (hid out with a Christian in the countryside), and others.
In the early period of the Social Welfare Office, the following also worked there: Adv. Girshovitch,[b] Adv. Koziol (died in Estonia), D. Treger,[c] S. Glatt (liberated in Dachau), Schmerkovitch (died during the ghetto liquidation), and others.
|- Representation in the Statistics Office and Address Bureau. - Establishment of the Estates Office. - Attempt at creating an illegal mail connection between Kovno and other ghettos. - Use of the materials of the Statistics Office.
The Statistics Office also occupied a prominent position in the unique structure of the Jewish ghetto administration. Like most ghetto institutions, this office was also established in the early period of the existence of the Ghetto, in the end of Summer, 1941.
The Counselor for Jewish issues in the City Commissariat In the first half of September 1941 was the tragically famous Lithuanian, Kaminskas. He ordered a general registration of the ghetto population. The completed registration established that there were in total close to 30,000 souls in the Ghetto. The leading people from this census set up the seed for the subsequently established Statistics Office.
When the Jewish Police started organizing its operation of police issues, it was first necessary to have an exact file of all the ghetto residents. In October 1941 the task of putting together the file was transferred to the Statistics Office.
In Autumn of 1941, out of the Statistics Office, a special Addresses Bureau, named the Subsequent Residents Office became visible and was subject to the leaders of the Ghetto Police. Since the Addresses Bureau was a semi-autonomous ghetto institution, it was tightly connected to the Statistics Office.
The extermination Actions which raged unceasingly during the first months of the Ghetto's existence also erased all the toil, effort and material of the Statistics Office and Addresses Bureau. Specifically, all the statistical information and numbers were found to be very valuable in relation to the Big Action, when in one day, over 10,000 Jews were taken away for extermination.
Therefore, one of the most urgent jobs of the Statistics Office and Addresses Bureau after the Big Action, was to carry out a new registry of the ghetto population. This registration, which took place in November 1941, established that in the Ghetto a total of 16,000 souls remained. Based on just this registration a new dossier of the general population was set up.
For the Addresses Bureau to always be in the picture regarding changes of address of the ghetto residents, the Ghetto Police published a duty order about signing in and signing out of the Police Precincts, in cases of apartment changes. Later, when the population received ghetto-passes, the police would sign in with a stamp on the other side of the ghetto-pass.[a]
Within the Addresses Bureau, an Estates Office was established in 1942 to register the demographic changes of the ghetto population, like births, deaths, marriages, etc.
In the Ghetto at that time, quite a few weddings took place. There was a tendency to marry, especially among younger women whose husbands were taken away in the Actions. This took place during the establishment of the Ghetto or later. These women were afraid to be without a man because during the Actions many of these remaining single women would be sent away for extermination. By the way, young men and women without families were the first candidates the Jewish ghetto administration sent for general relocation to labor camps outside the Ghetto. Everything together motivated many young people to get married. These ghetto weddings were considered protection. Having a workplace somewhere in a stable and good brigade, a position in the ghetto administration, or other similar guarantees were protection and safety for the wretched ghetto people.
In the early period of the existence of the Ghetto, many births were noticeable. This specific phenomenon is explained herein, because many women became pregnant before the outbreak of the war and gave birth while being in the Ghetto. Furthermore, the number of births dropped even more until the prohibition of pregnancy (Summer, 1942), which was the reason that no births took place in the Ghetto.
Regarding mortality in the Ghetto, it was already emphasized that due to the extermination Action mainly older and weaker people were caught. Thus, most people remaining in the Ghetto were younger and healthier entities. Aside from cases of natural deaths, the mortality among the ghetto Jews was relatively low.
The following episode also belongs to the history of the Statistics Office:
A certain time after the Big Action, the Ghetto succeeded in establishing an illegal mail connection between the Kovno Ghetto and the ghettos in Vilna, Shavl, and later, also in Riga. Understandably, the possibility of corresponding with family members in those ghetto settlements had great significance for the ghetto Jews. This mail exchange was made possible thanks to the help of a few reliable Christians, who received a material reward for it. Involved with this illegal Ghetto Post were a few people from the Statistics Office and the Secretary of the Elders Council. However, in the beginning of February 1942, five hundred Kovno Jews were caught.
In the Spring of 1942, a package letter fell into the hands of a Kovno Gestapo person, by chance. After an investigation, the Secretary of the Elders Council, Adv. Bernstein, a colleague from the Statistics Office, Adv. Chaykin and A. Zilberman, a worker from the Jewish brigade near the train, were arrested. They sat for a few weeks in the Gestapo jail but succeeded in getting released. The entire issue was erased with the help of a few Jews who were influential in the Gestapo, as well as some heavy bribery gifts.
Through this failure, the illegal postal service in the Ghetto was liquidated. From this point on it was difficult to ever send out a letter to the other ghetto settlements.
For the Elders Council and its institutions, the finished products of the Statistics Office in certain measure served as support for establishing the guidelines of their activity. Such materials were important for the Jewish Labor Office in regulating the painful problem of forced labor. Having accurate statistical information, the Labor Office was able to orient itself and control the labor duty, especially for the women who made up 60% of the general ghetto population. The information from the Statistics Office was also used by the Elders Council for their monthly activity report to the Kovno City Commissar, under whose authority the Ghetto existed from its founding, until Goecke's time.
The Addresses Bureau also had much to do with giving out the ghetto passes to the population. True, distribution of the passes formally belonged to the Ghetto Police, but, in this way, the Addresses Bureau carried out the most important preparation work.
Also, the Statistics Office belonged to the small ghetto institutions, so as was seen, it carried out a certain positive role in public ghetto life. This ghetto institution was mainly a support institution for other facilities of the ghetto administration.
The Statistics Office did not come in frequent contact with the ghetto Jews. Also, at the Estate Office they would not have to stand in line for hours, thank goodness, as was the case for most of the ghetto institutions. Because of that, the ghetto population noted a neutral attitude towards these institutions, which meant, not good, not bad.
The Statistics Office, as well as, the Addresses Bureau, had a longer existence among the most important Jewish ghetto institutions. When the Elders Council was liquidated and Dr. Elkes was designated as preeminent, these institutions were transferred over to the authority of Dr. Elkes. Nothing remained except the former signboards,
Leaders of the Statistics Office included at first, Ch. Kagan.[b] Later I. Labensson became leader (saved himself through a Christian in the countryside). For a certain time the office was led by Dr. Valsonok.[c]
Colleagues in this office were: Polish-Jewish typesetter, Michael Burstein. At first, he worked in the Jewish Labor Office. Thereafter, went over to the Statistics Office, where he, together with Dr. Valsonok, worked on material for the Elders Council and its institutions. At that time, he also was engaged with collecting ghetto folklore. Both his fictional ghetto writings (novellas and a larger novel, The Yellow Patch), as well as his collections of folklore material, which he hid somewhere in the Ghetto, were lost. Later, he worked in the Ghetto Workshops. During the liquidation of the Ghetto, he was taken to the labor camp of Dachau concentration camp (Camp 1 near Landsberg) together with the other men, where, on the 27th of March 1945, he died of pneumonia, just one month before liberation. F. Berniker (liberated in Dachau); Adv. Chaykin (died in Dachau); Volpe (died during the ghetto deportation), and others.
|- Educational issues in the early ghetto months. Founding and character of the children's schools. - Liquidation of the schools and the School Office. - Activity of the Vocational School. Attempts to alleviate the cultural needs of the ghetto population.
The sudden cessation of Jewish children's studies was an additional tragic repercussion to Jewish life caused by the Nazis from the first days of the occupation. Understandably, Jews didn't think about what their children were studying during those horrific days when bestial mass abuses against the helpless Jewish population were going on. The heads of the Jews were occupied with existential questions that were more important than education. By the way, during the outbreak of war, which took place in the end of June 1941, most of the school children were starting their summer holidays.
In the first few months of the Ghetto's existence, during this bloody period of extermination Actions, the ghetto Jews certainly could not think about education for their children. But quite a few parents searched for something to do so that their children should have some opportunity to study, even in those horrible days. The only way was through private instruction. These parents would discuss private instruction for their children with teachers. The teachers at the former high schools, elementary schools and other Yiddish-Hebrew learning facilities collected their students in smaller groups and studied together with them.
For a certain time after the Big Action the ghetto Jews slowly started to calm down from the mass killings. While various public Jewish ghetto institutions were emerging, the time came to establish an institution which would take on pedagogical issues. Indeed, at the end of 1941 the Elders Council established the School Office for this purpose.
The first job of the newly founded School Office was to carry out a registration of available children of elementary school age, that meant from 7-8 years old to 12-13 years old.[a] For the almost 16,000 souls who were then in the Ghetto, the number of school children was relatively small, because during the mass slaughters, especially during the Big Action, many families with small children were sent away for extermination.
It was already mentioned that at first, those mothers who had children up to 8 years old and, later, only up to 4 years old, were freed from labor duty. There were, therefore, many families where all the adults would have to go to work and the older children would have to remain at home to take care of the household or the younger brothers and sisters. To convince more parents to register their children to study, the Elders Council published an order about forced education.
Thereafter, the School Office finished all the necessary preparations and founded two schools: one in the old ghetto area, in one of the former Yeshiva buildings on Yeshiva Street 16, and the other on Raminoler Street 4.[b] In each school there were about 200 students.
The Ghetto School presented itself with a mix of students who had earlier studied in schools from the various streams, like, Zionist-Hebrew, Yiddish-worldly, religious etc. True, during the Soviet period in Lithuania, all the earlier school streams were liquidated. Only one type of Soviet school was opened for Jewish children in Yiddish language education. However, the one year of Soviet school-life did not result in a loss of influence by the various types of schools on the students after the earlier years. The teachers in the Ghetto Schools, therefore, had quite a task for themselves, to meld together the students from the separate school streams into one school collective.
The Ghetto School had to satisfy the needs of those children who already finished a 4-year elementary school. Thus, the school program was broadened, and students studied there starting from elementary school and ending with the first four grades of a middle school. The language of instruction was mainly Hebrew. The older children also studied Yiddish literature. The learning of religion was also included in the school program. The ideological spirit of the school was Zionist-Hebrew.
It was not easy for the schools to acquire the necessary books, notebooks, and study tools. Whatever the students had, they collected themselves. The rest was collected in various ways, with difficulty. As a result, studies would take place in two shifts: before noon and after noon.
It was self-explanatory that with the difficult ghetto conditions, the school's achievements were very limited, so the significance of the school was entirely apparent, as the teachers tried to maintain a satisfactory pedagogical level for the schools. The few school holidays which took place before its short existence, left behind a touching impression.
In Spring, 1942 the youth organization Eshel[c] was founded. Most of the older school students found social expression in the Zionist spirit.
Aside from the elementary schools, two kindergartens were also founded where children up to school age could enjoy themselves a few hours per day. They took in many little children and carried out an important function in education.
Even during the school days in the Ghetto, there was also private teaching. The more prominent Jews and those who could afford it and didn't want their children to study in the same facilities with the rest of the people, got lessons for their children from private teachers. This would take place especially with children of preschool age.
As was already mentioned[d] that on the 26th of August 1942, the regime published an order to close the children's schools. This order came unexpectedly and liquidated the schools which existed for 7-8 months. It played an important role in the field of education.
The School Office was also liquidated in parallel to the closing of the children's schools. This ghetto institution, as we will see, was also engaged in various cultural issues, like their activities had been for the schools.
The younger children had the opportunity to continue their studies, as little as there were. They were organized into smaller groups of students who were taught by teachers from the closed schools. This illegal education would take place in private apartments for a few hours per day, and they always had to be protected so that the regime should not find out about it.
The largest portion of older school children went over to study in the Vocational School, which was founded in June 1942 in the Ghetto. In the Vocational School the boys studied painting, locksmith, sheet metal work, carpentry, etc. The girls studied ladies tailoring and other occupations.
From Spring, 1942, when the City Commissariat started taking Jewish craftsman into the city factories and into the military service positions[e], the issue arose about educating new handwork forces among the growing youth. There was great demand for Jews in the city workplaces to carry out various artisan occupations.
In a short time, the vocational students acquired the same elementary knowledge in their occupation, and they were later taken in as assistants in the city work places where Jewish craftsmen worked. A portion of the young artisans went out to work in the Ghetto Workshops.
Aside from educating for knowledge about the practical and theoretical occupation, the Vocational School unofficially also taught Jewish studies, like Jewish history, Hebrew, knowledge of Eretz Israel, etc. The Vocational Schools in this way tried to fill in the pedagogical gap created due to the liquidation of the schools. The Zionist youth organizations also introduced the vocational student circles to Zionist issues.
The importance of the Vocational School grew just before and after the Action of the children, elders and sick. A work card from the Vocational School was actually an issue of life or death for dozens of ghetto children. At that time, the Vocational School was relocated to the Large Ghetto Workshops where it was not considered a formal school, but was called vocational training workshops for youth.
On the subject of schools, it is still necessary to add that the former teachers from the Kovno Yiddish Comertz High School, S. Rozenthal and his wife, A. Frebelistin, ran a private school where, for a certain time, they illegally taught a few dozen children from the left-leaning streams. In this school the language of instruction was Yiddish, and the spirit of the studies was proletariat radical. By the way, from time to time, secret discussions on various political and social themes also took place there for the people who belonged to the left learning circles.
As mentioned, aside from pedagogical issues, the School Office also unofficially occupied itself with other cultural activities. For example, the Public Library, which was established at the end of 1941,[f] belonged to this ghetto institution. In this Library, which had a few thousand books in Yiddish, Hebrew and other languages, ghetto Jews would be able to get a book to read and, in this manner, chase away some of their difficult thoughts. This Library was located in one of the smaller blocks on Varniu Street, with Rabbi Oshry and Gershtein as librarians.
From time to time, they would also organize lectures, conferences, celebrations etc. These illegal cultural presentations would be arranged mainly for the people who were close to these social groupings. In the lost cultural life of the Ghetto, these had general educational significance. The Chet Tamuz Academy of 1943 must be mentioned, as it attracted a large audience and left a strong impression. Also, the celebrations which took place in June 1943, connected to the one-year anniversary of the Vocational School, were very impressive. During the school holiday, an exhibition of the work of the vocational school students was organized.
The orchestra of the Jewish Police offered the ghetto population musical vocal concerts a few times a week. These concerts were very successful for all. The ghetto Jew found artistic outlet in these concerts.
Dr. Chaim Nachman Shapira was a leader in the School Office. He was the son of the Kovno Rabbi, Abraham Duberkahana Shapira, who died in the Ghetto in March 1943. As we know, Dr. Shapira was a private lecturer of Semitology at the Kovno University and the editor of the seminal work History of the New Hebrew Literature.
Already in the first months of the ghetto's existence, the Elders Council assigned Dr. Shapira to collect and at the same time, perfect the documents and materials for the History of the Kovno Ghetto. For this purpose, the Elders Council ordered a secret archive. Later, the archive was taken over by the Secretary of the Elders Council, Advocate Golob. Regarding the fate of the archive, it was said that after the liberation, Adv. Golob should have had the entire archive, or he gave a portion of it over to the authority of the Soviet regime organization.
Also, the Ghetto Police secretly engaged in writing about ghetto events. A portion of these writings fell into the hands of a certain ghetto Jew, Lipman, and what became of it was unknown. Valuable writings about ghetto life were also conducted by the known Kovno Businessman Abba Balosher[g]. For a certain time, the former General-Secretary of the Rabbi's Union in Lithuania, David Itzikovitch (both died in Dachau), also wrote about the ghetto happenings.
When the School Office was founded, Dr. Shapira took over the leadership of the Office and devoted himself very much to pedagogical problems. After the liquidation of the School, he became the leader of the Center for Vocational Education of the Jewish Labor Office.[h]
Dr. Shapira also took up a distinguished place in Zionist life in the Ghetto. His collaboration was also great in the organizing of the cultural arrangements, where he was always one of the head speakers.
In the beginning of December 1943, entirely unexpectedly, Dr. Shapira, was arrested by the Gestapo together with his family. The arrest had to do with the fact that there was an inquiry lodged through the International Red Cross in Berlin about the fate of Rabbi Shapira's family. The inquiry was in the name of relatives or from a Jewish organization in the USA. Dr. Shapira, his wife, child, and his mother the Kovno Rebetzin were all shot at the Ninth Fort. Right after the execution they burned all of them on the same pyres upon which, at that time, were burning the excavated dead, to erase the spores of the Nazi horrors.
The aforementioned Itzikovitch was Deputy Head of the School Office for a certain time, and Mrs. Snieg was Secretary (died in a labor camp in Germany).
The teachers who worked in the children's schools were Kapit, Kizel, Zhopovich, Stokol, Norvitch, Volfovich, (all died during the ghetto liquidation or in the Dachau labor camps); Mrs. Tzarfat (died in the Ghetto Summer, 1943); Rosenblatt (taken to Estonia), and others.
Those who were active as kindergarten teachers were Mrs. Dr. Segal, Mrs. Sobolevich, Mrs. Levin (all liberated in labor camps in Germany), and others.
In addition to the teachers at the shuttered children's school, the teachers of general studies in the Vocational School were: A. Melamed (liberated in Dachau); I. Shapira (died during the ghetto liquidation), and others.
|- Origins of the Jewish court entity in the Ghetto. - Activity of the Ghetto Court and its liquidation. - Police Court.
Already in the early days of the establishment of the Ghetto Police, in August 1941, they started applying various administrative punishments on the population. For example, the Police started punishing violations of labor duty decisions, for not carrying out the orders of the self-formed ghetto institutions, for not following the rules of public order, etc.
In the stormy beginning of the Ghetto's existence, when fear for the future was especially great among the ghetto population, it was rare that serious conflicts would be resolved by themselves without the intervention of the newly established Jewish ghetto administration. Only in cases where the sides could not find a compromise themselves, their claims came to the Elders Council. They then applied to the Legal Commission for clarification of the issue.
The Legal Commission was active in the Elders Council from the first days of the existence of the Ghetto. It also occupied itself with issues such as, establishing competencies for the newly established ghetto institutions, handling complaints from the population against unlawful dealings by the ghetto institutions, etc. The Ghetto Court originated from this Legal Commission.
Since the occupation regime started demanding more workers each day from the Jewish work forces in the Ghetto, they started to actively pursue labor deserters, especially for the Aerodrome. The people who systematically got themselves out of labor duty were taken to a special quick court which, after carrying out a court hearing procedure, carried out judgment against the accused.
Most of the judges on the quick court, were higher officials from the Labor Office and from the Ghetto Police. These were the two most important ghetto institutions which had to take care of the demands of the regime organizations, especially for forced labor. As punishment, the convicted had to work in a heavy labor post, where there were no eager volunteers, for longer periods of time.
So that the punishments would have a greater impact on the labor duty population, the judgment against the work deserters was published in the form of public announcements in the streets. Later, as mentioned, such types of punishments were transferred over to the capacity of the Mobilization and Punishment Office of the Jewish Labor Office.
A short time after the Big Action, the widely advanced network of Jewish ghetto institutions was established in stages and the idea developed into creating a stable Jewish Ghetto Court. Such a court was created at the end of 1941.
The jurisdiction of the Ghetto Court was comparatively the same as that which was applied to the Lithuanian Republic until the entry of the Soviets into Lithuania in 1940. In its capacity, civil and criminal issues belonged to the Ghetto Court. Appeals against the judgment of the Ghetto Court were carried out in the name of the Elders Council, the highest government established institution of the ghetto settlement.
Most court issues were due to various monetary conflicts, stealing, swindling, attacks, etc. As was mentioned many times, the possessions of those Jews who were taken away during the Big Action and who didn't leave behind any close relatives, had to be transferred to the authority of the Social Office to distribute to the poorer elements. But if there were relatives, conflicts often arose among them due to inheritance of the possessions of the murdered ones. These inheritance processes instructed and became the backbone of the Court's activities in the Ghetto.
However, the Ghetto Court also came out to handle other issues, like for example, when one Jew gave a second Jew some item or clothes to exchange for something in the city at work and thereafter a conflict arose because of this business deal. Material claims also arose when during the inspection at the Ghetto Gate, or in the city itself, when they would confiscate an item from a Jew which he took from someone to sell for him. There were also those who faked a confiscation and, in this way, made a few rubles on his account. Many conflicts also arose from various partner handling-operations in the Ghetto or at the workplace in the city.
A few times, the Ghetto Court had to also judge community violators, that meant immoral participants in the ghetto system. These uninformed souls conducted various illegal activities in fulfilling their duties. For example, when there was an issue against Jewish butchers who were employed to distribute meat to the ghetto population and committed big swindles in the process. There were also judgments for stealing from the clothing shops of the Social Office, for requests from the food distribution shops, etc.
The Ghetto Court would remain in close contact with the Jewish Ghetto Police so that it could appropriately carry out its functions. The Criminal Police mainly occupied itself with uncovering violations. Among their duties, the Ghetto Police, therefore, also heard the carriage of judgments of the Ghetto Court. If a guilty party was judged to go to jail, his punishment was carried out in one of the two ghetto jails, which were in police authority.
In August 1942, when the School Office was liquidated and other ghetto decrees were given out, these were also concluded by the Ghetto Court. This institution existed semi-officially, meaning that the regime organization knew little about the activity of the Ghetto Court.
At that time, the Elders Council received an order to reduce the number of its institutions and, in addition, to strongly lower the number of participants in the ghetto hierarchy. This decree was related to the aspiration of the City Commissariat to enlarge the number of Jewish workers in the city work places. They formally kept the older and physically weaker people working in the ghetto offices. This Ghetto Court was then dissolved as an unnecessary ghetto institution.
The functions of the liquidated Ghetto Court then went over to the authority of the court of the Jewish Ghetto Police. This same Police Court took over as its functions everything that originally belonged to the Ghetto Court.
The Chairman of the Ghetto Court was Professor S. Belatzkin, who in pre-war Lithuania was a famous lawyer and was, in addition, a professor at the Faculty of Law in the Lithuanian University. Thereafter, since his son died during the Action of the academics, right after the closing of the Ghetto, he remained alone, poor and without family. Due to the difficult ghetto conditions, he went out of his mind and thereafter was moved to the Mental Clinic. During the Action of the children, elderly and sick he, together with all the sick in the Mental Clinic, was transported for extermination.
The Deputy Chairman of the Ghetto Court was Adv. I. Abramovitch[a]. Later he became Deputy Chief of the Jewish Ghetto Police and aside from that had in his purview the Police Court. Lastly, he left the Police and transferred to the Large Ghetto Workshops.
The Prosecutor of the Ghetto Court was Adv. Buch. Thereafter, he moved to the Police Court. When the Jewish labor camp in Shantz was created, he was Camp Elder there for a certain time. During the Children's Action he fought to accompany his child and was thrown into a truck, in a horrible way, together with the captured children.
On the court were also active: Adv. Rutenberg, Defender (died in Dachau); Adv. Zak]b] Judge; Mrs. Adv. Luntz, Court Secretary (saved herself in a ghetto bunker); Adv. Shinberg[c] and others.
|- Firefighters Commando and its additional duties.
During the inception period for most of the ghetto institutions, i.e., the beginning of Autumn, 1941, a Firefighter Commando was also founded, which had to protect the Ghetto from fires.
While the area of the Ghetto was comparatively large, three firefighter points were organized: a) near the Old Ghetto, on Linkever Street, b) around the blocks on Viteniu Street, and c) in the Large Ghetto Workshops. After the clear up of the area of the Old Ghetto only two last firefighter points remained active. The inventory of the firefighters consisted of a few wagons to carry ropes, water, and a pair of hand hoses and other firefighters' tools.
During the three years of the ghetto existence, the Ghetto Firefighters did not have much work because the Ghetto did not have any large fires. To put out the few fires that did break out at the time, it was necessary to call the city firefighters, because if not, the fire would have spread to a larger number of ghetto houses.
At this opportunity it is necessary to mention that the ghetto population guarded itself from fires. Individually, they had to be very careful of the ghetto plitkes, that means the little tin sheet metal ovens, which were manufactured in the Ghetto, which both heated and cooked a few pots at the same time. Because of the shortage in wood and because even more families lived in one apartment, these little plitkes ovens were very commonplace.
At first, there were about 50 ghetto firefighters. In parallel to the frequent reductions of the ghetto system, in the end there remained in total some 15-20 firefighters. Like the Ghetto Police and other higher functionaries of the ghetto institutions, the Firefighters also wore uniform hats and armbands the symbol of kingdom in Ghetto.
Aside from their direct duties, the firefighters also carried out the following auxiliary functions:
First, they helped the Ghetto Police and the Labor Office mobilize people to work, during the first ghetto period. Whenever it would be necessary to collect a certain number of Jews for forced labor, mainly for the Aerodrome, the Firefighters participated in these jobs. They also helped the Ghetto Police in their other jobs. In essence, they were a type of police assistant.
Second, their duty was to guard and maintain the Ghetto Fence. When someone tried to smuggle food products in through the Ghetto Fence, it would be necessary to fix the disturbed barbed wire of the fence around the Ghetto almost every day. By the way, this was a good chance for the Firefighters themselves to do business at the Ghetto Fence in the time of the repair work.
For a certain time, the Firefighters also maintained a bakery which was very popular for the ghetto Jews, during the hunger months in the Ghetto, from Autumn, 1941 until Spring, 1942. Even though their bread was almost always an unbaked, squashed dough, the hungry ghetto population never rejected such bread, which contained more water than flour…
During the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto institutions, during Goecke's time, the German camp management did not disband the Firefighters Commando and it remained in existence until the deportation from the Ghetto.
Those participating as Ghetto Firefighters were: Abramovich (liberated after leaving the Ghetto); Engineer Oshinsky, Finkelstein, Lifshitz (all were liberated in Dachau), and others.
Drawing and Painting Workshop
|- Completion of various graphic works
To complete the schematic picture of the ghetto institutions, it is necessary to also say a few words about the Drawing and Painting Workshop which was created at the end of 1941 and existed until the liquidation of the Ghetto.
The activity of the Drawing and Painting Workshop consisted of completing posters for public orders, compliances, and notices, which the Elders Council or other Jewish institutions needed to publicize to the population. They would also prepare the various symbols for the ghetto institutions, and the writing on the armbands for the Jewish Police, Firemen, Brigadiers and Column Leaders, higher officials, etc.
In the Painting Workshops they would also draw various diagrams about the activities of the ghetto institutions, especially for the Elders Council and from the Jewish Labor Office. A portion of the graphic work, together with the reports, would be sent over to the official regime divisions which had to do with the Ghetto. There they would also finish patterns for work cards and other printed items which were later duplicated, in a primitive manner, in the necessary number of copies.
But very quickly the Germans enjoyed the workmanship skill of the painting workshop, and they began to make orders for their institutions. The Nazi ghetto-rulers often observed the Drawing and Painting Workshop, not only during the period when the Ghetto was under the authority of the City Commissariat, but also during Goecke's time. So, for example, very often Goecke would sit there for hours and chat with the people of the workshop about painting, and similar topics.
In the Large Ghetto Workshops, as we know, a division existed to produce dolls and other children's toys. These products were shipped to the Nazi's children in Germany. The models for these toy products would be finished under the supervision of craftsmen from the Painting Workshop.
Leading the Drawing and Painting Workshop was the gifted graphic artist Gadiel (liberated in Dachau); his assistants were: Engineer Mishelski, Mrs. Kagan, Mrs. Gurevitch (all survived to liberation); Schmidt, Rosenbaum, Rozin (all died), and others.
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 © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 08 May 2023 by JH