Kovno Cemetery Database 1941-1943
Compiled by Sylvia Nusinov
The Kovno Cemetery List was produced by the Chevra Kadisha, the burial society of Viliampolė (Vilijampolė [Lith], Vilyampolskaya [Rus], Slobodka [Yid], Wiliampol [Pol]), a suburb of Kovno (now Kaunas, Lithuania).
It is a document which is held in the archives of the Beit Lochamai HaGetaot (the Ghetto Fighters' House) in Israel. The document was produced by Yitzhak bar Moshe Devortsky, and is a list of those who died in the Kovno Ghetto between 18 August 1941 and 31 December 1943, and were buried there. It is considered to be a list of those who died "natural" deaths — as opposed to those who were murdered by the “killing squads”.
The American Jewish Archives, in Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of many repositories of vital Holocaust manuscripts. Following a phoned query I had made regarding information relating to Kovno, a photocopy of the original Kovno Cemetery List was found in the AJA's Jacob Rader Marcus Center's Holocaust Vital Statistics File. Mr. Zvi Shner, of Asherat, Israel, had sent the manuscript to the Archives in 1982, where it was subsequently placed in their Holocaust file, waiting to be rediscovered.
This 44-page Yiddish manuscript was mailed to me within a month, and included two cover pages, printed in English, describing the contents. Each page contained 8 to 12 columns and approximately 20 lines, with surnames listed in the first column. I estimated the list contained nearly 900 surnames of the Jewish dead buried in the Kovno Cemetery between the years 1941 to 1943.
The list contains the following categories [reading from right to left on the Yiddish pages, and in the English translation from left to right]:
After a month of searching for translators, at the suggestion of Arline Sachs, coordinator of the IAJGS Cemetery Project, I appealed for volunteer translators by posting on the JewishGen and LitvakSIG Discussion Groups. The volunteers who so ably contributed their time and expertise to the Kovno Cemetery List project were:
Dr. Joseph Ash, Rabbi Edward Cohen, Marc Dver, Prof. G.I. Esterson, Rodney Falk, Prof. Zvi Griliches, Ellen A. Jacobs, three members of Dorothy Kohanski's Senior Group [Harold Friedman, Yetta Gotsyn, and Alex Malkin], Martha Lev-Zion, Avi Lishower, Jeffrey Maynard, Kevin Ossey, Harold Rhode, Robert Weiss, and Jim Yarin.
Prior to entering the Kovno Cemetery List into the database, I asked Robert Weiss if he would proofread the completed project, due to obvious transliteration variations by the volunteers. Additionally, the original list is identified as being written in Yiddish, while Bob defines the List as being written in Hebrew script.
While the 44-page Hebrew manuscript, through translation, and Bob's annotation, has grown to 126 pages, it has been kept intact, retaining the original volunteers' translations, while linked to Bob's notes and transliterations.
Notes on the Transliteration of the Kovno Cemetery ListBy Robert Weiss, July 1998
The list is in an easy-to-read Hebrew script but the reproduction makes small sections difficult to read. An attempt has been made to standardize transliteration of the personal names and place-names in the Kovno Cemetery List. The original transliteration was done by over a dozen volunteers, who brought with them varying backgrounds and knowledge bases. This resulted in variations in the transliterated names.
For example, the many different ways the common surname "aleph-raish-aleph-nun-aleph-vuv-vuv-yud-tet-shin" was transliterated as "Aaron/Aran/Aron-o/a/e-witz/wicz/vits/vitch/vich". The Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, fortunately, would have captured all of the variations in a search, but it is desirable to standardize the transliteration within a single database. Then a Yiddish name on the list would be transliterated in the same way each time it occurred, and the rules would allow unambiguous transliteration back to the Yiddish or Hebrew spelling.
The names on the original list were written in Hebrew script. Surnames were, for the most part, written in their Yiddish (not Hebrew) forms, making their transliteration a simpler job, since the vowels are explicit in Yiddish. Common Biblical given names such as Yaakov, Shlomo, Shimon, Moshe, Rakhel, Sarah etc. were written in their Hebrew form without vowels (unpointed).
Since the locale of this list was Lithuania, and the language was spoken with a Litvak Ashkenazic accent, some of the names were actually transcribed as they were spoken instead of in their formal biblical form. In other cases, the local dielectical pronunciation was actually chosen for the transliteration of the biblical name (e.g. Rokhel, Yisroel).
Some arbitrariness occurs when transliterating Yiddish into English in the case of certain letter combinations. For example:
Street names have been authenticated against a list of the streets of Kovno in 1937. In cases where the street was not listed, a question mark ("?") was used to indicate that the name could not be authenticated. In some cases, a possible match is given in parentheses with a question mark indicating an educated guess.
Subsequent Review October 2018
Benny Strashunski, the grandson of Feivish Strashunski who was killed in Kovno ghetto, did a review of the data in this database and determined that there were records missing and that there was an opportunity to update the list using other sources. According to Benny, his goals were to add 40 missing records, standardize transliterations, and to adjust the existing data for completeness and accuracy. Benny’s late grandfather was one of the 40 missing records in the original database. The following are the steps and resources Benny used to amend the existing database:
Addresses are based on two sources:
In addition, images from the original register are linked to the appropriate records. The adjustments made from this review are also included in JewishGen’s JOWBR database.
In addition, thanks to JewishGen Inc. for providing the website and database expertise to make this database accessible. Special thanks to Avraham Groll, and Warren Blatt for their continued contributions to Jewish genealogy. Particular thanks to Nolan Altman, coordinator of Holocaust files.
Last Update: April 24, 2019 by Avraham Groll