The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/e/eichmann.adolf/transcripts/Sessions/Session-027-07

Archive/File: people/e/eichmann.adolf/transcripts/Sessions/Session-027-07
Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Presiding Judge: Was he a Russian?

Witness Kovner: Yes. A Russian with the rank of general.
When I asked "Why?" he replied that his intelligence
officer complained that when Nazis fell into the hands of
our partisans, the Jews, they knew what awaited them and
it was impossible to get any word out of them in an
interrogation. I wanted to reply to him and tell him that
when such men fell into our hands - our men didn't greet
them with cries of "Hurrah," but with each blow our
comrades shouted: "For mein Estherle, for mein Rochele,
for mein Moishele" (on account of my Esther, my Rachel, my
Moshe). I wanted to tell him about my family and about the
60,000 Jews of Vilna and about millions. Instead of that I
told him of my recollection of the baby being knocked
against the wall. I remember that this Soviet officer's
eyes filled with tears and he said: "Bog s'vami, rebiata"
God be with you, boys, I am not in a position to pass
judgment on you." The memory of that baby on that night
revealed to me some of the horror, but the atrocity
inherent in the system still eluded me and many others. It
was revealed only many days later, and it required many
attempts on our part to believe it - and possibly this was
one of the most tragic aspects - and to arrive at a real
assessment of what the horror of the system was.

Attorney General: What was the horror of the system?

Witness Kovner: Let us go back to that day. On the
following morning, this hypocritical announcement was
published to the effect that soldiers had been fired upon.
But what happened that night?  On that night about 10,000
men, women and children were taken to Ponar to be put to
death in order to vacate the area which had been planned
in advance for the ghetto. I remember that, in 1944, in
July, when we returned to Vilna and tried to find
documents at the Gestapo, in the office of the District
Commander, I found a document signed by the same
Schweinberger which was a kind of "situation report" -
"Lagebericht" they called it, which had been sent to the
"SS und Polizei-Fuehrer, Ostland ,"in which he reported
that on 1 September the area intended as a ghetto for the
Jews of Vilna had been made ready; all preparations had
been completed for the setting up of the ghetto. In this
way the ground was prepared.

Presiding Judge: What happened to this report?

Witness Kovner: This report is kept in the archives of the
Jewish Museum in Vilna.

Attorney General: Do you remember the name of the
department that was on this report? This matter is most
important, and you should only tell us if you positively
remember it.

A. I don't remember it positively. But I believe that I
saw, for the first time, this abbreviation of IVB4 - I
cannot say for certain, but years afterwards when I
learned what it was, I remembered as in a flash of
lightening what it referred to. I cannot assert this
positively, but it was a "position report" to the effect
that the area had been readied. And it had been prepared
by means of a provocation, as if Germans had been fired
upon. In the ghetto this thing was called "the night of
the provocation." It was something which had been planned
in advance - how to prepare an area for a ghetto. This was
just a small aspect of the system that became apparent in
the course of time.

Judge Halevi:  Did you see this "position report?"

Witness Kovner: I had it in my own hand. In 1944 I was one
of the founders of this museum.

Presiding Judge: There ought to be many more documents

Attorney General: Many thousands. We applied to the Soviet
Union and requested authority to obtain documents. To my
regret, we received no response.

Judge Halevi:  Until now?

Attorney General: Until now. No reply was received to the
application of the Government of Israel.

Witness Kovner: Perhaps I may be permitted, if we are
talking about the system, to relate something of a
particular personal experience on that night?

Presiding Judge: Please.

Witness Kovner: With the coming of dawn, when I was
looking for a way of escape from the place, I saw the
following picture before my eyes. In the streets which
were bereft of Jews, the entire roadway was full with
their abandoned
belongings. Arrayed across the exit of the street stood a
column of armed Lithuanians. Behind them and at their
side, was a mass of men and mainly women from amongst the
neighbours who had gathered from the vicinity, and mainly
from the city's suburbs, with the scent of booty in their
nostrils at the possibility of helping themselves to
ownerless property. On the side, elegant in their uniforms
and their jackboots stood the Germans. Later on, I
realized that more than the horror of the brick walls and
the gate of the ghetto that confronted us was the horror
of these three walls of wickedness. They succeeded in
setting up between the murderers and us these walls, their
armed collaborators and the mass of the people, incited
city-dwellers and villagers who acted either
intentionally, out of antiSemitic incentive or because we
were beyond the law and they could possess themselves of
property left ownerless, in the event they became
accomplices to the crime; and behind all this were those
who planned it. To pierce these three walls was much more
terrible than to break through the brick fence. How they,
the architects of murder, managed to plan such an
architectural structure of evil - it is not for me to

Q. Even if the Jews managed to escape, to break through
the walls, was the forest a protection for them?

A. Does the honourable Attorney General regard it as
essential at this stage to ask me this?

Q. Yes. Please answer, since you spoke of...

A. Yes and no. The forest gave cover. The forests were
large, huge, never-ending woods. In order, for example, to
get from our ghetto to the forest which seemed to us to be
a suitable base for partisan operations, we had to get
away from the ghetto, in other words, to break out of the
ghetto, to cross an urban and rural area held by the
occupiers, collaborators and the general population,
mostly hostile and intimidated, and to cross 200
kilometres until we reached the forest. We had to traverse
200 kilometres to reach the first forest, the forests of
Narocz. And when we arrived at the forest, it was indeed a
hiding place. It could have provided cover. But when we
tried to bring to safety, to that place, those who needed
first of all to be rescued, that is to say not ourselves
but those who were without protection and without arms -
this was one of the most tragic episodes, namely that for
those who were most in need of protection, for them the
forest could not afford a protection.

Attorney General: [Handing him a written document]  What
is this, Mr. Kovner?

Witness Kovner: This is an original letter sent to the
partisan commander, Markov, and the partisan commander
Yurdis, Kom. Brig., the Brigade Commander. The letter is
written in Russian - I shall read it in Hebrew:

"I am sending you an additional group of Jewish fighters
from the organization of partisans of Ghetto N [in order
not to reveal which ghetto] - F.P.O. [09Fareinikte
Partizanen Organizatzie (United Partisans Organization -
the name of the Jewish Fighting Organization of Vilna)] to
the brigade that has been set up, the partisan brigade
"Nekome" [Vengeance]. The commander of the detachment is
Ziss [this is an abbreviation of the name of one of our
Ziskowitz]; his deputy is Raff. Their strength is 32
[meaning 32 fighters]. The equipment - personal equipment
robbed from the Germans. Their character: capable of
fighting, loyal partisans. We are now engaged in the final
days of the armed resistance in the ghetto. With battle
greetings, Signed Uri, Commander. 10.9.43."

This was a letter which I myself sent. Uri was my
underground name. I supplied it to the detachments that
set out.

Presiding Judge: This will be T/280. Do you have a Hebrew

Witness Kovner: No. I translated it into Hebrew on the

Attorney General: Did you have to indicate that they were
coming with arms? And if you had sent them without arms,
what would have happened?

Witness Kovner: Instead of giving you a hypothetical
reply, I shall answer with what happened.

Q. What happened when you sent them without arms?

A. Well, it depended. There was no single fate. There were
some whom we were unable to send only with arms. We didn't
have so many arms.

Presiding Judge: Is this the letter you wrote? How did
this letter come back into your possession?

Witness Kovner: This is the letter they kept in their

possession, since they didn't reach Markov, the brigade


Q. And they returned it to you?

A. Yes, they returned it.

Judge Halevi:  Your men?

Witness Kovner: Yes. This is taken from the archives of
the command of the Jewish fighting force.

Attorney General: Generally speaking, were the Jews
admitted into the partisans forces when they arrived at
the forest without arms in their possession?

Witness Kovner: Yes, they were accepted.

Q. Why did you point out here that they were armed?

A. They were accepted. But here, in this case, that same
Markov, with whom I was in contact, requested us to send
the young people out into the forest. We repeatedly
explained to him, both to him and to the higher command,
that our purpose was to give a fighting answer to the
murder inside the ghetto, for the sake of our honour, for
the sake of the community amongst whom we were living. We,
the youth, or a minority of it, were still able to save
our lives. But we were not seeking to save our lives. We
were living as integral part of this people, including our
mothers, our sisters and our brothers, and we were seeking
a way to save them or their honour. To remove the few arms
and the few young people that were there inside the ghetto
and to
abandon everybody else, this we wanted to do only when the
last hour came. He ordered us to come only with arms. We
did the opposite. We sent many without arms with an armed

Their fate varied. Until the hard times came in the
forests of the partisans, they found shelter. "Family
Camps" they were called. There were very many there,
thousands and  tens of thousands. The fighting partisans
supplied them with food, attended to them, protected them.
But then hard times came to the forests. After the Germans
had managed to assemble large forces, they mounted a
search in the forests. In a tragic period such as this,
when we partisans were compelled to retreat from one
forest to another, the bitterest fate overtook these
unarmed family camps.

Judgde Halevi  At the hands of the Germans or of whom?

Witness Kovner: At the hands of the Germans. The
partisans, the fighters wanted to rid themselves of this
burden. There were also exceptional places where they did
everything they could possibly do for the sake of helping
the family camps as well.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, you must guide the witness.

Attorney General: Yes, I shall guide him. Mr. Kovner, you
have shown me a number of documents. Perhaps you would
kindly explain to us what these documents are. I shall,
through you, submit them all. Two of those you produced to
us I have submitted with the aid of the previous witness,
Dr. Dworzecki [Points to some documents] What are these

Witness Kovner: These are a few of the many papers with

which they furnished the Jews at various periods, in order

to disguise the system of extermination. This is the first

"Passierschein" (Movement Pass) without which it was

impossible to walk in streets. Afterwards one needed - and

this is not here - a certificate like this with a

photograph, and anyone who possessed one without a

photograph, - was taken away.

Presiding Judge: Was this a refusal to give a certificate?

Witness Kovner: A refusal form.

Q. This document is numbered T/281.

A. [Holding a certificate in his hand] This is the only
certificate which enabled the Jews to work. The police
ordered the Judenrat and the Jewish police to give
certificates such as these to persons in whom they were
interested for work. This deceived many, as if their fate
depended upon one commander or another, on this unit or

Presiding Judge: This certificate has been marked T/282.

Witness Kovner: [Holding a certificate in his hand] This
certificate - some documents which were here are missing
and not all of those were in this file.

Q. What file is this?

A. In the Vilna Ghetto we buried the main archives of the
Jewish fighting force. When we returned we found only a
portion thereof. In various ways our partisans brought
this in, and part of it was handed to me. It was stored in
the archives at Merhavia.

Attorney General: And these documents belong to the

Witness Kovner: These documents which I took from the
archives of Hashomer Hatzair at Merhavia, most, if not all
of them are to be found on microfilm at Yad Vashem. This
was the certificate which many believed to be a life

Presiding Judge: This certificate has been marked T/283.

Witness Kovner: [Holding a certificate in his hand] This
is a document of the head tax: even to death they did not
go without a tax.

Presiding Judge: This document has been marked T/284.

Witness Kovner: [Holding a certificate in his hand] This
is one of many certificates.

Attorney General: Perhaps you would read this certificate
aloud to the Court - it is not long. It discusses a
maximum sum. How much was a Jew permitted to possess in

Witness Kovner: Thirty marks. And if anyone should be
found to be holding more - his punishment was death.

Presiding Judge: Is this a copy of something?

Witness Kovner: No, this was posted on the walls. We took
this off the walls, at the time, in the ghetto.
Presiding Judge: The notice by the Head of the Ghetto is
numbered T/285.

Witness Kovner: [Holding a certificate in his hand] This
is a less important certificate, to the effect that even
in the ghetto it was permitted to move around until
certain hours only by virtue of a certificate - the

Presiding Judge: This movement certificate is marked T/286.

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