Q. You never saw him anymore?
A. Yes. We tried to smuggle cyanide to him. We did not
succeed. Something strange happened meanwhile. He was
tortured. He died. Historians will judge us as having
acted either shamefully of justifiably. If I myself am
entitled to express an opinion, today – even more than
then – I suppose that Wittenberg’s death at that time –
and it was with the approval of the high command and with
my approval that we delivered him into the hands of the
Gestapo – was one of the greatest achievements of the
revolt, one of the greatest acts of heroism of Jewish
underground fighting in the ghetto; for there is no
fighting which can match it, since between us and the
enemy there was something more.
Q. My final question, Mr. Kovner. Up to the time that you
established the Jewish fighting force – how many of the
Jews of Vilna went to Ponar for extermination?
A. About 40,000. This went on intensively over a period of
Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, do you have any questions?
Dr. Servatius: No, I have no questions.
Witness Kovner: Your Honour, President of the Court, may I
be permitted to relate something in connection with the
oath, with the affirmation that I made at the beginning of
Presiding Judge: What is it that you want to say?
Witness Kovner: I said that I would tell the truth,
nothing but the truth and all the truth. I am certain of
the fact that I have told the truth, nothing but the
truth, the whole truth…
Presiding Judge: This provides me with an opportunity to
say to you and, through you, to the Attorney General as
well: “All the truth” means all the truth in answer to the
question which you have been asked. It is obvious that
this is not the whole truth. We, too, understand this.
Attorney General: In order that no doubt should remain in
this matter I would like to ask the witness: In all that
you have said, did you state the truth, nothing but the
truth and the whole truth?
Presiding Judge: That is clear, Mr. Hausner.
Witness Kovner: Absolutely clear.
Presiding Judge: It is clear that this was not the purport
of the witness’ remark. Thank you Mr. Kovner, you have
completed your evidence.
Pardon me, please come back, there has been a
Judge Raveh: I merely wanted to clarify one thing. You
spoke at the beginning of your evidence of three walls. Do
you remember? My question is a short one and the reply can
also be very short. The first wall of the collaborators –
to what were you referring?
Witness Kovner: They were those para-military
organizations of local residents – Lithuanians, after that
there were Estonians, Ukrainians, White Russians, who
preferred to force a defenceless population to its death
rather than to go to the front.
Q. The second wall, you said – were the incited masses, I
believe. To whom were you referring?
A. I was referring to the local residents, having anti
Semitic sentiments and outlooks, non-Jews.
Q. And the third wall – those who were planning. To whom
did you refer?
A. To them, to the Germans.
Judge Halevi: At the end of your remarks you said:
“Between us and the enemy there was something more,” if I
understood you correctly. What were you referring to?
Witness Kovner: The illusion that we all did not share the
same fate. That until the last moment, even if one knew
that there was a Ponar, they always gave us a spark, this
distorted hope, that possibly you would be exempt. The
frightful illusion produced frightful results of people
wanting to prolong the life of some at the expense of
others, and depriving the masses of any possibility of a
different attitude. Only a minority that felt itself
possibly less stricken, less misled, less under shock, due
to its past, its education and its adherence to certain
movements which trained people to give a personal example,
perhaps only they could cope with it. And it is not,
evidently, a matter of chance from where the people came
in every ghetto who formed the fighting nucleus. Perhaps
it arose from the fact that they experienced less
degradation, that they were less panic-stricken, and they
knew better how to live in the ghetto as free men in every
Q. This illusion was clearly deliberately fostered by the
Q. In a systematic fashion?
A. In a systematic way. In thousands of ways; however much
we reveal, it will not be sufficient to depict it all.
Presiding Judge: Thank you very much, Mr. Kovner. Mr.
Hausner, we have heard shocking things here, in the
language of a poet, but I maintain that in many parts of
this evidence we have strayed far from the subject of this
trial. There is no possibility at all of interrupting
evidence such as this, while it is being rendered, out of
respect for the witness and out of respect for the matters
he is relating. It is your task to prepare the witness, to
explain matters to him, and to eliminate everything that
is not relevant to
the trial, so as not to place the Court once again – and
this is not the first time – in such a situation. I regret
that I have to make these remarks, after the conclusion of
evidence such as this.
Attorney General: Your Honours, perhaps when my turn comes
for a final summation of my arguments, it will become
clear to the Court that these things are not of such a
Presiding Judge: This was not the first time that I have
mentioned this. The Court has a certain view of this trial
according to the indictment, and we have stated this more
than once – sometimes in a hint, sometimes more clearly,
and the Prosecution must direct itself in accordance of
what it hears from the Court.
Attorney General: This we do, undoubtedly.
Presiding Judge: Yet, nevertheless, I do not see that
these matters have penetrated to the extent that they
Attorney General: Perhaps this is so, because Your Honours
are not yet aware of everything which we still intend to
bring before you.
Presiding Judge: We heard your opening address which, it
seems to me, lays down the general lines of what you wish
to place before the Court.