Kovno Ghetto

The Kovno ghetto was a ghetto established by Nazi Germany to hold the Lithuanian Jews of Kaunas during the Holocaust. At its peak, the Ghetto held 29,000 people, most of whom were later sent to concentration and extermination camps, or were shot at the Ninth Fort. About 500 Jews escaped from work details and directly from the Ghetto, and joined Soviet partisan forces in the distant forests of southeast Lithuania and Belarus.

WW2-Holocaust-ROstland big legend
Ghettos Reichskommissariat Ostland (marked with red-gold stars)


The Nazis established a civilian administration under SA Brigadefuhrer Hans Cramer to replace military rule in place from the invasion of Lithuania on June 22, 1941. The Lithuanian Provisional Government was officially disbanded by the Nazis after only a few weeks, but not before approval for the establishment of a ghetto under the supervision of Lithuanian military commandant of Kaunas Jurgis Bobelis, extensive laws enacted against Jews and the provision of auxiliary police to assist the Nazis in the genocide. Between July and August 15, 1941, the Germans concentrated Jews who survived the initial pogroms, some 29,000 people, in a ghetto established in Vilijampolė (Slabodka). It was an area of small primitive houses and no running water which had been cleared of its mainly Jewish population in pogroms by Lithuanian activists beginning on June 24.


Massacre Kovno Garage 27 JUNE 1941b
Civilians looking at the massacre of 68 Jews in the Lietukis garage of Kaunas on June 25 or 27, 1941

Initially, the ghetto had two parts, called the "small" and "large" ghetto, separated by Paneriai Street and connected by a small wooden bridge over the street. Each ghetto was enclosed by barbed wire and closely guarded. Both were overcrowded, with each person allocated less than ten square feet of living space. The Germans and Lithuanians destroyed the small ghetto on October 4, 1941, and killed almost all of its inhabitants at the Ninth Fort. Later, the Germans continually reduced the ghetto's size, forcing Jews to relocate several times. . Later that same month, on October 29, 1941, the Germans staged what became known as the "Great Action." In a single day, they shot around 10,000 Jews at the Ninth Fort.

The ghetto in Kovno provided forced labor for the German military. Jews were employed primarily as forced laborers at various sites outside the ghetto, especially in the construction of a military airbase in Aleksotas. The Jewish council (Aeltestenrat; Council of Elders), headed by Dr. Elkhanan Elkes, also created workshops inside the ghetto for those women, children, and elderly who could not participate in the labor brigades. Eventually, these workshops employed almost 6,500 people. The council hoped the Germans would not kill Jews who were producing for the army.

Underground school

As an act of defiance an underground school was conducted in the Kovno Ghetto when such education was banned in 1942. A remarkable photo of one of the classes of that school features in the US Holocaust publication, "The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto". Identification of the teacher visible in that photo is given in a website that deals with the hidden school.[1].

On March 27-28, 1944, some 1,600 children aged 12 or less, alongside many of their parents who attempted to intervene, and elderly people aged 55 or more, approximately 2,500 in total, were rounded up and murdered in the Kinder Aktion ("children action"). 40 Jewish Ghetto policemen who refused under torture to disclose hiding locations where also murdered. During this time, police cars roamed the Ghetto streets and music was blared over loudspeakers to mute the terrified screams of families. Reports of similar actions at other towns had reached the Ghetto prior to the round-up, and some parents managed to smuggle their children to non-Jewish foster homes outside the Ghetto. However, the vast majority of Ghetto children where murdered. Very few Jewish children survived by the time Kovno was liberated by the Russian forces on August 1, 1944.

Smuggling babies out of the Ghetto

From 1942 births were not permitted in the ghetto and pregnant women faced death. However a number of babies of ages from about 9 months to 15 months were smuggled out of the Kovno Ghetto to willing Lithuanian foster mothers.[2]


The orchestra operated in the ghetto between November 1, 1942 and September 15, 1943. Its leader and musical conductor was the famous pre-war Lithuanian musician Michael Hofmekler. The orchestra performed about 83 concerts, most of them were held in the building of the former Slobodka Yeshiva.

Final days

In the autumn of 1943, the SS assumed control of the ghetto and converted it into the Kovno concentration camp. Wilhelm Göcke served as the camp's commandant. The Jewish council's role was drastically curtailed. The Nazis dispersed more than 3,500 Jews to subcamps where strict discipline governed all aspects of daily life. On October 26, 1943, the SS deported more than 2,700 people from the main camp. The SS sent those deemed fit to work to Vaivara concentration camp in Estonia, and deported surviving children and the elderly to Auschwitz.

On July 8, 1944, the Germans evacuated the camp, deporting most of the remaining Jews to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany or to the Stutthof camp, near Danzig, on the Baltic coast. Three weeks before the Soviet army arrived in Kovno, the Germans razed the ghetto to the ground with grenades and dynamite. As many as 2,000 people burned to death or were shot while trying to escape the burning ghetto. The Red Army occupied Kovno on August 1, 1944. Of Kovno's few Jewish survivors, 500 had survived in forests or in a single bunker which had escaped detection during the final liquidation; the Germans evacuated an additional 2,500 to concentration camps in Germany.


Kauno getas 2007-06-08
Monument of the Kaunas Ghetto

Throughout the years of hardship and horror, the Jewish community in Kovno documented its story in secret archives, diaries, drawings and photographs. Many of these artifacts lay buried in the ground when the ghetto was destroyed. Discovered after the war, these few written remnants of a once thriving community provide evidence of the Jewish community's defiance, oppression, resistance, and death. George Kadish (Hirsh Kadushin), for example, secretly photographed the trials of daily life within the ghetto with a hidden camera through the buttonhole of his overcoat.

The Kovno ghetto had several Jewish resistance groups. The resistance acquired arms, developed secret training areas in the ghetto, and established contact with Soviet partisans in the forests around Kovno.

In 1943, the General Jewish Fighting Organization (Yidishe Algemeyne Kamfs Organizatsye) was established, uniting the major resistance groups in the ghetto. Under this organization's direction, some 300 ghetto fighters escaped from the Kovno ghetto to join Jewish partisan groups. About 70 died in action.

The Jewish council in Kovno actively supported the ghetto underground. Moreover, a number of the ghetto's Jewish police participated in resistance activities. The Germans executed 34 members of the Jewish police for refusing to reveal specially constructed hiding places used by Jews in the ghetto.

Notable prisoners

Aharon Barak
Aharon Barak, survivor of the Kovno Ghetto and later President of the Supreme Court of Israel (1995–2006)

See also


  1. ^ "The Underground School in the Kovno Ghetto". Jewishhistoryaustralia.net. 1944-03-27. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
  2. ^ "The Underground School in the Kovno Ghetto". Jewishhistoryaustralia.net. 1944-03-27. Retrieved 2013-01-21.


  • This article incorporates text from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been released under the GFDL.
  • Gar, Joseph. Umkum fun der Yidisher Kovne. Munich, 1948.
  • Goldberg, Jacob. Bletlech fun Kovner Eltestnrat // Fun letztn Churbn, № 7, Munich, 1948.
  • Grinhoyz, Shmuel. Dos kultur-lebn in kovner geto // Lite (M. Sudarsky et al., eds.), vol. 1. – New York 1951.
  • Lurie, Esther. A living witness: Kovno ghetto – scenes and types: 30 drawings and water-colours with accompanying text. – Tel Aviv, 1958.
  • Garfunkel, Leib. Kovna ha-Yehudit be-Hurbanah. – Jerusalem, 1959.
  • Lazerson-Rostovski, Tamar. Yomanah shel Tamarah: Ḳovnah 1942-1946. – Tel Aviv, 1975.
  • Goldstein-Golden, Lazar. From Ghetto Kovno to Dachau. – New York, 1985.
  • Frome, Frieda. Some dare to dream: Frieda Frome's escape from Lithuania – Ames, 1988.
  • Mishell, William W. Kaddish for Kovno: life and death in a Lithuanian ghetto 1941-1945. – Chicago, 1988.
  • Tory, Avraham. Surviving the Holocaust: the Kovno Ghetto diary. – Cambridge, 1990.
  • Kowno // Enzyklopädie des Holocaust. Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden, Band II. – Berlin, 1993, p. 804–807.
  • Oshry, Ephraim. The annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry – New York, 1995.
  • Levin, Dov. Fighting back: Lithuanian Jewry's armed resistance to the Nazis, 1941-1945. – New York, 1997, p. 116–125, 157–160.
  • Elkes, Joel. Values, belief and survival: Dr Elkhanan Elkes and the Kovno Ghetto. – London, 1997.
  • Hidden history of the Kovno Ghetto. – Boston, 1997.
  • Littman, Sol. War criminal on trial: Rauca of Kaunas. – Toronto, 1998.
  • Ginsburg, Waldemar. And Kovno wept. – Laxton, 1998.
  • Birger, Zev. No time for patience: my road from Kaunas to Jerusalem: a memoir of a Holocaust survivor. – New York, 1999.
  • Beiles, Yudel. Judke. – Vilnius, 2002.
  • Ganor, Solly. Light one candle: a survivor's tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem. – New York, 2003.
  • Segalson, Arie. Ba-Lev ha-Ofel. Kiliona shel Kovno ha-yehudit – mabat mi-bifhim. – Jerusalem, 2003.
  • Ginaite-Rubinson, Sara. Resistance and survival: the Jewish community in Kaunas, 1941-1944. – Oakville, 2005.
  • The Yad Vashem encyclopedia of the ghettos during the Holocaust. Vol. 1: A-M. – Jerusalem, 2009, p. 290–299.
  • Smuggled in potato sacks: fifty stories of the hidden children of the Kaunas Ghetto. – London, 2011.
  • Dieckmann, Christoph. Deutsche Besatzungspolitik in Litauen, 1941-1944, 2 t. – Göttingen, 2011, p. 930–958, 1055–1105.
  • The clandestine history of the Kovno Jewish ghetto police / by anonymous members of the Kovno Jewish ghetto police. – Bloomington, 2014.

External links

Coordinates: 54°54′57″N 23°53′18″E / 54.91583°N 23.88833°E

Abe Rich

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Adrian von Renteln

Theodor Adrian von Renteln (September 15, 1897 – 1946 (disputed)) was an activist and politician in Nazi Germany. During World War II, he was General Commissioner of Generalbezirk Litauen and was involved in perpetrating the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Of Baltic German origin, von Renteln studied law and economics in Berlin and Rostock, but became a journalist. In 1928, he joined the NSDAP and the following year, he became the founder and head of the National Socialist Schoolchildren's League (NSS). In 1931, he was appointed the head of the Hitler Youth, but he gave up leadership of the two organizations upon his election to the Reichstag in 1932.

In 1932–1933 he led the Combat League of the Commercial Middle Class (NS-Kampfbund für den Gewerblichen Mittelstand), an organisation allegedly "Deflecting Jewish Atrocity and Boycott-Mongering", participating in the boycott of Jewish businesses and other forms of persecution. In June 1933, he was appointed President of the National Socialist Council of Industry and Trade (Nationalsozialistische Handwerks-, Handels-, und Gewerbeorganisation or NS-HAGO), holding this position until 1935, when this organisation was merged with the German Labor Front (DAF). Von Renteln became a staff leader of the German Labor Front. In 1940, he was appointed the Reich Leader of the Trade and Artisanship Section of the NSDAP (Hauptamtsleiter Handel und Handwerk in der Reichsleitung der NSDAP). He was also the head of the Supreme Court of the Reich Labor Front.

In July 1941, he was appointed the Generalkommissar of Generalbezirk Litauen (roughly modern Lithuania), where he took harsh measures against the Jewish population. On August 26, 1941, he ordered that all telephones and lines were to be stripped, postal service be cut off, and bridges to the Kaunas (Kovno) Ghetto be surrounded with barbed wire fences to prevent people from jumping off. This order also forbade the Jews of the Kovno ghetto to use doors, window frames, or houses for fuel. In 1943, he was implicated in the clearing of the Vilna Ghetto, deporting 20,000 Jews to concentration or death camps, as well as in plundering.

According to some accounts, after World War II, he was captured by the Russians, tried, and hanged for war crimes in 1946. According to other sources, after the war he lived under a false identity in South America and died there. His death has never been fully confirmed.

Aharon Barak

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Barak was President of the Supreme Court of Israel from 1995 to 2006. Prior to that, he served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel (1978–95), as the Attorney General of Israel (1975–78), and as the Dean of the Law Faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1974–75).

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Avraham Grodzinski

Rabbi Avraham Grodzinski was a Rabbi born in 1883 in Warsaw, Poland and died in 1944 in Kovna, Lithuania. He is best known for being the primary disciple of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the "Alter of Slabodka", serving as the Mashgiach Ruchani of the Slabodka yeshiva, and for authoring a book of mussar lectures, Toras Avraham.

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Chaim Yellin

Chaim Yellin (Hebrew: חיים ילין; Lithuanian: Chaimas Jelinas; 1912–1944) was a Yiddish poet and leader of the resistance movement in the Kovno Ghetto during the German occupation of Lithuania.

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Erich Ehrlinger

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He was also the commander of the Security Police (SiPo) and the Security Service (SD) for central Russia as well as a department chief in the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA). He did not hold a doctorate degree, as is sometimes reported. He would eventually rise to the rank of SS-Standartenführer.

George Kadish

George Kadish, born Zvi (Hirsh) Kadushin (died September 1997), was a Lithuanian Jewish photographer who documented life in the Kovno Ghetto during the Holocaust, the period of the Nazi German genocide against Jews.

Prior to World War II he was a mathematics, science and electronics teacher at a Hebrew High School in Kovno, Lithuania.

As a hobby, Kadish was a photographer. He was skilled at making home-made cameras. During the period of Nazi control of Lithuania (along with indigenous Lithuanian collaborators) he successfully photographed various scenes of life and its difficulties in the ghetto in clandestine circumstances. Kadish constructed cameras by which he could photograph through the buttonhole of his coat or over a window sill. He was able to photograph sensitive scenes that would attract the ire of Nazis or collaborators, such as scenes of people gathered for forced labor, burning of the ghetto, and deportations. [1]

His photographs were featured in a 2003 exhibition at the YIVO Institute in New York.

Jay M. Ipson

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Joseph Kagan, Baron Kagan

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Shlomo Shafir

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From November 1943, until July 8th, 1944, there was a German slave labor Camp in Šančiai. which was a subcamp of the SS-run KZ Kauen, located at the site of the former Kovno Ghetto


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