During the approximately two years of its existence starvation, disease, street executions, maltreatment, and deportations to concentrations and extermination camps reduced the ghetto's population from an estimated 40,000 to zero.
Vilna Ghetto (Julian Klaczko Street), 1941
Location of Vilna Ghetto within Lithuania
|Location||Vilnius Old Town|
|Date||6 September 1941 to 24 September 1943|
|Incident type||Imprisonment, mass shootings, forced labor, starvation, exile|
|Organizations||Nazi SS, Ypatingasis būrys|
|Camp||Kailis forced labor camp|
HKP 562 forced labor camp
|Victims||About 55,000 Jews|
Before the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939, Wilno (Vilna in Hebrew) was the capital of the Wilno Voivodship in the Second Polish Republic. The predominant languages of the city were Polish and to a lesser extent, Yiddish. The Lithuanian-speaking population at the time was a small minority, at about 6% of the city's population according to contemporary Lithuanian sources. By 1931, the city had 195,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth largest city in Poland with varied industries and new factories, as well as a well respected university.
Wilno was a predominantly Polish and Jewish city since the Polish-Lithuanian borders were delineated in 1922 by the League of Nations in the aftermath of Żeligowski's Mutiny. After the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939, Joseph Stalin transferred Wilno to Lithuania in October, according to the Soviet–Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty. Some two years later, on 26 June 1941, the German Army entered Vilna, followed by the Einsatzkommando death squad Einsatzgruppe B. Local Lithuanian leaders advocated ethnic cleansing of Jews and Poles. Over the course of the summer, German troops and their Lithuanian collaborators killed more than 21,000 Jews living in Vilnius, in a mass extermination program.
The Jewish population of Vilnius on the eve of the Holocaust was at least 60,000, some estimates say 80,000,  including refugees from German-occupied Poland to the west, minus a small number who managed to flee onward to the Soviet Union. The kidnapping and mass murder of Jews in the city commenced before the ghetto was set up by the advancing German forces, resulting in an execution of approximately 21,000 victims prior to 6 September 1941. The Lithuanian kidnappers were known in Yiddish as hapunes, meaning grabbers or snatchers.
In order to pacify the predominantly poorer Jewish quarter in the Vilnius Old Town and force the rest of the more affluent Jewish residents into the new German-envisioned ghetto, the Nazis staged – as a pretext – the so-called Great Provocation incident on 31 August 1941, led by SS Einsatzkommando 9 Oberscharführer Horst Schweinberger under orders from Gebietskommissar of the Vilnius municipality Hans Christian Hingst and Franz Murer, Hingst's deputy for Jewish affairs under “provisional directives” of Reichskommissar Hinrich Lohse.
Murer, Hingst, and Vilnius mayor Karolis Dabulevičius selected the site for the future ghetto and staged a distant sniping at German soldiers in front of a cinema, from a window on the corner of Stiklių (Glezer, meaning Szklana in Polish) and Didžioji (Wielka, Great Street in Polish, hence the name for the event) streets, by two Lithuanians in civilian clothes who had broken into an apartment belonging to Jews. The Lithuanians fled the apartment, then returned with awaiting German soldiers, captured two Jews, accused them of firing on the German soldiers, beat them and then shot them on the spot. Stiklių and Mėsinių (Jatkowa) streets were ransacked by the local militia, and Jews were beaten up.
At night, in “retaliation,” all Jews were driven out of the neighborhood the Nazis had selected as the future ghetto territory, street by street, and the next day the women and children on remaining streets were seized while the men were at work. Men at workplaces were also seized. Jews were taken to Lukiškės Prison, then to Paneriai, also known as Ponary (or Ponar), where they were murdered between 1 September and 3 September. Five to ten thousand people were murdered, including ten members of the Judenrat. The objective was to clear a territory for the establishment of a ghetto to imprison all the Jews of Vilnius and its suburbs. 
The area designated for the ghetto was the old Jewish quarter in the center of the city. While Vilna never had a ghetto per se except for some very limited restrictions on the movement and settlement of Jews during the Middle Ages, the area chosen by the Nazis for their ghetto was predominantly and historically inhabited by Jews. The Nazis split the area into two Jewish quarters (Large Ghetto and Small Ghetto), with a non-ghetto corridor running down Deutschegasse (Niemiecka or Vokiečių) Street.
On 6–7 September 1941, the Nazis herded the remaining 20,000 Jews into the two ghettos by evicting them from their homes, during which 3,700 were killed. Converts, "half-Jews" and spouses of Jews were also forced into the ghetto. The move to the ghetto was extremely hurried and difficult, and Jews were not allowed to use transportation, being able to take only what they were physically able to carry.
The two-ghetto arrangement made it easier for the Nazis to control what the victims knew of their fate beforehand, facilitating the Nazis' goal of total extermination. Like the other Jewish ghettos Nazi Germany set up during World War II, the Vilnius Ghetto was created both to dehumanize the people and to exploit its inmates as slave labor. Conditions were intended to be extremely poor and crowded, subjecting inhabitants to unsanitary conditions, disease and daily death.
Jewish Vilna was known for its distinguished medical tradition, which inmates of the ghetto managed to maintain to some degree during the Holocaust. As with most ghettos established by the Germans, a sign was put right outside in front stating: "Achtung! Seuchengefahr" ("Attention! Danger of Infection"). Mortality rates did, indeed, increase in the Vilna Ghetto as compared with before the war. However, due largely to the efforts of the ghetto's Health Department, the Vilna Ghetto had no major epidemics despite malnourishment, cold, and overcrowding. According to Dr. Lazar Epstein, head of Sanitary-Epidemiological Section of the ghetto's Health Department, the inmates of the ghetto, left to their own devices, could have lived a very long time, certainly to the end of the war, despite the numerous privations.
The Vilna Ghetto was called "Yerushalayim of the Ghettos" because it was known for its intellectual and cultural spirit. Before the war, Vilnius had been known as "Yerushalayim d'Lita" (Yiddish: Jerusalem of Lithuania) for the same reason. The center of cultural life in the ghetto was the Mefitze Haskole Library, which was called the "House of Culture". It contained a library of 45,000 volumes, reading hall, archive, statistical bureau, room for scientific work, museum, book kiosk, post office, and sports ground. Groups, such as the Literary and Artistic Union and the Brit Ivrit Union, organized events commemorating Yiddish and Hebrew authors and put on plays in these languages. The popular Yiddish magazine Folksgezunt was continued in the ghetto and its essays were presented in public lectures. Yitskhok Rudashevski (1927–1943), a young teen who wrote a diary of his life in the ghetto during 1941 to 1943, mentions a number of these events and his participation in them. He was murdered in the liquidation of 1943, probably at Paneriai. His diary was discovered in 1944 by his cousin.
The Vilna Ghetto was well known for its theatrical productions during World War II. Jacob Gens, the head of Jewish police and the ruler of the Vilna Ghetto, was given the responsibility for the starting of this theatre. Performances included poetry by Jewish Authors, dramatizations of short stories, and new work by the young people of the ghetto.
The Ghetto Theatre was a great source of revenue and had a calming effect on the public. A total of 111 performances had been given by January 10, 1943, with a total of 34,804 tickets sold. The theatre was renovated to accommodate a larger audience and be better-looking to public eye. The theatre permitted the non-Aryan race to display their power through plays and songs; for instance, one of the songs that was sung was called "Endurance."
The last theatrical production, Der Mabl (The Flood), was produced by the Swedish dramatist Henning Berger and opened in the summer of 1943, in the last week of the Ghetto's existence. The play, set in an American saloon during a flood, featured a group of people who banded together during a time of danger and need.
Joshua Sobol's play Ghetto recounts the last days of the Vilna Ghetto theatre company.
The Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (FPO), or United Partisan Organization, was formed on 21 January 1942 in the ghetto. It took for its motto "We will not go like sheep to the slaughter," proposed by Abba Kovner. This was one of the first resistance organizations established in a Nazi ghetto. Unlike in other ghettos, the resistance movement in the Vilna Ghetto was not run by ghetto officials. Jacob Gens, appointed head of the ghetto by the Nazis but originally chief of police, ostensibly cooperated with German officials in stopping armed struggle. The FPO represented the full spectrum of political persuasions and parties in Jewish life. It was led by Yitzhak Wittenberg, Josef Glazman, and Abba Kovner. The purposes of the FPO were to establish a means for the self-defence of the ghetto population, to sabotage German industrial and military activities, and to support the broader struggle of partisans and Red Army operatives against German forces. Poet Hirsh Glick, a ghetto inmate who later died after being deported to Estonia, penned the words for what became the famous Partisan Hymn, Zog nit keyn mol.
In early 1943, the Germans caught a member of the Communist underground, who, under torture, revealed some contacts; the Judenrat, in response to German threats, tried to turn Wittenberg, head of the FPO, over to the Gestapo. The FPO was able to rescue him after he was seized in the apartment of Jacob Gens in a fight with Jewish ghetto police. Gens brought in heavies, the leaders of the work brigades, and effectively turned the majority of the population against the resistance members, claiming they were provoking the Germans and asking rhetorically whether it was worth sacrificing tens of thousands for the sake of one man. Ghetto prisoners assembled and demanded the FPO give Wittenberg up. Ultimately, Wittenberg himself made the decision to submit to Nazi demands. He was taken to Gestapo headquarters in Vilnius and was reportedly found dead in his cell the next morning. Most people believed he had committed suicide. The rumour was that Gens had slipped him a cyanide pill in their final meeting.
The FPO was demoralized by this chain of events and began to pursue a policy of sending young people out to the forest to join other Jewish partisans. This was controversial as well because the Germans applied a policy of "collective responsibility" under which all family members of anyone who had joined the partisans were executed. In the Vilna Ghetto, a "family" often included a non-relation who registered as a member of the family in order to receive housing and a pitiful food ration.
When the Germans came to liquidate the ghetto in September 1943, members of the FPO went on alert. Gens took control of the liquidation in order to keep the Nazi forces out of the ghetto and away from a partisan ambush, but helped fill the quota of Jews with those who could fight but were not necessarily part of the resistance. The FPO fled to the forest and fought with the partisans.
From the establishment of the ghetto until January 1942, task groups of German and Lithuanian Einsatzgruppen regularly carried out the surprise operations called Aktionen, often on Jewish holidays. The ghetto residents were rounded up and deported, usually for subsequent executions. In the Aktion on Yom Kippur of 1 October 1942, the Germans ordered the Judenrat to lead the arrests; residents found by the Jewish police lacking work permits were arrested and transferred to German custody. The same month the Germans liquidated the Small Ghetto, where they had relocated "unproductive" individuals (i.e., who were old, ill, or otherwise considered unfit for labour); most of the prisoners were taken to Ponary and shot. About 20,000 Jews, including 8,000 without papers, remained in the Large Ghetto. The period between January 1942 and March 1943 was known as the time of ghetto "stabilization"; the Aktionen ceased and some semblance of normal life resumed. The quiet period continued until 6 August, when the Germans commenced the deportation of 7,130 Jews to Estonia on the order of Heinrich Himmler; this was finished on 5 September. On 23–24 September 1943 the ghetto was liquidated under the command of Oberscharführer Bruno Kittel; the majority of the remaining residents were sent to the Vaivara concentration camp in Estonia, killed in the forest of Paneriai, or sent to the death camps in German-occupied Poland.
A small group of Jews remained in Vilna after the liquidation of the Ghetto, primarily at the Kailis and HKP 562 forced labour camps. Inmates of HKP 562 repaired automobiles for the German Army; the camp was commanded by the Wehrmacht Major Karl Plagge who, with the cooperation of his officers and men, was able to shield the Jewish auto-workers from much of the abuse slave laborers were ordinarily subjected to. When the Red Army approached Vilna and the SS came to take over the camp, Plagge gave his workers a covert warning; some workers escaped, others hid in hiding places they had prepared with Plagge's knowledge, from which they subsequently escaped. Two-hundred and fifty Jews at HKP 562 survived the war. They represent the single largest group of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Vilnius.
Abba Kovner (Hebrew: אבא קובנר; March 14, 1918 – September 25, 1987) was a Jewish Hebrew and Yiddish poet, writer and partisan leader. In the Vilna Ghetto, his manifesto (he) was the first time that a target of the Holocaust identified the German plan to murder all Jews. His attempt to organize a ghetto uprising failed, but he fled into the forest, became a Soviet partisan, and survived the war. After the war, Kovner led a secretive organization to take revenge for the Holocaust, and made aliyah in 1947. Considered one of the greatest poets of modern Israel, he received the Israel Prize in 1970.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.Anna Borkowska (Sister Bertranda)
Mother Bertranda, O.P. (née Janina Siestrzewitowska; 1900–1988), later known as Anna Borkowska, was a Polish cloistered Dominican nun who served as the prioress of her monastery in Kolonia Wileńska near Wilno (now Pavilnys near Vilnius, Lithuania). She was a graduate of the University of Kraków who had entered the monastery after her studies. During World War II, under her leadership, the nuns of the monastery sheltered 17 young Jewish activists from Vilnius Ghetto and helped the Jewish Partisan Organization (FPO) by smuggling weapons. In recognition of this, in 1984 she was awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem.Bruno Kittel
Bruno Kittel (born 1922 in Austria) was a Nazi official who oversaw the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto in September 1943 and became known for his cynical cruelty. He disappeared after the war.Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye
The Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (Yiddish: פֿאַראײניקטע פּאַרטיזאַנער אָרגאַניזאַציע; "United Partisan Organization"; referred to as FPO by its Yiddish initials) was a Jewish resistance organization based in the Vilna Ghetto that organized armed resistance against the Nazis during World War II. The clandestine organisation was established by Communist and Zionist partisans. Their leaders were writer Abba Kovner and Yitzhak Wittenberg.Franz Murer
Franz Murer (24 January 1912 – 5 January 1994), was an Austrian SS NCO (SS-Oberscharführer). Also known as the "Butcher of Vilnius", he created and ruled the Vilna Ghetto until July 1943, shortly before its liquidation.Murer was born in Sankt Georgen ob Murau, Austria in 1912, and joined the NSDAP at the age of 26. He trained with Hitler Youth in Nuremberg before being transferred to Vilnius, where between 1941 and 1943 he was the deputy of Territorial Commissioner (Gebietskommissar) Hans Christian Hingst in charge of "Jewish affairs". He was known as a sadist who showed special cruelty towards the Jews. Vilnius, which was known as "the Jerusalem of Lithuania" before the war, had a Jewish population of about 80,000. After the war around 250 Jews were living there. The rest had been murdered by the SS and Murer was instrumental in organizing these killings. On July 1, 1943, Murer was replaced by Gestapo Oberscharführer Bruno Kittel, who was brought in to liquidate the ghetto.After the war, Murer moved to Steiermark in Austria. Near his residence in Admont there was a camp for displaced persons. In 1947 one of these DPs recognized Murer and British forces arrested Murer. In December 1948 he was deported to the Soviet Union since Vilnius had been under Soviet jurisdiction. He was found guilty of having murdered Soviet citizens and sentenced to 25 years of hard labor. As a part of the Austrian State Treaty, he was released in 1955 and thus returned to Austria. Simon Wiesenthal managed to get him prosecuted again in 1963. The trial that took place in Graz, Austria, lasted for a week and ended with the acquittal of Murer. The trial was the subject of the 2018 film Murer – Anatomie eines Prozesses (Murer – Anatomy of a Trial).Murer died in Gaishorn am See, Austria in 1994.Herman Kruk
Herman Kruk (Yiddish: הערשל קרוק) was a Polish-Jewish librarian and Bundist activist who kept a diary recording his experiences in the Vilna Ghetto during World War II.Hirsh Glick
Hirsch Glick (1922 Wilno, Poland – 1944 Estonia) was a Jewish poet and partisan.
Glick was born in Wilno in 1922 (at the time a part of inter-war Poland). He began to write Yiddish poetry in his teens and became co-founder of Yungvald (Young Forest), a group of young Jewish poets. After the German assault on Soviet Union in 1941, Hirsh Glick was imprisoned in the Weiße Wache concentration camp and later transferred to Vilna Ghetto. Glick involved himself in the ghetto's artistic community while simultaneously participating in the underground and took part in the 1942 ghetto uprising. In 1943 he wrote his most famous work, the song Zog nit keynmol, az du geyst dem letstn veg (זאג ניט קיינמאל, אז דו גייסט דעם לעצטן וועג) to the music of the soviet composer Dmitry Pokrass (1899-1978), which became the anthem of the Jewish partisan movement, and Shtil, di nakht iz oysgeshternt. He was inspired to write this work by news that arrived of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Glick managed to flee when the ghetto was being liquidated in October 1943, but was re-captured. He was later deported to a concentration camp in Estonia. During his captivity he continued to compose songs and poems. In July 1944, with the Soviet Army approaching, Glick escaped. He was never heard from again, and was presumed captured and executed by the Germans (reportedly in August 1944).Josef Glazman
Josef Glazman (1913 – 7 October 1943) was a Lithuanian Jewish resistance leader in the Vilna Ghetto.
Glazman was born in 1913 in the town of Alytus. He became head of the Betar youth movement in Lithuania in 1937. He was also a member of the Zionist-Revisionist political movement and was the editor of the Revisionist newspaper Hamdina.When Nazi Germany invaded Lithuania in June 1941, Glazman was in Vilnius and was taken for forced labor by the Germans. In November, he returned to Vilnius and was forced into the Vilna Ghetto where he organized an underground group of Betar members. He was also a member of the Jewish police.Glazman helped found the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (FPO) in January 1942. This was a militarized underground resistance group against the Germans. Glazman was the deputy commander of the FPO as well as in-charge of its intelligence gathering. In June 1942, Glazman changed jobs from the ghetto police force to the ghetto's housing department.Glazman's relationship with the head of the Vilna Ghetto, Jacob Gens, was difficult. In the second half of 1942, Gens tried to send Glazman to the nearby ghetto at Švenčionys to head up the housing department. Glazman refused as he feared that it was an attempt to force him to participate in choosing which Jews would be deported to forced labor or extermination. Glazman was arrested in October 1942, but was released after the leaders of the Communist underground in the ghetto interceded with Gens. Glazman was questioned repeatedly by the Jewish police over the few months, but was not arrested again.On 25 July 1943, Gens attempted to send Glazman to a nearby labor camp, but when Glazman refused to go on his own, he was arrested by the police. The FPO organized a rescue and freed Glazman while he was being escorted out of the ghetto by the police. Gens then met with the FPO and persuaded them that Glazman should go voluntarily to the labor camp and that Gens would personally guarantee Glazman's safety. Glazman returned to the ghetto within a few weeks. After Gens' surrender of Yitzhak Wittenberg to the Germans, Glazman led a group of Jewish fighters out of the ghetto into the nearby forest to form a partisan band.Glazman's partisan band was discovered by the Germans on 7 October 1943 and all but one of the group were killed.Kailis forced labor camp
Kailis forced labor camp (kailis is Lithuanian for fur) was a Nazi labor camp for Jews in Vilnius (pre-war Second Polish Republic, post-war Lithuanian SSR) during World War II. It was based on a pre-war fur and leather factory and mostly produced winter clothing for the German military. At its peak, after the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto in September 1943, the camp housed about 1,500 Jews. The camp was liquidated and its workers executed at Ponary on 3 July 1944, just ten days before Red Army captured the city.Martin Weiss (Nazi official)
Martin Weiss (21 February 1903 – 1984) was a Nazi official and de facto commander of the Vilna Ghetto. He was also the commander of the notorious Nazi-sponsored Ypatingasis būrys killing squad, which was largely responsible for the Ponary massacre where approximately 100,000 people were shot.Ona Šimaitė
Ona Šimaitė (6 January 1894 – 17 January 1970) was a Lithuanian librarian at Vilnius University who used her position to aid and rescue Jews in the Vilna Ghetto during World War II.Paper Brigade
The Paper Brigade was the name given to a group of residents of the Vilna Ghetto who hid a large cache of Jewish cultural items from YIVO (the Yiddish Scientific Institute), saving them from destruction or theft by Nazi Germany. Established in 1942 and led by Abraham Sutzkever and Shmerke Kaczerginski, the group smuggled books, paintings and sculptures past Nazi guards and hid them in various locations in and around the Ghetto. After the Ghetto's liquidation, surviving members of the group fled to join the Jewish partisans, eventually returning to Vilna following its liberation by Soviet forces. Recovered works were used to establish the Vilna Jewish Museum and then smuggled to the United States, where YIVO had re-established itself during the 1940s. Caches of hidden material continued to be discovered in Vilna into the early 1990s. Despite losses during both the Nazi and Soviet eras, 30–40 percent of the YIVO archive was preserved, which now represents "the largest collection of material about Jewish life in Eastern Europe that exists in the world".Pati Kremer
Pati Kremer (1867–1943) was a Russian revolutionary socialist and pioneer of the General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia (Bund). She was the wife of Arkadi Kremer.Shmerke Kaczerginski
Shmaryahu "Shmerke" Kaczerginski (28 October 1908 – 23 April 1954) was a Yiddish-speaking poet, musician, writer and cultural activist. Born to a poor family in Vilna and orphaned at a young age, Kaczerginski was educated at the local Talmud Torah and night school, where he became involved in communist politics and was regularly beaten or imprisoned.
At the age of 15 he began publishing original songs and poetry, including Tates, mames, kinderlekh ("Fathers, mothers, children"), and soon began organising Yung Vilne, a secular Jewish writing collective whose other members included Abraham Sutzkever and Chaim Grade. The Nazi invasion of Poland led to Kaczerginski's eventual imprisonment in the Vilna Ghetto, where he helped hide Jewish cultural works with Sutzkever as part of the Paper Brigade and joined the United Partisans Organisation, participating in the failed Vilna Ghetto uprising and then escaping to the forest to fight with both the partisans and the Soviets.
After the recapture of Vilna, Kaczerginski returned home to recover the hidden cultural works and founded the first post-Holocaust Jewish museum in Europe; he quickly became disenchanted with the Soviets and communism and developed into an ardent Zionist. After some time in Łódź, he moved to Paris before eventually relocating to Buenos Aires, where he was killed in a plane crash at the age of 45.
Renowned during his lifetime as a poet and writer, Kaczerginski dedicated much of his time after the start of the Second World War to collecting pre-war Yiddish songs and songs of the Holocaust in order to save Yiddishkeit from destruction. The author, editor or publisher of most of the first post-Holocaust songbooks, Kaczerginski was responsible for preserving over 250 Holocaust songs – the majority of those still known. Despite the enduring popularity of many of his own works, and the importance of his labours to researchers and Yiddish cultural activists, his early death has led to his relative anonymity.Songs of the Vilna Ghetto
Songs of the Vilna Ghetto is a compilation LP record featuring twelve Yiddish songs from World War II era. The songs were composed by the inmates of the Vilna Ghetto during the Holocaust and are sung by Nechama Hendel, Chava Alberstein, and Shimon Israeli with accompaniment from the CBS Israel Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Gil Aldema. The album contains an 8-page booklet with lyrics in the Hebrew language, photographs from the ghetto, and historical information about the songs in English. According to the liner notes, the recording "was prepared by the Yitzhak Kalznelson House of the Ghetto Fighters, at Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot, Israel, in co-operation with the Vilna Organisation [sic] of Haifa."Yitskhok Rudashevski
Yitskhok Rudashevski (10 December 1927, Vilnius – 1 October 1943) was a young Jewish teenager who lived in the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania during the 1940s. He wrote a diary from June 1941 to April 1943 which detailed his life and struggles living in the ghetto. He was shot to death in the Ponary massacre during the liquidation of September–October 1943. His diary was discovered by his cousin Sore Voloshin, in 1944. His cousin Voloshin fought the German army and the Soviet Union, later returning to the hideout, and found Yitskhok's diary. The diary was published in 1973 by the Ghetto Fighters' House publisher in Israel.Yitzhak Wittenberg
Yitzhak Wittenberg (1907—July 16, 1943) (Hebrew: יצחק ויטנברג) was a Jewish resistance fighter in Wilno (now Vilnius) in occupied Poland during the World War II. He was a member of the Communist Party. He was the commander of the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye, a resistance group in the Vilna Ghetto which was preparing an uprising should the final moments of the Ghetto come. When the Germans learned about the existence of a Communist, Wittenberg in the Ghetto, they made a request to the head of the Jewish council, Jacob Gens, that Wittenberg should be surrendered to them. Gens betrayed Wittenberg to the police who arrested him but he was freed by young FPO fighters. Subsequently Gens insisted Wittenberg surrender, which feeling he did not have the support of the Ghetto for an uprising, rather than risk a massacre, he did.Some accounts say that he was later found dead in his prison cell having swallowed poison others say that his mutilated body was found the next day. It has been speculated that Gens slipped the poison to Wittenberg. The Wittenberg affair was discussed in the Eichman trial.Zelig Kalmanovich
Zelig Hirsch Kalmanovich (Latvian: Zēligs Hiršs Kalmanovičs) (1885–1944) was a Litvak Jewish philologist, translator, historian, and community archivist of the early 20th century. He was a renowned scholar of Yiddish. In 1929 he settled in Vilnius where he became an early director of YIVO.
He was incarcerated in the Vilna Ghetto where he became an observant Jew. During his time in the ghetto, Kalmanovich kept a secret diary which is one of the few primary sources recording day-to-day life. His diary stressed the efforts of the community to retain their humanity in the face of oppression. For example, on October 11, 1942, he wrote the following entry in his diary: On Simhat Torah eve at the invitation of the rabbi, I went for services in a house that had formerly been a synagogue and was now a music school ... I said a few words: 'Our song and dance are a form of worship. Our rejoicing is due to Him who decrees life and death. Here in the midst of this small congregation, in the poor and ruined synagogue, we are united with the whole house of Israel, not only with those who are here today ... And you in your rejoicing, atone for the sins of a generation that is perishing. I know that the Jewish people will live ... And every day the Holy One, blessed be He, in His mercy gives us a gift which we accept with joy and give thanks to His holy name.
During the Nazi occupation, he was forced to work at the YIVO offices under Nazi supervision, sorting through the pillaged contents of Vilna's libraries and preparing selected volumes for shipment to Germany. He was sent to the Vaivara concentration camp in Estonia, where he died in 1944.