George Kadish - Photographs from the inside the Kovno Ghetto
Between 1920 and 1939, Kovno (Kaunas), located in central Lithuania, was the country’s capital and largest city. It had a Jewish population of 35,000-40,000, about one-fourth of the city’s total population. Jews were concentrated in the city’s commercial, artisan, and professional sectors.
Kovno’s Jewish life was disrupted when the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in June 1940. The occupation was accompanied by arrests, confiscations, and the elimination of all free institutions. Jewish communal organizations disappeared almost overnight. Soviet authorities confiscated the property of many Jews. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Activist Front, founded by Lithuanian nationalist emigres in Berlin, clandestinely disseminated antisemitic literature in Lithuania. Among other themes, the literature blamed Jews for the Soviet occupation. Hundreds of Jews were exiled to Siberia.
Following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Soviet forces fled Kovno. Immediately before and following the German occupation of the city on June 24, anti-Communist, pro-German Lithuanian mobs began to attack Jews (whom they unfairly blamed for Soviet repression), especially along Jurbarko and Krisciukaicio streets. These right-wing vigilantes murdered hundreds of Jews and took dozens more Jews to the Lietukis Garage, in the city center, and killed them there. (via)
A note on the ninth photograph: In the background playing the violin is Yankale who was 13 years-old. Standing from left: Michael Hofmekler (the conductor), sitting next to him is Boris Stupel (he survived Dachau and immigrated to Australia) Top right,standing is Shmaya (Alexander) Stupel (Boris’s brother) who perished in Dachau. Many of the city’s leading musicians were forced to move the Kovno ghetto. Most brought their musical instruments with them. On 18/08/1941, soon after the closure of the ghetto, the Germans held a special ‘intellectuals aktion’ during which 534 of the most educated men of the ghetto were killed. Afterwards most musicians were afraid to publicly declare themselves as professionals. The council decided the best way to protect these musicians was to make them policemen and issue them uniforms. During the summer of 1942, when the killing actions had stopped and the ghetto was in the midst of its ‘Quiet Period’, the council felt it was safe to ask permission for the ghetto’s musicians to regroup into an orchestra. The orchestra consisted of 35 instrumentalists and five vocalists. A total of 80 concerts were given during the ghetto’s history. Performances were given in the ghetto’s Police House, which was the former building of the Slobodka Yeshiva.Though the first concert, which began with a moment of silence followed by ‘Kol Nidre’ ( the opening hymn of the Yom Kippur service), featured only serious music, many in the ghetto felt it was unseemly to hold concerts in a place of mourning. They considered these concerts to be solely for the ghetto elite and a desecration of the yeshiva. Despite these criticisms, most felt that the concerts served a useful purpose in raising the morale in the ghetto. During the ‘policeaktion’ of 27/03/1944 only the musicians were spared transfer to the Ninth Fort.
A note on the tenth photograph: He was known as ‘Hamster’ for gathering and selling bread on the black market. He was murdered by the Germans several days after this photograph was taken.