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The Jews of Kovno
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At the corner
of Ariogalos and Linkuvos streets in the Vilijampole district of Kaunas,
Lithuania, stands a simple, lone granite memorial to those Jews who
perished at the hands of the Nazis in World War II. It stands like a
lone sentinel, keeping a 24-hour watch over the souls of the dead. Quietly
but determinedly, it commands us to heed its eternal message of remembrance.
It was here in this suburban district known to the Jews as Slobodka
that on German orders, the Kovno (as Kaunas was once called) Ghetto
was sealed on 15 August 1941 with 29,000 impounded people. The area
had been a Jewish village for four hundred years.
runs particularly deep Lithuania. Before the war, some 200 communities
across the nation supported the lives and livelihoods of nearly 240,000
people. More than ninety percent perished. Jews are first known to have
lived in Kovno as early as 1410 when they were brought forcibly as prisoners
of war by the Grand Duke Vytautas. Many of those Jews were later active
as traders between Kovno and Danzig (today's Gdansk, Poland). Living
conditions for many Jews were squalid. In 1858, archaic living restrictions
were relaxed and all but 6,000 of the city's 35,000 Jews flocked to
the Old Town in search of something better. In July 1941, however, the
Nazis expelled all the Jews from the town and sent them back to Slobodka.
The Kovno Ghetto was thus established.
The first pogrom
was on 25 June 1941. On 7 July 1941, Avraham
Tory noted in
his Kovno Ghetto Diary: "Soviet rule has disappeared. The Jews
are left behind as fair game; hunting them is not unprofitable, because
the houses and courtyards of many of them brim with riches. Slaughter
the Jews and take their property' - this was the first slogan of the
restored Lithuanian rule..." By October, some 1,800 people were
consigned to their deaths in a smaller Ghetto .....