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The Jews of Kovno
text and photographs
by Jono David

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.

Jewish history 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 .....
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