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With a Rifle in My Hand and Eretz Yisrael in My Heart

With a Rifle in My Hand and Eretz Yisrael in My Heart
by Dov Levin, Jerusalem
Translated by Shalom Bronstein

Chapters of Reminiscence: Kovno (Kaunas);
The Partisans' Forests;
Illegal Immigration to Eretz Yisrael
[The events related in this account are far from describing all that
happened to me in my first 20 years, but I have attempted to re-enter
the shoes of those years.]

I. Before the Nazi Conquest
My twin sister Batya (Bassia) and I were born on 27 January 1925 in
the city of Kovno – the capital of independent Lithuania between the
two world wars. My father, Zvi-Hirsch Levin and my mother, Bluma nee
Wigodor, maintained a traditional religious Jewish home that was
infused with the Zionist spirit. They made every attempt to provide us
with a national Jewish education beginning with nursery school and
eventually the Shwabbe Hebrew gymnasium [high school]. From the age of
twelve, I was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, the socialist Zionist
youth movement. The activities and very being of the movement were
Hebrew oriented with the goal being Aliya to Eretz Yisrael in
fulfillment of the words of the song, "To work, to train as pioneers,
to the kibbutz, to defend." Our attraction to socialism and the Soviet
Union were expressed on the romantic level expressed in the words of
the song 'Tulips' – "You will be a red commissar and I will be a
compassionate nurse …"
On 1 September 1939 when World War II broke out, our literature and
Jewish history teacher, Meir Kantorovitz, devoted his lesson to
preparing us for the anticipated dangers that awaited us as the war
proceeded and called on us to always remember to act as proud Jews.
Indeed, I always remembered his directive to us.

In my family, it was understood that after I completed my high school
studies in Kovno, I would go on Aliya to Eretz Yisrael in order to
study engineering at the Technion in Haifa. However, this dream
evaporated with the take-over of Lithuania by the Red Army (the
Soviets) on 15 June 1940.
Under Soviet Rule
That day, it was a Shabbat; I was participating in the Shomer Hatzair
summer camp that was held in the village of Klibanishok, near Kovno.
Our counselor in this camp was a young woman named Haika Grossman who
became well known as the person who was second in command in the
Bialystok Ghetto. She arrived in Lithuania at the end of 1939, when it
was still an independent country and Zionist activity continued as
[Page 2] When she came to us in Kovno as a war-refugee from the area
of Poland taken over by the Soviet Union, she told us that in light of
her experience there, that here, too, in Lithuania all Zionist
activity would be banned if and when the Soviets would enter. And so,
the same thing happened to us. Some of us continued our Zionist
activity underground, but most studying in Hebrew was unfortunately
forbidden and so we found ourselves in the Sholom Aleichem (spelled in
the communist fashion, a phonetic mish mash that bent over backwards
to avoid the correct Hebrew spelling). There classes took place in
Yiddish, which was an acceptable language according to the Soviet
communist regime and was exploited as a propaganda tool among the
Jews. The Hebrew language was identified by the new government with
Zionism, which was considered anathema to the communist ideology. I
knew all of this too well, but it was still difficult for me to
reconcile myself to the fact that I would be continuing my studies in
a different language in the very same building that for many years
housed the legendary Shwabbes Hebrew Gymnasium and where I so enjoyed
studying in the Hebrew language which was so dear to me. It is no
surprise that at night I would sneak into the storeroom where the
Hebrew books were demoted and choose for myself some of the best works
of the giants of literature and smuggle them home. In time, I found
out that a fair number of the longtime students of the Gymnasium did
the same thing and at least one of them was arrested after being
betrayed to the authorities by members of the Komsomol [the communist
youth organization]. Therefore, we were extremely wary of them!....
This, and even more so - During the year of Soviet rule (June 1940 to
June 1941) my family and I, along with many other Jews had additional
crises: my parents, like the rest of our neighbors were required from
then on to work on the Sabbath as well as on Jewish holidays and so we
could no longer continue to properly maintain the tradition of the
festive family Sabbath meal accompanied with song. The well known
store for tailoring needs and talitot of my grandfather, Reb (Rabbi)
Dovid Levin, along with the stores of most of my uncles and relatives
were confiscated by the government, and their owners were became
unemployed and without the possibility of earning a living. Some of
them and many of the Zionist activists were declared 'capitalist
exploiters' or simply 'enemies of the Soviet government.' Several,
like my teacher Kantorovitz, were even sent into Siberian exile. A
similar fate faced me if the Zionist activities that were banned
according to the law and that I continued secretly were discovered.

In spite of all of this, among my family and most of the Jews there
was the feeling that this situation was better than if God forbid
Lithuania would be conquered by the German Nazi army as was
anticipated. Thus, the Soviets were the lesser of two evils. On the
other hand, the looks of hatred and the threats by our Lithuanian
neighbors did not let up since for some reason they blamed us Jews for
the Sovietization of their country.

[Page 3]

Like other members of our people, I was occasionally assaulted by
nightmares concerning the possibility that the Soviets would withdraw
from Lithuania. To our misfortune, catastrophe overtook us only a year
and a week after Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union. ....
II. My First Reaction to the Nazi German Conquest
for the rest go to;