Kovno Home Page
Kovno Stories Links
Kovno Stories
Zippora-Nehama-Safira: A Family Odyssey

Zippora-Nehama-Safira: A Family Odyssey
By Yvette Nahmia-Messinas

for pictures and text go to;

Several years ago, one Friday morning, Safira, the oldest daughter of
Nehama and Avraham Kaufmann, entered her parents' apartment in
Jerusalem, took a seat in their kitchen, and started recording her
mother's Holocaust odyssey. Beginning that Friday morning, Nehama's
story unfolded little by little in her Jerusalem kitchen in the midst
of chicken soup, Lithuanian style gefilte fish, and other Shabbat
delicacies that she prepared especially to please her permanent guests
of honor - Elad, the soldier, and Ariel, the boy-scout leader - her
two grandsons.

Nehama was born in Lithuania, the center of Jewish scholarship and
learning, to Rabbi Yizhaq Barouhson, who was the 13th generation of a
family of rabbis, and Zippora Hayat, the daughter of a wealthy family
that owned a cotton factory in Panevezys. Nehama's father was the
spiritual leader of Or Israel Yeshiva, while her mother was the
homemaker for their children, Leah, Shlomo, and Nehama. (Rachel, their
youngest sister, died in early childhood from an illness.)

The Barouhson family lived in a wooden house on 9 Paneriu Street in
Slobodka, Kovno, in a neighborhood that was solely inhabited by Jewish
families and where Yiddish was spoken in its streets. At Yavne, the
Jewish gymnasium for girls, Nehama learned Hebrew and was a member of
Batia, the Jewish youth movement. Nehama recalls the day when she and
a friend skipped school to get to the airport and greet Jabotinsky
upon his visit to Lithuania.

In June 1940, when Nehama's father was in the US fundraising for the
Yeshiva, the Red Army occupied Lithuania, and within a couple of weeks
Lithuania was officially annexed to the Soviet Union. A year later -
her father still in the US - the German army invaded the Soviet Union
and occupied Lithuania. From that time on, the Holocaust odyssey of
Zippora and her children began.

The family managed to arrive on foot to Dvinsk, the eastern border
with the Soviet Union, but, like other Jewish families, was refused
entry. Having nowhere else to go, they returned home to Slobodka,
where terror and violence reigned. "I remember that two or three
nights after we had returned home, Lithuanian 'partisans' went from
house to house and simply shot the inhabitants," relates Nehama. "We
hid in the attic of the neighboring family on Paneriu 15. We were
lucky that the mother of one of these 'partisans' had been working for
the family for a long time, and prevented him and his friends from
killing us." These pogroms, initiated and conducted by Lithuanians,
during which Jews were murdered and raped, marked the beginning of
what was to follow.

From left to right: Ariel, Safira, Eldad and Nehama

From August 1941 the family lived in the Kovno Ghetto. Their house in
Paneriu Street was situated in the area of the small ghetto and
another two Jewish families moved in with them. Nehama, Leah and
Shlomo worked from sunrise to sunset. Nehama performed very demanding,
manual work at the airport in Aleksotas, paving the runway. The fear,
hunger, and exhaustion of these days are engraved in Nehama's memory.
However, Nehama also vividly recalls her clandestine participation in
Irgun Brith Zion, the underground Zionist organization that sharpened
her mind and gave her hope. "We spoke Hebrew and held study sessions
and lectures focusing on Zionism, Jewish thought, poetry and
geography, with the hope that one day we would settle in Eretz
Israel," says Nehama. In the Kovno Ghetto, Nehama secretly read the
writings of Herzl for the first time and lectured on Jewish history in
her capacity as commander of a Maapilim battalion.

In the fall of 1943, Nehama's family was taken, along with others from
the ghetto, to Sancai where they lived in concentration camp
conditions. Zippora, their mother, took care of small children while
their mothers were away at work. When Nehama returned to the camp 27
March 1944, the children and Zippora were no longer there. A woman
hidden in the camp told Nehama that the Nazis had come at eight in the
freezing morning to take the children. Zippora was not commanded to go
along, but she insisted that she could not let the children go all by
themselves. She was last seen in her pink robe and slippers, getting
on the truck. All that night Nehama cried with the crying and
screaming mothers in the ghetto.

Zippora's legacy and love of children is affirmed every day by her
granddaughter Safira. Safira Rapoport, Director of the Pedagogic and
Resource Center in Yad Vashem, works with children and youth helping
them find material for their school projects. Safira also accompanies
groups to Poland, in their search of family history. Safira has traced
her family's past locating all the places they were taken, from the
family house in Paneriu Street in Slobodka where Zippora grew up, to
Stutthof, Rehberg, Stobey, Brosen, Niederwoben, Hoheneck, Hecht and
Strasburg, the camps where her mother was incarcerated after Sancai.
But Safira still does not know where Zippora and the children are

In Nehama's eyes, her grandchildren Elad and Ariel represent her
victory over Hitler. Although Safira often worries about her son Elad,
who is in a combat unit and drives the Patton tank, she is overcome
with joy when she imagines how proud and appreciative Zippora would
feel about her two great grandsons.