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Eichmann Trial -- Session 27 -- Testimony of Abba Kovner

Film | Accession Number: 1999.A.0087 | RG Number: RG-60.2100.039 | Film ID: 2038

Session 27. Witness Abba Kovner, Vilna Ghetto leader. Kovner was commander of the partisan underground organization, founder of the "Bricha" (escape), poet and writer, and activist in Israel's cultural and public life. Abba Kovner is standing in front of microphones, testifying to the court. He is midsentence when the tape begins. He talks of the various efforts to inform the world and the other ghettos of the purpose of their ghetto. He is stopped before he discusses too much.

00:02:01 The court asks him about a German non-commissioned officer named Anton Schmid. Kovner responds that he was a non-fascist officer of the Wehrmacht sympathetic to the resistance. He was the one who first talked of Eichmann, but would not say more than he was the head organizer. Schmid was executed by the Gestapo two months later. Kovner attempted to get this information to Moscow and then the world by using couriers, but they failed. He tells their story, and then describes what various papers from the ghetto are.

00:13:36 Kovner relates that he obviously cannot tell everything he knows, but he wants to relate one story. He tells, at first with difficulty, then with pride, of his wife, who lived outside the ghetto with Aryan papers for a time as a teacher of Catholic kids. She worked with the underground, becoming the first to destroy a train in Lithuania. He tells of the pain it caused to send her out, not knowing if she would ever return. He then explains the meaning behind their watchword of "Liza ruft" (Liza is calling).

00:20:36 Kovner describes his fighting force within the ghetto, especially their elected commander Itzik Wittenberg. Wittenberg was given up by a man named Kozlowski, and the SS came looking for him. They got him, chained him, and began to remove him when resistance fighters ambushed the Gestapo and freed Wittenberg. The Germans decided to retreat to outside the ghetto, and then demanded Wittenberg be brought to them or they would destroy the entire ghetto.

00:26:08 The ghetto erupted into panic at the news. Kovner wrote a leaflet saying that there was no sign that the Nazis would act, which he knew was a lie, and that they must mobilize and fight. Kovner tells the story of the struggle to contain the panic of the ghetto. He has much difficulty in telling this story as it goes on. Wittenberg then decided to turn himself in after appointing Kovner the new commander of the fighting force. He was tortured.

00:34:10 Kovner affirms that everything he has said today is truth, but it is not the "whole truth" considering that he cannot say everything that happened. The Judges explain that it is the "whole truth" with respect to the questions asked, and he did just that. He explains the "three walls" that was discussed at some point in earlier testimony. He explains one more prior remark, describing the feeling of hope that perhaps you would not share the same fate as everyone else. Kovner is asked if the Nazis deliberately promoted this feeling, and he replies "Of course the Germans systematically" before being cut off by shots of the leaving crowd.

00:39:03 Slate reading "Eichmann Trial 4.2.2. NTSC-PAL" followed by a repeat of the last two questions, and again the answer is cut off by footage of the crowd leaving. Kovner is shown smoking and talking to people. Fade to original slate of filmmakers.

Film Title
Eichmann Trial
Event:  1961 May 04
Production:  1961 May 04
Jerusalem, Israel
Accessed at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of The Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archives of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 22:00:46
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