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

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

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


    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
    Director: Leo Hurwitz
    Producer: Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation
    Subject: Abba Kovner
    Producer: Milton Fruchtman
    Camera Operator: J. Kalach
    Camera Operator: Emil Knebel
    Camera Operator: J. Jonilowicz
    Camera Operator: F. Csaznik
    Camera Operator: Rolf M. Kneller
    Born in Sebastopol, Russia, in 1918, he was educated in the Hebrew high school in Vilna and in the school of the arts. At a very young age he became a trainee in the "Hashomer Hatzair" Youth Movement. In 1940-41 when Vilna wast the capital of the Soviet Republic of Lithuania, Kovner was a member of the undergorund organization. After the German occupation in June 1941, Kovner hid with a few friends temporarily in a Dominican convent in the city's suburb. After he returned to the ghetto and became aware of the killing of thousands of Jews, Kovner expressed the idea of revolt and began to build a Jewish force to fight against the Nazis. On the night of December 31, 1941, Kovner read before a meeting of delegates of all Jewsih Youth Movements the following public announcement: "Hitler is plotting to destroy all European Jews. Lithuanian Jews will be the first in line. Let us not be led like sheep to the slaughterhouse. It is right, we are weak and without defense, but the only answer to the enemy is resistance!" It was the first time that Jews were called to defend themselves with arms. On January 21, 1942, the "United Organization of Partisans" was founded in Vilnus. This organization was comprised of memebers of the various youth movements in the Vilna Ghetto. Kovner was a leading member, and after the Chief commander was caught in July 1943, he became the head of the organization. In the days of the last deportation from the Ghetto to the extermination camps, Kovner supervised the escape of the organization fighters to the woods. In Rodniky woods he commanded the Jewish Unit composed of Ghetto fighters and the "Nakam" squadron from the Jewish camp. After the liberation, Kovner remained active in the "Bricha" movement. In 1945 he called on members of the "Eretz Israel Brigade" to support and perform the activities of the "Nakam" (revenge) on the responsible murderers of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. He was arrested and deported to Israel. In 1946 he joined his wife and partner in underground activities, Vitka Kampner, along with other partisans at kibbutz "Ein Hahoresh." He was active during Israel's Independence War in the famous "Givati" brigade. At the end of the war Kovner dedicated most of his time to writing both prose and poetry. Kovner died in 1987.
    Emil Knebel was a cinematographer known for Andante (2010), Adam (1973), and Wild Is My Love (1963). He was one of the cameramen who recorded daily coverage of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (produced by Capital Cities Broadcasting Corp and later held academic positions in Israel and New York teaching filmmaking at universities. Refer to CV in file.

    Physical Details

    English German Hebrew
    B&W / Color
    Black & White
    Image Quality
    Time Code
    00:00:21:00 to 00:43:19:00
    Film Format
    • Master
    • Master 2038 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - large
      Master 2038 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - large
      Master 2038 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - large
      Master 2038 Video: Digital Betacam - NTSC - large
    • Preservation
    • Preservation 2038 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - large
      Preservation 2038 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - large
      Preservation 2038 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - large
      Preservation 2038 Video: Betacam SP - NTSC - large

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    You do not require further permission from the Museum to access this archival media.
    Public Domain
    Conditions on Use
    To the best of the Museum's knowledge, this material is in the public domain. You do not require further permission from the Museum to reproduce or use this material.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Film Provenance
    Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation recorded the proceedings of the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961. The original recording was made on two-inch format videotape. One set of videotapes contained selected portions of the trial for distribution to television stations. The "selected portions" version remained in Israel and was later turned over to the Israel State Archives. Capital Cities Broadcasting retained the set of videotapes containing the complete trial proceedings at offices in New York City until 1965, when they gave the videotapes to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. The Anti-Defamation League, in turn, gave the complete set to the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1972. With a grant from the Revson Foundation, Hebrew University transferred the two-inch videotapes to U-Matic format. During the transfer process, Hebrew University created three duplicate sets. One set was given to the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, one to the Israel State Archives, and one set to the Jewish Museum in New York City. In 1995, the Israel State Archives transferred the trial footage to digital videoformat with a grant from the Israeli Prime Minister's Office. Three subsequent digital videotape copies resulted from this transfer of footage. The Israel State Archives retained one digital copy and a second set was deposited at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum received the third set of digital videotapes in May 1999.
    See official transcripts, published in "The Trial of Adolf Eichmann", Vol. I-V, State of Israel, Ministry of Justice, Jerusalem, 1994. Also available online at the Nizkor Project.
    Copied From
    2" Quad
    Film Source
    Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive
    File Number
    Legacy Database File: 2132
    Source Archive Number: VTEI 125
    Record last modified:
    2024-02-21 08:05:23
    This page:

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