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Leib Garfunkel - Ghetto Kovno

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5005 | Film ID: 3125, 3126, 3127, 3128, 3129, 3130, 3131, 3132

Leib Garfunkel describes the Kovno ghetto, where he was vice-chairman of the Jewish council, and the Aktion of October 1941, during which 9,200 Jews were murdered at the Ninth Fort. This was the first interview that Lanzmann conducted for Shoah and Garfunkel died one week after it was filmed.

FILM ID 3125 -- Camera Rolls #1-3 -- 01:00:18 to 01:21:29
No sound until 01:05:32. Irena Steinfeldt, Lanzmann's assistant, reads passages from Garfunkel's book. Garfunkel talks about the first meeting between the Kovno Gestapo and representatives of the Jewish population. He tells of the Germans entering Kovno and the two large pogroms where between 5000 and 6000 Jews were killed. Garfunkel speaks about his dealings with Franz Stahlecker, commander of Einsatzgruppe A, who promised that nothing would happen to the Jews once they were concentrated in the ghetto. There is no sound starting at 01:17:41 through the end of the tape.

FILM ID 3126 -- Camera Rolls #4-6 -- 02:00:10 to 02:22:54
Garfunkel describes the ghettoization process and the difficulties associated with moving 30,000 people into the ghetto. He explains that some Jews gave up their valuables to the Germans and the Lithuanian collaborators because they hoped that they could buy their freedom this way. Part of the dialogue is inaudible. Irena Steinfeldt reads a passage from Garfunkel's book about the creation of the Judenrat and the dramatic election of Dr. Elkhanan Elkes as "Oberjude."

FILM ID 3127 -- Camera Rolls #7,8,8/2 -- 03:00:05 to 03:22:24
Steinfeldt reads a moving letter written by Dr. Elkes to two of his children living in England. Garfunkel talks of the danger of having a radio in the ghetto but says that the Jews managed to get news despite their isolation. For example, the Jews in the ghetto knew about the fall of Mussolini, but had to hide their excitement so that the Germans would not become suspicious. Steinfeldt reads from Garfunkel's book about the distribution of Lebensscheine, [life certificates] to the artisans of the ghetto. The Germans intended to clear the ghetto of all but 5,000 skilled Jews.

FILM ID 3128 -- Camera Rolls #9-12 -- 04:00:04 to 04:22:53
Garfunkel describes the hysteria that broke out in the ghetto as Jews, desperate for the Lebensscheine that could potentially spare them from death, stormed the offices of the Jewish Council. The action to separate those who had Lebensscheine from those who did not was canceled at the last moment when a German officer from town arrived with the message to call off the operation. Garfunkel talks about the impossible decision that many Jews in the ghetto faced: who should be saved. He likens the situation to being a "captain on a sinking ship." Steinfeldt reads from Garfunkel's book about the arrival of Helmut Rauca of the Kovno Gestapo, who ordered the entire ghetto population to assemble on the square. The members of the Jewish Council agonized over whether to relay the order to the Jews of the ghetto but ultimately they decided to follow the Germans' orders. Lanzmann questions how the Jews could have followed such an order. Garfunkel says that perhaps some Jews hoped that the Lord would have mercy on them and perform a miracle at the last moment.

FILM ID 3129 -- Camera Rolls #13-16,19-20 -- 05:00:10 to 05:29:05
Garfunkel says that a characteristic of Jews is to try to save what can be saved and to maintain hope up until the very last minute. Lanzmann asks whether there were many suicides in the ghetto and Garfunkel answers that there were very few cases. [CLIP 1 BEGINS] Lanzmann asks Irena Steinfeldt to read Garfunkel's description of the big Aktion of October 28-29, 1941 where 9,200 Jews were sent to the Ninth Fort to be killed. All of the residents of the ghetto had to pass by Rauca so he could decide who would live and who would die. In the confusion, some Jews who were chosen by Rauca to go to the "good" side, ended up on the "bad" side [CLIP 1 ENDS]. Lanzmann and Garfunkel look at photographs together.

FILM ID 3130 -- Camera Rolls #17-18 -- 06:00:06 to 06:03:52
Garfunkel and his wife sit on a balcony. A brief shot of Lanzmann and Irena Steinfeldt walking away from the camera.

FILM ID 3131 -- Camera Roll #21 -- 07:00:04 to 07:04:50
Lanzmann and Garfunkel look at photographs. Close-ups of each photograph. The first two pictures show victims of a pogrom. Dead bodies are scattered on the ground while soldiers and civilians stand around and observe the damage (probably Lietukus Garage massacre). The third picture shows a wide angle view of a pogrom. Garfunkel points out that there are only men in this scene. The next photograph shows members of the Judenrat, including Dr. Elkes. The next picture is of a street scene in the ghetto(?). The following photograph shows people being loaded into a truck after a selection process. In another photograph, Garfunkel points out the Jewish stars sewn to the backs of peoples' coats. The last picture shows members of the Jewish ghetto orchestra. Garfunkel says that Stuffel, one of the members of the orchestra, survived the war and later played in a ghetto survivors' orchestra.

FILM ID 3132 -- Camera Roll #21A
Medium close-up: the camera is first focused on Lanzmann, then Steinfeldt. Close-up of Steinfeldt as she skims through Garfunkel's book, which is written in Hebrew. The camera pans to a desk with photographs on it. No sound.

Event:  February 1976
Production:  1985
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2021-09-28 09:35:13
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