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Helen and Sol Krawitz Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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The First Call: Manifesto of Jewish Resistance by Abba Kovner

From: The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Session 27 Testimony of Abba Kovner Introduction: Abba Kovner was an underground leader and the 2 nd commander of the FPO, the Vilna partisan organization, he was also a poet. When Vilna was captured by the Germans at the end of June 1941 and Kovner learned of the massacres at Ponary he decided that armed resistance was the only response. At a meeting on the night of December 31, 1941 he read a manifesto that he had drawn up. Scholar Israel Gutman claims in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust that this was the first time that the mass killing of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen was analyzed as being part of a master plan for destruction of European Jewry, and also the first time that Jews were being urged to organized resistance. What follows is his testimony concerning that manifesto at the Eichmann Trial. Adolf Eichmann was instrumental at implementing the Final Solution.

Prosecuting Attorney: Then the underground was organized and you issued a call to the Jewish youth in Vilna to join its ranks? This was the first manifesto – it seems to me that it is in your handwriting? Kovner: Yes. This is my handwriting.Prosecuting Attorney: Was this the first announcement to be issued in Vilna? It says here on the cover “Der erste ruf” (The First Call). Kovner: This was the first announcement of revolt, not only in Vilna: Allow me to read it. I shall try to read it directly in Hebrew. It is written in Yiddish, although I remember that I wrote the original in Hebrew – afterwards I myself translated it into Yiddish thereafter it was published in typewritten form. [He reads the manifesto]:

“Let us not go like sheep to the slaughter, Jewish youth! Do not believe those who are deceiving you. Out of 80,000 Jews of the Jerusalem of Lithuania (Vilna), only 20,000 remain. In front of your eyes our parents, our brothers and our sisters are being torn away from us. Where are the hundreds of men who were snatched away for labor by the Lithuanian kidnappers? Where are those naked women who were taken away on the horror-night of the provocation? Where are those Jews of the Day of Atonement? And where are our brothers of the second ghetto? Anyone who is taken out through the gates of the ghetto, will never return. All roads of the ghetto lead to Ponary, and Ponary means death. Oh, despairing people, – tear this deception away from your eyes. Your children, your husbands, your wives – are no longer alive – Ponary is not a labor camp. Everyone there is shot. Hitler aimed at destroying the Jews of Europe. It turned out to be the fate of the Jews of Lithuania to be the first. Let us not go like sheep to the slaughter. It is true that we are weak, lacking protection, but the only reply to a murderer is resistance. Brothers, it is better to die as free fighters than to live at the mercy of killers. Resist, resist, to our last breath.”

Please note the date is 1 January 1942, in the Ghetto of Vilna. Presiding Judge: This will be T/289.