Records Displayed From WWII Ghetto
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Jews of Kovno kept a meticulous record of their destruction. Secret diaries and photos recorded the systematic campaign of Nazi occupiers to eliminate the 35,000 forced into a small suburb of the Lithuanian city.
Only about 3,000 survived. Now, for the first time, the extraordinary record of the community’s brutal World War II ordeal is on display at the Holocaust Museum.
The museum has compiled more than 275 objects and nearly 225 images: photos, forged passes, German orders, children’s shoes, a smuggled rifle, a rabbi’s advice on religious practices, a woman’s summer print dress that was sold for food, a pair of neatly folded striped pants issued to a man in a concentration camp.
The material was accumulated during nearly four years of Nazi occupation of Lithuania when discovery of the project would have meant torture and death.
George Kadish, a Jewish science teacher, took 200 photos _ many through a buttonhole of his overcoat _ with a camera he built himself. He smuggled the pictures in a hollowed-out crutch from the German hospital where he worked and developed them, hid them with other documents of the community and escaped from the ghetto. He died in September in Florida.
The record of death is there: Oct., 28, 1941, the Germans killed 9,200, including more than 4,000 children in one ``Great Action″; in March 1944, another 1,200 died in a ``Children’s Action.″
One who survived was pre-teen Tania Marcus, who was working for the Germans in a factory making galoshes. Her nine-year-old brother Nathan was taken away in the ``Children’s Action″ while she was at work.
``Next day we stayed home and the Germans came around again,″ she said in an interview Wednesday. ``We always knew we were in for trouble when the Germans came around with their dogs and clubs and rifles _ instead of the Jewish police, who helped us. ...
``There was a trapdoor in the floor, arranged so that when we pulled it down, a rock fell on top of it. That was the worst moment _ there under the trapdoor, with my mother and sister and I pulling at the straps. My mother had rouged my face and fluffed up my hair so I would look older.″
Young women able to work had a better chance of survival. Eventually the Germans left.
All three women survived life in the ghetto, transport by river in open barges, long marches through the snow to a concentration camp near Danzig (Gdansk), Poland, and liberation by advancing Soviet forces.
Tania (Marcus) Rozmaryn _ she married a fellow refugee after coming to the United States _ teaches Bible studies at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md., a Washington suburb.
Her mother, Cyla, 95, lives in the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, while her sister lives in Israel.
An unwitting contribution to the exhibit came from the German occupying force itself. One if its members did a film of Jews made to jump briskly out of trucks, hurried to the edge of a deep pit and falling into it as they were shot.
But most of the objects are in Washington as the result of an unusual decision by the ghetto’s Council of Elders early in the German occupation. They wanted to keep and to hide as complete an account of the ghetto as they could, to provide a picture for a future that they knew most of them would never see.
Occasionally they allowed themselves a bit of irony. They gave a biblical title to a volume of orders from the Germans: ``Now these are the laws,″ a quote from the book of Exodus. And they added: `` _ German style.″
Three buried crates of the preserved material were dug up after the war.
``I have trifled with the fear of death that is directly tied to the very writing of each page and leaf of my diary, with the very collecting of the documentary material, hiding them and burying them,″ wrote Avraham Tory, deputy secretary of the elders’ council.
He escaped with his fiancee in March 1944, became a lawyer in Israel and secretary general of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurors. Tory, 88, and the wife he met in the ghetto came to the Holocaust Museum for the opening of the exhibit last month.
Three weeks before Soviet troops retook Kovno, the Germans blew up the ghetto. An estimated 2,000 Jews were burned to death or shot trying to escape.
``Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto″ will be at the Holocaust Museum until Oct. 3, 1999.