Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Zenia Malecki - Footnotes
2. The Karaite sect of Jews, which developed in the eighth century, rejected the Talmudic- Rabbinical tradition. In the twentieth century the largest group of Karaites, estimated at 10,000 in 1932, lived in Russia, after World War I. Vilna also became a Karaite centre and the Polish Ministry of Culture and Education gave the sect official recognition. "On January 9, 1939 the German Ministry of the Interior expressly stipulated that the Karaites did not belong to the Jewish religious community; their 'racial psychology' was considered non-Jewish." As a result of this policy the Karaites were ordered to be spared by the Einsatzgruppen in Eastern Europe. When queried by the Germans, Jewish Rabbinical authorities gave the opinion that the Karaites were not of Jewish origin, in order to protect them. (Encyclopedia Judaica), Vol. 10, p.776).
3. Ponar (Paneriai) was a wooded area located 8 miles south of Vilna, formerly used for recreational activities. The Soviets had dug deep pits for fuel tank storage, surrounded by embankments created from the excavated earth. Lithunian collaborators first used Ponar as a killing site for small groups of Jews, and Einsatzkommando number 9 subsequently masacred tens of thousands of Vilna Jews and other prisoners in these pits. (Arad, p.75).
4. At first, people were assigned to whichever ghetto was closest to their former residence. By mid-September 1941 holders of work permits, craftsmen and artisans were moved to Ghetto No. 1, and those without permits, the sick, orphans and the elderly, were moved to Ghetto No. 2. Eventually, the Jews in Ghetto No. 2 were taken to Ponar to their deaths. (Arad, pp.133-135, 139).
5. Zenia's father was Abram Berkon. Procurement of food was a major preoccupation in the ghetto. The subject of food appears on the agenda of every meeting of the Judenrat of Ghetto No. 2. (Arad, p.130). In addition to Mr. Berkon's supplies and the meagre rations allowed to the Judenrat, flour was also smuggled into the ghetto. (Berkon, Zenia, "Zichroinos fun Genia Berkon," YIVO Bletter, Vol. XXX, p.206).
6. By December 1941 the Zionist organizations in Vilna were considering options for resistance. Reports of the massacres at Ponar and of the fates of Jewish communities elsewhere in Lithuania and in Poland were brought to Vilna by reliable eyewitnesses. The questions of collective responsibility, armed resistance and escape were hotly debated. On January 1, 1942, a manifesto composed by Abba Kovner, "Let us not be led like sheep to the slaughter" was read aloud for the first time to members of several Zionist Youth movements. It proclaimed: "Brethren! Better fall as free fighters then to live at the mercy of murders. Rise up! Rise up until your last breath!" On January 21, 1942, the FPO was formally established. (Arad, pp.229-232).
7. Jacob Gens, a Jewish former captain in the Lithuanian Army, was appointed by the Judenrat as Commander of the Vilna Ghetto Jewish Police Force in September 1941. On July 12, 1942 the Germans dissolved the Judenrat and appointed Gens, "Ghetto Representative", responsible for law and order in the ghetto. (Arad, p.328).
10. Josef Muszkat was the second in command of the Jewish Police, a Zionist-Revisionist. He was trained as a lawyer, and arrived in Vilna in 1939 as a refugee from Warsaw. In May 1942 he organized the many orphans in the ghetto into the Transport Brigade, which took charge of transporting food from the Judenrat stores to distribution centres. Muszkat also put them in charge of hygiene and cleanliness in homes and courtyards. The youngsters reported breaches of rules to the Ghetto Police. (Arad, p.26, 319-320).
11. Yizhak Witenberg, a former member of the Communist Party, was appointed chief Commander of the FPO at its general meeting on January 21, 1942. He, Abba Kovner and Joseph Glazman comprised the resistance group's Staff Command. "Witenberg's personality, aptitudes and experience in the Communist underground in Poland ... served to recommend him to command the organization." (Arad, p.236-237.) In the course of interrogating a prisoner about activities of the Communist Party, the German Security Police discovered the Party's contacts with Witenberg and demanded that Witenberg be surrendered. Witenberg went into hiding, but went out to a meeting at the home of Jacob Gens, not suspecting that the meeting was a ruse to lure him into the hands of the Germans. As Witenberg was arrested by Dessler and led towards the ghetto gate, FPO fighters attached, wrenched him away and escaped to their own quarters. Gens threatened to begin the liquidation of the entire ghetto if Witenberg was not turned over to the Security Police. (Arad, p.387-395.)
12. Yellow work passes (Scheinen) were issued in October 1941 and were valid until March 31, 1942. Three thousand such passes were issued by the German Arbeitsamt (Employment Office), of which 400 were given to the Judenrat for distribution in the ghetto. The Schein was a passport to life, for it (temporarily) protected the bearer against deportation. (Arad, p.145).
13. Yizhak Witenberg had two sons. The younger son was with his mother. The older son, Hirsh, age sixteen, was caught with Abraham Chwojnik and Jacob Kaplan of the FPO Staff Command, by a German patrol, as they attempted to leave the Vilna Ghetto for the forests on September 23, 1943. They fired on the German patrol and killed one of the policemen. The Jews were hung by Bruno Kittel in Rossa Square as other Jews watched. (Arad, p.434).
14. Witenberg was taken to the Security Police Headquarters on July 16, 1943. The next morning he was found in his cell, dead of cyanide poisoning. From other interviews with survivors, Arad concludes that it was Gens who gave the poison to Witenberg. (Arad, p.393).
16. Sonia Madeysker, also a member of the Communist Party, was part of the nucleus of Jewish activists in the ghetto. In September or October 1942 she and another woman left the ghetto in a risky attempt to make contact with Soviet authorities, in the hope that assistance and rescue would result. Unfortunately, their heroic actions were fruitless. Sonia Madeysker participated in other activities which necessitated her leaving and re-entering the ghetto. When the FPO leadership decided to leave the ghetto, she was one of three women who met them at the exit from the sewer tunnels, to lead them to the forest. She remained active in the leadership of the Communist party in Vilna almost until liberation, when she was caught by German Security Police. She attempted suicide, and died of her injuries in a hospital. (Arad, pp,.53, 260, 456).