The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania

The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania: Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939-1944

HERMAN KRUK
EDITED AND INTRODUCED BY BENJAMIN HARSHAV
TRANSLATED BY BARBARA HARSHAV
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 816
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm7pc
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  • Book Info
    The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania
    Book Description:

    For five horrifying years in Vilna, the Vilna ghetto, and concentration camps in Estonia, Herman Kruk recorded his own experiences as well as the life and death of the Jewish community of the city symbolically called "The Jerusalem of Lithuania." This unique chronicle includes many recovered pages of Kruk's diaries and provides a powerful eyewitness account of the annihilation of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. This volume includes the Yiddish edition of Kruk's diaries, published in 1961 and translated here for the first time, as well as many widely scattered pages of the chronicles, collected here for the first time and meticulously deciphered, translated, and annotated.Kruk describes vividly the collapse of Poland in September, 1939, life as a refugee in Vilna, the manhunt that destroyed most of Vilna Jewry in the summer of 1941, the creation of a ghetto and the persecution and self-rule of the remnants of the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," the internment of the last survivors in concentration camps in Estonia, and their brutal deaths. Kruk scribbled his final diary entry on September 17, 1944, managing to bury the small, loose pages of his manuscript just hours before he and other camp inmates were shot to death and their bodies burnt on a pyre.Kruk's writings illuminate the tragedy of the Vilna Jews and their courageous efforts to maintain an ideological, social, and cultural life even as their world was being destroyed. To read Kruk's day-by-day account of the unfolding of the Holocaust is to discern the possibilities for human courage and perseverance even in the face of profound fear.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16218-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. Maps
    (pp. x-xii)
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Carl J. Rheins

    Herman Kruk’s journal of the Vilna Ghetto and the Estonian labor camp Klooga is a chronicle of daily life as lived under almost unimaginably difficult circumstances. Kruk was aware that he, like many others, might not live till war’s end, and he hoped that his diary would survive to illuminate the horrors of the past for future generations. He was correct on both counts: he was tragically murdered at the Estonian camp Lagedi on the eve of liberation, but many pages from his diary were recovered from hiding places after the war. Assembled and published in the original Yiddish by...

  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xx)
    Benjamin Harshav
  6. INTRODUCTION: HERMAN KRUKʹS HOLOCAUST WRITINGS
    (pp. xxi-liv)
    BENJAMIN HARSHAV

    The wordHolocaust, with its connotations of horror, outrage, and genocide, obstructs our view of the great variety of phenomena, stages, and experiences covered by this term.

    In a sense, there were two Holocausts. One was the extermination of several million human beings—Germans, Frenchmen, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, and Russians of Jewish origin. Some of them (like Jean Amery) were Christians, some (like Primo Levi) were indifferent to their Jewishness, some belonged to a synagogue or participated in Jewish life, most were consumers of and contributors to another culture. As individuals, they were persecuted not for what they did or...

  7. CHAPTER 1 THE COLLAPSE OF POLAND: SEPTEMBER 1939 – JUNE 1941
    (pp. 1-45)

    [After devouring Austria and Czechoslovakia, the German army marched into Poland on September 1, 1939. Two days later, Poland’s allies, England and France, declared war on Germany, and World War II began. The German Blitzkrieg was so swift that Poland, in spite of heroic resistance, collapsed in a matter of weeks. The Polish government, along with several politicians and intellectuals, fled via Romania to England. On September 17, the Red Army crossed Poland’s eastern border and occupied the eastern part of Poland, as agreed between the ussr and Nazi Germany. The German-Soviet border was established on the Bug River. On...

  8. CHAPTER 2 THE DESTRUCTION OF JEWISH VILNA: JUNE 22, 1941 – SEPTEMBER 6, 1941
    (pp. 46-99)

    [The first four pages of the diary are missing; the headings listed in Kruk’s table of contents provide an idea of their topics. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union at dawn on June 22, 1941. Vilna was bombed all day and all night. Some tried to leave Vilna on June 23 with the retreating Red Army, which Kruk mentions in the entry of July 7. It appears that Kruk himself considered fleeing the city but gave up the idea.]

    Young people are taking off their leather jackets and trying to appear European.³ People look one another in the eye as...

  9. CHAPTER 3 THE VILNA GHETTO: SEPTEMBER 7, 1941 – FEBRUARY 17, 1942
    (pp. 100-211)

    [For reasons that will become obvious, the events of September 5–18 were reconstructed only on September 20. Because Kruk provides the dates of the events he describes, the diary entries for this period seem to be out of order.]

    It has been 14 days since I’ve held a pen. The past two weeks have been not weeks for me, but years. Since that last day when I wrote that we expect a lot of news—mainly that people are talking about a ghetto—ever since then, we have gone through a dreadful hell. Everything we had lived through and...

  10. CHAPTER 4 BETWEEN YIVO AND PONAR: FEBRUARY 19, 1942 – JULY 9, 1942
    (pp. 212-325)

    Two days ago, Alfred von Rosenberg’s representatives sent for me, Kalman[owicz], and Khaykl [Lunski]. After we met with them, it became clear: they are transferring the Strashun Library to the university building. I am to direct the work. Kalman[owicz] is to be my deputy; Lunski is to serve as an expert. Twelve workers are harnessed to transfer the books. We have been given a large suite in the university building where, during the time of the Bolsheviks, the Marxist-Leninist seminar was held (Universytecka Street 3). Khaykl is beside himself; he is nervous and distracted.

    [The end of the page is...

  11. CHAPTER 5 PUTSCH IN THE GHETTO: JULY 11, 1942 – OCTOBER 28, 1942
    (pp. 326-390)

    Yesterday afternoon Murer drove up to the ghetto and proclaimed that he is coming with Hingst at 11 this morning and they demand that the entire Judenrat, along with the chief, be on the spot.

    This morning the ghetto was cleaned and scrubbed. At the designated time, the “guests” came. They entered the workshops where they are finishing furniture for Hingst and again ordered the members of the Judenrat to gather. The Judenrat assembled in Mr. Fried’s room. Soon Hingst, Murer, Burakas, and one more person came in. The Judenrat and Gens stood in a row, and Murer asked that...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER 6 THE SECOND WINTER: OCTOBER 29, 1942 – MARCH 18, 1943
    (pp. 391-479)

    Here in the ghetto, people are preparing for the second winter. Some say the last, really the last, because soon they will finish us off…. But in the meantime, we live and prepare: the ghetto is excited about winter aid. Everyone is preparing for winter. Once again people put up the iron stoves, little ones with small panes instead of big and light windows.

    Everywhere, people pull out old rags. The better clothes have already been sold. From the old things, they intend to alter clothing. They patch, darn, re-knit. They make soles out of an old belt; from two...

  14. CHAPTER 7 THE SKY IS OVERCAST AGAIN: MARCH 19, 1943 – MAY 10, 1943
    (pp. 480-535)

    Our ghetto horizon is again overcast. The cleansing of the Byelorussian-Lithuanian border strip of 50 km has taken “real” shape. But reality becomes real in the context of our sad existence.

    Experts say that it amounts to 10,000 Jews: Jews from Oszmiana, Święciany, Michaliszki. Several camps are involved, etc.

    Every such resettlement can bring victims. In any case, it is a tryout for a blood tax.

    Some say that moving the [Jews in the] provinces is the first signal. Others interpret: in the Gestapo, they think that things will be calm until July. Still others think we can be calm...

  15. CHAPTER 8 THE GHETTO WILL NOT CALM DOWN: MAY 12, 1943 – JULY 14, 1943
    (pp. 536-592)

    The ghetto will not calm down from recent events with the Oszmiana and Świeçiany Jews. If the simple ghetto citizen has been somewhat calmer lately, it is only because he is alive, like a fly, for a day—if it is calm, he is also calm. Does he have any choice? But there is a group that doesn’t want to and will not calm down. These are the ones who are grouped around the ghetto cadres.¹ An exceptionally life-risking work is going on here now. They are preparing for the final decisive act. During recent weeks, from April 1 to...

  16. CHAPTER 9 NARRATIVE CHRONICLES OF THE GHETTO: 1941 – 1943
    (pp. 593-658)

    [The narrative chronicles in this chapter were written in the same period as the diary of the Vilna Ghetto, which is presented in Chapters 2–8.]

    In the beginning there was chaos,tohu-vabohu, all was desolate and empty. All around and around, darkness ruled, helplessness and fear. God lost his grip on the world, and everything all around was neglected, abandoned, and without God’s mercy.

    In the underground of this genesis, little flames already flickered—kernels of the future tree.

    And it was thus:

    In the pervasive desolation of chaos and neglect, here and there little eternal candles flickered, and...

  17. CHAPTER 10 THE CAMPS IN ESTONIA: AUGUST 1943 – SEPTEMBER 1944
    (pp. 659-706)

    [The first exiles from the Vilna Ghetto to the camps in Estonia wrote letters home, which calmed the ghetto inhabitants and convinced them that being sent to Estonia did not automatically mean death. People from the ghetto were rounded up and gathered first in the Vilna suburb of Rosa before going to Estonia. Thus the Germans gradually emptied the ghetto until its final liquidation. The following excerpts from letters, probably copied by the Judenrat censors and typed on two pages, were in Kruk’s archives.]

    1. Reyzl Kalmanowicz to Her Neighbors at Strashun St. II, Apt. 12

    … I have so many...

  18. APPENDIX: PLACE NAMES
    (pp. 707-712)
  19. REFERENCES
    (pp. 713-714)
  20. INDEX TO PEOPLE AND PLACES
    (pp. 715-732)