Kovno (Kaunas, Lithuania) was the home of about 35,000 Jews with a rich history and culture. Kovno was also home to the Slobodka Yeshiva, one of Europe’s most prestigious institutions of Jewish learning. Indeed, the first modern Hebrew novel was written by Abraham Mapu of Kovno. 

Kovno's population swelled with Jewish refugees from Poland after 1939. Sempo Sugihara, a Japanese consul statione there attempted to assist the rescue of Jews who were looking for any chance to escape. Disregarding the orders of his government, Sugihara issued some 3,500 transit visas for to Japan. Because of this, Sugihara was stripped of his post in September 1940 for insubordination. Still, but several recipients of his visas managed to escape the Nazis as a result of his actions.

The Germans arrived in Kovno in June 1941. Immediately after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the city, Lithuanian and German killing squads began the mass murder of Kovno’s Jews. Surviving Jews were forced into a small ghetto with primitive houses and no running water. By October 1941, part of the ghetto was destroyed and on October 29, 1941, 10,000 Jews were shot in a single day at a location known as the Ninth Fort.

The Kovno ghetto had several Jewish resistance groups that were able to organize the escape of some several hundred Jews from the ghetto to join Jewish partisan groups in the surrounding areas.

The remaining inhabitants of the ghetto were used as slave laborers until they were evacuated to concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau and Stutthof. In July 1944, the Germans destroyed the ghetto and killed 2,000 remaining Jews. Only about 500 Jews from Kovno survived in hiding in the surrounding forest.


Above: Jews of Kovno are prepared for transport to death camps.