Tag Archives: Germany

Jew of the Week: Abba Kovner

“The Jewish Avenger”

Abel “Abba” Kovner (1918-1987) was born in what is today Belarus and grew up in Vilnius (then part of Poland). As a young man, he was a member of HaShomer HaTzair, the Zionist youth movement. When the Nazis invaded Vilnius in 1941, Kovner escaped to a convent, but soon returned to the Vilna Ghetto to organize a Jewish resistance. At the start of 1942, Kovner secretly published a manifesto inside the Ghetto to inspire the Jews to fight back, writing that it was better to die than “go like lambs to the slaughter”. Along with several other young men, Kovner formed the United Partisan Organization, possibly the first armed underground Jewish group in Nazi Europe. Before they could launch their first large-scale attack, the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated in 1943, forcing the group to flee to the surrounding forests. From there, they launched a guerrilla warfare campaign against the Nazis. The small group began calling themselves “the Avengers” (HaNokmim) and were successful enough to draw the attention of the Red Army. They would go on to coordinate with the Soviets to crush the Nazis in Eastern Europe. Once the fate of the Nazis was sealed towards the end of 1944, Kovner was among the founders of a new group, called Bricha (“Escape”), which worked to get Jewish refugees out of Europe and to the Holy Land. Over the next couple of years, they would successfully move 250,000 Holocaust survivors to Israel. Having seen first-hand the horrific devastation inflicted by the Nazis, Kovner yearned for revenge. He started yet another group, called Nakam (“Vengeance”), seeking to punish Germany for the Holocaust. “Plan B” was to poison the water supply in Allied prisoner-of-war camps where Nazi SS soldiers were kept. The far more controversial and shocking “Plan A” was to poison the water supplies of several major German cities in order to kill 6 million Germans, one for each Jew lost in the Holocaust. Thankfully, Plan A was soon abandoned, though Kovner was still arrested by the British and held in a Cairo prison for several months. He did aim to accomplish Plan B, and Nakam members infiltrated a POW camp bakery in April 1946, coating the loaves of bread with arsenic. Over two thousands German soldiers fell ill, though no deaths were reported. In December 1947, Kovner joined the Haganah and fought in Israel’s Independence War as a captain of the Givati Brigade. Following this, he lived out the remainder of his life in a kibbutz, working tirelessly to strengthen the nascent state. He also helped to design several Holocaust museums, and testified at the Eichmann trial. More famously, Kovner wrote a series of poetry books (in Hebrew and Yiddish) describing the struggles he faced during the Holocaust and in Israel’s early years. This made him one of the country’s most celebrated poets and writers. For this, he won the Israeli Prize for Literature in 1970. A heavy smoker, Kovner succumbed to tracheal cancer before his 70th birthday.

Words of the Week

It is perfectly clear that the Arab nations do not want to solve the Arab refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront against the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel… Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.
— Sir Alexander Galloway, former head of UNRWA

Abba Kovner (Centre) and his Avengers.

Jew of the Week: Lina Morgenstern

The Woman Who Transformed Germany – and the World

Lina Bauer (1830-1909) was born to a wealthy, religious German-Jewish family in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). Her parents were noted social justice activists and philanthropists. Among other things, her father built an apartment building to provide housing for destitute workers, while her mother and aunts sought to save women from brothels and give them a proper education. Lina was raised with these important values. At just 18 years of age, amidst the wars of 1848, she established the Penny Society for Poor Pupils to raise money for shoes, clothes, and books for needy children. The organization would continue to operate for the next eighty years, providing countless children with basic necessities. Lina received an extensive education in music, literature, history, and science, and was so passionate about her studies that her mother wanted to take her out of school. Undeterred, Lina continued to study in secret at night. Meanwhile, she fell in love with a poor Polish Jew and married him in 1854 despite her parents’ wishes. The couple moved to Berlin and Lina (now Morgenstern) started to write to help pay the bills. Morgenstern was heavily influenced by the German thinker Friedrich Fröbel, famous for his concept of a “kindergarten” where small children can learn, play, and grow healthy and happy. Fröbel’s preschools did not go very far, and were even suppressed by the Prussian authorities. It wasn’t until Morgenstern co-founded the Berlin Women’s Association for the Advancement of Fröbelian Kindergartens that the idea took off. She chaired the organization for five years, during which time she established eight kindergartens, and a training academy for kindergarten educators. Fröbel’s other students established the first kindergartens in America, and the institution was soon adopted around the world. Morgenstern ultimately left her post to start a new charity: the Volksküche, or “people’s kitchen”. This organization distributed healthy meals to the poor, inspiring the thousands of soup kitchens that operate around the world today. Morgenstern herself opened up ten such kitchens, each serving as many as 2500 people per day! Morgenstern also published a number of important works on feminism, education, health, and child care. Her Das Paradies der Kindheit (“The Paradise of Childhood”) was the kindergarten textbook used globally for decades, and went through seven editions in her lifetime alone. Meanwhile, her Illustrated Universal Cooking Book – a result of all those years working in soup kitchens – was so popular that the Nazis did not include it in their Jewish book-burning list. Among the other organizations that Morgenstern founded are the School for Further Education of Young Ladies, the Berlin Housewives’ Association, the International Congress of Women, and the Berlin Society for Child Protection. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, she started a group for the care of soldiers, assisting some 60,000 troops. Morgenstern had become so popular and beloved that the German emperor and empress, Wilhelm and Augusta, visited her and became her patrons. Morgenstern was awarded the Victoria Medal, the Service Cross, and the War Medal. Despite all this, she was a central target for anti-Semites, and their attacks ultimately forced her into bankruptcy and illness. The Empress sent her to San Remo to recover, but it was not enough. Morgenstern left the public sphere and spent her last years writing. Among her final works is a collection of 250 biographies of inspiring women. In those last years she also directed the German Peace Society, advocating for pacifism, arms reduction, and peaceful coexistence. Disbanded by the Nazis, the organization was reformed in 1945, and continues to operate to this day. Morgenstern quietly passed away in 1909, and is buried in Berlin’s Jewish cemetery.

The Secret History of the Star of David

Words of the Week

I only have one real man in my cabinet.
– David Ben-Gurion on Golda Meir