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Ruzka, Abba, Vitka

Ruzka Korczak, Abba Kovner, Vitka Kempner, Jewish partisans in Vilnius on July 14, 1944, the day after Russian troops won the city from the Germans. Photo by Ilya Ehrenburg.


"In 1944, a band of Jewish guerillas emerged from the Baltic forest to join the Russian army in its attack on Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. The band, called the Avengers, was led by Abba Kovner, a charismatic young poet. In the ghetto, Abba had built bombs, sneaking out through the city's sewer tunnels to sabotage German outposts. Abba's chief lieutenants were two teenage girls, Vita Kempner and Ruzka Korczak. At seventeen, Vitka and Ruzka were perhaps the most daring partisans in the East, the first to blow up a Nazi train in occupied Europe. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the Avengers escaped through the city's sewage tunnels to the forest, where they lived for more than a year in a dugout beside a swamp, fighting alongside other partisan groups, and ultimately bombing the city they loved, destroying Vilna's waterworks and its power plant in order to pave the way for liberation.



"Abba and the partisans walked through the city. It was deserted.


"Now and then, one or two people, stooped and emaciated, stumbled into the street. These were the ghetto's last Jews, those who, for a year, had lived between walls and underneath floorboards."


From The Avengers by Rich Cohen.

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Taken on May 28, 2009