Abba Kovner, Wilna Resistance Leader, Honored by Former Victims of Nazism

Abba Kovner, the underground partisan turned poet, was feted here last night by the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations and given its sixth annual “Remembrance Award” of $2,500 “for excellence and distinction in literature relating to the Holocaust and its legacy.”

In making the presentation, Federation general secretary Sam E. Bloch said Kovner’s poetry and prose “revive a nightmare of events…from which neither the poet nor the reader could or should escape.” Bloch himself is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen. Kovner’s sixth and most recent collection of poems was “Little Sister of Mine.” He has also won the Shlonsky Prize for Literature, the Cultural Prize of the World Jewish Congress and the Brenner Prize.

Acknowledging his latest citation, Kovner told the audience of 200 persons: “Of all the literary awards which I received, the Remembrance Award–which is given on behalf of those who died in the death camps–is of the most mighty significance, as if a prize is given to a man for being human. It is both self-evident and basically incomprehensible. For in this there is evidenced the ancient moral commandment of Jewish civilization: Keep and remember, keep and safeguard all that has to be sacred, and remember the day you came out from the house of slavery.”

He added that for him, “poetry is not merely an esthetic experience but an enduring experience and attempt to turn the ashes into an eternal light.” Kovner, 53, was a leader of the underground resistance in Wilna, Lithuania. Born in Sevastopol, Russia, he went to Israel in 1945.

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