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Abba Kovner Dead at 69

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Funeral services were held at Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh Monday for Abba Kovner, 69, commander of the partisans of the Vilna Ghetto uprising against the Nazis, and a noted author and poet in Israel during the past four decades. Kovner died Rosh Hashanah of cancer at the kibbutz, where he had lived for over 40 years.

Prior to his funeral, Kovner’s body lay in state at the entrance to the Bet Hatefutsot Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, for which he had been one of the initiators and driving forces. Brief eulogies were delivered at the museum on the Tel Aviv University campus by the museum director, Jewish Agency chairman Leon Dulzin, and by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, Kovner’s former colleague in the Israel Defense Force.

Kovner recounted his experiences in the ghetto in the documentary film, “The Partisans of Vilna,” describing the heroic resistance of the young Jews. In the ghetto on New Year’s Eve, 1941, the young poet Kovner read aloud a manifesto, “Let Us Not Be Led Like Sheep to the Slaughter.” It was this call to resist the Nazis that led to the formation of the United Partisans Organization, which brought together Jews of different political parties into one underground group.

The Red Army liberated the Vilna Ghetto in 1944; 600 Jews remained of the original 87,000. During the time of the ghetto, Kovner frequently found sanctuary in a Benedictine nunnery along with seven nuns from Cracow, hidden by the mother superior. He came to Palestine in 1945.

Kovner was the one of the organizers of HaAfala, the clandestine immigration movement of the Hagana to Palestine during and after World War II. Beginning in his youth in Vilna, Kovner was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth movement. During the War of Independence, Kovner was a news correspondent for the Israeli army.

Kovner was the author of several works, including five volumes of poetry (“Ad Lo Or,” “Prida MeHadarom,” “Admat HaHol,” “Mikol HaAhavot” and “Ahhoti Ketana”) and two prose works, “Panim el Panim”: “She’at Haefess” and “Hatzometh,” He was the recipient of the Israel Prize, the Shlonsky Prize for Foreign Literature and the Cultural Prize of the World Jewish Congress.

Prior to his death, Kovner was completing the plans for a memorial to the youth movement in Europe prior to and during the war, which will be established at Givat Haviva in Israel.

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