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Partisan Vitka Kovner dies at 92

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Holocaust survivor and partisan Vitka Kovner, who was active in the Vilna Jewish underground, has died in Israel.  

Kovner, the widow of the poet and partisan Abba Kovner, died Wednesday in her home at Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh. She was 92.

Born and raised in the Polish city of Kalish, Kovner was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. When the Germans invaded Kalish, Kovner, then 19, joined with other youth movement members to travel to Vilna in an effort to emigrate to then-Palestine.

After Vilna was occupied by the Nazis in 1941, Kovner became active in the Vilna Jewish underground. She was part of a team that was responsible for terrorist acts against the Nazis outside of the ghetto.

At the end of the fighting in the ghetto, she joined a group of Jewish partisans. 

“We had seen concentration camps, and after what we witnessed there we decided that even though the war was over, we had to take revenge for the spilling of Jewish blood," Kovner said in a 2001 interview with the Yad Vashem Jerusalem quarterly magazine. "We carried out one mission in which we poisoned a camp of SS soldiers, and following this mission we understood that we had to leave Europe.”

She arrived in mandatory Palestine in 1946, and settled in Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh. In 1993, Kovner was a torch lighter during the main ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem.

“Vitka Kovner’s story is one of struggle, courage and determination, not only to survive but to triumph, not only to save her own life but to be with the Jewish people during its most difficult hours, even when that meant that her own life would continue to be threatened by the Nazis,” said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev.

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