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Yad Vashem This Month in Holocaust History
January 1944, Chaim Yellin, a Yiddish writer and one of the heads of the Communist Underground in the Kovno Ghetto

January 1944

Chaim Yellin, a Yiddish writer and one of the heads of the Communist Underground in the Kovno Ghetto

Appearing in the photograph is Chaim Yellin (his underground nickname was Kadishon) in the apartment of Chaim David Ratner in the ghetto. He was wounded in his left arm when taking Jews who escaped from the Ninth Fort to the partisans in the forests.

Chaim Yellin was born in 1912 and was raised and educated in Lithuania, where he became a famous Yiddish writer and playwright. His Communist beliefs led him to enthusiastically and openly support the Russian occupation in 1940. He was captured during the German invasion and imprisoned in the ghetto with the other Jews of the city. Yellin was the head of the Jewish communists underground and he had various contacts with partisan and underground communist organizations outside of the ghetto, among them representatives of the Soviet Army. With the help of these contacts he was able to smuggle dozens of youths outside of the ghetto to the partisans in the forests and to smuggle weapons into the ghetto. Towards the end of 1943 the various underground organizations united in the ghetto (Zionists, Communists and others), and Yellin became the head of the united organization that was called "The Organization" (General Jewish Fighting Organization; Yidishe Alsemeyne Kamfs Organizatsye; JFO). He was caught by the Gestapo on April 6, 1944 in the city of Kovno, interrogated and tortured. In order to avoid a general reprisal against the ghetto inmates because of his actions, he lied about his identity and presented himself as a Russian paratrooper by the name of German. He was executed at the beginning of May.

In 1939 approximately 40,000 Jews lived in Kovno. Kovno was liberated on August 1, 1944. Less than 2,000 Jews from Kovno survived the war.

See here for more information about Kovno in the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem Photo Archives, 7003/154, Courtesy of Avraham Tory