Vilna During the Holocaust
Final Days of the Ghetto
The Underground Movements in Vilna
And one in the ghetto who saw weaponsThe Lead Plates of the Romm Printers
In a Jewish hand unyielding against the enemy -
Saw how Jerusalem still fights,
The fall of ancient granite walls
A. Sutzkever, Vilna Ghetto, 12 September 1943
Members of the movements and the political parties considered joint resistance efforts. On the 21st of the January 1942 attended by Major Isidore Frucht of Beitar, Yitzhak Wittenberg and Chenya Borowska, representatives of the communists, Abba Kovner of Hashomer Hatzair and Nissan Reznik of Hanoar Hatzioni met in Josef Glazman's (the head of Beitar in Poland) apartment and established the FPO (Fareynegte Partizaner Organizatsye - United Partisan Organisation). They determined that the aim of the FPO would be to prepare an armed mass-uprising in the event of any attempt to liquidate the ghetto. A Staff Command under the leadership of Wittenberg was established and its members included Glazman and Kovner. A short while later the young Bundists joined the organisation and Nissan Reznik, representative of Hanoar Hatzioni, and Abraham Chwojnik, representative of the Bund joined the Staff Command. At its peak the FPO numbered approximately 300 members organised into two units under the command of Glazman and Kovner.
During the period of relative stability the underground movement prepared for an uprising. Members of the organisation took great risks by smuggling weapons into the ghetto, manufacturing explosives in the ghetto and undergoing weapons training. Members of the organisation that worked in German factories sabotaged weapons and equipment at their workplaces. The FPO established an underground printing press in Vilna and later in the ghetto which served to print posters calling for resistance to the Germans. In July 1942 members of the organisation laid mines on the rail tracks, causing damage to a German train on its way to the front.
The FPO spread the idea of resistance between the ghettos. Couriers, mostly women, were sent from Vilna to the ghettos of Bialystok and Warsaw in order to report what was happening in Vilna and to encourage resistance. Attempts to establish communication with partisans or other anti-German bodies in Lithuania did not succeed until the spring of 1943.
Another two underground groups were active in the ghetto: "The Yechiel Group" under the leadership of Yechiel Scheinbaum and the "The Struggle Group" under the leadership of Borka Friedman. The two groups combined at the beginning of 1943, forming "Yechiel's Struggle Group" which numbered about 200 members. In May 1943 " Yechiel's Struggle Group" began working together with the FPO.
Members of the underground hoped that due to Gens's personal connections with the communists and with the FPO they would be updated about upcoming developments. Gens also had a vested interest in maintaining links with the underground, in the light of the approach of the Red Army to Vilna. In Spring 1943 there was a struggle between Gens and the FPO resulting from the amassing of weapons and from young people leaving for the forests. In a number of cases the Germans captured Jews from the ghetto with weapons in their hands and executed them together with their families. Following German warnings, Gens reasoned that the activities were threatening the survival of the ghetto and ordered his police to conduct thorough searches for weaponry.