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Yad Vashem The Jerusalem of Lithuania: The Story of the Jewish Community of Vilna

Vilna During the Holocaust

Final Days of the Ghetto

The Underground Movements in Vilna

  • Three couriers from the “Dror” movement in Poland, who met at Bialystok and were photographed there in early 1942
  • FPO member Liza Magun, killed in February 1943
  • Yechiel Scheinbaum, commander of "Yechiel's Struggle Group,& one of the underground movements in the Vilna Ghetto
  • Berl Szeresnyevski, the Communist Party coordinator in the Vilna Ghetto and a member of the FPO
  • Yitzhak Wittenberg, the first commander of the FPO (Fareynegte Partizaner Organizatsye - United Partisan Organisation) in Vilna
  • Josef Glazman, leader of Beitar in Poland and a member of the FPO in the Vilna Ghetto
  • Mordechai Tenenbaum, one of the heads of the Dror movement and commander of the Bialystock Ghetto Uprising. He was killed during the uprising
  • Members of the FPO Staff Command
  • FPO member Sonya Madeysker's forged passport
  • The fighter Yitzchak Matzkevitsch's forged Polish passport
  • A diagram of the bomb used by the partisans Vitka Kempner (later Kovner), Yitzchak Matzkevitsch and Moshe Brause for the first act of sabotage against a German train
  • A weapons cache in the sewers of the Vilna Ghetto

And one in the ghetto who saw weapons
In a Jewish hand unyielding against the enemy - 
Saw how Jerusalem still fights,
The fall of ancient granite walls

The Lead Plates of the Romm Printers
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.

The exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Mr. Nehemia Burgin in memory of his dear and beloved parents, Holocaust survivors Zlata (Zehava) Burgin and Yehiel Burgin of blessed memory.