Preface to Alex Faitelson's Heroism and Bravery in Lithuania, 1941-1945 (Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem, 1996)
You are about to read an unusual book by an unusual author.
The author, Alex (Alter) Faitelson survived the Holocaust, having lost his parents, his kin and his friends. Condemned to death, he nonetheless lived to collect material from archives and books. One of the great virtues of his account is that he has scrupulously reported the historical truth. He has neither whitewashed nor blackened the people he wrote about. Nor does he attempt to describe the events in terms of this or that contemporary viewpoint. Nothing is made up, everything is described as it was. Existing historians are held to account.
Not very much has been written about the life and struggle of the Kaunas ghetto (Kovno ghetto). Every book casts new light, adds something new to the overall picture. The full picture will never be complete, but it is necessary to work on it, and to keep on working on it. Posterity must be left as full an account as possible. Most important, such an account must not be distorted in describing the tragedy but also the heroism evinced in this terrible period. Faitelson’s book is a true and faithful rendering and this gives it a special importance. It is a firm and durable fusion of memoir, documentary and archival material. Successfully intertwined are his wife’s poems. Beloved by all, the lively, perceptive and witty young poetess, Sima Yashunski-Faitelson, wrote in verse of those underground partisan days.
A. Faitelson was an active member of the anti-fascist fighting unit (AKO) of the Kaunas Ghetto, from its inception till he left to join the partisans. He is imbued with the ideas of this fighting unit, realizing that above all it was necessary to be uncompromising in the war against the occupation army. Even when it seemed that all was lost, he went on fighting in the fort of death. He now honestly describes not only successes, but failures, as well as errors, such as, for example, the expedition into the Augustovo Forest which ended so tragically. Against this background, the successes stand out in greater relief; the correctness of our conception of AKO, its uniqueness, the ability to overcome difficulties, such as, for example, our courageous decision to send armed men by car to join the partisans. The reader will see the way in which AKO was organized to be ready to overcome any obstacles.
Especially significant in this book by Faitelson are the accounts of the Ninth Fort and the horrors perpetrated there. The author, who was there for some considerable time, witnessed for himself the attempt to destroy the evidence of Hitlerite brutality and saw how the corpses were dug up and burnt. But the spirit of AKO inspired him and his comrades to find a way out of what looked like an impossible situation. Together with a group of friends, he began to plan escape. On December 25, 1943 they were successful. And what is more, they were absolutely right in what they did next. Paradoxical as it may seem, out of one prison, they went to another: the ghetto. But this they knew, that the AKO was there, that it would receive them, safely hide them, and, in an opportune moment, help them achieve their eventual aim, to link up with the partisans. The escape was made possible because, for the first time, news of the bestialities being committed in the Ninth Fort were available.
Faitelson’s book will make it possible for the reader to learn about life in the Kaunas (Kovno) Ghetto, the Ninth Fort, the activities of the AKO, its heroic attempts to link up with the anti-Hitler underground and partisans, how it acquired arms, the work of its complex organisation, in which tens of people participated, their courageous struggle. All of us, but especially the young, who want an objective account of one of the most horrific, bloody but heroic pages in the history of Kaunas Jewry should read this factual account. Faitelson wrote it with his heart’s blood.
Deputy Commander: AKO
The Anti-Fascist Unit in the Kovno (Kaunas) Ghetto. (Translated from Russian)
November 19, 1995