Ilya Gerber, a sixteen year-old Jewish boy, kept a detailed record of major events that happened in the Kovno Ghetto under the German occupation. He came from a privileged family that was well-connected to the ghetto’s Jewish leadership council. For a while, he had enough food to eat, but he could see that there were many who had to go hungry. The Nazis simply didn’t allow enough food through the checkpoints that surrounded the ghetto. The only way that the starving residents could make up the difference was through smuggling.
Ilya wrote about the issue of smuggling on November 27, 1942. “I haven’t written since the nineteenth because there was no very important Jewish news, except that brigades have lately been smuggling in [food] not in their pockets, and not in little packages, but in fact in whole bundles. […] Mostly, when the ghetto commandant stands by the gate, the bundles or packages are confiscated and you sometimes feel his whip. But if he is not there it costs you whatever it takes to grease the palm of the partisan [Lithuanian auxiliary serving the Germans] or the policeman and you pass through undisturbed.”
Ilya’s description reveals one of the main problems with the smuggling strategy. The guards at the gate had to be bribed to look the other way when extra food or other necessities were brought through the gate. There were ghetto policeman who had to be paid off as well. This could become very expensive, and most people only had their savings from before the war to rely upon. Still, the payments had to be made, because for many the alternative was starvation. Even though the costs from bribery went up continuously, Ilya wrote about the only valid response. “And we pay. Do we have a choice? What if they confiscate? And how often has it happened that they confiscated everything [anyway], the fine fellows.” There was no guarantee that the much-needed food would not be seized in spite of the payment of bribes, but what choice did the people have but to try anyway?
You may read entries from Ilya Gerber’s dairy in the book, by Alexandra Zapruder.
You may read about the smuggling of food into a ghetto here.
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