Ilya Gerber was 19 years-old when he began the third notebook of his diary, the only one of which survived. For a little more than one year before this date, Ilya and his family had been forced to live in the Kovno Ghetto under German occupation. He was well informed about events and conditions in the ghetto and frequently included this information in his diary entries.
On August 26 1942, Ilya wrote about the mood in the ghetto and about some of the rumors that were making the rounds among the frightened population. He began by writing, “A new diary – new Jewish misfortunes. Today is the seventeenth day since I left off writing. Seventeen days! Seventeen days of fear, anxiety, of panic and of a mood of madness have gone by. As can be seen in my second diary, the mood in the ghetto is not especially good. People chattered, spreading rumors that soon, soon, one more day, one more hour and of the ghetto there will remain only a heap of ashes.”
Ilya reported several rumors that had the ghetto residents in such a panic. One was that Lithuanians outside of the ghetto had been told that they would be able to move into houses that would soon be vacated by the Jews. The second rumor was in response to the fact that a higher number of German and Lithuanian officials had been visiting the ghetto recently, as if they were coordinating some type of secret plan. According to the rumor, one particular Lithuanian representative by the name of Kubiliunas was demanding the complete annihilation of Lithuanian Jews. Another rumor stated that no more food would be allowed into the ghetto. These types of rumors put people on edge and raised tensions considerably. Ilya wrote about the results. “People quarrel and shove as long as the pulse still beats, so long as the ‘I’ still wants to live.”
It was not true that bad news and troubling rumors always caused violence and self-seeking behavior, but it would also be wrong to assume that they never did either. It is a natural response to danger to want to protect self and family. Even though Ilya saw that the conditions “turned everyone into an animal,” it wasn’t an entirely fair assessment. It was also an indication of how strong was the desire to live and also to protect family and loved ones. These are some of the most “human” traits of all.
Excerpts from Ilya Gerber’s diary may be found in by Alexandra Zapruder.
Click here to learn more about the Kovno Ghetto at this online exhibit by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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