Ilya Gerber: September 27, 1942

Ilya Gerber was fifteen years old at the beginning of World War II. At first, his hometown was under the occupation of troops from the Soviet Union. That would change on June 22, 1941 when German forces invaded the Soviet Union. The Jews of Kovno were then moved to an isolated ghetto. This relocation was carried out with great brutality and many murders. Roundups and killings were so common in the first few months that the ghetto population declined from 30,000 to about 17,000 people. Ilya began writing the third notebook of his diary after this first, brutal period had passed, but the danger for ghetto residents was still great.

Ilya did not suffer as much deprivation as many of the other people in the ghetto. His father had close contacts with the leaders of the ghetto and his family enjoyed a privileged position. This was known as “protektsiye” (protection or influence) by ghetto residents and was very controversial. The great majority of people had no “protektsiye” and often resented those who did. Still it is hard to blame people for using whatever advantages that they could find to try to stay alive.

Ilya knew that he had more food and resources than many others in the ghetto. Sometimes he wrote about how unfair it was that there was not greater equality for everyone. Even so, there were some dangers that eventually threatened everyone, even the privileged. Ilya wrote about one such situation when he witnessed a deportation. On September 27, 1942 he wrote, “On the way I encountered children, women, men – all carrying loads, all dragging there remaining possessions. Imagine what a broken life that is!”

In the end, there was no protection for the people of the Kovno ghetto and there is no specific information about what finally happened to Ilya Gerber.

There is an online exhibit entitled Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto

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