The Life of Nina Finkelstein

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The Kovno Ghetto

Two photos, above: Inspecting the devastation done to Kovno, 1944.

Top, right: Unidentified boy in the Kovno Ghetto, 1943.

Right: Identified man at office in Kovno Ghetto, 1943.



Top, left: Nina, with friends in the Kovno Ghetto; man on right in Soviet military uniform, 1944.

Top, right: Nina, on left, with a friend, 1945.

Bottom, right: Rakhi (Yerachmiel) Berman, partisan fighter, 1944. Berman was also a actor in the Yiddish theater and performed after the war with the MIKT, a group that performed for thousands in the DP camps throughout Germany.



"The first story that Nina told me of her time in the Kovno Ghetto was about the selections made near the IXth fort on Oct. 28th, 1941. All the Jews were told to report there, but Nina’s mother was too ill to go so she decided to put a note on the door that the people who had been there had left. Nina and her grandmother went to the selections and were saved. When they returned to their rooms, Bertha was not there so they searched for her. Finally someone told them that the Nazis came and took her mother away, She was found dead in the square and was buried there. That is how Bertha Levine died. Nina’s grandmother, Helena Rabinovitch Lewin, used to tell Nina that she was young and would survive the war. She did, but Helena Lewin died in her sleep on Jan. 21, 1942 at approximately eighty-three years of age from exposure and hunger. Nina recorded the deaths of her mother and grandmother at Yad Vashem in 1974.

In the ghetto, Nina was working in a sewing room where women were taking apart German soldiers’ uniforms so that they could be made into clothes for civilians. While there, the Nazis came around looking for a volunteer who spoke German, Lithuanian, and Russian, which she did. Nina said that she learned never to volunteer, because the Germans would come around looking for volunteers, for example doctors, and they would take them all and execute them. This time however. Someone volunteered Nina, but this may have saved her life because she went to work for a German officer, whose name was Matthias I think, and he was a decent man who treated the Jews very well. For the rest of her life, Nina hated anything to do with sewing.

While in the ghetto, Nina worked for the underground, but she didn’t talk very much about that. Gita Abramson has written about her experiences with Nina and how they escaped together to spend the last few weeks of the war with the Partisans. They were saved by Mania Lishinzke, who risked her life and the life of her family members, and she is now listed as a Righteous Gentile in Yad Vashem. While with the partisans, they spent much time hidden in underground shelters to hide from the Germans. As they liquidated the Ghetto in July 1944, the Germans burnt the Ghetto, as well as the underground hiding places, and some people were burned alive. Nina said that the smell of the burning flesh was something that never left you. Since that time, I think that she also suffered from claustrophobia.

A name that Nina often mentioned was Peter Simonellis. I believe his family helped her at some point. In the 1980’s the family lived in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, and I know that Nina used to visit them and often spoke of them with gratitude."

-Jo Ann Goldwater

Isaac Kot, the son of another partisan, visited Kovno with his father in 1995, and was told by his father then about the selection process.
"In 1995, I went to Kovno with my father. One of the places we went to was a field about a mile or so away from the IXth fort.  The field was called Democratic Place. Under the rouse of a census, every Jew in the Ghetto was required to come to Democratic Place at 6 a.m.  The people stood there almost all day. Finally, in the late afternoon everyone was marched before two Nazi officers. My father always mentioned that one of the Nazis was eating a sandwich while deciding who would live and who would die that day. As the Jews walked by they were told to go to the right or left. One side was to be taken to the IXth fort, the others back to their homes in the Ghetto. Approximately 12,000 of the 36,000 remaining Jews in the Ghetto were murdered that day and the next. My grandparents and their siblings and most of their families were killed on October 28, 1941."



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