Book review for "Kaddish for Kovno" (1988) by William W. Mishell. (My maternal grandfather's family was from Kovno, Lithuania).
Mishell was a very young man when the Nazi war machine rolled into Kovno in the summer of 1941. His story recounts and gives testimony to many atrocities in the Kovno Ghetto, Stutthof and Dachau while also providing insight into the minds of young adults "coming of age" under conditions unique to the human experience. He openly discusses the heartbreak of falling in love in the Ghetto as his girl friend(s) become victims of their evil overlord. Later, while imprisoned in near hopeless conditions at Dachau, he tells of the startling kindness of one of his German captors as the fight for life balanced on a fulcrum of liberation and final annihilation. After being freed by the American Army W.M. describes continued heartbreak as the "Musselman" victims continued to perish and as confirmation of those lost became fully understood.
This riveting book is detailed, extremely well written and reads with the suspense of a white knuckle thriller. Highly recomended for those interested in understanding the experiences and fate of Lithuanian Jewry.
I read this book about the heartwrenching destruction of Jewish citizens of Kovno or Kaunas in Lithuanica by the savage Lithuanian population and the German SS. It is a must read for all.It can never be forgotten or forgiven.
This is an amazing book detailing the agony of striving to survive the Kovno Ghetto. It is written in a very down to earth style, and the reader is not spared the horrifying truth. I say it is a must read for anyone who really wants to understand what WWII ghetto life was like for Jews and the cruelty men are capable of. The author tells the story of how through his ingenuity he made it through his experiences. He boldly shares his intimate moments with such honesty. It is well written and makes you feel like you are there. Reading this book is a life altering experience. However it is not one we should ignore if we never want to see a repeat of this again. An eye opener for anyone who takes the Holocaust lightly or really doesn't know what happened. My understanding is that this book was out of print for a long time.
The inner jacket says, it "...is a story of ingenuity and heroism as well as of destruction. The Jews of Kovno secured food, smuggled children to safety, set up hospitals, a police force, and even a ghetto orchestra in the face of numbing deprivations and brutality. The workshops they created, among them a graphics and a toy making workshop, brought a degree of order and protection to their participants that enabled them to live, work, and even love until the last shattering year of the war."
I first met Vula Mishell after he had retired after working for many years as a civil engineer on building skyscrapers. He was very intelligent and spoke several languages - including Lithuanian, German, Russian, Yiddish and Engish.
Vula was always willing to talk about politics, economics and just about anything else - except his life in Lithuainia and in Nazi concentration camps. Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to me when he loaned to me a first draft of Kaddish for Kovno. I started reading it that evening and could not put it down until I finished it.
Vula was about 20-years old when the Germans and the Russians invaded Kovno (the Yiddish name for Kaunus Lithiuania). He describes that his father was shot by partisans and then his mother and sister were moved first to a ghetto and then concentration camps. Through his words, a reader will obtain some understanding of interplay between Lithuanian Christians, Lithuanian Jews, Germans and Soviets that killed about 95% of Kovno's Jews. That is why this book is titled 'Kaddish' - the Yiddish word for a requium prayer. Vula also describes some of his feelings and problems coming to manhood during the Holocaust - especially with the loss of close ones.
Vula survived to come to the USA, marry a Holocaust survivor, father three children (a DDS and two MDs) and live to see seven grandchildren. So Vula and his family stand as testament against Hitler, the Third Reich, The Final Solution and Fascism. He tells you what he did. You will be left to wonder, as I did, what you would have done.
This memoir is a great and important work. Mishell was one of the few survivors of the Kovno ghetto, and if one wishes to learn about the destruction of Jews on Soviet territory, this is the book to read.