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This website is devoted to Contemporary Jewish history, from an International perspective.

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Kovno Ghetto

Jewish Schools in Kovno

Stories of hope: a secret school operated inside the Kovno Ghetto, while brave and defiant Ronia Rosenthal sought foster mothers outside the ghetto, and the stories of two of the babies she rescued.

In Jewish culture there is always a supreme effort to protect children and to spread joy and hope via music and poetry even in the darkest time. In the Theresienstadt "camp-ghetto", where actual teaching was permitted, the adults laboured despite hunger and the everyday threat of death to give their children the broadest possible education, including much art and music. Thus it was that the genius of Peter Ginz was cultivated until he was sent to his death in Auschwitz.

It is pertinent to compare this love of life and fulfilment of the Jewish people with the behaviour of interned asylum seekers in Australia, who were well fed, safe and secure but confined. In June 2002, asylum seekers detained in the Woomera detention Centre allowed themselves and their children to become so angry and despondent that they sewed their lips up for publicity, and highlighted depression, while some threatened suicide. No attempt was made to shield their children or lift their spirits, some children also had their lips sewed up by their parents, . The children were used as pawns, against the values of a Judaeo-Christian society.

The essential point is that the culture of the Jews is a creative one. Here is a story with a striking Australian link of how Jews created hope and held to their values amidst the daily horrors of the Holocaust.

Pre War Orphans School Class Sh Aleichem

Pre-war Classes and Outings

In Kovno before 1939 there were secular Jewish schools, teaching in Yiddish, as well as Cheder catering for the more orthodox. After the takeover of Lithuania by the USSR, all cheders were closed, but the secular schools continued.

After the German invasion, Jewish residents of Kovno were confined within a Ghetto. For a little while the Judenrat conducted schools within the ghetto perimeter, using the available teachers. After the Germans closed the Ghetto schools in August 1942 secret classes were conducted in various hidden locations inside the ghetto. The photograph to the left is of a class conducted in the "underground school" -- actually in stables -- by Shmuel Rosenthal , who appears in the pre-War images above. All these "illegal" schools ceased after the removal of over two thousand ghetto children during the "KinderAktion" 27-28th of March 1944.

The teacher Shmuel Rosent(h)al - survived -- as did -- miraculously -- his daughter Rona born in secret and smuggled out of the ghetto as a tiny baby. His wife, Ronia, the baby's mother, did not survive. After the war Shmuel Rosenthal once more taught in and supervised Jewish schools, until circa 1949 when Jewish education was once more made illegal by the Lithuanian Communist government. Rona who was re-united with her father after the war, was then thrust into a Lithuanian language school. In 1979 Rona came from Lithuania to live in Melbourne.

Ronia Rosenthal Baby Rescue Organizer

Before the war, Ronia Rosenthal, the wife of Shmuel Rosenthal, educated in Brussels, had run a college in Kovno devoted to the Steiner Method (for teaching young children). She herself also did some teaching in Sholem Aleichem College. Thus she had many ex-students in the wider community, including nuns, who were pre-school and kindergarten teachers. Once the Ghetto had been established, at great risk to herself, Ronia would travel outside the Ghetto, recruit foster mothers, and make arrangements for the transfer of babies and (tiny) todlers to the foster mothers.

In order to disguise her activity outside the ghetto, Ronia Rosenthal, bleached her hair, and removed the Jewish Star from her coat. As she had studied in Brussels, her speech would not give her away. In early 1943 she herself became pregnant, and her own child (later named Rona) was, when eleven months old, smuggled out. Before the ghetto's liquidation a bribe was paid to secure Ronia's own escape from the Ghetto, but as so often happened with extorted bribes it was not honoured. Her husband, leading teacher Shmuel Rosenthal, was transported to Dachau, but managed to survive.

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