Many times, Jewish Genealogical Societies (JGS) provide important and rewarding programs for their membership and visitors. One of these was sponsored by the JGS (NY), on May 17, 2009. It took the form of a talk by Dr. Shalom Eilati, author of Crossing the River. Originally, the book was published in Hebrew in 1999 as Lachatzot et Ha-Nahar and then published in English by the University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL, 2008.
It was an engrossing and spellbinding tale from one of the over two hundred child Holocaust survivors from the Kovno Ghetto. Fortunately, with the use of YouTube, the talk can now be seen in a series of three (3) separate YouTube segments (see bottom of this post for video).
Shalom Kaplan was born in 1933 in Kaunas, the son of Israel Kaplan, who was a teacher, historian and an author; and Leah Greenstein, who was a poet and nurse. His mother managed to engineer her son’s escape from the Kovno Ghetto prior to an expected kinderaktion in 1944. Her courage in doing this allowed her son to survive, but “she was not able to save her own life even once” as her son has related in his book.
Shalom was reconnected with his father, who survived the Holocaust, through the efforts of a fund established by Rabbi Abraham J. Klausner (1915-2007), a reform rabbi and chaplain in the U.S. Army. The fund helped to bring child Holocaust survivors from Lithuania to their surviving parent or parents in Germany.
Rabbi Abraham Klausner (sixth from left) and Holocaust Survivors, 1945
(Courtesy of the Klausner Family)
(Courtesy of the Klausner Family)
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Rabbi Klausner was the son of Rabbi Joseph Klausner and his wife Tillie Binstalk. He was well-known as the father figure to 30,000 or so Holocaust survivors of Dachau. He managed to help them transition from the displaced persons camps at the end of the war into their new lives. So it was with Shalom Eilati’s father, Israel Kaplan, who survived Dachau. He was reunited with his son and they were then later able to move to Israel.
Not only can you now listen to Shalom Eilati give his moving talk to the JGS, but you will hear him speak the Yiddish lyrics to a popular Kovno ghetto song “Yidishe Brigades” or “Jewish Brigades” written in September, 1941, by Avrom Akselrod
Bitter times have come upon us—
Times of hardship, and pain,
Gone from us are sun and flowers,
Only labor cards remain.
In patches we parade.
Our troubles we bear,
We never despair!
Inside the ghettos you confined us,
“Actions” take their grisly toll,
Turned us into slaves and robots
To destroy us is your goal.
So we work for you and labor,
Blows and curses are our wage,
Guard dogs snarl at us and keep us—
Just like beasts inside a cage.
Just because we do not whimper
When you bear us black and blue,
Do not think that broken bodies
Mean abroken spirit, too.
Long enough you’ve robbed and stolen
Long enough our people killed—
Long enough the list of victims,
Too much blood has now been spilled.
Brothers, we shall live to see it,
Our victory and spring,
Aching limbs willthen be straightened
And a new song we will sing.
Boldly on parade,
Patches gone, and hand in hand,
March to our ancestral land.
(Reprinted from “Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto”, published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1997, page 130. Also, on accompanying CD, “Hidden History of Kovno Ghetto/Songs of the Kovno Ghetto”, ISBN 0896046036, Bret Werb,1997. More on the exhibit at the USHMM)
You can also learn about Shalom Eilati’s return to Lithuania and the shtetls of his childhood by clicking here:
This combination of resources brings the reality of the Holocaust into sharp relief, particularly in regard to the survival of those most innocent of victims, the children.
Recovering and Living with Holocaust Years (Part 1 of 3)
Recovering and Living with Holocaust Years (Part 3 of 3)