About the Authors
Professor Dov Levin was born in 1925 into a traditional and Zionist family in Kovno, Lithuania. From kindergarten until the eleventh grade he was a student in schools where Hebrew was the language of instruction. As a teenager, he joined the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. In 1940, when Lithuania became a Soviet republic and the use of Hebrew and Zionist activity were outlawed, Dov was forced to go to a school where the language of instruction
was Yiddish. It was in this school that he completed his high school studies. During this time he joined the Zionist underground, which was active in the city of Kovno and continued to nurture Hebrew culture and the connection to the Land of Israel.
After the Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941, Dov was imprisoned together with his family in the Kovno Ghetto, which was established in a suburb of the city, Slobodka. In the ghetto Dov was a member of the anti-Nazi underground. He witnessed his father, Zvi Hirsch, his mother, Blume, and his twin sister, Batya, taken by the Nazis in the Estonia deportation in 1943. They did not survive. After this, Dov joined the Zionist “pioneering movements” collective at Mildos 7. In the framework of the underground organization, he escaped with others from the ghetto to fight as partisans; he reached the Rudniki Forests, where he joined the partisan battalion “Death to the Occupiers.” After meeting up with the Red Army in June 1944, he was recruited into the security forces, which were locating collaborators with the Nazi enemy and murderers of Jews. At the same time he renewed his underground Zionist activity in the framework of “Bricha” (the organized flight of the surviving Jews in Europe to Palestine), and he set out himself for Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.
Dov arrived in Eretz Yisrael (Palestine) in October 1945 and began his studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He also joined the Haganah and later fought in the War of Independence. In 1951, he completed his studies at the Hebrew University’s School of Social Work. From 1951–1971 he served as the head of the Youth Section of the Social Work Department of the Jerusalem Municipality and also as the head of the Statistics and Sociology Department in the municipality. In 1954 Dov received his master’s degree from the Hebrew
University in sociology and Jewish history and during the years 1954–1958 also worked as a researcher in the Sociology Department.
During this period, with the help of his friend Zvie Brown, Dov began to document the activities of the Jewish partisans from Kovno. Dov would travel with a recording device to many places throughout Israel in order to interview survivors. He was one of the first researchers to correctly appreciate the importance of recording oral history as one of the primary sources for understanding the events of the twentieth century. He combined his awareness of being a participant in historical events with his experience as a social worker. He was one of the founders of the Oral History Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry that was established in 1959 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. One of the most prolific interviewers that contributed to the collection of testimonies of the Oral History Division, he was chosen to be its director from 1985–2001 and continued to develop the principles and methods of documenting oral history while stringently upholding historical credibility. Today, Dov’s recordings are kept in a special collection in the Division. In 2013 a catalogue of abstracts
of these interviews was published, entitled “Historian’s Testimony.” Dov is the honorary president of the Israel Association for Oral Documentation.
Out of his documentation work grew Dov’s academic research into the Jewish armed resistance against the Germans in the Baltic countries and the course of the Holocaust in those countries. In 1962 he published in Hebrew, together with Zvie Brown, his first book, Toldoteha shel Machteret (translated into English in the present volume: The Story of an Underground – the Resistance of the Jews of Kovno in the Second World War). This “monumental work” (as described by the US Holocaust Museum) is a detailed academic presentation of the story of the Kovno Ghetto and the escape to the forests by the members of the underground, including the authors themselves, to fight as partisans.
In 1966 Dov was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Chicago. He received his PhD in 1971 from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for his research and dissertation entitled “The Participation of the Lithuanian Jews in the War against the Germans in the Second World War” (Hebrew). For this work he was awarded the Yitzchak Sadeh Prize in Military History. The research was published as a book in 1974, Lochamim Ve-Omdim Al-Nafsham, and was the first comprehensive description of the organized resistance of the Jews of Lithuania against the Nazis. The book was later translated into English and published under the name Fighting Back – Lithuanian Jewry’s Armed Resistance to the Nazis. Over the years Dov became one of the preeminent scholars in the world in the field of the history of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, particularly on the subject of the Jewish armed resistance to the Nazis in the Baltic countries. Dov Levin has published over 520 articles and sixteen books in Hebrew, English, Yiddish, Russian, and Lithuanian.
During the past twenty-five years, in addition to his research and writing, Dov also engaged in activities that brought his findings before the general public, both in Israel and throughout the world. He served as advisor to various documentary films and museums on the subject of the Holocaust. Perhaps the most important of these activities was when he served as an advisor to the exhibition on the Kovno Ghetto that was mounted by the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, from 1997–1999. The book published by the museum on the occasion of the exhibition “Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto” contains a chapter written by Dov. Another subject for which Dov advocated during the 1990s and until today was to raise public awareness of the efforts of the Lithuanian government and of other Baltic countries to “rehabilitate” those of their citizens who had collaborated with the Nazis.
As a young man, Dov Levin found his way in the midst of the inferno of the Holocaust to survive and fight. As a researcher, he tried always to discover and faithfully present the truth of a dark and difficult period in the history of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, he is blessed with a contagious sense of humor and an optimistic outlook on life. He is married to the artist Bilha (Deutsch) Levin and they live in Jerusalem. They have three children – Nitzana Borosh, Basmat Levin, and Tzvi Levin – and seven grandchildren.
Copyright Robert (Reuven) Geffen