Why did I want to see this book published in English over fifty years after its first publication?
It is a story of connections – connections to family and to a people’s fate. Dov Levin, originally from Kovno, Lithuania, and one of the authors of this book, is my second cousin. Dov survived the Holocaust and made it to Israel in 1945. I grew up safely in the United States because my grandfather, Rabbi Tuvia Geffen, decided to leave Kovno and immigrated to the US in 1903. After Dov arrived in Israel, he wrote to his great uncle Tuvia, one of the few family members alive in the world that he knew of. As a result, the American branch of the family remained in contact with Dov throughout the years, visiting him in Israel when they traveled there. When several of my cousins immigrated to Israel, Dov and his wife Bilha were an important source of support in their new country.
I first met Dov in 1974, when I visited Israel for the first time as a teenager. Prior to that I had heard stories about him and how he had survived the Holocaust as a partisan in the forests of Lithuania. My father had a couple of Dov’s books in Hebrew in our house, but even though I had learned Hebrew growing up, there was no way I could tackle the language level of academic research. So we continued to hear occasional stories of what Dov had done in the war, but never many details. On a tour of the US in 1980, Dov and Bilha visited me at my home on an old farmstead in western Massachusetts. As we took a walk through the surrounding woods Dov remarked how it reminded him of the forests in Lithuania that had been his allies.
I moved to Israel in 1982 and, like the rest of my cousins, enjoyed Dov and Bilha’s hospitality and help. When I married Yaffa and we had our two children, Idan and Aynat, I made sure that we continued to visit them so that the kids would get to know them well. Dov played with them and followed their progress over the years. In 2009 we suffered the sudden loss of our son Idan while he was serving in the Israel Defense Forces. I remember that evening, when Dov called me and tried to comfort me. That broke me – this man, who had lost his entire family, including his twin sister, in the Holocaust, is consoling me.
For some reason I started to read Dov’s books that had been published in English about the Holocaust. I continued to visit him at his home in Jerusalem, especially since his health was deteriorating. I remembered one of those books in Hebrew from my father’s bookshelf, the first one that Dov authored, which was about the Jewish resistance that he had been a part of – the book that was too hard for me to read as a teenager. I ordered a copy from a rare book store, picking one that Dov had once autographed to someone. After reading it, I could “return” the book to Dov after fifty years and get a new autograph to me.
I was amazed by “The Story of an Underground.” Although I thought I knew more than the average person about the history of the Holocaust, here were accounts that I had never heard before. The dramatic escape from the hell of the Ninth Fort, the resistance in the Kovno Ghetto, the life of the partisans in the forests and their struggle against the Nazis – all vividly portrayed. I decided that this book had to be made available to the world in English and received Dov’s permission to organize the translation and publication. At the same time there was something else driving me: seeing the photos in the original edition of various underground and partisan fighters, as well as a photo of Dov himself as a partisan, most of whom were around the age of nineteen then and many of whom did not survive, I suddenly saw my son Idan, who was nineteen when we lost him, a fighter for his people. The circumstances then and now are of course worlds apart, but there is a direct connection between the armed Jewish resistance to the Nazis in World War II, the building of the Jewish army before the establishment of the State of Israel, and the commitment of the young people in Israel today to the security of their country and people. Dov instinctively understood what I was feeling. He readily granted me permission to dedicate this edition to Idan. When I asked him for a photo of himself to put into the book, he insisted that I also include a photo of Idan, as well as one of his good friend and co-author Zvie Brown.
So the publication of this book became not only a tribute to Dov’s work, but also a memorial to my son. Due to Dov’s health I took on the task of going over the translated and edited text. There were a number of points to be clarified, and while Dov was able to help with that during much of the process, I am solely responsible for any errors due to mistakes in translation or editing. My hope is that this English version will be a help to academic researchers of the Holocaust and also a readable account for interested people everywhere of how a small group of young people acted to survive in impossible and terrible circumstances.
Copyright Robert (Reuven) Geffen