Schooling in the Kovno Ghetto: Cultural Reproduction as a Form of Defiance


Source: Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education Volume 51, Issue 1-2, pages 197-205


When Soviet forces entered the Kovno Ghetto (Lithuania) on 1 August 1944 they found a scene of mass destruction. What happened at Kovno was a reflection of the extent of the Final Solution, where the goal was to extinguish not only the Jews, but their entire culture. While the Final Solution was instituted throughout Europe, this paper will focus on the inhabitants of the Kovno Ghetto. As they faced extermination, Kovno Jews risked their lives to create detailed records including: lists and accounts of people killed, diagrams of the camp, artwork, journals, and photographs of the events in the camp. One act of defiance chronicled in the photographs and writings was the hidden school system that the Jews conducted to exercise one of the few powers they possessed, the power to preserve their culture.

The history of clandestine schools is outlined using the diary of Avraham Tory, excerpts of the diaries of students, historical information provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other historical resources. Kovno’s schools are compared with traditional purposes of education and an exploration is conducted on what caused the focus of education to shift from traditional purposes to a preservation of culture and humanity. Therefore, the purpose of Kovno’s schooling will be examined through reproduction theory in an attempt to explain why schooling continued in Kovno despite the threat of imminent death. Despite great obstacles, defiance manifested as a refusal to be forgotten and hidden schools were one means of perpetuating Jewish culture.

Updated: Jun. 17, 2015