The Last Days of the Vilna Ghetto: Pages from a Diary
Whereas there are relatively many sources and much research on the early periods of the destruction of the Jews of Vilna and on their lives in the ghetto, there are very few documents addressing the last stages of the ghetto’s existence and its liquidation. One such rare document is the last part of the diary of a Jewish youth, Gabik Heller, who was about fourteen years old in 1943. Heller’s writing documents many aspects of the atmosphere in the Vilna ghetto during its last two months of existence. The ghetto’s residents sensed that something was about to occur, but they did not know what that would be. Jews were being sent to labor camps in Estonia, the underground was attempting to organize an uprising, and Jacob Gens, the head of the Judenrat, was arrested and executed. The atmosphere in the ghetto was very tense, rumors were rife, and everyone sought some way to ensure his and his loved ones’ lives. Gabik Heller tried to maintain his daily routines. Since he was the orphaned son of a known teacher and cultural figure, he was employed in the ghetto library by Dr. Hermann Kruk. Despite his concern for his mother, Heller decided to try to join the underground members leaving the ghetto. In his determination to get out, he exercised his broad contacts with other young people, most connected with the Bund, but he was not accepted into their ranks for escape, apparently due to his young age. He remained in the ghetto until its liquidation, which is where the diary ends abruptly.