• homepage
  • homepage
  • homepage
  • homepage
Warsaw exhibition
Plan Your Visit

Abba Kovner: Leader, Poet and Fighter

For me, as a member of Hashomer Hatzair, today’s event is an encore, a great encore that marks a beginning.” This is how Abba Kovner described his feelings in a speech at the founding conference of the Mapam Party in Tel Aviv. It was late January 1948, two months after the UN had passed the partition plan resolution on  November 29th and one week after 35 fighters had been killed in the campaign to liberate Gush Etzion under siege. The new party brought together Hashomer Hatzair and Ahdut Ha’avodah – Poalei Tzion. Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman, Kovner’s partner in the merger noted that “The vision of those who fell is being realized, the vision of the Jewish underground. I am in solidarity today not just with those who live here and are seated before us, but also with the party of Yosef Kaplan and Mordechai Anielewicz”.

Four months later, on April 19, 1948, the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Nathan Rapoport’s monument was unveiled in Warsaw. Delegation upon delegation of leaders, intellectuals, and former fighters came to the ceremony. Kovner and Zuckerman came with the delegation from Palestine. Shalom Cholawski, in the delegation from the German DP camps, describes in Misheli [mine] the meeting at the Bristol Hotel where the delegates stayed: “At the close of the day, sitting in the foyer of the hotel were Shlonsky, who lived and breathed Eretz Israel, Manger, the nightingale of Jewish life in the Diaspora, and Abba Kovner, poet and fighter”. And it was Itzik Manger, grief stricken, who observed, “Rather than the nation visiting the gravesite of the poet, the poets visit the gravesite of the nation”.

Twenty years later, in April 1968, Kovner spoke at a conference at the Ghetto Fighters’ House. Although in the past he had harshly criticized the members of Kibbutz Nitzanim for their conduct during the War of Independence, at this conference he sounded conciliatory. Perhaps publication of the book Siah Lohamim [fighters’ talk], which Kovner had helped create, colored his words:

No leader of the underground could envision this [that] a Jewish commander at the time would surely have to imagine what would take place the day after giving the order to open fire…Whoever said in those days, in 1942 and 1943, “We must take up arms, it is better to die honorably than to live like this”, I would ask that person or people, who gave you the right to put an end to someone’s life one hour sooner?

On June 6, 1982, the very morning the IDF was launching its Peace for the Galilee campaign, a conference took place at the Ghetto Fighters’ House, just a few kilometers from the Lebanese border, on the memorial day of Yitzhak Zuckerman’s death. Kovner eulogized his comrade from the Vilna days, and was perhaps also making reference to himself: “The truth is that the Jewish people allowed a crazed band of survivors to bear witness until their strength gave out, allowed them to carry out this mission, as this was apparently the moral imperative of the survivors”.

Some five years later, on Rosh Hashanah 1987, Abba Kovner’s strength finally gave out, too.


Yitzhak Zuckerman, Abba Kovner, and Shalom Cholawski, Warsaw, April, 1948.

In the first row: Abba Kovner, Ya’akov Zerubavel, Avraham Shlonsky, and Moshe Sneh at the unveiling of the Rapoport Monument, Warsaw, April 1948. We welcome assistance in identifying the other figures in the photo: liori@gfh.org.il

Abba Kovner speaking at one of the first assemblies in the Ghetto Fighters’ House. Seated beside him is Tuvia Buzhikovski.


PrintTell a friend