The Fall of a Sparrow: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner

The Fall of a Sparrow: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner

The Fall of a Sparrow: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner

The Fall of a Sparrow: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner

Synopsis

The Fall of a Sparrow is the only full biography in English of the partisan, poet, and patriot Abba Kovner (1918- 1987). An unsung and largely unknown hero of the Second World War and Israel's War of Independence, Kovner was born in Vilna, "the Jerusalem of Lithuania." Long before the rest of the world suspected, he was the first person to state that Hitler was planning to kill the Jews of Europe. Kovner and other defenders of the Vilna ghetto, only hours before its destruction, escaped to the forest to join the partisans fighting the Nazis. Returning after the Liberation to find Vilna empty of Jews, he immigrated to Israel, wehre he devised a fruitless plot to take revenge on the Germans. He then joined the Israeli army and served as the Givati Brigade's Information Officer, writing "Battle Notes," newsletters that inspired the troops defending Tel Aviv. After the war, Kovner settled on a kibbutz and dedicated his life to working the land, writing poetry, and raising a family. He was also the moving force behind such projects as the Diaspora Museum and the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. The Fall of a Sparrow is based on countless interviews with people who knew Kovner, and letters and archival material that have never been translated before.

Excerpt

In March 1948 Abba Kovner celebrated his thirtieth birthday. Toward the end of May, two weeks after the establishment of the state of Israel was declared and two days before the Egyptian army invaded the Negev, its southern area, Kovner's wife, Vitka Kempner, gave birth to Michael, their first child. Kovner wrote a poem about the fears of a man who has become a father after the Holocaust, calling it “No, No, No.” Kovner's own sick father had died while he was still a youth and his mother had been murdered at Ponar, the killing site near Vilna, on the very day he left the ghetto for the forest with his comrades. His younger brother Michael, for whom the baby was named, joined the Soviet partisans and was killed on a mission. and now Kovner himself was a soldier, about to embark on yet another war for survival, although he was not at all certain that the previous war and the Holocaust had ended. the world kept turning while all over Europe Jews trying to return from the camps and forests to their former homes were being killed, and the criminals had yet to be punished. in the middle of the night, Kovner still awoke screaming from his nightmares.

In my mind's eye I can still see my father dying
Behind my back I hear my mother's voice as they kill her.
My brother fell dead in forty-three
On his birthday, in May, in May my brother fell.
Oh night, how wrong you are! a man like me is not
Hounded out of sorrow. These are not tears again
Fear terrifies me, fear of a meeting
With madness
… . . .

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