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Kovner, Abba


KOVNER, ABBA (1918–1987), Lithuanian resistance fighter and Israeli Hebrew poet. Born in Sevastopol, Russia, Kovner grew up in Vilna. He was active in the *Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir movement and prepared to immigrate to Ereẓ Israel but the outbreak of World War ii prevented him from doing so. During the German occupation of Vilna, he remained in the city, first under the protection of nuns in a convent, and later in the ghetto. Kovner, one of the commanders of the Vilna ghetto, helped to organize the armed revolt and issued a manifesto urging Jews not to go like sheep to the slaughter. He continued to fight the Germans as leader of Jewish partisan groups in the Vilna forests. After the war Kovner was among the organizers of the *Beriḥah, responsible for bringing hundreds of thousands of Jews to Ereẓ Israel. In 1945 he went to Ereẓ Israel; but when he attempted to return to Europe to continue Jewish rescue work he was caught by the British secret police and imprisoned in Egypt. During his imprisonment he wrote the poem "Ad Lo Or" ("Until There is no More Light," 1947). After his return from Egypt he joined kibbutz Ein ha-ḥoresh. At the beginning of the War of Independence, he enlisted in the Givati Brigade and wrote a daily Battle Sheet which brought news of the war to the troops.

Early in World War ii, Kovner's first poems, both in Hebrew and Yiddish, were published in Vilna in the organs of the Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, including Ma'amakim. In 1943 his Hebrew poetry was published for the first time in Ereẓ Israel. The poem, which was signed Uri, was printed in the newspaper Haaretz after having been transmitted by the partisan post. His books of poetry include Ad Lo Or (1947); Preidah me-ha-Darom (1949); Admat ha-Ḥol (1961); and Mi-Kol ha-Ahavot (1965), which includes the poem "Ha-Mafte'aḥ Ẓalal."first printed in Yevul (1950). Kovner's poetry, unique in its rhythm, oscillates in theme between the horrors of the Holocaust and the struggles in Ereẓ Israel. His poems also treat of a religious experience in Brazil, encountered in 1955 while he was on a mission in Latin America. Experiences during the War of Independence gave rise in 1953–55 to his prose trilogy Panim el Panim, She'at ha-Efes (1954), and Ha-Ẓomet (1955). The trilogy, with its diverse characters, both sabras and former partisans, is a monument to the Givati Brigade. In 1972 Kovner's poem Lahakat ha-Keẓev Mofi'ah al Har Gerizim ("The Pop Orchestra Appears on Mt. Gerizim") was published. Dan Miron edited Kol Shirei Abba Kovner (The Collected Poems) 1996–2003, and volume five includes an index and comments by R. Frenkel. In 1973 a selection of his poems, translated into English by Shirley Kaufman and others, was published by Pittsburgh University under the title A Canopy in the Desert. It includes an introductory essay on Kovner by the translator. His Scrolls of Fire appeared in 1981. The English collection My Little Sister and Selected Poems was published in 1986, followed in 2001 by Scrolls of Testimony in 2001 and Sloan Kettering: Poems (2002).

In 1970 he was awarded the Israel Prize and in the same year he was elected chairman of the Hebrew Writers' Association of Israel. Kovner was responsible for the scheme adopted for the Beth Hatefutsoth.


R. Gurfein, Mi-Karov u-me-Raḥok (1964), 117–21, 224–7; A. Kohen, Soferim Ivriyyim Benei Zemannenu (1964), 242f.; Y. Bauer, Flight and Rescue: Beriḥah (1970), index. add. bibliography: E. Alexander, "Abba Kovner: Poet of Holocaust and Rebirth," in: Midstream, 23:8 (1977), 50–59; E. Sharoni, "Abba Kovner's 'Observations,'" in: Modern Hebrew Literature, 4:1 (1978), 35–39; R. Shoham, Ha-Mareh ve-ha-Kolot: Kri'ah Kashuvah be-"Preidah me-ha-Darom" le-Abba Kovner (1994); Z. Ben-Yosef Ginor, Ad Keẓ ha-Bedayah: Iyyun be-Shirat A. Kovner (1995); Z. Ginor, "The 'Sheliah Zibur' as a Poetic Persona: A. Kovner's Self-Portrayal," in: Prooftexts, 15:3 (1995), 227–247; R. Shoham, "Intertextual Relations and Their Rhetorical Significance in A. Kovner's Daf Kravi," in: Hebrew Studies, 37 (1996), 99–118; E. Porat, "Bein ha-Shir ha-Liri la-Po'emah ha-Epit," in: Ru'aḥ Aḥeret 3 (1998), 75–80; S. Luria, "Po'emah min ha-Genizah," in: Ẓafon, 5 (1998), 117–129; N. Barzel, Ad Kelot u-mi-Negged: ha-Mifgash bein Manhigei Mered ha-Getta'ot le-vein ha-Ḥevrah ha-Yisra'elit (1998); Z. Ginor, "'Meteor Yid': A. Kovner's Poetic Confrontation with Jewish History," in: Judaism, 48:1 (1999), 35–48; D. Porat, Me'ever la-Gashmi: Parashat Ḥayyav shel Abba Kovner (2000); D. Porat, "Mahapekhanut be-tokh Konẓensus: Parshanuto shel A. Kovner la-Historiyyah ha-Yehudit," in: Yalkut Moreshet, 71 (2001), 151–161; N. Barzel, "Testimony as Literature and Literature as Testimony: A. Kovner and Amir Guttfreund," in: Jewish Studies Quarterly, 9:2 (2002), 160–172; U.S. Cohen, "Ha-Or ha-Nora she-Metil et Zilo ad Ahron ha-Shirim," in: Ereẓ Aḥeret,20 (2004), 72–75; L. Yudkin, "Poet and Activist: Aba Kovner," in: Literature in the Wake of the Holocaust (2003), 65–84.

[Getzel Kressel]

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