JERUSALEM — Abba Kovner, a renowned poet and author who led the Jewish resistance movement in the ghetto of Vilna, Lithuania, during World War II, died Friday.
He was 69 and had recently undergone surgery for cancer of the larynx, which left him mute. He died at his home in En Hahoresh kibbutz, Israel radio reported.
The later poems of Kovner, expressing his shock over losing his voice, were published in the newspaper Maariv just hours before his death.
"No more self-imposed silence, and no more speech contact. He who loved to listen to many will not hear his own voice among them," Kovner, the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize of Literature, wrote in a poem titled "The Living Word."
Born into a Jewish Orthodox family, Kovner grew up in Vilnius (then Vilna), now capital of the Lithuanian Soviet republic.
During the war, he was imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto there. He became a ghetto commander and later a leader of the Jewish resistance in Lithuania, one of the centers of the Nazi Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed.
Kovner published his first poem in Hebrew in 1943 and migrated to Palestine two years later. After the war he founded the Brichah movement, which helped 300,000 Jews leave Europe for Palestine until Israel gained its independence in 1948.
His book "Little Sister of Mine" focused on the execution and separation faced by Jewish children during the war.
Kovner was a central figure in the film "Partisans of Vilna," a 1986 documentary that dealt not just with the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust but with the Jewish resistance to the Nazis.
Kovner's poetry was largely based on his recollections of World War II and Israel's 1948 War of Independence. His other prose works include "The Zero Hour" and "The Intersection."