The Death of Young Tzerna Morgenstern

Introduction: We have accounts of the last moments of Tzerna Morgenstern (Shep Zitler's niece) from 2 sources. One was published just after the war in a book by Abraham Sutzkever, a famous Yiddish poet. The other account was given by partisan fighter and poet Abba Kovner in his testimony during the trial of Adolf Eichmann. The accounts differ in some particulars but they concur in that a sadistic Nazi inflicts mental torture on a brave girl at a the Ponary killing ground. The Sutzkever story identifies the torturer as Martin Weiss, a notorious Nazi who was sentenced to prison after the war.
From: Ghetto Vilna
Author: Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by Shep Zitler
Zelda Einhorn, an escapee from Ponary, saw her whole family shot to death there. She told (the writer) that she had seen how Tzerna Morgenstern, a young woman of 18 years, the beautiful daughter of a well-known Vilna professor, was murdered. She had been marched with her mother and young brother. She stood near a deep ditch. She was told to remove her clothes. Those who did not respond had their eyes stabbed out. It was evening. The moon had just begun to appear above where Tzerna stood, half undressed by the ditch. The Nazi commandant, Weiss, approached Tzerna rapidly and pulled her aside, as if to rescue her. Tzerna resisted, preferring to be with her mother and little brother, already shot lying in the ditch. Weiss would not let her go. "A beautiful girl like you should not die," he said and dragged her further away. She screamed and cried but to no avail. Weiss continued, "How beautiful is the world with the moonlight shining on the leaves, and you, young girl, are more beautiful by the moonlight." He spoke to her like a lover, extolling the beauty of life to this unfortunate girl as he removed his revolver from his back pocket and shot the sad young girl in the head. Then roaring with laughter, he proudly dragged the dying girl to her family's ditch.
From: The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Session 27, Testimony of Abba Kovner Introduction: Adolf Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem in 1961 and 1962 for war crimes and crimes against the Jewish people. Eichmann was instrumental in furthering the Final Solution . Attorney General: You learned that in Ponary they were simply murdering Jews? Witness Kovner: If you will allow me, I shall describe the thing which is engraved in my memory most of all. Attorney General: What was engraved in your memory most of all? Witness Kovner: This is the story of a woman named Sara Menkes, who was rescued from the pit, and she told me of the execution of a group of women, in October 1941. She told me about this several weeks later. In this group there was, amongst others, one who you could say was a pupil of mine. For several months I had taught her in the gymnasium, the daughter of Epstein (actually Michal Morgenstern), a teacher at the gymnasium in Vilna. Her name was Tzerna Morgenstern. I shall describe it briefly: they were taken to Ponary. After they had waited at some point, a group of them was taken and lined up in a row. They were told to undress. They undressed down to their shirts. A line of men of the Einsatzgruppen stood facing them. An officer came out in front of them, looked at the row of women, and his glance fell on this Tzerna Morgenstern. She had wonderful eyes, a tall, upstanding girl with long plaits. He looked at her for a long time, smiled and said: "Take one step forward." She was terrified, as all of them were. At that moment nobody spoke, nobody asked anything. She remained where she was, evidently panic stricken, and did not step forward. He ordered her, asking: "Hey - don't you want to live - you are so beautiful - I say to you: 'Take one step forward'." Then she took a step forward. He said to her: "It would be a pity to bury such beauty in the ground. Walk, but don't look backwards. There is a path here, you know this path, walk along it." For a moment she hesitated and then she began walking. The rest of us - Sara Menkes told me - gazed at her with a look in our eyes, I don't know whether it was only of fear and also of envy. She walked forward weakly. And then he, the officer, drew his revolver and shot her, as the first, in her back. Why should I tell more?

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