LEYB GORFINKEL (March 15, 1896-September 7, 1976)
He was born in Kovno, Lithuania, into a well-to-do family. He studied law at the universities of Petrograd, Kiev, and Kovno. From his student days, he was an active leader in the Zionist socialist workers’ movement. He was a member of the central committee of Tseire-Tsiyon (Young Zionists), later of the Labor Zionist Union in Russia and Lithuania. Over the years 1920-1922, he served on the presidium of the first Jewish national council in Lithuania. He served as a deputy, 1926-1936, in the Lithuanian parliament (Sejmas), as well as a member of the Kovno city council. Until the coming of WWII to Kovno, he worked there as a lawyer. He was one of the most prominent leaders of Lithuanian Jews. In June 1940, after the Bolsheviks seized Kovno, he was arrested and until the Nazi assault on Russia, he remained in a Kovno jail. When the Germans occupied Lithuania, he was among the first leaders to assist the poor Jews. He was a member of the Jewish committee, later vice-chairman of council of elders in the ghetto. He was arrested by the Germans several times on the charge of assisting in the construction of underground bunkers. For this he was tortured at the Ninth Fort. Because of his post, he had the possibility of living in better circumstances in the ghetto, but he declined the opportunity of enjoying German privileges. He also reported to Jews in the ghetto on Jewish community issues. During the liquidation of the Kovno ghetto, he was deported to various German death camps. In 1945 he was liberated from Dachau. He spent 1946-1948 in Italy, where he was chairman of the Organization of Jewish Refugees. From 1948 he was living in Israel and was employed by the Control Committee of Mapai. He began writing in the party press in Russia—Unzer veg (Our way) and Bafrayung (Freedom)—articles on Jewish and Zionist labor issues. He also contributed to Yidishe shtime (Jewish voice), Di tsayt (The times), and Dos vort (The word), among other publications in Kovno. His essay, “Vikhtike momentn in kovner geto” (Important moments in the Kovno ghetto), was published in volume 1 of the anthology Lite (Lithuania) (New York, 1951), pp. 1679-1712. He contributed as well to Badereḥ (On the road) and In gang (On the way) in Rome, and Milḥamotenu (Our wars) in Jerusalem (1955), among others. Among his books: Der tsienizm fun di arbetende (Zionism of workers) (Kiev, 1919), 45 pp.; Memorandum tsu der english-amerikanisher oysforshung-komisye iber erets yisroel (Memorandum to the Anglo-American Commission for the Land of Israel) (Rome, 1945), 22 pp. in mimeograph. He also edited Yidishe shtime (1920), Unzer ruf (Our call) (1925-1926), and Di tsayt (1932)—all in Kovno. He served on the editorial board of Yizker bukh vegn litvishn yidntum (Memory book for Lithuanian Jewry), scheduled to appear in Israel soon. A portion of his work in Yiddish, Di nitsl-gevorene italyenishe yidn un vegn di yidishe pleytim in italye (The survivors of Italian Jewry and the Jewish refugees in Italy) appeared in Italian (Rome, 1945), 15 pp. He co-edited Yahadut lita (Lithuanian Jewry) in Tel Aviv. He was the author in Hebrew of Kovna hayehudit beḥurbana (The destruction of Kovno’s Jewry) (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1959), 330 pp. He died in Jerusalem.
Sources: Z. Ratner and Y. Kvitni, Dos yidishe bukh in f.s.s.r. in di yorn 1917-1921 (The Yiddish book in the USSR for the years 1917-1921) (Kiev, 1930); Der yidisher natsyonal-rat in lite (The Jewish national council in Lithuania) (Kovno, 1922); Dr. Y. Shatski, in Zamlbukh, lekoved dem tsvey hundert un fuftsikstn yoyvl fun der yidisher prese 1686-1936 (Anthology in honor of the 250th jubilee of the Yiddish press, 1686-1936); Yoysef Gar, Umkum fun der yidisher kovne (Destruction of Jewish Kovno) (Munich, 1948), see index; Who’s Who in Israel (Tel Aviv, 1952), p. 267.