Commander of the partisan underground organization, founder of the “Breha” (escape), poet and writer, and activist in Israel's cultural and public life. Born in Sebastopol, Russia, he was educated in the Hebrew high school in Vilna and in the school of arts. At a very young he became trainee in the Hashomer Hatzair Youth Movement.
In 1940-1941, when Vilna was the capital of the Soviet Republic of Lithuania, Kovner was a member of the underground organization. After the German occupation in June 1941, Kovner hid with a few friends temporarily in a Dominican convent in the city suburb. After he returned to the ghetto and became aware of the killing of thousands of Jews, Kovner expressed the idea of revolt and began to build a Jewish force to fight against the Nazis. On the night of December 31, 1941, Kovner read before a meeting of delegates of all Jewish Youth Movements a public announcement:
“Hitler is plotting to destroy all European Jews. Lithuanians Jews will be the first in line. Let us not be led like sheep to the slaughterhouse. It is right, we are weak and without defense, but the only answer to the enemy is resistance!”
It was the first time that the mass killing of Jews was realized as part of a general plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. It was also the first time that Jews were called to defend themselves with arms.In January 21, 1942, the “United Organization of Partisans” was founded in Vilnus. The new organization was comprised of all the parties and youth movements from the entire political spectrum in the Vilna Ghetto. Kovner was a member of the headquarters, and after its chief commander, Itzhak Wittenberg, was caught in July 1943, he became the head of the organization (his nickname was “Uri”).
In the days of the last deportation from the Ghetto to the extermination camps, Kovner supervised the escape of the organization fighters to the woods. In Rodniky woods he commanded the Jewish Unit composed of Ghetto fighters and the “Nakam” squadron from the Jewish camp.
After the liberation Kovner was active in the “Breha” movement and he was the spirit of the “East Europe Survivors Brigade” — a non-political organization of Zionists spheres, that called to unit forces looking at the Holocaust lesson and the still dangerous situation that was foreseen for the Jewish people.
In July 1945 he arrived to the “Eretz Israel Brigade” base in Italy and made a speech about the destruction of European Jewry and the uprising against the Nazis during the war, in front of all the solders. Shortly after it Kovner arrived in Israel for a short time to get support and means to perform the activities of the “Nakam” (revenge) on the responsible murderers of the Jewish people in the Holocaust. On his way back to Europe, he was arrested and deported back to Israel. After a short time he was released.
In 1946 he joined with his wife and partner in the underground activities — Vitka Kampner — and with a few more partisans to kibbutz Ein Hahoresh. During the Independence War Kovner was an officer in charge of cultural activities in the famous “Givati” brigade. At the end of the war Kovner returned to his kibbutz and dedicated most of his time writing. He published two prose volumes and collections of poems. In 1970 Kovner received the “Israel Prize” for literature. He also was director of the “Israel Society of Writers”. Designer of the “Diaspora House” at Tel Aviv University and one of “MORESHET” founders.