Kovno, known as Kaunas in Lithuanian, lies on the bank of the Nemen River, which gives the city both strategic and economic importance.
Prior to World War I, the Jewish population in Kovno reached 40000, 50% of the general population. During the war, all the Jews were evacuated to central and southern Russia. After the war, thousands of Jews from Kovno remained in Russia. Many Jews from the towns and rural areas settled in the city. Kovno was deserted by Soviets on the first day of the German invasion. The Germans entered the city on June 24th, 1941, and the attacks on Jews began. On September 26th, 1941 1200 Jews were killed. 9000 were killed on October 28. At this point there were 17412 Jews in the city, community life was organized and an underground movement flourished. Before the Soviet liberation 4000 Jews were sent to Germany. After liberation, the remaining 265 Jews gathered in the courtyard of the Great Synagogue.
The story of the Jewish community in Kovno began in the 16th century, when the Jews of Slabodka received permission to build a prayer house. This was the foundation of the community. The great synagogue was built in 1772. In 1842, the Jews were permitted to appoint a rabbi. The poorer suburb of Slabodka became a Torah center and its “Yeshivot” were famous throughout the Jewish world. At the eve of World War II there were more than 40 prayer houses and synagogues in Kovno.