Posted Monday, April 15, 2002

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Avraham Tory was born Avraham Golub at Lazdijai, Lithuania, on December 10 1909, one of six children of a Jewish businessman.

London, Monday, April 15, 2002


[Obituary of a survivor]: Avraham Tory

Jewish lawyer who kept a diary of daily life in a Lithuanian ghetto under Nazi occupation during the war

AVRAHAM TORY, who has died in Tel Aviv aged 92, chronicled in a diary the day-to-day lives and destruction during the Second World War of the Jewish ghetto community of Kovno in central Lithuania.

Tory was a young Jewish lawyer living in the ghetto which had, on the eve of war, a thriving population of some 38,000 men, women and children, with five Jewish daily newspapers, many Hebrew schools, and intense Zionist activity.

Tory (far left) with members of the Jewish Council of Elders, set up at Kovno by the Germans to answer to the Gestapo, 1943.

On the night of June 25 1941, soon after the German invasion, the first 1,500 Jews of Kovno were murdered by Lithuanians with a savagery that surprised even the Germans. Tory began his diary -- in Yiddish -- at about this time. "Soviet rule has disappeared," he wrote. "The Jews are left behind as fair game. Hunting them is not unprofitable, because the houses and courtyards of many of them brim with riches."

With Kovno under German occupation, Tory was appointed secretary to the Jewish Council of Elders, an administrative agency set up by the Germans to answer to the Gestapo and to carry out Nazi orders. In this post, Tory had access to Nazi decrees, Jewish council documents and minutes of secret meetings which he secretly stowed away with his diary.

"I wrote the diary," he later recalled, "at all hours -- in the early hours of the morning, in bed at night, between meetings of the Council. During meetings I sometimes wrote headings, quotes, summaries, dates, and names of places and people on scraps of paper or in notebooks, lest I forget."

He was helped by his future wife Pnina Sheinzon, who sometimes took dictation and hid the diary in her home before Tory finally put all the documents in five large crates, burying them underneath a ghetto workshop. He added to each crate a note, saying: "I am hiding in this crate what I have written, noted and collected with thrill and anxiety, so that it may serve as material evidence -- 'corpus delicti' -- accusing testimony when the Day of Judgment comes."

In 1944 Tory managed to escape from the Kovno ghetto and hid for four months in a tiny barn in the small village of Vir Vagalai. When liberated by the Russians, he at once returned to the ruined ghetto where he succeeded in recovering three of the five crates.

He then left the precious diaries and most of the documents with a friend -- the wife of the chief engineer of Kovno -- and embarked on the long journey which finally took him to Palestine in October 1947. The diaries were later smuggled to western Europe and from there to Tory's new home in Israel.

Of the surviving diaries written in the European ghettos of this period, Tory's is the longest by an adult. It is an historical document of great importance and an authentic account of Jewish lives in wartime Lithuania, a country which saw more than 90 per cent of its Jewry murdered -- the highest death rate for any large Jewish community in Europe.


Avraham Tory was born Avraham Golub at Lazdijai, Lithuania, on December 10 1909, one of six children of a Jewish businessman. He was educated at Jewish religious schools and afterwards studied Law at the University of Pittsburgh in America and at the University of Kovno. He was a Zionist activist and in 1932 visited Palestine, where he competed as a gymnast in the first Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv.

In Palestine after the war, Tory set up a law firm in Tel Aviv where he worked until his retirement in 1995. The diaries, meanwhile, lay untouched for decades until in 1988 Tory felt that he was ready to look at them again. Subsequently, he gave permission for the diaries to be translated from Yiddish into Hebrew and to be published. Two years later, an English version was published under the title Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary. The diaries were also made into a documentary film called Kovno Ghetto: A Buried History.

In the 1980s, the diaries were used -- and Tory him-self acted as a witness -- in the trials of Kovno's former mayor and several Nazi war criminals.

In 1997, Tory's diaries formed the basis for a two-year exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. At the exhibit's opening, Tory said: "I felt an irresistible compulsion to keep a record of what was happening. Even if some people would survive, nobody would believe what happened to us." His original diaries are now housed at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

Avraham Tory was a founder and honorary vice-president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

He is survived by his wife Pnina, whom he married in 1944, shortly after he emerged from hiding, and by three daughters.


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