Avraham Tory (1909 -2002)
“..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 ..Day of Judgment comes.” Avraham Tory.
What Emmanuel Ringelblum is to Warsaw, the Onyeg Shabbes and the Ghetto existence for Jews there, Avraham Tory is, in many ways, the saving grace for Jewish Vilna. What Avraham managed to secrete, stash away and keep safe has saved the evidences for the last vestiges of the Jerusalem of Lithuania. Avraham was born on on December 10th. 1909 in Lazdijai, Lithuania as Avraham Golub, replacing this name in 1950 for the Hebrew version of the same name for ‘dove’.
“..We feared for ..fate of Men if they fell into ..hands of ..Germans ..we never imagined that they would murder Women ..Children ..Elderly ..and so far as ..Men were concerned ..we never expected mass murder.” Avraham Tory.
Avraham, a young lawyer, lived amonst some 38,000 other Jews within Kovno as War loomed and Hitler’s legions entered Lithguania June 22nd. 1941. Under German occupation, Kovno’s Jewish Community was immediately targeted, and by locals spurred on by the Germans. When the fury of Lithuanian hatred was fully unleashed, this act of sheer savagery began on June 25th. 1941, presented by the Germans the opportunity to Murder some 1,500 Lithuanian Jews on the Streets of Kovno was undertaken.
“..I wrote ..Diary ..at all hours ..early hours of ..morning ..in bed at night ..between meetings of ..Council. ..I sometimes wrote headings ..quotes ..summaries ..dates ..names of places and people on scraps of paper or in notebooks ..lest I forget.” Avraham Tory.
Avraham was appointed to the secretariat of the Jewish Council of Elders, the Judenrate, and as an arm of Hitler’s Reich, was forced to adminster the edicts and all manner of decrees issued by the occupying forces. The name Judenrate has been somewhat challenging in History and for many Jews, not too much credit is given to the very removal of any choice given over to Jews persisting as Jews. These Jewish Councils delivered an authroity tht was demanded by the Germans and died the same way as any other Jew who the Germans saw fit to destroy.
“..Wednesday June 10th. 1942 Jewish police began distributing Ghetto cards to ..inmates. ..cards are signed by ..commander of Jewish police.Corpses of Jews murdered in ..Slobodka massacre last year have been pulled out of ..Vilija river.” Avraham Tory.
Almost immediately he recorded details of the assault upon Kovno in his Diary, collating detailed information on Nazi edicts, decrees and their increasing demands upon the Jewish People. With access to Judenrate reports and memos Avraham buried them all, and along with his growing Diary pages, they were to amount to a Kovno Archive. Hidden beneath a workshop at Block C in the Ghetto, they remained safe and secure, or as secure as they could be, given German searches and prying eyes from all too many willing to betray Jewish actions.
“..Germans were joined by gangs of Lithuanians ..in every forest and village. Most ..were armed. ..Jewish refugees ..easy prey for them.” Avraham Tory.
Here the Archive remained, increasing in bulk as the Final Solution raged, and until they were retrieved after the War ended. In those first moments of German occupation, and with the unleashing of the Lithuainian brutal attacks and Murders, the scale of this assault upon the Jewish People is well testified to. The entire process of criminal brutality has been photographed extensively and is a lasting memory of brutal the hatred these Lithuanians showed toward their Jewish Citizenry.
“..Jewish Kovno seemed to have disappeared. In terror of Murder and torture at ..hands of ..Lithuanians and ..Germans ..Jews hid wherever possible. ..situation made action imperative ..at ..home of ..Chief ..Rabbi Abraham Duber Kahana-Shapire ..beginnings of a community organization were formed. ..with my Friends Israel Bernstein and Elimelech Kaplan. We expressed our readiness to help as much as we could.” Avraham Tory.
Here too is where Avraham cut his teeth upon a resistance to German rule that has gifted to posterity a glimpse of what was being ritually taken from all the Jews of Europe, their very existence. Assisted in this Archival effort by his future Wife, Pnina Sheinzon, Pnina not only acted as a Secretary to the Secretary of the Kovno Judenrate but she was Avraham’s Confidante and a stalwart in support him.
“..Lithuanian partisans. ..appear to think ..their time has arrived. They vent ..rage ..accumulated in their hearts ..their lust for power ..by oppressing Jews.” Avraham Tory.
His deed is better understood now, and lest we forget, it was an immeasureable choice to tackle what would surely mean his death sentece should his efforts be uncovered at the time. On this same day, June 10th. 1942, and as Victor Klemperer recounts, Vilna is not alone in The Final Solution of The Jewish Question. There are here, 1,000 of Prague’s Jews who are transported to where they are murdered in the East.
“..Lithuanian partisans. ..At gunpoint ..would drive ..occupants outside ..take what was worth taking ..issuing threats about ..impending destruction of ..Jews.” Avraham Tory.
As the Germans set about destroying the Town of Lidice, in retribution for the murder of Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s Wehrmacht commences the Don Front Offensive in Russia. But as they say, War is War but we know The Holocaust was no War, it was the systematic and sought after Slaughter of 11,293,300 Jews in Europe. Here too, and there can be no mitigating circumstance for the larceny Hitler ensured went hand in fist with his final resolve. Wednesday June 10th. 1942
“..Prague immediately after ..assassination attempt ..Heydrich ..always taken ..well known route. ..newspaper ..published ..names of ..many who had been put in front of ..firing squad with their families ..intellectuals ..professors ..doctors.” Victor Klemperer.
This position, which can neither nor ever exonerate Lithuania also made France a collusion with Hitler’s final solution. We see it here when France’s Seine prefect issues regulations that all Jews are to be assigned to the last carriage of the Paris Metro system. Though this might appear a minor role in the overall effort to deny Jews their human rights within France, it is another step upon that inglorious road toward complicity.
“..March 1944 an opportunity to escape ..Ghetto. ..unable to decide whether to take advantage of ..opportunity or remain in Ghetto ..where ..chances of survival ..continually diminishing ..especially once ..formally declared a Concentration Camp.” Avraham Tory.
With tacit approval of Hitler’s efforts, that make the link to Lithuania and every nation across Europe, we recognise the systematic effort differing governments are engaged in. In the monumental work Survivng The Holocaust, The Kovno Ghetto Diary, Avraham alerts us to the fears that engulf the Jewish People prior to the conflagration which submerged them into eternity. On March 23rd. 1944, on good advice he left the Kovno Ghetto and for 4 months he hid in the small Village of Vir Vagalai, holding up in a small barn.
“..Dr. Elkes and his noble Wife ..Miriam ..encouraged me to escape ..in our ..last conversation ..in ..presence of his deputy Leib Garfunkel ..a few hours before my escape.” Avraham Tory.
Having worked alongside the Judenrate of Kovno, with artists, with photographers, Avraham’s collection finally amounted to his Diary and 5 wooden crates filled with the memory of more than Jewish lives could be saved. After the war, Avraham retrieved only 3 of his crates all serving, in the case of his Diary as evidential in the prosecuting the German and Lithuanian war criminals. Avraham passed from us on February 24th. 2002, he was only 92 years of age.
“..material in my possession may not be complete ..and this greatly stresses me. I am convinced ..about two thirds of ..total collection ..gives an accurate picture of ..history of ..Kovno Ghetto from ..time of ..decree expelling Kovno’s Jews to ..Ghetto until it was liquidated.” Avraham Tory.