Tory, Avraham

views updated

TORY, Avraham

Nationality: Israeli (originally Russian: immigrated to Palestine, 1947). Born: Avraham Golub, 10 December 1909, Lazdijai, Lithuania. Education: Lithuanian University Kovno, Faculty of Law 1933; also studied at the University of Pittsburgh. Military Service: Military attorney (reserve), 1954-63. Family: Married Pnina Ushpiz in 1944; three daughters. Career: Gymnast, Lithuanian Maccabi sports team, early 1930s; central committee member, General Zionist Union, ca. 1930s; secretary, Kovno Jewish Ghetto Committee, 1941-44; cofounder and leader, Matzok, underground Zionist organization, early 1940s. Lawyer in Tel-Aviv, 1952-96. Secretary general, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and Maccabi World Union. Editor, Al Hoopin (Italy), 1945-47. Awards: Maccabiah World Games award, 1966; Union of Jewish Academicians certificate, 1977, 1983; Maccabi World Union "Yakir World Maccabi" award, 1985. Died: 24 February 2002.



Geto yom-yom: Yoman u-mismakhim mi-Geto Kovnah, edited by Dina Porat. 1988; as Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary, edited by Martin Gilbert, 1990.


Editor, Ha-Makabiyah ha-Revi'it: Yisra'el Sukot 714. 1953.

Editor, Mariyampol: 'Al gedot ha-nahar Sheshupeh (Lita) [Marijampole on the River Shewshupe (Lithuania)]. 1986.

Editor, Terumat Yehudim mi-Lita le-vinyan ha-arets u-Medinat Yisra'el [Lithuanian Jews in the Upbuilding of the Land and the State of Israel]. 1988.

* * *

Avraham Tory (originally Avraham Golub) was born in the Lithuanian village of Lazdijai in 1909, the youngest of six children. He was educated at a cheder, then elementary school and at the Hebrew Gymnasium in Marijampolé, the district town. At the age of 19 he began the study of law in Kovno, then spent some time in the United States at the University of Pittsburgh before returning to complete his degree in Kovno in 1933. After graduation he was denied an opportunity to practice and held several assistantships, one to a judge, another to a university professor.

In his youth he became an active Zionist, at one stage heading a Zionist student fraternity and serving on the central committee of the Maccabi Sports Association. In 1932 he led the Lithuanian Maccabi sports team at the first Maccabiah Games held in Tel Aviv, where he participated as a gymnast. After the games he represented Lithuanian Jewish students at a world convention held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served as a central committee member of the right-wing General Zionist Union and in March 1939 was sent as delegate to a convention of Eastern European Zionists in Warsaw; five months later he was in Switzerland at the 21st Zionist Congress. Although war broke out during the congress, he chose to return to Lithuania. For a time he worked for the Soviet administration but came under increasing scrutiny because of his Zionist connections and went into hiding in the last weeks of Soviet rule.

Following the establishment of German control, marked by massacres in the streets of Kovno, a Council of Elders was ordered to be established. Tory served as a member and subsequently as head of its secretariat. He was also one of the founders and leaders of Matzok, the Zionist underground group in the ghetto. He began to keep a diary, its first entry dated 22 July 1941. He also collected documents issued by the German authorities and the council and encouraged artists and photographers to maintain a visual record.

The diary was written at all hours, whenever opportunity presented. At meetings he sometimes made jottings to help him compile an accurate record. Some entries were dictated to Pnina Sheinzon, his future wife. The chairman of the council, Dr. Elchanan Elkes, knew about the diary, as did his deputy Leib Garfunkel, and at times checked the accuracy of Tory's account. One other member of the council knew of the diary, as did several who assisted with the collection of material and its safekeeping. The records were carefully wrapped and packed in five small wooden crates lined with tar paper and buried beneath a cellar. In the summer of 1943, with fear of mass deportations increasing, Tory visited a priest, V. Vaickus, and gave him details of the hiding place lest he and his confidants not survive.

Tory's purpose, as recorded in his last will and testament written in December 1942, was to provide evidence for the prosecution of Nazi criminals and their collaborators after the war. Written in simple, readily accessible, unvarnished language, the diary aims to provide a precise and detailed description of daily events and record of interaction with those Germans and Lithuanians placed in positions of authority. Author Louise Erdrich has commented that "the power of this book lies precisely in its lack of poetry, in its refusal to generalize."

Tory was driven by the fear that no member of the Jewish community would survive to bear testimony; he saw it as his duty to "put into writing what my eyes had seen and my ears had heard, and what I had experienced personally." Survivors were adjured to punish the perpetrators. He ended his will with the demands: "Revenge! Never Forget! Never Forgive!." Tory left the ghetto on 23 March 1944 and evaded capture. During the week after his escape more than 1,000 of the remaining residents were killed; three months later, between 8 and 11 July, the surviving 8,000 were deported to Germany and the buildings set on fire.

Kovno was liberated on 1 August 1944. Tory returned several days later and, at considerable risk, recovered three of the five crates. The Germans had earlier learned of the existence of records but, despite the use of torture, had been unable to locate where they were hidden. Tory subsequently left most of the contents for safekeeping and transport with a member of Brichah, the organization helping Jews reach Palestine. He arrived in Palestine in 1947 and subsequently regained most but not all of the material. He practiced as a lawyer in Tel Aviv and became secretary general of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and secretary general of the Maccabi World Union. His diary was authenticated and used in trials and other legal proceedings against Nazi officials and their collaborators. It was published in a Hebrew edition in Israel in 1988 and in English in 1990 together with a short biographical sketch by the book's editor, Sir Martin Gilbert.

—Andrew Markus

See the essay on Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary.