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The KOvno Getto dairy:A Counterintuitively Broad-Based Description and Analysis of the Shoah. Clarifies Nazi Collaboration

jan peczkis|Friday, April 28, 2017

It would be a mistake for the uninitiated reader to suppose that this diary is provincial--limited to events occurring in and near Kovno, Lithuania. Based on obviously-extensive Jewish and non-Jewish contacts, it also features much information on the unfolding fate of Jews in other places, notably in German-occupied Poland. More on this later.

The diary itself is very detailed, with Avraham Tory the author. Unlike the case with most Holocaust-related diarists, the author survived the war. The diary is annotated by historian Dina Porat. She includes interesting information, including the fact that Lenin had a Jewish grandfather on his mother’s side. (p. 12).

Avraham Tory points out that the Kovno ghetto included not only Jews, but also the gentile spouses of Jews. The Gestapo required the pregnant gentile wives of Jews to have abortions. (p. 395).

Although of course focusing on the Jews, this diary, in contrast to most Holocaust materials today, is not solely Judeocentric. For instance, Tory mentions the Nazi German murders of Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, and others. (e. g, p. 104, 195, 275, 305).

I now explore a number of Holocaust-related issues in some detail:


Anti-Polish authors, such as neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross, dismiss Polish heroism by saying that there was no Polish collaborationist government because the Nazi German authorities never wanted one in the first place. This is patently false. Author Avraham Tory discusses one such failed Nazi attempt to secure a Polish Quisling. He writes, (quote) The Germans wanted to grant Poland self-government, but the Poles refused to accept the offer. The German governor, Frank, several times invited Baron Roniker of the Polish Central Aid Organization and presented to him various proposals. The Baron turned them down. (unquote). (p. 108).

In an explanatory footnote, historian Dina Porat tells the reader that Baron Roniker had been head of a leading Polish social welfare organization in WWI. During WWII, Roniker had headed the Supreme Aid organization, which had united the efforts of Polish, Jewish, and Ukrainian aid organizations. (p. 109).


Much has been said, in recent years, by the likes of Jan T. Gross and the media featuring him, of Poles helping themselves to post-Jewish properties. However, acquisition of the property of the dead or departed was common wartime behavior, and it went both ways. Avraham Tory (February 28, 1943) describes one such incident, (quote) By chance he [SA Lieutenant Miller] came across fourteen Jewish workers employed at moving the furniture and other belongings of Poles who had had recently been expelled from Kovno. These workers stole everything that they could get their hands on. (unquote). (p. 245). Of course, the Germans got the lions share of post-Polish properties just as they got the lions share of post-Jewish properties.


Nowadays, the question of Jewish collaboration with the Nazis is usually framed in terms of Jews really having no choice. Avraham Tory also appears to follow this line of reasoning, but, in what is rarely seen, is willing to adopt the same consideration to the collaboration of non-Jews with the Nazis—in this case, Lithuanian-Nazi collaboration. He comments, (quote) Only a handful of the Lithuanian policemen refused to fire on innocent people. They paid a heavy price for their human sentiments: those Lithuanian policemen who refused to take part in the slaughter were shot then and there by the Gestapo. By their refusal to fire, these murdered policemen gained the world to come, and brought honor to their homeland, Lithuania. (unquote)(p. 290).

At the same time, Tory does not absolve the Jewish ghetto police from all moral responsibility for their conduct. For instance, in the entry for June 6, 1943, he thus characterizes the Jewish ghetto police from Wilno [Vilnius] (quote) The conduct of these Jewish policemen from Vilna was nothing short of infamy. They came dressed in Jewish police uniforms, truncheons in hand. Their tone of voice was commanding and severe… (unquote)(p. 373). Avraham Tory also faults some Jews in the Kovno ghetto. They fraternized with Nazi German and Lithuanian officials, to the point of drinking with them, and their services for the Germans included getting rich at the expense of other Jews. (pp. 165-167).

Were the JUDENRAETE and Jewish ghetto police totally deprived of freedom to make choices? Hardly. The author and his colleagues intervened (May 16, 1943) with SA Lieutenant Miller to remove the Jewish ghetto police from involvement in the German requisitioning of the apartments of Poles and Lithuanians, in order that anti-Semitism not increase. (pp. 331-332). On another subject involving servitude vs. autonomy, the Jewish councils could and did impose the death penalty on Jews, both in accordance with (pp. 154-156), and independent of (p. 105, 108), the directives of the Germans.


Interestingly, Avraham Tory, unlike most Holocaust materials today, appreciates Polish aid to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He does so in the context of the fact that many Jews, even up to the late date of the relevant diary entry (May 7, 1943), had still believed that the Nazis would spare large numbers of Jews. He writes, (quote) The optimists among us thought that the Germans would not exterminate all the Jews because they must take into consideration the reaction of public opinion in the West. The destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, conducted in the face of active resistance put up by the Jews—who were given some assistance by many Poles—proved them wrong. The mood in the Ghettos is growing more somber with each passing day. (unquote)(p. 321).
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