David Toren, who survived World War II and the Holocaust after fleeing Poland with other Jewish children, passed away on April 19 as a result of complications due to COVID-19.

Born in prewar Poland, the son of a successful lawyer and community leader, Toren led a privileged and peaceful childhood until the rumblings of changing sentiment towards Jews in Europe came to his city. He began experiencing anti-Semitic attacks and bullying at school, by both students and teachers, as “Jews Not Welcome” signs started cropping up on the font windows of local stores.

With his parents on Nov. 9, 1938, or Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”), young David watched the destruction all around them. The next morning, his father was dragged out by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Buchenwald for three weeks.

Upon his return, Toren’s father took no chances and worked to arrange passage for his teenage son on an August 1939 Kindertransport out of Poland, headed to Sweden, shortly before the Germans invaded Poland on Sept. 1. It would be the last time Toren saw his parents, who were murdered in Auschwitz.

After a decade in Sweden, Toren moved to British-mandate Palestine, where he fought for Haganah and later the Israel Defense Forces in the 1948 War of Independence. Discharged because of a degenerative eye condition, Toren had a brief stint as a chemist before becoming a lawyer’s assistant.

In 1953, he married Sarah Brown.

After a short time in London, they moved to the United States, settling in New York. There, he studied to become a patent attorney, graduating from New York Law School in 1960. It would be his primary occupation for the next 50 years.

He worked in his field into his 80s, at one point in offices on the 54th floor of the World Trade Center when it fell on Sept. 11. 2001.

Still, Toren’s true passion would be searching for the priceless art collection of his great-uncle David Friedmann, which was looted by the Nazis during World War II.

Due to his tireless efforts, the first painting identified as being from the collection—Max Liebermann’s “Two Riders on the Beach”—was found in 2015 at the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art dealer retained by the Nazi Germans who had died the year before. At the time, Toren said he last saw the painting at his great-uncle’s villa in Germany.

Gurlitt turned out to have a collection of around 1,500 pieces of art, a great number of it stolen and some of which have since been returned to the families of their original owners. Toren spent the latter years of his life pursuing the art collection.

He was predeceased by Sarah, his wife of 66 years, in 2019.

Toren is survived by their son, Peter, and two grandchildren.

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