Harry Spiro was 10 when Germany invaded his home country of Poland in 1939. He and his family were forced to move into a ghetto established by the Nazis, and though still a child, Harry was sent to work at a glass factory. In 1942 the ghetto was “liquidated”. With the exception of glass factory workers like Harry, and all of its inhabitants – including Harry’s family – were taken to Treblinka extermination camp and murdered.
In the following years, Harry and fellow survivors were moved between labour camps and concentration camps including Buchenwald and Rehmsdorf in Germany, before eventually being forcibly marched to Terezín (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia. Of the 3,000 prisoners who began the march, only 270 survived. Harry was later liberated by Soviet soldiers, and came to Britain in 1945 as part of the group of teenage boys and girls who came to be known as ‘The Boys’. After working a number of different jobs Harry opened up a shop in Holloway in the 1980s specialising in men’s suits, and ran his shop in Islington until his retirement at age 80.
Harry’s daughter Tracy spoke at the Holocaust Memorial Day event on her father’s behalf. Other speakers included Leader of the Council Richard Watts, Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Emily Thornberry MP.
2019 also marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, a theme touched on by the speakers.
The event was accompanied by music from the World Harmony Orchestra, whose musicians include refugees from around the world.
Speaking at the event, Tracey Moses said:
“Even after the horrors he endured, my father still thinks of himself as a lucky man. As he says, 'its not where you start in life, it's where you finish – and I have finished very happily'.
“My father always taught us that if you're living with hate, you're only hurting yourself. How can you live your own life if you're always hating others?"
Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz, Islington Council's executive member for community development, whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, said:
“Few of us can imagine what it actually means to be torn from home – to lose all sense of comfort and safety, to lose family, to lose absolutely everything you know. This year, as we remember the atrocities of the Holocaust and all genocides throughout history, we reflect on the continuing difficulties survivors face when they try to find new homes.
“For some, this means rebuilding in a place full of traumatic memories, and for others, it can mean setting up in an unfamiliar place, trying to find a place amongst strangers. That is why it is so important that we welcome people feeling violence into our communities with open hearts and offer the support they need to build new lives, and a safe home.”
Notes to Editor:
- More information about Harry Spiro BEM is available on the website of the Holocaust Educational Trust.