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Harry Spiro: How one Holloway Road tailor survived the Holocaust

Islington schoolchildren hear Holocaust survivor's story

04 February, 2019 — By Emily Finch

 Four generations of Spiro men from left to right: Gary, Harry Spiro, Justin, Ezra


HARRY Spiro’s last contact with his mother was through a note she slipped through the slats of the cattle truck transporting her to Treblinka extermination camp.

Harry, now 89 years old and a former tailor in Holloway Road, was the only person in his immediate family to survive the Holocaust. His daughter Tracy Moses told his story to mark Holocaust Memorial Day at Islington Assembly Hall on Monday. The gathered schoolchildren from Holloway School, St Mary Magdalene Academy and Elizabeth Garett Anderson School sat in silence as they listened to her father’s story.

“The average life span was just 45 minutes at Treblinka. Dad often wonders how his family, especially his mother and four sisters, felt in their final moments. Did they suffer? Were they together? That’s something that will always haunt him,” said Ms Moses.

Harry’s mother had written in the note how much she loved him and how she hoped someone from her family would survive.

Tracy Moses speaking about her father at Islington Assembly Hall 

Harry would later have this treasured note stripped from him when he was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. He survived the camp but would later be forced to take part in a “death march” to Theresienstadt in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. He remembers the journey taking weeks, with those too exhausted to walk shot by SS guards.

“Dad said on a few occasions he was simply too exhausted and the thought that it would be quick and he wouldn’t have to live through this any more certainly crossed
his mind,” said Ms Moses. Just 270 people survived the march, which started with 3,000 people. He suffered from dysentery, typhoid and severe dehydration at the camp.

“He remembers he woke up and a boy he knew told him they had been liberated by the Russians on May 8, 1945. Dad knew they were free but didn’t know what that meant for him. He remembers the Russians were appalled by what they saw,” she said.

He would later be one of 732 youngsters, known as the Boys, who were brought over to Britain after the war by a Jewish charity. He settled in Stoke Newington but ran the North London Suit Centre in Holloway Road with a friend who also survived the Holocaust.

Although Harry was too ill to attend the talk himself because he had suffered a fall over the weekend, a video message from him was played to the crowd.

“Since I’ve survived all of the terrible things I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not good to hate. How can you live your own life if you are hating people? The only way to overcome these terrible things is through education,” he said.

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