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Harry Spiro BEM

Harry was born in 1929 in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. He lived with his parents and younger sister and was brought up in a religious Jewish household. Harry was 10 when Germany invaded Poland in 1939.
Harry Spiro

Harry was 10 when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Piotrków was the first city where the Nazis established a ghetto, in October 1939, and all Jews, including Harry and his family, were forced to move there. Life in the ghetto was terrible with families living in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions and forced to work for the Nazis – even though he was still a child, Harry worked in a glass factory.

In October 1942, there was an announcement that everyone in the ghetto had to stay inside their homes except for those who were working in the glass factory. Harry wanted to stay with his family but they insisted that he go to the factory with the other workers. While Harry was at the factory the ghetto was liquidated and all 22,000 inhabitants, including Harry’s family, were taken to Treblinka extermination camp where they were murdered. The factory workers were then moved into a smaller ghetto with a population of around 2,000.

Eventually the smaller ghetto was liquidated and the inhabitants were sent to a labour camp in the nearby city of Częstochowa, where they worked making munitions for the German army. As the Soviet army advanced, the prisoners were put onto trains and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. At this camp, Harry did not work but he did have to endure Appell (roll call) twice a week. During Appell prisoners were forced to stand for very long periods while the Nazis counted everyone. After a short time in Buchenwald, Harry was then sent to Rehmsdorf, a satellite camp of Buchenwald.

As the war was drawing to a close, the prisoners from Rehmsdorf were all put on to trains to be transported to another camp. However, the trainline was bombed and so all of the prisoners were forced to march the rest of the way to Terezín (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia. Of the 3,000 people who started the march, many died before reaching Theresienstadt, either through illness or starvation, or were shot as they were unable to keep up. Harry was among the group of 270 survivors of the march to arrive at the camp, where he was later liberated by Soviet soldiers.

In 1945, the British government decided to allow 1,000 child survivors of the Holocaust to come and settle in the UK. Harry was one of the 732 children who travelled to Britain in 1945 as part of a group of teenage boys and girls who became known as ‘The Boys’.

After learning English and working in a number of different jobs, Harry eventually opened a shop. In 1957, he married Pauline. Today, Harry lives just outside of London and talks in schools to students about his experiences during the Holocaust as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.

Credit: Holocaust Educational Trust