U4 Watch Webcast with Holocaust Survivor Harry Spiro
Tuesday 29th January 2019
On Thursday 24 January, our U4 students gathered to watch a moving and informative live webcast by The Holocaust Educational Trust.
Robert Rinder was joined by holocaust survivor Harry Spiro, who spoke in detail about his experiences. It was a privilege for our girls to hear Harry’s story live, just a few days before Holocaust Memorial Day.
Emily R (U4) and Esther B (U4), who joined thousands of other students across the country to watch the live webcast, have kindly shared their thoughts on Harry’s story:
On 24 January 2019, our year group gathered to watch a live stream, in which Harry Spiro shared with us his experiences during the Holocaust. He was just 10 years old when it all started, and this was really a shock to us, as 13 – 14-year olds. He moved us all by giving his message to our generation.
He spoke about his happy, loving family: his mother with whom he had a close relationship, his father, who was proudly religious, and his “beautiful” younger sister. We learnt that when Harry was 10 years old, things started to change for him and his family. The Jews now all had to live on a series of streets. This was called a Ghetto. He and his family, along with all the other Jews, had to wear a white band on their arm, with a yellow star of David. Harry told us that if anyone did not wear the band, the consequence would be death.
For a while, Harry worked at a glass factory, which he had to lie about his age to work in: he was eleven by this point, and pretended he was twelve. A while later, the community were told to gather at a synagogue. Harry fought with his mother over whether he should go or not. His mother eventually pushed him out the house and this ended up saving him. The rest of his family, along with the rest of the Jews in the Ghetto, were taken and murdered. The factory workers were taken to a labour camp.
Harry spent a lot of time at the labour camp and eventually was made to take a train to another camp. However, the train was bombed, and they were forced to walk the rest of the way. There were 3000 people at the start, and only 270 made it to the camp, where they were liberated by Soviet soldiers. Harry was one of these survivors.
I don’t think words can describe how Harry’s story made us feel. I was inspired and I couldn’t believe that this kind, brave man, who was speaking live, had been through such terrible things, and was now willingly sharing his story in front of thousands of people. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and I know I will never forget it.
What we really took away from this experience was acceptance and kindness. Harry had such a positive view about life. He believed in forgiveness and unity, and I think this has given all of us a different perspective. If a man who has been treated in such a terrible way can see things like this, then we should do our absolute best to do the same. We learnt so much from Harry and we will all think about everything he said.
Harry Spiro is an amazing man and his journey is incredible.
Harry was brought up in a Jewish family and, as a child, played with everyone no matter what they believed.
One day in 1939 he started to notice some changes, and gradually his community got smaller. The Nazis established the first ghetto in his town, and he and the Jewish people in his village were moved into the ghetto. Life in the ghetto was terrible: it was overcrowded, there was lack of food, and was very unhygienic and disease-ridden.
Harry lied about his age to get a job in the glass factory. One night there was an announcement that everyone in the ghetto had to go to the synagogue except for those who were working in the glass factory. He argued with his mother as he did not want to go to work, but his mother forced him out of the door, knowing it was the last time she would see her son. She told him he might be the only one in the family to survive, and unfortunately, this was the last time Harry ever saw his mother. He described this moment as petrifying and heart breaking. Harry’s family were taken to Treblinka extermination camp where they were murdered. The factory workers, including Harry, were then moved into a smaller ghetto with a population of around 2,000.
When he was working in the ghetto camp, on the first day he was made to peel potatoes. The other camp mates who had been there a while were eating the peelings off the floor. He thought ‘Why are they doing this? It is not human.’ Harry then went on to tell us that, a few days later, he found himself eating potato peelings off the floor too, as he was so hungry.
He then was transported to another camp, but the train got bombed. All of the prisoners were forced to march the rest of the way because that was the only way there. 3,000 people started on this march, but only 270 survived this brutality. You would think ‘How did they keep themselves motivated at the age of 15?’ but their lives were at stake. Harry miraculously survived these horrible things, but he lost the best part of his teenage years just because of his religion.
As I sat there listening to Harry, I suddenly appreciated life and how I have so much to be grateful for. It opened my eyes to a different world and made me see things from a different angle. Harry’s life changed so quickly and I think his experiences should be used to spread a message against hate and combat prejudice, because it is still happening.
Harry’s story was truly moving. When you learn about wars and the things people experienced it doesn’t seem real, it feels like a fantasy. However, when you hear about someone who was similar age to you at the time, it brings it to life. It makes you wonder ‘What did poor Harry ever do to deserve these experiences?’ His story was hugely inspirational.
No matter the terrible things Harry went through, he made a very clear point: that he does not hate the German’s for what they did. They killed his whole family, yet he still does not hate them. I think that should be a lesson to everyone, because just that one statement can change everything. If there were more people who had Harry’s attitude, things like this would stop occurring in the world and people would have a different perspective.