Monday evening saw a rarity in society meetings: a Holocaust survivor. The Balfour Society were lucky to host Harry Spiro in the Jafar Hall – a venue so packed boys were sat on the steps and stood on the stairs.
He began with his story.
In Autumn 1939, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and hundreds of families were forced into ghettos.
Following a series of events, ghettos in Poland became much smaller and eventually became liquidated but inhabitants were sent to nearby cities to continue working for the Nazis. At this point in the war, it was clear that the Nazi regime was crumbling as the Soviet army advanced into their empire. But despite this, the Nazis continued their horrific persecution of Jews. As the war was drawing to a close, the prisoners from one camp would be put on to trains to be transported to another. However, many train lines were bombed and so prisoners were forced to march the rest of the way.
One example of how harsh and inhumane the conditions were was the march from Rehmsdorf to Terezín –whereby of the 3,000 people who started the march, only 270 survived. Among them was one boy: Harry Spiro.
His personal testimony of hardship and adversity is not easy to contextualise in our, most of the time, easy lives. His talk showcased true strength of character and taught us about resilience; it showed us that atrocities should not be forgotten; and it compelled us to make sure that this catastrophe must never happen again.
Personally, my great-grandmother was the only person in her family to survive the Holocaust, and unfortunately she died before I could hear her story. But Mr Spiro and other survivors are here to fill that void, to set the facts straight, and to educate everyone about the truth – and we were so incredibly fortunate to have him here.
Taking into account the words of George Santayana: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – in a world where antisemitism and Holocaust denial are on the rise, where 1 in 20 British adults do not believe that the Holocaust occurred, evenings like these and accounts like Harry's grow ever more significant.
May we all give a huge thanks to Mr Spiro, 89 years young, for taking the time out of his day to inspire us with his story that I hope every one of us will never forget.