Holocaust survivor, 94, to share his harrowing story during Islington’s online remembrance ceremony

Harry Olmer. Photograph: courtesy Islington Council

A survivor of the Holocaust is set to share his story to mark the annual commemoration in Islington – in an event forced online because of the pandemic.

Harry Olmer, 94, was forced to work in Nazi labour camps in Poland before he was one of just 6,000 survivors selected for a move to the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

He was born Chaim Olmer in Poland in 1927 and fled with his family to his grandmother’s village after the Nazi invasion led to the persecution of Jewish communities.

In 1942, the villagers were rounded up by the Nazis and held in a field for several days before they shot men they decided were unfit for work and sent women and children to extermination camps.

Olmer was among those sent to work on a railway line before he was forced to work in a dangerous chemical factory filling shells and land mines with acid, fearful of the SS, who periodically shot weaker workers.

He was liberated in May 1945 and came to England as part of ‘The Boys’ group of survivors and trained as a dentist.

He will talk about his harrowing experience and his message of hope at Islington’s online Holocaust Memorial event on Thursday 27 January.

It marks the murder of six million Jews during the Nazi Holocaust and millions more during World War Two atrocities and other genocides, including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The theme for this year’s event is ‘One Day’ – one day in the year for people to  come together to learn, share and remember the Holocaust and genocides and prevent any more.

Una O’Halloran, Islington council’s executive member for community development, said: “In Islington, we stand with our communities to make sure that this is a place where people feel safe and connected to others around them.

“The past shows us the terrible consequences of intolerance and hatred, and it is so important we learn about the Holocaust and genocides that followed to help ensure that they will never be repeated.”

She invited people to join the online event to “learn, reflect, and share on Holocaust Memorial Day, and help us all work together for a better future where we hope there will be no genocide”.

This year’s event includes a pre-recorded performance from the World Harmony Orchestra, which includes musicians who were refugees and performs for peace and humanitarian causes.

The orchestra played live at the memorial event in Islington in 2018.

The event this year also includes contributions from politicians. It is free to attend and runs from 10am to 11.30am on Thursday 27 January, and can be accessed via Zoom. People can  register online via Eventbrite and will be sent a link.

In 2019, the anniversary was marked with a special event at Islington Assembly Hall in Upper Street.

Tracey Moses talked to schoolchildren about the horrific experiences of her father Harry Spiro, who was forced into a ghetto when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1942.

He was moved between labour camps including Buchenwald and was forcibly sent on a death march to Terezin in Czechoslovakia. Just 270 of the 3,000 sent on the march survived.

Spiro came to England in 1945 and set up a business in Holloway in the 1980s selling men’s suits, which he ran until retirement aged 80.

His daughter said her father was adamant about spreading a message about taking a path away from hatred of others, despite his appalling experiences as a child.

“My father always taught us that if you’re living with hate, you’re only hurting yourself,” she said. “How can you live your own life if you’re always hating others?”