Holocaust survivor tells his remarkable story

Solly Irving

Solly Irving - Credit: Archant

A Holocaust survivor recalled how the British government said they would take 1,000 Jewish children, “but they could not find 1,000 to take”, at the Holocaust Memorial Day service in Hackney Town Hall last Wednesday.

Solly Irving told his remarkable story of survival to 100 members of the public, dignitaries and school children who had gathered to pay their respects to those who died at the hands of the Nazi regime, as well as to all those who have been murdered in subsequent genocides.

Solly, then aged 14, was one of the “lucky” ones when the Second World War ended, and he was taken to a new life in England having been liberated from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Against all odds, he survived the Nazi’s murderous mission to exterminate the entire Jewish population, and other “undesirables”, of Europe. Six million others, including his entire extended family, had not.

Now in his 80s, Solly grew up in Poland with his mother, father and sisters, and was just nine years old when war broke out.

When the Nazis decided to liquidate his village, Solly and one of his sisters managed to escape, but tragically, he was forced to abandon her when she was caught by a Polish farmer.

Solly survived for months on the run, “trying to find food, trying to stay hidden”, before he was captured and imprisoned by the Nazis.

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He was sent to four labour camps, including Buchenwald and then later Theresienstadt – the infamous setting of the Nazi propaganda film depicting a ‘model Jewish settlement’ and which also served to dupe visiting Red Cross workers.

In fact the camp saw tens of thousands of inmates worked, starved or tortured to death.

Solly’s remarkable story of survival was down to a mixture of determination, luck and also the parting words of his father, who had urged him: “Stay alive and tell people what is happening.”

The ceremony also heard from Year 10 students of The Urswick School in Paragon Road, who described what they had learned from studying the Holocaust.

One pupil said: “War is never the answer; violence is never the answer; torture is never the answer. We all wish, hope, dream and pray [that we can] overcome fear, injustice and violence.”