Lewis Harris MBE
BORN LONDON, APRIL 1, 1919. DIED TEL AVIV, SEPTEMBER 2, 2015 AGED 96
AS CHAIRMAN of the Isrotel Hotel Corporation, Lewis Harris enabled the noted hotel chain to take its place as one of the world’s important traveller destinations. He had joined the group in 1985 at the invitation of the late David Lewis CBE, whose trust had formed the hotel group, which was tasked with constructing and promoting a portfolio of landmark hotels throughout Israel. He retired four years ago.
Harris was recruited to foster commercial links between banks in London and Israel early in the 1960s. Within the next 25 years he became a highly respected City of London banker.
During the Second World War, as a member of the 79th Armoured Division of the UK Forces, he was among the first to overrun Bergen Belsen concentration camp. In his memoirs, he recalled hundreds of sick and dying left behind, as some of their guards and torturers began to flee, and thousands of unburied dead. His commanding officer freed him from other duties to be at Belsen in the weeks that followed. He served with the British Forces until early 1947, when he was appointed news editor, feature writer and announcer at Jerusalem Calling — the English language section of the Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS).
His military service had included the Middle East, and Harris was aware
Lewis Harris, Isrotel chairman, who was among the first to liberate Belsen, pictured with his wife, Aviva of the growing hostilities between the British and the post-Holocaust battle for the fledgling Jewish State. In the 1950s, at a most critical period in the history of the young State, Harris was appointed to represent the Jew- ish National Fund (JNF), first in South Africa and then in the UK.
From 1955 he was involved in promoting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) in Britain. He established the British Friends of the IPO and helped to facilitate the orchestra’s hugely successful appearance in London. In 1985 Harris became active with the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA), which he chaired from 1994 to 1998. At the same time he organised exchange visits between senior UK and Israel figures who addressed the annual Balfour dinner in Tel Aviv. His period as IBCA chairman, for which he was awarded the MBE, included visits in the 1990s by Gordon Brown, former Chief of Staff Field Marshall Lord Bramall, and Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls.
The eldest of five siblings, Harris grew up in an observant Jewish home. where cheder and music and literature were encouraged. It contributed to his love of classical music and literature, and later to his extensive memoirs.
As a teenager in the 1930s he witnessed the rise of English fascism and the increasing presence of the socalled Blackshirts. He also recalled the Cable Street riots in the Jewish East End in 1936, led by Oswald Mosley and his Nazi gangs.
Called up early in 1939, he was commissioned first with the 5th British Infantry Division and then as Captain in the 79th Armoured Division. In July 1944, while stationed in then Palestine, he met and later married Corporal Aviva Berman, who was serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), part of the British Forces. As a British Army Officer, Harris needed the consent of Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery to marry Aviva, who became an accomplished archaeologist and who predeceased him in 2014. The couple divided their time between London and Tel Aviv. He is survived by his daughters, Shai Aran, Amina and Ella, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.