Lewis Har­ris MBE

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


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.

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