Yeshivah men reunited lith herd fireman
TWO CHAREDI men have belatedly thanked a fireman who helped to rescue them from a major blaze in Stamford Hill 53 years ago.
Solly Elyovics and John Ginsburg — respectively 18 and 22 at the time — were among the seven survivors of the fire at Yeshiva Talmudic College in November 1964, which claimed the life of 15-year-old Wolf Katz. Juda Gettessman, 14, was seriously injured after jumping 40ft from a top-floor window.
The former firefighter, Allan Taylor, is now a councillor in Canvey Island, where a new strictly Orthodox community is being established.
Mr Elyovics’ son Elie is among those who have moved in and when the councillor paid a visit to welcome him to the area, the link to the past emerged.
“It was just amazing,” Councillor Taylor, 76, told the JC. “All this time later — and in Canvey Island — it was very strange.
“After the fire, I never learned any of the boys’ names. I went back two days later but obviously no one was there because the building was totally destroyed.”
Elie Elyovics set up the emotional meeting, for which his father travelled from his home in Belgium. Still based in Stamford Hill, Mr Ginsburg found out through a friend of his son.
Solly Elyovics, who was asleep when the fire erupted, said even the smallest details of the “terrible” blaze have remained etched in his memory.
Wolf Katz — who was just a year into his studies — died trapped in a downstairs bedroom. He was the son of a Manchester rabbi who remarried after his first wife and their children died in Auschwitz.
The firefighters had arrived on the scene to find seven students trapped on the roof.
They rescued them using a ladder as the staircase inside the building had been destroyed. Not long afterwards, the roof caved in.
“Fires were much more common in those days,” Councillor Taylor recalled. “We worked in areas with a lot of immigrant communities and there was a lot of overcrowding. People would be eight to a room and there were a lot of candles and paraffin lamps.
“But still this was one of the worst I experienced. It was devastating. When someone dies, especially a child, it stays with you.
“But we just had to treat it like any other fire and go back out the next day. It’s not something we like to talk about much.
“Although the lad died, believe me it could have been much, much worse that day.”
Mr Elyovics said Wolf’s death had been a “huge shock” to the close-knit community and a source of “deep sadness” for many years.
The students’ possessions and books were destroyed but its Torah scrolls were rescued.
At the meeting, the former students looked at newspaper coverage of the blaze and photographs of the wreckage. They recognised how lucky they had been.
Mr Elyovics, 71, said it was as if “the clock had gone back in time. This fireman was a complete stranger. Once his job was done, he returned to his base. One cannot remember his face under his helmet and harnesses. To discover he is a neighbour of my son now is really extraordinary.
“We were reliving an intense and shared event and it all became real again.”
It was devastating. When a child dies, it stays with you’
Solly Elyovics meets Allan Taylor in more convivial circumstances; Wolf Katz, who died in the blaze; and the burnt out building