Yeshivah men re­united lith herd fire­man

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN WEICH

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

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