Harry Olmer BEM

Harry Olmer 220

Harry was born Chaim Olmer in 1927 in Sosnowiec, Poland, the fourth of six children. Following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Jews of Sosnowiec faced escalating persecution and violence, so in the spring of 1940 Harry’s family fled to his grandmother’s village of Miechów-Charsznica in the hope that conditions might be better there. However, this turned out to be a false hope and the Jews of the village were subjected to forced labour including street cleaning, repairing roads and working in German homes.

In 1942 the Jews of Miechów-Charsznica and neighbouring villages were expelled from their homes and assembled in a field where they were held for several days before the Germans carried out a selection. Some of the men and those incapable of working were shot immediately and the women and children sent by train to Bełżec extermination camp, where they were murdered on arrival. The remaining Jews, including Harry, his brother and his father, were sent to the Płaszów labour camp in Kraków, where Harry worked on a railway line. After a year in Płaszów, Harry was sent to another notorious forced labour camp, Skarżysko-Kamienna, where he was one of tens of thousands of Polish Jews forced to work in chemical factories owned by the German HASAG company in the most horrific conditions. His work – filling shells and land mines with acid – was incredibly dangerous and thousands of prisoners died from poisoning, epidemics, starvation and exhaustion. The SS also carried out periodic selections in which weakened prisoners were shot.

A final selection took place in July 1944, just before the Germans began their retreat, and Harry was one of only 6,000 prisoners who survived to be sent on to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. This was a temporary stop before they were moved on to Schlieben, a subcamp of Buchenwald attached to another HASAG factory, where Harry again had to work in exhausting and dangerous conditions. Finally, with the Soviet Red Army approaching in April 1945, the surviving prisoners were sent on the Terezín ghetto in Czechoslovakia, where they were finally liberated by the Red Army on 8th May 1945.

After a period of recuperation, Harry came to the UK with a group of child survivors known as ‘The Boys’, moving to Glasgow where he lived in a hostel. Despite knowing no English when he arrived in 1945, Harry completed his Highers exams in 1947 and went on to qualify as a dentist. In 1950 Harry became a British citizen and later served in the army as a dentist. Harry went on to marry and have four children and eight grandchildren.