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Leicester’s Blitz

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September 1940 showing Synagogue to the left. Courtesy of the Leicester Mercury

September 1940 showing Synagogue to the left. Courtesy of the Leicester Mercury

On the night of the 19th November 1940, Leicester felt the full force of Hitler’s bombers. They were presumably aiming their bombs at Leicester’s Railway Station on London Road but instead they hit Highfield Street and Upper Tichborne Street, next to where the Orthodox Synagogue still stands.

Nineteen members of the Leicester Jewish Community lost their lives that night. What makes this event all the more poignant is that most of the victims had arrived within the previous few days to escape the London Blitz.

25 Highfield Street

This property was sold by auction on November 25th 1936 and we suspect, but can’t be sure, that Nathaniel Marsden bought it. It had two reception rooms, five bedrooms and a large attic and was probably in use as a boarding house.

Ten people died in that house on the night of November 19th. They are Nathaniel Marsden, his wife Esther Marsden, her mother Rebecca Steinberg and their nephew Michael Nathaniel Tate. There are also Rose Spiro, her sons Gerald Spiro and Gordon Beresford Spiro, her mother-in-law Annie Rebecca Spiro, Lea Sietz and Rose’s sister-in-law Iris Queenie Marks.

Nathaniel Marsden came to Leicester in 1936. The son of a Russian immigrant, he was born in Whitechapel in 1900. He lived in a number of properties in Leicester before moving into 25 Highfield Street. His wife, Esther, was also second-generation Russian immigrant and born in Whitechapel. She married Nathaniel in 1940 and presumably moved straight to Leicester. Her mother, Rebecca Steinberg, was there, as was her nephew, Michael Nathaniel Tate aged 7.

The loss of the Spiro family was reported in the local newspaper and their deaths were also recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission List. As the article tells us,

“…Tragically the area had attracted many refugees who had arrived from London and Essex within the last few days. Many had made the fateful decision to take rooms at 25 Highfield St. Amongst them, Spiro of Leytonstone in Essex would eventually identify the bodies of his wife Rose and sons Gerald aged 2 and Gordon aged 4 along with his mother Annie…”

Further deaths in Highfield Street and the surrounding area

Isaac and Sinaida Berezin were living at 28 Highfield Street. They were Russian refugees. Isaac’s parents, Aaron and Esther Berezin lived in Tel Aviv.

Private Lionel Henry Cohen was a soldier in the Royal Army Pay Corps. He was billeted at 27 Highfield Street with eleven other Pay Corp Officers who all died that night.

Isaac Blaskey was an evacuee from London lodging at the nearby Victoria Hotel. He was trapped in the cellar for over sixty hours and died later in hospital.

Joseph Pertzin, at 56 Saxby Street, was a textile merchant and chauffeur and had married just ten months earlier. At the same address was Alfred Abraham Sklar, aged 32, an air raid warden from Finchley who is not buried at Gilroes.

At the Lorne Hotel on Highfield Street, Samuel Gelbard, age 30, died but his body was never found.

Leah and Jennie Falber were lodging at 28 Knighton Road to escape the London bombings and they both died that night, although they are not buried at Gilroes Cemetery.

The work done to prepare this information has had a profound effect on many of the volunteers involved. It brings home the futility of war and the fragility of life and is a truly sad story.