United Kingdom – More than half a century after a devastating fire tore through a London yeshiva, two former students who were stranded on the roof during the deadly blaze had an opportunity to thank their rescuer in a face to face reunion.
Sholom Elyovics of Antwerp and Yona Ginsberg of London traveled from their homes to meet with Alan Taylor, a retired member of the North London Fire Department as reported by London’s Jewish Tribune.
The 78 year old Taylor now lives on Canvey Island, located on the Thames River approximately 40 miles from London, and had been had been chatting with one of the members of the town’s relatively new Jewish community several months ago when he mentioned that he had saved some students from the roof of a burning yeshiva building more than half a century ago. Unbeknownst to Taylor, the man he was talking to, Alter Elie Elyovics, was the son of one of the teens he had saved and a post-summer reunion was arranged.
“It’s just amazing,” said Taylor when the men met up on September 10th. “When we spoke about it I couldn’t believe it. He lives just around the corner from me.”
Elyovics and Ginsberg were roommates at Mesifta Talmudical College in Stamford Hill when the fire broke out on a cold November night in 1964.
Faced with thick smoke in the hallway and hearing the flames ranging underneath them, the two climbed to the roof of the building where their calls for help woke up a neighbor who called the fire department. The pair were rescued by Taylor, who used a ladder to bring the teens down.
The two were among four young men who slept on the top floor of the yeshiva building. A third teen was seriously injured when he jumped out of a window while the fourth, fifteen year old Wolff Katz, died in the fire. Taylor recalled the blaze as one of the worst that he had seen at the time.
“The building was completely burnt,” said Taylor. “The stairs were gone, everything. The next day we came back and the entire roof was gone. There was nothing left of it. Luckily we managed to get there on time.”
The men presented Taylor with a bottle of whiskey and told him that thanks to his efforts, they had gone on to marry and build large families.
“I find it amazing that after 53 years I have found the fireman who took me down off that roof and he is the neighbor of my son,” said the now 71 year old Sholom Elyovics. “I feel such hakaras hatov to him.”