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American Ancestors
AJHS - New England Archives
p15869coll28

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Currently, we have the Harry Spiro Papers processed and digitized. For more information on the Lionel Spiro Papers, please contact us.

Harry Spiro was born on September 15, 1905 in Butrimantz, Lithuania, where his family operated a tavern and social club. Seeking to escape conscription into the Lithuanian army and pursue higher education, Harry Spiro attempted to immigrate to the United States in 1923. He was encouraged by his half-brother Abraham Spiro, a director of the New York Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, but was unable to obtain a United States visa due to immigration quotas and ended up in Havana, Cuba. Harry wrote of his challenges in Havana: he was short of money, far from family, and struggling to learn English and Spanish simultaneously while remaining uncertain whether he would ever be allowed entry to the United States. Seeking another destination, Harry corresponded with relatives who had immigrated to Argentina, Palestine, and South Africa. Despite his difficulties in Havana, Harry became involved with local Jewish life, writing for the Yiddish language newspaper Oyfgang (Oifgang), and spending time with friends, including the Yiddish language poet Eliezer Aronowsky. While in Havana, Harry was employed by the Jewish Committee for Cuba as a secretary and librarian. He earned a high school equivalent degree from Candler College and in 1927 was able to immigrate to New York, where he attended City College and Columbia University while living at the John D. Rockefeller International House.

Harry continued his Zionist advocacy in New York through membership in Avukah (the American Student Zionist Association) and writing op-ed pieces for various newspapers. After his graduation Harry joined relatives in Fall River, Massachusetts, and in 1933, married Caroline Schapiro. A loan of capital from Abraham allowed Harry to start his business, Best Lumber, a lumber and building supply company, in 1935. Best Lumber was a small company, where the number of staff never exceeded four people, and was liquidated in 1970. In Fall River Harry and his wife, Caroline, raised two children, Lionel and Leah, while remaining active in political, philanthropic, and community life. During these years Harry was especially involved with the Fall River District of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), ultimately serving as President of the organization. After retiring from Best Lumber in 1970 Harry traveled frequently, visiting Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Israel. Harry died in 1982; Caroline in 2002.

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