Skip to main content

Harry Spiro Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-1005

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains correspondence, photos, newspapers and clippings, manuscripts, and financial records documenting the life of Harry Spiro following his immigration from the shtetl of Butrimantz in Lithuania; first to Havana, Cuba and then to the United States. Included in the collection are materials relating to his family, including his older brother Abraham Spiro, his wife Caroline, their children Lionel and Leah, and Yiddish correspondence with family who remained in Lithuania. The collection documents a lifetime of Zionist activism and includes issues of Oyfgang, a Yiddish newspaper that Harry worked for while living in Cuba, articles published for the Fall River (Massachusetts) Herald and Fall River Zionist Record, and correspondence with prominent Hebrew language revivalist Abraham Katsh. Tax and financial records document Best Lumber, a building supply company founded by Harry Spiro in 1935. This collection also includes historical and genealogical research performed by Harry’s niece Olga Zabludoff, as well as some translations and photocopied records she used in work.

Dates

  • undated, 1905-1982

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Biographical Note

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.

References

  1. Materials from the collection.

Chronology

1905
Born in Butrimantz, Lithuania.
1923
Arrives in Havana, Cuba.
1928
Arrives in New York City.
1928-1932
Attends Columbia University while living at the International House of New York.
1933
Married to Caroline Schapiro in Fall River Massachusetts.
1935
Founds Best Lumber with a loan from Abraham Spiro.
1950
Elected Chairman of the Education Committee, Fall River District of the Zionist Organization of America.
1953
Elected President of the Fall River District of the Zionist Organization of America.
1967
Fire at Best Lumber.
1970
Retires from Best Lumber; the company is liquidated.
1982
Death of Harry Spiro in Fall River, Massachusetts.
2002
Death of Caroline Spiro.

Extent

2.75 linear feet (2 document boxes, 1 oversized box)

Abstract

This collection contains correspondence, photos, newspapers and clippings, manuscripts, and financial records documenting the life of Harry Spiro following his immigration from the shtetl of Butrimantz in Lithuania, first to Havana, Cuba and then to the United States. Included in the collection are materials relating to his family, his Zionist activism both in Cuba and in the United States, and his building supply business, Best Lumber.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Lionel Spiro in November 2014.

Processing Information

Processed by Zack Shovein and Kora Welsh, 2015

Creator

Title
Guide to the Harry Spiro Papers, P-1005
Author
Processed by Zack Shovein and Kora Welsh
Date
2015
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

Contact:
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States
617-226-1245