A ‘LEGEND’ of Harrow has died, leaving his loved ones with countless stories to tell of his worldwide escapades and community work.
Fighting in the Second World War, escaping from a prisoner of war camp, growing a business from the ground up, meeting the Queen and proudly serving as Harrow’s oldest Neighbourhood Champion are just a few of the stories from the life of Harry Fridkin, who has died aged 99.
“His mission in life was to make people laugh,” daughter Lynne Nesbit told the Observer. “And he certainly achieved that.”
Born in Spitalfields in 1914, Mr Fridkin moved to Harrow when he returned from war in 1946, but his story was not like any other.
Captured by the German army in Greece in 1941, Harry spent a large part of the war in POW camps – first in Greece and later in Austria. As a Jew, he was in particular danger, especially when he was being transported to the camp in Austria.
Lynne said: “They were being moved in trucks and there was literally just a bucket for them. When my father went to pee, the guard took him and saw that he was circumcised.”
He was instantly questioned if he was Jewish or not, but raised a St Christopher medallion given to him by his mother and said: “Would a Jew wear that?”
Of course, Harry was Jewish, but this is just one of the several stories of him talking his way out of life-threatening situations.
“What gets me most about him I think is his cheek. He had such cheek and a sense of humour,” Lynne added. “He attracted people to him like a magnet. They sensed that there was in front of them essentially a man of courage, wit and humour.”
Harry eventually escaped the POW camp and made it across to an American camp in Munich, where he was nursed back to health. He weighed just eight stone at the time.
On returning to England he moved to Harrow and set up Fridkin Hair Fashions, in Rayners Lane, the first branch of what would go on to become something of an empire.
He also became a Neighbourhood Champion for Greville Court, South Vale, Harrow on the Hill, volunteering on behalf of the council and police to help report low level crime and keep neighbours informed.
Perhaps his proudest moment was when hundreds of Harrovians lined the streets as they welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
The royals visited Krishna Avanti School, in Camrose Avenue, Edgware, and were treated to Harrow Council photographer Dermot Carlin’s 60 Faces, an exhibition which showcased 60 of Harrow’s most celebrated characters – one of whom was Harry.
Mr Carlin chose Harry to present Her Majesty with the book as, he said, Harry was his favourite character in the exhibition.
Mr Carlin said: “I met him when he was just a young lad – at 96 – and he was still driving and full of life.
“The guy was a legend.
“Being Jewish in a POW camp would have been tricky, but he was fearless. He was just a remarkable man and I just feel privileged to have known him.
“He will be sadly missed around Harrow.”