Obituary: David Last

Textile entrepreneur who became a Talmudic scholar


Having survived the Holocaust with his family, David Last, who has died aged 91, arrived in London as a teenager and worked to support his parents. A successful textile entrepreneur, he discovered his true calling was the study of Judaism.

The youngest of the seven children of Chaim Moshe Weisel and Malka Gittel, in Rozwadow, Poland, David was nurtured by a close family unit, but as he was 11 years younger than his nearest sibling, his early years were often lonely. His schooldays, a combination of Polish school and Cheder, were fraught with Antisemitic attacks by street gangs. More distressing still, was the appearance at shul every Friday night of destitute, hungry and worn-out Jews who came into town from the surrounding villages, seeking hospitality.

Within a fortnight of the German troops’ arrival in September 1939, David, his family and some 2000 fellow citizens of Rozwadow, were evicted. After two days on the road, they narrowly escaped a gang of Polish vigilantes, thanks to the life-saving protection of a kindly farmer. Passing through deserted Jewish towns, they arrived in Lemberg (Lvov) and were transported by cattle truck to Siberia. Here three families lived together on meagre rations in one bare barrack without sanitation, working as forced labourers in the surrounding forests.

Released penniless among Russian Tartars, his older brother and sister looked desperately for work. Meanwhile, David made up for his lost school years by taking catch-up lessons, squeezing five years’ of classes into one. But by 1945, his studies were again cut short. His parents procured false travel documents and apart from one brother who was conscripted, the family returned to Poland to discover their former house occupied by hostile strangers.

Sponsored by his maternal uncles Leo and Max Last, David arrived in London at the age of 19 and worked as a pattern cutter and then as a commission salesman, to support his parents. They settled in Golders Green, almost entirely reunited, with the exception of his oldest brother, who had married and moved away before the war to a town whose Jewish population had been entirely wiped out.

In 1953, David Last met Leah Turner, one of the first students at the Gateshead Girls’ Jewish Seminary, and they were married at Hendon Adass Yisroel Synagogue by Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld.

He attended Rabbi Elchonon Halpern’s synagogue in Golders Green for over 70 years, studying with him on a and establishing a close relationship.

Having built up a successful textile business, David devoted much of his time to Jewish studies. With Leah’s encouragement, he used tape recordings to implement his vast Talmudic knowledge and understanding.

An extremely generous supporter of many Jewish institutions, charities and individuals, both in the UK and abroad, he shared the benefits of his commercial enterprises with Jewish people in need and with his beaming smile he was always ready to help anyone who came his way.

But the happiness and stability of his family, including his refugee parents and siblings, remained his primary focus, a guiding principle he had received as a child in pre-war Poland. He is survived by Leah, his wife of nearly 65 years, his son Henry and daughter Gina Wiesenfeld, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Judy Goodkin

David Last: born June 15, 1926. Died March 1, 2018

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