Obituary: Bernard Maurice Levy - Belsen liberator who became one of the last surviving death camp liberators later established high street chain store High and Mighty

He saw piles of the dead but also watched survivors grow strong again, as babies were born, barmitzvahs and marriages were celebrated and his people came back to life


Nineteen year old Bernard Levy entered Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1945 as a British soldier and became one of the last surviving death camp liberators.

In his final years he told his story through the unique lens of having been a British soldier who was also Jewish.

Levy, who has died aged 96, spent two years in Celle, near Bergen Belsen, as an administrator in the military government that sought to restore normality to a devastated post-war Germany.

He saw piles of the dead but also watched survivors grow strong again, as babies were born, barmitzvahs and marriages were celebrated and his people came back to life.

He supported attempts to help Jews relocate to Palestine as the war ended. In fact his family suspects he had more involvement with the clandestine activities of the Jewish Brigade, involving the suspicious disappearance of an army lorry, than he liked to admit. For a time he considered moving to the new Israel with Doreen, née Goldstein, his wife of 72 years.

As a soldier, he was responsible for processing German army personnel who had been assessed for involvement in war crimes, sending some of them back to their homes and families and others to face the consequences of their crimes against humanity at the Luneberg Trials, which he attended as a scribe.

He memorably described watching a truck load of Nazi camp guards who were being taken for execution. Like so many observers of the horrors encountered on entering the camps, he preferred not to speak of what he had seen until late in life, when a chance encounter with a local historian led to his return to Bergen Belsen where he was interviewed by TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky.

Their programme commemorating the liberation was broadcast in November, 2015 and he was also interviewed for BBC Radio 5 Live.

He was invited to take part in David Cameron’s UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, and during a second visit to Belsen, he and Doreen were introduced to the Queen when she made her first visit to a concentration camp in June, 2015 on the 70th anniversary of the liberation.

Earlier Levy took part in the ITV Holocaust documentary presented by Jonathan Dimbleby in 2020.
Returning to his home town of Hull following army service, he joined his father’s department store, the Northern Clothing Company.

Family folklore recalls that one day a delivery of men’s suits arrived which, in error, contained clothes in very large sizes. Instead of sending them back to the supplier, he placed an advertisement in the Daily Express and they sold out almost immediately.

Recognising a market for clothes in large sizes he soon had a shop and mail order service dedicated to selling “outsized” men’s clothing.

Reconnecting with some friends from his army days when he had been stationed in The Netherlands, he opened a shop in Rotterdam and the company became very successful in both the UK and The Netherlands, changing its name later to become the well-known high street chain store, High and Mighty.

Eventually he established over 40 stores in the UK, Holland, Germany, Belgium and the USA, before the company was sold off following his retirement in the 1990s.
High and Mighty was notable, despite the diminutive stature of its five foot four inch founder, for its pioneering vision to provide attractive fashion-designed clothing for big and tall men at a time when they were seldom well catered for.

Ever the restless soldier, Bernard loved to travel. His daughter Jude, later CEO of High and Mighty herself, remembers the time in the 1970s when they drove as a family to the former Leningrad in a distinctively yellow Toyota where they attracted excessive interest by border guards and not very subtle surveillance by the KGB.

He and Doreen travelled extensively in his later years, often to Spain, where they owned an apartment on the Costa Blanca. In his last years an increasing dependence on physical assistance at airports failed to deter him. His desire to travel abroad again, even when he became too ill to do so, never left him.

Bernard was a kindly, gentle man with a generous spirit towards staff, many of whom worked for him loyally for many years.

He is survived by Doreen, their daughters Ruth and Judith, son in law Howard, grandchildren Lara, Holly, Silver, Pablo, Brave and Miracle and four great grand children.

Bernard Maurice Levy: born January 17, 1926. Died May 29, 2022

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