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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 23:33 GMT 00:33 UK
Howard's shock at becoming leader
Michael and Sandra Howard
Michael Howard with his wife Sandra
Tory Leader Michael Howard says he was "astonished" at being elected to his party's top job last year.

"It was not something I had ever thought would happen," he told Sue Lawley in an interview for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

In the interview to be broadcast at 1115BST on Sunday Mr Howard also talks about his family's harrowing ordeal at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

His family fled as refugees from Romania to Wales in 1939.

He tells Lawley how his grandmother died in the Nazi camp in occupied Poland and how his aunt had managed to escape the gas chamber three times - once because the gas ran out.

Describing his aunt's terrifying story, he says World War II had not strengthened his family's religious beliefs.

You go into politics with your eyes open. You know it's a rough and tough business.
Michael Howard

He said: "I grew up in an orthodox Jewish home and so there was a great deal of Jewish consciousness, but the Holocaust affected people in different ways.

"In some cases it made people want to forget that they were Jewish and in other cases it strengthened it.

"In my aunt's case I don't think it had either of those effects, but it did ruin her life, unsurprisingly."

Mr Howard's father, a Jewish shopkeeper born in Ruscova as Bernat Hecht, fled Romania in 1939 as anti-Semitic fascists gained influence.

'Something of the night'

He settled in Wales and changed his name to Bernard Howard. He died in 1966, never returning to Romania.

The Tory leader also says he has forgiven Ann Widdecombe for saying there was "something of the night" about him.

They have even had friendly conversations since then, he says.

"You go into politics with your eyes open.

Mr Howard's Desert Island Discs
Bryan Adams - Everything I Do, I Do It For You
Gerry and the Pacemakers - You'll Never Walk Alone

"You know it's a rough and tough business. You have to take these things on the chin."

Mr Howard also talks about his musical ambitions. He had been a member of a skiffle group called the Lonnie Donegan Clones.

Once during a visit to the United States, he had considered working as a DJ in Nashville.

"I must admit the prospect of being DJ in Nashville did have its attractions, but I knew I wanted to come back," he said.

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30 Jun 04  |  Politics
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19 Feb 04  |  Politics


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