I was very sad to read today of the passing of Morris Beckman
, a great anti-fascist, mentsh and citizen historian.
Dan Carrier’s obituary of him is nicely titled “Morris Beckman fought fascism, home and away“. Here’s some of it:
WHEN Morris Beckman returned to London at the end of the Second World War, having risked his life as a radio operator on ships crossing oceans filled with U-Boats, he was disgusted to see British fascists peddling their views on the streets of Camden. Morris, who passed away this week aged 94, would not stand idly by as the far right made speeches and sold pamphlets that denied the Holocaust. Instead, he and other Jewish ex-servicemen set up the 43 Group – an organisation that fought fascists on post-war London’s streets.
Morris was born in Hackney in 1921. He had tried to join the RAF in 1939 but was turned down – instead he learned Morse code and became a radio operator on ships making the dangerous Atlantic crossings. During the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, two of his ships were torpedoed.
Morris went into the clothing trade after the war, running a menswear business until the 1970s. In the 1980s, he turned his hand to writing, documenting his life in the Merchant Navy and the 43 Group. Books included The Hackney Crucible, The Jewish Brigade: An Army With Two Masters, Flying The Red Duster and Atlantic Roulette. In his 1992 book The 43 Group, he wrote of the shock servicemen felt when they saw the doctrine they had defeated in Europe still alive in Britain.
He recalled how he was moved to act after he and his cousin Harry Rose watched a fascist rant on the corner of Star Street in Kilburn. Harry had fought with General Wingate behind Japanese lines in Burma.
“He said to me: ‘I’m going to shut that bastard up’,” recalled Morris.
“I calmed him down but we asked ourselves – what is anyone going to do about this?”
They tried lobbying MPs and using lawful means but with no success. Instead, they set about disrupting inflammatory demonstrations by fascists.
He saw his bravery as merely a twist of fate that put him in extraordinary times and he believed he acted as anyone else would do.
This is from a Guardian piece, with Beckman describing why they set up the 43 Group:
“I had been in the merchant navy, survived two torpedo attacks on the Atlantic convoys, and I came back home to Amhurst Road, Hackney to hugs and kisses. My mother went out to make some tea and my dad said, ‘ The bastards are back – Mosley and his Blackshirts’.”
“The Talmud Torah (religious school) in Dalston had its windows smashed. Jewish shops were daubed ‘PJ’ (Perish Judah). You heard, ‘We have got to get rid of the Yids’ and ‘They didn’t burn enough of them in Belsen’.”
With the Labour home secretary James Chuter Ede refusing to take action and the Jewish establishment urging peaceful protest, the demobbed Jews had had enough.
Famously, Vidal Sassoon was a member. Sandy Rashtry‘s JC obit explains why it was called the 43 Group:
43 people (38 men and five women) who formed the group at the Maccabi House sports club in Hampstead in 1946. …[By] 1947 [it] had more than 1,000 members in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle….
“We were one of the very few groups of diaspora Jews who took a stand against Jew-baiting by fighting it instead of passively accepting the situation.”
He said: “Make no mistake. Mosley was very well connected with the upper echelons of British society. If Hitler had succeeded in invading Britain, there were powerful people in double-breasted suits who would have pinned swastikas on their velvet lapels and supported the deportation of British Jews.”
Paul Stott writes:
Graeme Kennedy and Andrew French‘s Unfinished War:
Watch his 2010 talk in Bristol on the secret war against the fascists. Listen to an interview at Last Hours.
The 43 Group was published by Centerprise, which sadly closed a couple of years ago, a victim of central government cuts to local government budgets, but there is a newer edition too.