Returning to civilian life, at the close of the Second World War, a group of Jewish veterans discovered that, for all their effort and sacrifice, their fight was not yet done. Creeping back on to the streets were Britain’s homegrown fascists, directed from the shadows by Sir Oswald Mosley. Horrified that the authorities refused to act, forty-three Jewish ex-servicemen and women resolved to take matters into their own hands. In 1946, they founded the 43 Group and let it be known that they were willing to stop the far-right resurgence by any means necessary.
Their numbers quickly swelled. Joining the battlehardened ex-servicemen in smashing up fascist meetings were younger Jews, including hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, and gentiles as well, some of whom volunteered to infiltrate fascist organisations. The Group published its own newspaper, conducted covert operations, and was able to muster a powerful force of hundreds of fighters who quickly turned fascist street meetings into mass brawls. The struggle peaked in the summer of 1947 with the Battle of Ridley Road, where thousands descended on the Hackney market to participate in weekly riots.
The history of the 43 Group is not just a gripping story of a forgotten moment in Britain’s post-war history; it is also a timely lesson in how to confront fascism – and how to win.
Daniel Sonabend is a writer and historian who lives in London. He studied for his MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History at Cambridge University. For the past six years he has been researching the 43 Group and working to share its story. This is his first book.
“A great reminder of a post-war resistance to fascism amongst Jewish Londoners. It’s a little-known story as it tends to get hidden behind the pre-war appearance of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists but, as we read here, Mosley wasn’t finished with his Jew-baiting. My own grandparents lived two hundred yards from the scene of action of most of this book and reading it brought it all to life for me.” – Michael Rosen, author of So They Call You Pisher!
“Brilliant, compelling and very timely. This is the sort of history we should all know about, especially in these troubled times, but were never taught at school.” – Keith Lowe, author of The Fear and the Freedom.
Natasha Devon’s event is available to watch on YouTube or on @PanMacmillan Instagram TV channel until 24 June and she will be doing a live Q & A on Monday 1 June at 6 pm on Pan Macmillan’s Instagram channel. You can order Natasha’s book by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8552 9993.
Are you locked down with children in years 5 or 6? We have four lessons for classroom or family use developed from On the Record’s oral history project centered around Newham Bookshop, Writing and Reading Newham. Click here for full details.
Michael Rosen’s poem, These Are The Hands, features in a book of poems from the heart of the NHS, which has just been published.