My father fought in the Second World War; he was a lance bombardier with the 51st Highland Regiment, fighting with his artillery battery from Normandy to northern Germany. During the war, my mother spent six years in the Land Army growing vegetables for the home front and then volunteered to spend one year in Germany in a British Army uniform. They met in Nienburg, where the 30 Corps, commanded by Field Marshal Montgomery, had its headquarters.
My father, a handsome lad from Sunderland, County Durham, and my mother, a pretty lass from the East End of London, were married in 1947 after being demobilised. My sister and I were born in Sunderland some years later.
My mother lived through the Blitz of London and often spoke of the traumas of being a Londoner during the war. Her street was hit by German bombs, so with all her belongings in a small suitcase, which I still have today, she moved from place to place but was never safe.
As soon as the war with Germany ended, my mother volunteered for a job to organise social clubs for British and allied forces on German soil, with an organisation called the Jewish Hospitality Committee (JHC). I have a photograph of the Hotel Lorenz in Brunswick, where Hitler had stayed. The hotel had become a JHC club and canteen, and the photograph shows the hotel facade with a group of allied servicemen standing outside. The photograph also pictures a British military vehicle used by the JHC, with a prominent Star of David (Magen David). My mother had told us of the irony of when first arriving in Germany; German children would run after the British army vehicle parading the Jewish Star of David, begging for a morsel to eat.
Before the war, my mother was very active in protecting British Jews from the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosely and his mob. She would help to organise counter-demonstrations; fascism was on the rise in Britain, and Jewish communities were very vulnerable. My mother told me with gleaming eyes, “I remember the battle of Cable Street” when the fascists, with police protection, marched on the East End of London chanting their anti-Jewish slogans and were beaten back by Jews, socialists and others. The outbreak of war reduced the threat of violent anti-Jewish fascism in Britain. Jews in Europe, however, were the victims of the most horrendous cruelty to humanity that the world has ever witnessed.
I suffered from antisemitism, mainly in Sunderland. As a young 12-year-old and the only Jew in the school, the other boys would gang up on me and beat me up every day whilst the teachers did very little to help the situation. I received a painful lesson on how cruel and unjust the world could be, and it left its mark. I learnt to be intolerant of prejudice and unafraid of physical pain.
After moving down to London, my schooling continued till I was nearly 17. When asked where I studied, I usually answer, “At Speakers Corner in Hyde Park”. There was my introduction to socialism and further understanding of human dignity, where brave speakers would stand on their soap boxes and try to convince their listeners amidst a torrent of antagonism from some of the audience. That paved the way to who I am today. During my university days in London, I became involved in helping third-world countries become self-reliant and poverty-free. I had the ideas and the enthusiasm but was lacking in nearly everything else. By the age of 20, the understanding that I couldn’t change the world was a depressing reality.
At the age of 22, I emigrated to Israel to live on a kibbutz and to live the socialist life I had dreamt of. Here, I settled and live to this day and am content to know that my dedication and hard work have benefited our community.
I hear of what is going on back in Britain. The BBC reports on the situation just as the BBC always does, but I hear from some quarters that Jews are advised not to wear a Star of David for fear of their safety. In comparison, my mother was proud, privileged, and unafraid of wearing the Star of David in Germany only a few months after the defeat of the Nazis.
I am still a socialist and a believer in human dignity, and I can’t understand how my counterparts in Britain and other places around the globe are supporting Hamas and other terrorist organisations bent on wiping the Jewish state off the map. Is it because we are Jews? Or perhaps because of Israel, which is determined to protect the Jewish people. Until recently, the Jewish people had not been able to defend themselves, at least since the Romans finally defeated the Jews, changing the name of the land to Palestine and dispersing its people. Israel, situated in a violent neighbourhood, needs to be strong, determined and just. It needs to be strong and determined to withstand the aggression of its neighbours, and it needs to be just for the benefit of all its population, Jews and non-Jews alike. I would support the call by the left to make Israel a better place for all its inhabitants. However, for an upholder of human dignity to praise Hamas is not only incredibly cynical but completely inhumane.
I wonder if we are not heading back to the 1930s when fascism and hatred of Jews in Britain were rife. Is there some similarity between Iran, its sidekick Qatar, and Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy? My father fought for a more humane world, and my mother fought for the protection of Jews. Who will do the fighting now?