The comedian Jackie Mason has many observations about his Jewish race and one is its lack of violence. As he puts it, if you were walking down the street and saw 4 Jewish accountants approaching you you would not cross over to the other side. However it was not always thus as in the late 1940s Jewish violence was to play its part in two important events, one well known the other less so. The first was the foundation of Israel when extreme aggression led by the likes of Menechem Begin, who had a £10000’reward for capture on his head, and the Irgun and Stern gang wore down the British army in Palestine till they eventually withdrew. Israel was formed, a country of 600,000, and somehow survived against the invading armies of surrounding Arab states with a population of 50 million. The second, less known, is the subject of a forthcoming BBC/NBC drama series written by the creator of Band of Brothers. This is about Group 43, a group of Jewish servicemen post-war that used any methods, mostly foul ones, to combat the resurgence of fascism.
Oswald Mosley was released from prison and the British Union of Fascists reconstituted under a different name. Jewish businesses in the East End came under attack and large fascist demonstrations took place which the Labour home secretary James Ede did little to stop. The 43 Group were committed to disrupt the fascist meetings and win the battle of the streets. Leader Morris Beckman [pictured above], who survived 2 torpedo attacks in the Merchant Navy and who died aged 93 recently, would carry a knife and in his words give the fascist a “schnipp”, Yiddish for slash on the “tuches” (backside). The favourite ploy was to storm the platform where the fascist speakers sat for a meeting with a central surge, causing panic, and then to start a fight. The group was branded as communist subversives and not endorsed by the more mainstream Board of Jewish Deputies. They were servicemen numbering a VC , Tommy Gould , paratrooper Gerald Flamberg, a middleweight boxing champion decorated after Arnhem, a Battle of Britain pilot Lewis Sherman and others well experienced in combat from the war. They effectively drove the fascist off the streets, realising that to do so would prevent its growth as a Nazi party – and Hitler took that route to power -by Blackshirts dominating the streets. In the election of 1933 they had only 33% of the vote. One seventeen year old in the Group who who also fought in the 1948 war to ensure Israel’s survival was too young to know World War Two service: he was Vidal Sassoon, the future multi-national hairdresser.
It’s a little known passage in post-war history that rightly deserves greater attention. Many black Americans were similarly surprised and disappointed in fighting so courageously to liberate Europe from Nazism only to return to the Deep South and still be denied entrance to shops, hotels and parts of buses till the Civil Rights movement some 20 years later. You might have thought that in a war against extreme racist prejudices those might have been eradicated domestically. Perhaps it was too deeply rooted or more likely those that fought it were quickly labelled communist subservists in the new Cold War. There is no evidence of communist infiltration of group 43. By April 1950, work done, fascism defeated and removed from the the streets, the group disbanded. I recently read a book reviewed on these pages Sweet Caress. There the heroine Amory Clay is brutally beaten up photographing a fascist march. I shall await the drama series with the greatest interest.