When we were street fighters

By Simon Round, April 25, 2008

A Rage In Dalston
Radio 4, April 19

It is a shame that the majority of British Jewry did not have the chance to hear this radio show about the little-known 43 Groupers who fought Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists following the Second World War — as it was broadcast on Seder night.

But if you managed to catch A Rage in Dalston on BBCi, you would have heard about the clashes between the Jewish ex-servicemen and -women and the far-right movement, on the streets of East London.

Even a young Vidal Sassoon, who was a private during the war, got involved in the scuffles, which he likened to “pitch battles”. It was amazing that nobody got killed.

“I’ll never forget. I walked in and I had a hell of a bruise,” he says. “It had been a difficult night, and a client said to me, ‘Good God, Vidal, what happened to your face?’ and I said, ‘Oh nothing, madam, I slipped on a hairpin.’”

In the programme, historian Alan Dein interviews a number of the fearless members of the 43 Group who, committed to direct action, stood up to the Fascists after the war. They were so-named as this was the number of ex-servicemen who turned up to the founding meeting at the Maccabi House in South Hampstead in the spring of 1946.

Armed “with knives and razor blades” but no guns or bombs, they tracked down Fascist meetings to quash them, and were not afraid to break the law.

They could not believe that there were still people intent on exterminating the Jews — as if the Holocaust had never happened.

Martin Black, a Jewish former RAF serviceman, says: “We couldn’t believe it, these bastards were on the streets again giving the Fascist salute.”

Stanley Marks, who was demobbed from the Royal Engineers, agrees.

“They were doing the same, as if nothing had happened. Our whole lives were dominated by what had happened to the Jews in Europe.”

As is often irksome with radio documentary, it is confusing at times to know who is talking. But with disturbing footage of Mosley spouting antisemitic propaganda during one of his public meetings, and first-hand evidence of the heroic struggle, it made for thrilling listening.


Aliyah? The Journey Home
BBC1, April 23

Whenever there is a TV documentary on television about Jewish people, there is always the fear that the way they are portrayed will make the rest of us collectively cringe into our chicken soup. And Aliyah? The Journey Home did have a couple of scenes which made us do just that. Why did they have to film a prospective emigrant while he and his friends were stuffing their faces with hummus and pitta?

Why did they have to film him again, setting tables in a grim-looking synagogue hall using paper plates and paper napkins? And why oh why — in every Jewish-themed BBC documentary — do they always have to use funny camera angles to accentuate our less-than-dainty noses?

But apart from these complaints, the film shed a light on why people leave their comfy lives in Britain for an uncertain, less economically viable and more precarious life in a country which is beset by problems. The feeling of being part of the majority rather than the minority — and the good weather — are two of the reasons.

Modern Orthodox couple Marc and Miriam Kaye, preparing to leave North London for the promised land, are thankfully sensitively portrayed as they discuss their hopes, fears and discomfort about the idea that they will be part of a group of people who are hated by Arabs. Another interesting story is that of Susan Nathan who, after making aliyah to Tel Aviv, decided to relocate to the Arab village of Tamra because she did not want to be part of the “discrimination against Palestinians”.

Last updated: 1:26pm, June 2 2008