Let’s all celebrate the mensch that is Alf Dubs

The Labour peer has done so much for so many, and is still going strong as he turns 90

June 01, 2023 13:24

There are some people who don’t realise the impact they have on the world around them, who embrace life and, without realising, inspire each and every person they meet to be better, to do more, to strive for change.

Alf Dubs is one of those people. You can ascribe so many different titles to Alf: peace- maker, campaigner, politician, activist, humanist, Kindertransport refugee, friend, ally, Jew. He is all of these and much more. But to me he is the very embodiment of a mensch.

There can be few better men than Alf. Few people have made such a difference to the world.

On every issue he has campaigned on, he has done it so quietly and with such an air of dignity that he couldn’t but convince his opponents of the rights of his argument, however much they disagreed with the premise of his campaign.

From child refugees to the people of Northern Ireland, Alf has made a difference to more communities then we could ever count.

And he’s done so without expecting a single piece of recognition — that just isn’t who he is. He’s used his platform, his voice and his ability to bring people together to change the world we live in for the better.

Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of attending Alf Dub’s belated 90th birthday party. It was a wonderful evening, hearing from those who know him best, from those whose life he has touched and, most importantly, from the great man himself, though he looked more than a little embarrassed that all these people were together in a room to celebrate him.

As we stood in a room honouring the incredible achievements of a truly amazing man, I found myself considering how different his life — and by default all of ours — would have been if Alf hadn’t been rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton. If his name hadn’t made it to the ledger. If his mother hadn’t been able to get him on one of the last kindertransport trains to leave Prague in 1939. If the British government hadn’t been prepared to welcome him as a refugee.

This series of events allowed Alf to escape the worst horrors of the Shoah, although not without huge sacrifice.

As we listened to one of Alf’s oldest friends and fellow Kindertransport refugees talk about their time together at the Czechoslovak State Boarding School, I was reminded of the children’s memorial at Yad Vashem that uses a single candle and dozens of mirrors to demonstrate what can come from a single life, how many generations can follow and what can be extinguished from the world when only one candle is removed.

Alf’s candle thankfully burns brightly. But he is not the only refugee that has made an extraordinary contribution to British society. In recent weeks, the government’s Illegal Immigration Bill has begun its journey through the House of Lords. I have sat through some amazing speeches from those opposed to this legislation, those people who believe that we need more than anti-immigrant rhetoric to stop the illegal trafficking of human beings.
Those that want to see a fair and just immigration system that works for our country and want to take the heat out of a political debate that can lead to violence.

Some of the best speeches were from immigrants themselves. Not only did Alf remind fellow peers of their moral responsibilities, many outlined their own journeys and those of their families to make it to the UK.

Baroness Kramer spoke of her Jewish Hungarian mother who stowed away on an RAF flight out of Greece at the end of the war. Baroness Helic reminded us that she had experience of fleeing the country of her birth and Lord Bilimoria outlined the contribution he and his family have made to their adopted home.

It was a balm to listen to people whose lives have been shaped, for better and for worse, by the UK’s welcome to people claiming asylum. This includes my family, and I’m sure many of those who are reading this column. Behind every story about refugee numbers, or people coming to the UK on small boats, there is a family, a child, a story of pain and hardship and most importantly a promise of hope for the future. We forget that at our peril.

At Alf’s party, I found myself listening to the dozens of people in the room telling their personal stories of Lord Dubs, to politicians, campaigners, comedians and, of course, his family, who outlined exactly what he has done for so many different communities, both in the UK and across the world.

Every person that he has touched has been inspired to do more, to do better, to make the society we live in just a little bit better.

Alf has done that every day of his life — a life that was saved from near guaranteed destruction by Sir Nicholas Winton. It’s not a joy to know Alf, to be able to hug him hello, to be able to hear him speak in parliamentary debates and over a cup of tea. It’s an absolute privilege.

Baroness Anderson is a Labour peer.

June 01, 2023 13:24

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive