Anti-fascist campaigner Morris Beckman dies


Tributes have been paid to anti-fascist activist Morris Beckman whose funeral took place this week.

Mr Beckman, who died last month aged 94, was one of the founding members of the 43 Group, a group of young Jewish ex-servicemen and women committed to fighting fascism in the UK and abroad.

A great-grandfather, the Hampstead United Synagogue member was buried at Bushey cemetery on Wednesday. He died on May 24 following a battle with pneumonia.

Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said: “Mr Beckman fought bravely to remove the threat of fascism from our streets. We can all learn from the example he set.”

Jacques Weisser, Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (Ajex) executive director, said: “He was always committed to fighting antisemitism in one form or another. He always fought very hard against it – he did not form the 43 Group for nothing.

“Whenever he could, he continued to join Ajex on visits overseas – once on a trip to Israel, and another time to Paris.”

Mr Beckman, who served in the Merchant Navy and Atlantic convoys in the Second World War, was, alongside Vidal Sassoon, one of 43 people (38 men and five women) who formed the group at the Maccabi House sports club in Hampstead in 1946.

It was committed to disrupting antisemitic meetings and rallies and by 1947 had more than 1,000 members in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle.

A documentary – the 43 Group: The Secret Battle of Britain – was based on a book written by Mr Beckman.

He once told the JC: “We would see newsreels in the cinemas of piles of Jewish men, women and children being bulldozed into limepits in the concentration camps – and then pass an outdoor fascist meeting, or see swastikas painted in the street and antisemitic posters in Jewish areas such as Hackney, Edgware or Stamford Hill.”

Mr Beckman said he was committed to fighting fascism after watching the rise of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. With black cab drivers acting as watchmen, the toughest members of the 43 Group were sent into rallies to rile up the crowds – leading to riots and forcing the police to shut down the black shirt rally.

“Hitler’s plan was to exterminate all the Jews in Europe, including the 350,000 in Britain,” Mr Beckman said. “During the war, anyone who held meetings supporting Hitler could be arrested as a traitor. But after the war, the same people could spout the antisemitic poison and it was called ‘free speech’.

“We were one of the very few groups of diaspora Jews who took a stand against Jew-baiting by fighting it instead of passively accepting the situation.”

He said: “Make no mistake. Mosley was very well connected with the upper echelons of British society. If Hitler had succeeded in invading Britain, there were powerful people in double-breasted suits who would have pinned swastikas on their velvet lapels and supported the deportation of British Jews.”

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