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Family, friends and colleagues of Maurice Ludmer gather to rededicate campaigning journalist's grave

Former colleagues who missed his funeral in 1981 asked if there was anything they could do to commemorate

    Andy Bell, David Edgar and Gerry Gable at Maurice Ludmer's grave on Sunday
    Andy Bell, David Edgar and Gerry Gable at Maurice Ludmer's grave on Sunday (Photo: Karrie Ludmer)

    Almost 40 years after campaigning journalist Maurice Ludmer’s death, his family, friends and old comrades gathered for a moving ceremony to rededicate his grave on Sunday.

    He was a journalist, a committed member of the National Union of Journalists and one of Britain’s most active anti-racists in the 1960s and 1970s.

    He was president of the Birmingham Trades Council, then the largest such body in Europe, but was perhaps best known in the Jewish community for his work on Searchlight, the anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine first edited by Gerry Gable, which Mr Ludmer took over in 1975.

    But during his editorship Mr Ludmer — whose anti-fascist work was spurred by a visit to the concentration camp at Belsen as part of his 1946 secondment to the War Graves Commission in Europe — developed a severe heart condition.

    Maurice Ludmer's grave had toppled over and friends raised money for its restoration
    Maurice Ludmer's grave had toppled over and friends raised money for its restoration

    In 1981, he died suddenly in the middle of a phone call to a Special Branch officer. He was just 54 and was buried at Birmingham Hebrew Congregation’s Witton Jewish Cemetery. His tombstone called him a “dedicated fighter against fascism, antisemitism and racism”.

    Poignantly, his friends say, there was a gravediggers’ strike at the time of Mr Ludmer’s death, which the men suspended in order to bury a man who had done so much for trade unions.

    Earlier this year Mr Gable, once again editing Searchlight, was contacted by two former NUJ colleagues of Mr Ludmer from Belfast.

    In 1981, they were unable to attend Mr Ludmer’s funeral because they were working abroad but wanted to know if there was anything which could be done to commemorate him.

    Mr Gable discovered that the grave was in terrible condition and that the tombstone itself had toppled over.

    So money was raised for the restoration of the grave and stone from his former trade union and anti-fascist colleagues, Jewish and non-Jewish.

    At the ceremony on Sunday, those paying tribute included the playwright David Edgar, who contributed a column to Searchlight during Mr Ludmer’s time as editor.

    Also there were former trade union colleagues, including Paul Mackney, who succeeded Mr Ludmer as president of the Birmingham Trades Council, and the president of the Indian Workers Association, which showed “showed the respect and esteem Maurice was held by the migrant Post War communities from Uganda and the West Indies", Mr Gable said.

    Mr Ludmer’s daughter, Karrie, read out a heartfelt tribute to her father, written with her sister, Benita.

    Karie Ludmer reads at her father's grave
    Karie Ludmer reads at her father's grave (Photo: Karie Ludmer)

    She described how, when their father died, “we were overwhelmed by the testimonies of condolence from near and far and acutely aware of how heavily and widely his loss was felt”.

    Speaking to those gathered, Karrie Ludmer said she remembered her father’s cooking most fondly, saying she taught her how to make “the best chicken soup in the world”. She recalled his sense of humour and his devotion to the family dog, Butch, whom he would walk every afternoon for 20 minutes, having driven back from work especially.

    She said Searchlight continued because of “dedicated people”.

    As well as Mr Gable, TV producer Andy Bell, who took over Mr Ludmer’s editing duties when he had to stand down in 1980, was also present.

    “So much of what our father wrote about over 40 years ago not only still resonates today but even more so,” she said.

    “As memories of the past fade, and the ideologies he fought are sadly becoming again more mainstream, it gets harder and harder to say ‘never again’.

    “You are not only commemorating a man who dedicated his life to fighting racism and antisemitism, but also your commitment to keeping these dark and ever menacing forces at bay.”

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