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Remembering The 43 Group

May 26, 2020
by the gentle author

Photographer Stuart Freedman introduces his fine portraits of the last surviving members of the 43 Group, brave men who fought back against the resurgence of fascism in post-war London. Next month sees the seventh anniversary of when the Group officially disbanded.

Jules Konopinsky

“When I was a boy, I used to walk down Brick Lane with my father on a Sunday. We would sometimes see men selling the National Front’s rag on the corner of Bethnal Green Rd beneath a tatty Union Jack flag. This was the seventies, a troubled time when the certainties of the post-war settlement were under threat. This was the time of Rock Against Racism and the murder of Blair Peach, where racism, nationalism and bigotry were presented in some quarters as appealing and even respectable. How times do not change.

But each generation remembers its own battles. In the nineties I became a photographer and, for a very short time, I started to make images of the ‘Lane and inevitably saw the same men selling the same newspapers under the same tatty flag.

In 1996, I made a set of portraits and interviews for the Independent Magazine of veterans of the International Brigades who had fought fascists in Spain sixty years before. Many had to go and fight the same battles again across the world in 1939. A few talked about the resurgence of fascism after the war and how, when interned Blackshirts were released from prison they started to organise, prompting a far-right revival.

It was then I read Maurice Beckman’s book about the 43 Group, a historically significant but largely forgotten organisation of mostly – but not exclusively – Jewish ex-servicemen, and some extraordinarily brave women, who returned from the horrors of war only to find fascism again on their own doorstep. I read how they resolved to fight back, to physically oppose the menace, to meet violence with violence to protect their communities. And how they had done so against the wishes of their elders and representatives.

My father lived in a poor, bomb-damaged street in Stoke Newington and, as a young man in 1947, had seen the savage violence of the long-forgotten battles of Dalston and Ridley Rd. Battles unremembered but perhaps no less significant than Cable St. I had resolved to find those men that had stood up to a new generation of Oswald Mosley’s thugs and record them for posterity. But I never did, I spent the next two decades working and living across the world as a photo-reporter. I forgot.

Last year, I read Daniel Sonabend’s wonderful, forensic and compelling new history of the 43 Group, We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain and I knew that I needed to make these images to remember before it was too late.

By the turn of this year, there were only six of the original members left. I photographed them just before lockdown. Tragically, Maurice Podro passed away earlier this month and so these images are shown in his memory.

We forget at our cost.”

Stuart Freedman

Gerry Kaffin

Martin White

Gerry Abrahams

Maurice Podro

Harry Kaufman

Portraits copyright © Stuart Freedman

You may also like to take a look at Stuart Freedman’s other work

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. May 26, 2020

    More details on the battles of Ridley Road and Dalston would be welcome on this site

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 26, 2020

    Amazing portraits of very strong yet careworn faces.

    And I agree with Murray – I’d love to know more about the battles, and what experiences these men and their families had gone through.

  3. paul loften permalink
    May 26, 2020

    We also lived ina bombed-out street in Stoke Newington I know of the 43 group my dad told me about them. Moseley had to be fought and he once he was arrested at Kentish Town in 1936 for leading an attack against their march and the trial was reported in the Times newspaper amongst other daily papers. The Daily Mail called him a hooligan Before the war the fascists carried knives, knuckle dusters and coshes when they went out and the police gave them a nod and a wink. Of course all the protesters had was their own fists. My father was an amateur boxer and used to it. He was called up in 1940 and served six years as an infantryman. When he was sent over to Europe in 1944. the first few days were chaotic He took the opportunity to go looking for SS with an army friend and whilst in Belgium a boy came over to him and told him that he knew where an SS officer was hiding and led him to a barn for a bar of chocolate. They stood outside and called out ” Kommen sie aus mit die hande hugh” and out came a huge SS colonel wearing a pearl-handled luger pistol. The first thing he did was take the weapon. The Colonel was a typical nazi but he never knew that my father was a jew and he answered him in an arrogant manner to which he got a slap across the face with the rifle he was holding. Even as a child I knew about the crimes they had committed against our own close relataives, and I asked him why he didn’t kill him there and then. He answered “I couldn’t because that would have made me the same as them “. He took the German officer into the army camp and handed him over for interrogation. The German officer never knew how lucky he was. He wore the same pearl-handled luger pistol in white canvas holster until he was told by a captain that he could not wear sidearm and as the officer wanted the pistol, he agreed to swap it for two box cameras one of which I still have. I remember the canvas holster I would play with it and put my own toy guns in it. He also had some other souvenirs from the war one of which was a lampshade made of skin which he brought home to show to people who doubted what they had done. I recall the lampshade with blue ink tattoos and I showed it to children who played in my street. My mother would not allow it to be kept in the house after it began to deteriorate and it disappeared. As far as I know my father was not involved with the 43 groups. He was a person that never even raised his hands to his children. That is as much as I can say although there is much more to his story in Europe. He is no longer about and I am not sure he would like me talking about all this but I will. Its a very long time ago now. A lot of people don’t believe about the skin lampshades they say it’s not true but I know for certain it is.

  4. Laurie Elks permalink
    May 26, 2020

    John Kotz, former leader of Hackney Council who died a few years ago, wrote about battles with the Mosleyites in Ridley Road in the 1960s in his memoir, Vintage Red.

  5. May 26, 2020

    Yes, “we forget at our cost.” Thank you for helping us remember. Now we need to more than ever.

  6. Dave Stuart permalink
    May 26, 2020

    Moving and a chilling reminder that this scourge surfaces all too easily without sensible resistance

  7. Pauline Taylor permalink
    May 26, 2020

    What wonderful portraits and a chilling reminder that the fight against fascism continues to this day. We live in such dangerous times but it is good to know that there will always be people who will stand up and fight against oppression and right wing regimes, it gives one hope is such sad times as those we are living in today. Thank you GA.

  8. Rupert permalink
    May 26, 2020

    We say “Never again” yet the cancer of fascism takes many forms, they play upon our human fallibility and re-emerge in other forms, then become of the mainstream.

    Is this the case for UK and USA today, to highlight two former world-leading nations?

  9. May 26, 2020

    “Each generation remembers its own battles.” Chew on THAT for a while, folks. I certainly did.
    There are so many insights and mind pops, throughout these paragraphs — and then the addition of the remarkable faces.

    Strength and fortitude.
    Thank you for always shining a light, GA.
    Stay safe, all.

  10. Mark permalink
    May 26, 2020

    True hero’s of the real London, now just a sewer for the rich to crap in.

  11. Adele Lester permalink
    May 26, 2020

    Thank you for bringing the story of these heroes to us, and condolences to the family of Maurice P.

  12. Samuel Blitz permalink
    May 26, 2020

    Sorry to hear about the passing of Maurice Podro as he gave a lecture at Sinclair House a few years ago about the 43 Group. I wish his family Long Life.

  13. May 27, 2020

    Together they are real Heroes — every single One of Them!

    Love & Peace

  14. May 27, 2020

    Amazing history we can all be proud of. Each generation has to fight the threat of fascism. Wonderful portraits of inspirational fighters.

  15. Barbara Stevens permalink
    May 28, 2020

    My late husband Harry Steinberg from Stamford Hill was a member but even after M.Beckman 1992 book came out he didn’t like to elaborate very much. I think he said “we could still get locked up”… Thank goodness for that book at least and together with your wonderful photos I am so pleased the 43 Group’s name and deeds will never fade away. Just wish more individual stories had been collected when they were all alive, though they did have a reunion once. Is it possible to get a list of the names of the entire 43 members?

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