Hidden Histories #6: “Fight Fascism Now!” — The 43 Group
Whilst researching for a Brexit exhibition that I’ll be curating, I came across some badges from the 1940s in the archives of the Federal Trust (an organisation which promoted the idea of federal government, and supported European integration / British entry into the EU. It still exists today).
In that archive I found a collection of badges, pictured above. I was curious about what the three arrows symbolised. I was annoyed that I couldn’t seem to find any discussion of the badge, and then, suddenly, I found a pamphlet that neatly explained it (along with a handy picture that caused me to retake the picture above so that the badges were pointing in the intended direction….)
The three arrows as a symbol has been used by numerous groups throughout history, generally as an anti-fascist symbol. For example it was used by “The Iron Front”, a German anti-fascist party formed in the 1930s (it was apparently created so that it could easily be painted over Nazi swastikas). There’s an interesting article here about it being used in recent antifa protests.
I find the use of this symbol by the Federal Trust an interesting reminder of how the beginning of the European project was a lot to do with the prevention of war.
Anyway, the Federal Trust is the unintended start of this blog post, because it led me to searching the archives to see if we had any anti-fascist groups.
And we do.
Introducing: The 43 Group
The 43 Group was so named because it was founded by forty-three Jewish ex-Servicemen when they became aware of “the imminent danger of a Fascist revival in Britain”. There is an excellent book written by one of the founding members of the group, Morris Beckman, which is well worth a read. Vidal Sassoon, “anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser”, was a teenage member of the group.
The collection includes some of their own leaflets:
It also contains a collection of leaflets and propaganda from fascists like Oswald Mosely, along with horrifying, racist, twenty five point plan for “British Revival calling for the expulsion of Jews.
You can also compare the membership application form for The 43 Group (which required just your name and address) and the application form of the National-Worker’s Movement (a fascist organisation), which requires the nationality of your four grandparents.
Also in the archives are pages and pages of alphabetic lists of car registration plates and people who were suspected of being fascists. The lists include the movements of the cars and the descriptions of these people and their weaknesses, for example:
“Ex RAF. Very tall. Mixed up in episode at Ascot with old drinking companion. A good person to pick on, as he has an uncontrollable temper, especially if you call him a coward. His wife disapproves of his mixing with the Union [British Union of Fascists]
The 43 Group also organised its very own successful newspaper called “On Guard”, until the group decided to disband in 1950 when the threat seemed less imminent.
This video show 43 Group veterans Jules Konopinski and Harry Kaufma remembering their time in the group, including a novel use of newspapers…
If you’re interested in finding out more about the group, you could come research this small file of material mentioned in this post (here’s the LSE Library archive catalogue record),or also contact the Jewish Museum London, who have some items from The 43 Group, as well as The Wiener Library. There’s a BBC History Hour podcast which discusses the group too: