Jews, Britain and 1947-48: a slice of history

Submitted by AWL on 29 June, 2021 - 4:14 Author: Walter Lever
Aftermath of antisemitic riot, Liverpool

What follows is an account of the anti-Jewish pogrom in Manchester in August 1947. Britain still occupied Palestine and Jewish guerrillas were at war with the colonial power. Two British army sergeants were captured and, in reprisal for Britain’s hanging of captured Jewish fighters, hanged. A great outcry followed. The Mosleyite fascists found a new resonance for their antisemitism. Pogroms against Jewish communities took place in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester. (The picture shows Liverpool afterwards.)

The text is from a book, Jerusalem Is Called Liberty, by Walter Lever. Lever had been a member of the British Communist Party until the Stalin-Hitler pact of August 1939.

The sergeants had injured no one, either; but they wore the uniforms of a hostile police force. However, the newspapers were not interested in balancing rights and wrongs, and the guests in the lounge would not care to hear my views on the blood-feud morality by which all members of a tribe are held responsible for the guilt of each individual. Certain inherited instincts told me that one did not argue in such matters; one paid one’s bill and went away.

It was August bank holiday weekend when I returned to Manchester; sultry, oppressive weather for those in the city. Trade was bad, and many workers had been obliged to stay at home. On the Sunday there was nothing to do but walk the streets and stand at the corners discussing the newspaper; and this week all the Sunday papers carried the story of the hanged sergeants in bold letters across the front page, its details taking precedence over the week’s murders and rapes.

In the evening the pubs opened, but closed early on account of the beer shortage. At the street corners the crowds grew thicker. Someone here and someone there thought it would be a good idea to show the Jews what real Englishmen thought of them. The idea caught on, and a mob moved towards Cheetham Hill, the old Jewish quarter. They found stones and brickbats, and flung them at shop windows and private houses, at synagogues and club rooms. A Jewish wedding was being celebrated at the Assembly Hall; some thousands surrounded the entrance yelling threats and abuse at those inside and besieging the building until one in the morning.

Next day Cheetham Hill Road looked much as it had looked seven years before, when the German bombers had pounded the city for twelve hours. All premises belonging to Jews for the length of a mile down the street had gaping windows and the pavements were littered with glass. The press reported riots on an even bigger scale in Liverpool, and minor disturbances elsewhere. That night the crowds again advanced on Cheetham Hill; but this time the local police had been instructed to act firmly and the proceedings stopped after a few arrests had been made. For the rest of the week one overheard behind one in the bus, over one’s shoulder at the next café table, a row ahead in the cinema, whispering anecdotes and muttered abuse relating to the events of the Sunday night...

In the middle of [September] our last day in England arrived; appropriately enough, on the Jewish New Year. We stood in the half-empty house that was no longer ours, amid the already sold furniture. Our suit-cases were packed and our passports endorsed. All afternoon and evening friends and acquaintances came and went, making their farewells.

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