Friday, May 25, 2007


We just published an entry about Eva Forest, now we present you this bio about Solomon Frankel and how he aided the Basque children that found refugee from Franco's genocidal campaign in England and how he fought against Franco's forces in Spain. It was published at The Independent, here you have it:

Sol Frankel

Veteran of the Spanish Civil War and the Battle of Cable Street

Jim Jump

Solomon Frankel, tailor and political activist: born London 31 March 1914; married 1943 Pearl Simonson (died 1999; one son, one daughter); died London 18 May 2007.

Sol Frankel was one of the generation of secular Jews who embraced Communism in the 1930s and 1940s and made the Communist Party an influential force in the political life of London's East End. He took part in the Battle of Cable Street against Sir Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts, fought in the Spanish Civil War against General Franco's Fascist-backed rebellion and returned home injured to pursue his political activism for another three decades.

Frankel was among a small group of Communists who defied the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison in 1941 and published the Stepney Worker after their party's newspaper, the Daily Worker, had been banned because of its criticism of the war effort and aims. Though naturally right-handed, he supplied cartoons for the stencil-duplicated paper drawn with his left hand, his other having been disabled by a bullet wound in Spain. The Stepney Worker continued to appear during the 19 months of the ban, leaving plenty of time for Frankel to fall in love with its editor, Pearl Simonson. They were married in 1943.

The high point of Communist influence in the East End came soon afterwards, with the election in 1945 of the Jewish Phil Piratin as the local MP, one of two Communists in the House of Commons. Frankel and his wife stayed loyal to the Party longer than most, the last straw being the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when they left and joined the Labour Party. "Socialism is my religion," he would tell his family and friends.

One of nine children of Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, Frankel was born in 1914 in Whitechapel, in the East End, and left school at the age of 14 to work as a tailor in the sweatshops of the local clothing trade. He witnessed the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitism in the 1930s, when Jewish-owned shop-windows were frequently smashed. He was a member of the Labour League of Youth but later left to join the Communist Party over what he saw as the Labour Party's failure to stand up to Fascism at home and in Europe.

Frankel was always proud of his involvement in the Battle of Cable Street when, on 4 October 1936, Blackshirts were prevented from marching through the streets where many of Stepney's 60,000 Jewish residents lived. The Communist Party mobilised its supporters to block Mosley's path. In contrast, the Labour Party urged everyone to stay away from the area - a hands-off approach that was mirrored in its initial support for the government's embargo on arms sales to the Spanish Republic. Frankel was in the thick of the Cable Street fighting, digging up paving stones and building the barricades.

The slogan chosen by the Cable Street demonstrators, "No pasarán" ("They shall not pass"), was the one used by the defenders of Madrid as they faced Franco's attempt to overrun the Spanish capital with help from Hitler and Mussolini. Frankel, like many other Jewish socialists, saw the Spanish Civil War as an opportunity to fight back against Hitler and Fascism. As many as 20 per cent of the 2,300 International Brigaders from the British Isles were Jewish.

Before going to Spain, Frankel was a volunteer at the refugee camp outside Southampton for nearly 4,000 Basque children who had arrived in May 1937 following the bombing of Guernica by Hitler's Condor Legion. He helped put up tents and dig latrines. Being in the camp on the day it was announced that Bilbao had fallen to the Fascists left a big impression on him. The children were distraught and the older ones rioted and broke camp. "We were up all night looking for them, trying to round them up. They called us 'fascistas'. They were trying to get away so that they could go back to Spain to fight against Franco."

The experience helped convince him that he should go to Spain. Aged 23, he arrived at the British battalion's base in Tarazona de la Mancha in December 1937 and, after training, was promoted to sergeant in the machine-gun company. He saw action in the Battle of the Ebro in July 1938 and was wounded in the fierce fighting around Gandesa. "I poked my head above the trench and a bullet grazed my hat," he said.

When I was shot I remember seeing the glint of an enemy rifle. I didn't realise I'd been shot, but I was thrown backwards. I had taken a bullet through the arm. When the stretcher-bearers came, they carried me away under fire. They were incredibly brave.

Nerves and tendons in his right arm had been severed and he remained in hospital in Barcelona for three months. His hand was left permanently partially paralysed.

His injury disqualified him from military service in the Second World War - though he was a volunteer air-raid patrol warden in the Blitz - but not from resuming his work as a tailor. He became a shop steward for the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers and worked in East End factories until retirement in the early 1970s. He learnt to grip the cloth with his disabled hand clenched while sewing with his left hand.

After the war, with their home bombed out, Frankel moved to the suburbs of Golders Green, then Edgware and, in 1958, Crawley, though he still commuted to his work in the East End. Living in the north-west of London made him a member of the Wembley branch of the Communist Party, the same as Harry Pollitt, the Party's general secretary for 25 years. Pollitt was a frequent visitor to the Frankel family home, both on Party business and for social evenings. In 1973, Frankel and his wife moved to Wales and ran a guest-house near Aberystwyth, before settling in Leeds until Pearl's death in 1999, when he returned to London.

His idealism and political activism found expression during the 1950s and 1960s in the CND and anti-apartheid movements. He didn't return to Spain until democracy was restored after Franco's death in 1975. His final visit was in 2003, on the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Ebro, when International Brigaders from around the world were reunited in significant numbers for probably the last time.

One small little detail, democracy has not been fully restored in Spain yet, and the Basque Country is still occupied, against the will of its people.

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