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Claire Dissington & Julie Waterson

Leon Greenman (1910–2008)

(15 March 2008)

From Socialist Worker, 15 March 2008.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Young and old alike must learn about the Holocaust as warning against the dangers of racism. There is no difference in colour or religion. If I had survived to betray the dead it would have been better not to survive. We must not forget. Please do not forget.”
Leon Greenman, Auschwitz survivor 98288

The movement against fascism has lost one of its most dedicated fighters with the death of Leon Greenman, aged 97.

After surviving five concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and enduring a forced march in which many others died, he pledged his life to educating others against the Holocaust. Thousands have heard Leon’s moving story, with many becoming anti-fascist activists as a result.

Leon was born into a large working class family in the East End of London. His family moved to the Netherlands and he became a bookseller, married and lived in Rotterdam with his wife and son.

As the threat of war rose, Leon, a British citizen, had been contemplating a move back to London. He changed his mind when in 1938 he heard prime minister Neville Chamberlain declare there would be “no war with Germany”.

Leon traced his distrust of politicians back to that statement. He would tell his audiences never to trust the government, urging them instead to create a movement that could prevent a repetition of the Holocaust.

When the Second World War came, it blew his life apart. The Nazis invaded the Netherlands and persecuted its Jewish population, eventually deporting them to the death camps. Leon, his wife Else, and his two and a half year old son Barney were bundled onto cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz. Leon last glimpsed his wife and child as they entered the camp – both perished in the gas chambers.

Leon believed education to be a powerful weapon against the Nazis and was awarded an OBE for his work in schools. But he was also a firm believer in participating directly in the struggle against fascism.

He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Anti Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism and joined in many demonstrations. He gained immense enjoyment from attending Love Music Hate Racism events, sharing the stage with singer Pete Doherty in Trafalgar Square in 2005. He loved young people and sparked off their energy.

Aged 82, Leon led the 60,000-strong Unity demonstration in 1993 that demanded the closure of the British National Party (BNP) headquarters in Welling, south east London. As the police charged, he was bundled over a wall, narrowly escaping the truncheons. Months later, he led the victorious procession to a carnival to celebrate the defeat of the BNP’s first councillor in east London.

What a fighter Leon was. Of the 700 Dutch Jews who were transported from Westerbork, only Leon and one other survived.

His determination was matched only by his stubbornness.

On one occasion in 1994, the Anti Nazi League organised to stop a fascist “Blood and Honour” gig. It resulted in us being chased by the police and attacked by Nazi thugs. Leon was put into a taxi and sent home for his safety. Five minutes later, we turned around and there he was – back at the front of the demonstration waving his walking stick.

That summed up Leon, a man with no regard for himself who would do anything to fight back against the Nazis.

He will be sorely missed – and we will never forget him.

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