Saturday, 8 March 2008

Leon Greenman

Britain’s anti-fascist movement has lost one of its greatest fighters in Leon Greenman, who died aged 97 on 6 March. A Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and young son at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Leon was in the front line of the struggle against racism and fascism to the end – often literally so. In 1993, at the age of 83, he took part in the big demonstration against the BNP headquarters in Welling, south east London. When riot police charged the demonstrators, with Leon at the front, he had to be hoisted to safety over a garden wall. His autobiography An Englishman in Auschwitz was published in 2001.

I saw quite a bit of Leon in the early 1990s. Two things that he told me during our conversations left a particular mark. The first was that as a British citizen living in Holland he and his family should never have been sent to Auschwitz anyway, but the necessary papers proving his status didn’t arrive with the relevant official – who was unwilling to delay his departure – until a day after the transport had left, with him on it. The second was about sharing his meagre concentration-camp bread ration one day with an exceptionally persistent sparrow. ‘He was only trying to scratch a living,’ Leon said, ‘like the rest of us.’

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