Never forget? The Holocaust and British communist anti-fascism, 1945-1951

Spring 2018

Even during the Second World War, Britain witnessed a fascist revival. In 1944, the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women held an openly fascist meeting in London’s Hyde Park. At the war’s end, it was possible to be confronted both with newspaper photographs of the liberated Nazi camps and fascist street speakers claiming that, ‘not enough Jews were burned at Belsen’. In 1948, Sir Oswald Mosley relaunched his political career after wartime internment, forming the Union Movement (UM). Writing about a UM march in Dalston, London that took place later that year, the historian David Renton commented: ‘Taking place just a few years after the Blitz and the Holocaust … it seemed inconceivable that there were still people who thought fascism was right. Yet this was the message of the march’. Renton echoes historians who have identified the Holocaust as central to a post-war British anti-fascist consensus, alongside the nation’s wartime record of fighting fascist powers. Richard Thurlow suggested that the ‘chief accusation’ against post-war British fascists was their alleged support for the extermination of European Jewry. It is surprising then that the histories of fascism, anti-fascism, the left and Holocaust remembrance in Britain do not intersect in a study of the genocide’s impact on the opposing forces. The absence of analysis of British communists’ approaches to the Holocaust is consistent with this general lack of historiographical attention. This study is concerned with the extent to which the Holocaust shaped the Communist Party of Great Britain’s (CPGB) post-war anti-fascism.

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