The CST on Vidal Sassoon

This is a cross post from The CST

Everyone at CST is sorry to hear the sad news that Vidal Sassoon has died at his home in Los Angeles, aged 84.

Vidal Sassoon speaking at a CST dinner, Manchester 2007

Vidal Sassoon became world famous as a hairdresser, but to many in the UK Jewish community it was his opposition to fascism and antisemitism that was an inspiration and a source of great pride. As a teenager Vidal joined the 43 Group, an organisation set up after the war by 43 Jewish ex-servicemen to physically confront Oswald Mosley’s fascists. While modest about his role in the group, which at its peak had 1,000 members including Jewish and non-Jewish men and women, Vidal gave several interviews in later life in which he talked about his days as an anti-fascist street fighter (see for example Hope Not Hate and the Jewish Chronicle).

Vidal wrote the Foreword to Morris Beckman’s book The 43 Group, published in 1992, in which he explained how he felt as a young man, growing up in the East End of London, when he realised that fascism could not be ignored:

How could I forget Petticoat Lane, especially on Sundays? It was a maze of colourful humanity, a kaleidoscope of people wanting to buy and to be amused. Love could be bought with a kind word, and hate was for sale on every street corner. Fascism was beginning to run rampant. It was impossible to conceive that not more than a borough away, people with hate in their hearts were planning our downfall. Why? We were the stranger in their nest, a bird of a different culture, not indigenous to their mother land. This was enough to stir the angst of the unenlightened in a world where exploration of the other was a frightening experience. We were not only the stranger, we were also the Jew.

I do not know the exact day when we decided to return the hate in kind, but the horror of the images coming from Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald and seemingly so many other places triggered a sense of survival within the remaining Jewish population of Europe. Hearing of the heroics of Mordechai Anielewitz and his few thousand followers in the Warsaw ghetto nurtured our mood. They were young Jews who fought the Nazis with all the passion of Biblical Davids, who died fighting for their dignity.

‘Never Again!’ became a command not a slogan, and so the 43 Group was born.

The 43 Group, and the 62 Group after it, were the predecessors to CST. Although we combat antisemitism in very different ways now, their determination to face down prejudice and stand up for common values continues to inspire our work. CST’s Chairman Gerald Ronson CBE, himself a member of the 62 Group, knew Vidal Sassoon well, and Vidal spoke at CST dinners in London and Manchester. Gerald said on hearing the sad news:

“I am terribly saddened by the death of my friend Vidal Sassoon. Vidal and his comrades in the 43 Group were an inspiration to those of us who faced antisemitism in the 1960s, and saw how they had stood up to fascism after the war. They taught us to be proud and strong. Vidal’s contribution to the safety of Jews in Britain will never be forgotten.”

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