Fascism: Anti-Semitism and an author’s walk down memory lane
Memoir of a Fascist Childhood by Trevor Grundy (William Heinemann, 1998 and Arrow Books 1999)
Memoir of a Fascist Childhood (William Heinemann, 1998) and Arrow Books (1999). b y Trevor Grundy
Reviews of this 20 plus years old book were published in several magazines and newspapers in Britain.
They included articles in The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Quarterly and one by the Jewish affairs correspondent of The Tablet.
All the comments made by Jewish writers about the fascist phenomenon before and after the last world war were fair, balanced and constructive.
After my book was published, I made a short tour of Israel in 2000 and spoke to rabbis, students and ordinary Jews about Mosley in the 1950s and 1960s.
The following year, I completed a tour of colleges in different parts of the UK with large Jewish student intake. With the rise of anti-Semitism in this country, in Europe and in the USA it might be a book to show to young people tempted to support race hate organisations. And there’s plenty of them.
The late David Cesarani, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Holocaust, urged me to write a follow – up after I told him in London that I had cut out ‘quite a lot’ to protect, not the dead but the living, people I once knew and loved.
Today, almost all of them are either dead or have left Britain. For me, the road is open once again.
“Give me the child of seven and I will give you the man,” said St Ignatius Loyola.
How I hope he was wrong.
It is possible to change but it takes luck as well as determination.
After the war, the Grundy house in Blandford Square, Marylebone, was regarded by M15 as Oswald Mosley’s unofficial hq in North London. Children of top Nazi leaders stayed there during their summer holidays.
THE TIMES (review by Philip Howard): This is a biography written in blood, love and tears in the tradition of Gosse’s Father and Son.
FINANCIAL TIMES ( Maurice Gran): Have you ever wondered how even the most dedicated anti-Semite could stay an unashamed Jew-baiter once the 1946 newsreel footage of the concentration camps, with their corpses piled up like firewood, had been seen. Trevor Grundy’s touchingly honest memoir goes some way towards answering that question.
SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: (Ian Burma): A psychiatrist once told me that a disproportionate number of young schizophrenics in her care were brought up in esoteric sects. If this is a pattern, Trevor Grundy appears to have got off lightly.
THE INDEPENDENT : Grundy’s memoir serves as a fascinating social commentary on post-war Britain, as well as providing a keen insight into what makes a card-carrying Fascist tick. Here lies the book’s real strength. Grundy takes us deep into the psyche of an obsessive racial bigot, laying bare the processes that create such a person and examining the delusion and confusion that cause them to remain thus. It is one of thre most candid accounts of blinkered intolerance you’re evcer likely to come across . . . An eminnently accessible work, not to mention an extremely important one.
THE GUARDIAN (Murray Armstrong): In Trevor Grundy’s household Oswald Mosley was a god and anti-Semitism a religion. Fifty years on, he tells how he escaped his hateful upbringing and how he discovered his mother’s terrible secret.
THE INDEPENDENT (Julia Pascal): Trevor Grundy’s childhood autobiography is a chilling confession which is bound to cause ripples. It reminds us how the corrosive influence of Fascism dripped through British society from the House of Wi8ndsor to the proletariat.
THE SCOTSMAN (Michael Pye): Young Trevor puzzled over what would happen when the vicar married a teacher of Hebrew. Would she be obliged to drink the blood of her own Christian children? He was a tortured virgin who gave up the chance of his first sex when he saw a Star of David between his generous would-be lover’s breasts.
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT (Anne Chisholm): With both parents now dead, Trevor Grundy has at last been able to let in the light. He has written a remarkable book, an understated very English example of how evil and corruption in a family and a political movement were finally defeated by decency and truth.
THE GUARDIAN (Ben Pimlott): Memoir of a Fascist Childhood is a salutary reminder that ordinary people – star-struck women, spellbound children – were affected by what, for Mosley’s languid friends, often seemed like an upper-class game.
EVENING STANDARD (David Pryce-Jones): Trevor Grundy was once a bright young hope of British Fascism. At the age of 17, he spoke at a meeting in Trafalgar Square on behalf of the Fascist movement and its leader Sir Oswald Mosley. How he got into this predicament, and then how he escaped, is an extraordinary story, revealing and pitiful at the same time.
THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY (Robert Hanks): The very fact of his being able to write so dispassionately and so well about such strange beginnings is a kind of victory for the human spirit.
HAMPSTEAD AND HIGH GAZETTE (Ken Ellis): The book is history from the view of the small man. Let the big men take lessons from him in frankness and verve when they write their memoirs.
NEW STATESMAN (Francis Beckett): This book is compelling and moving. You can get books that tell you more facts about fascism. But nothing else offers the colour and texture of the times and the people.
HISTORY TODAY / MEDIA WATCH (Paul Martin): Prior to the 1990s, much of the ink spilt on analyzing Mosley concentrated on the leadership and organizational structure of the BUF (British Union of Fascists). We now have a rare populist account, albeit centered on the post-war Union Movement, of the experience of being a British fascist. Trevor Grundy’s Memoir of a Fascist Childhood has attracted attention for this very reason. Such testimonies convey more about racism and reactionary tendencies as a socio-psychological condition than any number of documents from the Public Record Office ever could.
Mosley’s newspaper ‘Action’ was edited
by Bob Row who took over from one of
British fascism’s ideologues, the former Communist, Raven Thomson,
author of ‘Civilisation as Divine Superman’ (under
the name of Alexander Raven).
CONSERVATIVE HISTORY JOURNAL (Ronald Porter): Grundy’s book has the absolute ring of truth about it. In it, the Mosleys come over as selfish even towards their most ardent and steadfastly loyal little band of sad admirers,
THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY (Paul Sussman): How did your mother see you off to school when you were a kid? In my case, it was with a loving wave followed five seconds later by a scream that I’d forgotten my sandwiches. Trevor Grundy’s recollections are somewhat less mundane. Each morning as he set off with his cap and satchel, his mother would stand on the doorstep giving him a full-on-Nazi salute and mouthing the letters PJ, short for Perish Judah, or May the Jews perish. When he returned home in the evening, having spent the day tormenting his Jewish classmates, his father would warmly congratulate him for being ‘a right little Jew- baiter.’ A conventional upbringing it certainly wasn’t.
DAILY TELEGRAPH (Nicholas Mosley): Trevor Grundy’s survival is remarkable. And his book is salutary, because it is often funny and tells effectively of Fascism as farce. Accounts solely of gruesomeness have been told often enough and can encourage what they aim to defeat.
THE HERALD /SCOTLAND (Rosemary Long): A quarter of a century, almost, of scary bigotry and force-fed fanaticism ought to have created a monster. But it didn’t.
THE INDEPENDENT (Julia Pascal): This startling book begins with Trevor Grundy burying his father. At the Mosleyite memorial Grundy – married, living in Africa and long discarded from this anti-Semite world – involuntarily raises his hand in the Fascist salute. It is a brave revelation suggesting that the virus of Fascism is impossible to eradicate.
SUNDAY INDEPENDENT/DUBLIN (Stephen Dodd): Trevor Grundy’s story is ultimately as sad as it is salutary. As disenchantment set in – soon for Trevor, intermittently for his parents – events took a tragic twist. His mother told him: ‘I think I made a terrible mistake . . . I think that I muddled up Mosley with Jesus.’ Suddenly adrift without the anchor of real faith in either the secular or the divine, she committed suicide. In one of her final letters, she told Trevor she thought everyone had let her down, even Mosley.
JEWISH CHRONICLE: (David Nathan): It is as if someone brought up in the asylum eventually got over the wall to bring the world tales of lifelong derangements, dangerous obsessions, malevolent stupidities and the crippled soul of permanently damaged inmates. Grundy’s account of this is simply written but is clearly propelled by anger at a life so distorted. His journalistic skills are employed to great effect to produce a crisp, no-frills memoir of shocking intensity.
EVENING NEWS/EDINBURGH (Gethin Chamberlain): It is difficult not to be appalled by Trevor’s story. Although no longer a fascist, even now he will not accept Mosley, the man he worshipped as a child, was a demon.
THE TABLET (Emma Klein): Trevor Grundy first saw Oswald Mosley on a snowy night in February 1948 at the rally in Bethnal Green where Mosley’s new Union Movement was founded. He was seven and three-quarters – ‘an interesting age to meet Oswald Mosley ‘as he puts it ironically today. He recalls that his beautiful mother Edna, an ardent Mosleyite, touched her hero as he passed a gesture that seemed to imbue her with renewed strength. At the meeting, which was attended by over one thousand followers, Trevor heard the words ‘Jewish bitch.’ Next day in the playground of his primary school in North London he walked up to a pretty dark-haired girl never joined the other children for morning prayers. ‘Jewish bitch,’ he said. His life changed when he learnt about his mother’s Jewish origins. ‘It was a hand grenade that turned into a key.’
THE JEWISH QUARTERLY (Wendy Brandmark): Trevor was urged to lead the movement’s youth league but with an honesty that makes this book so compelling, he remembers his big moment in Trafalgar Square speaking to a group which seems mostly composed of hecklers. ‘The sequence was filmed in black and white without any sound and when I saw it later, it reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin film.’
THE (CATHOLIC) UNIVERSE: Trevor Grundy looks back to his childhood with anger and sadness. He understands exactly the kinds of people to whom extremists like Mosley appeal.
EVENING STANDARD (Nicola Tyrer): Grundy came back from Africa to write his book. Married for the second time, to a fellow journalist who helped him with the task of confronting his past, he now lives in Edinburgh. He could never have written the book in his father’s lifetime. ‘I was too frightened of him.’
THE CHRONICLE-HERALD /Calgary, Canada (Heather Mallick): Trevor Grundy’s tale of growing up in London after World War 11 in the care of British fascist parents takes the cake. It beggars belief that any child should have suffered this and grown up to be sane, much less the author of this utterly magnificent autobiography.
SUNDAY TIMES (Stephen Boyd) Young Grundy was fed on a diet of anti-Semitism, race hatred and the belief that all would be well when Mosley became Britain’s leader. Grundy describes his early years and escape from the shackles of Mosley’s Union Movement (the racialist party he founded in 1948) with insight and humour. The surprise is that he can write about this with sanity and honesty
NATIONAL NEWS, ZIMBABWE (Dr Michael Hartnack) – Trevor Grundy’s book Memoir of a Fascist Childhood is not only marvellously readable social history about growing up in England 1945-1960, it also gives a unique insight into the private lives of people who became religious or political extremists. He charts the way the old upper and middle class values of responsibiliy and respectability were swamped by The Beatles Culture of the Swinging Sixties.’
C0-OPERATIVE NEWS, Manchester (David Lazell) Grundy’s book will become something of a classic,since it is the record of a family overwhelmed by the causes in the 1930s, resulting in the father’s internment during World War Two, so that Trevor – born in 1940 – was both influenced by his mother’s idealisation of Sir Oswald and ridiculed by his peers. I don’t think we will see again as honest and gripping a book as Grundy’s, in describing how and why working class people took up the fascist cause.’
Trevor Grundy at the time of the publication of his book in 1998 (Picture: Colin McPherson)
THE IRISH INDEPENDENT: (Stephen Fleming) In this fascinating memoir Trevor Grundy, who made his name as a journalist in Africa, reveals the trials and tribulations of a childhood in which he was brought up by his disparate parents to be a good fascist, to revere The Leader (Oswald Mosley) and to believe that the Second World War had been fought, unjustly, on behalf of the Jews. His description of meetings with Mosley, The Leader, give an extraordinary picture of this brilliant, sad, absurd man who used great talents and wealth in pursuit of a brutal racial philosophy. This is a better, more interesting portrait than the recent glamorised television series.
COMMENTS FROM INDIVIDUAL WRITERS
Dr Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury):” . . . an extraordinary chronicle. I wish all those who are inclined to underrate the corrupting potential of fascism could read and digest this.”
Andrew Marr: I have had several unsolicited readers’ letters saying how much they enjoyed it and how moving they found your writing to be.
Allan Massie: I found your book fascinating; it cost me a day’s work. It seems to me that there were two equally genuine sides to his (Mosley’s) nature – not held in balance: the would-be philosopher-king of lofty ideals, and the gutter politician. And in this division he truly was a Fascist – because Fascism appealed to idealists as well as thugs.
David Aaronovitch: Who can argue with a change of heart? But first you have to acknowledge the thing you were. Like Trevor Grundy, who was born two months before Max Mosley, into a family of Mosley foot-soldiers. In his wonderfully candid book Memoir of a Fascist Childhood, Grundy recalls how his parents took him, at the age of eight, to a rally where Sir Oswald Mosley launched the Union Movement (UM). It was 1948. After a while, the audience began chanting the old BUF slogan ‘The Yids, the Yids, we’ve got to get rid of the Yids.’ Then someone started up with the movement’s song. Those of you who know the tune of the Horst Wessel Song can sing along.
Thanks for writing it, Trevor. It’s a terrific book – David (Aaronovitch, March 2, 2018)
David Cesarani: There is clearly a lot more to your life than that the chapters chronicles in Memoir of a Fascist Childhood. I look forward to the next book.
Mark Mazower: I appreciated the honesty of Trevor Grundy’s Memoir of a Fascist Childhood, a child’s view of the British Union of Fascists from the inside, told with thought and subtlety. (New Statesman’s Books of the Year, 1999)
Rabbi Jonathan Romain: I have read it and can recommend it.
Fred Bridgland: Your book is one of the bravest and most memorable books I’ve ever read.
John Goldsmith: I would give it five star status for the lean and simple beauty of its prose, its unflinching honesty, and its poignant – at times almost unbearable – depiction of your mother in all her wonderousness and monstrousness and the weird secret she guarded from you for so long; for the limpid humour and evocation of character. But above all for shedding light on a world that has been a sort of appalling taboo in this country and which I think I now begin to understand a little. It’s a riveting read. It would make an amazing film. If one had the courage.
George Szirtes: The fact that I read your book straight through is a considerable tribute both for its readability and the subject matter. The strangest thing about your book is the way the reader is dropped straight into the cauldron. The underlying subject matter has always been a mystery to me. I mean, the intense hatred of the Jews.
Uberto Pasolini: I think this is an understated, intelligent and insightful book which is successful above all in highlighting the banality of evil with a drab, working class context. The depiction of 1950s fascism is extremely convincing and at times fascinating, showing the all too recent support this could garner.
Libby Purvis: In his fascinating autobiography, Trevor Grundy has told the rarely told story of what it was really like for a working class boy inside Oswald Mosley’s movement.
Allan Massie I found your book fascinating: it cost me a day’s work.
Rabbi Laura Janner- Klausner: Great piece your chilling memoir – so right to keep the history in place. So important, thank you. ( March 4 ,2018)
Peter Richard Pugh (A political biography of Alexander Raven Thomson – Sheffield University, January 2002): As Trevor Grundy’s candid autobiography illustrates, Mosley’s Fascism in the 1950s was a small group of committed Fascists riddled with personal grievances, shortages of revenue and strongly flavoured with anti-Semitism.
Rita Payne (President Emeritus of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, February 11, 2022) Self-isolation has given me time to read your book. It is so vividly written and very moving. It must have been so confusing to lead parallel lives as a child, inside and outside your home. It’s a miracle that you were able to forge your own path and build a successful career as a journalist and writer.
Professor Jerry Brotton:
In 1957, at the age of 17, Trevor Grundy addressed what remained of Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement in a rally in Trafalgar Square, London. The Movement was the nearest thing to a Fascist Party that England has ever seen, and its story, and that of Grundy’s indoctrination into its ranks, is the subject of Memoir of a Fascist Childhood.
Encouraged by a father imprisoned for his support for Mosley during World War II, and a mother who confused Mosley with Jesus in an attempt to hide her own origins, the young Trevor grew up in a household resembling a bunker, defined by bigotry, repression and paranoia. But as Trevor’s story unfolds, it also becomes a moving account of the tensions and secrets that lie at the heart of most families, as the young man wrestles with a love for his mother which comes into increasing conflict with his gradual disillusion with the Movement.
Memoir of a Fascist Childhood is a frank and fascinating story of the remarkable politicisation and polarisation of post-war Britain, as Trevor moves from the austerity and unrest of the 1940s to the liberalism of the 1960s. Very powerful, very disturbing, and at times very funny, this must have been an extremely difficult book to write, inspired as it was by the death of Grundy’s father in 1991. But the anguish is worth it; this is a fine book.
Professor Richard Toye (University of Exeter) This is a through-the-looking-glass journey into the darker side of British politics. Grundy’s parents were violently anti-Semitic and obsessed with Oswald Mosley, and he himself became active in Mosley’s post-war Union Movement, before turning away from Fascism. It is surreal, scary, and hilarious by turns. It also gives important insights into the origins of today’s Far Right politics.
Ruth Weiss (one of Germany’s best known and most widely – respected Jewish journalists and authors): After reading Trevor Grundy’s book, Ruth Weiss said that she vividly recalled Nazi youths singing the Horst Wessel song in the streets of Nuremberg when she was nine years old.
She wrote: “Trevor Grundy was the colleague who had taken over from me at the Times of Zambia and as Financial Times correspondent after I joined Deutsche Welle, Voice of Germany in 1974.
“I was glad to hear from him, though we had not seen each other for some 45 years. I had no idea of his fascist past which came as a shock. Nor had I known that in 1998, he had published Memoir of a Fascist Childhood – A boy in Mosley’s Britain, a brutally honest account of his first twenty years which were dominated by anti-Semitism, racism and hate. It is more than commendable that given his distorted upbringing, Trevor began to question his parents and the Movement’s views.
” As one reviewer noted, decency and truth prevailed. The young man broke loose and took flight, spending almost all his working life in Africa.
“Grundy’s memoirs gives an insight into the psyche of such individuals as the perpetrator who attacked the synagogue in Halle last October (2019), on the Jewish Day of Atonement. He was prevented from staging the planned massacre by the strength of the door, so that in frustration he turned his gun on two unfortunate victims on the street.
“Trevor Grundy revealed how often people settle on a scapegoat who can be blamed for their failure and fate. This enables them to think unbelievable allegations . . . Unfortunately, this is not past history but part of current affairs. An AfD (Alternative for Germany) party representative claimed in 2018 that the ‘ Central Council of Jews ‘ allegedly used ‘Islam’ in order to turn Germany into a multi-cultural society. In the US, the number of anti-Semitic assaults and acts of vandalism and harassment rose in 2019 to an al-time high of 2000, the highest since the Anti-Defamation League started keeping records over 30 years ago.
“Prejudice can only be defeated by means of commonsense and human decency as Trevor Grundy proved.”
Former British Foreign Minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind with Trevor Grundy at the end of a lecture tour on fascism in Britain and Israel. Picture: Courtesy of David Kaplan
The best books on antisemitism
Eleven authors have picked their favourite books about antisemitism and why they recommend each book.
Memoir of a Fascist Childhood
By Trevor Grundy
Recommended by Professor Richard Toye
This is a through-the-looking-glass journey into the darker side of British politics. Grundy’s parents were violently anti-Semitic and obsessed with Oswald Mosley, and he himself became active in Mosley’s post-war Union Movement, before turning away from Fascism. It is surreal, scary, and hilarious by turns. It also gives important insights into the origins of today’s Far Right politics.
The Plot Against America
By Philip Roth
Recommended by Katy Hull
Unlike the other books on my list, this one, of course, is a work of fiction. It imagines an alternative history, in which Charles Lindbergh, the Nazi-sympathizing celebrity pilot, wins the US presidency in 1940. Roth conveys the mounting horrors through the experiences of his narrator, a Jewish boy in New Jersey. The book is a meditation on the fragile borders between democracy and authoritarianism in the United States, it suggests that fascism could have happened (and could still happen) in our not so-exceptional democracy.
By Liza Wiemer
Recommended by Paul Volponi
Weimer is the type of storyteller who makes you think at every turn of the page. The Assignment looks at the world of discrimination and antisemitism as it is handed out in a classroom assignment by a teacher we’re left wondering about from the beginning. What makes you brave under the pressure of your peers and what makes you crumble? Weimer will give you insight into that through this stirring tome.
The Golem’s Mighty Swing
By James Sturm
Recommended by Mat Tonti
This book was the first time I read a graphic novel with Jewish themes other than the Holocaust. As a comic book artist who was exploring my Jewish roots, it was eye-opening to read a tale with Jewish characters, especially because it deals with the legend of the Golem, a mystical being made of mud and brought to life through Hebrew incantations. Add to that great action scenes of 1920s baseball, and it makes for a great read.
Origins of Totalitarianism
By Hannah Arendt
Recommended by Dorian Lynskey
Arendt’s three-part masterwork had the same US editor as 1984 and can be read as the non-fiction equivalent. While scholars have subsequently questioned aspects of her grand theory of totalitarianism, much of it holds up. Her commanding, aphoristic prose has made this one of the most widely quoted books of recent years, especially on the subject of power creating its own alternate reality: “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time… think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”
Click to meet Dorian, the author of The Ministry of Truth…
The Law of Blood
By Johann Chapoutot, Miranda Richmond Mouillot (translator)
Recommended by David Livingstone Smith
I recently described this book on social media as possibly the best book on National Socialism that I have ever read (and I’ve read quite a few). Chapoutot is a brilliant French historian, and in this book (which is a great follow-up to Coonz) he delves deeply into the Nazi mindset, focusing on the interlocking set of beliefs and values that made the extermination of the so-called inferior races not only possible but necessary. One of the unique features of this tour de force is Chapoutot’s description of how it was not just Hitler, Goebbels, and their ilk, but also distinguished German scholars and jurists, that shaped the genocidal Nazi agenda.
Memories of Absence
By Aomar Boum
Recommended by Lior B. Sternfeld
When we talk about the need to read Jewish history in the Middle East within its original context, and within the understanding that Jews lived among non-Jews, interacted with non-Jews, and had a tremendous influence on their respective societies, from time to time, we need to change the perspective and see how their non-Jewish compatriots viewed them and remember them. In this book, Aomar Boum recorded the ways in which the Muslims of Morocco remember the large Jewish communities that lived in that country for millennia and shrunk to a fraction of their former self after 1956-1967. This book allows us to examine multiple perspectives simultaneously. The national and colonial identities, the essence of Middle Eastern Zionism, and the place of the memory of Jews after they had left in the modern societies.
Click to meet Lior, the author of Between Iran and Zion…
The House of Fragile Things
By James McAuley
Recommended by Maurice Samuels
This is a book about a group of fabulously wealthy Jewish families (the Cahen D’Anvers, the Reinachs, the Rothschilds, and others) who amassed first-class art collections and left them to the French state only to see the state turn on them during the German Occupation. With great sensitivity, McAuley explores the lives of these very elite Jews, many of whom were related through ties of friendship and marriage, painting a rich portrait of their gilded but “fragile” world. He shows the complicated motivations behind their collections—the drive to belong and to express that belonging through art. This is certainly a snapshot of a very particular class, but it reveals something profound about the nature of the French-Jewish experience.
Not in My Neighborhood
By Antero Pietila
Recommended by Mary Rizzo
A former journalist, Antero Pietila delves into the history of Baltimore’s battles over housing and race since the 1880s. He shows how racism and antisemitism shaped who could live where in Baltimore, eventually consigning working-class Black people to disintegrating neighborhoods in the inner city. Where this book is especially good is on the history of blockbusting in the 1950s and 1960s.
Pietila introduces us to the real estate agents who preyed on Black people desperate to move out of slums and shows us how they panicked white people into selling their houses cheaply to get out before Black people moved in. Pietila draws connections between this history and the more recent example of speculators who lured Baltimore residents into subprime mortgages. Baltimore successfully sued Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending in 2012.
By Ian Kershaw
Recommended by David Roman
Kershaw’s double biography of the Nazi leader (the second part, almost entirely about World War II, is called Hubris) is a classic, and remains the best, most approachable look at the unusual upbringing of a young boy from provincial Austria who once wanted to be an artist, and felt in debt with the Jewish doctor who (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) treated his mother’s cancer. Hubris is most remarkable for the glimpses it provides of a different fate for that young boy Adolf: how he was scarred by family tragedy and by failure at multicultural Vienna, and how the Great War gave him an opening to become the worst possible version of himself.
Shepherd is a participant in the Bookshop.org and Amazon Associate Affiliate Programs. As a participant, we may earn from q