New book: Jewish Letchworth
A Microcosm of the Jewish Communal Experience
Few people are aware of the intellectually diverse and remarkably innovative Jewish community of Letchworth which existed from the 1930s until the 1970s. Yanky Fachler has reclaimed the history of this talented group of people in Letchworth who inspired so many to enter the world of Jewish learning. This is a superb and important book – it reveals a rich but unknown chapter in the history of the Jews of England for today’s generation.
Colin Shindler, Emeritus Professor, SOAS, University of London
Here, Letchworth-born Yanky Fachler explores a short-lived (1939–1971) provincial Jewish congregation that boasted a communal infrastructure typical of much larger communities. Based during the war years around an estate built by Abba Bornstein, most of the community returned to London after the Second World War. The centre of gravity shifted to what former Talmud Torah headmaster Harry Leitner describes as the ‘two pyramid houses on Sollershott East – the Sassoon/Feuchtwanger and Fachler homes.’
Letchworth was home to the world-famous private Judaica library assembled by David Sassoon. His son, Rabbi Solomon Sassoon, made sure that Jewish children from across the religious spectrum attended the Talmud Torah educational programme after regular school hours. Several rabbinical luminaries were associated with Letchworth, including the communal rabbi, Asher Feuchtwanger, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, and Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian.
Fachler describes a unique community where the orthodox coexisted harmoniously with the non-orthodox, Ashkenazi Jews lived side-by-side with Baghdadi Jews, and wealthy families rubbed shoulders with working class families. The book weaves a vibrant mosaic of the memories and anecdotes of dozens of former Letchworth residents and visitors.
Writer, broadcaster and public speaker Yanky Fachler, MA, was born and raised in Letchworth. He is the founder/chair of the Jewish Historical Society of Ireland, and has delivered history talks around the world. During the 2020–2022 covid pandemic, Yanky delivered over 200 zoom talks to international audiences.
March 15th, 244 pages, 39 b/w illus
Paperback: 978 1 80371 032 7 £17.95
Ebook: 978 1 80371 033 4 £50.00
Published by Vallentine Mitchell Publishers
Jewish Participation in the Fire Service in the Second World War
Updated and new in paper
Here for the first time is the account of the essential part played by Jewish personnel in the Fire Service in the Second World War.
Ever civic minded, Jews from all social backgrounds were pre-war volunteers to be trained for dealing with the expected mass bombing of cities by the Germans. After war was declared, by 1940–1 many younger Jewish men and women volunteered or were called up to the armed services, whilst many who were too old or unfit for the military stayed on with the Fire Service.
This considerable number of Jewish firemen and women played a major role in the civil defence of Britain. Some won bravery awards, including the only George Cross – the highest civilian award for courage – won by a London Fireman during the war. Many gave their lives; this is their story.
The author has captured part of this extraordinary contribution of daring, effort and suffering through the use of archival material, books and personal ‘Last Voice’ interviews, while numerous, never-before-published, photographs illustrate and illuminate the text.
April 2023 448 pages, 282 b/w illus
Paperback: 978 1 803710 31 0 £25.00
Ebook: 978 1 910383 08 7 £35.00
Some praise for the hardback edition:
This book is a fitting tribute to one section of the British population that volunteered in large numbers for the fire service … The Jewish firefighters suffered more than their share of casualties as well, and not only did they face the dangers from German bombs, but they faced anti-Semitic prejudice also.
Professor Richard Overy, University of Exeter
It is a great pleasure to read these compelling stories of the Jewish men and women of the Fire Brigade … Martin Sugarman’s research has been long and thorough, and the characters he mentions come alive in these pages.
Ron Dobson, London Fire Commissioner
The firefighters of the Second World War were marginalised and with the passage of time forgotten. The Jewish contribution to their remarkable persistence in standing up to Hitler has also been lost in the mists of time. This book by Martin Sugarman therefore reclaims them for the twenty-first century reader. It documents their bravery … They did not stand aside.
Professor Colin Shindler, SOAS, University of London