Wednesday 8 February 2012

Neville Lawrence and Esther Brunstein

Here's my memory of meetings with Neville Lawrence and Esther Brunstein - which is an intro to an interview with Holocaust survivor Esther Brunstein in this week's Socialist Worker.

In the 1990s Esther was a strong supporter of the Anti Nazi League—one of the organisations that later launched Unite Against Fascism.

She campaigned to close down the headquarters of the British National Party headquarters in southeast London. She frequently spoke in schools, colleges and for trade unions, and at demonstrations.

Through all this Esther met Neville Lawrence, whose son Stephen Lawrence had been murdered by a racist gang. Michael Rosen remembers seeing them speak together:

'It doesn’t matter how often we say to each other that the struggles for freedom, justice and equality bring remarkable people to the fore—or indeed produce them. It is always a moving and uplifting moment to be in a room alongside such people.

From very different times and circumstances, Esther Brunstein and Neville Lawrence spoke together at meetings for the Anti Nazi League in the 1990s. I was lucky and proud to be there on several occasions.

They were both people who had felt the terror of persecution and murder at the hands of those who think that killing innocent people is a solution. You could see it on Esther and Neville’s faces, in the tone of their voices, and in the way they looked at the people listening.

Here were two witnesses of the abyss who, even in their strength and courage to resist, expressed a sense of sadness and bewilderment that human beings could be so cruel.

With Esther, we had a living link to events that mostly come to us through books, TV and film. She was presenting us with scenes of mass murder that had once stretched out in front of her, and we knew she was looking at us with the same eyes that had seen such things.

With Neville, I had the feeling that he was someone who had to fight with himself to face every day. And in the minutes he spoke to us there were perhaps a few moments of relief from the loss and grief of what had happened to his son.

The fact that they were witnesses, the fact that they had chosen to come to speak to people discussing and planning how to defeat the threat of racism would have been more than enough.

But in different ways they each wanted to look beyond the immediate circumstances of their own pain.

Esther pointed us at how the lie that fascists hadn’t tried to eliminate the Jews of Europe was one of the ways in which today’s fascists could present themselves as respectable.

Neville took us beyond the racism of Stephen Lawrence’s attackers to the racism in this country’s justice system that had given the murderers time to quite literally clean up.

In speaking like that, together, at the same meeting, Esther Brunstein and Neville Lawrence showed us the only force that can stop racism and fascism—unity across peoples, across cultures, across all the barriers that racists put up between us. '

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