(photo credit: Camera Press, London)
Manchester's Northumberland Street Synagogue was once a regional headquarters for Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, according to a University of Manchester historian.
The synagogue in the city's Salford area, an area heavily populated by haredi and modern Orthodox communities, was bought by Mosley in 1934. Today it is the Machzikei Hadass Synagogue, the mother synagogue of all hassidic communities in Greater Manchester.
Yaakov Wise was studying residential and street directories, media reports, Home Office records and MI5 files on the British Union of Fascists as part of his doctoral research into the history of the city's Jewish community when he made the discovery.
"It's an amazing paradox that this important Jewish institution was once a hotbed of anti-Semitic hatred," he said.
Wise said the fascist leader, who as a Conservative, Independent and Labor politician served in the House of Commons between 1918 and 1931, even considered moving his national headquarters to the Manchester site to cash in on growing support among unemployed cotton industry workers.
"With the rapid decline of the BUF in southern England after 1934, when Lord Rothermere and his Daily Mail group withdrew their support, the focus of fascist recruitment shifted to the Northwest," Wise said.
"For a time, Mosley seriously contemplated moving his national headquarters to Salford. The unemployment crisis in the cotton textile industry and political turmoil over Indian independence had persuaded him that the northwest would be fertile ground. This is despite the important contributions of immigrant communities to the cotton industry including the Flemish, Huguenots, Irish, Jews and, later, Asians," he continued.
Mosley resigned from the Labor Party in 1930 and set up the New Party in 1931, but after meeting Benito Mussolini he disbanded it and set up the British Union of Fascists in 1932.
Mosley published a manifesto for a fascist state, entitled "The Greater Britain," and by 1934 had 40,000 members. After Mosley appointed William Joyce as the party's full-time propaganda director, it became increasingly anti-Semitic and in 1934 this became official policy. The party distributed anti-Semitic propaganda, demonstrated in the Jewish areas in eastern London, and wore Nazi-style uniforms.
"By 1937, the BUF had been made illegal," Wise said. "Mosley disposed of his provincial centers and his organization retreated to London."
Mosley sold the site to a Jewish furniture wholesaler and later it was bought by Machzikei Hadass.
"After Mosley's sale of Northumberland Street, the furniture importer and wholesaler Abraham Jacob Pfeffer stepped in to buy the building in 1938," Wise said. "Pfeffer was a supporter of the Machzikei Hadass community, established in 1925, which eventually raised a nominal sum to buy it outright in 1939."
Wise told The Jerusalem Post the community had a large number of Holocaust survivors and they were "really quite pleased" to hear the synagogue was once home to a fascist organization
"Many thought it was ironic but most were amused and really quite pleased because it shows the fascists disintegrated and the survivors built a flourishing Jewish community on the same site," he said.
Wise is discuss his findings in June on a BBC Radio program on the history and politics of the Lancashire cotton industry.
The Manchester Jewish community is the second largest in the UK at some 35,000 people, and dates from the 1780s, when immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe first arrived.
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