A Vanished Community‐The Jews of Blackburn
This is a history of the Jewish community of Blackburn, Lancashire, England. The community no longer exists. Where did it come from? Where did it go? Why did the community leave Blackburn? This article is based entirely on online sources of information. In particular, there was a fairly extensive review of newspaper accounts of the U.K. Jewish community found in the Jewish Chronicle. The Jewish Chronicle is a Jewish newspaper that was founded in 1841. It has been described as “the oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper in England". The other source of information is general Internet searching. Otherwise, the author had no access to whatever paper or other records might remain of the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation or the personal recollections of its members. As a result of these two limitations, this article should be viewed as a “first cut" at a more comprehensive history of the Jewish community of Blackburn. As Blackburn's Jewish community was never large, it is not surprising that there is, relatively speaking, a dearth of information readily available. Moreover, except in a few instances, this article does not attempt to relate the Blackburn Jewish community with Jewish communities in other centres such as Preston, Burnley, Bradford, Manchester or Leeds. The focus is on Blackburn. Lastly on a point of terminology, in this document, the term “Rabbi" is often used in place ofthe term “Reverend" or “minister".
2.0 Why an Article on a Vanished Community?
It is reasonable to ask why anyone would write an article about the history of a community which no longer exists, at least not any significant extent, in Blackburn, England. Does anyone care? There are several reasons for this article. First, to the best of the knowledge of the author, the history of the Jewish people of Blackburn has not been reduced to writing since the mid‐1970s when Edmund Conway M.A. authored a paper entitled "Blackburn". This paper was one of several, on Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain, read at a conference at University College, London in July 1975. Unlike the Conway paper, however, this one is not restricted to the Victorian era. Second, the memory of the Jewish people in Blackburn ought not to be forgotten. They were an integral, although small, part of the Blackburn population for over 50 years. Third, there may be a number of residents of Blackburn with Jewish ancestors. Perhaps this article will inspire them to seek out their roots. In that way, more details of Blackburn's Jewish history may come to light.
3.0 What Is Judaism?
No one, and certainly not this author, is able to summarize Judaism in a few paragraphs! That said, it might be helpful to include a brief note about Judaism. A feature of Judaism is "ethical monotheism". There is only one God. Like other religions, there are a number of different groups within Judaism. Examples are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform or Liberal. As with other religions, a central tenet of Judaism is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Leviticus 19:18 and 34; Deuteronomy 10:18‐19) In that regard, it may be helpful to tell a story about a Jewish sage, Hillel. Hillel lived over 2000 years ago. One day, Hillel encountered a person wanting to be converted to Judaism. The would‐be convert asked Hillel to define Judaism's essence while he, the potential convert, stood on one foot! Undeterred by the insolent nature of the request, Hillel replied "That which is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbour. The rest is commentary. Now go and study."
4.0 Growth and Decline of the Community in Blackburn
This portion of the history depends in part on the work of Edmund Conway. This section has been subdivided into four topical areas: Where did members of the Blackburn community originate? Where in Blackburn did the community live? In which professions or trades did the Jewish community participate? Why did the Jewish community leave Blackburn?
4.1 Origins of the Jewish population in Blackburn
Where did the Jewish population of Blackburn come from? Although the answer to this question may be debatable, there is evidence that in the late 19th century there was some movement of the Jewish people from Manchester, and to a lesser extent from London, to Blackburn. Needless to say, the primary motivation for such a move was likely economic in nature. In other words, for some people, the economic prospects for one's family and friends were better in Blackburn than elsewhere in England. Some of the families may have moved to Blackburn because, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a sentiment in favour of encouraging some Jewish families to leave London or Manchester for other centres in England. Overall, the attempt to disperse some of the Jewish people outside the main centres in England did not succeed. Jewish families did, however, resettle in Blackburn, Stroud and Reading. In addition, although it may seem trite, the extensive British railway system made travel relatively easy. As early as 1846, there was a station on the current site in Blackburn. Blackburn was an accessible destination. The growth of the Jewish community in Blackburn commenced in the 1880s and, by 1893, Blackburn had its own synagogue.
4.2 Where, in Blackburn, did the Jewish community reside?
According to Edmund Conway, most of the Jewish community lived in an area bounded by Preston New Road to the north, Northgate on the East, Saunders Road on the west and King Street and Bank Top to the south. Several of the rabbis, who served the Blackburn Jewish community, lived on streets such as Adelaide Street (Rabbis Myerson, Newman and Matthews), Downham Street (Rabbi Devons), Victoria Street (Rabbi Opolion), and Freckleton Street (Rabbi Kraut). Other streets on which Jewish residents lived were: Granville Road, Montague Street, King Street, Leamington Road, Merlin Road, Strawberry Bank, Preston New Road, Parsonage Road, Lark Hill, Irving Place, Crompton Place and Wellington Street.
Several of the trades or occupations in which Jewish residents engaged were: tailoring, cabinetry, and shop owners. Doubtless, a number also worked in Blackburn's cotton mills as cotton weavers or otherwise.
4.4 Decline of the Jewish population of Blackburn
Although, in part, speculation by the author, residents likely left Blackburn because of poor or worsening employment opportunities caused by events such as the Great Depression of 1929‐1933 coupled with the decline of the cotton weaving business in the Blackburn area. As well, the British economy immediately following World War II was not strong. That may have been another motivator for individuals to seek employment and economic opportunity elsewhere. As of early 2002, it was believed that there were only two Jewish residents in Blackburn. At the date of the preparation of this article, that number is likely only one.
Snapshot Blackburn's Jewish Population over time
Immediately below is a table indicating Blackburn's Jewish population at a variety of dates from 1895 down to 1980. This data is consistent with the population information found in the Jewish Chronicle.
1949: 25 families
5.0 Community Relations with Blackburn
A review of a number of articles in the Jewish Chronicle, over a lengthy period of time, strongly suggests that the relationship between the Jewish community and the broader Blackburn community was very good.
Here are some examples demonstrative of this suggestion:
In 1899, the Blackburn Synagogue held a special service in aid of the Blackburn and East Lancashire Infirmary. The report of this event notes that a “fair sum" was collected and that the service was attended by a number of Christians including the mayor of Blackburn and other municipal authorities. Also, in 1899 in connection with the opening of the New Hebrew Congregation, a “handsome sum" was donated by Mrs. Shield of Darwen, a Christian friend.
At a service in 1901, attended by a number of dignitaries including the Mayor of Blackburn and a large number of Christians, the Rabbi's sermon commented upon the harmony between Christians and Jews in England. The Rabbi added that as Israelites, loyal to their faith and to the country in which they lived, he hoped that donations to hospitals in loving memory of Queen Victoria would be augmented. The service included the prayer for the Royal family together with a supplication for the mayor of Blackburn and the Corporation of Blackburn. In 1919, the Wesleyan Church Literary Guild of Blackburn extended an invitation to Rabbi Friedberg to give a lecture. The invitation was, of course, accepted. Perhaps the capstone illustration of the nature of the amicable relationship and cooperation between Blackburn's Jewish and non‐Jewish community is captured in a letter written by a woman in Blackburn in October 1937. The subject of the letter was obtaining time off work to attend Jewish religious services at certain times of the year.
She stated: “I have held several positions, and at each interview for an engagement have made it a practice to mention that certain days would be required for religious observance, and an amicable arrangement has always been come to."
The letter writer also observed that: "Sometimes, however, the boot is on the‐other foot. I was once employed by a gentleman who very much disliked any of his staff working on Sundays, whatever their creed. However, a very real emergency arose, and on two consecutive Sundays it was essential for one of us to “turn in." As I was the only Jewish employee, he asked me to oblige him, and I was most happy to do so." In June of 1938, in the face of the rising tide of Nazism in Germany, a British relief committee reported, inter alia, that it had received a touching letter from a Christian lady in Blackburn who contributed "half my widow's pension for this week" as a token of sympathy with the race from which "the Lord Jesus sprang".
The article also quotes Lord Rothschild:
“I myself have always felt the greatest pride at being English, and I am just as much an Englishman with all the duties that go with it as a Jew with all the duties that go with that. How many other countries are there in which the Jews are treated in exactly the same way as the Christians, where the police guard them and their property, where they have equal rights and equal responsibilities…"
6.0 The Blackburn Hebrew Congregation
Until 1893, although there were some Jewish people in Blackburn, there was no synagogue. The first synagogue opened in 1893 and closed in about 1976. An early supporter of a synagogue for Blackburn was Mr. William Aronsberg of Manchester. The nature of Mr. Aronsberg's connection to Blackburn is not clear. He may have been a Blackburn resident at some point during his life. In 1874, Mr. Aronsberg supplied a collection of scientific and optical equipment for the Blackburn exhibition, including equipment for making lenses. Also in 1874, Mr. Aronsberg gave a collection of coins and some relics from Jerusalem to the Blackburn Museum. Further, in that year, he gave away a large quantity of spectacles to the poor people of Blackburn. In 1877, William Aronsberg was appointed as the first Jewish magistrate in Manchester. In March of 1893, there was a proposal to build a synagogue Blackburn to accommodate the religious needs of about 20 Jewish families and living in Blackburn. They found it too difficult to travel about 25 miles to the nearest synagogue in Manchester. The proposal was actively supported by William Aronsberg. The office of the chief Rabbi responded affirmatively to this request. Early in September of 1893, the new synagogue was consecrated by the Rev. Dr. B. Salomon of Manchester. The new synagogue was located in some old technical schools in Blackburn on Paradise Lane. Rabbi Gallant appears to have been the first resident Rabbi in Blackburn. Another founding member was Mr. Israel Aaron. He had been the treasurer of the synagogue. Other early members and officers of the congregation in 1894 were: Israel Aaron, Samuel Sax, Charles Barnett and Harris Shonberg. In 1897, the Jubilee of Queen Victoria celebrated. That year too the synagogue debt was eliminated because of donations received from Lord Rothschild and others, such as Sir Samuel Montagu. In 1898, the synagogue reopened following redecoration. The ceremony was attended by several Blackburn town councilors as well as the number of prominent Christian residents of Blackburn.
First Secessionist Group ‐1899.
This leads us to the year 1899 ‐ the year when a secessionist group broke away from the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation to found its own synagogue. Although the details of the secession are unclear, this was clearly an extremely unusual event in the life of the Blackburn Jewish community. Members of two families became involved in a physical altercation resulting in the issuance of 12 police court summons for assault. By virtue of the fortunate intervention of a prominent member of the Blackburn Jewish community, all 12 cases were settled amicably about April 21, 1899. A new and independent congregation emerged in May 1899 and was known as the Blackburn Hebrew Society or Blackburn New Hebrew Congregation. The address of the new synagogue is uncertain but may have been Simmons Street. Although the seeds of secession had been sewn and germinated, by November 1899, there was a sign of some reconciliation when members of both congregations met at the new synagogue to hear a talk on Zionism. Not too long after that talk on Zionism, the two synagogues re‐united in June of 1900. They had been separated by only a little more than a year. Rabbi A. Newman preached a sermon regarding the reconciliation. The reunited synagogue had more than 60 members in 1900.
Second Secession: 1904‐1907
No sooner did the two congregations come together as one when there was yet another division! In 1904, a dissident group combined to create the Freckleton Street Synagogue in Blackburn. Rabbi A. Light was the resident Rabbi of that synagogue. Rabbi M. Glasser served the congregation at least during 1905. The Freckleton street synagogue endured little longer than the earlier breakaway group known as the Blackburn Hebrew Society. Ultimately in October of 1907, the two synagogues amalgamated and continued as the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation. The reasons for the emergence of the second breakaway group are unknown.
After 1907, all was calm and there were no more attempts to form an independent Jewish congregation in Blackburn. In the summer and fall 1912, the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation synagogue located on Paradise Lane was updated and renovated. In 1919, the next major step was the removal of the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation from Paradise Lane to 19 Clayton Street. Below is a photograph of the Clayton Street synagogue although, at the time of the photograph, and to put it mildly, the premises were in a rather dilapidated state. Photograph from Blackburn Library's collection (J91).
In 1933, the Clayton Street synagogue was renovated and modernized. Writing for the Jewish Chronicle in June 1935, the author of an article quoted the acting president of the synagogue in the following language: “The President himself will frankly admit that with the passing of the years the Synagogue building declined into a state of which self‐respecting members were ashamed, and then in 1933 (with some moral support, I think, from Bolton) the whole place was renovated." By 1949, there were about 25 Jewish families in Blackburn. Judging from an article in the Jewish Chronicle, it seems that there was no full‐time Rabbi in Blackburn in 1949. Indeed, a Jewish Chronicle article entitled "Problems of Small Communities" discusses the difficulties encountered by small Jewish communities in the Manchester area. As of July 1951, there was one Rabbi serving Blackburn, Barrow and Preston. He was Rabbi V. Sussman. In July 1961, the Blackburn synagogue president, Mr. Joseph Rosenberg, reported that the number of Jewish families had dwindled to 10 whereas, in 1920, there were more than 50 Jewish families in Blackburn.
Mr. Rosenberg's background is of some interest. He died in Blackburn at age 81 in 1966. Although born in Manchester, he lived in Blackburn since boyhood. He served four years in the British Army during World War I and, during World War II, was involved with the welfare of Jewish members of the military stationed in the Blackburn area. In July 1968, there was a celebration of the 20th year of independence of the State of Israel at the Blackburn synagogue. The officiant was Mr. Alan Vale. One of the speakers was Mr. Felix Rossano, a student at the Blackburn College of Technology and Design and veteran of the Israeli Defense Force during
the Six‐Day War in 1967. In 1977, the Blackburn synagogue was sold for demolition. Mr. Ernest David, the secretary of the tiny Blackburn community, stated that the Blackburn Jewish community numbered only six families.
7.0 The Rabbis Who Served Jewish Congregations in Blackburn
Below is a list of a number of the rabbis (or ministers) who served the Blackburn Jewish congregation beginning with the consecration of the Blackburn Hebrew synagogue in 1893. The list does not purport to be complete. For example, some of the rabbis listed may have been visiting the Blackburn synagogue for only a short time period. As the size of the Jewish community in Blackburn diminished, especially after
World War II, it was increasingly difficult to obtain information about ministers who worked in Blackburn after the Second World War. There are two lists below. The first, much longer, concerns the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation. The second lists rabbis or ministers who were with one or other of the two breakaway congregations, each of which reunited, in due course, with the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation.
Blackburn Hebrew Congregation
Rabbi Gallant: about 1893‐1894
Rabbi L. Muscat about 1895
Rabbi Harris Cohen: about 1896
Rabbi S. Chessen: about 1897
Rabbi A. Newman: 1898‐1904
Rabbi Newman served the Blackburn congregation for about six years. During his tenure, he wrote number of letters to the editor of the Jewish Chronicle on a variety of subjects. In September of 1903, Rabbi Newman preached a sermon in which he cautioned members of the congregation in the following language: "Jews ought to be very careful as to their conduct, for being the cynosure of the world, their actions were closely watched and criticised. Satans were not lacking who were bent on fishing in troubled waters, and distorted the truth to suit their wicked designs." Later, Rabbi Newman left Blackburn and moved to Leicester.
Rabbi Eliezer H. Matthews: 1904‐1909
Rabbi Matthews was with the Blackburn congregation for five years until 1909 when he departed for South Africa. It appears that Rabbi Matthews left Blackburn for South Africa following the death of his wife in 1908 or 1909. Eliezer Matthews died in South Africa in about the year 1929. A news report about Rabbi Matthews' 1909 farewell service reads in part as follows: “In an address, he dwelt upon the happy relationship which had always existed between the members of the Congregation and himself and thanked the members of the community for the many acts of kindness they had shown to his wife and himself. He hoped that the many he would leave behind him would not deny him the pleasure of hearing good tidings respecting the welfare of the local community."
Rabbi D. L. Devons: 1909:
Here is a brief biographical sketch of Rabbi Devons: He received his early education in Russia and came to England in 1902 when he was elected Minister at York. In 1909, Rabbi Devons, at roughly age 28, became the minister at Blackburn and, in 1911, left Blackburn for Bangor where he planned to attend university. His uncle was Rabbi Daiches of Leeds.
Rabbi M. D. Hershman: 1911
Rabbi Hershman was elected in 1911. Otherwise, there is virtually no information about him.
Rabbi A. Kraut: 1912-1919
Rabbi Kraut was elected in 1912 and appears to have served the Blackburn congregation throughout the duration of World War I although he may not have lived in Blackburn throughout all of World War I. Rabbi Kraut was in Blackburn until at least 1916. By 1919 he had become the minister at Newcastle on Tyne.
Rabbi S. Friedberg: ‐1921
In 1921, Rabbi Solomon Friedberg left the Blackburn for the United Synagogue in Manchester. His start date is uncertain but, obviously, was sometime after the departure of Rabbi Kraut.
Rabbi A. Opolion: 1922‐1929
Rabbi Opolion was elected in late 1921 or early 1922. Before his appointment to Blackburn, he was the minister at Tonypandy and for five years, at Leicester. He was active in Blackburn until late 1929. His eldest son had his Bar Mitzvah in Blackburn in 1927.
Rabbi M. M. Myerson: Dates uncertain
Rabbi Myerson died in 1926 at age 52. At the time of his death, he was affiliated with the Birkenhead congregation. Otherwise, the details of his role in Blackburn are not known other than he and his family may have lived in Blackburn in 1914. Rabbi Myerson was a native of Poland.
Rabbi J. Kahan: about 1934‐1935
In 1937, at age 28, Rabbi Kahan became the minister of the Canning Town Synagogue in London. Before that he was the minister at the Bolton Hebrew congregation as well as a visiting member to the Blackburn Hebrew congregation. His early education was in the Manchester area followed by rabbinic studies at the Manchester Talmudical College and a Jewish institution (called a yeshiva) in Lithuania.
Rabbi D. Slotki: about 1941
Rabbi Dr. Theodor Weisz: 1941-1943
During World War II, Rabbi Weisz was a German Rabbi in British exile. Near the end of 1938, he was twice incarcerated in German concentration camps but was released when he obtained a permit to enter England. As an "enemy alien" in England, Rabbi Weisz was interned for some time at a camp on the Isle of Man and likely released in 1940 or 1941. Rabbi Theodor Weisz was inducted into service at Blackburn at the 19 Clayton Street synagogue in 1941. He was 33 years of age. Rabbi Weisz preached his final sermon at Blackburn in June 1943 as he had been recently appointed to the Higher Rabbinical College in Gateshead (near Newcastle on Tyne).
Rabbi Armin Wachsmann: 1945-1946
Rabbi Wachsmann left the Blackburn for a congregation in Torquay and Paignton in early 1946. He appears to started in Blackburn some time in 1945. Little information is readily available about Rabbi Wachsmann other than that he had a sister, Elizabeth Wachsmann, who had been a prisoner at the Belsen concentration camp. Belsen, or Bergen‐Belsen, was liberated by British and Canadian troops on April 15, 1945. The child diarist, Anne Frank, died in Belsen.
Rabbi Ezekiel Freilich: late 1940s?
Rabbi Freilich died in Bolton in the spring of 1950. He provided his services to the congregations in Preston and Blackburn.
Rabbi Emanuel Susman: about 1950‐1951
Rabbi Susman served the Jewish congregations in Preston, Blackburn and Barrow. Before the joint appointment, he was with the Portsmouth synagogue.
Rabbi Alex. Brown: about 1947‐early 1950s
Rabbi Brown joined the Blackpool congregation in 1947. In addition to his duties in Blackpool, Rabbi Brown also paid weekly visits, for a few years, to the small Jewish communities in Preston, Barrow and Blackburn.
We turn now to the two congregations which broke away and later rejoined the Blackburn Hebrew Congregation.
Blackburn Secessionist Congregations
As noted in the review of the various Jewish congregations in Blackburn, there were two breakaway groups. The first was in 1899 and lasted about a year. The second was in 1904 and persisted for two or perhaps three years. The names listed below are for the rabbis who served the breakaway groups:
Rabbi G. Saks: 1899
Rabbi Saks was elected Minister of the congregation, formed in 1899, for a period of one year beginning 1899. The name of that congregation was the "Blackburn New Hebrew Congregation".
Rabbi A. Light: about 1904
Rabbi Light was the spiritual leader of the other congregation known as the Freckleton Street Synagogue. As noted elsewhere, that group existed for only a few years. In 1905, Rabbi Light was succeeded by Rabbi M. Glasser in a position with the Freckleton Street Synagogue.
8.0 Blackburn Jewish Cemetery
A Jewish cemetery is where members of the Jewish faith are buried in accordance with Jewish tradition. An early priority for any new Jewish community is to establish and consecrate a cemetery. There is a Jewish cemetery in Blackburn. It is located at 313 Whalley New Road. The Jewish cemetery is a part of the Blackburn Old Cemetery. If one looks at the cemetery layout, the Jewish cemetery is located at the upper right‐hand corner at section J. The Jewish Chronicle of 17 January 1896 reported as follows concerning a Jewish cemetery in Blackburn: "The President informed the Committee that negotiations are pending with regard to a burial ground, and that there seems to be every prospect of an early settlement of this all‐important question." Roughly four years later, in January 1900, the burial ground was consecrated in a service conducted by Rabbi A. Newman. The land for the cemetery was granted to the Blackburn Jewish community by the Corporation of the Town of Blackburn. As the Jewish population of Blackburn diminished over the years, the cemetery was more and more infrequently used. One of the last burials in the cemetery was in about 1977. By 1997, the cemetery was described as “derelict, vandalized, and in need of repair" and “looking like a bomb site". Fortunately, the cemetery was restored and rededicated in 1997 through the untiring efforts of one of the two remaining Jewish residents of Blackburn in about 1996‐1997. Two 1997 articles in the Jewish Chronicle, pertaining to the cemetery, also give a thumbnail sketch of the history of Blackburn's Jewish community. The Jewish Chronicle of 14 March 1997, at page 25, reported as follows: “There was a flourishing community in Blackburn in the late 19th century. The first synagogue was opened in 1893 and the cemetery consecrated in 1900. A larger synagogue was opened in 1919, and it remained in use until the 1970s. The community, which depended mainly on the furniture and textile trades for its livelihood, grew to 300 or so and boasted a cheder, a Zionist society, a workingmen's club, and burial and sickness societies. After the Second World War, the community declined rapidly and had shrunk to 45 people by 1950. By 1980, there were only six Jews known to be living in the town." (A“cheder" is a school for Jewish children teaching Hebrew and religious knowledge.) Albeit with some repetition, the Jewish Chronicle of 11 April 1997 at page 29 recounted that: “Blackburn's Jewish community was established in late Victorian times. At its peak, there were over 250 members of the community, relying mostly on the furniture and textile trades for their livelihood. The first synagogue was opened in 1893, and the cemetery was consecrated in 1900, on land given to the community a year earlier. A larger synagogue was opened in 1919, and it remained in use until the 1970s. The last marriage solemnized there was in 1943."
9.0 Wars and the Blackburn Jewish Community
Members of the Jewish faith have served in the British military for many years. Below, the involvement of members of the Jewish community of Blackburn in the Boer war, World War I and World War II is examined.
9.1 Boer War
In view of the small Jewish population in Blackburn in 1899, one would not expect to find that many Jewish people from Blackburn served in the military. Research, however, discloses that Private I.J. Lewis of Blackburn rejoined the first Battalion Welsh Regiment and left England for South Africa. Private Lewis was to serve in the area of communications for which work he had some experience from the Indian Frontier. Moreover, a 1902 issue of the Jewish Chronicle stated that Mr. Jacob Cohen had left South Africa to live in Blackburn. The article states that Mr. Cohen was in the siege of Kimberley and had come to England for health reasons. Lastly, Sergeant Joseph Herberts, discussed below, of Blackburn was a Boer war veteran who died in World War I. He assisted the British forces in South Africa as a scout during the Boer war
9.2 World War I
It was reported that 99% of the “Jewish boys" in Blackburn, who were born in the United Kingdom, were “in khaki" (viz., in the military) in World War I‐a record for any town in the United Kingdom. The following is merely a smattering of information concerning Blackburn Jewish losses during World War I. Even today, a hundred years later, it is difficult to read some of the accounts.
We begin with an article about the German army published in the Jewish Chronicle in November 1914: Considering that World War I began in late July 1914, it is perhaps understandable that this article would have been published in November of that year. According to the article, members of the Jewish population in Germany were compiling information on their role in the German Army. The hope was that demonstration of the bravery of German Jewish soldiers in the field would lead to their being appointed officers of the German Army. If nothing else, the article demonstrates the loyalty of the German Jewish community to the country of their residence ‐ Germany‐ at the time of World War I. Apparently, about 100,000 Jews served in the German Army during World War I. Of this group, it is reported that 12,000 were killed in action.
1915: Two prominent members of the Blackburn Hebrew congregation resigned their positions with the congregation as they were about to enlist in Her Majesty's forces. One was the auditor of the congregation; the other, the secretary. They also resigned from the Blackburn Jewish Benevolent Society.
1916: In 1916, a Jewish soldier from Leeds was "an inmate" of the Queen Mary Military Hospital, Whalley, Blackburn. The soldier was Private A. Myers of the Cameron Highlanders. Here is his description of donating blood to a wounded officer. "We were just coming back when I and an officer were buried by a shell from our own batteries. We were dug out and sent to hospital. The poor officer had his legs shot off and was dying from loss of blood. The doctors tried to get someone who would give his blood, but could not get anyone, so I offered to give the officer mine. I gave two pints of my blood and saved his life. I will never forget the sensation when he called me a hero. It has left me very weak, but they are giving me the best of attendance at this hospital, and they think an awful lot of me. They are giving me a special leave when I get well again to go to my parents in Leeds."
There was at least one death of a Blackburn Jewish soldier in 1916‐Private David Gordon. Private David Gordon of Blackburn died in France on 12 November 1916. He enlisted at the outbreak to the war at age 17 and had been in France for 18 months. His father, Simon Gordon,was a past president of the Blackburn Hebrew congregation.
1917: By June of 1917, five Jewish soldiers from Blackburn had fallen. One of the soldiers was Private Harry Fineberg of 56 Montague Street. He was a member of the East Lancashire Regiment and served his country in both Egypt and France. Private Fineberg's Sergeant stated: "He was a good soldier, in the trenches and out, and will be sadly missed by his chums, by whom he was well liked. He died bravely, for when he was carried through the trench he was smiling and wishing his pals the very best of luck. Everything was done for him before he left for the hospital." Another soldier, killed in action in 1917, was Sergeant Joseph Herberts of 25 William Henry Street in Blackburn. He was a member of the Machine Gun Corps and died in Mesopotamia. An upholsterer by trade, he left a widow and three children.
1919: After World War I, Private Gordon's father died, at age 55, in about December of 1919. According to his obituary, two of his sons served in the military. As noted above, one died. The other was severely wounded.
9.3 British Union of Fascists
In the period between the two world wars (1918‐1939), there was a British Union of Fascists (B.U.F.) headed by Sir Oswald Mosley. The organization was disbanded in 1940 following the start of World War II. There was a natural concern that its members might be German spies. The anthem of the British Union of Fascists was in English but set to the music of the Horst Wessel song. Horst Wessel was the author of the German language lyrics of the song and a member of the Nazi party in Germany until his murder in 1930. The British Union of Fascists had an active branch in Blackburn. In 1935, Sir Oswald Mosley addressed a large crowd in Blackburn (reportedly 3000 people) but the meeting ended uproar following certain questions posed to Sir Oswald. In a November 1936 letter, a member of the Blackburn Jewish community described the British Union of Fascists in Blackburn in the following terms. “There is a Fascist group here, which is a branch of the B.U.F., which holds meetings on the market‐place. The branch has existed in Blackburn for eighteen months and has now a small suite of offices in Great Bolton Street. At week‐ends, I have counted eighteen or twenty uniformed Fascists selling their newspapers and holding boards on which are hand‐painted posters containing insulting references to Jews and attacks on chain‐stores. The Jewish Community in Blackburn is very small, but nevertheless the Fascists are trying to raise public feeling against our people. They make a practice of strutting about the market and trying to cause ill‐feeling between the Jewish traders who visit the market from other towns and the Gentile traders."
9.4 World War II
Presumably because of the decline of the Jewish population in Blackburn during the 1930s and considering also that the population was never large in any event, there is not a lot of information concerning the Jewish community of Blackburn and the Second World War (1939‐1945). According to a 1943 press report, about 11% of the Jewish population was serving in His Majesty's forces whereas the comparable figure for the non‐Jewish British population at large was 10%. From this, and if nothing else, it can be concluded that the Jewish population of the United Kingdom was at least as active in the British military as the non‐Jewish population. Despite the want of information, there are few points of data worthy of mention.First, it was reported in 1942 that Driver A. Abel of Mosley Street in Blackburn was missing in action. He was a member of the Royal Army Service Corps. Second, during the Second World War, the family of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert lived in Blackburn. They kept an open house for Jewish serviceman stationed in Blackburn.
The term Holocaust is well known. It refers to the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. At least one Holocaust survivor, if not more, resided in Blackburn. In the discussion of the various rabbis who served the Blackburn congregation, mention is made of Armin Wachsmann. In December of 1945, he was joined by his sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth Wachsmann was a former inmate of the Bergen‐Belsen concentration camp. A news clipping concerning her remarks that she was "beaten by Irma Greese and is now living in Blackburn". The question is “Who is or was Irma Greese?" It appears that at the time of the publication of the article in 1945 most readers were expected to know the identity of "Irma Greese". A little research reveals that Irma Greese, also spelled Grese, was a prison guard at Auschwitz who was transferred to Bergen‐Belsen in about March of 1945. Bergen‐Belsen was liberated by British and Canadian troops in April 1945. The German commandant and others, including Irma Greese, were indicted by a British Military Court in June of 1945. There was a trial which concluded in late November of 1945. Greese and two other female guards were convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Irma Greese was executed on the morning of 13 December 1945. She was 22 years of age. Auschwitz inmates called her the "Hyena of Auschwitz".
The Holocaust has definitely not been forgotten or ignored in Blackburn. On January 26, 2003, a multifaith Holocaust memorial service was held in Blackburn on the steps of the Blackburn Town Hall and attended by the Mayor and Mayoress.
10.0 Notable Businessman: Arthur Hubert
While it is not the object of this article to laud the business activities of one person relative to the business successes of others, mention must be made of one individual of the Jewish faith: Arthur Hubert.
Arthur Hubert succeeded despite numerous, formidable obstacles. Arthur Hubert was born in 1904 and grew up in pre‐World War II Germany . In 1939, he and his family were refugees from Germany who settled in Blackburn. For some time before his departure from Germany, Mr. Hubert was imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp. After a few months, he was released after having had to sign his assets away to the German government. Soon thereafter on about September 2, 1939 ‐ the last possible moment ‐, the Hubert family escaped from Holland to England. As with a considerable number of other German Jews who had escaped Germany for England, Mr. Hubert was interned in England as an enemy alien. He was released in 1940 and went to work in Blackburn as a night watchman and factory worker at a slipper factory. In 1944, he returned to his former trade of dealing in scrap metal. A number of years later, he became the chairman of Tom Martin & Co (Blackburn) Limited. The Tom Martin firm was one of the largest firms of metal merchants in Britain. The company went public in 1964 and was sold to another corporation in 1976. Having witnessed the near destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War, Mr.Hubert made numerous generous contributions to a variety of Jewish organizations. In about 1987, he moved from England to Israel where he died in 1991. There is at least one, if not more, interesting side note about Mr. Hubert. The name Hubert derived from a French Huguenot, an ancestor of Mr. Hubert, who had converted to Judaism in 1670. The Huguenots were French Protestants who left France in the 1600‐1700s for countries such as England and Germany, among others. A Note on British World War II Internment Camps for Aliens Both Arthur Hubert and Rabbi Theodor Weiscz were German citizens. Both were temporarily interned in England in the early 1940s as they were “enemy aliens". In the early days of World War II, the British government interned about 30,000 refugees from Germany and Austria as enemy aliens. Some number of that group, such as Hubert and Weicsz were Jewish. At the time, the UK was threatened with invasion by the German military. Thus, internment seemed a reasonable precaution. Of course, many like Hubert and Weiscz had suffered Nazi persecution in concentration camps in Germany. Although “enemy aliens", their sympathies lay not with their homeland but rather with England.
11.0 Two Mysteries
Before concluding this article, there are two unsolved mysteries concerning the Blackburn Jewish community.
11.1 Missing Boy
There is a sad story in the Jewish Chronicle of April 3, 1914 at page 32. The headline reads "A Lost Boy". The article is accompanied by a photograph of Joseph Myerson. His father was Morris Myerson of Adelaide Street in Blackburn. Joseph Myerson might have been the son of a Blackburn Rabbi, Rabbi M. Myerson. The text of the article reads in part: " Above is a photograph, taken three years ago, of Joseph Myerson, son of Mr. M. Myerson, of 47, Adelaide Street, Blackburn, who has been missing since last September, and‐whose whereabouts have not been discovered notwithstanding every enquiry. The lad is 16 years of age, about 5‐ft. 3‐in. in height, and of ruddy complexion. Any information that will lead to the discovery of the boy will be thankfully received by his parents at the above address." The Myersons had two sons. There was a younger son, Alec, born about 1905. Alec, the brother, had his Bar Mitzvah in Blackburn on 14 August 1918. Rabbi Myerson went on to become the Minister of the Birkenhead congregation; he died in 1926 at age 52. According to his obituary, Rabbi Myerson was survived by his widow, a son and daughters. Clearly, Joseph Myerson was still missing in 1926. What happened to Joseph Myerson? One can only speculate. His disappearance occurred a few months before the onset of World War I. Perhaps, he enlisted in the British Army and died on the Continent. Perhaps, he left England and moved to North America. Anyone with knowledge of Joseph Myerson should get in touch with the Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society.
11.2 Missing BBC Program
Here is the second mystery.
An article at page 37 of the 2 November 1962 issue of the Jewish Chronicle states " Mrs. Evelyn Rose will be broadcasting on the BBC in the North Countryman next Thursday on Jewish life in Blackburn 60 years ago." November 2, 1962 was a Friday. The broadcast was scheduled to be given on Thursday, 8 November 1962. This broadcast is important because of its relative contemporaneity to Blackburn in 1902. Mrs. Rose was writing about events which occurred 60 years before her broadcast in 1962. With the elapse of time, this article is written roughly 115 years after the events. Inquiries seeking either a copy of the program or a transcript have not been successful. It would be fascinating to find this program because of the light which it might shed on Blackburn's Jewish community as of about 1902. Evelyn Rose died on 18 May 2003 at age 77. For nearly 40 years, beginning in 1963, she was the weekly cookery writer for the Jewish Chronicle. She never missed an issue! Anyone who has access to the lost BBC program, from a November 1962, should get in touch with the Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society.
This concludes this story of the Jewish community of Blackburn, Lancashire, England. Any errors or omissions are entirely the fault of the author; such are not attributable to anyone else. It is hoped that this article might spur another to embark upon a more ambitious and comprehensive research into the Blackburn Jewish community. Further, it may be that some current residents of Blackburn have Jewish antecedents. Perhaps, the article might encourage current residents of Blackburn to look into their personal genealogy.
Without access to the archives of the Jewish Chronicle, this article could not have been written. The archives begin in 1841. They are word searchable in Portable Document Format. (PDF). Although obviously intended for the Jewish population of the United Kingdom, the archives of the Jewish Chronicle provide fascinating insights into world history all the way back to the date of the first publication. The website for the Jewish Chronicle is at: https://www.thejc.com
For anyone interested in the archives of the Jewish Chronicle, please see:
Jewish Chronicle Archive
Registration is a precondition to access the archives; however, there is no charge.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 15 November 2017
The following book by Hilary Thomas entitled:
"From Poland to Paradise Lane and other journeys: A History of the Blackburn Jewish Community"
was published in June 2018. Copies are available to consult in Blackburn and Darwen Library.
Edmund Conway's paper can be found here: Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain
More information from Jewish Communities & Records - UK: The Former Blackburn Jewish Community & Hebrew Congregation
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