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Solomon Lever "Uncle Solly"

Born:
1895
Died:
13 Tammuz 5719 (19 July 1959)

Basic Information

Unique reference:
LEV5871
Other surname:
Levetsky
Gender:
Male

Birth

Date of birth:
1895
Place of birth:
Narifka (or Narewka) near the town of Byelstok (Bialystok)
Date arrived in Britain:
1905

Death

Date of death:
13 Tammuz 5719 (19 July 1959)
Died in combat?:
No
Place of death:
London
Cause of death:
Heart disease or coronary thrombosis following abduction, with an inquest verdict of manslaughter by person or persons unknown.
Burial place:
London

Places

Addresses

49 Victoria Park Hackney, London

Other Organisations

Name:
London Jewish Bakers Union
Significance:
General Secretary for three decades, until his death in 1959.
Name:
Mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Hackney, 1951/2.
Significance:
He was the (or one of the very first) Jewish Mayors to be elected by councillor peers in Hackney Council.

Synagogues

Name:
Hackney Synagogue
 < Close personal journey map
Personal Journey map
Solomon Lever
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General Secretary of one of the smallest trades unions affiliated to the TUC, 1947

Family legend
The most wonderful sight in the Jewish Museum is the huge banner of the London Jewish Bakers Union in the main foyer. Uncle Solly ran the union for over half its history. I grew up knowing of his prominent role in political and community leadership through my father, Charles, who told me his memories of going to the cinema as a child with my Grandpa Manny and seeing Uncle Solly on the newsreels denouncing the re-armament of Germany from the Trades Union Congress podium. He had his plenary addresses at the TUC broadcast to the nation. Among the dusty tomes of the TUC annals in an Oxford University library, I uncovered four, magnificent speeches (1947 - 1958) on the resurgence of fascism after the war and recognition of the State of Israel. 2016 will mark 57 years since Solomon Lever’s death and this was also the diminished number of members the union had on its books by the start of the 1960s. Their general secretary's death in 1959 ‘almost certainly contributed to the eventual collapse of the union' by 1970 according to Larry Wayne's 'Union Bread' (2009). A newspaper article by Peter Whaley, entitled, ‘57 bakers throw in the sponge’, stated that ‘The trade union that just never stopped growing SMALLER and smaller is about to disappear altogether. It is the London Jewish Bakers Union, which has shrunk to only 57 ageing members since refugees from Czarist Russia set it up in the 1890s’. See http://www.unclesolly.co.uk

Mayor of Hackney, 1951

Family legend
Through work for the Mayor of London, I stumbled across the wonderful, mayoral portraits on the four corridors surrounding the old council chamber of Hackney Town Hall in Mare Street. The Jewish, black and Asian, and male and female, faces surely form the most diverse line up of mayors in the country. And there among them is Uncle Solly, captured in oils. Based on his 'Mayor's Parlour' correspondencefile accessed in Hackney Archives, I went on to unearth fascinating material in the Mayor's Parlour correspondence in Hackney Council's archives. Rather grand appeared his invitation to an art exhibition at ‘Windsor Castle’. The clue was in the speech marks, for this was Windsor Castle on the Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, E5, not the residency of King George and family! The north of England successfully beckoned the Mayor of Hackney to Leeds, for a Special Chanukah Neshef and Dinner held by the Leeds Poale Zion Workers Circle (Div 5). It helped to have some connections, as Mayor Lever had long-standing involvement in Poale Zion and The Workers Circle. Similarly, he was minded to attend the annual dinner and ball of the Jews’ Free School (JFS) Association at the Savoy Hotel in February 1952 – that he was recently discovered to have been an alumnus was highlighted in the invitation. Finally, one letter from the Mayor on file was to a certain Mr B Mee, Manager of Arsenal Football Club in April 1952. Being ‘an ardent supporter of the Arsenal since my school days’, he wondered if Mr Mee ‘could kindly spare a couple of tickets for the Mayoress and myself to see Arsenal play in the Cup Final at Wembley’. These were not “freebies” as a cheque of 10/6 was paid for each ticket upon receipt. See http://www.unclesolly.co.uk

Abduction and tragic death

Family legend
Solomon Lever’s phone rang early on the morning of Sunday July 19, 1959. The caller identified himself as a detective and told him thata fire had broken out next to an office he was responsible for (as acting general secretary of The Workers Circle Friendly Society). According to his caller, the building adjacent to the friendly society’s office in Sylvester Path, behind the Hackney Empire, was ablaze. According to the Jewish Chronicle, the bogus detectives said “a police car would be called to take him there to remove any money to a place of safety. Mr Lever dressed and waited. A detective called and Mr Lever went to the waiting car. After binding and gagging him and leaving him in the car the thieves went to the office using Mr Lever’s keys to enter the building. They robbed the safe which contained envelopes made out to individual members of the loan club, and left the premises only a few minutes before the policeman on the beat came along the street.”Two hours later, his body was found in Epping Forest. The cause of death was heart disease or coronary thrombosis. As reported by the Jewish Chronicle (21.08.59) Dr Alan Grant, pathologist, told the inquest that although it was: ‘a natural death... physical hurt, emotional disturbance or mental anguish would be the very worst possible thing having regard to the state of Mr Lever’s heart at the time.' The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter by person or persons unknown. No-one was ever charged. An estimated 2,000 people were at his funeral, including MPs, mayors and councillors and trades unionists. A famous reporter, George Gale (later editor of The Spectator) described Solomon Lever as ‘a man whom the limelight caught twice’ on page 4 of the Daily Express, referring back to Solomon’s famous speech against German rearmament in 1954 at the TUC. He concluded by saying that was ‘just one more death, one more act of lunacy – or panic, or greed. This time it was a good man, a quiet man, a man whose life was given to service’. Four years after his death, Lever Court – a block of 14 maisonettes built a stone’s throw from his old office in Hackney Town Hall – was named after him, with his widow Annie performing the naming ceremony. The fine, blue marble plaque remains in place after nearly 50 years. See http://www.unclesolly.co.uk

Family

Spouse

Annie Yelosky (female)
Place of marriage:
London, in 1920.
Country of marriage:
UK

Parents

Father: Nachman (Nathan) Lever (male)
Mother: Leah Levitsky (female)

Homefront

Occupation:
Solomon was not conscripted into active service but worked in aircraft manufacture.
Reserved occupation:
In common with many East End furniture makers, his skills were used by the Royal Flying Corps as wood was the basic material for aircraft of the time.
Member of family in armed forces:
His brother, Harris (Harry) we think served similarly; both were recorded in the 1911 Census along with their father, Nathan, as cabinet makers of bedroom suites.
What was the impact of this:
The youngest brother, Morris/Maurice, enlisted in the British Army in 1917. He lied about his age, being 16. He was posted to 42nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers, and later to 8th Labour Battalion on 22 May 1918. Their half-brothers - Hyman (Hymie), Emanuel (Manny) and Joseph (Joe) - served in British Army in the Second World War. Manny (my grandfather) was a Sergeant in the Royal Army Service Corps was mentioned in despatches twice and his great-great-nephew, Guy, has recently marched in the annual AJEX Remembrance Day Parade in Whitehall wearing these medals. Sergeant Hymie served in the Royal Army Service Corps Transport section, seeing service in North Africa, Norway and across Europe, while the youngest brother, Joseph Lever, served in India and Europe in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Military Record

Military service:
S Lavetsky enlisted as below for the duration of the war in the Royal Flying Corps.
Military record no.:
104,751 - a Rigger (Aero) as per the RAF Muster Roll
Date enlisted/conscripted:
16 May 1916
Rank at discharge/death:
When the RAF was formed from the combination of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, he was given the rank of Air Mechanic 3rd Class at a salary of 2 shillings a day.

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