The East End Years, A Stepney Childhood, by Fermin Rocker

The East End Years, A Stepney Childhood, by Fermin Rocker

The East End Years, A Stepney Childhood, by Fermin Rocker

Published by Freedom Press in 1998, 192 pages. Paperback (N3440)

Has a small publishers price sticker on the rear side cover.

Rudolf Rocker was a famous German anarchist who settled in Stepney Green, and who dedicated himself to the organisation of Jewish immigrant workers – his leadership of the 1912 garment workers strike swept away much of the Victorian culture of poor sweated labour. In this book his son tells a story every bit as remarkable as that of his father.....

It charts how the young Fermin grew up as the cockney son of East End immigrants, moved to New York with his parents as a boy and finally, as an elderly man, came back to settle in London in 1972. It is a fascinating memoir for the thousands of Eastern European and German Jews whose families made the exodus to England to escape the pogrums and Nazi persecution, and will delight anyone interested in the way Jewish immigrants shaped the rich culture of the East End.

We get to see a German immigrant family at home, with all the fun, parties, arguments and racial frictions that were part of normal life. We learn how the Cockneys of the district had little love for their Jewish neighbours, who in addition to being Jews, had the misfortune to be foreigners as well. We discover tje rivalries and fights between gangs of youths, of the constant stream of visitors to the family home from mainland Europe, often with vivid stories of religious or political persecution abroad. We find out about the squalor and misery of the East End, Nothing they had seen in other capitals equalled the squalor and misery that confronted them here, nor can I recall ever seeing such numbers of beggars, drunks and derelicts as roamed the streets in those days. The sight of the poor sot lying sprawled in the gutter, drunk to the point of insensibility, was so common as to elicit hardly more than a shrug.

Yet the main tone of the book is how much the young Rocker soon finds he has in common with his new compatriots, their humour and their strength during the Zeppelin raids of the First World War - a time of particular pain for Fermin, as it leads to his father’s internment and eventual expulsion from Britain.

One reviewer of the book wrote: This book will come as a relief to all those who have had enough of the dryness and soullessness of much professional history. It is full of life and atmosphere. Not simply history to be digested, it brings to life a political movement in its day-to-day activities.

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