Flora Solomon

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Flora Solomon, OBE (28 September 1895 – 1984) was born Flora Benenson in Pinsk, Imperial Russia, in 1895. She was known as an influential Zionist.[1] She was the first woman hired to improve working conditions at Marks & Spencer in London.[2] She was the mother of Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International.

Personal life[edit]

Solomon was born in Pinsk, in what is now Belarus. She was a daughter of the Jewish Russian gold tycoon Grigori Benenson, related to the Rothschild family. She was married to Harold Solomon, a member of a London stockbroking family and a career soldier who was a brigadier-general in the First World War. She had one child, Peter Benenson, who would become the founder of Amnesty International.[3]

She was widowed in 1931 and raised Peter on her own. In the 1930s, prior to World War II, she helped find homes for refugee children who fled to London from continental Europe.[3] During World War II she organized food distribution for the British government and was awarded the OBE for her work, which had a profound impact on later government policy in the UK in relation to health care and the welfare state.

She founded Blackmore Press, a British printing house. Her life was described in her autobiography A Woman's Way, written in collaboration with Barnet Litvinoff and published in 1984 by Simon & Schuster.

Marks and Spencer[edit]

Solomon is also remembered for improving employee conditions at Marks & Spencer stores in the UK,[4] which had a profound impact on later government policy in the UK in relation to health care and the welfare state.

In 1939, over dinner with Simon Marks, the son of a founder of Marks & Spencer, she complained to him about the company's salary policies. She learned that staff often did not eat lunch there because they could not afford it. She said to Marks, "It's firms like Marks & Spencer that give Jews a bad name". Marks immediately gave Solomon the job of looking after staff welfare.[5] In her new position, she "pioneered the development of the staff welfare system" (including subsidized medical services). These practices directly influenced the Labour concept of the welfare state and the creation of the British National Health Service in 1948. As a result, Marks & Spencer acquired the reputation of the "working man’s paradise".[6]

Kim Philby[edit]

Solomon was a long-time friend of British intelligence officer Kim Philby. She introduced him to his second wife Aileen. Whilst working in Spain as the Times correspondent on Franco's side of the Civil War, Philby proposed that she become a Soviet agent. His friend from Cambridge Guy Burgess was simultaneously trying to recruit her into MI6. But the Soviet resident in Paris, Ozolin-Haskin (code-name Pierre) rejected this as a provocation. Had both moves succeeded she would have become a double agent.[7]

In 1962 when Philby was the correspondent of the London Observer in Beirut, she objected to the anti-Israeli tone of his articles. She related the details of the contact to Victor (later Lord) Rothschild, who had worked for MI5. A Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn had already told the CIA about Philby`s work for the KGB up to 1949. Nicholas Elliott, a former MI6 colleague of Philby`s in Beirut confronted him. Though Philby did not confess, a week later he boarded a Soviet freighter the Dolmatova bound for Odessa, en route to Moscow, never to return.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hopgood, Stephen (2006). Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International. Cornell University Press. pp. 272 pages. ISBN 0-8014-7251-2. 
  2. ^ Gall, Susan B. (1997). Women's Firsts. Gale Research. pp. 564 pages. ISBN 0-7876-0151-9. 
  3. ^ a b "Peter Benenson hero file". Heroes & killers of the 20th century. www.moreorless.au.com. 2005-03-11. 
  4. ^ Smith, Gerald Stanton (2000). D.S. Mirsky: A Russian-English Life, 1890-1939. Oxford University Press. pp. 424 pages. ISBN 0-19-816006-2. 
  5. ^ Seth, Andrew; Randall, Geoffrey (1999). The Grocers: The Rise and Rise of the Supermarket Chains. Kogan Page. pp. 331 pages. ISBN 0-7494-2191-6.  p. 120
  6. ^ Rogatchevski, Andrei (August 3, 2007). "Marks, Not Marx: The Case of Marks & Spencer". Cultural Studies Panel -- The East in the West: Imports into European Mass Culture. Berlin, Germany: ICCEES Regional European Congress. 
  7. ^ Borovik, Genrikh (1994). The Philby Files: The Secret Life of Master Spy Kim Philby. New York: Little Brown. pp. 382 pages. ISBN 0-316-10284-9. 
  8. ^ West, Nigel; Tsarev, Oleg (1999). The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives. Yale University Press. pp. 384 pages. ISBN 0-300-07806-4. 

Publications[edit]

  • Solomon, F. & Litvinoff, B. (1984). A Woman's Way. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-46002-1 (also titled Baku to Baker Street: The Memoirs of Flora Solomon)