Jeremy Corbyn and others pay tribute to Walter Wolfgang

Tribute to Walter Wolfgang. Image: David Lockett

JVL Introduction

We are very sad to report the death of Walter Wolfgang on 28 May at the age of 95. Walter made huge contributions to the Labour Party and to campaigns for justice and peace. He was an indefatigable campaigner prominently involved in Labour CND and a supporter of Stop the War. He was also a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and of Jewish Voice for Labour which he welcomed enthusiastically in a message to its launch at the Labour Party conference in 2017.

Below we report a long tribute by Jeremy Corbyn, followed by a series of shorter comments.

He always stood up for what he believed in, and he’ll be standing, in spirit, with protesters against Donald Trump

Walter Wolfgang at the 2005 Labour party conference
Walter Wolfgang at the 2005 Labour party conference the day after he was removed for heckling Jack Straw on his support for the British occupation of Iraq. Photograph: Dan Chung/The Guardian

Donald Trump flies into the UK next week, and we will be treated to the surreal spectacle of a widely reviled president meeting a defeated prime minister amid scenes of pomp, ceremony and protest.

For all the high-level meetings he will attend, the president would gain far more by staying home and learning about the life of my friend Walter Wolfgang, who died this week at the age of 95. A lifelong peace activist, he was preoccupied in his final days by Trump and his growing belligerence towards Iran.

Walter’s life story reads like a history of the last century. He was born to Jewish parents in Frankfurt in 1923, a year before the city elected its first Jewish mayor, Ludwig Landmann. But by 1937 he had to flee from the Nazis to Britain, a teenage refugee. Walter’s parents remained in Germany, only to lose everything when their business was confiscated. His father was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp. Although he was able to escape Germany for Britain with Walter’s mother in 1939, Buchenwald destroyed his health and caused his premature death in 1945 – the same year that Mayor Landmann died of malnutrition while in hiding from the Nazis.

“As a refugee from Nazi Germany,” Walter later said, “I saw at first hand the terrible consequences of a political doctrine based on hatred and racism.” It was this experience, and a further political awakening when his family was interned like other Germans in England in 1940, that gave Walter a determination to fight prejudice against all peoples and classes. He did not want anybody else, anywhere in the world, to suffer exploitation or oppression, as he and his own family had.

This struggle went hand in hand with his commitment to peace. His political beliefs were underpinned by his Jewish faith – “the Jewish aim of human brotherhood”, as he put it, and a desire to make real the Hebrew prophets’ vision of a world without war.

In 1948, having been naturalised as a British citizen, he joined the Labour party. Walter gravitated towards the left, partly as a consequence of his opposition to the Korean war. In 1956 he helped organise a momentous demonstration in Trafalgar Square against the invasion of Suez – one of the occasions on which he found the Labour leadership was on his side.

Walter was horrified by the cold war and the prospect of nuclear annihilation. In 1958 he was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and helped organise the first Aldermaston march to Britain’s Atomic Weapons Research Establishment – an occasion he remembered for the presence of bands and music and an unexpectedly good turnout.

He stood as a Labour candidate for Croydon North East in the 1959 general election. He did not win, and was prevented from standing again due to his anti-nuclear views. Unperturbed, he dedicated the rest of his life to that cause – a level of commitment that was recognised when CND made him its vice-president for life.

In later life, Walter campaigned vigorously against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and became celebrated for an incident at the 2005 Labour party conference, when he was forcefully ejected from the hall after heckling “Nonsense” at foreign secretary Jack Straw as he extolled the virtues of the British occupation of Iraq.

The footage of an 82-year-old man being manhandled and then detained under anti-terrorism laws caused widespread outrage and became symbolic of the growing intolerance of open debate in the party. Next morning Walter was readmitted to the conference hall to a standing ovation from the floor and, later, an apology from Tony Blair. A year after the debacle, in a fitting riposte from the grassroots to the party hierarchy, he was elected to Labour’s national executive.

To me, Walter was always a dear friend and a courageous moral leader. I visited him in hospital shortly before he died. He was very ill but his mind was still sharp. I asked him to record a message on my phone. He said: “The objective of the Labour party and the peace movement is a peaceful world without exploitation.”

I very much doubt that President Trump will hear similar sentiments from Theresa May next week, but there will be thousands on the streets to amplify Walter’s message. I know that if he was still with us, he would be there too, back in Trafalgar Square, standing up for peace.

Jeremy Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, is the leader of the Labour party


Walter Wolfgang, antiwar activist and Jack Straw heckler, dies aged 95

Tributes paid to longtime Labour member who helped found CND

Tributes have been paid to the antiwar activist Walter Wolfgang, who has died aged 95, with many remembering a “committed fighter for peace and justice” and a lifelong socialist who “always spoke truth to power”.

Wolfgang, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, joined the Labour party in 1948 and was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, remaining active in the organisation until his death. He was propelled into the public eye in 2005 after heckling Jack Straw at the Labour conference.

After apparently shouting “Nonsense” during the then foreign secretary’s speech on Iraq, as Straw spoke of “nation-building from a violent past” to justify keeping British troops in the country, Wolfgang was manhandled out of his seat by security.

He was briefly detained under terrorism laws, before returning to the conference the next day amid a flurry of apologies. “When you have an international debate that does not deal adequately with the international issues of the day, the least you can do, if someone is talking nonsense, is say so,” Wolfgang said.

He later served on Labour’s national executive committee and last year was made a patron of the Stop the War coalition, saying at the time: “We can win. We shall overcome. Thank you for this huge honour.”

Wolfgang was also recognised for his years of dedication to the Labour party in 2018. He said he did not deserve the merit award because “I merely did what I had to do”, in a speech that also called for full employment, public ownership and extending trade union rights, a peace policy based on negotiations, global nuclear disarmament and free discussion on justice for Palestinians.

A former Labour candidate in Croydon and delegate for the constituency party in Richmond upon Thames, Wolfgang had long called for greater democracy within the party and supported Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become leader in 2015.

On Wednesday evening, the Labour leader led tributes to the “courageous moral leader” and tweeted a photo of them sat together, writing: “Deeply saddened to hear that my old friend Walter Wolfgang has died. Walter escaped Nazi Germany and has campaigned for peace and socialism ever since, including his passionate opposition to the Iraq war. Yesterday, we said our goodbyes. He will be greatly missed.”

CND tweeted: “We’re very sad to learn that Walter Wolfgang has died. Walter was a founding member of CND and on the committee which organised the first Aldermaston march [from London to the atomic weapons research base in Berkshire]. Active with CND until the very end, we say thank you for the enormous contribution Walter made to peace and disarmament.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey tweeted: “I’m saddened to hear of the death of Walter Wolfgang. 70 years a Labour Party member, lifelong socialist and man of peace who had no trouble calling out the Iraq war lies.”

Comments (5)

  • Liberty says:

    The true definition of a HERO. Rest in Peace dear Wolfgang. Wonderful tribute by his friend Jeremy Corbyn.

  • TP says:

    I would like to add my sincere condolences and regards to the family and friends of the Great Wolfgang. Imagine if a 80+ old Jewish man was forcefully removed from the Labour Party conference under Jeremy Corbyn now. The friends of Israel would be busy organising a show trial for anti racism peace campaigners. This travesty and violence happened under the Corbyn hating Blairites and Hodge.

  • David Hawkins says:

    Not all of us are as brave and strong as Walter Wolfgang but he lead by example and encouraged us all to stand up for what is morally right and to oppose racism and intolerance wherever it raises it’s ugly head. We urgently need that kind of hero to encourage us to be brave in a wicked World.
    Walter Wolfgang, Rest in Peace.

  • John says:

    Very sorry to learn of Walter’s demise.
    He is sadly gone but will not be forgotten for a very long time to come for calling out truth to power.
    Many condolences to all the members of his family and all his many friends.
    I am sure he will get an incrediby honourable mention at the JVL AGM.

  • aida says:

    Such a great loss for humanity and peace. There are so much needs for people like dear Wolfgang. Wonderful. In the World and Era we are living now sadly people becoming more and more self-sufficient and individualistic. Wolfgang. Wonderful demise but his memory will stay with people who still can care.

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