Politician saved dozens of lives — but had no idea
THE GRANDSON of a former senior Labour politician is looking for relatives of 40 German Jews he believes his grandfather helped save prior to the Second World War.
Hastings Bertrand LeesSmith initially served as a Liberal MP before joining the Labour Party in 1919.
He went on to serve as Postmaster General and President of the Board of Education.
“The family story is that in 1938 he actually managed to get 40 British passports and supply them to Jews in Frankfurt,” explained his grandson, Alistair Lees-Smith.
“I have no proof of this, but when I was a young boy 60 years ago, my grandmother lived in Hampstead, and we used to go around and see these people.
Hastings Bertrand Lees-Smith “I’ve forgotten who they are, but they certainly thought they owed their existence in Britain to my grandfather. “I was only seven or eight. I didn’t think anything of it at the time.” Mr Lees-Smith has published a book, The Chest of Surprises, loosely based on what he believes his grandfather did.
The MP was not part of Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet, but occupied a curious role from May 1940 until his death 19 months later. Despite political parties joining together in a national coalition, the Parliamentary office of Leader of the Opposition still needed filling. With Clement Attlee, Labour’s leader, serving in the cabinet, it was felt unsuitable for him to hold the role. The Daily Herald reported the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) unanimously elected Dr HB Lees-Smith as Acting Chairman of the PLP, and the official Leader of the Opposition.
“I’m very proud of my grandfather,” said Mr Lees-Smith.
“Having reached 67, I realised how difficult it is to actually do anything of any sort of note.”
He said he was eager to meet survivors — or their relatives — who had benefited
from the passports. Before the war, you would have had no idea what might happen. You could see things weren’t going well, but that’s not the same at all.
“He died in 1941, and he would have had no idea of what he had done.”