Peter Benenson

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Article/book #: 141961
Title: Peter Benenson
By: Hugh O’Shaughnessy  
Published in: The Independent
Date of issue: Monday, 28 February 2005
People/entities mentioned in this item:
Commentary

Abstract:

Peter Benenson founded Amnesty (later Amnesty International) in 1961 and thereby became the creator of a human-rights movement which now counts more than a million members in 150 countries. His warmth and generosity of spirit gained him friends round the globe. His modesty was such that decades later many, even at Amnesty, did not realise he was the founder of the organisation.



Peter Solomon (Peter Benenson), barrister and human-rights campaigner: born London 31 July 1921; married first Margaret Anderson (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1972), second 1973 Susan Booth (one son, one daughter); died Oxford 25 February 2005.

Peter Benenson founded Amnesty (later Amnesty International) in 1961 and thereby became the creator of a human-rights movement which now counts more than a million members in 150 countries. His warmth and generosity of spirit gained him friends round the globe. His modesty was such that decades later many, even at Amnesty, did not realise he was the founder of the organisation.

The Benensons were a Russian Jewish family and Peter Benenson's maternal grandfather, Grigori Benenson, earned a fortune in Tsarist times from banking and oil. The family left Russia at the time of the Revolution. In London Grigori's daughter Flora met and married Harold Solomon, a member of a City stockbroking family who had risen to Brigadier-General in the First World War. Their only child, Peter Solomon, was born in London in 1921.

Despite the family riches, his was not a happy childhood. In 1920 Harold was attached to the staff of Sir Herbert Samuel, High Commissioner in Palestine, and they went to live in Jerusalem, an entrancing development for the passionately Zionist and untiringly party-mad Flora.

At Christmas 1923 Harold Solomon, whom Peter adored, suffered a serious riding accident outside Jerusalem and was confined to a wheelchair. The family returned to London, where the marriage collapsed. Flora in 1927 became the mistress of the former Russian leader Alexander Kerensky. In her autobiography, Baku to Baker Street (written with Barnet Litvinoff, 1984), littered with the names of the prominent from Eleanor Roosevelt to Chaim Weizmann, she confessed to being an unsatisfactory mother; indeed she was to cause Peter much anguish throughout her life.

Harold died in Switzerland, the day before Peter's ninth birthday. The boy was inconsolable: Flora wrote of her son's relationship with his father, "He had been the limbs the man on the first floor never possessed, and I believe he prayed daily for the miracle to make his father whole."

Certainly the young W.H. Auden, who had been engaged as a tutor for him, was little comfort. In the family's house in Hornton Street, Kensington, Auden was continuing his relationship with a male lover. Flora packed the young boy off to boarding school.










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