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Eric Sanders – Austrian Jew; musician; soldier teacher; writer; socialist

Eric Sanders joined Norbury Pollards Hill Branch of Croydon North CLP just a few short years ago although he had been a member of the Party for more than 70 years. In that time, he became a well-known figure, seen at branch, CLP and campaign meetings. Rarely, did a fundraiser go without his presence, indeed he was at the Hindus for Labour just a couple of weeks ago. And he campaigned whenever he could, leafletting from his mobility scooter in 2018 at the Council elections and lending his name and support to the General Election in 2019.

Eric started life in Vienna as Ignaz Erich Schwarz, always known as Erich. A talented musician, he planned to study music at university, but it was not to be. When he saw Hitler march into Vienna in 1938, he and his family decided it was time to leave. Eric and his parents came to England and his brother was smuggled into Palestine. Once in the UK Eric joined the Pioneer Corps, spent time in France and was evacuated from the beach at St Malo, several days after the evacuation from Dunkirk. It was whilst in the army, that Eric acquired his new name – Eric Sanders. Later in the war, Eric trained as a radio operator with the Special Operations Executive and was stationed in Italy, waiting to be parachuted into Austria. The war ended before Eric could go on any operations but he returned to Vienna with the British Occupation Army as an interpreter.

On leaving the army, Eric went to teacher training college where he met his future wife Margaret. His working life was spent as a history teacher and he retired in 1980 as Senior Master at Elliot School in Putney. Eric didn’t just teach. He was one of the first teachers to take students abroad after the war and was involved in many extracurricular activities. He believed in child-centred teaching as exemplified by A S Neil at his school Summerhill. Eric remained in touch with many of his former pupils for the rest of his life.

Music remained an important part of Eric’s life and he took a great interest in the theatre. In his last decade, Eric wrote his autobiography, and a spy trilogy – sadly the third part remained uncompleted. Eric’s interest in life remained undimmed. At the July NPH branch meeting, Eric moved the motion for Conference on PR, one of his great passions. And Cllr Patsy Cummings and I visited him just a few weeks ago to talk about his ideas for a cultural centre and for activities 2023 when Croydon becomes the borough of culture.

Towards the end of his life, Eric became reconciled with the new generation in Austria and visited many times, often as an honoured guest. In 2019, The Austrian Cultural Forum London hosted a special event for Eric’s 99th birthday at which he was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art.

And that was not the last celebration. There were many more in the run up to Eric’s hundredth birthday, including a memorable party hosted by our CLP. At that party, just after the dreadful 2019 election defeat, Eric gave a wide-ranging speech about Labour’s achievements since the war and how it was vital that we should never give up fighting for our beliefs.

Eric had a real zest for life. He was witty, funny, kind, passionate and compassionate. He kept us entertained with a fund of stories. He enriched the lives of all of us who met him. We will miss him.

It maybe possible to put together a book with memories and photos of Eric’s time in CNCLP. If you would like to contribute, please fill in the form below:-