| Flora Solomon |
28 September 1895
Pinsk, Imperial Russia
|Died||18 July 1984 (Age 88)|
Flora Solomon (1895-1984) was an influential Zionist whose objection to the anti-Israel tone of articles Kim Philby wrote while working as the Beirut correspondent of The Observer led to her giving information that contributed to his unmasking as a Soviet agent.
Flora Benenson was born in Pinsk, in what is now Belarus. She was a daughter of the Jewish Russian gold tycoon Grigori Benenson and 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. In 1920 Harold Solomon was assigned to the staff of the High Commissioner of Palestine and the couple moved to Jerusalem. Their son Peter Benenson (who founded Amnesty International in 1961) was born in July 1921. At Christmas 1923 Harold Solomon was involved in a serious riding accident outside Jerusalem and was subsequently confined to a wheelchair. The family returned to London, where the marriage collapsed, and in 1927 Flora became the mistress of the former Russian leader Alexander Kerensky.
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. During World War II she organised food distribution for the British government and won an OBE for her work.
Flora Solomon was also the founder of Blackmore Press, a noted 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 & Spencer
Flora Solomon is also remembered for improving employee conditions at Marks & Spencer stores in the UK, 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. In her new position, she "pioneered the development of the staff welfare system" (including subsidised 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".
Relation with Kim Philby
Flora Solomon was a long-time friend of Kim Philby - she introduced him to his second wife Aileen and was a witness at their wedding. While working in Spain as the Times correspondent on Franco's side of the Civil War, Philby proposed that she become a Soviet agent. In 1962 when Philby was the correspondent of the London Observer in Beirut, she objected to the anti-Israeli tone of his articles. In August 1962, during a reception at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, Solomon told Victor Rothschild, who had worked with MI5 during the Second World War, that she thought that Tomás Harris (who was another witness at Philby's wedding to Aileen) and Kim Philby had been Soviet spies since the 1930s. This was one of the factors which led to the unmasking of Philby.