Upon his return to London, the 14-year-old started apprenticing as a hairdresser and by age 17 longed to serve in the Second World War. He would soon find out that he did not need to go abroad to fight Fascists, however, as there were plenty right there in England. He was the youngest to join the “43 Group,” an organization founded in 1946 by Jewish veterans who had returned from war only to discover that British Union Fascist Oswald Mosley was fanning the flames of anti-Semitism across the city. Sassoon, along with his compatriots scoured the streets of east London breaking up any and all Fascist gatherings they uncovered. The British news outlet the Telegraph even gave the famed stylist the title, “anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser.”Read the whole thing.
In a program recorded for the BBC, Sassoon shared the story of how he once turned up to work with a black eye after a night fighting Fascists. Often, the 43 Group were only armed with knives and razor blades.
“I’ll never forget one morning I walked in and I had a hell of a bruise – it had been a difficult night the night before – and a client said to me, ‘Good God, Vidal, what happened to your face?’ And I said, ‘Oh, nothing, madam, I just fell over a hairpin’.”
By 1948, Sassoon did have the opportunity to serve in the military. This time for Israel. At age 20 he joined the Israel Defense Forces predecessor, the Haganah, and fought in Israel’s War of Independence. He described the experience of training with the Israelis in an interview with the Telegraph as “the best year of my life” stating:
When you think of 2,000 years of being put down and suddenly you are a nation rising, it was a wonderful feeling. There were only 600,000 people defending the country against five armies, so everyone had something to do.Reflecting on his wartime experience, Sassoon continued, “we took a hill and attacked at four in the morning, took them by surprise.”
“It was a hill overlooking a main road where the Egyptian heads of the army were heading. If they had passed this spot they would have been in Tel Aviv in a few hours but we took them. Many Egyptians died trying to get up that hill. They had terrible casualties. A faceless man sent them out there and they probably wanted to be with their loved ones.”He admitted that the killing saddened him, that he wouldn’t have had any self-respect if he didn’t, but that “somebody had to be one of those somebodies.”
Vidal Sassoon was also an active philanthropist. In 1982, he founded The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sassoon was an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism and once said that the disgraced fashion designer John Galliano should to prison for professing his love for Adolf Hitler and saying "your mother, your forefathers would be f---ing gassed and f---ing dead.".
Vidal Sassoon passed away at home after a battle with Leukemia at the age of 84.
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