From Paris, David Wingeate Pike writes: Nobody has heard much about Peter Benenson in recent years, and the cause of that is that for a long time he was seriously ill, and on February 25 he died.  Peter Benenson was born ten years to the day after the birth of the founding-president of WAIS. Apart from that distinction, the man who would win the Nobel Prize for Peace was tutored by W.H.Auden, and he was still at school (Eton College) when he began his lifetime commitment to human rights, taking sufficient interest in the Spanish Civil War to campaign in support of the Spanish orphan-refugees, as well as the Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. After reading history at Oxford, he became a lawyer in London and was just 40 when he set up Amnesty International, which today has more than 1.8 million supporters worldwide.

Without knowing about Peter Benenson's earlier interest in the Spanish orphans (whose tale of anguish inspired my Vae Victis in 1969), his work in human rights inspired me in a new direction, and in the 1970s I introduced
the first course in Paris in that field. Many people question the moral  purpose of their lives. Peter Benenson was one of the few who never needed to doubt.

RH: Here are some basic facts about him: Countless people, facing persecution the world over - people living and those as yet unborn - have reason to thank Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International. For it was his inspiration in the 1960s that launched what was soon dubbed "one of the larger lunacies of our time": a worldwide citizens' movement to expose and confront government injustice.

Born on 31 July 1921, Peter Benenson is the grandson of the Russian-Jewish banker Grigori Benenson and son of the notable Flora Solomon who raised him alone after the death of her husband, British Army colonel John Solomon. He was tutored privately by WH Auden, then went to Eton and Oxford where he studied history. His flair for controversy emerged early, when his complaint to the headmaster of Eton about the poor quality of the school's food prompted a letter to his mother warning of her son's "revolutionary tendencies". At age 16, he launched his first campaign: to get school support, during the Spanish Civil War, for the newly-formed Spanish Relief Committee which was helping Republican war orphans. He himself "adopted" one of the babies, helping to pay for its support.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 16, 2005