1921 - 2005
In 2000 I was fortunate enough to stay for some time in the London flat of one Peter Benenson. Since the flat was free and I was a friend of the family, the 'Aussie Cousin', was offered the accommodation at a very reasonable rate. It also meant that I had some quiet time alone contemplating the shadow of a truly great man.
Peters family were Russian nobles, expelled after the Russian revolution
. They came to england where Peter found work as a candle maker while he studied law and mathematics. In this time the family became quite poor, and stooped to the level of wallpapering the house with the (now worthless) Russian government bonds
they had fled with. Some of these bonds remained in a heavy steel case in the attic where I stayed.
During WWII, Peter worked with British Intelligence
at Bletchley Park
codes. I found it hard to get details of this time, but a portrait
of Peter in uniform hung in the stairwell of the flat, watching me critically when I staggered up the stairs with a skinfull of lager
. I also let my imagination, fuelled be recently reading cryptonomicon
, fill in the gaps here.
In 1961, Peters life took a dramtic new turn. He wrote a letter to a number of newspapers of the day describing how the UN declaration of human rights
was being largely ignored, and that prisoners of conscience
were suffering torture and persecution across the world. He suggested that a letter writing campaign could make a difference. Thus Amnesty International
was born. The walls of the flat were lined with 'annual reports' of the organisation, and another steel chest contained copies of letters Peter had written.
In his later years Peter lived alone in Oxford
where his two daughters, and grandchildren paid him vists, and where he collected candles.