“Marks & Spencer Stands For Misery & Suffering; Marks & Spencer Stands For Murder & Slaughter” (video)
“Don’t ask the price – it’s a penny.” Thus did Michael Marks (1859-1907), an immigrant to Leeds from Slonim in the Tsarist Empire, where his father was an impoverished tailor,advertise the goods on display at his clothing stall in the Yorkshire city. As is well-known, Marks & Spencer had its origins in the business partnership that the enterprising Leeds stallholder made in 1894 with the non-Jewish Thomas Spencer, who retired in 1903. By the time Marks died, the firm already had 60 clothing stores in various parts of Britain, and was well on its way to becoming one of the staples of the British High Street, known for offering goods of high quality and reliability at a reasonable price. Its flagship store in London’s Oxford Street opened in 1938
Following Michael Marks’s death the firm was run by his son, Simon (1888-1964, who was knighted in 1944 and raised to the peerage as the first Baron Marks of Broughton in 1961), and by his son-in-law Israel Sieff (1889-1972, who became a life peer, Baron Sieff, in 1966), the son of a Lithuanian-born Manchester textile manufacturer and husband of Simon’s sister Rebecca (1890-1966). Marks and Spencer, an enlightened employer which enjoyed excellent staff relations, arguably reached its peak under the leadership of the Sieffs’ son, Sir Marcus Sieff, Baron Sieff of Brimpton (1913-2001; knighted in 1971 and given a life peerage in 1980). Its fortunes declined after the Marks and Sieff families requished control, although it remains, of course, a legendary giant of British retailing.
Simon Marks and Israel Sieff , who knew Chaim Weizmann when he was a scientist in Manchester, were prominent supporters of the Zionist movement and investors in the infrastructure of the Yishuv. Simon Marks was President of the Joint Palestine Appeal and Honorary Vice-President of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. Israel Sieff was during the 1930s President of the Zionist Federation, and subsequently its Vice-Chairman for many years. His many other positions relating to Jewry and to Israel included the longterm presidency of the Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce. Lady Sieff, Simon’s sister, was one of the founders of WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Movement, and a lifelong champion of Zionism and Israel. Baron Sieff of Brimpton was also an active Zionist. For example, he was President of the Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Hon. President of the Joint Israel Appeal, and Chancellor of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. The well-known Zionist Harry Sacher (1881-1971) who helped to win over the Manchester Guardian to the Zionist cause, and who played a not inconsiderable part in the talks leading to the Balfour Declaration, was married to Simon’s sister Miriam (1892-1975), who was equally devoted to efforts for the Jewish Homeland and shared Harry’s involvement with the Weizmann Institute.
Needless to say, the attachment of the Marks and Sieff families to the Zionist cause did not go unnoticed by Israel’s enemies. In 1973 Israel Sieff’s brother Joseph Edward “Teddy” Sieff (1906–1982), who chaired the firm from 1967-72 and also served as Hon. Vice-President of the Zionist Federation, survived a bungled assassination attempt in the bathroom of his London home by no less a personage than the notorious Carlos the Jackal, firing a gun on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.