Flora Solomon

Flora Solomon, OBE (28 September 1895 – 18 July 1984)[1] was born Flora Benenson in Pinsk, Imperial Russia, in 1895. She was known as an influential Zionist.[2] She was the first woman hired to improve working conditions at Marks & Spencer in London.[3] She was the mother of Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International.

Early lifeEdit

Solomon was born in Pinsk, in what is now Belarus. She was a daughter of the Jewish Russian gold tycoon Grigori Benenson, 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. She had one child, Peter Benenson, who would become the founder of Amnesty International.[4]

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.[4] During World War II she organised food distribution for the British government and was awarded the OBE for her work, which had a profound impact on later government policy in the UK in relation to health care and the welfare state.

Marks and SpencerEdit

Solomon is also remembered for improving employee conditions at Marks & Spencer stores in the UK,[5] 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.[6]

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".[7]


She founded Blackmore Press, a 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. The work was also titled Baku to Baker Street: The Memoirs of Flora Solomon.

Kim PhilbyEdit

Solomon was a long-time friend of British intelligence officer Kim Philby. She introduced him to his second wife Aileen. Whilst working in Spain as The Times correspondent on Franco's side of the Civil War, Philby proposed that she become a Soviet agent. His friend from Cambridge Guy Burgess was simultaneously trying to recruit her into MI6. But the Soviet resident in Paris, Ozolin-Haskin (code-name Pierre) rejected this as a provocation. Had both moves succeeded she would have become a double agent.[8]

In 1962 when Philby was the correspondent of the London Observer in Beirut, she objected to the anti-Israeli tone of his articles. She related the details of the contact to Victor Rothschild, who had worked for MI5 during the Second World War. In August 1962, during a reception at the Weizmann Institute, Solomon told Rothschild that she thought that Tomás Harris and Kim Philby were Soviet spies.[9] She then went on to tell Rothschild that she suspected that Philby and his friend, Tomás Harris, had been Soviet agents since the 1930s. "Those two were so close as to give me an intuitive feeling that Harris was more than a friend."[10]

A Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn had already told the CIA about Philby's work for the KGB up to 1949. Nicholas Elliott, a former MI6 colleague of Philby's in Beirut confronted him. Prompted by Elliott's accusations, Philby confirmed the charges of espionage and described his intelligence activities on behalf of the Soviets. However, when Elliott asked him to sign a written statement, he hesitated and requested a delay in the interrogation.[11] A week later he boarded a Soviet freighter the Dolmatova bound for Odessa, en route to Moscow, never to return.[12]

Before Harris was interviewed by MI5 he was killed in a motor accident at Lluchmayor, Majorca. Some people have suggested that Tomás Harris was murdered.[13] Chapman Pincher, the author of Their Trade is Treachery (1981), agrees that it is possible that Harris had been eliminated by the KGB: "The police could find nothing wrong with the car, which hit a tree, but Harris's wife, who survived the crash, could not explain why the vehicle had gone into a sudden slide. It is considered possible, albeit remotely, that the KGB might have wanted to silence Harris before he could talk to the British security authorities, as he was an expansive personality, when in the mood, and was outside British jurisdiction. The information, about which MI5 wanted to question him and would be approaching him in Majorca, could have leaked to the KGB from its source inside MI5."[14] Pincher goes onto argue that the source was probably Roger Hollis, the director-general of MI5.


  1. ^ "Mrs Flora Solomon: Russian émigré of wide interests". The Times. London, England. 25 August 1984. p. 10.
  2. ^ Hopgood, Stephen (2006). Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International. Cornell University Press. pp. 272 pages. ISBN 0-8014-7251-2.
  3. ^ Gall, Susan B. (1997). Women's Firsts. Gale Research. pp. 564 pages. ISBN 0-7876-0151-9.
  4. ^ a b "Peter Benenson hero file". Heroes & killers of the 20th century. moreorless.au.com. 11 March 2005. Archived from the original on 20 January 2008.
  5. ^ Smith, Gerald Stanton (2000). D.S. Mirsky: A Russian-English Life, 1890-1939. Oxford University Press. pp. 424 pages. ISBN 0-19-816006-2.
  6. ^ Seth, Andrew; Randall, Geoffrey (1999). The Grocers: The Rise and Rise of the Supermarket Chains. Kogan Page. pp. 331 pages. ISBN 0-7494-2191-6. p. 120
  7. ^ Rogatchevski, Andrei (3 August 2007). "Marks, Not Marx: The Case of Marks & Spencer". Cultural Studies Panel -- The East in the West: Imports into European Mass Culture. Berlin, Germany: ICCEES Regional European Congress.
  8. ^ Borovik, Genrikh (1994). The Philby Files: The Secret Life of Master Spy Kim Philby. New York: Little Brown. ISBN 0-316-10284-9.
  9. ^ Biography of Flora Solomon
  10. ^ Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 226
  11. ^ Carver, Tom (11 October 2012). "Diary: Philby in Beirut". London Review of Books. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  12. ^ West, Nigel; Tsarev, Oleg (1999). The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07806-4.
  13. ^ Biography of Tomás Harris
  14. ^ Chapman Pincher, Their Trade is Treachery (1981) pages 169–170


  • Solomon, F. & Litvinoff, B. (1984). A Woman's Way. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-46002-1 (also titled Baku to Baker Street: The Memoirs of Flora Solomon)