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In 1931, Solly Sachs was expelled from the Communist Party for his independent views, but he remained a highly visible labor leader and was a frequent target of government investigation.
Albert Louis, known from childhood as Albie, was only four years old when World War II began in Europe.
South Africa, as part of the British Empire, went to war against Nazi Germany, but the young Albie was aware that many of his white neighbors were sympathetic to the Nazis and their racist ideology.
Solly and Ray separated when Albie was small, but Solly’s example of political activism remained a powerful influence on young Albie.
At the time, the Communist Party was one of the few political organizations in South Africa open to members of all races, and the only major multiracial party to advocate racial equality.
Emil Sachs, known as Solly, became the leader of South Africa’s Garment Workers Union, and made it a vehicle for promoting the rights of all workers, including black Africans and women, who were shunned by other labor organizations.
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His family’s radical politics, abstention from traditional religion, and close association with black Africans marked Albie as different from his schoolmates.
His social isolation reinforced the habit of independent thinking that has characterized his entire life.
Memory of this oppression informed the Sachs family’s view of their new country, where native Africans were denied many of the rights freely granted to European immigrants.