Fermin Rocker (b.1907) Home and Family Part 2

Home and family Part 2: ‘Big and Little Rudolf’

It is very clear from Fermin’s accounts that although he had much love and appreciation for both his Mother Milly and his Father Rudolf, he favoured his Father’s gentleness and affection. Unusually for the era, it was Milly who was active in physical punishments and losing her temper. Fermin describes that he cannot recall his Father ever punishing him in any manner. Arguably Rudolf was intrinsically more maternal and ‘matter of fact’ than Milly, ‘My mother had little of my father’s effervescence’ (Rocker.1998.21.) As any child, Fermin fondly recalls the daily bedtime story, which was read by his father who called him ‘Bubi’ and insisted he didn’t go to sleep without being read to. His Father was not academically educated but a self-taught orphan, an aspect which his father scarcely kept a secret from Fermin as a child, romanticising his struggles through his bedtime stories.

‘Occasionally… my father would relate incidents from his on life. These were usually heavily embroidered and distorted for my benefit. One of theses accounts dealt with an escape from the orphanage in which he had been placed after the death of his parents.’ (Rocker. 1998. 25)

Rudolf Rocker. CP, Fonds Chambelland

Not only did his Father have a very active role in Fermin’s daily routine as a child but he would also take time away for his work in order to spend quality Father and son time together. Fermin describes these excursions as the happiest memories of his early childhood. These trips included travelling via bus to the centre of London which was a rare treat for any working-class East End boy at the time. Fermin describes how exciting the bus journeys were on an open top style vehicle which made it ‘a pleasanter experience then, at least in fair weather, than it is today’ (Rocker. 1998. 27). Fermin mentions his first fascination with drawing coming from his trips to the docks on with his Father, very early evidence of his future success as an animator, artist and lithographer.

Fermin had a lot of admiration for his adult brother Rudolf, who was 14 years older than him.  Similarly, to his father, Fermin saw his older brother as hero-like and possessing all the qualities that he wished he had inherited. In terms of physical attributes his brother was tall, blond-haired and blue eyed, ‘chiselled’ and of good natural physique whereas Fermin was dark haired and shorter. Furthermore, he was very knowledgeable despite not having any formal education such as that which Fermin was receiving from an early age. He looked up to his brother as he did his father, with an admiration of his knowledge both in terms of politics but also in art, music and science. Although ‘Little Rudolf’ was not as interested in anarchism, Fermin recalls him teaching at a Sunday school organised for the children of Jewish immigrants involved in the East End Jewish anarchist movement. Like his father, ‘Big Rudolf’, he was involved in the propagandist work such as education which was brave for a time in which Jews and especially Jewish anarchists were under scrutiny in London. Though often cultured Jewish anarchists were often stereotyped as being involved in criminal activity, especially immigrant Jewish anarchists such as big and little Rudolf who had immigrated from Germany before Fermin was born.

“Jewish immigrants did join anarchist groups, the image of anarchists in Britain before the First World War was shaped by radicalised conception linking anarchism with Jewishness and criminality.” (Knepper.2008.296.)

Big and Little Rudolf were certainly idols for the young and budding artist Fermin as he looked up to them as both unconventional, yet extremely loving paternal figures. A family secret however was kept from Fermin for many of his early years: Rudolf was only his half-brother. Rudolf’s mother was French and had separated from his father at his birth, however she had been unable to cope and sent him to live with Big Rudolf and his new wife Millie in London. This information came as a shock to Fermin, who felt a sense of injustice as a child that his sibling relationship had been revealed to be ungenuine.

Little Rudolf and his wife Charlotte , Berlin 1922

‘When I Learned that he was only my half-brother, I was rather dismayed. It was almost as if I had lost a relation’ (Rocker. 1998. 32.)

In the next post I will be talking about Fermin’s schooling and education. In the meantime be sure to keep up to date via my twitter account @EmmaSellarsLJMU where I will be posting all things Fermin Rocker.


Fermin Rocker. The East End Years: A Stepney Childhood. (1998) Freedom Press: London

Knepper, P., 2008. The other invisible hand: Jews and anarchists in London before the First World WarJewish History, 22(3), pp.295–315

Mason, R 2012, Migration and Insecurity: Citizenship and Social Inclusion in a Transnational Era, Routledge: London


Image 1 Rudolf Rocker. Retrieved from: Good Reads

Image 2 Little Rudolf and his wife Charlotte 1922 Retrieved from:
Fermin Rocker. The East End Years: A Stepney Childhood. (1998) Freedom Press: London

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