Who else did ‘Schindler of Leeds’ save in the war?

Three sisters whose grandparents were sheltered during the war by an Oskar Schindler-like figure in Leeds, have come to the city in search of information about others he helped.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 11:48 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 11:52 am
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The story of Philip Boyle, who ran a hemp merchant business from a long-vanished mill near Leeds Bridge, is being told in an exhibition on immigration at the City Museum, which will open in July.

The story was unearthed by Harriet Stevens, a civil servant from Bristol, and her sisters, Jess and Rachel.

Their grandparents, Siegfried and Hedwig Schrotter, were fleeing their home in Vienna before the Nazis overran it. Their only child, six-year-old Eric, was with them. Mr Schrotter was a commercial traveller dealing in hemp, and a business partner of Mr Boyle.

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They moved into his home at Linton, near Wetherby after Mr Schrotter managed to negotiate safe passage to England for his wife and son.

But before she died, his wife revealed that Mr Boyle’s family had also taken in two other Jewish refugees, whose names are a mystery.

“She said Mr Boyle saved five Jews. Now, my family’s three. So there’s a big mystery as who these other people were – we know nothing about them,” Mrs Stevens said.

Today, she and her sisters will visit the West Yorkshire Archive to examine refugee papers in the hope of finding clues.

“Our grandmother took the secret to the grave with her,” she said. “It hadn’t been on our radar, but once I started researching it, I became fascinated by these people.”

She added: “Our grandfather never really recovered. He’d had to leave Vienna after Kristallnacht, in November 1938, when they smashed up Jewish property. He left my grandmother and my father behind so he could get away.

“He did manage to get them out, but he was always reclusive, incredibly quiet and reserved, and dad used to say he was never quite the same afterwards.”

The sisters believe they have traced one of Mr Boyle’s descendants, who knew little of what had happened. Even their own father, who died last year at 83, had scant memories.

HISTORY LESSONS

The curators of A City and its Welcome, the forthcoming exhibition on immigration to Leeds, would like to hear other personal stories for possible inclusion.

“There were big movements of people into Leeds – from Ireland, eastern Europe, Saint Kitts and Nevis,” said Ruth Martin, at Leeds City Museum.

“We have many items in our collection relating to people who arrived from Ireland and eastern Europe but far fewer about those who only moved here in the last 50 years. We would love to have more.”