The Jewish Chronicle

Museum piece aids search for wartime saviour


FOR MANY years, Harriet Stevens knew very little about how previous generation­s of her family fled Vienna to escape the Nazis — or about the man who made it possible.

It was only when Ms Stevens and her sisters decided to interview their grandfathe­r, Siegfried Schrotter, in the 1990s that the story emerged of how a Leeds businessma­n came to the family’s rescue.

It will now feature as part of an exhibition at Leeds City Museum, exploring the heritage of those who came to the area from across the globe.

Ms Stevens said that her father, Eric, was just six when her grandfathe­r, a hemp company representa­tive, fled to Switzerlan­d to try to negotiate safe passage to England for his wife Hedwig and their young son.

Her father and grandmothe­r lived in a Jewish commune in Albania for six months, eventually being joined by her grandfathe­r.

They were able to come to Leeds thanks to the sponsorshi­p of family friend Philip Boyle, a partner in the Boyle and Son hemp company.

Ms Stevens and her sisters are now searching for the living relatives of Mr Boyle to express gratitude for saving her family.

“We knew nothing of the story until we started listening to the recordings and doing our own research,” said the Bristol-based 60-year-old.

“My grandfathe­r fled Vienna after Kristallna­cht in November 1938, when he saw the rounding up of Jews and was forced to hide in a wardrobe while the family home was being ransacked.

“He was a very quiet and reserved man for the rest of his days and his traumatic experience­s definitely left a mark on him.

“Researchin­g the story has given me so much respect for my grandfathe­r and for what he had to go through to keep his family safe and get them out.”

She wants to meet any surviving relatives of Mr Boyle “because if it were not for him, we might not be here”.

Ms Stevens, who has undertaken her research alongside sisters Rachel Stevens and Jessica Russell, added: “All but one of my grandmothe­r’s five siblings were murdered in the Holocaust and my sisters and I would love to find any living relatives of Philip Boyle to thank him through them for saving my family’s lives.”

The story of the Schrotters is one of a number being collated by the Leeds museum.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “The foundation­s of Leeds were built by the thousands

Siegfried Schrotter. Harriet Stevens with sisters Jessica Russell and Rachel Stevens of people who came here determined to forge a new life for themselves and their families.

“Their influence has permeated so many aspects of our local history and heritage and it’s always a poignant experience to find out more about their stories and to learn how immigrants helped shape the city we live in today.”

She is hoping more people like Ms Stevens and her sisters will come forward to tell their family stories through the exhibition.

My research has given me so much respect for grandad’

The museum would like to hear the migration stories of others who came to Leeds — or from anyone who has informatio­n about the Schrotter family, or Philip Boyle from Boyle and Son hemp and flax factory. The email address is The Schrotter family and Siegfried and Hedwig Schrotter on their wedding day at a Vienna synagogue

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