When 19-year-old Heinz Skyte stepped off the train that brought him to safety from Nazi Germany, the first thing he did was to take a tram to Elland Road. With his brother, Frank, Heinz watched Leeds United play out a 1-1 draw with Everton – and from that moment, football and Leeds United in particular captured his heart.
Heinz has followed the club ever since, going to matches until the 1990s.
And as the club marks its centenary this year, so Heinz will celebrate his 100th birthday in February.
To mark this extraordinary double centenary, Heinz will be a guest of the club for the game against Cardiff City on December 14th. Heinz and his son Peter will enjoy some good old-fashioned Yorkshire hospitality as a guest of Jerry Holmes at Richardsons Office Furniture, in a gesture organised through the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association.
Heinz was forced to leave his home in a small town called Fuerth, near Nuremberg, after the events of Kristallnacht. At the time, Heinz was a student in digs near Hamburg, where he witnessed synagogues being set alight and the SS rounding up and taking away Jewish men.
He later discovered that his father had been arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp, where he was incarcerated for six weeks – an experience that never left him.
Heinz was able to escape Germany and join Frank in Leeds, who managed to find a job for him as a trainee presser in the clothing factory where he worked. Their parents eventually managed to secure visas to travel to England in the August of 1939, just days before the outbreak of World War II.
“Sadly, there was a great deal of antisemitism at the time and that still exists today,” said Heinz. “After war broke out, Germans living in England were all regarded with suspicion and my family was arrested and interned, despite the fact we were more anti-Nazi than most people, having already been expelled from Germany.”
Heinz and Frank were sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man before being moved on to Canada, where they stayed until 1942. On his return, he volunteered for war work and worked in engineering.
Heinz met and married a fellow Jewish refugee, Thea, who fled to England aboard the Kindertransport, and they had two sons, one who lives in London and the other in Israel. The couple were granted British citizenship in 1947.
He began work for the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board in 1951, eventually becoming chief executive, and remained with the board until 1985. He was awarded the MBE for his dedication to community work in 1976.
Heinz is one of 16 Holocaust survivors and refugees whose stories feature in an interactive exhibition at the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre in Huddersfield – the only facility of its kind in the north of England.
Based at Huddersfield University, it opened a year ago with the help of National Lottery funding. Since then, more than 5,000 visitors have experienced the ground-breaking interactive exhibition, Through Our Eyes, that tells the poignant stories of survivors and their families who settled in Yorkshire through original artefacts, film, photographs and their own personal testimonies.
Members of the Leeds-based Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association raised £1.1m to create the centre, in partnership with the University of Huddersfield.