Old boys remember Leeds school

By Jessica Elgot, July 22, 2010
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Soon-to-be pupils and staff of the Ort school in Leeds pictured at their Kent transit camp in 1939

Soon-to-be pupils and staff of the Ort school in Leeds pictured at their Kent transit camp in 1939

Former pupils of a temporary wartime Ort school in Leeds were reunited on Sunday, 70 years after its relocation from Berlin.

More than 100 boys aged 15-to-17 fled to Britain from Nazi Germany in 1939, along with seven teachers and their spouses. From the following year until 1942, it operated from premises in Roseville Avenue as the Ort Technical Engineering School.

Eight old boys, who keep in regular contact, were at the anniversary celebration with family members and Ort officials at London's Jewish Museum in Camden.

"I had no intention of being an engineer," explained Ernest Elton, now 88. "I wanted to be a doctor. But I was desperate to get into the school because it was a way out of Germany. Without it, I wouldn't have been here today."

As fears grew for the safety of Jews in Germany, Ort's acting chairman Lt Col Joseph Henry Levey negotiated the departure of the boys, with the consent of SS leader Adolf Eichmann, "the architect of the Holocaust". It helped that he managed to convince the Nazis that the Leeds school already existed. With the British consulate evacuated, he spent days searching for a consulate employee to open the building for the boys' passports to be stamped.

Hans Futter, 87, who was 16 when he left Berlin, recalled that the journey nearly went horribly wrong. "We were about to change trains in Cologne but before we could board, the doors were locked.

"So we got two of the boys to break the windows of a carriage and open the doors to let the rest of the group through. It should have been scary, but as boys at that age, nothing fazed us."

On arrival in London, "we were greeted by about a dozen Jewish women - they were crying and throwing sweets and chocolate. It was very touching, as we had left behind our families."

The boys stayed at the Kitchener camp in Sandwich, Kent, until the move to Leeds, where they lived in a hostel at the top of Chapeltown Road. "There were beautiful fields to play football."

Bert Goldsmith, 86, who joined the school after coming over on the Kindertransport, said that "Colonel Levey ran the school in a real military style. It was very strict. But he was a fantastic man."

The Berlin school also taught engineering skills to lawyers and doctors barred from working in their chosen professions by the anti-Jewish laws. It continued with 35 pupils until 1943.

Post-school, Mr Elton was among a number of pupils who went on to serve in the British Army. "I was very keen to fight the Germans. But unfortunately they sent me to India instead."

    Last updated: 4:15pm, July 22 2010