Family of ‘Yorkshire Schindler’ in search for relatives of those saved

Family of ‘Yorkshire Schindler’ in search for relatives of those saved

Researchers are looking to understand the impact of Leeds-based David Makofski, who arranged jobs for 700 people fleeing the Nazis

The Makofski family
The Makofski family

The family of a Yorkshire man who arranged jobs for 700 European Jews in England during the Holocaust is asking the families of those he helped save to get in touch.

Only in recent years have researchers begun to understand the impact of Leeds-based David Makofski, a descendant of Jewish immigrants who tapped up contacts to arrange employment for young Jewish men in the UK.

Makofski fought for Britain in the First World War and was injured. As he travelled to the Czech spa town of Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) during the 1930s to get treatment, he witnessed the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied areas and decided to help.

As chairman of the Leeds Jewish Refugees Committee, he created a trainee scheme that provided opportunities for 700 Jewish men under the age of 35 in 1938-40, some of whom were being held in concentration camps at the time.

At the time, refugee trainees were required to pay £100 for the entry permit – the equivalent of about £3,000 today.

Letters between Makoski and the Home Office, the Jewish Refugee Committee at Bloomsbury House and the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia show him arranging for funding help and arguing for special circumstances.

Years after he died, Makofski was nicknamed ‘Yorkshire’s Schindler’ by local media, in reference to the Nazi factory owner Oskar Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jews by employing them and paying senior Nazis to turn a blind eye.

This week, his publicist granddaughter Diane McKaye is asking for help tracing those whose lives her grandfather made safe by using his network to find young men jobs making things like biscuits, tools, shoes and menswear in factories in Leeds, Boston Spa, York, Bradford, Bolton Abbey and Huddersfield.

An archive of Makofski’s paperwork was stored by McKaye’s father for years,

David Makofski

before being donated to the West Yorkshire Archives in 2002. In 2017, archive assistant Danielle Triggs dived into it, discovering “a wealth of information”.

One man Makoski saved was German Jew Herbert Cohn, 30 years of age when he came to the UK “from a concentration camp”. Before the war, Cohn had worked in a German department store importing British cotton goods. It was closed by the Nazis because it was Jewish-owned.

McKaye, who lives in London and represents Israeli high-tech companies, said she knew very little about her golf-mad grandfather until recently. She described the discovery that he helped save 700 Jews as “big new to me and to my cousins… Why had no-one ever mentioned this?”

Writing a blog for the Wiener Library this week, she listed some of those her grandfather helped, explaining how the family had been digitising the archives.

“Happenstance led my grandpa to take on this task,” she said. “We are looking to hear from family members of the refugees to help retell the story so please get in touch. If you know of a person brought over by Leeds Jewish Refugee Committee that isn’t listed, please contact West Yorkshire Archives referencing WYL5047.”

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