John Steele

John Steele, born 26 September 1902.

1939 Register entry: John Steele, Clerk in Holy Order, Vicar of Hardraw, Hawes, Yorkshire. Wife, Margaret H Steele, born 1905.


‘Uncle John’ was a name I heard when growing up, although I’m not sure I ever met him or, as a child, understood the significant part he played in my father’s adjustment to life in England as a refugee.

I’m only just beginning to read through the relevant letters, and don’t yet know how my father became involved with John and his family, but from what we have so far, and from the few things my parents said, I think it’s not going too far to say that they saved my father’s life. I remember that when uncle John died – though I didn’t really understand who he was then – something in my parents’ reaction transferred to me just how significant he had been.

John was the vicar of the parish of Hardraw in Hawes, Yorkshire. At some point, for some reason, they took my dad into their home and into their family. The letters from John and his family demonstrate an extraordinary side of the human spirit: they seemed to show this young refugee – who had lost everyone and everything – so much acceptance in the context of a warm and loving family. Their letters are a testament to the goodness of which people are capable. While such terrible things were going on all over the world, this one generous family made such a difference to the lives of strangers.

I only know about the Steele family, beyond a general sense of how significant they were to my father, from the letters in his collection. It looks as though Werner must have kept them all; some are reproduced below. They are often both moving and historically fascinating – with contemporary references to war-time rationing, or to the battle for Arnheim, for example.

Please click on a letter image to enlarge it.


Letter: 4th November 1943

4th November 1943, page one

Letter, 4th November 1943, page one, John Steele to Werner Weissenberg, pers. archive, copyright retained

Letter: 28th February 1944

28th February 1944, page one

Letter, 28th February 1944, page one, John Steele to Werner Weissenberg, pers. archive, copyright retained

28th February 1944, page two

Letter, 28th February 1944, page two, John Steele to Werner Weissenberg, pers. archive, copyright retained

28th February 1944, page three

Letter, 28th February 1944, page three, John Steele to Werner Weissenberg, pers. archive, copyright retained

28th February 1944, page four

Letter, 28th February 1944, page two, John Steele to Werner Weissenberg, pers. archive, copyright retained 


Letter: 26th October, 1944

This long newsy letter is from Meg, which I assume is Margaret – John’s wife. She addresses my dad as ‘Mon chèr frère Weissy’ – an affectionate family nickname. How good it must have felt to have someone call him ‘brother’, after all the other things my dad and his family will have been called. This affectionate, accepting tone runs right through the correspondence. There is an assumption that help and compassion is always here, without any sense of being intrusive.

Enclosed was Mrs Steele’s moving Yorkshire Post ‘Letter to the Editor’ (below), appealing to others to take Jewish refugees into their hearts and homes.

Refugees Newspaper clipping

Letter to the Editor, Refugee Aliens, 9 October 1939

Although not immediately relevant to the concerns of this project, the partial news on the back of the article is nevertheless historically interesting in terms of the other news items mentioned.

Refugees Newspaper clipping.reverse