The Reverend John Steele, Hardraw Vicarage, Hawes, Yorkshire
‘Uncle John’ was a name I knew 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 so 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 showed this young refugee – who had lost everyone and everything – so much love and 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
Letter: 28th February 1944
Letter: 26th October, 1944
This long newsy letter is from Meg, I think it says, whom I assume to be one of John’s children. Note, she addresses my dad as ‘Mon chèr frère Weissy’ – I remember that Weissy was their affectionate family nickname for him. 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 there, without any sense that they are 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.
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.