Germans in Yorkshire and their Family Stories

Claudia Sternberg of the University of Leeds was our June speaker and her talk and presentation
was on Germans in Yorkshire and their Family Stories.
She told us that her project had started with discovering the history of Lofthouse Internment Camp
and this led her to find out more about the German people who lived in Yorkshire, which in turn led
to the conversations which informed the talk.
Claudia started by giving us some present day context; there was a sizeable German population in
the UK but it was by no means the largest group. Germany itself received a huge number of
immigrants, second only to the US.
We were told about the major influx in the 19th century of pork butchers to Yorkshire. Families like
Zeigler and the Hoffmans of Wakefield. The Zeiglers themselves have a substantial family history
written in the 1960s but Claudia informed us that sometimes tracing family histories in Germany
could be difficult as it has only existed as a country since the 1870s, before this it was made up of
different kingdoms. Language is another challenge for the researcher, Claudia giving us an
example of Kurrent Script, and hence the Anglo German Family History Society was formed.
We learned that migration to particular places was often connected to a particular trade, eg York
and makers of pianos but that Bradford was an important place for German Jewish settlers. She
also informed us of the Holocaust Centre North in Huddersfield which enables some of these
family histories to be told. Harrogate was also popular as it was similar to German spa towns.
Claudia spoke about the internment of German people in both wars to camps in Knockaloe on the
Isle of Man and Hawick in Scotland, as well of course as Lofthouse. Some academics were in post
here until the First World War when they were taken out of their jobs. Not all German families had
become naturalised, as this was an expensive undertaking; naturalised Germans were little
affected after the war, but unnaturalised Germans were often deported.
Claudia went on to illustrate her project with various case studies which showed how some
German people had eventually settled in Yorkshire. She told us about the large proportion of
German doctors working in the NHS and professionals in the education sector and also reminded
us that this ease of movement for German people was only possible for West Germans as East
Germany was a closed country until reunification when they too had the opportunities to emigrate.
German communities sometimes developed around Lutheran churches in England as this gave
people a religious and German speaking community to be part of. She told us about the German
Saturday School in Leeds which is well attended by children who go to mainstream schools during
the week.
The talk came to a close by Claudia saying that the majority of Germans in Yorkshire didn’t come
here because it was Yorkshire but it was usually because of a partner, a job or just happenstance,
but they liked it here and became more settled and connected. Some German people preferred
the open welcome here to the rigidity of life in Germany. She also told us how Brexit had hit
Germany particularly hard because of the links between both countries.
Lorraine Simpson

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