Heinz Skyte obituary

Other lives: Chief executive of Leeds Jewish Housing Association

My father, Heinz Skyte, who has died aged 99, came to Britain in 1939 as a refugee from Nazi Germany and, after difficult beginnings, dedicated his life to the welfare of others in his adopted home city of Leeds.

In 1951 he became head of the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board (LJWB) and two years later, when the Leeds Jewish Housing Association (LJHA) was established, he was appointed its chief executive. In that role he was instrumental in developing community housing in Leeds, in particular, at the outset, with the aim of addressing the appalling housing conditions faced by poor Jewish people in the city. In 1976 he was appointed MBE.

Born in Fürth, in northern Bavaria, Germany, to Sali Scheidt, who ran a carpet and furnishings business, and his wife, Frida (nee Gutmann), Heinz went to Humanistisches Gymnasium, a grammar school in the town.

At 16 he undertook a two-year commercial apprenticeship, learning accountancy. In 1938 he moved to Hamburg to attend a language school and learn English and Spanish, with a view to emigrating – he was in the city on Kristallnacht, 9 November 1938. Heinz walked through the streets for 16 hours to escape arrest and imprisonment by the Gestapo.

He left for Britain in February 1939, a few months before Germany invaded Poland, and headed to Leeds, where his brother, Fritz, was working. His parents followed a few months later, days before the second world war broke out. When Heinz arrived in Leeds, he put his suitcase in the station’s left-luggage locker and headed straight off by tram to watch a Leeds United match. He was a supporter for the next 80 years and was recently honoured by the club in a pitchside presentation.

Heinz worked as a trainee presser in the tailoring trade before being interned in 1940, initially on the Isle of Man before being sent to a camp in Canada. On his eventual release before the end of the war, he met and married Thea Ephraim, a Kindertransport refugee, who had become a nurse.

Back in Leeds my father worked for a time as an engineer’s fitter and turner in a hydraulic jack manufacturing firm and then, in 1946, obtained a secretarial role in a furriers, also taking on three part-time evening and weekend jobs to save up to buy a house for himself and Thea. Eventually he was asked to become secretary of the LJWB in 1951, a job that was later upgraded to chief executive.

The LJWB and then the LJHA pioneered the concept of sheltered housing by connecting flats in an estate, via a bell system, with an estate manager. The work that he and Thea did in the community was recognised in the naming of a sheltered scheme in Leeds, Thea and Heinz Skyte House.

Heinz was an active Labour party and union member, serving on the national executive of the Apex (Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff) union (now part of GMB) for more than 10 years.

He was also instrumental in setting up the Leeds-based Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association and went on to talk in many schools all over the country.

His is one of 16 Holocaust survivors and refugees’ stories that feature at the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre at Huddersfield University.

Thea died in 2005. Heinz is survived by his sons, Mike and me, four grandsons and seven great-grandchildren.

Peter Skyte

The GuardianTramp

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