In June 1940, Adolph Hitler was preparing an invasion of Britain. As part of those plans, the feared Nazi SS drew up a list of prominent British residents to be sought out and arrested. This list is now popularly referred to as the Black Book.
As to be expected, the Black Book contained the names of Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and Charles de Gaulle who, by then, was exiled in London. It also listed prominent scientists, diplomats and others in the public eye such as Noël Coward and Virginia Woolf. In total, there were more than 2,000 people identified in it. Beside each name were the details of which organisation the detainees should be handed over to, with most of them destined for the Gestapo.
Included in the Black Book were five residents of Leeds, as follows.
Theodor Plaut – a German emigrant scientist who had previously been a professor at the University of Hamburg before fleeing from the Nazi regime. Since 1935, he had been working at the Coal Research Institute at the University of Leeds. He applied to be naturalised as British shortly before the outbreak of war.
Herbert Astbury – an engineer thought to be involved in matters of defence. He was to be handed over to counter-espionage (Scandinavia).
Selig Brodetsky – a Russian mathematics professor and prominent Zionist leader living in Headingley. He was a regular speaker in Leeds on Nazism, the plight of Jews and the creation of a Jewish state.
Robert Bloch – another German emigrant academic who had fled the Reich in the 1930s. He was a researcher in plant anatomy at the University of Leeds.
Karl Eschka – a German fugitive suspected of passport offences and wanted for anti-Nazi activities.
History tells us what would have been their fate if the Germans had successfully invaded. Thankfully for them – and for us all – that threat was averted in the skies above Britain in the summer of 1940.
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