Plaque Unveiled In Shrigley To Remember Jewish Families

Jewish families fled Europe in the late 30s and came to Shrigley and founded a tannery which saved the village from destitution

A plaque has been unveiled to honour the Jewish families who helped save the County Down village of Shrigley from extreme poverty in the late 1930s.

The families, who were fleeing Hitler’s murderous purge across Europe, were remembered at a special event in the village on Monday night.

Some families just managed to escape Hitler’s purge on the Jews by days while their other family members were less fortunate and many perished in extermination camps.

The Jews established a leather tannery which provided much-needed work for starving villagers who were among the hardest hit by the Hungry Thirties after the closure of Shrigley mill. Shrigley was described then as the most deprived village in Northern Ireland.

At the unveiling of the plaque to commemorate the Jewish families setting up the Shrigley tannery in the Thirties, were (l-r) Chris Hagan, Shrigley 200 member; Stephen Jaffe, Director of the Northern Ireland Jewish Heritage Project; Richard Weiniger whose father was a founding member of the tannery, Richard’s son Christopher, and Fr Brian Watters, Chair of Shrigley 200.

A large crowd of villagers and former tannery workers gathered to watch as a permanent plaque was unveiled by Richard Weiniger, who was born in Shrigley in 1940.

Richard’s father Walter was one of the founders after fleeing from Vienna. He started out with the Utitz brothers.

Among the other guests were representatives of the Utitz, Moucka and Vermes families.

The chairman of Shrigley 200, Fr Brian Watters, welcomed everyone to the village and paid tribute to the families who had invested so much of their money, time and energy in producing an internationally-renowned company, United Chrome Tanners.

Richard Weiniger, who was born in Shrigley but of a Jewish family from Europe, unveils the plaque in the garden at Shrigley.

Fr Watters thanked Joanne McCrum, from Killyelagh, for designing the plaque; Kathleen Stockton and the previous Shrigley Village Committee for allowing the plaque to be placed in the community garden and he thanked the Sloane’s History Group, led by Mrs Anne Fee for their pioneering research on the Jewish families.

He said: “The tannery had three groups behind it when it was set up … the Utitz group (Jakob, Alfred and Erik), the Weiniger group and the Klein group.

“The United Chrome Tanners (UCT) was set up in 1939. The mill workers were then retrained in new production skills by the Jewish families and the tannery prospered from then on.”

Originally the tannery was supposed to take over just the ground floor of the mill, but business boomed quickly and before long there were a hundred people working there, but many more in years to come.

Fr Watters added: “Walter Weiniger lived in Shrigley Lodge. When he moved out in 1944, the Utitz family moved in and stayed there until Erik left Shrigley in 1974.

“The other Jewish directors were: Frank Klein (Czech), Erwin Pollatschek (Czech), Jaroslav Horoenovsky (Czech)

“The other Jewish names who became part of the management team were:

  • Nichola Vermes (Hungarian)
  • Erick Flaschner (Austrian)
  • Joseph Dub (Czech)
  • Eric Biss (Czech)
  • Jan Seykora (Czech)
  • Anthony Jelinek (Czech)
Fr Brian Watters pictured with a section of the people who turned up at the commemoration of the unveiling of the plaque for the Jewish families in the garden at Shrigley.

“We are largely celebrating the Jewish families who arrived but later many Europeans were influential in the success of the tannery… Ladislav Moucka arrived from Czechoslovakia in 1948.’

“And last but not least, I would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their generosity and making this event possible in supporting Shrigley 200″.

The tannery went from strength to strength employed 600 people at its height, becoming the first NI compay to win the Queen’s award for export in 1966.

During the war it contributed by making belt straps and equipment for the troops.

Steve Jaffe, Director of the Northern Ireland Jewish Heritage Project, travelled from London to attend.

Steve introduced his words with ‘Shalom; which means peace in Yiddish. He thanked the people of Shrigley for the welcome they had given the Jewish community at a turbulent time in their lives as Europe was in chaos.

He added: “This remembrance has been a wonderful event. On behalf of teh Jewish community I thank you all.”

It was for the production of light leathers and suede’s that UCT at Shrigley became world famous, culminating in them winning the Queen’s award to industry in 1966.

UCT was taken over in 1974 and tanning in Shrigley eventually ended in 2004.

Monday night’s event was the opening event in a year-long series of events being organised to mark the 200th anniversary of the foundation of Shrigley village this year.

The events will climax in a Back to Shrigley fun and sports day on Saturday 10th August.