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Refugee sheltered by Clement Attlee meets former PM’s granddaughter

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Author: belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Paul Willer said it was an ‘overwhelming experience’ to meet Jo Roundell Greene.

A 90 year-old man who was sheltered as a child refugee by Clement Attlee after fleeing the Nazis in the run-up to the Second World War said it was an overwhelming experience” as he met the former prime minister’s granddaughter for the first time.

Paul Willer said that he and Mr Attlee’s granddaughter Jo Roundell Greene “hugged many times”.

They met at a private tea hosted by Mrs Roundell Greene’s cousin Earl John Attlee in the House of Lords. Just a few other members of both families attended the small event.

It came ahead of an event in the Houses of Parliament, organised by the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport which saved thousands of children who were escaping from the Nazis.

Mr Willer, who was ten when he was taken in by the then opposition leader in 1939, said: “The whole day has been emotional.”

A beaming Mrs Roundell Greene added: “We are both absolutely delighted to have met each other. It has been a very special day.”

Mr Willer recalled feeling immediately welcomed by Mr Attlee and his family.

Mr Attlee had sponsored a Jewish mother and her two children so they could move to the UK from Germany in 1939. Mr Willer stayed at Mr Attlee’s home in Stanmore, north-west London, for four months.

Mr Attlee did not try to make any political gain from sheltering the child and did not go public with what he had done.

Mr Willer, who now lives in Gloucestershire, arrived on Easter Sunday and felt loved by Mr Attlee, his wife Violet and their four children.

Recalling his fond memories of Mr Attlee, he said: “He was a very gentle fatherly figure who exuded goodwill to all us children all the time.”

Mrs Roundell Greene, of Somerset, said: “There was a young boy who needed somewhere to stay. They had a big house and lots of children, and one more was something they wanted to do.

“They made him welcome. He had to take cold baths but it was just normal family life. They welcomed him and he said they loved him.”

Her mother Felicity helped Mr Willer, who could not speak English, communicate with the rest of the family, as they both had learned some Latin at school.

Mrs Roundell Greene said: “He said he was very fond of my mother Felicity. I feel a great warmth towards him and I had not met him before today.”

Mr Willer was raised with his younger brother by his Jewish mother, Franziska, in the Bavarian town of Würzburg. Their father, Johannes, a Christian, left their mother in 1933, began a new relationship and declared himself to be a Nazi sympathiser, according to The Guardian.

Mr Willer’s mother struggled to find work in her profession as a doctor so she could look after her children. She decided she had to leave Germany after seeing the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnact – “night of broken glass” – on November 9 1938.

Contact with a rector in Stanmore eventually led to the link being made with the Attlees.

Mr Willer was sent to school in Northern Ireland. He later went on to work as a textiles company sales director, married and had three children.

AJR chief executive Michael Newman said: “The AJR was thrilled to facilitate the deeply emotional meeting of Paul Willer and Jo Roundell Greene, the granddaughter of former Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who opened his home to offer sanctuary to Paul as a ten-year old child fleeing Nazi oppression.”

Excerpts from a letter by Prime Minister Theresa May were read at the AJR event in which she praised the Kindertransport as “the best of humanity coming to the fore in the face of the very worst.”

Lord Dubs, who came to Britain as a six-year-old child during the Kindertransport, hoped that modern-day refugees coming to Britain would get the same warm welcome and support.

A raft of MPs from different parties also read out parts of the debate which led to the Kindertransport’s creation.

The Kindertransport brought some 10,000 children aged between three and 17 years to safety from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia and Poland in the lead up to the Second World War. Most were Jewish and more than half the children never saw their parents again.

The first transport, from an orphanage in Berlin, arrived into London Liverpool Street station on 2 December 1938. Most of the children arrived at Liverpool Street station while some came by boat into Southampton.

The first transport from Vienna left on 11 December 1938

Source: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/refugee-sheltered-by-clement-attlee-meets-former-pms-granddaughter-37553053.html

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