Jewish refugee who fled Nazis, was hosted by future British PM Attlee, dies at 94

In 1939, then-opposition leader opened home to 10-year-old Paul Willer, who left Germany with mother and brother; Attlee never spoke of the story

Paul Willer in 2018. (Screenshot: Youtube)
Paul Willer in 2018. (Screenshot: Youtube)

A Jewish man who as a child was hosted by former British prime minister Clement Attlee after fleeing Nazi Germany ahead of World War II, The Guardian reported.

In 1939, when he served as opposition leader, Attlee sponsored the escape of a German Jewish mother and her two sons to the United Kingdom. One of the children, Paul Willer, who was then 10 years old, was invited to stay with Attlee at his northwest London home.

The Association of Jewish Refugees said Willer died on Friday, aged 94, according to The Guardian.

Attlee never publicly spoke about the story, which was revealed by the British newspaper in 2018, five decades after the Labour leader’s death.

“It was a remarkable kindness, a generous offer,” Wilner said at the time. “Attlee was a modest man. He did not try and glorify himself in any way. He did it for the right reasons.”

Willer’s escape from Germany was hatched by his mother, Franziska Willer, after the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938. Willer was previously married to a Christian man who left her in 1933 and later became a Nazi sympathizer. He committed suicide in 1964.

Through her brother, who was residing in London, and a pastor from Attlee’s area, it was arranged for Paul Willer to come live in the Attlee home for some four months.

“They took me inside what was a very large house,” Willer said of his first encounter with the Attlees. “They had a maid and a cook too. The next morning, their son Martin [the late Lord Attlee], who was my age, took me upstairs and ran a cold bath, bathed, and encouraged me to do the same. I thought, ‘Is this what they do for Easter?’ It turned out that cold baths were what the males in the family did every day.”

At the time, Attlee was composing his opposition to Nelson Chamberlain’s appeasement policy, according to The Guardian.

Clement Attlee smiles at the cheering throngs which gathered at Transport House, in London on July 26, 1945, to hear Labour’s great victory at the polls. Violet Attlee stands beside her husband, left. (AP Photo)

“He was a gentle man and a gentleman. He was very good with the children and affectionate. At breakfast, we would gather around the table and he played this game where he held out a coin and asked whose monarch’s head was on it. Whoever gave the correct answer was allowed to keep the coin,” said Willer.

As the war drew to an end in 1945, Attlee was elected prime minister, a post he held until 1951. He was preceded and succeeded in the position by Winston Churchill.

It was under his watch that the British Mandate was dissolved to make way for the State of Israel. Before the establishment of Israel, thousands of European Jews, many of them Holocaust survivors, were barred from settling in Palestine under British immigration policy.

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