Clement Attlee’s granddaughter has told MailOnline she expects to cry today when she finally meets the refugee he took in secretly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Mr Attlee, who was then the leader of the opposition, sponsored Paul Willer, now 90, who fled Hitler’s Germany with his Jewish mother Franziska and younger brother Otto in 1939.
The refugee was among thousands of children brought safely to the UK and lived with the Attlee family in
Mr Attlee never sought political gain from taking the little boy into his own home in Stanmore and the former PM’s family told MailOnline today they only heard about him a ‘few months ago’.
Mr Attlee’s granddaughter Jo Roundell Greene will meet him for the first time tonight at a Parliament event marking the 80th anniversary of Kindertransport, which saw some 10,000 mostly Jewish children given sanctuary in Britain.
She told MailOnline today as she left for London: ‘I think I may well cry when I meet Mr Willer. I’m feeling quite excited and quite emotional about seeing him.
She added: ‘It’s moving that he has had such a long life and my grandparents have played a very small part in that – I hope he’ll tell me that he has had a happy life’.
Paul Willer (right) pictured with his mother Franziska and brother Otto who were all brought to the UK in 1939 and sponsored by Clement Attlee and his family
Mr Willer, pictured today at his home in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, arrived in England without being able to speak English and used Latin to communicate with the Attlee family
The former PM Clement Attlee (pictured left in 1961) was remembered as a ‘gentle man’ by the refugee he took into his home and Mr Willer will meet Jo Roundell Greene, Clement’s granddaughter, today, who told MailOnline she may be reduced to tears
Mrs Roundell Greene first learned about her family’s links to him after receiving an email from the Association of Jewish Refugees a ‘few months ago’.
Asked if she was surprised that Mr Attlee took him in she said: ‘No not at all. He was a great person. Throughout his life he gave love and support to people who needed help – and so did my grandmother’.
She added: ‘I remember my mother saying something about having a refugee to stay. He must have been 10 and she was around 13 It was her who spoke Latin to him’.
Mr Willer, who has confirmed he communicated to Mr Attlee via his daughter Felicity is also excited and moved by their meeting tonight.
Willer, 90, described Clement Attlee as a ‘gentleman and a gentle man.’
He told MailOnline today: ‘He was simply head of the family, I didn’t know anything about his politics.
‘He and his family were very kind to me – I stayed with them at their large house called Heywood in Stanmore for about three months.
‘I was a 10-year-old German boy so I had no way of comparing life with the Attlees against any other British family.
‘The Attlees were a very pleasant family with four children about my age.’
Widower Mr Willer said his Jewishness was never brought up by the wartime Labour Prime Minister during his stay in April 1939.
He said: ‘It was never part of any conversation or action, it simply didn’t arise.
‘I never was that Jewish and I have been Church of England ever since coming here.
‘At that time it was unfashionable, in the days of Hitler, to want to be Jewish so I was quite happy to be unjewish.
‘Before we left Germany my mother had to fill in a form asking: ‘Are you Aryan?’
‘She put down that I was half Jewish, I can remember feeling quite ashamed about it.’
Labour Party leader Clement Attlee (1883 – 1967) on holiday at Nevin in Wales, with his wife Violet and their daughters, Janet and Felicity, 2nd September 1938. Felicity’s daughter says her mother told her about the time they took in a refugee
Mr Willer has told how he lived in the Attlee home for four months, aged ten, after his family first arrived from the Bavarian town of Würzburg.
His mother was a doctor but was unable to find work and outbreaks of antisemitic violence, including the Kristallnacht – the violent ‘night of broken glass’ – on November 9 1938, had terrified her.
The two Willer brothers and their mother Franziska had been abandoned by their Christian Nazi sympathiser father, Johannes, five years before, in 1933.
After a stark warning from a friend over the rising antisemitism in Germany Mrs Willer began to plan her escape – but her children were unlikely to qualify for Kindertransport because they were ‘half Aryan’.
Mrs Willer turned to the church in Germany and Rev William Hewett, the rector at Stanmore arranged for the Attlee family to take in a boy at their Heywood residence, confirming the offer with two letters.
Mr Attlee (pictured) never sought political gain from taking Mr Willer into his own home in Stanmore, north-west London
The letters of guarantee were enough to allow the mother to slip into the Netherlands and onwards to Britain where Clement Attlee, already leader of the Labour Party for four years, was 56-years-old.
Paul, then ten, remembers fleeing over the border.
‘The guard said to me, ‘I am sure you would like to hand it over as a gift to the Führer. If you give it me, I will make sure he gets it’.
‘So I had to hand it over. After they left, my mother told me that we were safe, safe from the Nazis.’
Mr Willer learned to speak English in just six weeks with the help of the Attlee’s four children who were about his age. He enrolled at a local primary school in Stanmore.
His now deceased brother Peter was placed with a family called Preston who lived nearby.
But the two boys and their mother Franziska moved to Northern Ireland at the outbreak of WWII in September 1939.
Mr Willer became a toolmaker, designer and seller of zip fasteners, spending his working life in the South Wales valleys.
He married his wife Vivienne in 1956 and the couple had three daughters Joanna, Judith and Jacqueline
Speaking about the Labour politician, Mr Willer told the Guardian: ‘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.’
During young Paul’s stay Mr Attlee was formulating Labour’s policy to oppose Hitler’s advances towards the Sudetenland, as he stood against Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.
Four months later, Paul left the Attlees in September 1939 and attended school in Northern Ireland.
His mother wrote her memoirs 1965, a year after his father killed himself in 1964. Mrs Willer died in 2008 but her notes are being kept in the Wiener library in central London.
Before retiring, Paul started a family and lived in Hertfordshire, working as a sales manager.
In 1945, Attlee defeated Winston Churchill in a landslide victory.
Clement Attlee’s government enlarged and improved social services and the public sector in post-war Britain, creating the National Health Service and nationalising major industries and public utilities. Attlee’s government also presided over the decolonisation of India, Pakistan, Burma, Ceylon and Jordan, and saw the creation of the state of Israel upon Britain’s withdrawal from Palestine. He died in 1967.
This week, at the event arranged by the Association of Jewish Refugees , the late prime minister’s granddaughter Jo Roundell Greene, a Lib Dem councillor from Somerset, will meet Mr Willer.