Jewish refugee meets granddaughter of Attlee – the ex-PM who saved him

26 November 2018

With a tender arm wrapped around him, Jo Roundell Greene gently guided her new friend, 90-year-old Paul Willer, towards a plaque that commemorated the humanitarian effort that saved his life.

The pair stood in reverie as they read how 80 years ago the UK decided to create the Kindertransport – the programme that rescued 10,000 mainly Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Paul breathed deeply, as he read the size of the number and whispered: “It brings it all back.”

He had been a 10-year-old when he and his family fled Germany in 1939 – only to be taken in secretly by Clement Attlee, who was then leader of the opposition.

Mr Willer stayed with the Attlees for four months before the war, and said he felt loved by the family, but had to get used to having cold baths.

To add to the piquancy of the occasion, he had just met Jo, Mr Attlee’s granddaughter - a union both described as “an overwhelming experience”.

Mrs Roundell Greene, who only learnt of Mr Willer’s existence a few months ago, said: “I feel like I have got a new bit of my family – and I think we’re going to remain friends.

“This is a hugely important moment – we've got lots of things to talk about.”

Mr Willer, who lives in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said he and Mrs Roundell Greene had hugged many times.

The pair were brought together at the House of Commons by the Association of Jewish Refugees, which organised a poignant event at Speaker’s House to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, with MPs and parliamentarians narrating excerpts from the debate that led to its creation.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, who joined Mr Willer and Mrs Roundell Greene at the plaque, said their meeting was a “human occasion”, adding that “the chemistry between them could be detected a mile off”.

“They looked at each other with such warmth, mutual appreciation and felt instantly an unbreakable bond,” he said.

Image:  Jo Roundell Greene greets Paul Willer in the House of Commons. Credit - Mark Duffy / UK Parliament

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Parliament, Speaker news

Share this page