Revealed: British PM Clement Attlee Took in Jewish Child on Eve of WWII

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U.K. Prime Minister Clement Attlee, August 15, 1941.
U.K. Prime Minister Clement Attlee, August 15, 1941.Credit: AP

Clement Attlee, the U.K. Labour prime minister who headed the government in the 1940s, took in a Jewish child who had escaped the Nazi regime in 1939, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

At the time, Attlee was the head of the opposition. He sponsored a Jewish mother and her two sons, allowing them to move to the United Kingdom from Germany in 1939.

He then invited one of her children, 10-year-old Paul Willer, to live with him in his family home in northwest London, according to letters and a testimony that have now been revealed. Attlee made no effort to publicize this effort not make political gains from this act.

Jewish former child refugee on being looked after by Clement AttleeCredit: The Guardian

Willer, who is now 90 and lives in the U.K., stayed with Attlee for four months.

On Wednesday, Willer met Attlee's granddaughter for the first time on the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, the operation that would save 10,000 mainly Jewish children from the Nazis by bringing them to stay with volunteer families in the United Kingdom.

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Willer told The Guardian that the Attlees and others helped his family escape the Holocaust and make a new life for themselves in the U.K. “It was a remarkable kindness, a generous offer,” he said. “Attlee was a modest man. He did not try and glorify himself in any way. He did it for the right reasons,” he said.

The children's father, a Christian, left Willer's mother in 1933 and declared himself to be a Nazi sympathizer, according to The Guardian. He killed himself in 1964.  

Since the children were "half Aryan," the mother, who was a doctor, was told they might not qualify for the Kindertransport. She therefore turned to German church official in January 1939 seeking help, after witnessing the violence against Jews during Kristallnacht.

Her brother, who lived in London, reportedly found two families willing to take the boys; one of these was the Attlees. Attlee was 56 at the time and lived with his wife and four children.

Attlee, who died in 1967, oversaw the partition of India and ended the British mandates for Palestine and Jordan.

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