Paul Willer

Paul was born in 1928 in Wurzburg. His mother, Franziska Manasse, was a doctor and so was his father Johannes Willer. Franziska’s father was an eminent professor of medicine at the University of Wurzburg. The family had moved from Wurzburg from Strasburg. Johannes Willer came from Danzig. Paul’s parents had met through their medical studies. Soon after the birth of Paul’s brother, his father left the family and the parents got divorced in 1933. This was because he had a girlfriend and because he was a Nazi supporter and did not want to be married to his Jewish wife. While the family had no contact to the father, they stayed in touch with the grandparents in Danzig who disowned their son.

 

Paul, his brother, and mother moved in with his Jewish grandmother who lived in a flat provided by the University of Wuerzburg. Paul went to primary school. When the family was thrown out of the flat, they moved to a hotel in Freiburg. Although they were allowed to stay in the hotel, they had to eat in their rooms. Paul’s mother tried to organize the emigration for the family and went to the British Consulate in Frankfurt. She managed to get a visa for herself and an endorsement from the British consul for her children. When they crossed the border, it helped that the mother could show that her brother had organized that the two children would be hosted by two families, one of them the family of Clement Attlee, the then leader of the Labour party. He stayed with the Attlees in Stanmore for a few months. There were four children and one son was Paul’s age. He remembers speaking Latin to them, as that was the only language they had in common. He had a very nice time with the family and learned English quickly.

 

After a few months Paul was sent to a Prep school in Northern Ireland called Mourne Grange. He immersed himself into school life and recalls being caned for not pronouncing his Rs properly. Only after two years, could his mother come to visit. As his mother worked as a nurse and midwife she could not have her children live with her and his brother was also sent to boarding school. His brother developed epilepsy and it was difficult for him to stay in school. For his secondary education, Paul was sent to Red Hill School in east Sutton, where his brother was. This was a school for ‘difficult’ children and the approach was very anti-authoritarian.

 

After finishing Paul did not know what to do and was sent to Cardiff to work in a Zip factory. He worked first as a draughtsman and then became a sales rep. He became a Mechanical Engineer (Technical College, Cardiff). He married in 1956 and had three children. Paul is now retired and lives in a small village in Gloucestershire.  Last year, he met his half-brother  (his father’s son from his second marriage) for the first time. He found out that his father- with whom he had no contact since the divorce- had killed himself in 1964. Paul has been back to Wurzburg for different occasions.

Watch a video clip featuring this interviewee here

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@ Refugee Voices 2019