My escape from the clutches of Nazis - Stourbridge pupils hear incredible story
"I was sleeping in my bedroom and as it was coming up to midnight I heard the noise of tramping feet – they were German soldiers coming over the border to take over my country."
Two days later Fredi Stiller was rushed out of his country of birth by his widowed mother Ruzena. The10-year-old boy took the place of an older boy from Vienna who was not allowed to leave German-occupied Austria, boarded a train and then a boat to embark on a new life with a family in England.
Fredi, now aged 85 and called Fred Austin, escaped the claws of Nazi repression – but his mother and two older sisters Ilse and Trude were not so lucky. The trio died together in a gas chamber at the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland on October 5, 1942.
Speaking at Pedmore Technology College in Stourbridge, Mr Austin MBE said: "If I hadn't have been sent to England I would have been there on October 5, 1942, and that would have been the end of me."
Following the invasion of Austria by Germany in 1938, rumours of anti-Semitism by the Nazis spread across the borders to Jewish families living in Czechoslovakia and surrounding countries. Mr Austin said: "My mother must have been alive to what was going on around and she must have been getting worried.
"So at the beginning of 1939 she had a telephone call from a friend in Vienna to say 'I have got an arrangement with an English school headmaster to fetch my son to England, but he is 15 and the Germans won't let anyone over 14 leave the country'.
"She was kind enough to my mother that she let me take her son's place. Arrangements were made for me to go with this unknown England school master who would come at Easter holiday and take a boy with him he did not know – that boy was me."
On March 18, 1939, Mr Austin heard German troops entering his town and two days later his mother took him to Prague to get his passport stamped and open the way for his journey to England. He said: "On March 28 my mother put me on the train and I looked out the window and there was my mother standing on the platform waving a white handkerchief. That was the last time I was to see her."
Mr Austin was looked after by the Englishman, called Philip Austin, and was schooled at Hastings Grammar School. He later went to Leicester University – where he met his wife Margaret – and went to teach at Birmingham's King Edward's Five Ways School. Later he became headteacher at Dudley Grammar School before retiring in 1985.
He said: "My sisters were deprived of education and they were later moved into a ghetto. My mother lost her shop and they were forced to wear a yellow star when walking in public. They didn't get much to eat, and what they did get was a loaf of bread and soup. If they wanted fuel for the room they had to cut up furniture. I later found out Ilse worked in a community canteen. It was not a pleasant life."
He said his family were taken to Treblinka concentration camp on October 1 or 2, 1942. They were killed days later and their bodies cremated in ovens. His mother was aged 47, Ilse was 21 and Trude 18. Speaking about his own life, Mr Austin, who has four adopted children including Dudley North MP Ian Austin, said he considered himself to now be British. Mr Austin has written a book about his experience. It is called Czech and Mate and is published by Studley-based Brewin Books.
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