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Fred Austin obituary: Holocaust survivor, headteacher and MP's father

By Pete Madeley | Dudley | News | Published:

Fred Austin MBE, who escaped the Holocaust as a child and went on to become the youngest headmaster in the country, has died at the age of 90.

Fred Austin with his son, current Dudley MP Ian Austin

The adoptive father of Dudley North MP Ian Austin, he was born Fredi Stiller in 1928 to a Jewish family in Ostrava, a city in what was then Czechoslovakia.

His father, Ignatz Stiller, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War, died when he was a baby. His mother, Rosalie Neulander, ran a haberdashery shop in the town square.

He lived a pleasant rural life until the age of 10, when he was woken up in the middle of the night on March 14, 1939, by a noise in the street outside.

Looking out of the window, Mr Austin – who was also honoured later in life for his tirelessly charity work – saw German soldiers marching into the town square.

It was the night Hitler invaded, and four days later he was put on a train to England by his mother and teenage sisters, Ilse and Trude. He had been very lucky to escape.

Only family member to leave

A private arrangement had been made for a man in England, named Philip Austin, to sponsor a 14-year-old Jewish boy from Vienna to come to Britain.

But when the Nazis reduced the age limit of Jewish children allowed to exit areas under their control, the boy’s mother asked Rosalie if she wanted to send Fredi instead.

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Fred with mother Rosalie and sisters Ilse and Trude

He was the only member of his family able to leave, and it was the last time he would see them.

They were forced into a ghetto by the Nazis, then sent to Theresienstadt, and on to Treblinka, where they were murdered on October 5, 1942.

When Fredi arrived in the UK he was only able to speak three words of English – ‘hot’, ‘cross’ and ‘bun’ – but within a few years he gained a place at Leicester University.

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His first year was interrupted due to a wrangle about his citizenship, and he had to leave and take various labouring jobs while he sorted that out, starting again the following year and eventually achieving a first degree in French and then a doctorate.

The year’s break proved to be fortunate, as he met Margaret Colam, a young Methodist from Grimsby, on the first day of the new term at university. Their marriage would last for more than 70 years, until her death in November 2018.

Adoptions

They adopted four children, David, who is now the chief executive of the British Board of Film Classification; Ian, the MP for Dudley; Helen who is a nutritional therapist and a former teacher; and Becky, who is one of the country’s leading midwives.

Fred become the youngest grammar school headmaster in the country as head of Nelson Grammar, before being appointed head of Dudley Grammar in 1970, which subsequently became the Dudley School.

Fred and Margaret were married for 70 years and adopted four children

He suffered two heart attacks, but was restored to full health with a triple bypass operation.

Fred was very active in the community, establishing the Dudley Community Relations Council in the 1970s.

He also became heavily involved in Dudley Rotary and educational charities across the Black Country.

After volunteering for Age Concern, he became the chief officer for the charity in Dudley.

He also helped set up Hearts of England, a charity which has raised hundreds of thousands for cardiac care in the West Midlands, and raised money for the Holocaust Educational Trust.

In 2006, Fred was honoured with an MBE for his contribution to education and his work for charities.

He and Margaret doted on their 10 grandchildren. They loved travelling and the theatre, until she succumbed to dementia after which he cared for her for seven years.

Fred went on to become involved in the local dementia support group.

Following his wife’s death, he devoted a lot of his time to his love of travel, visiting friends in France, and relatives in Israel and Australia, before embarking on a seven-week cruise from Trieste to Tokyo.

He arrived back after a gruelling journey and died in his sleep the following morning.

Fred Austin is survived by his four children, David, Ian, Helen and Becky, and ten grandchildren.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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