Erika Burgell (born 1932, née Muehlstein) and Herbert Muehlstein (1930-1996) were the children of Jewish couple Arthur Aron (1890-1964) and Emma Muehlstein (1902-1964, née Ullmann) from Vienna. Aron and Emma Muehlstein ran two successful clothes and jewellery businesses. The family was well-off employing maids and a governess for the children. After the annexation of Austria in March 1938, Jewish children in Vienna were segregated and Herbert had to go to a special school for Jewish children. The family's businesses were requisitioned by the SS. Herbert Muehlstein and his father, who by then was doing forced labour, were often the victims of anti-semitic violence. The parents managed to secure a place on a Kindertransport to England for Erika in March 1939. Her brother followed her some months later. The children were looked after by separate host families in England which changed frequently. When war broke out both children were evacuated from London to Sussex. After the occupation of France, the area where they lived was declared a war zone and they were moved to South Wales. They were eventually transferred to a children's refugee home in Birmingham and later to London. Erika studied dressmaking at Barrett Street Technical College from 1945. Herbert suffered particularly badly mentally and academically from the separation from his parents and his disrupted education.
In London, Erika and Herbert lived with their uncle, Richard Ullmann (1896-1974) who had also fled persecutions in Austria. He was arrested on the premises of his business in May 1938 and imprisoned at Dachau and later transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp. He was released in February 1939 after which he arranged for his emigration.
Erika and Herbert's parents fled to Antwerp, Belgium, in 1939. Emma gave birth to two more children, Renee (born 1939) and Ruth (born 1943). Both children were taken into the safety of a convent and educated in the Catholic faith. In 1941 the couple was held at Limbourg detention camp but were released in the same year. Aron and Emma survived the Holocaust in Brussels where they settled down with their two youngest daughters after the war.