Get Adobe Flash player
3 Kislev 5778 - 21 November 2017

Life Stories

This Post captures the life stories of some members of our community which deserve to be remembered and is of interest for the wider community.

A journey into the past

This is a transcript of the presentation made by Vivien and David Harris at the recent Tikun Leyl Shavuot. It tells of Vivien’s father‘s family. We felt it would be of interest to the wider community. We would like to thank Vivien and David for their kind permission to publish their story on our website.

DAVID

I’d like to begin by thanking Richard and others for this opportunity.  It so happens that, on the second day of Shavuot, I have yahrzeit for my mother, so I’d like to share these few words in the memory of Marat Leah bat Ze’ev, alehah ha’shalom.

Reb Shmuel of Nickolsburg, or to give him his more popular name, Reb Shmelke, was a major figure in the early days of the Chassidic movement.  It happened that he was once travelling home by sea, together with one of his close disciples, Reb Moshe Leib of Sasov.  A violent storm suddenly broke out and whipped up the waves.  The travellers were terrified and cried out to God, desperate for deliverance.  In the middle of all of this, Reb Shmelke was amazed to see his disciple, Reb Moshe Leib sitting in a corner, singing simcha melodies.

“Moshe Leib”, he said. “What are you doing?  At a time like this, how can you be so happy?”

Said Reb Moshe Leib “As Yaakov Avinu, our forefather Jacob, says in Parashat Va’yetze ‘Veshavti b’shalom el bet avi’.  ‘I will return in peace to my father’s, i.e. my family’s – home’.   How can I not be glad when soon I will be in my family home?”  The storm abated and the ship arrived safely at its destination.

Well, Vivien and I, together with other family members, spent a day during the summer of 2011 in Vivien’s father’s home in Seelow, in the former East Germany.   Although we flew, rather than going by sea, I’m delighted – and relieved – to report that our journey was hazard-free.  But return in peace to a family home we certainly did.

In that same parashat Va’yetze, Jacob promises that if God keeps him safe, “Ha’even ha’zot asher samti matzevah” “I will set this stone” – which has been his impromptu pillow – “as a monument”.  As chance would have it, stones and monuments feature in our story, too.  But for the moment let me set the scene and tell you something about Seelow.

Seelow is an unpretentious little town of about five and a half thousand souls.  It’s situated a fifty-minute train ride east of Berlin towards the Polish border and you can actually see into Poland from Seelow.

Prior to the Nazis’ rise to power, only three Jewish families remained in Seelow, all members of Vivien’s family.  There was the Reissner family, comprised of Vivien’s grandparents, Louis and Martha, and their three children Ruth, Willi and Joachim.

Then there were the Philippsborns:  Max, his wife, Adelheid, and their son, Heini.

And, finally, the Irmligs:  Isidor and Julie, their daughter, Hildegarde, her husband, Karl-Heinz and Isidor’s son, Berthold, from his first marriage.

These three family groups were all related because Louis Reissner, Adelheid Philippsborn and Julie Irmlig were brother and sisters.

As things turned out Willi Reissner, Vivien’s father, and his brother, Joachim, escaped to London where they began new lives.  So, too, did their cousin Heini Philippsborn, who settled in Brighton.

Not so for the other family members.  Louis and Martha Reissner, Vivien‘s grandparents, were deported to the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and that is the last information we have of them.

Their daughter, Ruth, Vivien’s auntie, was working in a Jewish orphanage in the Pankow area of Berlin.  The last information we have of her is that on 5th September 1942, she, together with the children and other members of staff from the orphanage, were deported from Berlin on Transport 19 to the east, to Riga.  There, she, and others on the train, were murdered in the forest immediately on arrival, by the Nazis and/or their Latvian collaborators.

Adelheid Philippsborn was also deported to the Warsaw ghetto in 1942; her husband, Max, had died of a stroke in Seelow in 1940.

Julie and Isidor Irmlig were deported to Treblinka on erev Tisha B’Av 1942.  Hildegarde and Karl-Heinz Irmlig were murdered in Warsaw in 1942.  Berthold Irmlig was deported to Sachsenhausen where he was murdered in December 1940.

VIVIEN

It so happens that I also have yahrzeit on the second day of Shavuot.  My yahrzeit’s for my father who died when I was a teenager.

As far back as I can remember, I’d always wanted to visit Seelow, my father’s home town, although I wasn’t very keen on travelling to the former DDR.  However, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as David said earlier, I actually did.  David talked about our visit in 2011 but we – and my brother and sister-in-law had already visited the town two years before that, in 2009.

We’d decided to contact the town hall to enquire whether we could get a train to the town – and thank goodness we did as I’m not sure what we would have done when we got there, if we’d gone under our own “steam”.

Our visit was masterminded by someone called Thomas Drewing.  Thomas, who works in Planning at the Town Hall, is a keen local historian and it’s one of the quirks of fate that, had it been someone else who’d received our initial e-mail, we might never have received the same results.

Once we’d made contact, Thomas was able to answer quite a lot of questions about my family and he also sent send us copies of all my family’s birth, marriage and death certificates.

On the day of our visit, we took a very early train, from Berlin to Seelow, and there was a reception party waiting for us at Seelow station (which was just as well, as the station is not in the town but somewhere in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere).

As we drove into Seelow, I felt very emotional and I remember saying “I never ever thought I’d come here”.

We were given a guided tour of Seelow and, from the top of the church tower, I had the first glimpse of my father’s family home.   The mayor then came to meet us – and later, someone from the local newspaper.

Before our visit, I’d asked Thomas whether it would be possible to go into my father’s house.   This was also something that I’d never expected to do and there was such a lump in my throat when we went inside.  Growing up, we’d often heard a story about my grandfather winning the lottery sometime before 1930 and the local historian has since found a newspaper article, confirming this.  Apparently my grandfather hid the winnings under the cellar floor.  We had a good look at the floor but …….

Thomas also took us to the Town Hall where he’d laid out a family tree of all my father’s family.  Later on, we met with three gentlemen who told us what they’d remembered about my family before they were taken away from their home at 20 Berlinerstrasse, the day after Kristallnacht.

Before we arrived, we told Thomas not to worry about meals for us and that we’d be bringing our own food.  However, before we left Seelow, one of the other Town Hall staff presented us with a “cake”, together with the recipe, which she’d made.  She said that we could eat it on the train back to Berlin.  She’d found a “kosher” recipe on the Internet – it was an extremely large challah!

After we arrived back home, I e-mailed Thomas and asked him about the possibility of installing Stolpersteine in Seelow – which David’s going to talk about in a minute.  Thomas replied that he already had it in mind.  And that brings us to our visit in 2011 but before that….

DAVID

One of the things that survivors of the Holocaust find most painful is that they have no concrete memories of those who did not survive.  They have no idea when their loved ones passed away so they can’t light a memorial candle; there’s no yahrzeit to observe.  Neither is there any grave side to visit.  No one knows where this or that victim of the Holocaust perished.

Enter a word, in German, “Stolpersteine”.  “Stolpersteine”, translated into English, means “stumbling stones”; they are small, square, concrete bricks.  They have brass memorial plates on the top and are inserted into pavements.

Stolpersteine are meant to draw attention to the fate of those who were persecuted by the Nazis.  Financed by donations, the project aims to honour the victims and to rescue their memory from oblivion.

Stolpersteine are different from other memorials.  They bring memorial culture down to street level.  They are personal, local, a little bit awkward and liable to cause embarrassment.

They’re about who used to live in your house or flat and the inconvenient truth that these people were murdered.  They are also about neighbours and raise the awkward question of what kind of neighbour you might have been under other circumstances.

In Germany, Stolpersteine are a phenomenon.  They’re to be found in over 500 localities and they record the residence, date of deportation and place where the commemorated person perished.  They’re like gold-coloured cobblestones, catching the eye and tripping up the conscience and they are the best-known work of an artist called Gunter Demnig and whenever a Stolperstein is installed, he has to be there to install it.  But, Gunter Demnig isn’t Jewish so why did he create these memorials?

You can find the answer to this question in the stylish, opulent villa at Wansee where, in January 1942, Heydrich,Eichmann  and their henchmen met to discuss the final solution to the Jewish question. Now a museum, Wansee has a stolpersteine exhibit and in the display case there is a quotation from Gunter Demnig which reads:

“I don’t know, sometimes I try not to think about what my father could have been part of”.

Demnig senior was a member of the German army during the war but never spoke to his son about it.  So, in acknowledgement and recognition of what his father may have done, Gunter Demnig has created this method of keeping the memory alive.

Gunter Demnig does not see the Stolpersteine as gravestones, however. He wants them to be walked over, so that their metallic surfaces stay shiny.  The victims receive their names and a part of their identity back, so that each personal stone is also intended to symbolise all the victims.

We were told that memorials would be installed outside Vivien’s grandparents’ home- the only one of the three Jewish houses still standing- and also where the Philippsborns and Irmligs – her father’s aunties and their families – had lived.

VIVIEN

Going off at a tangent, for a moment, by a curious coincidence, in October 2010, I’d arranged to visit Auschwitz and, the day before, having recently discovered that my mother’s brother, Heinz, had perished there, I decided to look through what little information I had.

In those dark times, when countries were at war with each other, the only way to communicate with family left behind was via the Red Cross.  Relatives who’d managed to escape would write a short message on one side of a form and, if their relatives were still alive, they’d reply on the reverse.  Unsurprisingly, it usually took a number of months for a message to get back to the originator.

Prior to September 1939, my mother had lived in Dortmund, in the West of Germany.  However, she’d always told me that her brother, Heinz, had been a slave labourer in my father’s home town, Seelow, in the East of Germany.

As I read the Red Cross letters in my file, I came across a reply on the back to one that my mother had written to Heinz in 1941.   I didn’t remember noticing this before but Heinz had written that he’d married Elli Stern in Seelow on 26 October that year.  So this is how my mother knew about Seelow.

I had a sudden brainwave – and the next minute, an e-mail was winging its way to Thomas Drewing, our contact at Seelow Town Hall, asking if he could possibly trace the marriage certificate for Heinz and Elli.  Half an hour later, Thomas replied “I have it and will send it to you within the next half hour”.

Half-an-hour passed and David and I checked our e-mails.  Thomas’s reply had arrived and we eagerly opened it to find the scanned certificate of Heinz’s and Elli’s marriage.  Thomas had also been kind enough to include a translation of the certificate into modern German, followed by one in English.  As we were scrolling through it, I noticed my father’s father’s name on the page.

“Thomas has made a mistake”, I said to David.  “He’s got the wrong side of the family”. He’s sent me something about my father’s family, instead of my mother’s family.”

Then I suddenly realised that Thomas hadn’t made any mistake – quite the contrary.  The amazing fact was that my father’s father had been a witness at my mother’s brother’s wedding in Seelow.

My parents didn’t meet until after the war and married in London in 1947.  But, unbeknown to either of my parents, my father’s father had already met my mother’s brother and sister-in-law, in 1941.  How I wish my parents had known about this.

Following this discovery, we were then so pleased to hear that the town of Seelow also intended to install Stolpersteine for Heinz and Elli outside a local community centre called the Schweitzerhaus (the Swiss House), where they’d been married and also for Mathel – their baby daughter – who was born in the winter of 1942.  So, it was a coming together of both my parents’ families.

And so it was that on Monday 8 August 2011, corresponding coincidentally and appropriately to erev Tisha B’Av, 14 of us arrived in Seelow.

I have to admit that I found it quite stressful, making arrangements for 14 family members to be in Seelow at the same time, but it was a very important day for us all and, as Thomas later said, it was a very important day for the town too.

Again, we were met at Seelow station and driven to the town.  And, it was outside the Irmlig home that the first Stolpersteine were installed Gunter Demnig.  Following this, the mayor of Seelow gave a short speech.

We then moved on to the Philippsborn home, then to my family home, where the Stolpersteine had already been installed, and, finally, to the Schweitzerhaus, a few minutes from the town where the Stolpersteine for my mother’s family were installed.

DAVID

At each location Bryan, a member of the Philippsborn family who had travelled from Prague, where he is a chazzan at the Altneu Shul, and I recited yizkor prayers.  Vivien’s brother spoke outside their family home and I spoke at the Schweitzerhaus.

We don’t know how they got to know about it but, for the first three installations, we were joined by some young people who were attending a summer camp in Germany, organised by the Janusz-Korczak Academie in Munich.

Before we left the UK, their teachers had asked whether we would mind if they attended.  Jewish children from Israel, Germany, the Ukraine, Russia and the USA joined in this occasion and made their own contributions in German, Russian and Hebrew before ending with “Eli, Eli,”-the anthem of the Holocaust – the song of the Hannah Senesh poem, and Hatikvah.  They also unfurled an Israel flag.

The young and the not-so-young, all together, from different countries but all remembering the victims among our people.  As you might imagine, it was a very special occasion.

VIVIEN

Before the actual day, the town held several events, for the community and for local schools, about the history of Jewish life in Seelow and also about tolerance and diversity.

They also screened a film called The Last Train – a fictional story inspired by the 37th Transport of Jews from Berlin to Auschwitz.  In 1943, on the real train, were my mother’s brother, sister-in-law and one-year old niece, Heinz, Elli and Mathel.

I had previously asked Thomas whether it would be possible for me to go into my father’s house again.  He said that he would ask, although it might be difficult for all of us to go in.  However, at the end of an exhausting day, 11 of us did!

I suppose that now, the most important thing is that the Stolpersteine are there and will be there for many, many years to come, reminding anyone who passes by of the appalling thing that happened, not in some far flung place, but in their home town, in their neighbourhood, in the streets that they know.  And they’ll see these reminders every time they go past.

I must admit that I feel a sense of comfort and, well, almost pleasure that every time the occupants of number 20 Berlinerstrasse now go in and out of their house they’ll be reminded of the Jewish family whose home it was and the terrible fate to which most them went.

It also comforts me that this is as near as you can get, to an everlasting memory to the family that I never knew.  For most, we’ll never know what their actual fate was.  There are no graves to visit and there’s no Yahrzeit to observe.  But, they’re in our consciousness and we’ll visit Seelow in the future, knowing that my family is, in some sense, still there.

The visit to Seelow has altered my relationship to my family history.  My father never spoke about his family and now I was able to imagine them, not just as numbers in that cold statistic of six million victims, which is beyond all human comprehension.

DAVID

Emeritus Chief Rabbi Sachs points out how remarkable it is that Biblical Hebrew has no word for “history”, despite the fact that three quarters of Tanach is made up of historical narratives.  Modern Hebrew has borrowed the word “historiah” for the academic area of study but there is no equivalent in the Biblical language.

Rabbi Sachs goes on to observe that the key word of Tanach isn’t “history” but “memory”.  “Zakkor”, the command to remember, occurs time and time again in the Torah.  For example: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”;   umpteen religious observances because they are “zecher yetziat mitzrayim”, “in memory of the exodus from Egypt.”

He continues:  there is a profound difference between “history” and “memory”.  “History” is his story – something that happened to someone else.  “Memory” is my story – something that happened to me and is part of who I am.  History is information;   memory is part of identity.

We can study history but the knowledge we gain makes no claim on us.  That knowledge is the past as past.  Memory, however, is the past as present, as it lives on in us.  Without memory, there can be no identity.

But, there is a problem with all of this.  How can we remember what didn’t happen to us – an event that took place before we were born?  A way of answering this question is shown in our Seder ritual where, by using symbols and actions, we re-live the events of ancient times.   We can apply that model to other matters, too.  We need to re-enact the past, to bring the past, with its people, back into our consciousness once again and on this festival of Shavuot we’ll do that tomorrow when we will stand as the events of the giving of the Torah are recalled and re-lived.

Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi was the Director of Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University in New York and at the end of one of his books, “Zakhor”, published in 1989, he refers to a poll that the French newspaper, “Le Monde”, had conducted as to whether Nazi war criminal, Klaus Barbie, “The Butcher of Lyons”, should be put on trial. People were asked: “Which of the two words ‘forgetting’ or ‘justice’ best characterizes your attitude towards the events of this period of the war and the Occupation?”

Yerushalmi ponders this option – “forgetting” or “justice”?  Seems an odd choice.  Shouldn’t it be “forgetting” or “remembering”?   “Could it be that the journalists have stumbled across something more important than they perhaps realized?”, Yerushalmi asks.   We assume that the opposite of “forgetting” is “remembering?” but could it be, Yerushalmi suggests, that the opposite of “forgetting” is not “remembering”.  The opposite of “forgetting” is “justice”.

Harry Ellis

A Celebration of 100 Remarkable Years

Harry Ellis 02C

On 12 July we celebrate the 100th birthday of a remarkable man, our Senior Trustee, Harry Ellis. In the past few months I have had the good fortune to get to know Harry and to spend some time with him. Despite his failing eye sight he continues to serve the community by attending the Executive Committee meetings and by sharing his wisdom with the ‘youngsters’. He is humorous, quick witted and a most agreeable whisky drinking companion. Harry tells the story of an executive meeting during which John Kasmir remarked that there was a draught coming from the window. Harry replied ‘This year we have a draught, next year we will have an overdraft’.

Harry was born in 1916 in Newport in Wales to Lithuanian parents. After attending Newport High School he went to Cardiff University to study Law and qualified as a solicitor in May 1939 just a few months before the start of the War. In July 1939 he got his first job in Aberystwyth and later that year he got engaged to Amy Taylor from Bournemouth. In 1940 Harry moved to Bournemouth and married Amy at the BHC shul.  They went on to have one son, Jonathan.

Ever since joining BHC in 1940 Harry has been an integral part and a leader of our congregation. In 1947 he was elected treasurer as a young man aged just 31. He would go on to serve the community in various capacities for the next 70 years. Harry was first elected president in 1950, the year I was born, and he held this office on no less than 5 occasions. In 1965 he became a trustee of the congregation, an office he holds to this day.

Harry’s leadership qualities did not stop with the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation. He encouraged, maintained and strengthened cordial relations with the non-Jewish community and was held in high esteem by them. In the early 1970s he was elected Vice President of the Bournemouth and District Incorporated Law Society, the first Jew to have held that office and went on to become the President of that society.

During his long service Harry also represented our congregation at the Chief Rabbinate Council and at the Board of Deputies. He served as executive member of the Council of Christians and Jews, as chairman of the Bournemouth Jewish Public Relations Committee and as chairman of the Hannah Levy Home Aid Committee, to name a few.

The cause that was particularly close to Harry’s heart was the Joint Palestine Appeal (JPA) the organisation which was the predecessor to the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). In the 1960s and 1970s Harry was the chairman of the Bournemouth JPA committee and worked tirelessly to promote Israel’s interests both politically and financially.

It is remarkable to think that for the past 70 years the history of Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation and the life stories of Harry Ellis and his dear wife Amy are so intertwined; you could not tell one without the other. On behalf of the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation, the Executive would like to thank Harry for his many years of service to our community and our town and we wish him a hearty ‘Mazal Tov’ on his very special birthday.

M. Ozdamar

(June 2016)

Life Stories – Walter Kammerling

Walter and his wife Herta have been respected members of the Bournemouth Jewish Community for many years. In his teenage years Walter experienced the horrors of the events leading up to the 2nd World War and lost his parents and sister in Auschwitz. Nowadays Walter is a tireless campaigner for keeping the flame of Holocaust Remembrance alive by visiting schools and educating school children about the horrors of racism and anti-Semitism. This is the life story of Walter Kammerling.

Walter was born in Vienna in 1923. He had two elder siblings, Erica and Ruthi. Walter’s parents, Maximilian and Marie, were very hard working but the family never had much money.

The events that shaped Walter’s life were soon underway. In 1933 Hitler, who was also born inAustria, had become the Chancellor of Germany. Since 1934 Austria was ruled by the conservative, “Vaterlaendische Front” (Patriotic Front) party and was coming under pressure from Germany to join the ‘Reich’. Although the Austrian government was authoritarian and undemocratic, it resisted the attempts by Germany to be annexed. The Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who had banned the Austrian Nazi Party, was murdered by the Nazis in July 1934 during a failed coup attempt and Kurt Schuschnigg became chancellor.

Schuschnigg tried to keep Austria independent, he was opposed to Hitler’s ambitions to absorb Austria into the Third Reich, but the pressure both from internal and external elements was growing. Finally, it was decided to hold a referendum on Sunday, 13 March 1938 so that the electorate could vote on Austrian independence.

In 1938 Vienna had a population of 2 million, 10% of which was Jewish. The Jews had been part of the Viennese society for many generations, and were totally integrated. At the time of the referendum Walter was fourteen and describes himself as a rather ‘immature’ fourteen. In the days leading up to the referendum, he remembers a discussion between his father and a neighbour and recalls being frightened when the neighbour said that Hitler would never allow the referendum to go ahead.

Walter does not remember that the referendum was much discussed at home. In the days leading up to the referendumViennawas caught up in an election fever. Schuschnigg made contact with the illegal Socialists and the Trade Unions. Slogans were painted on house walls and pavements.  Even schools were targeted, Walter remembers several visits from youngsters stressing the importance to say “Yes” at the referendum. Even though the school children were too young to vote, they still had these visits and it continued right until the Friday before the vote.

At 8.00 pm on Friday 11th, Schuschnigg addressed the nation on the radio and informing them that he had received an ultimatum from Hitler, either to agree to an annexation or there would be war. Schuschnigg wanted to avoid bloodshed and had agreed to give in to the treats. He finished his broadcast with the words “God protect Austria”. As soon as he had finished his broadcast, the streets erupted to the sounds of cheering and shouting. The illegal Nazi party of Austria must have been informed and they were ready.

The violence and terror against the Jews started immediately; They became outlaws overnight, in the truest sense of the word. Anybody could do anything they wanted against the Jews and there was absolutely no protection.  The Jews were banned from using public baths, libraries or any closed park. On park benches notices were painted “Forbidden for Jews”. Jewish teachers were immediately dismissed. Jewish property, such as flats, factories, shops, department stores, businesses etc were ‘aryanised’. Sometimes the new ‘owner’ of the property might sign something resembling a contract and pay a small sum towards it; In the case of a paper mill, the amount paid was insufficient to buy a train ticket to the border. Sometimes the Jewish owners of flats were told they had two hours to vacate the flat leaving everything behind. In the beginning of 1938 there were 70,000 Jewish flats inViennaand by the end of that year the figure was down to 26,000 flats.

Following Austria’s annexation, which is known as Anschluss, one of the first things the residents noticed was the scrubbing of the slogans that had been painted on the walls and pavements.  The Jews were apprehended and were made to scrub the streets. This was great fun for the onlookers. Walter remembers that walking to school, about  a 15 minute walk, was almost like running the gauntlet, as hordes of storm troopers , thugs wearing brown-shirted, and Hitler youths roamed the streets. He would try to walk as inconspicuously as possible, not too fast, and not too slow. When he heard screams and shouting behind him, when Jews were beaten or taken away for scrubbing, he did not dare to look round for fear of becoming one of them.

For the most part Walter managed to avoid this fate but once they caught him and he too was made to scrub the streets ofVienna. The young man in charge, he could not have been older than 17, was not in uniform, he only had the armband of the Hitler Youth. He would not allow them to kneel, but they had to be in a crouching position. When an old man next to Walter fell over, he was kicked and verbally abused.  When Walter looked up he could see that most of the onlookers had a smile on their faces. One lady at the rear had a little girl with her; She held her up so that she could also see what was happening and they both smiled. We can only imagine how hard it must have been for the Jews to be mocked in this way by the non-Jewish citizens they had lived side-by-side for generations.

In those days, each of the 21 districts in Vienna had a grammar school ‘Realgymnasium’  and Walter was in RG2, the one in the 2nd district. This was the district with a large Jewish population. At first the non-Jewish pupils were separated from the Jewish ones. They were then moved to schools in other districts and Jewish pupils from other districts came to Walter’s school as that school had been designated as ‘Jewish only’. As a sign of how fast the events moved, by the summer of 1938 they had to leave school.

It was very hard to obtain visas to leave Austria and Walter’s father had tried everything. One day he came home and announced that he had been successful to get visas for them to go to Columbia. He remembers how excited they had been and how his parents had started packing; Unfortunately it turned out to be false hope since the embassy official had sold visas that were not valid.

In October 1938 the Germans expelled Jews with Polish nationality from Austria and left them for days in no-man’s-land under terrible conditions. One such man contacted his son in Paris as soon as he came to Warsaw to tell him about their experiences. His 17 year old son, Hershel Grynszpan went to the German Embassy and shot a diplomat called Ernst vom Rath. On the 9 November vom Rath died and it seemed as if Goebbels had been waiting for this, because all over Germany and Austria Synagogues and Jewish property were set alight. Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Somebody, not in uniform, came to arrest Walter’s father. His father had had his first angina attack and was in bed. The man looked at the prescription and, as their doctor was non-Jewish, he accepted it. He took, however, Walter’s sisters to scrub the floors of the local party office that had been a large Jewish flat. Walter’s family lived in a two room flat and Walter was in the other room, but I could still watch them from behind the curtain. Years later Walter asked Erika, who had come to Britain on a domestic permit, about this incident but she just shook her head and did not reply. All 95 Synagogues and prayer houses in Vienna were utterly destroyed except one, which housed the archives of the Jewish community. The fire engines did come out but only to protect the properties adjacent to the Jewish property on fire.

The Nazis called that night ‘Kristallnacht’. Walter does not like to use this name for the terrible events of that night because it sounds rather romantic but it was a night of unimaginable horror for the Jews of the Third Reich.

All this happened when the world was ‘at peace’; There were foreign journalists in Germany and Austria and they all observed and reported what had happened.  To the credit of Great Britain only 11 days after that infamous event, on 21 November, the Parliament discussed these troubling developments and decided to allow 10,000 Jewish children to be permitted to come to Britain unaccompanied by their families. This decision saved the lives of 10,000 children. A deposit of £50 was required to ensure that the refugees did not become a burden on the country. The money was collected and from the beginning of December 1938 Jewish youngsters started to arrive in Britain on the ‘Kindertransport’. Walter does not know what his parents had to do but I was told that he would be going to England.

Walter was a typical 15 year old and I don’t remember asked any questions. He remembers saying goodbye to his father who was in the Jewish Hospital with angina; His father was in tears and Walter had never before seen him cry. Walter was choked and did not want to leave his bedside. An older cousin who was with Walter just took him by the hand and led him away. Walter stood at the door and looked back;  It did not cross his mind that this could be the last time he would see his father. Later that night his mother and sisters saw him off at the station. Walter was almost in a daze; He remembers seeing his mother, Erika and Ruthi on the platform from the window of his train carriage.

When Walter left Vienna his father was 48 years old, his mother 44 and my sisters 18 and 17 years old. Ruthi was just too old to come on a Kindertransport, for which the cut-off age was 16. That was the day that Walter saw his parents and his sister Ruthi for the very last time. He was not aware at that time, that Britain had saved his life for which he is extremely grateful to this day.

Walter and his fellow travellers landed in Harwich on Monday, 12 December 1938 and were taken to a holiday camp; He thinks it was a Warner’s holiday camp, which was used to house the children. It was in the camp, a few days later,  that Walter craved to talk to his mother and realized that she was no longer ‘next door’. Of course he sent letters home, but writing home was just another new experience. He remembers seeing couples come to the camp to choose the children they would like to look after.

In January 1939 Walter and three other boys, all about the same age, were sent to Northern Ireland. The Jewish community in Belfast looked after them. At first they were taken to a hostel in Clifton Park Avenue and after a short time there, they were sent to farm in Millisle, Co. Down, which the ‘Jewish Committee’ secured for them. Again, the help and care they experienced in Northern Ireland was another life saver. There were different groups on the farm; The ‘adults’, around 20 middle aged and old refugees from Austria and Germany; the ‘Chalutzim’, youngsters in their twenties, belonging to an orthodox Zionist organisation, who used the agricultural experience as training for their forthcoming aliyah to Palestine – actually some of them went on to become co-founders of Kibbutz Lavi; and then there was the third group consisting of the ‘children’, most of whom had come on Kindertransport.

They could still correspond with their families, right up to the outbreak of the war on 3 September 1939. Walter’s sister Erika managed to obtain a domestic permit to come to Britain and she arrived here on 4 July. Ruthi, who was only being 17, was too young to get a domestic permit and had to stay in Vienna. Walter stayed on the farm until the summer of 1942, when he managed to get a job in Carshalton, London Borough of Sutton. When he came back from Northern Ireland he saw Erika again after nearly 4 years. Walter hoped that they could live together, but Erica worked in a hotel and had to sleep there.

Later that year Walter managed to find a job in a munitions factory inLondon. He found a room not far from the factory, but the landlady expected him to turn up the same day and Walter arrived after work the following day by which time the room was taken. A fellow refugee in the factory told Walter about a ‘War Workers’ Hostel’ at Swiss Cottage. It was a hostel run by the Austrian Centre, a group of Austrian refugees that tried to organise its members to do everything for the war effort, to beat the National Socialists and to establish a free, democratic Austria after the war. Walter was very glad to be accepted there and subsequently joined the Youth Organisation ‘Young Austria’,  which is where he met his future wife Herta.

When in the summer of 1943 parliament decided that ‘enemy aliens’ could join the forces and carry arms many of the ‘Young Austrians’ volunteered to join the forces. In March 1944 Walter was called up and joined the Suffolk Regiment. In November he had ‘embarkation leave’ when Herta took him to meet her parents in Salisbury. Herta, who was also from Vienna, had arrived in Britain on a Kindertransport with her brother Otto on January 12 1939, when she had been 12 and Otto 8 years old. Her second brother Eric was borne the day Herta and Otto arrived in Britain. Her parents managed to get a domestic permit and came to Britain shortly before the outbreak of the war. Walter managed to convince Herta to get married on a special permit and they did. Herta was still under age but Walter was lucky to have had his 21st birthday two weeks before. This was the best thing that had happened to him.  In December 1944 Walter first travelled to Belgium and then to Holland with this regiment.

After the war, they were given the chance by the army to be ‘repatriated’; They took it and went back to Austria. Britain had offered them shelter when they needed it most and now it was time to go back and find out what had happened to his family. They also thought that they could help to build a new Austria, like young people do.  In the event he could not find any of his family.

Walter tried to catch up with his studies, took a matriculation course and enrolled at the Technical University. As he had to work to support his young family, he became a “Werkstudent”.  It was an extremely difficult time and Walter managed to cover half of a five-year course in 10 years. Both their sons were born in Vienna. The births of their sons Peter in 1948 and Max in 1955 were the highlights of their life. They are very proud of their sons, their five grandsons and their great-granddaughter

Walter found a box his father had left with non-Jewish friends when they were sent to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp near Prague. The box contained his family’s passports, documents and books. He also found postcards his parents had sent to non-Jewish friends in Vienna who had sent them food parcels. The last card his father sent was dated 2 Sept 1944,  in which his father wrote that Ruthi had married Ernest on 25 June 1944.

   

A friend of Walter’s, whom he had known since his Kindergarten days, gave him a book called ‘Totenbuch Theresienstadt’ (means Book of the Dead Theresienstadt) which lists all the names of the persons sent to Theresienstadt from Vienna and where they were sent to from there. Walter found the names of his family in that book and found out that they had been deported to Theresienstadt in September 1942. Walter’s father and Ernest, the brother-in-law he never knew, were subsequently deported to Auschwitz on 29 September 1944. His mother and Ruthi left Theresienstadt on the penultimate transport to Auschwitz on 23 October. Two days after leaving Theresienstadt his family was murdered; His father Max was 54, his mother Marie 50 and his sister Ruthi not quite 23 years old. In November 1944 the gas chambers of Auschwitz stopped working.

In subsequent years, Walter did experience latent and sometimes not so latent anti-Semitism.  He worked in the design offices of AEG, and one day two of his ‘colleagues’ were speaking about another Jewish man working in another department; Making sure that he could hear it, one said to the other “There is another one who fell through the grate” referring to the crematoria in the concentration camps. After 11 years in Austria Walter and his family decided to come back to Britain. Both Walter and Herta  had had their formative years in Britain and felt more at home here than in Vienna. They had known Vienna as children and had loved its sounds, smells and sights but it also carried too many unpleasant memories. The Austrians had regarded the Allied Forces not as liberators but as occupiers and anti-Semitism was certainly not dead.

As Herta’s parents lived in Bournemouth, Walter and his family settled in Bournemouth in 1957. Despite the terrible events of his teenage years Walter considers himself to be very lucky to have found a home here in Bournemouth and to have married Herta to raise a lovely family. They have been very happy despite all the struggles and they have a wonderful family.

Walter is regularly invited to speak in local schools about the Holocaust; He was contacted by the Holocaust Educational Trust to talk to schools further afield and has been to Durham University and Newcastle. We wish Walter, Herta and their family many more years together.

 

M. Ozdamar