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Walter Kammerling

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
10 December 1938
Interview number:

Interview Summary:

Walter Kammerling was born in 1923 in Vienna. He grew up in the 2nd Bezirk with his parents and two older sisters. His father had owned a chocolate factory (Alba) but the factory went bankrupt. After that the father became a travelling salesman. Walter went to the Sperlgymnasium which became a Jewish school soon after the Anschluss. He describes the Anschluss and Kristallnacht. He was told that he was going to the UK on a Kindertransport and he left in the first Kindertransport from Vienna to the UK. He cannot remember much of the journey. He can remember saying good-buy to his father who was in hospital at the time. He describes the journey as a haze. In the UK he was sent to Dovercourt. One of his sisters came to the UK on a domestic service, the other was too old for the Kindertransport and too young for a domestic permit.

From Dovercourt, a women came to take three boys to the Jewish community of Belfast, who sent them to a farm in Northern Ireland Gormans Farm, Ballyrolly, Millisle, Donachadee, County Down. The farm hosted refugees and Bachad Chaluzim (religious Zionists). Walter stayed there until 1942 when he decided to do war work, when he moved to Sutton and worked as a metal machinist. He then moved to London and first lived in Finchley and then in the War Workers Hostel (15 Elsworthy Terrace, Swiss Cottage).


He got very involved with Young Austria (in Paddington), attending many outings and Heimabende. It is at Young Austria where he met his future wife Herta. In 1943, Walter joined the British Army and was called up in 1944. He joined the Suffolk Regiment and was sent to Holland. When he was on leave, he got married to Herta in 1944. The army repatriated the young couple to Austria, where they wanted to help to build a new Austria. They both joined the Communists. Walter returned to a very different Vienna and found that his parents and sister were sent to Terezienstadt and deported and killed in Auschwitz. He sat his matric exam and studied to be an engineer, as a Werkstudent in the Technischen Hoshschule Wien.


In 1957 Walter and Herta decided to go back to the UK, where Herta’s parents had settled and they moved with their young sons to Bournemouth, where he continued to work as an engeneer.  Walter was very involved with the Reform Synagogue in Bournemouth and is now active in the Liberal Synagogue. He also goes to schools to tell his story. Walter has been married to Herta for 72 years and stresses how lucky he was to have met her in Young Austria. He also considers himself lucky that he could work in a profession which he loved. He regrets not having had a grown-up relationship with his parents and that he could not appreciate them as an adult.

I feel sorry that, of course I never reached the time when you come from the unknowing child, to the adult, when you talk to your parents on a one-to-one basis. I never had that. I miss that. And we never had any – any real discussions about things. And so... that is all missing. You see, and- and of course when you feel sorry that you never said- all the “thank-you“s I didn’t give, all the “please” I didn’t give. The things I took for granted. And, and I never told them I loved them. I know no fourteen-year-old will tell his parents you love them...

Well, the message is, “Don’t... go with the crowd. Don’t... say- because the peer pressure is in a certain way, and the peer pressure is sometimes very strong. If you feel you have to swim against it, it may be unpleasant, but swim against the stream. Stand up to it. Do what you think is right. And... for God’s sake, don’t start making decisions based on prejudice.” In other words, live your life so that you can look back and say, I’ve done the right thing. Even it means swimming against the stream. It may be difficult, but it’s worth it.

After Hitler came to power you still had to go to school. To school is, is, is almost like running a gauntlet, because you had loads of Stormtroopers [SA] – that’s the Brown-shirts. And, and the Hitler Youth in their little black shorts and white shirts. And they were sort of roaming the roads and when they met Jews, they were beaten up or so. And when you walk you try to be as inconspicuous as much as you possibly can. You hear screams behind you and you, you know that people are in anguish and pain, and you don’t even dare to... walk fast or slow, or don’t dare to look around because then you’ll be there and so on...Once or twice I was beaten up. But then of course I was also once told to - to scrub the streets. And... Ja. And it was a young man. He- he obviously was Hitler Youth. But he wasn’t in uniform. He only had the- the armband, the Hitler Youth armband, you know, red, white, red, and a white...square in the centre [for the inaudible] Hakenkreuz. And he wouldn’t let us do it kneeling down; we had to do it crouching down. That was his very special fun, you know? And... An old chap next to me fell over, and he sort of started kicking him and abusing him and shouting at him. And when I [inaudible???sort of] quickly looked up, I – I saw [inaudible???] smiling going through the crowd, watching. And there was one lady right at the back. And that sticks in my mind. She held her little girl up, so that she could see better how that old chap was kicked. And [inaudible???he ] smiled. And that, as I say, sticks in your throat a bit.

After the war, my wife and I went back to Austria full of enthusiasm to build up a new Austria. And we soon realised that it wasn’t like that. The Allied troops weren’t regarded as liberators; they were regarded as occupiers. It was an army of occupation. And the anti-Semitism was slumbering. And not even so- it was quite open, sometimes. And as I mentioned before, that…one of the things that makes me realise that I wouldn’t like to bring our up kids there- bring them up in, in Vienna.

And I know I tried... to go to the place where we lived. And I managed - managed to go on the first floor. I managed to go halfway up the floor, and it was extremely painful... because every step, you have a memory. And half way up I... realised, “What will I see there? Who do I know? [inaudible???I don’t want to know .]” What’s important is the family that’s not behind there. And they’re not there. And... I never went back to that place.

And I felt- I know in London during the war, there was the London Zoo. And I remember we went there once, and that American bison. And there in front it said, “Extinct in the free range”. And that’s how I felt in Vienna. Because my background wasn’t there. It was a Vienna, but it was a different Vienna...
In Vienna, there was... ten percent Jews, and that was gone. The culture, it was gone. It was all... it, it- The language was slightly different as well. It was all so... And I felt sort of “extinct in the free range”. There is no- it’’s... So I’m... a Vienna Jew, but... that Vienna isn’t there.

And... they [his parents and sister] were living in one of the... so-called ‘Jews’ flats’, you know, where they had one flat for ten families or so. And that was because – those were in the Second District. They had to move to - to a place further to the centre of the Second District. And it was closer to - to our school. And only a few years ago, when we were invited by the commune- the communal authorities, to visit Vienna, they placed us in a – in a hotel just a stone’s throw from, from the grammar school where I was...And it’s the first time I visited it; in all the years I was in Vienna I didn’t visit it. And they had a notice there, that it was used as a collection camp for Jews before they were sent away. That means my parent could have been a few days in there as well. And if I think that they may have been in a classroom where I was ...there and it- it’s- it’s unthinkable. And the whole idea is so painful.


@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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