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Walter Sondhelm

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
6 May 1935
Mode of Arrival:
Left Germany without emigrating

Interview Summary:

Walter Sondhelm was born in Leipzig to traditional Jewish parents. His grandparents were orthodox and active in the wider community. His parents did not observe the Sabbath but were committed Jews. His father was a Zionist. Walter attended non-Jewish schools in Germany and witnessed a change in the attitude of his school friends on the rise of Hitler. His father was eager to leave Germany and he sent Walter to a non Jewish School in Surrey. He was welcomed there and besides one other, he was the only Jewish pupil. His uncle from America paid his keep and fees since his father could not send money out. His father was forced to sell his factory in 1937 and after visiting America, Walter persuaded his parents to settle in London in 1938. Walter attended Manchester University to study textile science and went on to do a further degree. He had little contact with other refugees and Jews. He was interned during the war in three camps in Shropshire, Huyton and Sefton on the Isle of Man where he worked as an intelligence officer. The university asked for his release to do research of national importance. 

He got a job with Ashton Brothers in Hyde, which later taken over by Courtaulds. He achieved a managerial position and lectured part-time at the university. He was married in 1958 to a former refugee and had three children. He married again in 1980s.

I continued working at the university until the last week of the round-up of enemy aliens, when I was taken into custody and had six, seven months until the university got me out from internment to continue on work of national importance. I… those seven months were probably the period when I leant most about life. I went into three camps, the first was a tented camp where I met some very nice people and had the great advantage of having been a scout in this country, so I knew at least how barrel tents operated… and how latrines could be made… Prees Heath in Shropshire.I then was transferred to Huyton near Liverpool where there was a very large internment camp; where after a week or two doing odd jobs someone decided I knew a bit about English education. So I was roped in to organise the excellent education services they were running there. So I learnt quite a lot about people there, and about things. And after six weeks I was transferred to Sefton Camp on the Isle of Man. And a letter of recommendation went forward that I had been organising this and that, which went to Sefton, and after about two or three days I was approached: would I be willing to help in the intelligence office? So for the rest of my time there, I worked outside of the barbed wire, but slept inside and learnt more about humanity than you can imagine. And I’m probably in the unusual position that I made out my own release orders.

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