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Walter Brunner

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
August 1938
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Walter Brunner was born in Vienna in 1922. His father was a commercial traveller born in Lackenbach and his mother was a descendant of the Chatam Sopher. She had 2 sisters and 2 brothers. His father served in WWI. The family belonged to the very orthodox community in Vienna and attended the Shiffe Shul, whose Rabbi was Rabbi Furst and then Rabbi Baumgarten. Walter’s father was a commercial traveller, selling weighing machines and they lived in the 9th district, which was not the Jewish area. They were in a small 3 roomed third floor apartment in a house which housed 12 families. Some neighbours were decent and some were antisemitic. The family were very poor and they let out one of their 3 rooms to earn rent. In 1934 his mother took over a milk shop in St Heit Gasse in the 2nd district, selling kosher milk and cheese to try to help finances. Walter would help before school. Walter had an older sister and a younger brother. 

He attended a non-Jewish School – the Schubert School and had to attend on Saturday but did not write. He then went to a Gynmasium in the 1st district for two years but failed Latin and went to another school. He attended the Talmud Torah in the afternoons in the 2nd district and belonged to Agudah. His sister attended Maccabi. At 14 he was sent to the Nitra Yeshiva in Czechoslovakia and studied there for 2 years. He returned home for Pesach and Rosh Hashanah. He revered the Rov of that Yeshiva which held c250 boys. The Rov was killed during the war. He did not return home for Pesach 1938 because of the Anschluss and instead arrangements were made by his relation Rabi Schonfeld for Walter to come to England. He flew since he could not go through Germany. He came alone in August 1938 and spent two days with Rabbi Schonfeld before going to Gateshead Yeshivah. 

The Yeshivah at that time had about 30 English boys. Walter spent the first month in hospital with scarlet fever and was very isolated since he could speak no English. He stayed with a family for 2 weeks to recuperate and then returned to the Yeshiva. They ate in a communal dining room but for Shabbos he went to Sunderland and ate with the Brazil family. Over the next year c30 refugees joined them at the Yeshiva, brought over by Rabbi Schonfeld. Walter’s father was brought over in August 1939 after Walter’s mother had died and he stayed with a family in Gateshead. In 1940 Walter and his father came to Manchester, where his father went into an old people's home and Walter went to work as a raincoat machinist to earn some money to keep his father. He stayed in Cassel-Fox Hostel, which was run on Orthodox lines. There were about 35 boys there from Austria and Germany, many brought over by Rabbi Schonfeld. 

In 1940 Walter was interned in Wharf Mill, then Priest Heath, Whitchurch and then in Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man. His father was also interned and his brother who had come over on the Kindertransport was sent to Australia. Walter was in a kosher house on the Isle of Man with c.29 others. Schonfeld arranged that they received acceptable provisions, which they cooked themselves. They also were allowed seforim and books and they had shiurim and learnt. Walter also took a tailoring course. He was there one year. Whilst there he met his future father-in-law, Mr Shreiber, who introduced him to his daughter on their release. Walter married Malka in November 1942 in London Hadass. She was from Vienna and was a distant cousin of the Chatam Sopher. 

After release from internment Walter became a cutter in a tailoring firm and undertook night time fire watching. Then he worked as an outdoor cutter for Mrs Segal, manufacturing bags and then started on his own. He and Malka lived in half a house on Ashbourne Grove. Their first baby was born in 1943 and Walter’s father died 3 days later. In 1944 many Jews evacuated from London because of the flying bombs and Walter and Malka stayed with the Shine’s giving the house to their family from London. They borrowed 100s of stretchers for people to sleep on: there were not enough beds and people slept all over even upstairs in the Machzikei Hadass Shul. They all eventually returned to London. Walter joined the executive of Machzikei Hadass in 1944 and has continued on the executive for 60 years. 


Full Interview


Try to help people, people who are in need, try to give some time, give some effort, give some love to the community, to the people, they desperately need it. You might need it as well sometimes so give it now, whilst you can.

The Isle of Man was really very good, we were 29 people in our house. We were left in peace. There was no shortage of food, Isle of Man kippers were very good. We got sick of them because we had them every day. Smoked kippers, you know what they are? And there was nothing wrong, the sun was shining and really … if we wouldn’t have been parted from our family it was almost like a holiday camp. Well, we cooked ourselves. We got flour and eggs and so on and we had to cook ourselves. I don’t mean each person, but one was cooking for the whole household, for everybody, we had 29 people in the house, we sat together, ate together. There were no complaints whatsoever, in actual fact I think, people were taken out to pictures once in four weeks. I learnt here tailoring to make ladies coats and costumes.

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