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The Parkes Institute

Walter Kammerling (1923-2021)

Published: 4 February 2021
Walter and Herta Kammerling
Walter and Herta Kammerling

It is with the deepest sadness that we report the death of Walter Kammerling who has been so much loved within the Parkes Institute for many years.

Walter came from Vienna on one of the first Kindertransports to Britain and it was to reflect on his experiences as a refugee in Britain and his life after that he came to speak to generations of our students in the Parkes Institute both in relevant courses, our outreach work with schools and in Holocaust commemoration events to the public. It would be no exaggeration to say that for many, many students hearing Walter speak, accompanied by his wife Herta who also shared her testimony as a former child refugee, was something they would never forget and was often the highlight of their studies in Southampton.

Walter was extremely supportive of the Parkes Institute and a regular attendee at our seminars – he relished learning about Jewish history and culture. We are in debt to Walter also for donating some wonderful books to the Parkes Library and archive (including one offering everyday advice on the English language to Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century).

Walter was born in 1923 and grew up in the predominantly Jewish second district of Vienna. He had two elder sisters, Erika and Ruthki. Erika managed to get to Britain on a domestic permit, but Ruthki was too young for that scheme but excruciatingly just too old to qualify under the Kindertransport. Tragically, Ruthki and Walter’s parents were murdered in Auschwitz, having survived Theresienstadt.

Walter met Herta in London during the war in the ‘Young Austria’ movement and they were married in 1944 – Walter was given special leave from the army to do so. It was the happiest of partnerships and they remained the most attractive and striking of couples through their remarkable 76 years of marriage. Who could not fall in love with this beautifully turned out man, with his old world charms and seductive accent (the latter of which, as Walter was proud of saying, echoing George Mikes, contained not a hint of English!)?

After the war Walter and Herta went back to Austria to help rebuild the country and Jewish life within it. They found it to be a disheartening experience blighted by unrepentant antisemitism. With their young family, they returned to Britain and Walter built up a successful engineering business. Walter was a prominent member, indeed President of the Bournemouth Reform Jewish Community, and a cheder teacher within it. He also loved singing in choirs. Students thus learned to appreciate that Walter and Herta had created a new life and were not simply ‘victims’.

Later in his long and remarkable life, Walter began to talk to schools, colleges and universities about his experiences and placing his family story into a wider narrative of the Holocaust. Quietly spoken, Walter’s testimony would still command intense concentration and not a sound could be heard from his student audiences as he told them his story, accompanied by documents of his family’s life under persecution from the Anschluss through to Auschwitz.

Walter Kammerling was a kind, deeply intelligent and caring man whose absence will be deeply missed by all of us in the Parkes Institute and way beyond. He was one of a kind and we send our deepest sympathies to Herta and their children on their loss. We were all privileged to know and work with Walter.

 

TONY KUSHNER

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