Jewish WWII refugee Walter Kammerling's poignant return: Holocaust survivor shares his tale in Millisle village where he found a haven
A World War II refugee has described seeing his parents for the final time before escaping the Holocaust to find sanctuary in Northern Ireland.
Walter Kammerling (91) told children from Millisle Primary School how it was years before he was able to discover the fate of his parents and older sister Ruthi, who were among the last concentration camp victims to perish at Auschwitz.
Walter was among nearly 300 Jewish children who found a refuge at a Co Down farm as part of the Kindertransport effort and this week he returned to Northern Ireland to help Down County Museum launch an online resource that will assist local children to learn about the lifesaving project.
Thousands of Kindertransport children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia arrived in the UK in 1938 and a number of them went to live at a farm in Millisle, which had been bought for them by the Belfast Jewish community.
Walter described how at the age of 15 his parents Maximilian and Marie took the difficult decision to send him away on the Kindertransport as the situation in Vienna worsened.
One older sister, Erica, was old enough to gain a work permit for England, but the other, Ruthi, then aged 17, was too old for the Kindertransport and too young for a work permit.
"My father was in hospital when I said goodbye. He was in tears, which I had never seen before," Walter said.
"I really hardly understood what was happening, in hindsight. It really choked me. My mother and sisters came to the station and the train pulled out of it and into the unknown – when I think of the pain it must have caused my parents to send me away..."
With thousands of other Jewish children, Walter was taken to a holiday camp in England and then brought to a hostel in the Cliftonville area of Belfast,before being transferred to the farm, where he spent the next three years.
"There were about 40 or 50 other children. We worked together, we lived together, we did everything together," he said. "Up to the beginning of the war my family wrote letters, but they stopped abruptly."
Walter said he always hoped his parents would turn up again, but when he returned to Vienna after the war he was shown the Death Book from Theresienstadt, the concentration camp where his parents and Ruthi were sent.
The records revealed that Walter's father was moved to Auschwitz on September 29, 1944 and his mother and sister on October 23, 1944 on the penultimate transport to the extermination camp, just three months before Auschwitz was liberated. Walter and his wife Herta, another former Kindertransport child, settled in England.
Down Country Museum says the new resource enables users to find out more about the impact of anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice on the world and the importance of learning lessons from the past. The resource can be accessed at www.downcountymuseum. com/findingrefuge.