HIS parents and sister were among the hundreds of thousands who perished at Auschwitz concentration camp.
Sixty-five years later, Walter Kammerling ensured their memories lived on during moving Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in Bournemouth.
Civic dignitaries and religious leaders were among those who joined at the Queen’s Hotel yesterday to reflect on the terrible repercussions of the Holocaust and listen to Walter’s chilling story.
As a youth, he witnessed Nazi persecution in Vienna before his parents sent him to Britain; a decision that would ultimately save his life.
Now 86, he was 14 when Nazi Germany occupied Austria. Recalling how 44,000 Jewish flats had been seized in one year alone, the father-of-two, who has lived in Charminster since 1966, said: “The Jews in Vienna were completely outlawed. Anybody could do anything to them and they did.
“On my walk to school I was running the gauntlet. I heard shouting and screaming from people in anguish but didn’t dare to look around. They took over shops, department stores and industries.
“All the synagogues were desecrated and torched, Jewish shop windows were smashed. It was a free for all.
“We weren’t allowed to go into parks or public buildings; life became oppressive.”
After a failed attempt by his father to obtain a visa to Columbia, Walter and one of his sisters were sent to Britain.
He said: “I was just told I was going to England; the whole thing is a haze. It struck me when I said goodbye to my father, who had angina, in a Jewish hospital. He was in tears – I’d never seen him cry and I didn’t want to leave his bedside.”
After spending time at Dovercourt summer holiday camp, Walter was sent to work on a farm in Northern Ireland.
He joined the British Army in March 1944; two years after marrying Herta who also came from Vienna on the Kindertransport scheme.
Walter said: “Contact with my family stopped abruptly. Every day you wished somehow that we would be reunited again – it didn’t happen.” The couple returned to Austria in 1946 and had two sons, returning to Britain in 1957.
He said: “Going back to Britain was like coming home. The memories in Vienna were too painful. Britain had saved our lives.”
Another speaker yesterday was Bournemouth School for Girls’ student Philippa Hathaway, 18, who visited Auschwitz last year.
She said: “I was shocked by the scale of it; it was absolutely horrific and very emotional.
“There were rooms full of shoes and suitcases. We went into a gas chamber and saw the sort of conditions that Jews were forced to live in; I couldn’t get my head around it.
“It made a lasting impression. I learned that the role of the bystander is just as important as the perpetrator. If we stand by it will happen again.”