u3a - Kindertransport Memories - Heinz (Peter) Kammerling

Peter Kammerling

Member of Ringmer u3a

Sharing the story of his parents, Walter & Herta Kammerling

Mr & Mrs Kammerling: a potted history


Born 27 Oct 1923 in Vienna, the youngest of three children to Maximilian and Marie. My father had a very happy childhood, but he and his two sisters experienced anti-semitism after the Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Germany on 12 March 1938) and after Kristallnacht on 9/10 November 1938. Erica, the older sister, escaped to England on a work permit; Ruth, being aged 17 in 1938, was too young for an adult work permit and too old for the Kindertransport. She and her parents were transferred to Theresienstadt in 1942 where they were until October 1944 when they were transferred to Auschwitz and killed in the gas chambers.

Walter Boarding Pass

Walter's Kindertransport Boarding Pass, 1939 

Walter, aged 15, arrived in England on the Kindertransport from Vienna on 12 December 1938, had a brief stay at Dovercourt camp for children and, with several other older boys, was transferred to a Jewish community near Belfast that had rented a farm and was taking in refugees. He loved the farm work and stayed for some 3 years before moving to London to find employment in July 1942. 

He joined Young Austria, a left-wing youth group of refugees where he met Herta, my mother. He joined the Army in – I think – 1944 – and, during one of his vacation leaves, married Herta on 11 November 1944 in Salisbury.

Walter Herta Wedding

Walter & Herta's Wedding, 1944

He was briefly stationed in Belgium and Holland but saw no active service.

In 1947 he and Herta decided to return to Vienna and help ‘build a better Austria’. He, or rather they, had become communist by then and he used to deliver left-wing newspapers on a Sunday. He studied hard, matriculated and became an engineer.

I was born in 1948 and my brother Max in 1955.

With the Russian intervention in Budapest in 1956, Walter ‘lost’ his communism and the family decided to return to England and live in Bournemouth.

After returning to England, Walter re-engaged with Judaism and joined the Bournemouth Reform Synagogue where his father-in-law, my grandfather, Heinrich Plaschkes, was one of the founders. He eventually became President of the synagogue.

Walter studied at the Open University for many years from its founding in 1971 and gained his Honours Degree in Mathematics and Music. He joined the South Coast Opera Company and performed in many of their productions, as well as competing in the annual singing competitions.

He also talked to many school children about the Holocaust for the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) and his own experiences during that time. He was an influential speaker and is credited with having spoken to at least 10,000 children.

In 2019 he was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday List with the British Empire Medal for services to Holocaust Education.

Walter at Buckingham Palace

Walter meeting Prince Charles at Clarence House - a reception to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of world war II, 2005

Herta (nee Plaschkes)

My mother was born on 9th Feb 1926 also in Vienna. Her birth mother died shortly after she was born, so her mother's sister, Gertrude, moved in to look after the baby and her now-widowed father. As far as Herta was concerned, Gertrude was her mother. It seems this was not an infrequent occurrence in those circumstances. Herta was the oldest of three children; Otto born in 1929 and Eric in 1939.

Herta as a child

Herta & Otto in Vienna, circa 1930

After Hitler invaded Austria and ‘the writing was on the wall’, she and Otto came together to England on one of the later Kindertransports from Vienna in January 1939. They were taken to Liverpool and put up with a family with whom she was very happy. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of war, children were evacuated to Chester where she was placed with another family which was not a happy experience. Her parents and Eric only just managed to escape in July 1939 and came to London but did not have the resources to take in Herta and Otto. This was clearly a very difficult time for all of them.

After a couple of years, Herta left Chester and moved to London where she got a job as a seamstress and joined Young Austria where she met Walter.

After returning to Vienna in 1947, she trained and worked as a Kindergarten teacher in Vienna and had two children, myself and Max.

In 1957 the family came to England, and Herta became very active in the community with charity and committee work during her years at Bournemouth Reform Synagogue.

Sadly, they both died in 2021 after 76 years of marriage: Walter was 97 and Herta 95. They are survived by two sons, six grandsons and five great-grandchildren.

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