To mark Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Adopt-A-Savta organization, an Israeli NGO that pairs elderly Holocaust survivors with young people, invited 100-year-old Holocaust survivor Walter Bingham to address English speakers in the Tel Aviv area at a local synagogue. After a special ceremony in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, Bingham, who appeared very lively for his age, told his life story with great passion to the young Tel Aviv residents.
“I was born in Germany many years before Hitler came to power,” Bingham recounted, noting that even though he was born in Germany, he was never granted German citizenship, as both of his parents were Polish Jews. “I was born in 1924, which puts me in my 100th year of life. I was born in Germany when it was a very highly cultured place, the Germany of Beethoven, Bach and Einstein. One can ask themselves: how could such a cultured country sink so low?”
He noted that during the First World War, Germany sided with the Austro-Hungarian Empire: “In 1918, at the end of World War I, there was a peace treaty, which was very harsh on Germany. They had to give away territory and much infrastructure was lost. There was very high unemployment. People stood on the street corners, very disillusioned. There was no work, no money, no food and there were problems.”
According to Bingham, there were 34 political parties in the Weimer Republic, which was the government after the First World War: “Many of the political parties vied for power. Some of them advocated socialism, but that was not what the Germans wanted. There was very high inflation. So, the Nazis got stronger and stronger, as they promised the people work.”
He recalled that Hitler gave them work and built motorways for them, noting that the armaments industry helped him and created new weapons: “Thus, Hitler came to power in 1933, speaking vaguely about Arianism, and it appealed to the people. Under the Weimer Republic, we had a normal life. But when Hitler came to power, they burned down the Parliament building. Also, they immediately reversed our liberties and human rights. Civil liberties were taken away.”
When Hitler rose to power, Bingham was six-years-old: “For the first three grades, everything was normal in school. But then things changed.” He claimed that after he invested much effort in learning to read and write, he was forced to learn to read and write from scratch due to Nazis reformations of the German language. Then, Bingham recalled that all of the children, both boys and girls, were forced to attend the Hitler Youth, or else their parents would lose their jobs: “The idea of the Nazis was to take over the world starting with Russia. The allies only allowed the Germans to have 100,000 soldiers after the conclusion of World War I, but you cannot take over the world with 100,000 soldiers. So, the Nazis started paramilitary organizations and forced children to wear uniforms after school.”
Bingham said that one percent of the population in Germany was Jewish when the Nazis rose to power. Nevertheless, after the Nazis came to power, people used to stand outside of Jewish businesses and say: “Don’t buy from Jews. If you buy from Jews, you are a traitor.” One day, Bingham recounted that he went to play in the park and saw that the Nazis were burning books: “All of the Jewish authors had their books burned. They also burned people like Hemmingway and Einstein.”He noted that Heinrich Heine, a Jewish author, once said before the rise of Nazism, “Where they have burned books, they will end up burning human beings.” He said this 80 years before the Holocaust.
Bingham’s 2021 interview with i24News:
Bingham stressed in the talk that the Nazis, in order to make sure that every German understood how “terrible the Jews were,” they published antisemitic caricatures in the newspapers. Now, in case you did not subscribe to the newspaper, he stated that the Nazis put the antisemitic material in a glass case and put it on display in public areas: “Around the glass case were words like ‘the Jews are our misfortune.’ In every village, they made sure that they had this glass case that was filled only with anti-Jewish subjects.”
As a schoolboy, Bingham stated that the Nazi teacher never called on Jewish students out of fear that the Jewish kids would have the right answer. Also, they taught race theory and measured the nose of students in order to determine who was an inferior race: “Then, one day the race teacher came and picked out a girl with blond hair and blue eyes, and she came forward. He measured her head and everything else, and said she was what a pure Aryan looked like. She was a Jewish girl. This shows the futility of race theory.”
When he was a child in Nazi Germany, Bingham said that he sat next to an Aryan boy, who used to cheat and copy his answers. However, the Aryan boy got good grades, while he as the Jewish boy always received poor grades. And then, one day, suddenly it was decided that “this poor Aryan boy should not be forced to sit next to a stinking Jew, so I was moved to the back of the class. From the back of the class, I tried to learn and pick up knowledge, but I was never permitted to contribute to the discussions between the teachers and the pupils.” Bingham said that bullies were never punished for picking on Jewish students: “This sent the message that they could do whatever they wanted with me.”
After the Nuremberg Laws were passed, Bingham explained that his life deteriorated significantly: “You could not own pets or furs. You could not go to the cinema. There were signs everywhere that said ‘Jews not wanted here.’ Many shops also had these signs and you could not go in. If you were legally married to someone not Jewish, you had to break it off. It was considered a race disgrace. If you did not break it off, then the non-Jew could go to a concentration camp. If you had sexual relations with a Jewish person, it was considered a blood disgrace. That had to be immediately stopped. My father, who was in the printing industry, lost his job. Being Jewish was written onto their ID. The Germans decreed that every Jewish man had to add Israel as their middle name and every Jewish woman had to add Sarah as their middle name. In this way, they could be identified as a Jew.”
Around the same time, Jewish students were barred from studying beside non-Jewish students: “I had to go to a Jewish basic school, which was only eight years. But what they did was self-destructive. They did not only throw out Jewish children, but every Jew in the academic world. From the highest university professor to the lowest assistant teacher, they were all thrown out.” However, Bingham noted that the Nazis were not only cruel to the Jews, as anyone who was mentally ill or slow in learning or disabled or incurably sick was considered to contaminate the race, and was gassed to death and then cremated: “If they treat their people like that, no wonder they treated us like that. They killed their own people.”
Afterwards, Bingham went to another village to study in a Jewish school that went on for nine years, and stayed in a Jewish orphanage for the chance to learn more. It was at this point that Kristallnacht broke out: “I heard a commotion while walking to school one day. We had two very large synagogues. They were burned down, like all of the synagogues in Germany. After they were burned down, a wall remained and the Jewish community, to add insult to injury, had to pay for its demolition. At that point, I asked my mother to come home and she said ok. So, I took the diesel train home.”
After Kristallnacht, Bingham was one of the children to go on a kinder transport to England: “The British agreed to take 10,000 children over a one-year period till the war broke out. Fortunately, I was one of the ones selected for this transport in 1939. My mother then took me to the train. The parents were heroes. They took their children to the train, knowing that war would break out. I was 15-years-old and street wise at that time. I knew what to behave like under the Nazis. But there were 4-year-old children screaming mommy, mommy, I love you, and mommy was outside.”
According to him, “I was 15-year-olds old and knew why I was going. But those little children did not. One of the things I could not forgive the British for was unaccompanied children. No parents were allowed to go. So, some children went to hostels, some went to foster parents and some went to a family. You did not know where you were going. Now, I belonged to a religious Zionist youth movement, so I went to a kibbutz in Wales. But some children waited for non-Jews to select them to take home.”
“I was there for a few years,” Bingham said. “After that, I left and went to London to find my own way. At that point, I was drafted into the Polish Army in Exile, organized by the government in exile. I was surprised. I went there and said, ‘I cannot go into your army. I have never been to Poland. I don’t speak Polish and know nothing about Poland.’ So, they released me and I went into the British Army.”
Bingham served for four years in the British Army. He drove an ambulance during the invasion of Normandy, and later on served as a counter-intelligence officer and got to examine Nazi documents in addition to speaking to Nazi war criminals before they were executed in the Nuremberg trials. After the war, he was able to reconnect with his mother, who managed to survive the war thanks to the Swedish rescuing her from certain death. His father perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Israel Today Membership
Save 18% Per Month.
Six Months Membership
Save 9% Per Month.