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Holocaust Survivor & Oldest Journalist in the World Says World Hasn't Learned Lessons of the Holocaust

Walter Bingham, Israeli Journalist. Photo Credit: CBN News
Walter Bingham, Israeli Journalist. Photo Credit: CBN News

At 98, Walter Bingham is a marvel. From Holocaust survivor to World War II hero, to serving as a journalist for 50 years, Bingham has experienced a lot.

When he was 93, Guinness World Records deemed Walter “the oldest radio talk show host living.” Two years ago, Israel’s Government Press Office honored him as the “oldest active correspondent in the world.” And a year later at 97, Guinness certified him as the “oldest journalist,” and he’s still going strong.

CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell sat down with Bingham recently and asked him about his life and lessons from the Holocaust.  Here’s his story.

“First of all, I think people would want to know…you’re 98-years-old, how did you do it?” Mitchell asked.

“If I want to be facetious, I'm just saying, look, sit down, hold on to your chair. I don't eat garlic! I run a mile from garlic! But the actual fact is that I am a blessed with good genes from the good Lord,” Bingham said.

In his Jerusalem apartment overlooking the Holy City, Bingham keeps reminders of the dark days of his youth.  Born in 1924, in Germany, Bingham lived through the Holocaust.

On his bookshelf he keeps a copy of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s infamous auto-biography Mein Kampf. In it, Hitler details his hatred for the Jews and his Final Solution to exterminate them. And this copy came from a Nazi’s office in Hamburg after the war.

Bingham explained how his life unfolded in the 1930s in Germany.

“I went to school three years before even Hitler came to power during the Weimar Republic [of Germany]. And then of course at that time, I was just like any other boy you played in the school yard and I got the ball like everyone else. And then after three years, Hitler came to power in 1933. And then, things changed very fast because I suppose that teachers had their instructions and the children were the children of Nazis who supported him,” Bingham said.

He said the Jewish children were bullied by the other children and the teachers no longer recognized the Jewish children in the class.

“Life was very tough. Let me give you an example. 

“We were sitting on desks two by two by two, and the boy next to me, a German boy, did what one normally does. He copied from me and he got good marks and I got bad marks. Or, if I, raised my finger, to try and answer a question that the teacher put out, and then he wouldn't call me anymore because -- I may have been wrong, I'm not saying I would have been right -- but [just in case] it wouldn't have been good for a Jew to know the right answer,” he explained.

But that was just the beginning.  In 1933, student groups across Germany carried out a series of book burnings, destroying books that were considered to have an “un-German spirit.”  Many of them were authored by Jewish figures.

“We used to go to the park with boys and play there and one day they had the book burning and, we saw it.  People [were] throwing books on the fire or German culture onto the fire,” Bingham said.

“The law was that all libraries had to empty the shelves of the prescribed books and bring them to a certain place, which was in our town in a park. Ordinary people who had books in their life and on their shelves, had to empty those, had to bring those otherwise they would be punished, and they brought them, and I remember with great glee and song and Heil they threw the German culture onto the fire,” he recalled.

“And you were also there at Kristallnacht,” Mitchell said.

“Kristallnacht was in 1938. At that time, I was in another town for one year and the school rooms were behind the synagogue. And I walked to that synagogue every morning to school. One day I saw that things were a bit of a commotion in the streets, and then I got nearer and I saw that synagogue -- in a town called Monaheim -- burning and the fire service was there but not to douse the flames of the synagogue but to cool down neighboring property that it shouldn't burn,” Bingham said.

“My father had already been deported. I got in touch with my mother. I said, I wanted to come home. I remember on that day that I took the 3:22 diesel train in the afternoon on the 10th of next [day] back to my hometown,” he said.

Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”, marked the beginning of the Holocaust after rioters destroyed Jewish-owned businesses, homes, buildings and synagogues. Those who went through it like Bingham are considered Holocaust survivors.

Within months, Bingham’s mother put her 15-year-old son on the so-called Kindertransport, when after Kristallnacht, the British agreed to take some 10,000 Jewish children by train to relative safety in Great Britain.

“They would not let any parents go. It was five minutes before war. Everybody knew the war would break out and the parents took the children to the train, put them on the train,” said Bingham emotionally.

“I was streetwise, streetwise living under the Nazis. And I knew why I was going. It was sad and it was traumatic. And my mother [took] me to the train. It was traumatic, but at least I knew, but then there were four-year-olds in the train and then [they cried] ‘mommy, mommy, mommy, what have I done? I love you mommy. I love you.’ The trauma of the little children was unimaginable.

“My wife said, ‘they saved your life.’ And I said, ‘yes, they saved my life. I paid back. I risked my life, and I was in the army, and I did what I did and they recognized it,’” Bingham recalled.  

In 1944, five years after landing in Britain, Bingham joined the British army.

“It wasn't my country, but my motivation and that of other Jewish refugee soldiers was much greater because we didn't fight for [Britain], we fought against the Nazis. My motivation was find the family, get rid of the Nazi regime,” he said.

Two days after D-Day, Bingham landed on the beaches of Normandy and drove an ambulance on the battlefields of Europe.  He even got a medal for bravery and commendation from the King.

“I never killed anybody.  I only saved lives,” he said.

As the war ended, Bingham was transferred to British counterintelligence in Hamburg, Germany. There he interviewed Nazis who had been arrested by the British. Among them, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi foreign minister.

“They brought him into my office, which was at the once headquarters of the Nazi party in the greater Hamburg [area], which became the head office of British intelligence in the area.  And I sat with him, just he and I in a small office. And I was interested of course, in the, in the Jewish angle.

“And I asked him to tell me, I said, ‘Herr Ribbentrop, what can you tell me about the Final Solution?’ And he looked me in the face, and he said, ‘I didn't know anything about that. That was the Fuhrer.’

“Well, you can imagine how I felt and what I would have liked to do to him, but in my position, I couldn't do anything at all, just keep [a] stiff upper lip and be British and I could ask more questions and I did. And I said, ‘So now I take it that you heard about that. How did you find out?’ And he turned to me and he said, ‘I read it in the newspaper.’”

After the war, Bingham was one of the few Kindertransport children reunited with at least one parent – his mother.

“My mother went through the camps and came out alive and I was reunited with her…That was of course the most emotional moment of my life,” he said.

His second most emotional moment was very different, although it also connected him to a very distant past.

“The second, most emotional moment in my life was when I came here [to Israel] with my plane.  I was on my way to Eilat, and I asked the controller if it's okay to do some orbits above Jerusalem. And there I was above the city, seeing everything,” said Bingham, who was a licensed pilot.

“All my life as a religious Jew, I prayed to Jerusalem – Jerusalem, in every prayer Jerusalem. And here I was sitting over Jerusalem, crying like a baby, tears streaming down my cheeks, and having to fly this plane,” he said.

Bingham says the best thing he ever did in his life was to get married and have a family. And the second best was to move to Israel.

Bingham’s wife died in 1990 and in 2004, at the height of the Second Intifadah, (Palestinian uprising), 80-year-old Bingham immigrated to Israel and continued working as a journalist. 

Before the COVID pandemic, Bingham shared his experiences with groups of students and others.  He brought with him a small suitcase.  Tucked inside are remnants of that Nazi era, obtained when he was a British counter-intelligence officer in Hamburg.

“Now in Hamburg, in the Nazi office, I had several things. This is an animal bone, as you can see, and it's used obviously for no other reason…than to hit people and it hurts,” he explained, holding up a two-foot rod.

He also had a pair of exquisitely made black leather boots.

“These boots belonged to the Nazi chief of the whole of the Hamburg area, Karl Kaufmann and I have pictures. They were in his office.  He was arrested and [put] in prison and then he died,”

But perhaps one of the most dramatic “souvenirs” was a Nazi knife that the youth carried. Emblazoned with insignia of the Hitler Youth, the blade had words written on it, too: ‘Blut und Ehre’ – Blood and Honor.

“That’s what the 14-year-olds and 13-year-olds carried,” said Bingham.

“And what would they sing?” Mitchell asked.

"Wenn jüdisches Blut aus dem Messer spritzt, wird es wieder gut. When Jewish blood spurts from the knife [things will go well again]” he said.

“Are you concerned about what’s happening in the world today?  Is what is happening [today], what was happening [then]?” Mitchell asked.

“Of course. We’re living in an equal period of the 1930’s except there will be no Final Solution because we have the State of Israel,” Bingham replied.

“But everything leading up to it and all the hating, all the attacks and all the things that you read about, all that is a copy of the 1930s and our local friends here are copying what the Nazis did,” he added.

“What's the lesson that people need to take away?” Mitchell asked. 

“Never again. Just two words, never again.” 

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