151 Walter

By Peter Fraenkel

He was thin, bright, very quick in his movements, but what was most noticeable about him was his musical talent. When I had to leave my German state school, being what the Nazis called “non-Aryan”, I was sent to a Jewish school. Our music teacher there was a Herr Werner, a tyrant. He thought music was by far the most important part of our education. He expected us all to take down music dictation and before long our entire class, except for one tone-deaf child, managed to do so. I was struggling with it. Walter happened to sit next to me. “It’s not difficult,” he said. “I’ll show you.” And he did. My music dictation improved markedly.

Walter’s musical talents had been recognised early.  His first piano teacher had given up on him. He must have been eight or nine, perhaps even younger. “There is nothing more I can teach this boy”.  Walter was moved to a more highly qualified teacher. The new teacher told Walter’s parents “He’s almost ready to give concerts. Mark my word: When you emigrate, he’ll soon be able to support you.”

In May 1939 my parents and I left Nazi Germany for the country now called Zambia. Walter told me he and his parents were going to Argentina. They were hoping their visas would arrive in the next few days.

Then, continents separated us. We lost contact.

In the years following I occasionally skimmed music reviews in the international papers. Was he giving concerts in Paris? New York? Or where? I found no such reviews.

Some years later my father, by then local rep of the Refugee Assistance committee, was scanning lists of survivors and of others. That was now one of his duties. He turned to me: “Didn’t you know someone called Walter … Walter Ahrends? Yes? He and his parents are listed here: Murdered at Auschwitz, the entire family.”

Those visas had not reached them in time.