Ken Walton was born and lived in Breslau, Germany. His name was originally Kurt Wartenberger. Breslau was a thriving, cultural community of three quarters of a million people. There was an abundance of theatre, opera, and music. The family was very comfortable.
Mr. Walton' s father was a Hazzan. As a young man, Mr. Walton worked in men' s clothing manufacturing. Business was for the most part in Jewish hands. The Jewish community was very prosperous. In 1937, he opened his own clothing business. As Hitler became more and more influential, Mr. Walton found it more difficult to carry on business, eventually making and selling clothing in secret at night until he was found out. He was warned of his impending arrest and immediately he and his new bride, Paula, decided to leave Germany and their families. They were just 23 and 24 years old. They scraped together a few dollars and fled separately to Istanbul, Turkey.
The law there allowed refugees to stay only a few days or else risk arrest. Not knowing the language, they were desperate for food and shelter. Mr. Walton finally came into contact with a rabbi in Istanbul . He refused to aid them in any way. He said, "who called you!" With jewelry Paula had smuggled out of Germany in a sanitary napkin, they were able to purchase tickets on a freighter to Trieste, Italy. They were able to get an entry visa with their German passport only because it did not have a "J" on it. (Prior to 1938).
After arriving in Italy they were told they couldn' t stay. So they took a train to Milan. Ken left Paula in the train station with their belongings while he made his way through the city to find some kind of help. He finally found a Jewish refugee organization which helped him to find shelter in a filthy attic. There Ken and Paula remained for some time.
There was a large congregation of Italian Jews who were quite wealthy. Little or no help was offered from this community. The Waltons were very hungry. Paula was so desperately hungry that she was willing to return to Germany and go into a concentration camp because there, she felt, they would be given at least a crust of bread once a day!
Eventually, Ken found a job as a vendor, and Paula found work as a domestic in a Jewish Italian home. It was at this time that Ken heard that England would allow German refugees to enter the country if they had an affidavit. They would take a few hundred men in a camp before going to America. Fifty would be allowed to come from Italy. Ken had the affidavit required, and he and more than a thousand men applied to England. Luck was in their favor, and he was accepted. Paula had to stay behind 3 months until Ken could get her into England as a domestic.
This was the only way she could get in. Her first job was that of a cook - which she couldn 't do. The second job was a parlor maid in a boys' boarding school. On Paula's half day off, she and Ken would meet at the beach.
September, 1939 war broke out, and Ken wanted to volunteer for the British Army, so he could fight against the Nazis. By December 5 he was in uniform even though he couldn't speak English. It was at this time that he was advised to
change his name from Kurt Waldenberger to Ken Walton . People were suspicious of his German background-language and he had some trouble. Basically, he loved his life in the army.
Their son Ralph was born in Darlington, England in August of 1942.
After Ken and Paula left Germany, Ken 's parents did not know what happened to them. The synagogue where his father was Hazzan burned to the ground on Kristallnacht. As it was in flames, his father ran inside and rescued one of the Torahs . Soon, his father and mother escaped Germany for Shanghai and with the rescued Torah formed a congregation. Ken learned of their whereabouts years later through the Red Cross. His parents went back to Germany after liberation before emigrating to America.
Paula's father was Hazzan and teacher. She too grew up in Breslau, Germany.
After her father died, her mother worked full time, so Paula and her brother were placed in a Jewish children's home . They only saw their mother on weekends. They stayed there until they finished school. Paula learned a trade. She met
Ken at a Jewish organization's dance. They dated 4-1/2 years before they got married.
After she and Ken left Germany, they begged her mother to leave also. She didn 't want to give up her job and go to a strange place with an unknown future and an unknown language. She perished along with Paula's aunts, uncles and grand-father. Her brother was able to escape to Shanghai.
Ken 's parents came to the U.S., and it was their wish that the whole family be together in America. Ken and Paula arrived here with their son in 1951. They settled in Rochester . The parents died of natural causes in Rochester.
Ken and Paula both feel they survived because of their youth and strong feelings of hope. This interview was Ken Walton 's. Paula at first contact by phone was reluctant to be a participant. She was very gracious when I arrived and as we began our conversation, she participated first as a listener, nodding her head as Ken told his story, then later she actively contributed. Neither one of them had ever spoken of this time with their son or with themselves . When I pushed the record button on the machine, Ken immediately and urgently began speaking, and it was a little difficult for me to get background information pre-war. After the interview was over and I turned off the machine, they suddenly began to speak of more things as we sat around the table drinking borscht and nibbling cookies. I was sorry I turned my recorder off. In the course of our post-interview conversation it came out that Ken was about to enter the hospital the next day for an angiogram because of a heart problem. Hence his urgency to tell his story
Interviewed by Jane Rushefsky