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The Amazing World of Walter Bingham

Ho, ho, ho ... Walter Bingham as Santa Claus for the cover of a British supermarket’s Christmas catalogue

Based on an interview with Walter Bingham

Walter Bingham was born Wolfgang Billig in Germany in 1924. His early years at school were uneventful until Hitler came to power in 1933, when the atmosphere changed and his classmates no longer wanted to be friends with him. Instead, Bingham had to listen to them singing, dressed in their Hitler youth uniforms: "When Jewish blood spurts from the knife, everything will be much better."

Walter as a young boy

The increasingly poisonous atmosphere culminated in Kristallnacht, the infamous "Night of the Broken Glass" on November 9-10. "That was a painful period for Jews in Germany," Bingham recalls. "Synagogues were burned, Jewish property destroyed and 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps. I witnessed it all, even the infamous burning of books, the destruction of German culture in 1933, the prelude of the 'New Order'."

His father had already been forcefully deported to Poland, when just days before the outbreak of World War II, with the help of Bachad, a religious Zionist youth movement, Walter was selected for a place on the Kindertransport to Great Britain. Although that spared him from almost certain death, to this day he cannot forgive the British for taking only unaccompanied children, insisting on separation from their parents knowing that in all likelihood they would never see them again. Most never did. "By the Grace of God, I was one of the lucky ones and after the war I was reunited with my mother, who survived the camps," Bingham relates. "My father perished in the Warsaw Ghetto." 

As a soldier in the British Army, Walter took part in the Normandy invasion
Walter with his parents in Germany

His move to England was to be a transitory one, on his way to join a kibbutz in Palestine, as soon as the British issued him papers. Unfortunately, the war intervened and he was trapped, albeit in a safe place. From 1936 he was on the list to make aliyah, but British politics intervened. His first several years in England, or more correctly Wales, were spent at Gwrych Castle, a Bnei Akiva Hachshara, before he eventually went to work independently in London. Apart from four years' service in the British Army, he remained in England, during which time he earned a degree in politics and philosophy and became a postgraduate in political philosophy. This led him eventually into a career in journalism and radio that spans many years. His strong, striking face and once very large beard became well known in England. In fact, his beard helped to augment his income as it led to acting parts in films and adverts. "As Santa Claus in London's famous Harrods and other stores I didn't even have to wear a false beard!" he quips. He appeared in two Harry Potter movies and played Darwin among other roles in documentaries. He appeared in advertisements, on the sides and backs of London buses, on hoardings at London Underground platforms, even as a beggar sitting for hours in a London street in the context of a newspaper investigation.

Walter Bingham the actor had gained his new name in the British army. When he heard that his division would take part in the Normandy invasion, he became worried that if he fell into enemy hands with such a German sounding name his fate might not be that of a regular POW. So his commanding officer suggested he change his name and the army would supply the necessary documentation. "He gave me half a day off and I went name-hunting, determined to keep the initials W.B.," he recalls. "I went to a nearby telephone booth and started studying the telephone directories, which were supplied in those days. Focusing on 'W' I found 'Walter', a name used in several languages, and as I didn't know where I would be after the war, I chose it." To change the family name, however, was a big step. "It was bordering on the traumatic but it was necessary, so I searched through the 'B's'. Bailey, Baker, Brown, Butcher - all too common - and then I found Bingham. Very aristocratic I thought! So I became Walter Bingham. At roll call the next morning, when Bingham was called and no one replied, the Sergeant Major had to remind me that I was Walter Bingham. Little did I know that Bingham the Right Honorable, whose name I copied and who succeeded to the title Lord Lucan, was later convicted of murder, but never found."

He has never forgotten the excitement of participating in the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination and being awarded the Military Medal by King George VI for bravery in the field. Subsequently, because of his fluency in German, he was transferred to Counter Intelligence, where he evaluated and disseminated Nazi documents in Hamburg. "One of the highlights was to be able to face and interrogate the then Nazi foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials in 1945/46. He was the first to be hanged."

Another exciting – and emotional - moment was when he singlehandedly flew his light aircraft from Britain to Israel and circled above Jerusalem. "My cheeks were covered in tears," he says. "Throughout my life I had prayed facing the direction of Jerusalem and here I was looking down on the center of the Jewish world, our holy city. Even though words are my business, I can hardly find adequate expression to describe this emotional feeling."

The other memorably emotional moment in his life was when he was reunited with his mother after the war. Her sacrifice in sending him away to safety when he was a young teenager ensured his survival.

Today, aged 90, Walter Bingham is the oldest working journalist in the field in Israel, where he still produces and presents "Walter's World", a weekly radio program in English, now in its tenth year. It can be heard on Israel National Radio Arutz 7 on Fridays at 8am and thereafter as a podcast on demand at www.israelnationalradio.com. The program features interviews with famous personalities from politics, entertainment, culture and more, and he reports both from Israel and abroad about important events that impact on Jewish life. He never travels without his microphone!

He is an accomplished public speaker and was a member of a visiting panel of lecturers at schools throughout the UK, where he spoke on events in the Third Reich. He has also addressed schools in the USA and numerous audiences in Israel. 

Walter played a beggar on a London street as part of a newspaper investigation

Bingahm's radio program exudes a positive Zionist outlook, yet he made aliya relatively late in life. "My wife felt that England gave us refuge and we should stay," he says by way of explanation. "With hindsight, it was a mistake. My wife died in 1990, and in 2004 I finally managed to fulfill my lifelong dream and followed my daughter 'home'." Bingham describes himself as a very happy man who has led an interesting, multifaceted and eventful life. "Above all I'm very proud of my Jewish heritage and consider it a privilege to now live and work in Jerusalem. It's a dream come true," he says, adding with wide smile: "I am also blessed with a caring daughter, grandchildren and two treasures, my great grandchildren."

You can listen to "Walter's World", on www.Israelnationalradio.com or find the program by entering 'Walter Bingham Israel' on Google.

For enquiries on Walter's illustrated presentation about life under the Nazis or comments about his program, he can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

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