Walter Schnell

Walter Schnell

Born: April 16, 1904

Strehlen, Germany

Walter was born to a Jewish family in the German town of Strehlen, 25 miles south of Breslau. His family's crystal business was prominent in the town for more than 100 years. Walter's parents sent him to Berlin in the mid-1920s to learn the porcelain trade. He returned to Strehlen in 1926 to help his family run the business.

1933-39: In 1937 we moved to Breslau. After the German pogroms of 1938 [Kristallnacht, Night of Broken Glass], I was deported to Buchenwald. When I arrived I was forced through a tunnel while Nazis beat us with clubs. Chaos broke out in the camp. Some prisoners ran around the compound while guards shot at them; others ran headlong into the electric fence. In December my parents got documents for me to go to Panama. The Nazis, assured that I would leave the country, released me.

1940-44: I couldn't get a visa to Panama, so my only option was to go to Shanghai, the only place that didn't require a visa. Most of the Jews lived in a suburb called Hongkew, until Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese confined us in a ghetto. I was in Shanghai for four years, and was the manager from 1941 to 1945 of the General Kosher Kitchen, which supplied food for thousands of Orthodox Jews. There were several synagogues in Shanghai and the Jewish community was active. In 1944 the Americans began bombing Shanghai.

After the war, Walter remained in China working at the kitchen. In April 1947 he immigrated to the United States.