Otto Deutsch

Noted Holo­caust sur­vivor who spoke widely about life for Aus­trian Jews af­ter the An­schluss

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

HIS LIFE’S story can be found in a num­ber of books about the Holo­caust, most re­cently in Agnes Grun­wald-Spier’s book Who be­trayed the Jews? Otto Deutsch, who has died in West­cliff aged 88, was a highly val­ued friend of the lo­cal Jewish, as well as wider com­mu­nity. He was in great de­mand as a speaker at home and abroad, by schools, clubs and or­gan­i­sa­tions, and spoke about his early life in Vi­enna and Eng­land af­ter his ar­rival.

Otto was well known within Holo­caust sur­vivors’ and in­ter­faith groups. In his in­ter­views he de­scribed his life with his still no­tice­able Aus­trian ac­cent.

Otto was born in Vi­enna, Aus­tria, to Vic­tor and Wilma Deutsch, poor but lov­ing par­ents. He spent his early years with his older sis­ter Adele, as part of the large Jewish pre-war com­mu­nity in the Fa­voriten dis­trict, un­til the Nazis in­vaded Aus­tria dur­ing the An­schluss

His child­hood and fam­ily were then sav­agely de­stroyed. His fa­ther was rounded up on Kristall­nacht in Novem­ber, 1938 by their neigh­bour and for­mer fam­ily friend – like him­self a dec­o­rated sol­dier who had fought in the Im­pe­rial Aus­trian Army in the First World War. Otto never saw his fa­ther again and it tran­spired that he had been com­pelled to work in the Forced Labour Bat­tal­ion used to build Ger­many’s first au­to­bahns.

Otto’s young life was al­tered for­ever when he fi­nally fled Vi­enna via the Kin­der­trans­port, which saved the lives of 10,000 chil­dren from war-torn Europe and placed them in foster homes. His mother had queued des­per­ately long hours to se­cure Otto a ticket to Eng­land. As he walked one last time with his mother and sis­ter along the Vi­enna sta­tion plat­form to catch the train that would even­tu­ally bring him to safety, her part­ing words, em­bed­ded in his me­mory for­ever were: “Never lose your Yid­dishkeit.” He trav­elled with his first cousin Al­fred Kessler, who sur­vives him. Their moth­ers were sis­ters.

The boys landed at Har­wich on the Es­sex coast on July 6, 1939 and went to live with a Chris­tian cou­ple in Mor­peth, near New­cas­tle. They en­sured that Otto had some Jewish ed­u­ca­tion by ar­rang­ing a monthly visit from a yeshivah stu­dent in nearby Gateshead. Mean­while Otto’s adored par­ents and sis­ter, of whom he never tired of speak­ing, were mur­dered by the Nazis on May 24. 1942 along­side many oth­ers at the Maly Trasi­ainec con­cen­tra­tion camp near Minsk, Be­larus. In 2011, Otto vis­ited the forests where they were killed and their bod­ies burned. He said Kad­dish for them and left a photo pinned to a tree in their me­mory.

When he turned 16 Otto went to Lon­don and worked as a tour guide, putting his language skills to good use with the bur­geon­ing busi­ness of for­eign Euro­pean tours. Even­tu­ally he vis­ited Southend-on-Sea, Es­sex in the early 1970s. He never left. He joined the Southend and West­cliff He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion and for the next four decades he sat qui­etly at the back of the shul in the same cor­ner each Shab­bat, shar­ing his lifesto­ries with all who asked, some­times mim­ick­ing a strong Ge­ordie ac­cent.

In 2007 on Otto’s 79th birth­day, Southend’s Rabbi Binyamin Bar or­gan­ised his bar­mitz­vah cel­e­bra­tion. On his Ger­man pass­port, the name Is­rael had been in­serted, com­mon prac­tice for all male Jews un­der Nazi con­trol. Rabbi Bar sug­gested that even though the name was given as a sym­bol of degra­da­tion, he should adopt it with pride for hav­ing de­feated the Nazis’ evil in­ten­tions. Otto Deutsch be­came Yis­roel ben Avra­ham.

Otto was a dearly loved and much re­spected man. He cap­ti­vated peo­ple from all com­mu­ni­ties, leav­ing a last­ing im­pres­sion of kind­ness, tol­er­ance and en­durance, de­spite the hard­ship and atroc­ity he had ex­pe­ri­enced in his young life. Otto never mar­ried and is sur­vived by five cousins.


Otto Deutsch: born July 12, 1928. Died Jan­uary 3, 2017

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