Special plaque to honour remarkable Fife family who cared for young WW2 Jewish refugee

It is a story of human kindness in the darkest of times - and how the love shown to a young boy in Dysart has never been forgotten.

Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 8:24 pm

Now the family of Walter Nachtigall want to place a plaque in the royal burgh as a permanent thank you to the people who threw their arms around a frightened young boy from Austria, and transformed his life.

Aged just eight, he arrived in Dysart as part of Kindertransport - an organised rescue effort of children from Nazi-controlled territories during the nine months prior to the outbreak of World War Two.

It was 1939, and the youngster’s world had already been turned upside down.

Walter and his wife Sylvia, and, pictured as a young boy in Dysart with Mrs Salmond

Kristalnacht 1938 saw his father incarcerated in Dachau, later released and given two weeks to leave Austria.

He arrived in England, and, the following year, Walter and his elder sister were sent to Scotland.While his parents were eventually reunited and worked as domestics in Edinburgh, the Church of Scotland arranged for the children to be taken in by different families.

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That eventually led Walter to the Salmonds, Jimmy and Isa, who stayed in Dysart with their teenage children, Mae and Bill.

Walter NAchtigall and his family shortly after arriving in New York

He came for a week, and stayed for a year - and the families remained in touch across the generations even when separated by the Atlantic.

Now Walter’s own children want to celebrate a remarkable bond with a ‘memorial to the righteous’ which pays tribute to the people who came to the aid of the Jewish community during the war.

It is their way of thanking the Salmonds, and the whole of Dysart who made ‘wee Walter’ one of their own.

The examples are numerous.At school they placed him in a class with a teacher who could speak German and who also gave him money to travel by train to Edinburgh to spend a day with his parents.

A Nachtigall family visit to the harbour in Dysart

He attended Sunday service in church, but, afterwards the minister took him into his study where they recited the Shema.

At Christmas, Walter followed Bill and Mae’s tradition of hanging up a pillowcase for his gifts. He got enough to fill 20 of them as people across town came to their door.

It was, said Walter in a remarkable video interview, “an outpouring of warmth”

Walter's daughter, Lisa, on a visit to Kirkcaldy to meet Mae. They are pictured at the Streathearn Hotel.

His own daughter, Lisa, described his stay in Dysart as a “blissful year” in the comfort and love of a remarkable family.

After his week with the Salmonds, Walter asked to stay.

A second week was followed by a third, and they were on holiday in Perth when news of war first emerged.

Jimmy received a telegram instructing that Walter be sent back to Edinburgh to be evacuated.

Instead he went to the local police station and said he would look after ther boy until his parents were able to come and get him. Asked what he’d do if that didn’t occur, Jimmy said they would adopt the boy.

And so began a summer in Dysart which spanned all four seasons.

Walter recalled walking hand in hand with Jimmy to see a cowboy film at the cinema, and of exploring the burgh.

In a letter written by Mae about Walter’s stay, she said: “Dysart was such a small, tight knit community, they all took you to their hearts - you sure were a celebrity.

“Dad and mum loved you as their own, Bill and I as a brother. The love you had for the Salmonds was the richest.”

The frightened wee boy who first set foot in Dysart after the briefest of stays in Edinburgh - where he and his sister were initially placed in different households on opposite sides of the city - was remarkable.

The folk of Dysart welcomed him with open arms and were keen to know all about the young Jewish refugee - “I was a novelty” he said in his interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I made friends quite readily, and I simply had a wonderful home life where Mae and Bill were like brother and sister to me.”

That memory is borne out by Mae’s letter to Lisa which recalled his school days: “Miss Duncan was your teacher - the kids all thought you were great.”

On October 19 1940, reunited with his parents, Walter set sail for New York, but he left with a promise to return - and he did.

On a business trip to Europe, he returned and was reunited with the Salmonds.

Jimmy had passed away, but there was an emotional reunion with Isa, Mae and Bill.

It was, he said, “a wonderful, wonderful homecoming.”

Letters and photos were sent from New Jersey to Dysart, and Mae and her husband Adam made several visaits to stay with the Nachtigall, attending weddings and family holidays.

To this day, a letter written by Mae remains a treasured possession. It recalls their year with Walter when the world was enveloped in the darkness of war.

Mae, who lived in Cawdor Crescent and then Duddingston Drive, passed away in June 2020.

Lisa said: “I can not overstate the love my father felt for the Salmonds and their children. I was blessed to maintain a close relationship with my Aunt Mae and visited with her and her husband Adam frequently.”

In 1981 she came to Kirkcaldy. In town one day, Mae introduced her to two friends. They looked at Lisa, then back at Mae, and said "she looks like oor Wee Walter."

The proposed plaque is for the people of Dysart and the Salmond family.

The wee boy they watched set sail for New York went on to graduate and become CEO of the Briel American Corp - an importing and sales marketing company - and, after retiring, played a full role in his community.

Walter passed away in 1999 but he remained part of the Salmond family, and a part of Dysart.

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