Walter Schwarz was born in 1921 in Timisoara, Romania. Formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire Timosoari was ethnically divided between Hungarian, Romanian and German speaking people. Walter and his family primarily spoke German, which would prove to be helpful later in Walter’s life. Walter was in Brno studying textiles at a Czech school when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939. Due to the anti-Jewish laws he was unable to return to school and made his way home. Foreseeing what was to become of Romania his father decided to move the family to the US. They left in March 1940 on the last ship of refugees to leave Europe.
Walter arrived in the US at the age of 19 and was able to find a job in textiles, but decided to enlist in the US Army. He was initially rejected at first since he was not a citizen. However, in 1942 he was drafted and sent to a training center in Pennsylvania. Due to his language capabilities he was transferred to the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie, MD. There he received intensive training in intelligence work and other subjects with a strong emphasis on interrogation methods. It was here he became a member of the ‘Ritchie Boys’, a US special military intelligence unit comprised of mainly German-speaking immigrants (predominantly Jews) most of whom had fled Nazi persecution.
Walter was sent to England in September 1944 for more instructions and was stationed in Birmingham until being sent to France in October 1944. There he was assigned to the 3rd Army and saw combat at the Saar River. In December 1944 he was involved in the Battle of the Bulge. Schwartz primarily interrogated civilians and captured German soldiers. Later he was stationed in Plzen, Bohemia, not far from Brno where he had previously attended school. In Bohemia he was able to obtain information, which enabled him to make contact with surviving relatives and acquaintances. He returned to the U.S. in November 1945 and was discharged in January 1946.
Utilizing the GI Bill, Walter studied at the Lowell Technological Institute (later University of Massachusetts) and graduated in 1949 with a degree in textile studies. He then moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he met his wife Anita. They eventually moved to Madison, WI, where they raised five children before moving to St. Paul, MN.
In 2004, filmmaker Christian Bauer produced the documentary, The Ritchie Boys, featuring the stories of and interviews with surviving Ritchie Boy members. When the film was released Walter organized screenings around the Twin Cities, which led to a reunion between himself and fellow Ritchie Boy Dr. Guy Stern, at a Minneapolis screening.
Beginning in February 2013, Felix de la Concha, a prominent Spanish artist, collaborated with CHGS to include Twin Cities Holocaust survivors in his latest portrait series, Portraying Memories: Portraits and Conversations with Survivors of the Shoah.
De la Concha painted survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust) from all over the world. While posing, his subjects talked about their lives and shared their testimonies of survival. These sessions were recorded and depict the portraits transformation from a blank canvas to the finished piece; providing the viewer with a powerful and emotionally charged, multidimensional representation of the encounter with his sitters.
Nine local survivors participated in the project; their portraits and testimony appear on the CHGS YouTube channel www.youtube.com/user/CHGSumn along with the 31 other survivors who sat with De la Concha between 2007 and 2015.