By Alice Maxwell
In September I hosted a house concert, Music in the Time of Anne Frank, which was covered by the Voice for Arran and the Arran Banner. Shortly afterwards I received a phone call from Jack Paterson of Whiting Bay who had read the article, and said he had a fascinating story to tell me.
Jack was the perfect host and while we enjoyed coffee and scones he told me of his friendship with Walther Hambock – an Austro German pianist who had settled in Airdrie after the war.
Walther studied music at the Vienna academy in the late 1920s, specializing in the works of Chopin and Beethoven, and studying under the most highly respected professors of the time. After completing his studies, he decided to set up as a professional pianist in Berlin, the capital of the Third Reich. His concerts were frequently attended by Herman Goering and Joseph Goebells, Minister of Information, and before long he was asked to take the post of personal pianist to the Fuhrer. He accepted the post, but remained free to accept other engagements as a concert pianist. This arrangement lasted from 1936-39 during which time Walther only knew Hitler within the confines of his work as a pianist and had no cause for concern. Walther introduced Goering to a soprano whom he later married.
All this came to an abrupt end however in 1940. After performing the Liszt piano concerto in the Hague Walther was arrested on his return because he had played under a Jewish conductor. He was taken back to Berlin where the SS commander Martin Bormann was about to shoot him dead when two SS soldiers intervened, upon which Bormann angrily shouted “Grace not Justice”.
Walther was taken to the Flossenberg extermination camp. Here most prisoners died within a week – partly due to the shock of encountering the atrocities going on there. Walther survived there from 1940 -45 and was forced to work in a quarry as well as playing in the Camp Band.
The camp was eventually liberated by the Americans and Walther returned to Vienna where he bought a music publishing business, specializing in best-selling songs and instrumental pieces. In 1961 he moved to Airdrie, Scotland and the business was renamed the Austria-Scotia Music Company. Walther’s own compositions included music for the Vienna fire brigade, and a piece called The Shores of Arran, written under the pseudonym of Harry King. In Airdrie he met his wife Helen who lived close to the church where Jack Paterson was working as minister.
When Walther died the ground was too frozen to perform the burial, which had to be postponed. Jack attended the burial a week or so later. Walther asked his best friend Alfred to take good care of Helen, and the pair were married by Jack, who also attended their first wedding anniversary party.
Helen was researching and attempting to write her husband’s biography but due to illness it was never completed – as far as Jack is aware. However articles about her husband have appeared in The Motherwell Times, and The Glasgow Herald so this strange history is preserved in some small way.
Featured image shows Walther Hambok in The Motherwell Times article in 1977.