Film content

Walter Kaufmann

What a life!

Feature documentary only in movie theatres

Walter Kaufmann died on April 15, 2021 at the age of 97 in Berlin.

In his life important events, catastrophes, and tremors of the last century are reflected in the most extraordinary way, and they continue to have an impact on our present day.

 In 1924 he was born in Berlin to the poor, young Polish Jew Rachel Schmeidler, named Jizchak. 3 years later, a wealthy Duisburg couple adopted him. In contrast to his adoptive parents Johanna and Sally Kaufmann, Walter Kaufmann was able to escape the persecution by the Nazis and saved himself as a teenager with a children's transport to England. Was interned there and shipped by the British on the notorious ship “Dunera” to Australia, where he had to spend almost two years in an internment camp.

 He became an Australian soldier, wedding photographer, seaman and later an award-winning writer. In the mid-1950s he made a conscious decision to live in the GDR. He kept his Australian passport, was allowed to leave the country as a journalist and writer and processed this experience in numerous reports and books that appeared in extremely large numbers in the GDR. From 1985 to 1993 he was General Secretary of the PEN Center. He was awarded high-ranking awards such as the Fontane Prize, the Heinrich Mann Prize and the Ruhr Area Literature Prize.

The film follows the traces of his life in international locations: USA, Cuba, Australia, Japan and Israel. In Germany the film stations are Berlin, where he has lived since 1956, Duisburg, where he experienced his youth, and Born am Darß, where he spends the summer months. For us filmmakers, the essential contents of Walter Kaufmann's life are: the catastrophic consequences of National Socialism, the civil rights movement in the USA, the legendary trial against Angela Davis, the revolution in Cuba, the confrontation with Stalinism, the effects of the atomic bombing in Japan, the never-ending story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the collapse of the GDR, the return of nationalistic, anti-Semitic currents in Germany.

An important dramaturgical element recurring in the film is the implementation of the correspondence between Sally and Johanna Kaufmann and their adoptive son Walter. This moving exchange that has been preserved begins with Walter's transport of children to England and ends on the day the parents are deported to Theresienstadt.


Since his youth, Walter Kaufmann has sided with the persecuted and disenfranchised on earth. His thirst for adventure is the expression of an alert mind that wants to see the world with its own eyes. It is a rare last opportunity for young and older viewers to get to know the world from the perspective of this contemporary witness.