JERUSALEM (JNS) — Israel is the home of Walter Bingham, 95, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living radio-talk show host.
At a gathering in his honor in Jerusalem, hosted by the Israel Government Press Office on the last night of Hanukkah, Bingham told journalists, friends and family members that he feels that the shortened version of his first name means he’s the “World’s Oldest Living Teenager. That’s how I feel.”
Last year, to mark his 94th birthday, Bingham jumped from a plane to become the oldest Israeli on record to skydive.
The dapper Bingham is a regular participant on press trips organized by the Government Press Office and hosts “The Walter Bingham Show” on Israel Talk News Radio. His articles have appeared in dozens of English-language Jewish news outlets.
Born Wolfgang Billig in Karlsruhe, Germany, to a religious Jewish family, he remembers seeing his local synagogue burning on Kristallnacht, the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938.
He relates how he had been registered to immigrate to Palestine since 1937, but after witnessing Kristallnacht, grabbed the opportunity to leave for England with other members of his religious Zionist youth movement on the Kindertransport that brought thousands of Jewish children and teenagers out of Nazi-occupied lands without their parents.
He changed his name after joining the British army during the latter part of World War II.
“As a soldier about to go into battle, it occurred to me there’s a 50-50 chance of being taken prisoner,” recounts Bingham. “If they would hear my name, they would find out I’m a Jew and even from Germany, and who knows what they would have done with me.”
Bingham took part in the Normandy landings of 1944 and received an award for bravery from King George VI.
As a native German speaker, Bingham became an intelligence officer in the British Army and interrogated several Nazi commanders, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister. “Ribbentrop looked me in the eye and told me he didn’t know anything about the Final Solution: ‘It was all the Fuhrer,’ ” recalls Bingham. “I could have choked him, but as a British intelligence officer, I could only react with another question.”
Returning to England after the war, Bingham had a successful career as an actor and broadcaster. He played the wizard in two of the Harry Potter films.
In 2004, he made aliyah to Jerusalem and resumed his journalistic career at the age of 80.
Bingham says that he’s not nostalgic for the “good old days,” assuring that “all aspects of work and life are much better today.”