Born: Established: 1924 Berlin,
Walter Kaufmann, born Jizchak Schmeidler in Berlin as the son of a Polish-Jewish woman, was adopted by the wealthy German-Jewish couple Dr Sally and Johanna Kaufmann in 1928. The family moved to Duisburg in the Rhineland where Kaufmann went to school until the age of 15. In 1938 his adoptive parents, who were leading members of the local Jewish community, managed to organise for him the escape to England with the 'Refugee Children's Movement' program. (See biographical section in A. Ludewig's unpubl. PhD thesis, 'Der deutsch-australische Autor Walter Kaufmann')
While his parents were eventually deported to Theresienstadt and later murdered in Auschwitz, Walter Kaufmann was interned in England after the outbreak of war, and deported to Australia on the infamous ship Dunera in 1940. Like the other 'Dunera boys', Kaufmann was interned at the Hay Internment Camp, and was not released until 1942. His strong anti-fascist convictions made him join the army. After the war and demobilisation he worked in different environments and various jobs, for instance as fruit picker, farm labourer, photographer, wharfie and sailor, at the same time trying to further his education.
Interested in literature and committed to the ideals of socialism and communism, Kaufmann joined the Melbourne Realist Writers' Group and had some of his stories published in the Realist Writer. He was encouraged by Frank Hardy and David Martin to write a novel based on his own past in Nazi Germany, Voices in the Storm, which later was published by the Australasian Book Society (1953). He became politically active and travelled extensively, frequently attending conferences in socialist and other countries.
After stays in Moscow and Eastern Europe in the mid-1950s, he settled in the Eastern part of Berlin in the German Democratic Republic, where he became General Secretary of PEN, continued writing and received several prestigious awards (Fontane-Preis 1961 and 1964; Heinrich-Mann-Preis 1967). Kaufmann continued to travel extensively, among other places to South America and Japan, and he also returned to Australia for visits several times. His travel experiences and observations are reflected in much of his fiction and travel writing. He also published several books of journalistic essays, and although his significance as a socialist writer has diminished with the collapse of the communist regime, Kaufmann's work in German has continued to be published after the re-unification of Germany.
Apart from the Mary Gilmore award, Kaufmann has received the German Heinrich Mann Prize, the Theodor Fontane Prize for Art and Literature, and the Ruhrgebiets-Literaturpreis 1993.