by | Nov 2, 2017 | Obituaries

Portsmouth —Kurt Phillip (Phil) Caminer, aged 93, died on September 4, 2017.

A lifelong supporter of universal civil liberties and a member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Phil was born to an assimilated Social Democratic Party-affiliated, German Jewish family in Berlin on February 6, 1924.

He escaped Germany on a “Kindertransport” to England in July 1939 at the age of 15, just before the Germans marched into Poland in September 1939. In England he reunited with his recently escaped mother Liebe Lola Pufeles Caminer of blessed memory. Ever a rebel, he resented the patriarchal authoritarian public school system of Germany and often skipped school to visit the local excellent museums! Using his rudimentary English skills, he toured African American athletes participating in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He eschewed continuing formal education in England, choosing first to be independent as a farm laborer in Wales during WW II — although he was once interned on the Isle of Man as an ‘enemy alien’! After initially escaping to Amsterdam, Holland, his three-year-older brother Hans was captured by the Nazis and transported to the hard forced labor camp and stone quarry (KZ or Konzentrationslager) near Mauthausen, Austria where he was killed. His father, Siegmund Caminer, died at the hands of the Nazi regime during WW II after having served in the German Army in WW I. In London, England, Phil identified as a Free Thinker and was introduced to the culture of the British theater world (Q Theater) through his ‘adoption’ by the Jack and Beatie de Leon family. During the war when not dodging ‘doodle bugs,’ he posed insightful questions from the BBC radio audience to intellectuals on the program, The Brains Trust.

In the late 1940s, in Washington DC, he joined an interracial housing co-op where he lived with James Farmer of CORE among other daring resident activists. In the early 1950s he managed a Planters Peanut store on Granby Street in Norfolk where he was one of the first to hire African Americans to wait on both white and black customers, bucking shocked supervisors’ criticisms. Phil joined the Unitarian Church of Norfolk (UCN), calling himself a Jewish Unitarian Universalist, atheist and humanist. He found his soul-satisfaction serving as a group home manager and counselor to the adult developmentally delayed people of Norfolk (Hope House Foundation), of Virginia Beach (VOA Baker House) and of Chesapeake.

He is survived by his wife Vicki Beck Caminer (Portsmouth) and his ex-wife and still friend Shirley Caminer (Denver, Colo.). He is survived by his older son Stephen Caminer (Joyce Bennett) of Denver, and by their daughter Adrienne (Brooklyn, N.Y.C). He is also survived by his younger son Thomas Caminer (RoseEllen), granddaughter Claudia and great-granddaughter Kaya Bedoya (Jackson Heights, N.Y.C). He was so very fond of his cousin and fellow Berliner Rosi Oettinger Rosenberg of blessed memory and of Rosi’s daughter Ruth R. Robeson (Bill) and Rosi’s son Dani of blessed memory (Adele), and of their children and grandchildren.

Phil had a very large, close-knit extended family through the Unitarian Church of Norfolk (UCN) as well as with members of the former Temple Sinai of Portsmouth and with the family of Kitty Wolf-Steinberg and Rabbi Arthur Steinberg, of blessed memory.

Through contacts developed through Servas, an organization founded in Denmark post WW II which fosters direct relationships among people across international boundaries, he befriended Claudia Richter (Hamburg, Germany) and Baerbel Weigl (Volker Hofman) of Berlin, Germany whom he visited repeatedly.

A memorial service was held at the Unitarian (Universalist) Church.