Walter Arnstein

February 25, 1932 – March 16, 2024

Walter Arnstein passed away on March 16th  2024 with his wife and daughter by his side. Born Vlado Arnstein in 1932 in Yugoslavia (now Croatia), he was the middle child of Helen (Jelka) Ackerman and Leo (Lavoslav) Arnstein, alongside his older brother Paul (deceased) and younger sister Eva. Walt is survived by his wife Donna (nee Delaney), daughter Laura, son-in-law Matthew Carpenter, and three grandchildren Jackson, Caleb, and Caroline. He also leaves behind 5 nieces and nephews (David, Judy, Michael, Sydney and Andrew) and their families.

Walt was born into a Jewish family in pre-WWII Zagreb, Yugoslavia where his father owned a men’s clothing shop. After Germany occupied Yugoslavia in 1941, the family’s home and business were both confiscated. The family were given yellow stars to wear on their clothing and Walt was told not to return to school. With coins sewn into their clothing, the family made a harrowing escape to an Italian occupied area of the country, and were interned on the Italian occupied island of Korcula, and then in Bari where he and his brother witnessed one of the most disastrous bombing of allied ships of the war. In 1944, Walt’s family, including his grandmother, were chosen to be part of an isolated group of almost 1000 Jewish refugees to be interned in the United States. This historical event is commemorated in the book Haven and in a 2001 television movie also called Haven. The refugees were interned at Fort Ontario in Oswego NY, and through extensive advocacy, were eventually permitted to immigrate legally to the United States. Three remaining coins from this escape have been passed on to Walt’s grandchildren.

Following his graduation from high school in 1950 in Cleveland, Ohio, Walter served in the US Air Force (1952-1956) during in the Korean war, and became a naturalized US citizen. He then used the G.I. Bill to attend college and graduate school at Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve) in Ohio, eventually obtaining a PhD in Engineering in 1964.  He held 2 patents and spent his career working for various Silicon Valley companies specializing in disk drive development.

Walt moved to California and met his future wife Donna Delaney, who he married on January 1, 1974. Their daughter Laura arrived in 1975, and together, the family spent almost 20 years making a home in Saratoga, California. Walt loved the wine country and in 2000, he and Donna moved to Cloverdale, CA, where the Redwoods meet the Wine Country. He loved both. He enjoyed volunteering at the visitor’s center and taking Vintners classes during his retirement years. An avid photographer, he did some of his best work in the picturesque wine country.

Walt’s life was characterized by diverse passions and interests. He had a lifelong love for Italy, having been interned there during WWII, and later stationed there during the Korean War. He believed the Italians saved his life. He learned to speak fluent Italian and often returned there for visits throughout his lifetime.  A lover of language, he also learned to speak French in his 80s. He also was an aficionado of automatic watches and as an early internet adopter, he enjoyed getting to know other collectors through internet forums. He loved classical music and had a massive record (later CD) collection, and frequently attended the symphony. He was a lifelong learner who enjoyed educational programs for seniors through Elderhostel and Sonoma State University. He loved to meet other American immigrants and hear their stories. According to family lore, he taught himself to drive by simply reading a book, imagining each step, and driving away from the car dealer during his first ever attempt behind the wheel. He loved his family, good food and wine, film and photography, the outdoors, and travel.

At 92, Walt was one of very few Holocaust survivors left who were old enough during the war to remember his experiences. He arguably saw some of the worst of humanity during his childhood years, yet he chose optimism, curiosity and kindness throughout his life. Whether you knew him as Vlado, Walter, Walt, Dad or Papa, you know he was a man who truly lived his life to its fullest.