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Second Interview Insert Key
Indented text represents the follow-up interview conducted on May 8, 2003.

Introduction of Interviewers

Today is April 3, 2003. This is the Urban School Oral History class, and we are interviewing William Lowenberg.

I am Marisa, I am Molly, I am Jason, I am Evie, I am Matthew. Today is May 8th, 2003 and we will be interviewing William Lowenberg in San Francisco, California for our class Telling Stories.

Please tell us your name and when and where you were born.

My name is William J. Lowenberg. I was born on August the 14th, 1926 in a very small town on the western part of Germany about ten miles from the Dutch border. I lived there until I was about nine. Then times went bad and we went over the border and went to Holland where I basically grew up.

What was the name of the town you were born in?

I was born? The name of the town was Ochtrup. Can you spell it for me? O C H T R U P.

But then we moved to a town in Holland which was–in comparison to me–was the Garden of Eden because there I was acccepted for the first time in my life and the name of that town was Borculo which was a little smaller but a very wonderful town. How do you spell that? B O R C U L O. The distance between those two towns was about twenty five miles.

Bill recounts his "travel-log" from 1940-1945.

If I may–if I may, I would like to give a little introduction why I'm sitting here. I think it's important for you to know why I'm doing this. In the Old Testament there is a saying in the Bible that if something tragic happens to you in life, it takes forty years to talk about it–it buries within your soul or your mind–it takes forty years and then it releases. Now when I heard that when I was a child I never believed it, but it happened to me. It took over thirty years before I could talk about my experiences in the Second World War.

I think its important that you also know why I'm doing this. I'm only speaking to four schools. I started about eight years ago when I was asked by a mutual friend–by a friend who had a child in one school. And others came along–and same–like why I am here today, the mutual friends. And I am doing this for different reasons. First of all, aside from being in the concentration camps, I'm also a GI, I was in the Korean War. But I think you young people, my deep respect for all of you, should know why American soldiers, for the first time in American history, were drafted and went to Europe, because in the First World War–1917, 1914 to 1918–those were all volunteers, people in the army then. But in the war of 1940, the war against Hitler, these were draftees. So the first time in history of the United States people were taken overseas to fight tyranny and these were draftees.

The reason I am telling you this is because your grandfathers, and maybe even your great grandfathers and great grandmothers–but there were more men in those days in the front line than women, in those days, which has changed. You should know why so many Americans were killed in Europe between 1940 and 1945. They went there for one reason and one reason only: to defend freedom and democracy and to extract from Germany this person who controlled the country like someone right now we talk about at this moment in time [referring to Saddam Hussein].

There were fifty-one million people killed during the Second World War, that includes soldiers, but fifty one million people were killed, and the Americans are included in that. The Americans went there to stop this. So having said that, that's why I am talking to young people and older, but I go to four schools about all your age and a little older–15, 16, 17–and one school is a little younger. That's why I'm talking to you, so you know that somewhere in your family most likely there was a relative, a grandfather or grandmother or uncle, who was killed during the Second World War, and why. So having said that, that's why I'm doing what I'm doing.

Now maybe I should tell you a little bit about my travel log it, it gives you some material to ask questions. When I was fourteen years old, it was the 10th of May, 1940, I lived in Holland. I had parents, I had one sister, I had grandparents, I had uncles and aunts with their families. And the first year of the occupation by Germany of Holland, that was occupied all at one time in May–Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Denmark.

We lived there for the first year, it was okay. The second year it started in 1942. I'm a Jew and of course Hitler had a very important agenda on his mind—to kill the Jews, the Gypsies, the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and anybody who didn't agree with him. It wasn't only a war against the Jews, anyone who didn't agree with him. But the total annihilation were the Jews, the Gypsies, the Jehovah Witnesses, and Masons, and I know your familiar with the Masons, which is an order, they believe in the Bible, believe in freedom, and they also were arrested. The other people who were killed were Catholic priests and nuns, Protestant priests and nuns who didn't agree and who said something unacceptable to him from the pulpit. And people who were political, there were a lot of political prisoners in the camps.

I was arrested with my family in 1942. At first I came to Holland and I was with my parents for a little bit and my sister few months. Then I was taken away from them and I was sent to Auschwitz. You've heard about Auschwitz. Auschwitz had several camps, the main camp was called Auschwitz, which is also a town. And next to it from about a half a mile–shorter than that actually–was Birkenau and that's where the gas chambers were. There were seven gas chambers and seven crematoria going around the clock in the middle '40's. I stayed there for awhile until in 1943 when there was an uprising in the ghetto of Warsaw where other Jews had been taken. There were 360,000 Jews in that ghetto which were brought in all around Poland and other parts of Europe. There was an uprising, enormous fighting, with bombing and etc.

And a good friend that I met in the camp whom I had known before–he was about a year, almost two years older than me–he came to me one day in the camp and he says, "I volunteered you for 'transport unknown,' you and I are going." I said, "Why? Maybe we'll go to the gas chamber?" "That's possible but you're going to be there anyway in a three weeks." We volunteered for this "transport unknown" and this gave us a chance, fifty-fifty. We ended up, three hundred men were taken to Warsaw, to the ghetto. Now, when I left Holland there were four thousand people in those box cars, and out of those four thousand there were about three to four hundred kept alive. The women, the children, the old people were killed, they all went to the gas chambers.

We end up in Warsaw, in the ghetto which was burning, it was a demolished city like you have seen on television. Buildings were destroyed etcetera, etc. Many almost all. The three hundred of us were sent there to burn bodies and to demolish the ghetto and to salvage any material that we could find for the German war industry: transformers, copper, tin, iron, you name it. We stayed there until 1944.

In '44, when the Russians broke through going west, there were thirty-six hundred people left out of about twelve thousand and six hundred couldn't walk anymore. Three thousand marched out. We marched due west for over two weeks–almost three weeks. We ended up in box cars again and we ended up in Dachau, which you have heard of, in southern Germany. It was about a weeks trip in box cars without food. And after three thousand who left two weeks before–almost three weeks–there were about four hundred of us left, two hundred and sixty, pardon me, were left. I'm one of those.

Then we were liberated by the American Army on April 30th, 1945. And I went back to Holland. I had a very tough time. And I lived three years in Switzerland and then I came to San Francisco, my mother had a brother here who moved here in the early '30's. And that's my story, but I think it's important you know why, where I was and what I've done. I lost my entire family: my parents, my sister, my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles worth of families. So I'm the only one who is alive today, or was alive in 1945, from that family.

We had lived in the town that I was born, my family had lived there–both sides of my family–had lived there, and I found grave stones going back to 1510, so there were grave stones, they lived there in the 15th century. The families had lived there for a long time. They must have moved there from somewhere, I don't know how long they lived there, but the gravestones I could trace go back to 1510. That's basically my travel log.

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