Oral History

William (Bill) Lowenberg describes the importance of bonds of friendship among young people imprisoned in the Westerbork camp

As a boy, Bill attended school in Burgsteinfurt, a German town near the Dutch border. After the Nazis came to power in Germany in January 1933, Bill experienced increasing antisemitism and was once attacked on his way to Hebrew school by a boy who threw a knife at him. In 1936, he and his family left Germany for the Netherlands, where they had relatives and thought they would be safe. However, after Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, antisemitic legislation--including the order to wear the Jewish badge--was instituted. Bill, his sister, and his parents were deported to the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands. In August 1943, Bill was deported from Westerbork to the Auschwitz camp in German-occupied Poland. He was transported from Auschwitz to Warsaw in late 1943, following the German suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Bill and other prisoners were forced to demolish the remnants of the ghetto. As Soviet forces advanced, Bill was placed on a death march and then transported by train to the Dachau camp in Germany. He was liberated by US forces at the end of April 1945.


Well, we were frightened. Uh, there's, there was only so much our parents could do for you; they had their own problems, they had their own, uh, fears and, and, and heartbreaks. So when you were with your own age group--especially girls, and I remember a few of them--uh, we, uh, we were frightened to death. And, uh, it was important that you had that, that emotional friendship that, uh, I'm not talking about sex per se. We were too young for that. But there was certainly at the age, uh, in those days when you were 15, 16 where the friend, the friendship, where you could hold hands and, and embrace each other. We didn't, uh, what did we know about kissing, right, except what, what, when you kissed your parents and your sister. But not that emotional life we would think of today under the modern so-called postwar society thing in this country. No, it was just this, this deep friendships and, and affections, and I think they were important.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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