Oral History

William (Bill) Lowenberg describes Zionist and cultural activities 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.


I hooked up in Westerbork because of my age with, uh, Zionist groups, the Halutsim. We still had that dream that we all would go to Israel, as Halutsim, as, as, as a group. And, uh, we met and discussed and felt like we were in a pre-, pre-kibbutz setting almost at times, because we worked in the fields and, uh, that, that, that kept us going and gave us also a lot of, uh, assurance of ourselves, and gave us a lot of strength. I think we all felt this, and especially since we didn't know what our future was. We thought we were going to, to eastern Europe to be interned. And, uh, well, Westerbork by itself had an infrastructure which was quite unique, having listened to other people in camps, because the Germans had let the, uh, original, uh, camp inmates build a, uh, a cultural infrastructure. Uh, we had a great deal of, uh, Jews, not, I don't know if the majority, but there were a lot of Jews from Berlin and the, and the stage, musicians, which is not unique in, in, in our, our group, our...we had a lot of musicians there. And they had an orchestra, they had a, uh, cabaret. Uh, I don't know how often they played, but I remember several events I went to, like, uh, more modern, not modern but, uh, the Strausses, and Viennese, the Viennese, uh, cabarets. And, uh, of course, it was done for the Germans, and after the Germans saw it then we had, uh, the privilege, so-called, of attending. And it was major. Unfortunately, it was mostly for people who had, who had been there for a while like we, we, we stayed there for a while.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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