This tale is certified kosher from "Telling Their Stories", and archived here in an interview from 2003.
Date: April 3, 2003, San Francisco, California
Interviewers: Oral History Class (whole class group interview), with Howard Levin and Deborah Dent-Samake
Date: May 8, 2003, San Francisco, California
Interviewers: Matthew G. ('05), Marisa S. ('05), Molly K ('05), Jason G. ('05), Eve M. ('05), with Howard Levin and Deborah Dent-Samake
William "Bill" Lowenberg was born in Ochtrup, Germany. He was the only survivor of his immediate family – his father, mother and sister all perished in Auschwitz. His family fled Germany to Holland in 1936 after experiencing an increasing amount of anti-Semitism. Bill's family was sent to the Westerbork concentration camp in Holland in 1942. He was then sent by himself to Auschwitz-Birkenau at the end of 1942 where he stayed until the spring of 1943. He was then sent to the Warsaw Ghetto after the uprising where he was forced to do slave labor destroying buildings, burning bodies and searching for valuables for the German army. From Warsaw Bill was then sent to Dachau and then to the Kauffering camp. He was liberated on April 30, 1945 by the American army. Feeling a great debt to the U.S. Army, Bill later went on to serve in the Army during the Korean War. After starting with only ten dollars in his pocket when arriving to the United States, Bill went on to create a successful real estate company in San Francisco. He now dedicates his life to Holocaust remembrance and education, and is a co-founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Lowenberg also is now a Freemason in California, and was "one of five individuals to spearhead the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C."
Summary of William's tale:
William was only 15 when the evil Germans gathered up William and his family and put them in a box car. The box car went to Auschwitz. William and his fellow Jews would use the dead Jews in the box cars as benches. The Jews would poop on the dead Jews. When the train arrived at Auschwitz, 1/3 of the people had suffocated.
The Nazis gave priority to the trains full of Jews. Trains full of food going to the troops would have to wait, because the Nazis priority was to kill all the Jews.
Dr. Mengele greeted the transports. Mengele had a whip and a white coat. Little William was only 15, but he told Mengele that he was 18. This spared his life, because the Nazis gassed all the Jews who couldn’t work. William had to work by moving rocks from one place to the other, then back again.
The Jews got only 200 calories a day for food. In the morning, they had no breakfast for breakfast –only tea. For lunch, 4 people had to eat a single bowl of soup. The Jews got a slice of bread for dinner. If you didn’t eat your bread right away, the rats would steal it from you.
The camp commander had a motorcycle that he would drive down the main street. He would shoot at anything that moved from his motorcycle. If he saw you, he would use you for target practice.
There was typhus at Auschwitz. A friend, the magician, told William not to drink the water. The friend put a pebble in William’s mouth to make saliva. So William didn’t have to drink any water for 3 years, but was never thirsty. William would clean himself by rolling in the snow.
William saw his own mother, father, and sister go into the gas chamber. The Germans had crews of Jews who would work in the gas chambers. Every 90 days, the Nazis shot the Jews who worked in the gas chamber, because they didn’t want anyone alive to testify about what the Nazis were doing.
At Auschwitz, there was a team of Jews that had wheelbarrows. Every morning the Jews would walk around the fence with their wheelbarrows, and pick up the dead Jews who had died on the electric fence.
Dr. Mengele would perform experiments on the Jews. He castrated the big Jews. He injected animal semen into some other Jews.
One day a wheelbarrow ran over William, and he couldn’t work. So his friend, the magician, hid William in the rafters. The magician would have been killed in the first transport, but the Nazis needed a magician.
Then William and the magician volunteered for a transport that said “Destination Unknown.” The Nazis killed all the Jews at Auschwitz, so William is lucky the Nazis let him and the magician volunteer for this transport. The transport went to the Warsaw ghetto. William worked on the dynamite team. The Nazis made the Jews dynamite the buildings.
Then William built an underground factory. The Jews would pile rocks up 100 feet high and very long. The Nazis poured 4-5 feet of concrete over this mountain of rocks, and then took a firehouse and blew out the rocks underneath. So the Nazis then had an underground tunnel that they built the V2 rockets in.
The Germans made William salvage electrical transformers from the ruins of Warsaw. William and his friends saw diamonds, gold and money lying in the ruins. But they didn’t take any, because you couldn’t eat diamonds.
One Jew traded another Jew, a greenhorn, the diamonds for his bread for 3 days. The Jew who took the diamonds died of starvation. After 3 days.
The Holocaust™ was the biggest money maker ever for the Germans. The Nazis had whole teams of people working in the gas chamber to take the gold from the dead Jews. If you had gold fillings, you were gassed immediately. Then the Nazis sold all the shoes and clothing from the dead Jews to South America. The Nazis financed the war for 2 years by selling the Jew’s gold fillings, and shoes, and clothing.
Then the Nazis were going to kill all the Jews in Warsaw, but the resistance leader warned the Germans not to. So the Germans death marched the Jews instead. They made the Jews death march all week. Then the Jews wanted to drink at the river. So the Nazis machine gunned them. They used dogs to get the Jews back into line for the machine guns. The river turned into blood, all red.
Then the Nazis put the Jews on a train to Dachau. Then they told the Jews they were going to march to Switzerland, but the Nazis fooled them, and death marched them again. William was certain to die on this death march, but the Americans came. Then an American soldier gave William a cigarette. William took 1 puff and fainted.
Then William and his friends robbed the nearby German houses and killed the SS men. Then William went to Holland, but the Nazis had stolen all the cows.
by Yehuda Abraham
Highlights from the interview:
The 15-year old Lowenberg travels to Auschwitz in a box car "like cattle." He's says the German plans of "killing all the jews" even took precedence over the war on the eastern front against the Russians, so the box cars carrying the jews to Auschwitz was given priority over troop transports and supplies for the German Army.
Can you describe the transport from Westerbork to Auschwitz?
When we got to Auschwitz in the box cars from Holland which lasted about a week to get there...and by the way, the Germans were so determined to kill people that while they were fighting a war on the Russian side, in Eastern Europe, the railroads–planes weren't used in those days–the railroads had priority, the boxcars going to Auschwitz had priority on the rail lines to Auschwitz, before the army troops were supplied on the Eastern Front. You can see how obsessed they were with killing people.
William meets Mengele himself when arriving at Auschwitz:
Then we were in Auschwitz, in Birkenau. Then they started screaming, "Out, out, out," so we went out. And we were standing in line to be selected. You have heard of Mengele, a famous doctor? And he stood in front of the line, there were about eight, nine people in each row, and he said to me, I remember quite well, in German, he said, "How old?" So, for some reason, God made me say 18. I was only 15 but I was chubby, with a coat on. I looked kind of not very thin. And, I said eighteen, and he goes like this [flicks arm to the right]. And, I see people who went, and the others go like that, with his whip [flicks arm to the left]. The ones who went there [left] went on trucks. I figured as I'm standing there, I said, "Why did I lie? Now I have to walk, and God knows how far. These people are all going on trucks. I could have been on the trucks if I didn't lie." But the ones who went on the trucks went to the gas chambers. Out of the four thousand they took about maybe four or five hundred who had to work. And that depended on if they needed a work force.
He says he saw his parents and sister go to the gas chambers, and that the Auschwitz gas chambers operated 24 hrs a day. He survived on 200 calories a day:
And I saw my parents and my sister marching by, but they were marching into the gas chambers and I was working in front of the building. And I stopped working, I fainted almost, and I was beaten up, I still have scars on my back. Now then we knew that the gas chambers were working 24 hours a day. It went on for years and years until about the end of '44.
The food intake was about 200 calories. You got a piece of bread in the evening. The next morning you got some what they called "tea" with some warm water, whatever color. At lunch you got a bowl of soup and every four people had a bowl, so you never had your own. So four people ate out of the bowl. That was our food. At night the bread you had to eat immediately because if you didn't, either you couldn't keep it all night because the rats would eat it if you had it under your hat, or they would steal it from you, people were so hungry.
William says the camp commander would ride on his motorcycle on the main street of the camp and shoot at jews for target practice:
The beatings were horrible with the dogs, they all had dogs, those Germans, the SS men, the dogs and the beatings. I remember the camp commander–that I remember vividly–had a motorcycle and he used to go on the main street of the camp in Birkenau. He had a pistol in his hand and anything he saw moving, human beings, he shot, he used you for target practice. Life was absolutely, totally worthless to these people. That I remember.
According to Lowenberg, if you got sick or injured at Auschwitz, you were immediately gassed. One time he was injured by a whellbarrow and "hid in the rafters" of the barracks by his magician friend:
Did you ever get sick at Auschwitz?
If you got really sick you go to "Barracks 13" they called it, and the next day you'd be gassed. I once got run over by a lorry, they called it—you know, one of those wheelbarrows, those heavy double wheelbarrows—and I was destined to go to "Barracks 13." My friend again, the magician, he hid me in the rafters in his barracks and shared his food with me. That's when we got out. He said, "We're getting out of here." And we volunteered, he volunteered me and him on a "transport unknown," I don't know if I talked about it [before]. He says, "Either we go on the 'transport unknown' and we'll get killed tomorrow morning or we really go to somewhere," because they did take people out of Auschwitz for work details and other factories, other cities, wherever. "And if we stay here, we'll be dead in three weeks anyhow or maybe next week. So, let's take a chance. There's no one who gets out alive out of Auschwitz." And I was in the rafters up there and we went on this transport, and that's how we got to Warsaw because it was "transport unknown" but nobody told us where we were going. We were in the boxcars about two, three days then, we were in Warsaw seeing the ghetto burning.
When doing work outside the camps, William claims he saw diamonds, gold, valuable artwork, and money just lying in the streets or in the rubble of the bombed out buildings. But he didn't take any of the valuables because "you couldn't eat money or diamonds":
We always saw money on the streets constantly. People just lying there. Valuable art, whatever art people had. And money on the streets, sure, diamonds and gold. We found them in the rubble sometimes, on the dead bodies. What are you going to do with it? You can't eat a piece of metal, you can't eat diamonds. That didn't mean anything, there was no value. That's why there's no one who came out of the camp who brought any value with them because there was nothing, we didn't have anything. And you couldn't use it, it wasn't trading material.
Lowenberg says the Nazis financed the war, extending it by two years, from selling all the gold tooth fillings, shoes, and ratty old lice-infested clothing from the "six million holocuasted jews." William forgot about the "five million" holocausted non-jews. Maybe they didn't have gold fillings or clothes that were re-sellable. He says that all jews who had gold fillings were immediately sent to the gas chambers:
And let's remember one thing, the biggest money maker for the German government was the Holocaust because we take six million people, they have wedding rings, they have gold teeth, they have clothing, they have money in their pockets, a little bit, and then all these buildings to demolish. That was the biggest moneymaker. I would venture to say that the Second World War would have been finished within a year and a half to two years had it not been for the Holocaust because that financed the Germans. That's why you hear today about all this gold they took to Switzerland. That's why the insurance companies, are the biggest thieves on earth because they sold the insurance companies [policies], and people came after the war and said, "My father had insurance, I know that." They said, "Where's your death certificate?" Well Auschwitz didn't give death certificates. So, this is still going on now.
The Holocaust was the biggest money making event for the Germans. If you had gold fillings, you were destined to be killed immediately because there were whole teams who did nothing else in the gas chambers after the Germans gassed them to take the gold out. Bags, and bags, and bags of gold. And the clothing – six million people, there're six million shoes. That's a lot of shoes for a country. The clothing, they sold them all over the world including South America. This was a big, big money making event for the Germans. That extended the war, in my opinion, by probably two years. Nobody talks about it but believe me.
Lowenberg claims at Auschwitz the Germans castrated men and injected semen from animals into the women:
The men they did castrations, a lot – middle size, regular size, big size – they castrated men and they had the worst time, they couldn't live much longer. I knew quite a few who were picked. They picked certain individuals who looked like they were "macho-macho" or whatever. They castrated and injected them. But the women were worse. In Auschwitz it was prevalent, big operation, what they did to women there you can't even talk about what they did to them. Inject them with semen from animals, you name it. Anything you can think of that you wouldn't want to talk about, they did it the people.
After being "liberated" from Dachau by the American Army, Lowenberg and his friends murdered every German guard they could get their hands on:
Damn right. Were we angry? Yeah, all of that. We didn't kill anybody. German guards yes, we killed all we could find the German guards who had done it to us, but not German civilians.
What did you do the first day you were liberated?
Then all of a sudden the Americans came with the tanks. We had to scream at them, "Don't touch the wires!" because the wires were all high voltage – 2000 volts of electricity. Then they had to bring in the Corps of Engineers to take the electricity off those wires. Then they opened up. I got out with about five or six of us immediately and we took over a German barracks and we killed a bunch of Germans – the SS, the guards. I could walk at that time, not all could. We then were told we had to get back in the camp because the American army knew there was a typhoid epidemic and other diseases at that point. They closed the camp up again, but they gave us food. They were very good.
Lowenberg was a vice-chairman of the founding of the Holy Hoax Museum in Washington, D.C.:
Have you kept in contact with your liberators?
No. Except some twenty years ago – no, it's not, it's ten years ago, pardon me – when we opened the museum in Washington – some of you may have seen it, the Holocaust Museum, I was the vice-chairman of it – we invited some people who had liberated the camps.
William says he rolled in the snow to keep clean:
I remember more in Warsaw, which was the same situation, but we had a long period of snow there, because it's colder in Poland. I used to sneak out, and others too, sometimes, whenever we could and go out in the snow and roll ourselves in the snow, and wash ourselves down with the snow. If you had enough strength, you did that, as long as the Germans didn't see that. But if you didn't have enough strength, people died because of hygiene. Hygiene, to me – and I talk about it even outside of this milieu – people don't realize how important hygiene is. It saved my life.
His magician friend tells him to put a pebble in his mouth to avoid having to drink the water at Auschwitz:
Someone was interviewing you and they asked, "What was your will for staying alive?" You responded that you "kept clean." What was your reason?
Good question. I happen to believe very strongly in hygiene which I learned from my mother. She was very clean, I mean "household-wise" scrubbing all of the time and washing all of the time. When I got to Auschwitz somebody said to me, the same friend, he said, "Don't drink the water, the water has typhoid in it." So, what do you do? So he said, "Pick up a pebble," there was a pebble in the street, a little stone pebble. I picked up that pebble, I wiped it and I put it in my mouth. I had it all the way through the camps and that created enough saliva that I didn't get dehydrated. But we never drank the water there was an enormous amount of typhoid. The other thing, which was very prevalent, that's why a lot of people died, too, because of the type of food we got and the water we drank, diarrhea was a big killer.
The other thing that saved me, probably - there was - the water had typhoid in it. We knew that. By having that you also got immediately - and it happened a lot - a lot of people had diarrhea. My friend - the one I mentioned, the magician again - he had some experience, and he said, "Don't drink the water." What do you do? Cause you need [water]. He said, "Pick up a pebble." I picked up a pebble off the street, a little stone. I had that stone for three years. I had it in my mouth, all day long. It activated my saliva gland. He taught me that. That's why I never got that thirsty. That helps. Why do you think you guys take to chewing gum, right? What's the reason you take chewing gum? To activate your saliva gland, but they don't tell you that. They tell you it tastes good. It's because you activate your saliva gland. It's probably healthy. I don't like chewing gum, it's personal, I don't know, it doesn't mean anything to me. But young people, you see it more than older people. That pebble saved my life, I believe, because I didn't drink the water. If you drank the water you got typhoid and there was lots and lots of typhoid. Hygiene. I feel very strong about that.
Did you keep the pebble?
No, I lost it. When the war was over, we were liberated, I wanted to get rid of everything that reminded me of it. No. I wish I had. I thought about it. I wished I kept that pebble. It was a little stone and it worked. Others did too, I wasn't the only one. But not everybody did, apparently.