On November 1, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution designating January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I went to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan on a field trip with my 6th grade class in 1983. I will never forget what I saw there.
When Joshua came home last year with a paper about a Holocaust survivor named Martin Lowenberg, who was going to come to speak to his 7th grade class, I knew I wanted to see him. It was on March 6, 2015 that I met this extraordinary 87 year old man. Here is the write-up that Joshua brought home about him:
“Martin Lowenberg was born in 1928 in the province of Hessen, Germany. In 1933, when the Nazis came into power in Germany, Lowenberg lived with his parents and his siblings. Initially, he attended public school, but in 1936 at the age of eight, he was sent to a Jewish boarding school and then transferred to a segregated school for Jews only in Fulda. All attempts made by the family to leave Germany and remain together were unsuccessful. It was virtually impossible for a large family, without relatives in foreign countries, to obtain the required affidavit of financial support necessary to obtain an immigration visa.
After the beginning of World War II, a decent life in Fulda became even more difficult. Merchants refused to sell food or goods to Jews. Beginning in September 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch on their clothing. In December 1941, Lowenberg and his family were deported with approximately 1,000 other Jews to Riga, Latvia. The train trip took four days. From the train depot they had to walk in severe cold temperatures several miles on snowy and icy streets to a ghetto, called Moscow Suburb. On August 16, 1943, Lowenberg, now fifteen years old and considered fit for slave labor, was sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga. That was the last time he saw his parents and twin brothers who were at the time just nine years old.
The Riga ghetto was closed on November 2, 1943. The remainder of the ghetto’s inhabitants, including Lowenberg’s parents and his brothers, were taken to the freight depot and loaded on cattle cards and boxcars. They were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where they perished.
In the Kaiserwald concentration camp, Lowenberg slept on wooden bunks without mattresses and wore striped prisoners’ clothes. The food rations were barely enough to sustain life, consisting of one slice of bread and two bowls of watery soup per day.
In September 1944, Martin and his sister, Eva, were taken to Hamburg, Germany. In Hamburg they were placed in the Fuhlsbuettel prison. In April 1945, the Jewish prisoners were forced on a death march for four days and nights to the German city of Kiel, about seventy miles away.
Near the end of the war, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler made an agreement to exchange truckloads of Polish women for the safety of his own family into Sweden. Jewish prisoners, however, were substituted for the Polish women and Lowenberg and his sister, Eva, were liberated to Sweden. They spent one year recuperating in three displaced persons’ camps in Sweden. Three more of Martin’s siblings survived the war and they were all reunited in the United States. All of his other close relatives perished during the Holocaust. In 1960, Martin Lowenberg married U.S. born Carol and they have three daughters and fourteen grandchildren.
For more information on the Holocaust or on Mr Lowenberg, please visit the Holocaust Memorial Center website.”
When Mr. Lowenberg spoke to Joshua’s 7th grade class, he shared all of those details and so many more. He stopped attending public school at eight years old because his teacher falsely accused him of sticking his tongue out at a picture of Hitler. As punishment, his teacher had four boys beat him up and then his teacher pushed him onto a board covered with nails. That’s why his parents took him out of the public school and sent him to a Jewish boarding school 150 miles from home. This house was burned down, his synagogue was burned down, his father had served his country as an officer in World War I, but no one cared. When they were forced to wear the yellow Jewish star with the name Jude (Jew) emblazoned on it, they couldn’t go outside without being accosted. When they were forced out of their homes in 1941 to be “resettled” elsewhere, they were told to pack a bag and that it would be sent later. Of course, the bags were never sent. Yes, the train trip to Latvia took four days, but in old passenger, freight, and cattle cars where he was standing the entire time because there was no room to lie down. Once they arrived in Riga, they had to eat snow for two weeks, as there was no food.
I can barely type these words, my hands are shaking so badly. I urge you to read Mr. Lowenberg’s story on the Holocaust Memorial Center’s website: click here for the full story.
In this interview, he was asked, “What message would you like to leave for future generations?” His answer:
“Be kind to people, be good citizens, vote, be a religious person, and believe in the way you were brought up. We were brought up as good decent people. Love thy neighbor as thyself, this is the basis of everything, that everybody is equal, nobody’s different.
Do not hate. Hate is such a terrible word.
The H stands for humiliation, horror, harassment, hunger.
The A stands for atrocities, anger, awful, abolishment.
The T stands for torture, torment, and trauma.
The E is for extermination, elimination, and evil.
Put a D in front of evil and you get the Devil. That’s what I lived under, the Devil. Hate is a horrible word. Love is the most beautiful word. Hate hurts, love heals. This is my motto when I do my public speaking here in the United States as well as on visits to Germany.”
“Mr. Lowenberg has been a Holocaust educator for more than 25 years. He is a regular speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center as well as at community functions and schools. Uniquely, Mr. Lowenberg frequently travels outside of the Detroit area to give lectures for Holocaust education. He speaks throughout the state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula. In 2006, Mr. Lowenberg was honored by the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families for his dedication to Holocaust education and remembrance.”
Here is brief video clip of Mr. Lowenberg recorded on April 24, 2014 at 86 years old:
If you ever have a chance to see Mr. Lowenberg, or any other Holocaust survivor, speak, please go. Please listen. Please remember. Let us never forget.
In memory of the eleven million victims of the Holocaust, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan has waived museum admission on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. If you’re in the area, please stop by today or any day, Sunday through Friday. There are public tours at 1:00 pm each day, usually followed by a Holocaust Survivor Speaker.