Henry’s childhood in Berlin

Henry Lowenstein

Henry Lowenstein

Henry Lowenstein is born on July 4, 1925 in Berlin, Germany, just a few months after Hitler reconstitutes the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) as a political party. As Henry enjoys a happy childhood in Berlin, Hitler and the NSDAP are building and consolidating their influence in German politics and society.

Henry’s father, Max Loewenstein, is born into a Jewish family in Lessen, West Prussia on May 17, 1885. Max moves to Germany to study medicine, and later serves as a decorated army doctor in World War I. He settles in Berlin after the war and opens his medical practice, specializing in dermatology and venereal diseases.

Henry’s mother, Maria Baetge, is born in Tallinn, Estonia on April 9, 1894. Maria studies art in St. Petersburg, Russia. There she marries her first husband, Erich Steinberg, in 1914. The Steinbergs, who are Lutheran, escape the Russian Revolution in 1917 by moving to Finland, where their daughter Karin is born. After Erich Steinberg’s death in 1920, Maria and Karin move to Berlin, where Maria and Max meet.

The two marry and in 1925 they welcome a son named Ernst Heinrich Loewenstein, whom they call Heinrich (later known as Henry).

Loewenstein family portrait, c. 1929. From left to right: Max, Henry, Karin, and Maria

Courtesy of Beck Archives, University Libraries, University of Denver

The Loewensteins live in a large apartment near the center of Berlin, together with Karin and Henry’s paternal grandmother, Ernestine Loewenstein. Max’s brother Georg and his family also live in Berlin. Henry describes their family life as loving and warm. Both Jewish and Christian holidays are celebrated in the Loewenstein household.

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: My mother was not Jewish, but my father – my father was moderately involved in religion, he, you know it was one of, the days of emancipation and all this. My grandmother was very Jewish, in terms of … his mother. And so what we would do was, we observed all the holidays. And we would, I have wonderful memories as a child where, that we would celebrate Hanukkah in one room, and the whole family was there, my mother and my sister, who obviously she was – since her father was not Jewish, she wasn’t Jewish.

But my mother, my sister, would join in everything to do with the Hanukkah festivities, or Friday evening, you know the blessings on Friday night, and whatever took place, and then we would go into the other room, and there we had Christmas. And my grandmother, who was a really good sport – who was a really good sport about all of this, would participate in the Christmas things.

[…]

In those days it was – the pre-Nazi days, we really didn’t give a whole lot of thought to this. I mean, the way I grew up, we assumed that everybody lived like this: that we celebrated the Jewish holiday, that we celebrated Christmas, Easter, and we had a great time.

“I mean, the way I grew up, we assumed that everybody lived like this…”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

Max and Maria are active in Berlin’s thriving art and theater scene, and Henry grows up surrounded by their artist friends, including dancers, painters, architects, writers, and leading creative figures such as composer Kurt Weill. The importance of art in his childhood home leaves a lasting impression on Henry.

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: My mother – this was the second marriage for my mother. My mother had been born in Estonia. And had married a White Russian officer, who – who obviously was a target when the Bolsheviks took over in 1917. And so he and my mother fled from Estonia and Finland where they were living, and Leningrad, what in those days was St. Petersburg. They fled to Germany with my older sister, Karin, who was born in Finland. And they lived on an estate in what was really East Prussia.

And then when her first husband died, my mother moved to Berlin, worked in a variety of jobs and she told about working during the inflation, when people would be paid in the daily pay because they were paid daily because the value of the money changed from morning to afternoon, so when they went home at night, they had to be paid because tomorrow – today’s money wouldn’t be worth anything tomorrow. And she told about how they were paid – you know, it took a whole washtub of money to pay for one day. And she was the person handling the pay.

And eventually she met my father, and they were married in 1925, and we lived a nice life, you know, in those days. Definitely not wealthy, but pleasant. My father was very much involved in the arts. He was – again – he was a doctor, he had served in the First World War in the German Army, as a doctor, and was highly decorated, for bravery and so on.

And he was again very much into the arts, and he played the piano, and one of the – my earliest memories is of Kurt Weill playing in our house. You know Kurt Weill who wrote many wonderful, musical hits. And one of my very earliest memories is singing stuff from the Beggar’s Opera from – you know, making up my own words to his music. Everybody thought it was pretty cute. And my father always claimed he was a better pianist, but obviously Kurt Weill was the one who wrote the music.

And that was, our house was always full of artists, theater people, dancers, and we lived there for several years, and then, I guess I was about 4-5 years old, we moved to another apartment across the street – directly across the street. And that’s where I then lived, and where they lived until, even after the war.

“… one of my earliest memories is of Kurt Weill playing in our house…”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

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