Jewish institutions provide support

Henry Lowenstein

Henry Lowenstein

During the spring and summer of 1938, a slate of anti-Jewish legislation restricts Jewish participation in German economic and social life. Jewish property and businesses are registered, and Jews are barred from practicing certain professions or serving “Aryan” clientele. As a physician, Henry’s father Max Loewenstein, is no longer allowed to treat “Aryan” patients. In the face of these exclusions, Jewish institutions offer an environment of solidarity.

Like many Jewish students and teachers, Henry leaves his German school before the November 1938 law banning Jewish students from attending German public schools. He enrolls in the “Privatschule der Jüdischen Gemeinde Berlin” [Private School of the Jewish Community of Berlin], which has been set up in an empty apartment building owned by a member of the Jewish community at Wilsnacker Strasse 3.

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: I went to Hebrew school and then in 1938 – in 1937 I believe, in ’37, the Jewish community established a Jewish Gymnasium, which is sort of a – and I truly don’t know the ages, but I was already into it, like in the third year. So in 1937 that means that they would have taken kids from about 10 years old, and I was twelve. And this was a big apartment complex, it was just an apartment building. And it was in North Berlin, next to the city jail. And totally, it had never been thought of as a school, it was just an apartment building. In the Jewish community someone must have owned this. And I can remember when we first went there, we simply sat in big apartments. And, there was no – it wasn’t a school at all, but we made it into a school.

When I say we, the Jewish community really made tremendous efforts to convert the building. There were no facilities, you know, initially, and we were just living, having school in an apartment house. But within a few months, the thing was transformed, and one of my great joys there was that the gym teacher – by the way, the teachers there were all teachers who had been teaching in German schools throughout the area. They were Jews, who had been teaching, who lost their jobs in the other schools and had now come to this one school.

And they were wonderful! I mean those teachers were just, I mean you couldn’t ask for better. They were great teachers. And this gym teacher, Herr Arndt, took a liking to me. And where I had really suffered in the gym class in the German school. For whatever reason, I don’t have any way of knowing, he took a liking to me and would call me in front of the class to demonstrate gym activities and so on, and I just blossomed. I mean, it was one of those things where I would stay after school and work out in the gym for hours. And he called me the miracle man because I was supple in those days and could put my feet on either side of my shoulder and, you know, do all kinds of gymnastics. In retrospect, I wasn’t all that great, but the point was, he gave me the confidence. And with that confidence, everything else suddenly blossomed.

And it was not only gym but suddenly all of the subjects – when you had teachers who really loved their students, apart – totally opposite from what we had all experienced in the German schools, and when we were given these opportunities, it didn’t matter that we were in makeshift classrooms or makeshift anything, the school would just thrive, the students thrived on the love and attention that we got there. And it was a wonderful experience.

“It wasn’t a school at all, but we made it into a school.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

Class photograph taken in the courtyard of the Wilsnacker Strasse Jewish School in Berlin, Germany. Henry Lowenstein is third from the left in the front row, kneeling.

Courtesy of Beck Archives, University Libraries, University of Denver

Around this time, Henry joins a Jewish scouting group, Makkabi Hazair (Young Maccabees). His involvement in Jewish institutions provides a community of support and an opportunity for Henry and his peers to learn survival skills necessary to navigate the Nazi state as Jews. As the year advances, however, the safety of all-Jewish environments is eroded as even scouting meetings are subject to repression and control.

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: The great concern for everybody was what was happening in Germany, of course, and how we could somehow cope with what was going on. And the thing was of course by that time, Jews were not permitted to gather in groups other than for religious purposes. And so we would – and increasingly this became more of a problem as time went on. So if we wanted to meet, the group that I was with was like, probably about 7 or 10 kids really, it wasn’t big, it was just one Scout leader. But just for the 7 or 10 of us to get together meant that we sometimes had – it would take us hours to assemble, because we couldn’t just walk into the building to meet, because that would instantly trigger a response from the Nazis. So we would sometimes file into the building over a period of 3 or 4 hours so that we would go and stay and somebody else would stay later, and this was all organized and agreed upon.

And then when we did have meetings, we would sit there with the Jewish prayer book in front of us, discussing issues that had nothing to do with religion whatsoever. But, this happened twice, that the Gestapo man would show up, and he would come in there and said, I want to see what’s going on, and of course we’d all sit there and do prayers. And while he was there and we were so drilled that the moment something happened we’d switch the discussion would stop and we would begin the prayer portion of the meeting. And this went on like this, we had numerous meetings like this.

“… by that time, Jews were not permitted to gather in groups other than for religious purposes.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

Heinrich Loewenstein’s membership card for the Jewish scouting association Makkabi Hazair (Juedischer Pfadfinderbund Makkabi Hazair)

Courtesy of Beck Archives, University Libraries, University of Denver

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