Harry Lowenberg, born Heinz Siegberg Loewenberg, is the sole offspring of Karl and Ilse Loewenberg, of Berlin, Germany. His father was a dealer in oriental rugs and expensive paintings with strong business connections to Berlin’s foreign diplomatic community. He attended a private school, the Goldschmidt Schule, which was associated with Eton College of England. The family was Jewish, but did not practice Judaism or attend religious services. His only recollection of personally experiencing anti-Semitism then was when he was confronted by some boys of the Hitler Youth movement and questioned as to why he was not a member of their group. Upon revealing that he was Jewish, the boys assaulted and beat him.
He and his parents left Germany in 1938 immediately after a suggestion by the Italian consul that they leave within 72 hours since conditions were developing which would make a later departure impossible. The Italian consul was a close friend and a customer as well. The consul gave them a transit visa enabling them to travel to Trieste, Italy. They took only their clothing with them. First-class passage was booked in Trieste on the Italian liner Conte Rosso bound for Shanghai, China. Shanghai was the only place where an entry visa was not required. Mr. Lowenberg does not recall whether this occurred on or after the mass riots against Jews on November 9, and 10, 1938, now known as Kristallnacht.
Mr. Lowenberg has only vague memories of their arrival in Shanghai other than that they were met by a group of people and that they ended up in an apartment in the French section of Shanghai. He recalls attending school, but does not know what his father’s activities were. His father died of amebic dysentery approximately six months after their arrival in Shanghai, probably brought on by the very poor sanitary conditions which existed in Shanghai. His mother later married a man named Max Schifton.
Following the occupation of Shanghai by the Japanese, all nationals of countries opposed to Japan in the war were forced to live in the Hongkew section which became known as the Shanghai Ghetto. Although not surrounded by a wall or a fence, all entrances and exits to the area were guarded by Japanese soldiers and only one point of entry and exit, at a bridge, was permitted. Passes to leave the ghetto were possible when needed, but only to go to work for special reasons. The ghetto, which was in a poor section of Shanghai, became very crowded and had only basic facilities. The family lived in a single room. A kerosene stove was used for cooking and in the winter for heat as well. For toilet needs they used a box which was collected each morning and replaced with a fresh one. Washing and showering were done in communal facilities.
The ghetto was controlled by the Japanese, specifically by a General Nagoya, but a police force of internees was created by the Japanese and those internees were identified by armbands. Their assignment was to keep order within the ghetto.
Mr. Lowenberg found work as an apprentice in a factory manufacturing parts for flamethrowers for the Japanese army. He learned to operate a micro-mechanic lathe and, in 1947, received a diploma from the Guild of Craftsmen of Shanghai. He also was active as a soccer player with several clubs and excelled to the point that he played with the team that won the local championship.
Near the end of the war, American aircraft bombed the Shanghai ghetto because the Japanese had installed a radio station within its boundaries. A number of Jews were killed or injured during the bombings. Hospital facilities were available. Mr. Lowenberg and his family were not injured.
Following the end of the war, American forces entered Shanghai. Mr. Lowenberg obtained a job with the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency) and also registered for emigration to the United States. To assure that his girlfriend, the then-Helga Berliner who also came from Berlin, would be able to emigrate with him, they were married in Shanghai by a Chinese Justice of Peace. They emigrated in December 1947. His mother and step-father followed later.
Mr. Lowenberg came to Detroit on the advice of a social worker who believed that as a lathe operator he would be able to find work in an industrial city. After several jobs which didn’t suite him in factories, he began what would prove to be a successful career in the insurance business.
Although having returned to Germany several times, he has not returned to Shanghai. When he found out that the cemetery where his father was buried had been converted to a building site, it eliminated any desire in him to return. He has two children, Frank and Michelle, and several grandchildren.
A number of photos were displayed during the interview.
Date: July 8, 2003
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 1 hour
Format: Video recording