Katzenstein, William

Katzenstein, William

Herleshausen (Germany)

Mr. Katzenstein was given the first name Wolfgang when born in Herleshausen a small town of about 1100 people in the province Hesse near the town Kassel.  He is the son of Josef and Erma Katzenstein, had one older brother, Werner and was raised in a conservative Jewish household.  His father owned a feed, grain, and fertilizer business.  There were about 15 Jewish families in Herleshausen who had cordial relations with their neighbors.  He attended public school, but also received religious training at the local synagogue.

In 1933, when the Nazi party took control of the German government his father’s business was closed down, his father was arrested and jailed for two months.  In 1937, his father was able to arrange a trade of his property for a farm in Holland and the entire family moved there.  His father operated the farm and Mr. Katzenstein, then age 10, entered the local school and learned to speak Dutch quite quickly.

Observing the developments in Germany, e.g. Kristallnacht, etc., the Katzensteins felt there was no future in Holland and his father was able to obtain a visa for the family to emigrate to the United States.
The condition of the visa required that he would be a farmer in the US and that he brought with him $1,000.00 for each family member.  They arrived on June 9, 1939, and bought a farm in New Jersey.

Mr. Katzenstein graduated from high school and was drafted into the US Army in 1945.  The Army did not take advantage of his fluency in the German and Dutch languages. His older brother also served in the US Army.  Subsequent to his discharge Mr. Katzenstein entered the University of Pennsylvania and received a degree in Chemistry and then worked as an organic chemist.

He returned to his home village Herleshausen for a visit and although well received as “the son of Josef Katzenstein,” had mixed feelings about the population when everyone he met proclaimed that they never were Nazis and didn’t know what was going on then.

He is married and has two sons, Andy and Danny and now is a speaker to tour groups at the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Interview and synopsis by:  Hans R. Weinmann
Date of Interview:  July 25, 2007
Length of Interview:  41 minutes