Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Robert Lowenstein on June 3, 1999 in New Brunswick, New Jersey with Shaun Illingworth and ...
Lynn Marley: Lynn Marley.
LM: Mr. Lowenstein, let's talk about your father. What are your memories of him?
RL: My father was born in the USA in 1899. He was the first in his family born in this country, lived on the Lower East Side, and then his family moved to Hoboken, New Jersey. My father was a very ambitious young man, who after graduating from public school, he was about fifteen years old at that time, he had to earn a living so he borrowed one hundred dollars from an organization called the Hebrew Free Loan Society. With that hundred dollars, he started in the drug sundries business. Selling to drug stores, and this was back in 1914. He was too young for the war, World War I, and he was put on the draft list, and the war was over before they got to him. He was a very industrious person. He worked very hard at his work, and he built up this drug business. At that time, prior to the war, they were getting medications from Germany, and, of course, when the war started, that all stopped, so he had to go more to drug sundries, rather than to medications. After the war was over, and he built up his business, he got an idea of a product to bleach the teeth. It was a combination of ammonium chloride, sodium bisulfate, and probably water, and it was called "Bleach-A-Dent," and it was very successful. He worked with a dentist and a couple of entrepreneurs that furnished the capital. Then when the entrepreneurs being a little greedy wanted to do things that my father considered unethical he sold his share of the business back to his partners. That was in 1928. He also went into selling veterinary supplies by mail and he continued his drug sundries business. By that time he went to Columbia University and took courses in cosmetic chemistry, so he was able to make cold creams and things of that nature on a small scale. At that time, we were living in North Bergen and his place of business was in Union City. He went into the wholesale laboratory supply business. He was selling things like chemicals and glassware and things of that nature. During the war, there was a big shortage of silver nitrate, and he had access to silver nitrate, but all the time, he never sold it high. He sold it at legitimate prices, which was admirable, but he never got rich on it. [laughter] Silver nitrate was going for huge prices, used in photography and other things, and I remember that vividly, because everybody else was getting lots of money, but my father wasn't, but that's beside the point. In 1935 when his drug sundry business became unprofitable because many of his customers could not pay their bills on time, my father opened a retail store in New York City where he sold chemicals and apparatus to chemists, students and decorators. My grandfather used to work there during the week while my father would continue his drug sundry business. On Saturdays I would go to NYC with my father and help him. Actually Saturday was by far the busiest day of the week. My biggest recollection of this period was having a complete lunch at a Chinese restaurant down the street far 25 cents. My father, during the war, was an air raid warden. What else? He was an interesting person, he used to like to write [to] the presidents. I have copies of letters he wrote to Truman and to Roosevelt. He had lots of good ideas, and, although, he got answers back, half the ideas were ignored. He could solve all sorts of things, and he was brilliant at that. As I said, he never had a formal college education. He just took cosmetics courses at Columbia University.
LM: Did you say your father was from the tenements on the Lower East Side?
RL: My father was born here.
LM: Yes, but did his family live in the tenements?
RL: Yes, my grandparents lived on, I think it was Henry Street, Lower East Side. My father went to PS 62, because I have his autograph album from that time, but they moved shortly after that. They moved to Hoboken to get away from the congestion of the Lower East Side. That made us New Jersey people, and we have been New Jersey people ever since. We lived in North Bergen, and then we moved to Weehawken, and then, of course, I went to Rutgers. Did you notice I pronounced the "T" in Rutgers? I get so incensed when I hear this girl on the radio station. She says, "Rugers." I don't know why they don't pronounce the "T," but that's the way it is, I guess. Anyway, do you want to know something about myself? I was a very good student in school, because that was one of the things, you know, you want to make your parents proud of you and stuff like that, and I was the top boy in high school, not the top person. There were two girls ahead of me. I applied to MIT. I was accepted there. I also applied to RPI. I was accepted there. However, both depended on whether I got a scholarship, and I didn't get a scholarship in either place. So I decided to go to Indiana University. I made my deposit and everything else was arranged. This was in June of 1940. I saw an article in the Hudson Dispatch, our local paper, which stated that [for] the state scholarships, you go down to New Brunswick [and] take an exam. If you did well, you [could] win a state scholarship. So I went. I got a state scholarship. Therefore, I notified Indiana that I wasn't coming in. I went to Rutgers. It cost me nine dollars a year, four-fifty a semester. That covered the football tickets and the Targum and the yearbook. That was four dollars and fifty cents. That was quite a thing, and I was very happy I went to Rutgers, because I made a lot of good friends here. If I had gone to Indiana University, I probably would have met most of the people from the Midwest … I still have friends from Rutgers that I keep in touch with. I see many more every five years at our May reunions. When I went to Rutgers, I was a chemistry major. In our freshman class, we had 650 people. That was the class in 1940, when we entered. There was only about sixteen to 1,700 people in the whole Rutgers University. It was wonderful because you knew everybody. You walk on campus, you said, "hello" to everybody. I would have said, "hello" to you. It was a real familiar, friendly atmosphere. It was not like colleges are today. I took ROTC the first two years, and I was ready to enroll for the third year, and Dean Read, William Thornton Read, head of the School of Chemistry, said, "Look, if you don't sign up for anything, ROTC or V-12 or anything like ASTP, I guarantee you'll graduate," and I thought it was a good idea, and because of that, I went all summers. So I actually finished my college education in August of 1943. That was the last of my exams. My actual graduation was in January 1944, but I was finished in '43. … I got a job as a chemist in Merck & Company in Rahway in September, and I worked at Merck until February of 1944 when I was reclassified 1A in the draft.
LM: When you were at Rutgers, were you involved in the fraternities?
RL: I belonged to Tau Delta Phi fraternity. I was in the Chemistry Club. I was in the German Club. I made the German Honor Society, Delta Phi Alpha, and Phi Lambda Upsilon, which was the chemistry one. Two people made that. Since there were only twenty-three people in my graduating class, I lost out on Phi Beta Kappa because only the top ten per cent were eligible and most of the 23 that graduated were very bright students. Under normal circumstances, I probably would have, because I got a very good average. In those days, they start at, one was the highest and four was the lowest. That has probably changed now. I had a one point four. I had a good education, very good professors. Dr. Reiman was my mentor. I liked him very much. He was very helpful to me, and he helped me a lot in chemistry. All the others were good men. I didn't have any bad ones at all at Rutgers. They brought in Dr. Zimmerli in my senior year, which they named the library after, or someone in his family. He was teaching us industrial chemistry.
LM: What were some of the social events on campus?
RL: We had the soph hop, junior prom and the military ball. Well, let me tell you one thing. I was only nineteen when I graduated Rutgers. Throughout high school, I was always a young kid. I wore knickerbockers until I was a sophomore in high school. I didn't know any better, really. My social life in high school was very negligible. When I got to college, things changed. I dated girls from NJC, now known as Douglass College, we referred to NJC then as "the coop," as well as girls from New Brunswick and Highland Park. Once I was really venturesome and went to South River and Carteret. I had a very good life. I was not much of an athlete. I went out for the tennis team, which was the only sport I was really good at, and in those days, I think they had twelve guys that were on the first team. You had to play each other, just like a ladder, and the ones that were in the first twelve made the team. I got up to ten, and then I got an infection in my foot. I had athlete's foot, and it turned into a strep infection, so I was confined in the infirmary for about a week, ten days. In those days, they didn't have penicillin. They had sulfa drugs, so I was taking sulfadiazine, I don't know what it was, and I ended up, the technique they used was very interesting. They would apply heat to the upper leg and cold to the lower leg to draw the, supposedly, the serum up to this part, and then they, I developed huge blisters, and they broke the blisters and they got the strep out of it, crazy thing. I remember that. I also was the freshman football and sophomore football manager, because that got me in with all the jocks. I knew them all and was very friendly with them. I went out for lacrosse. When I first went out for lacrosse, it was very funny, I just thought that they just hit that ball around, you know, catch it. A lot of fun, until they had a regular practice, a scrimmage, and they start hitting with the stick. I said, "That's not for me." I was not a heavy guy, you know, I couldn't take that kind of thing.
LM: Do you remember Harvey Harman?
RL: Oh, sure, Harman. He was a very good coach, very nice guy. I remember Tom Kenneally as well. He coached the 150 lbs. football team which back in the 40's gave the smaller, lighter talented football players the opportunity to play intercollegiate football. Two of my fraternity brothers, Gil Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, were on the first team varsity. They weighed over 220 lbs. each.
LM: Was your fraternity involved in any pranks?
RL: It's very interesting. Yes, we were, my freshman year. Do you know this, or are you just telling me this? Okay, I made the newspapers. We had a fraternity initiation, called "Hell Week." They wrapped us up like mummies, bandages all over us, and they dropped us off in Washington, New Jersey. I don't even know where that is today, somewhere near here, I guess, and we were walking along, two of us, and we were picked up by the police. First of all, we were scaring people. They saw these characters walking down the road and were frightened. Finally, the police picked us up, so it made the newspapers. That was one of the things that we did. Another thing, when we were at Rutgers, Dean Metzger was the Dean of Men then, and he didn't really like us guys too much, so we decided we would play a prank on him. We had a cider party, but we made it as if it was a beer party, and we sang, we chugalugged. Next thing we know, he sent his assistant, Dean (Crosby?). (Crosby?) went over there right away to see what was going on. They put us on social [probation], because they thought we were having a beer party, and when we proved to them that we didn't even have beer in the house, it was just cider, it was all quieted down. That was a joke we played on Dean Metzger.
LM: When you came in as a freshman, did you wear the dinks?
RL: Oh, sure, I wore my dink all the time. As a freshman I was living in the fraternity house and the brothers made sure that all freshman abided by university rules. As a matter of fact I was pledged before the semester began. One of the alumni visited the homes of possible candidates and worked on the parents and told them their sons would feel at home in a fraternity because they would even be served milk and cookies every night before bedtime. Of course we never got them. His name was Howard Rice and he was forever known as "milk and cookies" Rice. So I happened to meet his sister many years later, and I mentioned "Milk and Cookies," and about two weeks later, a package came in the mail with powdered milk and a box of cookies. He said that he remembered that, you know, because I joked about that. It was a nice fraternity. We were not a huge fraternity, but it was a very friendly bunch of guys. It was nice having that, and they did make us study, which was important, too. They didn't have to make me study, because it was instilled in me from high school days. You know, I knew I had to study. I had a few romances when I was there. One I can particularly remember, because I was going out with this girl from NJC. I was a sophomore and she was a freshman, and she found out she was three months older than me. She dropped me like a hot potato. [laughter] Yeah, she thought I was a little older than her, but that was, as I said, I was young. I was only sixteen when I entered college. So that was very discouraging.
LM: Do you remember dealing with the curfews or any of the deans up at Douglass?
RL: Yeah. We did one prank there. One day we walked into, I guess, it was Douglass, and we walked around and put all the toilet seats up, you know, just raised them, so that someone would come and think there were men in there. That's all, just as a joke. But there was no problem with Douglass or Jameson or Gibbons. I dated girls in all three.
LM: In fraternity life, did the social atmosphere change on campus when the war began?
RL: Yes, it definitely changed. Everything changed. Everything was much lower key. I remember where I was when they bombed Pearl Harbor. I was over at the bookstore on Sunday, at Winants, and I was shocked to hear that the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, and things did change after that. As I said, Dean Read was always reassuring the chem majors, and of the twenty-three guys that graduated on January 8, 1944, I think the majority were chem majors, ceramics majors, engineering, people that were influenced by the dean, and we were.
SI: Going back to Pearl Harbor, what do you remember about the mood on campus that day?
RL: Well, it was a shock. We couldn't believe it. There was a pro football game on that day. They interrupted the football game, and they announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. It was quite different after that. The carefree days, I think, were over. People got a little bit more serious, and a lot of them did, especially my classmates in the ROTC. They got pulled out, the third year ROTC all got pulled out. They called them the "Black Fifty," or something like that. Then, my roommate wasn't in ROTC, but he went into the ASTP program, and he was pulled out, too. Otherwise, the ones that stayed were either younger ones, or, like myself, resolved that [they] wouldn't sign up for anything. I'm glad I didn't.
LM: What was it like when you heard reports about classmates being wounded and killed?
RL: Well, there was one guy that, in particular, I remember, John Murney. He came from Union City. I knew him quite well, because we grew up in Union City close to each other, and he was killed in flight school. That tore me apart, because he was such a nice guy. John, I said I knew him from Union City, and I knew him from here. It really shocked me. The other one, well, this was afterwards, Mal Schweiker, he was a terrific guy. We both had strep infections and we shared a room in the infirmary for one week.
LM: He was the head of The Scarlet Letter, a big man on campus.
RL: He was such a nice person. He made everybody feel important. That was good. I was a meek, little freshman. He made me feel important. I liked him. When he got killed, I was really sorry. Vinnie Utz, [I remember] when Vinnie Utz got wounded. There were a lot of them that I knew from the team. You know, we were a small college then, and it's a little different from the way it is today. Everybody was family, you might almost say. Ralph Schmidt was another one that I liked a great deal, he was a chemistry major, and he was one of the reasons I went to work for Merck, because he was working at Merck at that time, and he talked with me about Merck.
LM: Did you ever attend the military ball? After the war started, was the military ball cancelled?
RL: I don't remember that. I think I must have attended one in my freshman year and the sophomore hop, and I remember the junior prom. I remember going to the junior prom. In my junior year even, they did have a junior prom, but it wasn't the same excitement.
LM: There was civil defense on campus. Did you participate in that?
RL: No, no, I did not. I was going to school four quarters a year. Another thing I remember in my last year, my senior year, I got the flu, and I had exam time, and I didn't want to miss taking the exams. So, this is crazy, I would go to the exam, go back and drink grapefruit juice all day long and then go back. The flu, instead of lasting a week, lasted maybe three or four weeks for me, because I didn't want to miss anything, because that was the end of my year. I can recall that.
LM: You signed up for the Navy, but then you got kicked out. Did you initially sign up for the Navy because you had heard negative things about the Army?
RL: No, no, no. This was different. This was already when I was drafted, when I came down here to New Brunswick to get my physical. At that time, the Navy was getting first crack at college graduates. I was a college graduate, so they put me in the Navy. They gave me the colorblind test with the different colored woolen yarn, and I passed that. That was no problem. But as I was leaving with the group of future naval cadets, a medical officer intercepted me and informed me that I had not passed the Ishihara test yet. The test consisted of looking at a picture containing circles of various colors. If one is not color-blind he will see a number or letter concealed among the circles. I could not find a number when the picture involved brown and green colors. so I applied for the Air Corps, same Ishihara test. It got me again. In the Air Corps, you couldn't be colorblind. Then I wanted to be in the chemical warfare service, because I was a chemist, and I figured that was the best thing to be in. No, they weren't taking anybody, so they put me in the medics. So, in the medics, I knew there was such a thing as a lab technician, [and] I wanted to be a lab technician, [but], no, colorblind again. … When you do microscopic work, you have to be able to ascertain different types of blood cells, when you do readings on a microscope of blood, if you're colorblind, supposedly, you'll not be able to determine correctly the eosin and all that sort of thing. But it's really crazy, because I ended up as a lab technician anyway after the war. Obviously, after the war, they didn't care too much whether you were colorblind or not.
LM: Where did you attend basic training?
RL: Basic training was in Camp Grant, which is in Rockford, Illinois. It was about ninety miles north of Chicago. When we had a weekend off we would travel into Chicago and sleep on Saturday night at the YMCA. It cost only $5 for a bed…
LM: Did you have experiences with the USO?
RL: No, no, no. I'm a young kid then. I didn't know a boot of USO. I just enjoyed Chicago, you know.
LM: Did you ever have contact with the WACs, the Women's Army Corps?
RL: No, no. When I was in the Army, I got very friendly with the nurses, because I was in a number of general hospitals. You know, nurses were very nice.
LM: Were you allowed to date?
RL: Oh, not really date, but we associated with them. As a matter-of-fact, I had my first true drink of, I drank beer, but I never had real hard liquor until we were overseas, and the nurses made a cocktail out of the alcohol from the pharmacy and grapefruit juice, fifty-fifty. I'll never forget that, in France, I was knocked out. That was an experience for a young kid. At that time, I was just twenty, but I still didn't have much drinking [experience], except for beer.
SI: Can you tell us about basic training?
RL: Basic training in Camp Grant was normal basic training. It lasted two months. We had to go through the infiltration course carrying a bulky gas mask instead of a gun. Then they sent me to Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. That was right near Emory College. That was my MOS, surgical technician, which means, technically speaking, under wartime, I was supposed to assist the doctor doing medical work and stuff like that. I spent two months in Lawson General Hospital, and then they sent me to Kennedy General Hospital, which was in Memphis, Tennessee for one month. That was a really, really good experience there, because I worked in the operating room, as a scrub nurse. We didn't hand the instruments to the surgeon, but we handed the instruments to the personnel who handed the instruments to the doctor, and we cleaned up afterwards.
LM: Were you watching civilian surgeries?
RL: It really wasn't civilian. What it was, Kennedy General Hospital was an Army hospital. So was Lawson General. They were both Army hospitals, and we were watching, for example, I remember one in particular. There was one lady there who had a huge tumor, and she thought she was pregnant, huge tumor, ovarian, whatever their tumors are. I was in the operating room when they opened her up. And they thought it was a baby. They were going to do a Caesarian on her, but it wasn't. It was just a mass of stuff. She was so unhappy. I'll never forget that. Another lady there, because we had a lot of Army wives, her husband had just been killed on a B-29. He was a B-29 pilot. They were just starting the B-29s then, and he crashed. She was a nice lady. … As I left the operating room, I was with her, I had to go back to the room where she was, and when she came out of it, she started talking, and told me her whole life history. I listened. It was very sad. Here she was … she lost a baby; this was a miscarriage. We also were exposed to a lot of soldiers that were brought back to the States for neurosurgery.
LM: Did you mostly assist minor operations?
RL: Only minor here. Even over there, it was nothing. I think my first operation overseas was, I assisted, this was really, I assisted the doctor doing a hemorrhoidectomy. I nearly fainted, because it was the first time, I mean, up to that time, nothing bothered me, but I guess that was, because I was right there on the scene, you know. Here I am with a doctor doing this thing. It was horrible. I figured, "This is the end of my medical experience." Like everything else, you get used to it. I recall, we were getting a lot of German prisoners, really shot-up. Most of them were dying. That was in Le Mans, France. After I finished at Kennedy General Hospital, I was sent back to Camp Grant very briefly, and towards the end of the war, the next thing I knew, I was at Fort Dix and then they sent me overseas. I had a very short time. I went overseas in, I think it was, the end of August, beginning of September of 1944. We went over on a hospital ship, lit up. That was good. We had to notify the Germans every four hours of our position, so that they wouldn't accidentally torpedo us. But we were lit up, and, I mean, it was like going on a cruise ship. It was a very nice trip over there. We landed in Liverpool, and we didn't even get a chance to catch our breath. They shipped us right to Southampton, and the next day we were off on a LCI boat over to Omaha Beach. I didn't even get a chance to see England. Some of the older found themselves girls, and they were having fun, even the short time they were there. The only time in my life I was really seasick was going over on the LCI boat. That was horrible. Everybody, we were like dying on the thing over the Channel. The Channel was very rough. Of course, we didn't see any fire, because this was already in the beginning of September, so June was when they invaded, you know. We landed in Normandy, and they took us by truck to some huge fields, somewhere near Carentan and Ste-Mere-Eglise, C-A-E-N, how do you pronounce that? … They left us there in pup tents. We must have been there for at least a month. Somehow or other, either they didn't get the equipment over for the hospital, or they forgot, we don't know what it was. We lived on C Rations and K Rations and D Rations. D Rations are the big chocolates. They weren't bad. The K Rations, a box with cheese in it, cheese and crackers and some kind of spread. C Rations were the worst. They had beans, which I couldn't stand, stew, everything. There was only one C Ration I like, the roll. That was horrible, so most of the time I ate K Rations and D Rations. The first time I had to use the outdoor facilities, it took me about two weeks before I could. I just couldn't do it in public. They'd dig these trenches, you know, slit trenches, but I couldn't go. I was really very miserable.
LM: Why was there no hot food? Didn't you have a mess sergeant?
RL: We did have a mess sergeant but inasmuch as we had no regular rations his only job was boiling water in a 55 gallon drum to heat the C rations. We also used the water for washing and shaving. We used our helmets as basins by removing the helmet liners.
LM: Were you able to shower?
LM: How long did you go without a shower?
RL: I think it was close to a month. …The only clothing we were able to change regularly were our socks. It rained very often and the ground was very muddy and our shoes were not water-proof and everyone was afraid of trench foot. … I spoke a little French, because I took three years of French in high school, and I went into the area of the farms and was able to exchange D Rations for eggs. I brought back lots of eggs for the fellows, and then we cooked them.
LM: That must have made you popular.
RL: That was a pretty good deal, but didn't last long. As a matter-of-fact, we didn't even have boots. … The new ones had regular boots that were high and you stuck your pants in. We had [boots] like leggings, I guess you'd call them.
LM: Were they World War I-style boots?
RL: World War I-type, exactly, and the shoes were getting wet and stuff like that, and we knew there were boots around, so, some of the guys went and raided a quartermaster depot nearby, and brought back loads of boots for the fellows. Finally, they set up this hospital in Le Mans, France, and we were sent there. This was, I would say, if my memory is correct, probably in about October or so of that year. We would get patients from the field hospitals. The field hospitals were right up near the line of battle, and the more serious ones were sent back to our hospital. … I was there for several months, and the only war that I knew, once in a while you could hear the V2 rockets going towards London. I don't know where they were going at that time.
LM: You landed several months after the invasion of Normandy, but were there any traces of the battles that had taken place on Omaha Beach?
RL: No. All we saw were the remains of the German fortifications as well as all the bombed out buildings in the towns. Once the hospital was set up, a veritable tent city, I did not have much time to wander around the country side. I either worked as a surgical technician in the OR or helped out in the wards. I was then promoted to PFC… Then, remember the Battle of the Bulge? That was, I guess, Christmas of '44. There were quite a lot of lives lost, the orders came through to transfer all younger medics to the Third Army to serve as company aid men, the most dangerous assignment for a medic, my name was on the list. So I packed my duffel bag. I was ready to go. The day before that, one of our guys went AWOL, it was the second or third time he went AWOL. The captain wanted to get rid of him, so he crossed my name off the list and put his name instead, so I didn't go. God knows what would have happened, because that was the worst time they were going through there. Anyway, so I was back, still in the hospital, there until, I guess it was about March. …Because my name was already taken off the company roster at this time, I was automatically a candidate for the next group to be transferred. The American Army was already in Germany. I was sent with some other younger men to a military government detachment in Erlangen, and it was our job, since we were medics, there were only medics in this group that I was with, we were bringing medical supplies to displaced persons camps. The American Army was liberating these people there, and I did get a chance to see Dachau, it wasn't a DP camp, but it was horrible. It was the only thing that really stuck in my mind, because there were still remains of bodies there. You know what I mean? There were bones, and all that poison gas cylinders there, right there, big canisters there, and, of course, the showers were still there. We saw that. But the displaced persons camps that I went to, most of the people there were, I guess, they were, we called them DP camps, but they were there for a purpose. They were workers. I guess that's why they were there, and they were like walking skeletons. I swear I've never seen anything like it before.
LM: Were they mostly Polish?
RL: As a matter-of-fact, most of the ones there were Polish and Yugoslavs. That's what we saw.
LM: Did you have any interaction with them socially? Did you speak to them?
RL: Yes, I did speak to them when I could. I mean, it was mostly with your hands. They didn't understand, but once in a while, you'd get a guy who knew a little bit of English. It was horrible. They were so glad to see us. We were told not to give them too much food, because they were so starved, and too much food, they would get sick and probably die. But it was really horrible. … I guess I did that for March and April. When the war was over, I was still over there in that part of Germany. I was always in the suburbs, a suburb of Nuremberg, a suburb of Frankfurt, a suburb of Munich. Always, that's where we were. I can't exactly remember when this happened. Since I was a medic, they were reassigning us to these camps processing the fellows to go back home. They called them the "Cigarette Camps." They were in Le Havre. I went to Camp Lucky Strike. There was Camp Philip Morris. I remember Philip Morris and Lucky Strike. We would call that the "College," because what we were doing, we were examining these people to go back home, and if they passed their … exams, whatever it was, they'd go home. We were giving the exams. I, being a medic, strangely enough, I was doing lab technician work, which I didn't do before, but I was doing what they called "dark field." That's where you look for a spirochete, syphilis spirochete. … They'd give us gloves that went up to here. They didn't protect our mouths, though. [laughter] They'd give us these gloves, and we would take specimens from the fellow's genital organs and put it under the microscope in the dark field, which is just the opposite, so everything there is very light and the rest of the thing is black, and if you could see a spirochete moving around, those guys would flunk the exams. We also tested for gonorrhea, all venereal diseases. That was our job, and if the guys had nothing, off they went back to the States. I guess I was there for at least a month and a half.
LM: If they tested positive, they were treated.
RL: They were treated until they were okay. They had penicillin already by then, 1945.
LM: When you were at Le Mans, what was it like dealing with the Germans? Were they happy to see you?
RL: We were medics. They were happy to see us because we treated their wounds.
LM: Did any of them speak English?
RL: Some of them spoke English. I knew German, because I took two years of German at Rutgers, so I could speak with them.
LM: Do you have any particular recollections of speaking with Germans?
RL: One fellow, he was really a very good-looking German kid, and he was dying, on his death bed, you might say. … I felt very sorry for him. But then one of my guys said, "Don't feel sorry for them. These guys were killing our men," and stuff like that. It was a crazy situation, really was crazy. Since I'm Jewish, and the Germans are against the Jewish people, you would think that, you know, and I'd tell the German prisoner I was Jewish. I guess these guys, it didn't bother them. They were not hardened Nazis. They were just, most of them were very young, real young kids.
LM: I know the Army didn't allow socialization with the POWs. Was that strictly enforced?
RL: No, no. First of all, these POWs were in such sad shape there. … Most of them that we got were really on their way out, were dying. It was just a question of when. I guess they didn't send the ones to the general hospitals that were not dying. They probably just sent them to field hospitals and then to a POW camp. We got the ones that the field hospitals couldn't take care of, so they were in bad shape.
LM: You mentioned that an American serviceman reinforced that dying Germans were still the enemy. Did you share that with him, or were you more of a humanitarian?
RL: No, I wasn't really humanitarian, believe me. It was just when I was face to face with these guys, but my feeling, otherwise, wasn't that way, especially after I went to these DP camps and saw what they did to these people. God, we hated them then. When I was in Le Mans, I had one opportunity, I got a pass to Paris, which was very nice. It was something I won't forget. It sounds funny today. I slept on sheets, and I didn't even want to wear pajamas. I just wanted that feeling of being in that sheet. It was just the feeling, it was amazing. I guess that was in February.
LM: Was the city coming back to life?
RL: Oh, yes, oh, yes. Definitely, by God, it was unbelievable.
LM: You got to sightsee in Paris.
RL: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I traded one of my, you see, I didn't smoke, never smoked. While I was in Le Mans, or anywhere else, I used to trade my cigarettes for candy rations. But then I wised up, because you can do more with cigarettes. I got a camera from some Frenchman actually, a camera for a cartoon of cigarettes.
LM: Did you experience any anti-Semitic behavior towards you in the Army?
RL: Yes, yes, I did. First of all, when I was at Camp Grant, Illinois, which was in the Midwest, not anti-Semitic reaction, but I was the first Jewish person some of the fellows ever saw. They never saw a Jewish person in their life. They were looking for a horn, because they [thought] of that statue of Moses that Michelangelo did. He had a horn, it was not really a horn, it's supposed to be part of a halo, but people thought it was a horn. Then I had a sergeant, from Texas, who was really very anti-Semitic. You know, he picked on me, and stuff like that, but he picked on the other Jews, too.
LM: The Army offered no recourse for that.
RL: No. What are you going to do? There were a couple of other incidents that occurred, but they weren't severe. Certain German prisoners knew that I was Jewish, and they tried to become friendly and tried to show, you know, that they really didn't hate the Jews. … The military government was rather interesting, too, because we had at our [base] all these supplies, medical supplies, unbelievable, and we were in this German warehouse, in which they had silverware, dishes all this stuff, and everybody was sending stuff home. I didn't. [laughter] I sent home stamps. I had a copy of Mein Kampf in German, which I should have kept, but I don't know what happened to it. I had sheets of Hitler's stamps, sheets. I must have had, you know how they come out one hundred stamps per sheet? I must have had about fifty sheets of that. God knows what happened to them. Maybe today it would be worth money, you know. My wife made me get rid of it after I got married.
LM: In Nuremberg, when you were in the suburbs, did you see any Nazi paraphernalia?
RL: No, but the damage to Nuremberg was unbelievable, unbelievable. They bombed the heck out of that place. I didn't realize it then. Nothing was standing. We were in the suburbs of Nuremberg and Frankfurt …
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LM: Did you find that local towns welcomed the American Army?
RL: … Oh, by that time, they were. Wait a minute, when we first got there, no, but when the war was over, they were much more friendly.
LM: What was the behavior of the German civilians to the Americans? Did they overtly express anything?
RL: No. Let me tell you something. I was in Vienna in 1970, and I found a great deal more dislike of Americans then than I found in the war in the '40s. I was in Vienna and Salzburg in the same trip, and [in] Salzburg, the people were so friendly and everything else. You got to Vienna, they were cold, cold people, yes. I don't think I found that then in Germany. While I was in France, of course, I dated some French girls, if you want to say, with their mothers and stuff like that, very, very strict … They must have distrusted American soldiers. They knew about soldiers. The mother came along.
LM: That must have made things very interesting.
RL: Again, I was a kid. I was not like the other guys that had been around, men of the world. I was a kid. Today, a sixteen-year-old is a lot more worldly than I was in those days. An incident at Camp Lucky Strike: finally, the last of the guys going home left Lucky Strike, but nobody ever told the Quartermaster Corps that the only thing left was the cadre that was there, those guys who were processing, so we kept on getting food. We were getting steaks. You know, they wanted to feed these soldiers well, but there were no soldiers. So for about almost a month, we had steaks and eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. First of all, eggs, we only had powdered eggs while we were there, so to have fresh eggs, except for that little incident when I was in Normandy, where I was able to get fresh eggs. Powdered eggs, they made scrambled eggs out of them, and they were awful, really awful. … Our cholesterol was high as hell then, everybody. You didn't know what to do with the stuff. That I won't forget.
LM: Where was Lucky Strike located?
RL: In Le Havre.
LM: Did you find locals coming to the Army scavenging for food?
RL: Not too much. I'll tell you one thing. Oh, there was a lot of bartering. It was interesting. When we were still in the mud in Normandy, we found out that there was a town nearby Fecamp where the monks, there was a monastery there, where the monks made Benedictine. So we wanted to get some Benedictine, so we sent out a group of guys who went there, but they had no bottles. So we had Coke bottles, so we went there with the Coke bottles. They filled them up, and what we had to pay them, we paid them with C Rations, and they were satisfied with that. There was another thing there called Calvados. That's an apple brandy, famous in Normandy, and we had more fellows almost kill themselves on that. You couldn't believe to see a guy running and hitting his head against a tree. The Calvados was very easy to get, because the farmers made that. It was an apple brandy that was redistilled and redistilled. I guess it must have been 120-proof, really very strong stuff. I'll never forget the Calvados. We had guys who were court-martialed for drinking Calvados. They weren't supposed to drink it, but the guys, you know, wanted to get something. When we were in Le Mans, they could still get the Calvados. It still was available.
SI: You mentioned before about one guy going AWOL. Did you encounter anyone else who went AWOL?
RL: Not too many, not too many. This guy was a habitual AWOL guy. He was in his late twenties, and he was what we would call an "ass man." He was looking for women all the time, and that was it. He'd stay out all night and come back, you know, and the captain couldn't take him anymore. His badness helped me, because, I don't know, if I ever went in as company aid man, I may never have come back. It was in January when the Battle of the Bulge was in progress, and there were so many guys that were hurt, you know. Now, when I went to the military government, I was attached to the Third Army. I was in the Third Army a little bit longer, in DP camps. Then, after I went to Lucky Strike, I had too little points to go home myself. I had an opportunity to get a furlough in the States and go on to Japan, the Pacific Theater, but I debated that. Also, I turned down OCS. At that time, there were a lot of openings in OCS. Again, that would mean I [would have] had to stay in the Army as a career. Of course, I had no idea about career or anything like that, but that's what would have happened. I had enough of the Army. I wasn't in there long. I was only in there from February '44 to May '46, but it was enough to say that I just didn't care for the ways things go on there. Then, as I said, after Lucky Strike, I went back into Germany, to the Ninth Air Force, because [I went] wherever they needed people. The Ninth Air Force was stationed at Erding, Germany. That's the European Air Depot. It was like a central place that's right outside of Munich, and that's where a lot of troops [were] going in and out, occupation troops coming [and] going there, and I was attached to the dispensary, and I worked my way up there. I became sergeant. I was in charge of the dispensary. It was good, because it was the first time I really had anything good for me in the Army, when I got privileges here and there, which I didn't have until that time. Like when I went home, we went home on a Victory ship. Being a sergeant, I chose where I wanted to stay.
LM: The Victory ships were the transport ships.
RL: Yeah. They had two of them, the Victory ships and Liberty ships.
LM: Did you ever encounter other Rutgers people while you were in service?
LM: You never had a random encounter.
RL: No. I was corresponding with a couple of them, because I had friends that were in, Bernie Brill was in the, he was one of the guys in the "Black Fifty" group, and I corresponded with him. He ended up as a machine gunner. A lot of my friends, before him, were in the Battle of the Bulge, because they were in the ASTP, and the ASTP was the one they threw into the Battle of the Bulge. They didn't know much at all. Some of them were killed. You know, while I was over there, before war was over, I just traveled down to the French Riviera, stayed in Nice. It was very good. It's interesting, because I had to get back, and I couldn't get back, because I missed the train, and I went up to the airport there in Nice and I went back on an Army plane. [That was] the first time I flew in my life. The 2nd time I flew over to Erlangen, to the military government. I never was on a big plane [before]. That was an experience sitting in this C-47. C-47 is a little plane, like a DC-3, [with] bucket seats. You sit in a metal [seat], like a bucket. You sit in a bucket, but a little metal bucket, not like bucket seats in a car.
SI: You were actually in the military government in 1946, after the war was over.
RL: No, the war was still on. … I mean, it ended in April, May, I think. It ended in May. So I was there, I guess, it was in April.
SI: So you were in Germany in '46.
RL: Yeah, I went back, I went from Germany, back to Lucky Strike, and back to Germany.
SI: I was curious, this period was the beginning of the Cold War. I was wondering if the attitude towards Russia was changing.
RL: This is interesting. I was in Linz, Austria, which was where the Russians ended up, too, and I met Russian soldiers there, and it was a very, very friendly atmosphere, you know. … They were interested in watches, any kind of watches. Fellows used to go to Switzerland and buy watches. You were only supposed to buy one watch. They used to bring watches up their arms. I went to Switzerland, too. I only bought a watch for myself. I didn't know about that. If you gave a black-faced watch to a Russian, he would give you so much money for that watch. I said to the guy who spoke a little English, "Why are you giving so much?" [He replied], "This watch will get me a cow when I get back home." That's what it was. They wanted the black-faced ones. You should have seen the GIs coming back from Switzerland with watches up their arms.
LM: Was the Army wary of you interacting with the Russians?
RL: Well, when we met them, it was not interacting. We were in Linz, and they were there. We met them. That was in Austria. The Russians were very friendly. They were just like anybody else. They weren't dyed-in-the-wool communists. It's like anything else.
SI: Did you have any interaction with other Allied troops, like the British and the French?
RL: Well, we met some Canadian troops. Don't forget, I was isolated. I wasn't in the warfare or anything like that. Yet, the craziest thing is when I got my European Campaign Ribbon, they had a star on it, which means I was involved in a battle. I can't figure out why there was a star on that ribbon. I don't know. … Maybe when I went on to Erlangen, Germany, maybe that gave me a star. I have no idea. I never argued with them, but it seems funny, because all my ribbons are plain ribbons, but this one has a star.
LM: When you were the dispensary officer, what were your privileges?
RL: Well, no. I had privileges because of the fact that I was a sergeant, and as a sergeant, I could throw my weight around a little bit. … It helped me when I came home on the ship, because I was able to have my own quarters and stuff like that. The men were all up and down, and I had, not like a stateroom, but it was a nice place to stay on the ship.
LM: You were able to shower there and have good food on the transport ship.
RL: Yeah, it was a little different. I thought I was in the Army of Occupation. They told me I wasn't. You had to be there a little bit longer than May '46 to be in the Army of Occupation. I didn't know that.
LM: Did you encounter any African-Americans in the Army?
RL: There were some blacks in the Quartermaster Corps that we saw, but we didn't have much to do with them. Speaking of anti-Semites, we had some anti-blacks that were the worst, some of these guys. I couldn't believe my ears. That was horrible.
LM: They were not receptive to blacks in the Army.
RL: Not receptive. The only blacks I was involved with, when I was at Kennedy General Hospital, was when we had black wounded soldiers coming back. Kennedy General was getting a lot of paralyzed vets, fellows that were shot in the back and stuff like that, spinal injuries. There were a lot of black men there.
LM: Did you find any staff not willing to work with them?
RL: No, definitely not. No, no. Oh, no, not at all.
LM: When did you encounter racism in the Army?
RL: The negative, again, it's certain southerners. It was the southerners. The southern people had really very anti-black feelings, and it bothered me, but, you know, you don't argue with them. You stay on their good side, because they can make trouble for you. We had a first sergeant that was really a son of a gun. He wasn't anti-black; he was just an anti-everything type of a person. You know, some of the doctors in our hospital were very nice guys. I was friendly with them, but the nurses really were more down-to-earth, for some reason or another. The nurses were young. They were in their late twenties.
SI: What were their backgrounds? Were they from nursing schools?
RL: I don't know. I didn't pay attention. Most of the doctors, of course, were doctors that were brought in. We had a few what we called MACs, Medical Administration Corps. They were not really doctors, but they supposedly … were in charge of the men, rather than the [medical aspects].
LM: How did you meet your wife?
RL: Oh, God, I met my wife in 1950. In 1947, when I came home, I have a sister who was three years younger than me, I didn't know anybody. Most of the girls I knew were married. They got married while I was overseas, and I said to my sister, at that time I was twenty-two years old, I said to my sister, "Do you know any girls?" She said that, "The girl that you are going to marry is only sixteen years old now." That's what she told me, and it turned out that way. It was a very strange thing. The girl I married was six years younger than me. "What, go out with a sixteen-year-old? Ridiculous."
LM: Was she a friend of your sister's?
RL: No, nothing. She just made that remark. My sister was three years younger than me, and she just made a remark to me that none of the girls that she knows, they were too old for me. That's what she meant.
LM: How did you end up meeting your wife?
RL: My best friend was a pilot during the war. He flew B-17s. After he had his twenty-five missions, they sent him back to the States, and he was flying in the States, training people and stuff like that. After I came home, he got married. He was going with this girl, and he got married in 1947. I was the best man at his wedding. In 1950, his friend's cousin, who was twenty-one years old, had a birthday party. Her name was Rhoda. He called me up, I was working in New York at that time, [and] he called me up and said, "Do me a favor. We've got a party, a girl is twenty-one. We have no men. We need boys. Would you come to the party?" [of] his wife's cousin, Rhoda. I said, "Okay, I'll go to the party." It was in Ridgefield, New Jersey, and I was already living in New York, because my parents in 1947 moved to New York. For three years, they lived in Jackson Heights, so I was living in New York at that time. I went there, and there was a girl there that caught my eye, sitting on a couch there. Her name was Rhoda, too. I pretended that was the Rhoda that he wanted me to meet, but it wasn't. I fell in love with her, but she didn't fall in love with me. She was ready to be engaged to some guy who was a cousin of the other Rhoda. … Anyway, there was this writer who was very famous … Norman Cousins. Norman Cousins was also related to my friend's wife. They had a big family there, and he had a brother, Robert, and my wife was almost engaged to Robert, who was nothing like Norman Cousins. He was a rotten guy, but I couldn't do anything about it. I took her home that night, she lived in New York, I took her home, and that was it. Then about four or five months later, my friend calls me up, "Remember that Rhoda you met at that party there? Well, she is not engaged anymore." That was it. That started me on my way, and that was about February, and we were engaged in August, got married in December. We have three daughters, five grandchildren right now. … You know, it's a great thing, your children, you had to take them, but sons-in-law, you're lucky if you get good ones. I'm lucky. I have three good sons-in-law. In 2000, my sixth grand child a girl was born.
LM: How often were you able to get in touch with your family while you were in Europe?
RL: Oh, I used to write letters.
LM: Did you ever have problems sending letters overseas?
RL: No, no problem at all. They censored them, I'm sure, because they, you know, look at the thing. No, I wrote often. I wrote a lot of people often. … That's all I did at night was write letters, because that kept me … sane, I should say. With all that carnage and everything else you see, and wounds and things like that, you get a letter from home or a letter from a girlfriend, something like that. There was one girl I was in love with, but she married a truck driver. [laughter] She sent me a letter, a "Dear Bob Letter." The war was still on then, so I was so unhappy. I got over it fast, though.
LM: Did the Army censors tell you not to write certain things?
RL: No, no. We weren't allowed to say where we were. There were a lot of little things we weren't allowed to [write], but once in a while, you made a mistake, and they just put a black line through it. My mother said that most of the mail she got was not [censored], you know. I was a good boy. I followed the rules. If they said, "Don't do it," I didn't do it. When we were in this town in Germany called Hofheim, we lived in a school. I mean, in other words, we occupied, our medical group, we occupied this school [with] two guys to a classroom. Pretty good, isn't it? That was living, I tell you, with showers and everything else. That was very good, food and everything else. Of course, the Germans, it was very easy to find German girls, and they would love to come to our school, nice things in school. We had proms in the school.
LM: Were you allowed to fraternize with German women?
RL: Oh, sure. At that time, the war was over, sure. The German women looked to get candy, cigarettes. I mean, I didn't realize the value of cigarettes. We had these fellows who would fly in from Berlin and buy cigarettes and pay something like a hundred dollars a cartoon for cigarettes. Again, I have to admit, I was not one of the smart guys selling for a hundred dollars a cartoon. I didn't. I was trading mine for candy bars. But these guys, the Air Corps guys, would go back and come with furs. They'd pay a hundred dollars for a cartoon of cigarettes, but maybe five cartoons would get them a mink coat or something. You should [have] seen half of what these guys were getting, unbelievable. There was money in Germany. I mean, there were riches then. I don't know where it was, but they were getting it, unbelievable. It was quite an experience to see these, you know, they'd come in here, so nice, paying a hundred dollars a cartoon, wow.
SI: While you were in the service, how often would you go to religious services? Did you ever go to them?
RL: Oh, yeah, they were available. [I went] a couple of times, not as a big thing, which reminds me. When I went to Rutgers, you know, we had compulsory chapel, freshman year. Do they still have it?
LM: No, the freshman class wouldn't even fit into the chapel, 5,000 people.
RL: … We went every Monday, we had to go to chapel, or was it every day of the week? I don't remember that now. But we also had to go to Sunday chapel. You had to go to fifty percent of Sunday chapels. They took attendance. They had some very good ones. They would bring in a people from Yale. (Booth?), I remember, (Billy Booth?) was among the very famous. A lot of good, but most of them, the majority of them, were more boring ones, Dutch Reform services. Dean Metzger was a Dutch Reform minister. So I found out that if you went to Dean Metzger and told him that you went to services in the synagogue on Friday night, you didn't have to go to Sunday chapel, wow. Sure enough, I went and told him that. I lied.
LM: Back here at Rutgers, did you have a job?
RL: I worked for the … NYA. They had these jobs, and we were paid, I think it was, fifty or sixty cents an hour, something like that, and I worked for Professor Joffe over at the Ag school. He was doing research on nitrogen in the soil, and at the very next lab was the fellow who discovered streptomycin, Waksman. Then there was this kid who was working with Waksman, and I was working with Joffe, and if you remember, this kid sued Waksman later on, because after Waksman got all these honors, he claimed that he should have gotten part of the honors.
LM: What was this student's name?
RL: Al, it will come back to me. … Anyway, this fellow was very poor, really poor. He used to come to our fraternity house, he was friendly with one the guys in our fraternity house, and he used to, listen to this, his dinner was peanuts and sauerkraut juice. I swear to God. It's nourishing, but that's what he ate, so poor. Albert Schatz, that was his name, brilliant guy, but he claimed that he helped Waksman discover streptomycin and that he should have some credit, and he did get something. I think after the suit, he got recognized and all that, but whether he got any money out of it, I don't know. Waksman didn't get any money out of it either, because all of it went to, I guess, to Rutgers. Didn't he donate a lot to Rutgers?
SI: Actually, I heard that there was a guy also in the project who secretly kept the patents, and he got most of the money.
RL: Oh, really. That I didn't know. … I met him, [Al Schatz], because, as I said, he worked in the lab right next to us. Joffe's lab was here, and Waksman's lab was there, working over at the Ag school, and [in the] afternoon, I was doing that. That gave me money for dates and stuff like that.
LM: Did you enjoy working with Professor Joffe? Was he a personal guy? Did you have dinner at his house?
RL: No, no, not like that, but he was very nice. As a matter-of-fact, he taught Russian. In my junior, I took Russian, because I figured out, "It's going to be the future language," you know, but I only took that one semester. German was a very important subject, especially in chemistry. We had to go to a thing called Beilstein, which was the reference books of all the things, anything chemistry was in Beilstein, and we had to translate. Nowadays, we have the computers. Everything is on the Internet, so you don't go to Beilstein, but we really had to in those days. Hours and hours we would spend at the library looking up stuff for certain reactions and things like that.
LM: You were involved with the German Club. Was there an anti-German feeling at Rutgers after the war began?
RL: No, there wasn't. You know something, that's very strange you mentioned that. During the war, there was not much of an anti-German thing. At least, I didn't find it that way.
LM: You never found people being negative towards you.
RL: No, no. I didn't see that at all. It was called the Deutscher Verein, that was the name of the club, and I had Mr. Haar. We had some very good German teachers there, real nice fellows. As a matter-of-fact, Mr. Haar was so funny. We didn't realize, but for the final exam, freshman year German, he said, "Anybody that feels that they are not ready, come on in, and I will review the things with you." Little did we know, he gave us the exam. I mean, the things that he taught us during that thing were the exam. When I came for the exam, I said, "This all looks very familiar." … He was something, all right. It was so different going to college then, because your relationships with the professors were so close, really close. It's different today. Well, when you only have 1,600 kids in the whole school, you know, it's a little bit different. You probably don't ever see the professor. You probably only see the teaching assistants.
LM: Sometimes we have teaching assistants, but we get lucky once in a while.
RL: You know it's funny, you're talking about that. When I had to take my daughter looking for colleges, we went to Ohio State. This was in 1972, and I was shocked at such a big place. "This is not for you, Carole, you're not going to Ohio State, because you have to go take bus to this thing. You're going to Rutgers now." Probably we have as many people here as they have at Ohio State.
LM: With your career in the service, are there movies or books that classify your experiences, or are there any movies, in which you are upset with the representation of the war?
RL: Well, some of these war movies today, you know, the last one they had was very good … Saving Private Ryan. That first part was, people I know that went there said that was exactly what happened. People that I know that saw it now closed their eyes during that first part. They said it was so horrific. You know visiting these DP camps and these concentration camps, the only real bad place that I went that had a gas chamber was Dachau. The other ones were just work camps. They didn't kill people there. So that's why there probably weren't many Jewish people in those camps, because they were sending them to places to be killed, so that's why I said they were mostly Poles and Serbs and stuff like that.
LM: When you were at Dachau, were there still people there?
RL: There were people, but they were no longer prisoners. We had liberated Dachau, but they didn't touch, the gas chambers were still there, and the debris from it, the incinerator debris, you know, that was still there.
SI: How soon after the liberation did you visit?
RL: It was sometime in March or April of, I guess it was April, I don't know when they liberated Dachau. I guess that was in April.
LM: Do you figure it was several months before you arrived?
RL: Oh, it must have been. I don't remember, I don't know, because we didn't know much of what was going on. Dachau was like, first, I didn't know there was such a thing as a concentration camp until I saw Dachau, truthfully. I remember a sign, "Arbeit Macht Frei", I'll never forget that, "Work Makes You Free," something like that. It's German. They had that in all the camps.
LM: That's an ironic, dark statement.
RL: People thought they were going to a work camp. They didn't know. They thought they were taking a shower.
LM: Did you see the corridors, the racks that they slept in?
RL: Yes, I saw that, and I saw the showers, I mean, the gas chambers.
LM: Did you go in?
RL: Yeah, you could go in there. At that time, they were there. They looked like showers. They really did. The incinerator, I also saw the ovens, but I saw the stuff that was taken out of the ovens. I guess they hadn't cleaned it up yet.
LM: Did you realize what you were seeing, or did it hit you when you heard later reports?
RL: I guess it hit me a little bit later on. I remember the Zyklon B, whatever the stuff was. Big canisters were still there. I don't know why they didn't take them. I guess they purposely left them there. I don't know what the reason was, but they were still there, though. I mean, not that there was gas in them anymore, it could have been just empty canisters, I don't know, but they were there, all of them. Maybe there was stuff that they hadn't even started using. That was a shock. That was really a shock. You know it's still in my mind, and the other guys in the DP camps, the walking skeletons, we called them, they were horrible. You can't believe it.
LM: Did you find any instances of German officers hiding in DP camps to escape prosecution?
RL: No, I wouldn't know if they were hiding.
LM: Usually, they picked them out, because they were too well fed.
RL: I guess so. From what I've heard, a lot of, when the American troops were coming through, the Germans ran away, the officers, they just left them there. … At Regensburg, that was one of the places I went to, they were just deserted there. The Germans just took off. Wherever they were going, they just took off. They went east. In France, I saw some of these women whose hair was shaved off. I didn't know why, at that time. You know, you don't have all the facts. You just see these things in hindsight. I thought they had lice or something. It is interesting, too, when we went to Paris, the war was still on, I told you when I was in Le Mans, I had a three-day pass to Paris, these prostitutes had certificates on their walls saying that they were inspected. In other words, they were inspected for venereal disease; they were clean. Right on the wall, just like that picture up there, there's a certificate on the wall, medical certificates.
LM: Did you know if a lot of people in the Army frequented them?
RL: I'm sure they did. You know the stories. There was a thing on Broadway, "Jacques Brow is alive and well", something like that, a whole bunch of songs in there, probably before your time, and one of the songs is about the whorehouses there, the French.
SI: The area that you were in was under Patton and the Third Army. There has been criticism that American occupation forces were collaborating with high-ranking Nazis. Did you know anything about that?
RL: No, I wouldn't. Again, that was too above me. You know I was a little peon there. [laughter] I really didn't know what was going on. I wasn't very political. … We had one fellow in the outfit that was much more political than I was, and he'd be into all these things. I guess today he would be called a socialist or something like that. … I went back to Germany in 1970, just to, I went to, on business, I went to Frankfurt, so I went back there, hoping I could see what it was like, and everything was so different, you know. … We drove to Munich, and we drove to various places in Bavaria and stuff like that. Truthfully, the majority of the Germans, this was 1970, seemed to have changed a lot. Their attitude had changed. My reaction to Vienna was such. It shocked me, the coldness of the people. I know people who have been to Vienna recently. They say the people of Vienna still are that type, not a very friendly type of people. Maybe people might think the same way about New Yorkers, today, I don't know …
LM: What was it like coming home? Had the United States changed, in your opinion? Were you treated differently being a serviceman?
RL: You know a funny thing, I went home in my ROTC uniform, back in 1941, I had a date for this soph hop, and I went home to get my father's car to take my date to the dance. I was wearing the ROTC uniform, and people were all so friendly to me. You know, the war was on already, it was actually 1942, the war was on, and people, all of them, were so nice ...
LM: When you came home, did you take advantage of the GI Bill?
RL: Yes, I did. I regret in a way, I wish that this time, if I could do it over again, I think I would have gone to medical school. I went on and just got my Master's degree in chemistry, but I really, when I think about it, because I always, my exposure in the Army and even today, I'm very interested in medical things. I really am, and I think that I probably would have been better off. Like anything else, you know, you just do something, which you think is right. Medical school would have been a very tough thing at the time, but, I think I could have done it.
LM: Did you notice that Rutgers doubled in size, following the war?
RL: Oh, yeah. I applied to Columbia for my Master's, and they would only take me if I would be a teaching assistant. They wouldn't take you as a student, and I couldn't, because I was working at that time. I couldn't do both, and that's why I went to Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, because there, they didn't care if I just went at night.
LM: Were you living in New York then?
RL: No, I was living in New Jersey.
LM: That was a quick commute for you.
RL: I took a bus, and we'd go up to Hoboken, about five minutes. I liked Stevens Institute. In a way, I was afraid, I didn't go to Rutgers, because Rutgers would mean I'd have a greater commute. A lot of my friends, classmates of mine, got their doctorates at Rutgers.
LM: Did you come back to visit Rutgers a lot?
RL: Well, yeah. At first, I did, I would say, up until, for about three years straight I had season tickets to all the football games, and I went back to the fraternity house and house parties, but then I sort of drifted away a little bit. Then a couple of years ago, I started going to games again, but then the team didn't do too well, very nice stadium now, though. My classmate, Dick Hale, put a lot of money into that. … If I had that kind of money, I would do the same thing. Rutgers didn't cost me anything, come to think about it. Of course, I paid for room and board. My wife says she had it better. She went to Hunter College. She even had free books.
LM: After you finished your Master's degree, where did you work?
RL: Oh, let me tell you. I worked at Merck, and I started in about September, 1943. I was a young kid, again, and I didn't know anything except work. I'd come there at eight-thirty in the morning. I was in the analytical lab, analyze, that done, next one. After I was there about two months, a committee of the chemists came to see me, and they said to me, "You know, Bob, you're making us look bad. You're doing too many analysis a day." They were serious about it, and it bothered me, too, because that turned me off. So after I left Merck, I decided I wouldn't go back to Merck. I didn't want to work for anybody at that time, so after the war I went into business in the chemical supply business and built it up pretty good, and then I retired in 1988. … I still owned the business, and things didn't go too well, and we were doing about twenty-five percent of our business with the federal government. … I don't know if you know about the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act. It was in '89 or '90, where they told the government not to buy anything except for emergency. … We had a line of credit at the bank, which was based on our accounts receivables and our inventory, and when the government stopped buying from January until October almost, the bank noticed that our accounts receivables dropped about twenty-five percent, and the bank called the loan. I was out of the company already, but I still owned half of the company, and they put us out.
LM: What kind of chemicals were you selling to the government?
RL: Not chemicals. We were selling equipment, balances, instruments, etc. We were in East Brunswick. Well, we were originally in Linden, and we moved to East Brunswick in 1980, and we had an office in Washington, actually in Rockville, Maryland, and we were doing quite well. When the government stopped buying, it didn't affect us, because we were still, you know, because our other business was going on, but the bank was affected. They read the thing, and they said, "Aha, the accounts receivables dropped." The loan was called. That killed us. I was killed, the other way around, because I owned half the company, and I had signed for things. We had a mainframe computer, which we leased, and the leasing company wanted their money. Where did I get the money from? Where else? I had to sell the company. I had to sell my house. I had to do a lot of things to pay off the loan and these things that we had. That's what turned me out. That's why I said I wished I were a doctor. I would not have had the problem.
LM: Where else did you sell supplies?
RL: We sold to Rutgers. Rutgers was one of our accounts. We sold to (Jack Barron?). I don't know if you know Jack Barron? He was the purchasing agent at that time. But our biggest accounts were the pharmaceuticals, Hoffmann-La Roche, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb. They were our biggest accounts. We also had a place in Puerto Rico, where all these companies had operations in Puerto Rico. Johnson & Johnson had a place; they all had a place, Squibb. We were selling in Puerto Rico, and, of course, with the government business, we were selling under the GSA [General Services Administration of the Federal Supply Services (FSS)], which is, we had a GSA contract. We were considered a small business, because we had under a certain number of employees. The best business we had was about fourteen million a year. That's small still. Guys that were big had billion dollars a year, Fisher Scientific. In our place, we were very good, but once the government business dropped, the bank got scared.
---------------------------------------END OF SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE------------------------------------
SI: This continues an interview with Mr. Robert Lowenstein on June 3, 1999 in New Brunswick, New Jersey with Shaun Illingworth and Lynn Marley. You were talking about what you were doing after you retired.
RL: Yeah, after I retired in '88, just when I became almost sixty-five years old, and I had to do something. A friend of mine said, "Why don't you become a financial planner?" "How do you do to that?" "You have to go to school and become certified." So I went to night school at Fairleigh Dickinson in, actually, it was the one in Madison, and I went there and became a certified financial planner. I'm not a full-time, like a lot of people are. At my age, I don't feel like working that hard. Well, I have a number of clients, and I'm keeping up on things like that. I give good advice and that's it.
LM: Do you enjoy what you do?
RL: I enjoy what I do. I guess I would like to do other things, too, you know. I used to travel a great deal when I was young. Unfortunately, my wife, ten years ago, got Parkinson's. Fortunately, it is under control, and she's doing quite well. She goes over there at Robert Wood Johnson here, Dr. (Sage?), who is a very brilliant man. He's with the neurology department. If you saw her, you wouldn't even know that she has it, because she is taking the proper medication. So we can't travel as much as we did before. We went to China one year. We went to Europe. We really traveled a great deal, South America. Now what we do is go to elder hostels.
LM: Where do you go?
RL: Well, we usually go within driving distance. They're all in the northeast. There's one at Bethesda, Maryland. They're really nice. What they are is, you've got to be over fifty years old to go there, and you go to school for a week and you take courses, like everywhere else. Sometimes you stay at a school. We don't usually like those, because you don't have a private bath there. We only go to ones where they have it at a hotel near the school, and you have a private bath, and you learn a lot. Like this last one we were at, we learned all about Brazil, Cuba and Mexico. It was at Montgomery Community College in Bethesda, Maryland, and we stayed at a very nice hotel there. The professors from Montgomery came to speak to us. Cuba, we had this woman who was on the staff. If Cuba had an embassy here, she would be in the embassy, but they don't, so she's here, and she spoke about what was happening in Cuba today and stuff like that, the inside and outside. Brazil was very interesting, and Mexico, we went all the way back to the beginning of history there up to the present. They were very good, and we visited different things, like we went to the Mexican Cultural Center in Washington and saw all the beautiful stuff they have there, and then we also went to the Library of Congress and things of that nature. It was really very nice. We were only there a week. It starts Sunday and ends Friday. It's nice. It's not very expensive. It cost us about five hundred dollars per person with meals and stuff like that. You can't go wrong with that. That's the fifth one we've been to, so we've started this thing. It's a way of keeping busy. My wife, believe it or not, she still works. She works four hours a day for a cable company, customer service, Cablevision. Anyway, she works from nine to two. She works, technically, from nine to one. She starts at eight-thirty and ends around two. She likes to work a little longer.
LM: She worked for The New York Times.
RL: Yes, she did.
LM: What did she do?
RL: She worked for the public relations department, when we got engaged, they fired her. They couldn't do that today.
LM: What was their reasoning?
RL: She came in with an engagement ring, and a week later, she was fired.
LM: They were afraid she was going to have children too soon.
RL: That's right, exactly. First, you get married and then have children, exactly right. Yeah, she worked for The New York Times [in] something to do with advertising …
LM: What was her degree in?
RL: Bachelor of English.
LM: Did she enjoy working for The New York Times?
RL: Oh, it's a thrill, sure. It's a great thrill to work for The New York Times. It's interesting, because I have a daughter, I have three daughters, one of them works for Bankers Trust, which is going to be taken over by Deutsche Bank in about three weeks or so. She's had a child, and she took off for that. She went back [with] no problem at all. She is a vice president; she has a good job. You know, God knows what's going to happen to her now. You don't know whether they're going to put in a lot of their own people or what. The only thing in her favor, her name is (Deutschemeister?), her last name, so that fits in beautifully, Deutsche Bank, (Deutschemeister?). Maybe they'll keep her for her name, I don't know. My oldest daughter, the one that didn't go to Ohio State, ended up at Purdue, and she got a degree in nutrition. The way they had it then, this was in 1976, she went on to, she interned at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and then the teacher there in charge of programs said, "You should not be a hospital dietician. You're not cut out to be that type of a person. I recommend that you go into research." So she went to a metabolic research lab in Boston City Hospital there. She was their nutritionist there, and there was doctor, an endocrinologist, who ended up as her husband. He came from North Brunswick. It was just wonderful, from Boston to North Brunswick, and he is a professor of endocrinology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. … He's an expert on diabetes, and he probably makes more money on his honorariums than he gets paid by the state, because he's an employee of the State of New Jersey. But he is very well respected in the field of diabetes. My nutritionist daughter, you know what she did? She went on and got her Master's in Public Health, and she went back to school and became a teacher. She'd rather be a teacher. Isn't that something? She likes the hours, summers off. Isn't that something? Actually, she teaches in a nursery school. I'll tell you, she's over educated. I said, "My God, you could have done so much." What are you going to do? My other daughter is a, she inherited everything from my father. She is some kid, I'll tell you, very good. Her first job, she worked for a stock brokerage company, the one with that fellow involved with, Michael Milken, or I can't remember the name of the firm. … Anyway, then she worked at home, doing work at home, and now she's got a very good job again. My three daughters married very nice guys, and they're still married. The first one is now married twenty years. The second one is married fifteen; they got married in '85, very good. Any other questions you want to ask me?
LM: Is there anything you want to tell us that we've forgotten to ask, or is there anything you want to mention? This is all yours.
RL: I know. I realize that. I did tell you I was very happy I went to Rutgers, of course. I pronounced the "T." Why do they do that? I can't figure that out. "Rugers, Rugers." "Where do you go?" "I go to Rugers." … I was brought up in Weehawken, so I have a New York accent.
SI: We moved over your early life pretty fast. What was your life like in your house?
RL: Okay, all right. My mother was a very brilliant woman, in the sense that she, she only went to high school, but she ran an office for somebody. She's a very, very efficient person. In a sense, she ran, my father had a small business, she did a lot of work for him. I have a brother and two sisters. I'm the oldest in the family, and I was the one who was the favorite child, as far as my father was concerned. My mother had one of my sisters as her favorite child. But, yet, to this day, they still remember, I don't remember it, but my sister remembers it, that whenever my mother made any desserts, like chocolate pudding or anything like that, she filled up five dishes, two for me and one for each of them, and those kids have not forgotten that. They still remember that. My father was, as I said, I was his boy and stuff like that, and we were hurt by the Depression quite a bit. My father used to work night and day. We moved around much more often, I think, it was a lot of times … From 1928 to 1937, we lived in three different places during that time. I think, it seems like a lot to me today. Since I have been married, I've lived in three places, but we're talking about forty-nine years, you know. … So my father did work very hard. He used to work until ten, eleven at night. What he used to do was he used to go around selling to druggists during the day and go back at night to pack the stuff to deliver the next day. This was the way he did it. It was a one-man business. It's very interesting thing about my father. I keep on thinking about it. During the Depression, a lot of druggists owed him money. He always trusted them. He never, if they couldn't pay him, they couldn't pay him, and yet after Depression was over, the same guys didn't buy from him anymore. Likewise, the silver nitrate during the war. During the war, my father was selling silver nitrate at the right price. After the war is over, these guys didn't want to know him, you know. It's amazing how people are today.
LM: Did you always have food on the table?
RL: We always had food on the table. We never starved. I was spoiled. I was a very poor eater. For example, my mother used to give us cooked cereals, you know, whatever it was, cream of wheat. I wouldn't eat it until she put bacon on top of it, the only way she could get me to eat. … It's interesting that I remember that very vividly, because I liked to have bacon.
LM: Do you know how your parents met?
RL: My mother was from the Bronx, and my father was, at that time, was from Hoboken. They might have met at, God knows. They could have met, you know, I think they did, I think they were vacationing in Lakewood, New Jersey, and that's were she met him. My mother came from a rather large family, so did my father, and my mother had four sisters and a brother. My father had two sisters and about four brothers. My father was the first one in the family to be born in this country.
LM: Where were they from?
RL: My father's family was from Poland.
LM: Did they leave because of the pogroms?
RL: No, no. I don't know about that. What happened was, my father's father came over first, and he sort of then brought the rest of the family over, and then my father was born in this country. He had two brothers after him that were born in this country. Everybody is dead now. Nobody's alive. They're all gone. My mother died in 1976, and she was seventy-five years old at that time. She died of heart problems, and after she died, they did an autopsy and they found out that her arteries were ninety-five percent closed. A few years later, she probably would have had bypass surgery. Do you know what I'm saying? But she was that type of person who didn't want anyone to know what was wrong with her. She got three prescriptions of nitroglycerine, from three different drug stores … really sad. … She had cancer, colon cancer, in 1955 at the age of fifty-six. In those days, what they did is they removed the cancer, and they put you on a colostomy bag. She refused to go out. She stayed in the house; she didn't go out. They finally talked to the doctor [about] reopening her up again and reconnecting it, and then she became a human being again. She would never go to a hospital, never, until, of course, she had to go in, you see, she had a heart problem. She died in the hospital. She would never go to a hospital, because of that colostomy they had her on. Because of that, I have to have a colonoscopy, you know, because it's supposed to be inherited. I had to have it there at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Everything for me is Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. My son-in-law is a full professor there, and he is very much respected, so anything that ails me, I go there and see somebody there. He has recommended me to the right person, which is very nice to have. You've got to have a doctor in the family, somewhere along the line. My wife's father was a doctor. He died at a young age of Parkinson's, and her uncle was a doctor. Her uncle took over her father's practice, so she had a doctor in the family. Now, when my daughter married Steve, we got a doctor. It's important. You always have to know where to go. If you're very rich, you don't have to worry. If you're not rich, you go to whom you know, and that's what it's all about. Steve is really a wonderful son-in-law. He's such a fantastic person, and it's good, because, I think, he's helped my daughter be a little bit more caring, too. It helps along the line. It really does. … That's why I'm so happy. My wife could have been an invalid by now. Fortunately, she has seen Dr. Sage over there, and he's been very helpful.
LM: Did your mother work?
RL: Yeah, my mother worked for my father, all the time. Well, before she married, she was in charge of a big, big office in New York, a company, and after she got married, she worked for my father, and all her life she was working somewhere, she was somewhere in there. Even after they retired, they were still involved in something or other. My mother was a very, they were both very philanthropic people, whatever they had, which comes back to me, too. I can't say, I'm not a Dick Hale or anything like that, but I do contribute to a lot of things that I am involved with. I belong to Masonic chapter, and I'm very active in that and I contribute to the Masonic Home down in Jersey. I'm on the Board of Jewish Family Services in Union County, New Jersey, and I contribute to Rutgers, not as much as I used to. I mean, way back, when I had money, I was much more generous, but, unfortunately, I can't give what I used to give. I still think of Rutgers as, you know, and when I go through, you know, do our income taxes, and I go through all the checkbooks and see all the five dollars here, five dollars there, we give a lot of money to charity, a tremendous amount. I can't believe it sometimes, but it's there. The only way we know we gave is from the checkbook, and it all adds up. … Of course, my wife gives a lot of money to the Parkinson's Association, because she's hoping they find something. I was active in my temple at one time. I guess I get more religious in my older days, you know, and so did my father, for that matter. He was not much religious at all, but as he got older, people do that, I believe.
SI: What role did religion play in your house as a child?
RL: Let me try to think that. It's a good point. I guess, it just told us the principles and stuff like that, to be good to people and stuff like that, you know, charity. Strangely enough, none of my children, all my children married within the faith, which is supposedly a very good record today. Most of you, you have lots of mixed marriages, especially since my daughter went to Purdue, where in the Midwest, there aren't many Jewish people at Purdue, you know, and she came back, and it's interesting when you think about that. But we never stressed it; we never put any pressure on them. We gave them a religious education. They were confirmed and things like that, and they just, you know, follow things. I can't say why they were that way or what. I guess we might have set an example. It could be. I know my father set an example for me, monogamy. Truthfully, my father was a very monogamous individual, and I am the same way. My eyes don't wander. … I feel that was the teaching of my father.
LM: Were you bar mitzvahed?
LM: Were your sisters?
RL: Let me think. Probably not. … My children are all, but my sisters, probably not. Brother was, but my sisters were not.
LM: There wasn't a big Judaism reform movement at that time when you were growing up.
RL: When I grew up, I was conservative. I became reform, when I moved to Westfield, because Westfield only has one temple, even though it was a traditional temple. It's not strictly reform, by any means, but Westfield, I believe, became a reform movement. My daughter lives in East Brunswick and belongs to a conservative temple, and the daughter that was in West Orange belongs to, I think, reform. I'm not sure. My other daughter doesn't belong to any temple yet, because her child is too young. When he's a little bit older, that's usually when people join. I lived in Cranford and belonged to a conservative temple. My parents belonged to a conservative temple, but my father was brought up orthodox, naturally, New York … This is a story about my father that's rather interesting. My father, until the day he died, would not eat ham, and why? He ate lobster, any kind, but he would not eat ham. He had two sisters that were older than him, much older than him, and his parents were older, and his sisters really brought him up. He lived on the East Side at that time, and his sisters sent him to a Methodist school. For lunch everyday, they gave him ham sandwiches. My father didn't know it was ham, and when he found out it was ham, he wouldn't eat it. He'll eat pork chops. He'll eat other things, but ham by itself, he won't eat. He'll eat bacon, absolutely, but ham, because he remembers when he was a little kid, he was eating those sandwiches and didn't know what it was, because he was going to that Methodist school. That was the strange thing about my father. My father had very good schooling. Like I told you, he would never do anything to harm anybody. That was why he never became a very, very rich man. In order to become very, very rich, you have to, sometimes, look a little different. … He first looked to see, "Is this the right thing to do?" and I think it left off on me and my children, too. They're the same way. I'm glad for that. It's a coincidence. My daughter married the doctor, and he had wonderful parents. His father died recently. His father was one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. My father was a great person and all that, but his father had that extra thing that my father didn't have. He would be available for everybody. My father couldn't be available to everybody. … He died several years ago. He died in 1989. I felt like I lost a father, too. He was such a wonderful guy, and his wife is still alive. She's active; she's head of the volunteer personnel at Elizabeth General Hospital. She's a very active woman. She's retiring at the end of this year. My second daughter married a very nice fellow, but his mother and father were divorced, and his mother is a wonderful woman. … His mother was living with her mother, taking care of her mother. Her mother died, so she decided she would finally live, because up to that time, she was caring for her mother. She joined a tennis club, the whole thing. One year later, she had a stroke. This is 1987. She's still alive today, living in a nursing home. My other daughter, my youngest daughter, married this fellow who's a lawyer. His father was a lawyer. His father has had open-heart surgery, a bypass, successful operation, [and] a day later he gets a stroke. He is living in a nursing home. This is since about 1990. So imagine two of my children have in-laws that are in a nursing home. It's sad [and] ironic. It's really ironic. Well, that's the way things go. I feel for them, because their life isn't so good. … That's why I hope that my wife and I stay healthy. My wife isn't exactly healthy, but at least you don't know it when you see her. I did well. You know, it's strange, though. Her father had Parkinson's. It's a weakness in the genes, and this Dr. Sage is doing research on that thing right there at Robert Wood Johnson. You heard about this fellow at Robert Johnson several years ago. He was murdered by his stepson. … He was working on Parkinson's, too. He had a son and a stepson, and his stepson was jealous and he shot his two parents. He killed them both. He was on, it happened about seven years ago, something like that, because my wife just got Parkinson's at that time. They [had] just diagnosed Parkinson's at that time when that happened. Are you still a student here?
LM: I'm going into my senior year.
RL: I didn't realize I am talking to students. I thought you were graduates already. … I'm impressed. You did a good job. Where is Ms. Holyoak?
LM: Ms. Holyoak is at a meeting right now. The students do the interviewing.
RL: What are you going to do with all this stuff?
LM: We tape your interview. We transcribe it, typing it word-for-word, and that takes a little time. Then we edit it, you know, for spelling. We return it to you, and if there's something you don't want on the public record, you can take it out and you can edit it. You can change it if we misspell one of your friend's name, because we didn't know it, and then you return it to us. We clean it up, sign it off, and it gets deposited at Special Collections in Alexander Library, and then it's put up on the Internet.
RL: So you're really not interested in the World War. You're interested in the person himself.
LM: Yeah, because we have people who may be looking for information on Weehawken.
RL: … I was in Weehawken High School. Actually, it was Woodrow Wilson High School. I was the last class at Woodrow Wilson. That was the Class of '40, [and] after that, they built a new high school called Weehawken High School. They built the Lincoln Tunnel, and when they built the Lincoln Tunnel, they had to destroy our athletic field. Yeah, we had a soccer field down there. See, Weehawken was a very small school. We only had in our graduating class around a 150 people, graduates. We only [had] 600 people in the whole school, so we couldn't have a football team, because you need a lot of players, so soccer was our big sport at Weehawken. Basketball, we had a real basketball team. We won the State Championship when I was there. When they built the Lincoln Tunnel, before anybody went through the Lincoln Tunnel, the whole school marched through the Lincoln Tunnel, there was only one tube at that time, led by our band, singing our alma mater, walking to New York and walking back. That was our experience. That was back in, I guess, 1937.
LM: So you remember the building of the Lincoln Tunnel.
RL: Oh, everything about it. As a matter-of-fact, that was only one tube then. Then the Port Authority built us a new athletic field and built new tennis courts, beautiful tennis courts, you know, all that was part of the deal, because they destroyed everything we had there, when they built the tunnel. That was Weehawken High School.
LM: You were the first people to walk through the Lincoln Tunnel.
RL: We walked, yeah, singing our alma mater. It was really something. It's very interesting. There's Lower Weehawken and Upper Weehawken. The people in Lower Weehawken were very poor; that was on the same level as Hoboken. If you're familiar with the area, it used to be called Boulevard East in those days. Now, I guess, it's called JFK Boulevard. That was where we lived, in the upper part of Weehawken. Lower part was supposedly working people, the blue-collar people in those days. It's different today. Hoboken was nothing. Now it's all a bunch of Yuppies living in Hoboken, very nice. … Hoboken is really something, going places. When my father lived in Hoboken, he lived in what we called a cold-water flat. They had no heat. He lived on Garden Street [in] Hoboken. He lived in Hoboken for quite a long time. Weehawken High School was a very nice school, in a sense, because it was small also. You don't have schools like that today. You knew everybody, just like Rutgers, so when I went from Weehawken to Rutgers, it was no change. It was just like [going] to a high level education, but as far as the academic atmosphere, it was very similar.
LM: Did a lot of your classmates from high school go to Rutgers?
RL: Not too many from our school. Most of the kids in Rutgers, when I was there, were from Newark, a lot of kids from Newark and Jersey City. … As I said, it was the same type of feeling, but it was nicer, because I was away from home and stuff like that. … Every freshman, we would wear our dinks. … The next year we would wear our "soph hats" …
LM: What were some of the rituals with the upper classmen?
RL: … First of all, in our fraternity, we had to memorize some of the alma maters of the upper classmen. The only one I remember is from (Weequahic?), "It's from our wigwam on the hill." That's all I remember. We had to remember that, "From our wigwam on the hill." … We [had] paddles. In those days, they [had] paddles. Oh, we had to make a paddle for our big brothers. We had to make a paddle for him, polish it up and anything else. We got paddled; we'd get a lot of that.
LM: Did you have a nickname?
RL: Yes. My fellow chem majors nicknamed me "count." At that time there was a Prince Von Lowenstein, an active German anti nazi lecturing throughout the USA. Some of the guys, they were real roughneck guys, you know, some guys. Tau Delta Phi had a lot of scholars there. There were a lot of good students there.
LM: The yearbook said you guys had the highest academic levels, and you got the award in the Interfraternity Council.
RL: In '42?
LM: Yeah, in the Interfraternity Council.
RL: It could very well be, because the Class of '42 had a few, quite a few, we had about three Phi Beta Kappas. It was different then, because Phi Beta Kappa, you [had] to be in the upper ten percent. That's all. If you are in the upper ten percent you were eligible, so I didn't make it. I gave my wife my Phi Lambda Upsilon key. She lost it. She put it on her charm bracelet, and it fell off.
LM: Do you still have your fraternity pin?
RL: Yes, I do, believe it or not, and it's one of my regrets, too. The fraternity pins, they had them with jewels, and not jewels, not jewels, just the gold one. … I couldn't afford it, [so] I took the plain one, and I was sorry afterwards. I still have my ring. This is interesting. See this ring? It's not the actual ring I got. It was made by Josten, and Josten sent a note out, I think it was in the Alumni Monthly, saying that if you have a ring, they'll rebuild it for free. Now, I have a small hand, fingers are short, stuff like that. My original ring was a smaller model. They don't make it anymore. They only make one model now. So when I sent it in, they told me that they can't do it, [and] they have to make another model. Then I wanted the thing replaced, the stone. I replaced that, but I had to pay a couple of extra dollars, but this thing only cost me, I mean, when I bought it, I don't remember, it cost me very little, when I bought it, and it just cost me a few dollars to get a new one. Mine was all worn out. You should have seen it. You couldn't read anything. Everything was all worn out. I had the thing throughout the war, you know. In 1944, I wore it all the time. Interesting, I could tell some stories about when I was overseas. I got a Gruen watch for my graduation. Remember Gruen watches? They probably don't make them anymore. They were curved. Actually, the back was curved; it wasn't flat. … I had it overseas all the time, and it never ever stopped or anything like that, because … all the grease on my hand filled all the crevices. It was waterproof, even though it wasn't supposed to be waterproof. Well, when I went to Switzerland the first time, I bought a chronograph and I sold my Gruen watch, while I was overseas, to a Russian.
LM: For a cow.
RL: I don't know what he did with it, but I sold it to a Russian. I'll never forget that. You know when the war was over, we had the scrip. Are you familiar with that? In other words, the French scrip [and] the German scrip was issued by the American government. We didn't use the French franc, we didn't use the German mark. We had the scrip that we used. I still have some of them left, but that's what we used. Oh, I'll give you a similarity. In China, there are two forms of money. If you are a visitor, you get one form, and if you live there, you get another form. When I was in China in '84, and you are not supposed to use their scrip, and they're not supposed to use your scrip. In other words, the Chinese peasants can't use the ones you use, and you can't use theirs. It's a very crazy system they have there. It may have changed by now, but that's how it was in '84. Well, that was the same thing with us. We had that printed by the government, French francs and German marks. What else should I say? When we lost our company, the bank took over our company. They sold our company to a group of Hasidim. … The guy who owned the building that we were renting from, we were making, our gross profit was about twenty-five percent, which is very big, not net gross, and he thought, "Boy, this is a good deal." He bought the business from the bank, paid the bank a certain amount of money, because the bank took it over, you know. The way the bank took it over was very clever. We were banking with the bank at the same time they loaned us money, so as money was coming in from our sales, the bank was taking that money. That's how they put us out of business, because we had no capital. So they sold the business to this Hasidim group, who thought they'd become very rich on it. They didn't. They did very dishonest things with the business. They wanted me to work as a consultant for them, and I worked for almost a month, [when] I couldn't stand it anymore. They knew nothing about the business, but they learned. Smart people, but they did so many dishonest things. … There were 147 indictments against them, and they all got away, 147 indictments. Well, you know what they did? They did a lot of things. They were shipping things by mail that shouldn't be shipped by mail. So when I was called by the District Attorney in Middlesex County, first, they asked me, "Are the Hasidim mafia?" I said, "No." Because of all these things they had against them, they were acting like mafia. What are you majoring in?
LM: I'm majoring in English and history.
RL: And you?
SI: History and political science.
RL: Poli Sci? When I was at Rutgers in 1940, Poli Sci was a history major.
LM: Now, they have a dual major program.
RL: What is that, politics? Is that what Poli Sci is?
LM: Poli Sci is more the government legislation. A lot of people major in that for law school. They see no money in history, and they see more money in that.
RL: What do you see in English? Do you want to teach?
LM: Yeah, I do want to teach, but that was before discovering oral history and working with this kind of stuff. It helps me with communications skills, which are very important. It broadens my thinking and makes me look at things in a different perspective. I appreciate it.
RL: I enjoy history myself. One of the things that's interesting, my wife, because she's handicapped, she's considered a handicapped person, she's eligible to get the books on tape. She gets it from Trenton. It's for the blind and handicapped. … It's interesting, when I was in college, being in the fraternity house, if we waited on tables, [we got] free room and board, in other words, [but] not all the time. Some guys, like the football players, were all the time. The others, we took turns. So I would wait on tables, like for a week, and, I think, that week, I'd get free room and board for that week. That's how they did it. So, one time, I was, I'll never forget this, I was waiting on tables, and it was a prom weekend, and we had tomato soup for lunch. … I was walking [with] the tray of tomato soup, and as I'm walking, one of the guys [was] talking with his hands and hit this [tray], all over his face. God, I felt so bad, and it was hot besides, not too hot, but it was hot tomato soup. It was fun waiting on tables. It gave us an opportunity to save a few bucks. In those days, anything to save money, believe me. … We walked. I had a date up at NJC. We called it the coop then. They still call it the coop? We always walked. None of us had a car. We walked down George Street. There was one bad street when I was here ...
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RL: That was the street that was the red-light district.
LM: I'm sure there are still "women of the night" floating around New Brunswick.
RL: It's the street after George Street, as you're going up 18 towards Route 1. … I used to date some town girls off George Street, some of those side streets off George Street, [but in] 1940, [the area] wasn't bad, you know. Look, even Newark was very good in 1940, my God. … I used to date a girl in Brooklyn, and I lived in New Jersey. I used to have to go over to New York, take the subway all the way up, take a bus there, come home [at] three or four o'clock in the morning, never scared of anything. How different it was then. It really was. No druggies or anything around there. What has changed? What has changed?
LM: Thank you very much.
SI: This completes an interview with Robert Lowenstein.
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Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy 6/10/02
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 6/20/02
Edited by Robert Lowenstein 8/19/02