BORN PRAGUE, DECEMBER 14, 1930. DIED LONDON, JULY 12, 2009.
HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Harry Lowit owed his life to a teenager one year older than him, who persuaded Mengele to spare them from the gas chambers. The son of owners of a waterproofing factory, Harry grew up near Prague. In 1941 his father was sent to Terezin, where he died. In 1942 he and his mother were transported to Auschwitz and his mother sent to the gas chambers.
Selected for work, 12-year-old Harry made friends with a German-Jewish boy, Hellmuth Szprycer, who had also lost his family. German-speaking Hellmuth translated for Harry. They ran errands and cleaned guards’ helmets.
Visiting in 1944, the notorious Mengele ordered thousands of inmates to strip and form two lines. The boys were in the line destined for the gas chamber.
Hellmuth went up to Mengele, clicked his heels and said he wanted to work for him, cleaning his shoes, motorbike, anything but the gas chamber. Hearing he was from Berlin, Mengele put him on gate duty.
Harry then begged him to ask Mengele to take him on, too. Hellmuth went back to Mengele, who held out two matches and said that whoever picked the shorter one would die. Harry picked the short match and crumpled.
Back went Hellmuth and said: “What is one more?” Astonishingly, Mengele relented. They received smart blue messenger uniforms. Harry later manned the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei gate.
They were separated in the forced march retreat from the Red Army in the winter of 1944-45. Harry hauled coal trucks up to an Austrian mountain camp near Salzburg. He and his co-haulier, a Belgian boy, Leo, escaped during a beer break and drove their guards’ van into the Alps. They hid for three weeks until rescued by US troops.
Going home with Leo to Antwerp, Harry contacted the Czech embassy and spoke to a woman who had, amazingly, met his London-based uncle, Rudolph Lowit, at a social event. In 1946 Harry, now 15, joined his uncle and studied civil engineering at Loughborough.
In 1997 he had an emotional reunion with Hellmuth Szprycer, now living in Belgium, who traced him through Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. He had never stopped looking for Harry.
Harry is survived by his wife, Zelda, whom he married in 1949, two daughters and four grandchildren.
Holocaust survivor Harry Lowit