Name: Louis Koplin (born Ludwig Kopolowitz) (1920 – )
Birth Place: Nelipeno, Czechoslovakia (now in the Ukraine)
Arrived in Wisconsin: 1947, Madison
Most people don't realize it lasted years and years and years without let up.
— Louis Koplin
Louis Koplin (born Ludwig Kopolowitz) was born in Nelipeno, Czechoslovakia (now in the Ukraine), on July 30, 1920. He came from a family of Orthodox Jews who had lived in an area known as Subcarpathian Ruthenia for hundreds of years. Louis graduated from the Munkacs Gymnasium in 1941, two years after the German-sympathizing Hungarian government occupied Subcarpathia.
Although the Hungarian government did not persecute the Jews until the spring of 1944, Jewish men were sent to the Russian front beginning in June 1941 to mine and dig trenches. Louis was sent to a labor camp in Komarom, Hungary. He was chosen from among 2,000 men to remain there as a shoemaker. The others were never heard from again.
Louis remained in Komarom until March 1944, when the Hungarians abandoned the camp after the Nazis invaded Hungary. Louis was rounded up and sent to the Austrian border, where he worked in a forced labor camp until February 1945. He was then force-marched with thousands of others for more than 300 miles to the concentration camp of Mauthausen. More than 95 percent of the prisoners died en route. Soon afterward the Nazi guards fled the camp, leaving the inmates on their own until they were liberated by the advancing U.S. Army several days later.
Upon his arrival at a displaced persons camp in Germany, Louis was hired by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to help resettle refugees throughout Europe. Through the JDC, he was accepted at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, where he arrived in September 1947. Louis studied pharmacy and moved to Milwaukee after graduating. Louis married in 1954, opened a pharmacy in 1957, and raised three children. Louis retired in 1992.
Audio and Transcript Information
Below are the highlights of each tape. They do not list all topics discussed. Recordings of only one tape side are marked: (no Side 2). Documents may be printed or downloaded at no cost. See Rights and Permissions
Listen to Louis' testimony and view transcript
Tape 1, Side 1
- Childhood and family background
- Virulent anti-Semitism in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s
- His father's World War I experiences
Tape 1, Side 2
- Public school and secular education
- Transfer to private Zionist school in city of Munkacs
- Factions within the Czech Jewish community during the 1930s
Tape 2, Side 1
- Hitler's rise and the approach of war
- Hungarian annexation of Czechoslovakia, spring 1939
- New anti-Semitic laws
- Louis is drafted into the Hungarian army, 1941
Tape 2, Side 2
- Assigned to forced labor in Komarom, Hungary, 1941
- Meeting his father during a trip to Budapest
- Conditions at Komarom camp
- The city of Komarom in the 1940s
Tape 3, Side 1
- Labor and social life at Komarom camp
- Louis tries unsuccessfully to escape through Budapest
- Communications with his family and the outside world
- Shipped to camp on Austro-Hungarian border
Tape 3, Side 2
- Brutal living conditions at the border camp, 1944-1945
- Camp abandoned as Russian troops approached, 1945
- Death march from Austria to Mauthausen concentration camp, spring 1945
- Expecting to die in the war's final weeks
Tape 4, Side 1
- Starvation and brutality at Mauthausen
- Liberation on May 8, 1945
- Hospitalization in the U.S. refugee camp
- Travels Europe in search of family, 1945-1946
Tape 4, Side 2
- Reunited with his brother
- Considers illegal emigration to Palestine
- Medical school in Prague
- Learning the fate of his family
Tape 5, Side 1
- Prague after the war
- Aliyah Bet and illegal emigration to Palestine
- Working with the JDC in 1946 helping displaced persons
- 1946 pogrom in Kielce, Poland
Tape 5, Side 2
- Immigrating to the U.S., September 1947
- Studying pharmacy in Madison, Wisconsin
- Moving to Milwaukee and meeting his wife
Tape 6, Side 1
- Children and family life
- Friends and social life
- Milwaukee's Jewish community in the 1950s and 1960s
Tape 6, Side 2
- Religious life in Milwaukee
- Thoughts on American culture and politics
- Anti-Semitism in the U.S.
About the Interview Process
The interview was conducted by archivist Sara Leuchter on February 13 and 19, 1980, at Louis's home in Milwaukee. Louis had never before spoken to anyone at great length about his experiences.
Louis's testimony about the culture of the Jews of Subcarpathia is historically significant since more than 70 percent of the Jewish population of Hungary was destroyed by the Nazis.
The interviews proceed in a straightforward, chronological order. Louis seemed to greatly enjoy the first few hours of the interview when he related pleasant memories of his childhood. He was visibly shaken by the memories of the last months of the war.
Audio and Transcript Details
- Interview Dates: Feb 13, 1980; Feb 19, 1980
- Interview Location: Koplin home, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Interviewer: Archivist Sara Leuchter
- Original Sound Recording Format: 6 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
- Length of Interviews: 2 interviews, total approximately 6 hours
- Transcript Length: 108 pages
- Rights and Permissions: Any document may be printed or downloaded to a computer or portable device at no cost for nonprofit educational use by teachers, students and researchers. Nothing may be reproduced in any format for commercial purposes without prior permission.