Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986


Can you tell me your name please and uh, where you were born.

Uh, Irene Hasenberg. I was born in Berlin in 1930.

Um, that's not your married name?

Hasenberg is my uh, maiden name.

And your married name?

Is Butter.

Um, do you remember um, much about Berlin when you were a child?

Not a whole lot really, I was back once after the war and um, uh, saw the house in which I was born and raised, but uh, I don't remember a whole lot about Berlin, the city, just about my family and where I lived.

How long did you stay in Berlin?

I uh, left... We came to Holland in December of 1937.

And, and what were the circumstances of that, do you remember?

Well, it was the um, uh, rising of Nazism and Hitler and uh, many historical events of course, which have been well documented that uh, showed the persecution of the Jews in various parts of Germany. My father saw the writing on the wall, in a sense, and looked for uh, a way to emigrate. Was offered a job with the American Express Company in Amsterdam or Curacao, and given that choice, he chose Amsterdam. He left about six months, I think, before we did and um, all that time was very tense and um, uh, my mother was frequently upset and all the arrangements had to be made for our trip to the Netherlands where we would be reunited with my father, but at the same time, leave many relatives behind. And then, at one, one point, the day came and we went on a train uh, late in the evening and, and slept on the train through the night and the next day we arrived and my father met us on the train station.

Um, how many were in your immediate family who... ?

It was my parents and my brother and myself.

And the relatives you left behind?

My grandparents... My mother's parents had lived with us ever since I was born, I think, so that was a very close relationship. We left them behind. They were... My father's parents were alive in a little town near Hamburg uh, called Elmshorm, and um, many uncles and aunts and cousins lived in Germany, either in Berlin or some other part of Germany.

Do you know what happened to those relatives?

The majority of them did not survive. My mother's parents, the grandparents we lived with, both died in Theresienstadt. My father's parents died, they did not get deported, they died before then. Um, my mother only had one sister, she and her husband also emigrated to Amsterdam and they were both sent to Auschwitz and uh, my father came from a family of, um... He had five brothers and three sisters and several of them had already emigrated to America, South America or the United States, and the sisters uh, two of the three sisters, were in Europe, in um, Germany during the war, but did survive. And so in, in that family, actually, of my father's family, everyone survived.

But not of your mother's family?

Not of my mother's.

Uh, was your family um, a religious family? Did your mother keep a kosher home for your sister and you?

No um, we were not religious. My father was the more religious of my parents and they were not kosher, although we did um, observe holidays and um, I certainly remember a time in my childhood, especially in the Netherlands uh, where we went to temple every Saturday. And my brother and I both went to, what you call Sunday school, I don't think it was Sundays but uh, religious school. And my brother was Bar Mitzvahed in Amsterdam.

Uh, your, your parents, your father, let's say, did he consider himself a, a good German, did he identify with German culture?

Well regrettably, I, I am unable to answer that question 'cause I was... I, I did not know my ch... my father after age thirteen. And um, in the camps uh, well we just never dis... I don't know my father from that perspective. Uh, I suspect he did. That I think both of my parents were quite assimilated and considered them... themselves um, Germans.

And they spoke German, of course.


Uh, German literature?

Oh yes. Yeah. And my mother who's alive now, she's eighty-two, and reverts to German more and more, I mean she, she really, uh... This is increasingly her preferred language and she's always identified with the culture and the literature and the language and even after all these horrible things happened to us, she, she could not disassociate herself from, from this um, heritage, the German heritage. It was always a big conflict for me because the minute we lived... we started living in the Netherlands, I did not like to speak German anymore. And for all the years we lived in Holland, our parents spoke German to us because they didn't want us to forget it, my brother and myself, and we answered in Dutch. And uh, discontinued uh, after the war in the United States, my mother would frequently speak German to me. I think my brother is not quite as averse to using the German language as I am, and I um, always answered in English. Now that she's uh, older and um, uh, and her mental condition isn't that good, I've, I've been compromising a lot and speaking German to her, recently. But what I do remember is a very serious conflict when my children were little and my mother used to sing German nursery songs to them and uh, and nursery rhymes and I found that very repulsive. Uh, I didn't want my children to, to be exposed to these songs, but on the other hand, I recognized my mother's right to, to do that. Those were the songs she knew. And so, I never expressed my feelings about it, but I did have very strong feelings about that.

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