Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986

Transport to Bergen-Belsen

Uh, do you remember the train trip to Bergen-Belsen?

Yes, I remember the train trip very well because um, for one, we were in a passenger train this time, not the cattle cars that we had been shipped in to, going to Westerbork and we all thought that we were going to a better camp. We were going... From now on things were going to be better, we would be in an inter-nation camp, we would have more food uh, we would be treated in um, civil manner and um, the reason why I remember it was that we were with um, another couple, friends of my parents, in one compartment, six people. And um, I think there was some denial there, I don't think we really were sure that things were gonna be better but um, this um, friend, the, the man in this couple, was, was kind of a comedian and he was telling jokes all night long and we were... We spent the whole night laughing in this, on this train, which was probably some way of coping with the uncertainty we were facing because you know, we were in a regular passenger train but uh, who knows where we were really going? So the whole night was spent um, really in stitches.

Do you have any idea... ?

They call it uh, Galgenhumor, you know the...

Gallows. Do you have any idea why it was a passenger train?

Um, I think um, no, I don't know. I can't even say that all the people who came to Bergen-Belsen came in passenger trains. I don't know.

Maybe the passports?

The passports gave us a different status but why that meant a better train, I don't know. It sure made a difference to us.

Um, this, this may be a good place to stop.

[interruption in interview]

Um, the people who were with you on the train that told the jokes, what happened to them?

Well, it's, it's a very sad story. He um, the wife survi... The wife left, got out of Bergen-Belsen when we did but the husband didn't and uh, my mother said that the wife was a smoker. She was a, you know, a, uh--what you call it?--addicted cigarette smoker and um, the husband traded his bread for cigarettes for his wife and he died from undernourishment. It doesn't mean that he wouldn't have died anyway from undernourishment but that's the way my mother told me the story afterwards. And the wife um, she came out when we did and then went to South Africa to live with her daughter.

Before we leave the, the uh, train um, when you were still in Wester... in Westerbork, were there people that you said farewell to that it was particularly hard to do?

Yeah. A lot, a lot of my family. My mother's sister and her husband, the um, cousin that um, who lives in the United States now and her parents, um... Oh, I, I think probably at least, at least a dozen relatives, you know, cousins, uncles, aunts, and many, many friends. My parents had a wide circle of friends in Amster... in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. So uh, and then you, you met a lot of people when you lived in the barrack, you know, you became friends with some of the people that you were close, you lived so close to. So, there were always people you uh, you knew each time that you had to part with. And we knew, this... We wouldn't see each other again. I mean, when you took someone to the train, it wasn't like um, so long.

You went to the train with them?


When you saw Shoah, Lanzmann's film, what did you think about the trains?

Yeah. It's... To me it was remarkable that he struck on that theme because um, I guess I call it, I used to call it my hang-up about the trains and the way I feel. I mean, I could walk along the Huron River with my dog and, and the train comes by and I will be, I get choked up. Even when I don't think about it, I mean it's just an automatic response to the train. I always used to think of it as a hang-up and now I interpret it differently now, I think it's, I think it's just me, it's just a part of me. And, I've asked other people about this, other people who, who, who were in camps and who were, who had the same experiences and because I wondered, and I've never met anybody who had the same experiences, described them or admitted sharing that. And so, then to see it in "Shoah" was really um, uh, it was a remarkable experience and, and to me, that is one way of characterizing the ess... essence of the, of the Holocaust, of the deportation, is in those uh, is in trains because that's how people were always transported, there was no other way. And uh, all the, the moving around, the separations, the um, the disruption, is symbolized by the trains, and of course, if it was a cattle car experience, then even more so because of the trauma attached to traveling that way and the longer you had to be locked up in one of those cars, the more horrible the experience was. But even for a short trip to be squeezed into a cattle car like that and then someone uh, puts a, a bolted lock on you, and you know there's no way of, of ever getting out, no matter what, um, it's um... Well, it's, it's hard to even describe it.

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