Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986

Departure from Bergen-Belsen

What were the circumstances of that?

Well, I don't really know because that was in the very end. I think he was, um... It's the story when, when we left Bergen-Belsen, he was uh, that morning he was at work and um, they were asking people to go... See, there was an exchange transport being prepared, it was towards the end of the war and the Germans were very eager to get all German citizens possible to return to Germany from all over the world and there was some kind of an exchange deal and I don't know who transacted it but the Germans had to provide an equal number of Americans to get German citizens back from Germany. And there weren't enough Americans in Germany to match the number of German citizens from America, so they were willing to use people like us who had falsified Ecuadorian passports. They were recognizing our Ecuadorian citizenship and trading us in for German citizens. Now in Bergen-Belsen, there were thousands of people who had these passports and they were only taking a few hundred. So, the way they proceeded to screen was you had to go to a certain place and see a um, Stabsarzt they called it, it was a, a Weh... the Wehrmacht doctor. And then he would just look at you because the very fact that you could walk to this place and see him made you eligible, transportfähig. And so uh, the, the messages came to all the barracks that anybody who had an American passport, American citizenship, should go and see this doctor in this particular place, so we tried um, my brother and my mother and I were in the barrack and my father was out at work. And um, so we tried to dress her, my mother hadn't been out of bed for several months I think, she had, she was ill, she was too weak uh, we were taking care of her. But, if we were going, going to get out, she had to appear in front of this doctor, so we dressed her and several friends in the building helped and we tried to walk her there and uh, somewhere along the way she became unconscious. We had to take her back. So we took her back to the barrack and figured, well, we didn't know what that meant. So, my brother said to me that he and I should go to see the, the doctor and we did. We walked over there, just to see what it's all about. And he checked our names off a list. And then, a little while later my father returned from work but it was at that point... That day that he had been beaten and he looked very strange and he was not well and he just wasn't himself and he didn't seem to be, he didn't seem to be cogent anymore, he was, you couldn't understand what he was saying and it didn't make sense what he was saying and I think he must have been really badly injured. He was also in very bad condition by then um, terribly undernourished and emaciated. And he came back and so we told him the story about the doctor and um, my brother suggested that I go with him, take him there, and he stayed with my mother. So I... We walked together to the doctor and he asked, you know, "What's your name?" And looks, looks, searches for our name on the list and he says um, uh, "You are John Hasenberg?" And my father says, "Yes." And he says, "Well, your children have been here already," and he looks at me, checks off my mother's name and says, "Be ready tomorrow morning." So, that way um, um, I mean the interpretation is that uh, that my mother and I didn't look very different which was probably true because we weighed about the same. Or maybe he just checked it off, I don't know or maybe he didn't know what he was doing. So, we went back to my mother to the barrack to tell her. The next problem was, well, if she couldn't walk to the doctor, how will we get her to the train? And uh, but at that point um, you know, I think sometimes people can muster an, an enormous amount of energy that they don't think they have just because of the, I guess the, the um, the motivation to get out, if we really gonna get out, then I have to get out. And uh, especially I think she felt that way to save her children. So, the next morning um, with the help of several people, she was walked to a bathhouse. We all had to go through to the bathhouse before going on the train, where they took all our clothes and put it through some kinds of process, supposed to be a de... de-licing, delousing process. And um, she, she was walked there. With help she made it. And then, we're all supposed to take showers and she was just sitting on a bench and a woman, one of the um, SS women came and said um, uh, "This woman looks like she's dying, I don't think she should go," and my mother who was half unconscious said, "Oh, it's just my stomach. I think um, something didn't agree with me." And so, she left her alone and then we managed to get her dressed again and, and got her on the train. Which is a miracle. The, the delousing process was, was one, um... See it's always nice to point out some kind of inefficiency in, in the Nazi mechanisms. They, they killed all the lice but they incubated all the eggs and so, consequently when we put on our clothes, we had more lice than ever before and when we went on that train, well then, so um, my moth... We all four of us got on the train and it left that, that evening towards Switzerland and uh, it was that night that my father died on the train. And uh, I, I still remember it, he was... Well, he had this beating experience on top of how, the, the very poor physical condition he was in anyway um, it really caused uh, uh, a very notable drop in his, in his wellbeing because I remember that when we were all down in this bathhouse, the men and the woman were separated and I was looking uh, I went down the train to find my brother and father, I mean my... Yeah, my father and brother, so we could all sit together in one compartment, and I couldn't find him and then I, there was somebody I knew and I asked if he had seen my father, and he took me there and I realized that I had walked by him several times and had not, was not recognizing him. So he... Something really awful happened to him, just, just at that point. And in the evening, he needed to go to the bathroom and he needed some help, so I walked with him there and, and I remember saying something to him, you know, "We're almost free now," and he said, "I'm not gonna make it," and he fell asleep that night.

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