Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986


She was hospitalized in Switzerland?

Yeah. She was, we... This train went to a town called St. Gallen and uh, she was immediately taken to the hospital the minute we got there, to uh, um, I don't know, several people were and given I guess whatever they knew... How did they know how to treat people like that? You know. But they did everything possible. And well, she did tell me that a few days after she was there, they called um, somebody called a priest to say prayers because the nurses or the doctors thought that she was uh, she was dying and um, some other person was there, Jewish, Jewish person, I think another member of, of our group who was on the train, and said that we don't do that with Jewish people, we never say any prayers before someone has died.

How long were you in Switzerland?

Well, that's another interesting story. My mother and brother were in Switzerland um, from January '45 'til May of 1946, almost uh, well, more than a year. Long time, first um, well... Then when my mother was taken to the hospital, there were all the rest of the people; they were also sick but they weren't as acutely ill as she was and remember uh, spending the first night in a barn somewhere. Uh, where we all slept on, on hay in a barn and um, being fed there. And then the next day they transported us all to, to a school. There was a, they had a trans... sort of a I don't know, remodeled a school into some of hospital, it wasn't a real hospital but, so we all had beds. And my brother and I were, had beds next to each other. And uh, I remember we wrote a note, somebody came and told us that our mother was in the hospital and that they were taking care of us and we, we remember writing a note to her. And then my brother had a um, frostbitten toe. This, this is something that often happened because we had to stand so long to be counted in the cold for hours and hours and also kids outgrew their shoes and then to stand in the cold for so many hours with shoes that are too small, it was terrible on the feet and he had a frostbitten toe and he had to, they had to do a little surgery on this toe to make sure that this wouldn't lead to a serious gangrene or something. And so they did that the first day. And uh, then I, I think I was in Switzerland four days. I'm not sure. Then um, very shortly after we were in this school together, they came and said that people uh, were now going to go to America. And uh, they were getting us all organized to go on a train and go to America. Well, I, of course... Oh, and they, they decided that my brother couldn't walk so he would stay and I had to go to America and we, we did everything, my brother and I, of course, were um, I have no words for it, I mean, we couldn't believe it. Here the Nazis had not separated us once in, in these one and a half years of concentration camp. We've always been together and here we were free. What did this mean? Um, I was uh, fourteen years old, didn't know whether my mother was going to survive or not and uh, I protested. We did whatever we could and they kept saying, "Well, you know, just be a nice little girl and we're doing everything you can, we can, and we've talked to the council. You just go on that train and we will get you to come back." And uh, I did it. I often had wished I had been more rebellious and just hiding somewhere and just not going. Screaming.

What, what agency was this?

It was the Swiss, I don't know... You know, the Swiss uh, uh, the uh, they were flooded with refugees all through the war, of course, being a country of neutrality and, and uh, they, we didn't come to Switzerland to stay there, you know, even though the Swiss I'm sure knew that once we got there we were DPs but they didn't want to keep us, so, um... One thing I forgot to mention that on this train to Switzerland um, we stopped in several real inter-nation camps and picked up real Americans, so there were not just the people from Bergen-Belsen with fake papers, there were also some real Americans in this group. And they were gonna go on to America. So um, I, I... All I can say is I've often re... resented myself for the docility in that situation, it just seemed absurd. Uh, then we, we were on the train and there was an American lady who came from one of those camps we picked up and she was traveling by herself and she felt sorry for me. Uh, being all by myself and, you know um, separated from my family and she said, "So why don't you travel with me?" And um, she was very nice and, of course, she came from a camp that was much better and she was not in any uh, you know, concentration camp survivor condition, they were in pretty good shape these people. And she was very good to me and I, I remember I was sitting on her lap and she was hugging me and then the Red Cross came at one point through these, this train and everyone got a Red Cross package and she gave me her package and I had two packages and I, I felt like I was in seventh heaven. Then all of a sudden, she comes, she goes out of the compartment and she returns and she's crying. And I don't know what it's all about. And um, and she tells me that um, she cannot take me to America. She's not allowed to take me to America. And uh, as we got off the train uh, right at the harbor, there was this beautiful Gripsholm, a neutral uh, Swedish ship and then next to it was another little dumpy freighter and the American people went on the Gripsholm and the Bergen-Belsen people went on this freighter. And um, they never got me back, they never got me out of this group and we went to Algiers, North Africa where there was a, an UNRRA camp; United Nations Relief Association. A camp in Phillipville outside the city of Algiers on the Mediterranean where there were other displaced persons. Not many, I think there, there weren't very many people in this camp and then my group came and we pretty much uh, populated that camp. And um, there we were. Africa.

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