Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986


What did you do in Africa?

The beginning... When we first arrived there, there were a lot of people who were quite ill. Adults, you know um, they weren't acutely ill but they were very undernourished, they were weak, and um, there were a number of medical problems they had, so because parents, they were hospitalized in, in the camp--it wasn't a real hospital but it was the camp hospital--they had one barrack with all the children; the children whose parents were in that hospital and a few children that didn't have parents there at all. So, we were in this barrack and there was a Spanish woman who was there, I don't know why, and she was kind of the housemother, and we were all together and trying to uh, come back to life which in a way um, you know it was in um, January, it was warm there, relatively warm, we were right on the ocean. We were fed, we got new clothes um, there were the, the administrative personnel of the camp um, uh, showed a great deal of interest in us uh, trying to make contact with relatives, if we had relatives outside of Europe. Um, you know, compared to hell, it, it wasn't all that bad. Uh, they organized classes for us, we were... We received instruction in English and instruction in French; we were able to go to the beach. Um, as time went on, all the parents got better and all the children went, went to live with their parents... We lived in barracks, they were like little houses and families had whatever space they needed and um, it, it became very hard for me. Life then, beginning was very difficult for two reasons. One was I didn't know if my mother was alive and the war was still going on and there was no correspondence coming through. And although these, these UNRRA people spent a great deal of time with me trying to, you know um, send messages so my mother would know where I was and trying to get me information. It took, it took an awful long time. I don't know how long. It seemed to me it took a number of weeks before I heard anything, maybe a month. And meanwhile, all the kids went to live with their parents and finally there was only one other child and myself left over and there was a little boy. It was a very tragic story. He came from Poland and uh, the story was that he saw his parents shot in front of his own eyes. He was a beautiful little boy but he was very disturbed. Terribly disturbed child. And um, he could never go to sleep, he had nightmares every night, and um, you know, in some sense I really loved this child. He was probably seven, you know, he was maybe half my age and I, I felt um, sisterly towards him and um, and I wanted to um, be close to him but he only spoke Polish, so we really couldn't communicate by language. But on the other hand it was very traumatic to live with him because he was very disturbed. He was uh, destructive and um, well, you know, not surprisingly. So after a while, he went to live with another Polish family and um, there, there was a um, a German family who had lived in Yugoslavia that uh, my mother had become friends with in Bergen-Belsen and they took me in. It was a, a couple with two children, a boy a little younger and a girl about five years older than I was and so I lived with them, in the barrack.

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