Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986

Thoughts on Surviving

Let me shift the focus a little and uh, ask you about how um, how do you think all this uh, affected, affected your life later? What are your views of being survivor?

Well, how it, how it affected me is, you know, to, to, I'm still trying to figure out how it, how it affected me. I sense that it has affected me in very profound ways and it probably in some way influenced everything I've done since I came out of the concentration camp. It affected my values, it affected my aspirations, it affected my relationships with people, it affected um, um, where I put my energies but um, you know, I can't pinpoint it, I just feel that I, I became the person that I am and, and that's a very important part of me. Now what's strange about all this is that um, like many other survivors, we, we didn't think about this. We buried it for a long, long time and while my relatives um, gave me that very specific command and I, subsequently, I have often resented them for doing that uh, I also don't know how much talking we would have done had we had listening ears because I think if we ourselves were not ready to talk about it and, and really were trying to forget. And I, I don't think everyone um, reacted to it the same way but I, I feel now that you can do one of two things, you can deal with all of that, you can try to deal with it, and remember it and talk about it and write about it and express in whatever form is natural to you or you can get on with your life and I don't think you can do the two simultaneously, at least not at the stage of life that my brother and I were in. And uh, I think we chose to get on with our life and to get on with our life meant suppressing it, burying it because I don't know we could have done what we did uh, if we hadn't. It's only in um, in the last decade I would say that even my mother, brother, and I have talked about it. It came very gradually. Now for example, my father died on January 23rd of 1945. We... I always have called my mother every year when I wasn't living with her. My brother would always call her on that day. We would never mention why we called that day. It, it, of course, was understood that we wouldn't talk about it. And we rarely talked about anything except maybe superficially, you know. Remember that we... Oh, we had to live on turnips for a year in Bergen-Belsen, so we don't want to eat turnips again. Or things like that maybe we said but we certainly didn't talk about what had happened. And um, in the, in the more recent past, it has become possible to talk about it and in varying degrees and, and at varying stages of readiness for different people. And for me, it has become uh, a, a very important um, endeavor to figure out what it meant in my life and to become, to re... recollect and to interpret and to try to, to figure out, well, try to understand it, at least understand it in, in my own context, in my own life. And um, I don't know if I'll ever be able to figure it out, I'm still working on it. I, I have the inner drive to continue to work on it, but I don't know where it will take me. And um, and, you know, people have to state quite blankly, people are at very different stages in their, in their processes. Some people, a lot of people aren't able to see "Shoah" and uh, I think that's understandable. I don't think anyone should be pushed to see "Shoah" but I had to see "Shoah," I couldn't wait to see "Shoah." And I have in the, in the um, recent past read a tremendous number of books, have um, deliberately made contact with people with whom I shared that past, like visiting my uh, um, stepmother who um, in Switzerland this summer and other people. And um, the other thing is, is that for all those years, no, I never told anybody I was a survivor. It was like, um... I had two lives. That part, you know the Holocaust, and then post Holocaust and, and the two were separate lives and there were a lot of people uh, even people who are very close to me whom, whom I've known for a long, long time who never knew it, and if they knew it then, that's all. They knew the fact but never talked about it. And I think that was partly me that I, I couldn't talk about it or I couldn't share it or I had difficulty sharing it and, and people really prompted me. I mean, it wasn't that people would say, you know, do you mind if I ask you and feel free not to talk about it. People never asked me. And a lot of people never knew. And um, it, it was about uh, I don't know, somewhere in the last seven or ten years that I began to realize this dichotomy in my life and become uh, dissatisfied with it. Feeling that well, if I have friends and people who are close to me uh, then how could they not know that part of me. How could they know me, if they don't know that. And so I've begun to, to talk a lot more about it uh, to um, to think more about, to read more about it, to be more open about it, and to um, to take advantage of opportunities. And one very important start in this whole process was the um, my daughter... Well there's the whole issue of children. How, how does the fact that one is a parent and Holocaust survivor affect one's children in whatever one's relationship with one's children and also everything about one's children? Uh, that is um, uh, an area that I've done a great deal of thinking about and still am, and my, my two children are very different in that respect, although I think it's, it's just a matter of timing. My daughter, the, the older one has, since she was very young, had a, a tremendous amount of curiosity about this, always asked questions about it and got very involved in it and as she told me when she was maybe ten, she says, "It's in my genes. How could I not be curious about it? How could I not talk about it?" And so she did, um... I mean she's partly responsible for pulling me into this uh, when she was in junior high school she had to do a major speech, a one-hour speech and she chose um, "Anti-Semitism uh, Nazism, and Hitler's Conquest of Western Europe" all in, in one-hour speech. But then she came home and she says, "Mom, will you be my visual aid?" And uh, that was one of the scariest experiences, postwar experiences that I remember, was to talk to a, a class of junior high school students about um, what it was like in the concentration camp but I couldn't turn her down. And then uh, in 1980 she was... My daughter is, has been in Israel for many years, she's gone to law school there, and she's about to become a lawyer and in 1980 she told me there was a first gathering of Holocaust survivors and was going to take place in Israel and she told me, "You have to come and we will go together." So, I, again, I did go and that was another turning point for me in terms of facing uh, the, the uh, the Holocaust background.

In the few minutes left um, is there some... anything you want to add in terms of the importance of making experiences like yours public? Education, your children, the next generation?

Well, I think, I think it is very important, I don't know uh, for all children or at what times or in what context or how you would approach it, but I think it's, it's part of our, it's part of our humanity or facing our humanity is to acknowledge what happened. Not just the Holocaust, other similar, comparable uh, experiences as well and I think if we don't, if our children don't know about that, then um, uh, how can we face the future?

Thank you.

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