Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986


You were six years old when you went to Amsterdam. Uh, what were your first impressions, what, what do you remember about the initial years?

Well, in the beginning it was a little difficult, because I didn't know Dutch. I went to school right away, and um, remember, you know, a little bit of harassment by kids. Kids are cruel all over the world. But I learned very quickly, I learned the language and this was in '37, the war started in '41 or '40, I forgot when Hitler um, invaded the Netherlands, so I remember those as being very happy childhood years in the Netherlands, certainly before the war, before the invasion. Uh, we lived um, in Amsterdam, which is a very nice city. We had quite a number of um, friends and, and quite a number of relatives, as a matter of fact, and um, there was a lot of happiness. It was carefree until conditions changed.

Um, did you find non-Jewish friends as well as Jewish friends?

Yes, yes.

Uh, was there... Were you ever aware of the distinction between your non-Jewish friends and you and what was that like?

Well, my immediate neighborhood, I, I don't think any of the neighborhood children were Jewish, although we lived in that part of Amsterdam where most of the Jews lived, but on my street, the kids I played with were not Jewish. And uh, many of the children in the school that I attended were not Jewish and my best friend was not Jewish. And uh, I remember feeling different from them in that way, because they celebrated different holidays, they went to church on Sundays, I went to temple on Saturdays. Um, this was, I think, I knew I was Jewish and they were not and they knew that I was Jewish and they were not. But it, it wasn't a problem. But it, it was certainly a conscious situation.

Was there any anti-Semitism connected with it that you remember?

I don't remember any anti-Semitism that ever personally affected our, our lives from uh, while we lived in Holland, I'm sure there was lots of it, and uh, I've heard other people talk about it, but I didn't experience it. And we, for example, we had um, the, the house we lived in, there weren't any Jewish families, and we... Our neighbors were very close friends of my parents and in the end um, meant a great deal because um, one of our neighbors was a photographer, and because he was a photographer and had many pictures in her house, she offered to save our photographs for us because she felt that if the Nazis came and saw pictures in her house, it wouldn't look, it, it wouldn't be an obvious um, giveaway because Gentiles were not allowed to associate with Jewish people after awhile. So she saved all our photographs and, of course, this is a tree... had been a tremendous treasure to my family after the war that we had all these pictures of relatives who did not survive, and I know many families who don't have that and it's, it's an irreplaceable thing. So our neighbors um, cooperated with us and protected us in any way they could. And after the war, we had a lot of contact and this one couple that lived in the apartment uh, one floor on top is still alive in the Netherlands now and I visit them whenever I'm there and uh, they are in their eighties. He's eighty-seven and she's eighty-two. And uh, we have a very strong bond. These, these are the only people left from before the war that I knew that, that still live in the Netherlands and each time, I don't know whether I'll see them again, but uh, uh, that relationship has been a very important relationship to me throughout my life.

Um, before we talk a little about the war years, do you remember if, if your parents received correspondence or if you received correspondence with your family in Germany after you moved?

Well, yes because the first few years between '37 and '40 there was no problem. My grandparents even came and visited us from Berlin one summer and we received... There was free flow of the mail, so we even had relatives come through. I know one of my father's brothers, he lived with us for a while and then later on he spent a good part of the, the war in Belgium. But he lived with us for a while and other people came through, friends of my parents came through on their way to the United States, for example.

Did you every hear any discussions about what was, was happening in Germany in your house?

I, I don't remember.

At what point during, during the war was there still correspondence even then?

No, no, all that stopped during the war.

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