Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986

Life in Amsterdam

The Jews were cleaning up the train. Let's go back to Amsterdam.

I think even Anna Frank mentions Auschwitz in her, in her diary, if I'm not mistaken.

As long as you brought her up, did you know her?

I... Yes, I knew her. I didn't know her very well. She... But um, our paths crossed a number of times. Uh, Anna Frank lived in Amsterdam and not very far from the neighborhood I lived in and um, as I said before, it was a small city, the Jewish community, at least the immigrant Jewish community was not that large and people knew each other and I knew, I knew what Anna Frank looked like but she was older and she wasn't in my school so I didn't really know her except that I knew one of her friends, who is um, Kitty Edjudie and, and she is the person who the diary is named after. She, she lived in my neighborhood around the corner and she and I were friends and through Kitty I knew about Anna. And then later on, I had another friend who was one of Anna Frank's best friends. She became my friend in Bergen-Belsen, that's Hannalea Gurslar. And through Hannalea I made contact with Anna in, in Bergen-Belsen.

Anne Frank talks about the star as a kind of turning point in her life, but do you remember when you had to wear the star? What, what was your reaction to that?

Well, it wasn't really a traumatic experience. I mean, of course, if you realized all of the implications that you were branded, but um, the Dutch people were very supportive and um, they made you feel like it, it was a privilege to be a Jew and you should be proud to wear the star and many Dutch people in the beginning wore the star, Gentile people. And so it seemed like a um, well, we are proud to be Jews and so, what is wrong with wearing the star? You know, it's a symbol of Jewishness, of, of uh, of the people you belong to. So in itself it wasn't that traumatic. Now it became, of course, a, um... There were difficulties attached with um, wearing the, the star because you had to have it on all the time, which meant you had to have a lot of stars, they had to be on all your garments. Uh, when the seasons changed and so on... Suppose you went out in a coat and you had the star on your coat but then it got warm and you took it off, you couldn't be starless, so that was a problem. People solved that problem by having little vests and wearing a vest over other things and the vest had the star. But um, the, the um, star was another way in which Nazis could abuse people, you know, by um, uh, Nazis could do anything they wanted any time. They could, let's say, rip off a star and say it wasn't sewn on properly and punish, punish you for that, or they could uh, stop you on the street, make you take off your coat, and if you didn't have a star on your dress you were wearing, your garment under your coat, they could punish you for that, you know, it was just used as a, a way of attacking people if it wasn't perfect. And um, in the camp too, we had to, to wear the star but I, I don't know, this may be kind of bizarre or perverse but um, um, I don't remember being hurt by having to, to wear the star and I still have a star which I have always saved and um, um, and it's, it's very important for me to still have that star.

You said uh, you used to go to school and, and uh, move through the city on a bicycle. What happened when they took away your bicycle when you weren't allowed to ride bicycles?

Yeah, that was very sad because in, in Holland um, uh, people are born on the bicycle. And it's just, that's the vehicle you use from very young on, so I, I think I was very hurt when I had to turn in my bicycle. Also, I had very fond memories uh, because my father and my brother and I used to go on bicycle rides in the country quite a bit and so we couldn't do that anymore. So, so that was uh, uh, definitely a loss, not having a bicycle anymore.

Uh, after you were miraculously saved from the, the theater that one time um, what was the condition of your family at that point? Were you secure? Did you feel that uh, you had faced the worst?

Oh, no, no, we knew that was just a reprieve and, and, um... You know, I don't know how realistic or unrealistic we were. I have the feeling we always knew that the day would come. Our day would come and we would have to go. And there was never any security, because you didn't know when this would, this moment would come, and you always had to be on the alert, and you always had to be ready. And...

Was there talk of hiding, going into hiding?

Yes. There was talk of going into hiding and um, well, I think my parents were very ambivalent about the hiding. I mean, there were two major problems. One was finding a place to hide and uh, having enough money, you know uh, having enough money so that you felt you could pay the people who would hide you for as long as that would take and, and there was no way of predicting how long that would take. And once you went into hiding, you had no food coupons, they had to be bought on the black market. And they were very expensive, so going into hiding uh, you know, it's really, people had to have resources to go into hiding, most... Or either resources or find somebody in a rural area on a farm or in the country who was willing to do it without having the guarantee of money. And the other was, it was very dangerous. In a way, you see, we did not believe, at that time, that once we were deported, we would be killed and so when those people who went into hiding, when they were caught, were frequently shot right on the spot. And so, it was weighing the risks of uh, going into hiding or going ahead and see whether we, maybe we'll survive even if, if we get deported. And I remember that the day when we did get arrested the second time um, there was a big Razzia and um, I think it was our neighbors came, they had heard it on the radio, and they knew it before, and we were warned the day before, I think, the night before, I don't know, but it then did come early on, I think it was Sunday morning and my father had found a place for my brother and myself and he said he wanted us to hide in the attic and then our neigh... He had told the neighbor where it was, and our neighbor would then take us to this place after the Razzia was over and things were safe. But, as young as we were then uh, twelve and fourteen, we knew that um, sometimes when the Nazis came to a house and they knew there was a family of four and two, two of four were not there, they would shoot the two that were there, and so my brother and I said we wouldn't go. So... Hiding somehow, it wasn't the choice that my parents made or, or one that they, that they put a lot of effort into seeking out.

Were you in a ghetto?


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