Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986

Deportation to Westerbork

When did they come for you? What were the circumstances?

They, they... Well, it was, the circumstances were... It was relatively late in the game uh, my father worked with the, the Jewish organization that um, the Nazis used in all these countries. They used the Jews to help them deport all the, the rest of the Jews and my father had a job with this organization, um...

So it's Joodse Raad?

He, he lost his job... Pardon? Joodse Raad, yeah. He lost his job with American Express because they weren't allowed to hire, to continue to employ Jews. And then he was um, employed with the Joodse Raad and he had a, a job where, and I'm, I'm sure he's sincerely believed that he was able to help people, and he did in some sense, I, I cannot imagine that he considered himself part of the deportation machinery, although in some sense, maybe in retrospect, people would classify that way. His job was, he had a team of people working with him and they were allowed to go into the houses of Jews that had been deported and pack their belongings and ship them to the camps, to Westerbork that is. And that was my father's job. And um, because sometimes people were arrested without any warning and they had nothing prepared, and they just... Or they were just arrested on the street and they had no chance even to take what they had packed, so they went just in the clothes they had and so that was my father's position in the Joodse Raad. So, because he had that position, we uh, outlasted a number of these razzias. But it was when the majority of Jews had already been deported, that's when they resorted to this house-to-house search. And it was a, a Sunday morning, and we, we apparently had heard all about it and we were ready and you could watch them and they blocked off the entire neighborhood and then you just watched until they come to your door. And they came and it was, it was June 23 in 1943 and it was a very hot day, but since we knew about it, we wore several layers of clothes because you can only carry so much and so in order to have more clothes, we wore several layers of clothes and then had the rest of what we were taking in a rucksack and then some food and some kind of other bag and um, we had to walk quite a bit because um, they, you know, there was, there were hundreds of people involved and they didn't have vehicles, so we had to walk to one gathering point and then to another and eventually, ended up at a train station where they had um, the cattle cars waiting for us. And um, I think it was reasonably early in the morning, like 10:00 in the morning, very hot day and um, just remember being um, perspiring all the time and having to carry a lot of heavy things and walking long distances and eventually, they loaded in, in the cattle cars, about um, sixty people in, in one car with one bucket of water and one bucket for, as toilet. And I don't remember how many hours we were in, in this train, it seemed like eternity. But actually the distance that we traveled... Like today it would take maybe three hours on a train to get from Amsterdam to, to that area and it, it seemed like um, it took uh, forever, and, and I do know that by the time we got to Westerbork it was late at night, when we arrive there. So, we were, all these hours, we were crammed into the cattle car and um, there were, of course, people with varying reactions. Some were very old and very sick, some were petrified, some... there were crying babies, and um, some people tried to keep up the spirit and sang songs.

What did you do?

I think I was kind of... The, the one thing I kept thinking about is, I thought that when I would come to Westerbork, I would see this boy who had written me a card. I was thinking about that but uh, I was also upset 'cause there were a lot of people who were, who were very upset and uh, I hadn't seen people in that frame of mind before.

When you were waiting for them to come, was there any conversation, at home?

I don't remember. I just remember the inci... the incident of my father wanting to persuade us to hide in the attic and after that, I don't remember. I think we were just waiting in, in fear.

Did you talk be... before when all this was getting worse by the day, did you ever sit and talk with your brother, your father, your mother?

Not specifically, you know, not about what will happen to us or, or anything like that. I remember that um, my mother had a bar of chocolate and uh, when a birthday... You know, at that point there was nothing you could buy anymore, very few things you could buy, and when a birthday came, then they always got out this bar of chocolate for the celebration but we wouldn't eat it and, and the wish would be that there would be another birthday to have this chocolate. But um, I think my parents felt that, that even when we get deported, you know, we would probably survive. I don't think anyone thought of gas chambers then. Or um, you know, I mean the Nazis uh, told you, you were going to a work camp, you know, you're just going to a camp, and I think people denied the um, severity of the situation and while it was cruel and horrible to leave everything behind and have your life disrupted but I think we believed we would survive.

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