Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986


What happened at Westerbork?

Well, Westerbork um, the family was together um, in the same barrack. My, I think, uh... I can't remember too much about work. Some people worked and other... I think my mother worked in some kind of a sewing circle. I don't know if my father worked anymore. I can't remember that. Um, Westerbork was um, you know, it was pretty awful, but then in retrospect, it wasn't so awful, you know, because what came afterwards was so, so much worse, but I... First of all, we had very little food, we were hungry, there wasn't enough food, we were always hungry. Although we had a lot more food then later on and we were allowed to receive packages. And um, there were lice. It was the beginning of the lice and a lot of people had all their hair sh... um, shaven off. When we first arrived at night in Westerbork, I, I was, was a very frightening experience. We all had to take off our clothes. I'd never seen naked people before. I mean, that is the way I was raised and we didn't go to movies. I think I saw two movies before the war um, um, "Hansel and Gretel" and maybe "Snow White," and those were the only two movies. I didn't see what people saw, see these days. Uh, it was a very protected childhood in the sense, there was no television. I had never seen naked people before and, and we were just in a large room, everyone had to take their clothes off and go from one room to another being examined for this and that and if people had lice, then immediately, all the hair was shorn off and that, that is one of the most degrading, humiliating experiences to have all your hair removed. Um, luckily that didn't happen to us, but there was a lot of problems with lice all the time. There were other kinds of um, insects, horrible insects, I remember. Worms that, with wings that were around the lavatories, they had um, little buildings of lavatories. And um, I remember dreaming about those horrible worms. Um, we, we had to be um, um, the barrack always had to be tip-top shape, there was certain rules and regulations. Somebody could walk in and um, just pick on anything and beat you for whatever reason. Uh, the whole camp wasn't, wasn't all that uh, degrading um, but what made Westerbork such a horrible experience was that every week there was a train. And the whole life in Westerbork revolved around a one-week cycle. On Saturday, the train would come back and... See Westerbork was a camp that was built around a railroad track. The railroad track was in the center and then there were barracks and buildings on either side. And so, when that train was there, you had to see it all day long, you couldn't go anywhere without seeing that train, because it covered the entire length, length of the, of the camp and so it was just the doom and the gloom of life was that every week there was this train and it came on Saturday, then they cleaned it and it was Monday night, I believe, at midnight that they turn on the light in each barrack and read out the names of the people who would go. And you never knew, you never knew whether your name was going to be on that list that day, that night. And so if it wasn't, then um, then you were in despair because other people were going and if it was, well, then, you pretty much knew where you were headed. So, all night on Mondays you spent helping people pack. The people were going whose names had been read or you would go to other barracks and check on, on your friends and relatives, whether they had been called or not called. And then you would um, walk them to the train and say goodbye... and then the train would leave. I, I've never been able to get over it, because I have this reaction whenever I see a train, I still do. It's just somehow a part of me. There's something about trains that I have never been able to overcome. And that's what Westerbork was to me. It was the cycle of the trains.

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