Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Hasenberg Butter - September 22, 1986

Obtaining Passports

How many Mondays went by at Westerbork?

Well, it, we were there from June, June of '43 'til February of '44, so we were there about eight months and I don't think it came every week. I don't... In the Anna Frank House in Amsterdam, they have a list of all the trains that left Westerbork and all the dates and how many people went on each train. But I think sometimes they skipped because the decisions were made somewhere, I don't know, but um, still there were quite a lot of Mondays before... while we were there. And um, well the strange thing that happened that affected my family and shaped our future was that uh, we received some papers that protected us from going to Auschwitz and um, this I consider one of the miracles in, in my story was that when we were still in Amsterdam, my father one day met a friend of his on the street and this friend said, "You know, there's this man in Sweden and he sends out passports and what you should do is write to him and send him some pictures and um, maybe you'll get passports." This friend of my father's had just gotten his passports and usually passports were fake passports of South American countries. And it meant that you had... If you had a passport, meant you were a citizen of that country and that meant the Nazis couldn't touch you, by international laws, anyway. And so my father did that. Immediately, he, he sent four pass... four um, passport pictures and he wrote to, with this man as though he were an old acquaintance and, and he said uh, "I'm sure you wonder about... We haven't been able to write you for a long time and you probably wonder what the kids look like and I'm enclosing some pictures," and he sent out this letter. And after we were already in Westerbork, one day, these passports had arrived in Amsterdam and they were forwarded to us in Westerbork. And uh, my parents just couldn't believe it when they opened up the mail that, you know, that, first of all, that they had come and secondly, that they had been forwarded to us. And that immediately changed our status in Westerbork. Uh, it didn't diminish the horror of the Mondays of the trains but um, and, and you never could be sure about anything in a camp or during the war but, you know, by certain rules, we probably were not going to be sent to Auschwitz. Uh, because of those passports. And um, my mother told me um, not a few years ago, something that I hadn't known before that, that at one time while we were in Westerbork, we were on the list and uh, my father had a, had a friend--he was his buddy during World War I, my, my father fought in the German army and that was his buddy--and this man and his wife also moved to the Netherlands from Germany and they lived in the eastern part of the Netherlands and um, they were amongst the first people to be deported to Westerbork. And the first people... Since they arrived as some of the first people, they had elite status in the camp because it's the first people who get the jobs and then usually um, in those jobs you're protected for some time. So they had, he had some kind of position in Westerbork where he could influence the um, the powers that be. And so one time, we were on a list and he managed to get us off. And my mother told me this but, of course, that was... I didn't know it at the time but of course that's a, that's a horrible experience, too. On one hand, you don't go but someone else goes because the number that has to go on that train is fixed. So, when your life is saved or when you're protected from that train, that's not an unmixed blessing for any, any person experiencing that. So that, that is what did happen one time. And then those papers came and uh, it is because of these papers that we were sent to Bergen-Belsen in February of 1944.

What was the state of your family's health at that point? Was everybody well?

Yes. I um, my family was probably um, um, getting thinner um, but, you know, food, um... We had already experienced some food deprivation before being deported because food was getting scarcer all the time. In the camp there was more food deprivation. Um, we were all thinner but uh, the only person who was in my family who was sick was myself. I had um, hepatitis and had to be hospitalized for a while. And um, yeah, that was also one of the really traumatic experiences for me in Westerbork because I had to be in quarantine and so my parents couldn't come and visit me. And being in the hospital there was um, was just awful, because um, one thing that um, occurred in the hospital, is sometimes they brought in um, people who came from other camps and were very sick or they, um... I saw people who had attempted to commit suicide. They would be brought in and their stomachs would be pumped out and um, there were people who were going insane, who were just uh, screaming all night. So um, that hospital experience was um, was awful. I, I think I was there for two weeks.

This was in 1943 still?


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