Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Petrinetz - October 25, 1982

Introduction

This is an interview with Mrs. Irene Petrinitz in Southfield, Michigan on October 25, 1982. The interviewer is Robert Roth.

[interruption in interview]

My name is Irene Petrinitz Thirman. I was born in 1923, Uzhgorod, Czechoslovakia. I come from a family of four. My parents, my brother, and myself had a very happy childhood until 1938 'til the Hungarians occupied Czechoslovakia. Um, at that point problems started. Hungarians started... it--it's alright if, uh...

Sure.

If it's running if I, uh...Uh, the Hungarians started taking away permits from Jewish businessmen, putting restrictions on different occupations. After a while my father lost his business permit. He had a uh, oh God, can't get my thoughts together--he had a transport, successful transportation business. He was one of the ten top businessmen in town. After losing his permit he started working on a gentile... ??? with gentile worker's name. That went on until 1944 when the Germans came into our town. [sigh] At that period things started going rapidly. Wait a minute. I should have said something more about the...

Go ahead, uh.

Uh, about um, childhood. I jumped from one and the other.

What...

I should have made some notes for myself.

That's okay. Uh, what were your parents' names?

My father's name was Joseph. My mother's name was Serena.

And your brother?

I--and my brother's name was Marcel. We had an uncle living with us who is still alive; his name is Adolph and he lives in California. In 1938, when the Hungarian army occupied Uzhgorod, I was a young teenager and I was extremely upset to see the Czechs leaving us and the h... Hungarians occupying us. I had Czech schools, grew up through a Czech government uh, emphasizing a democratic government. When the Hungar... Hungarians came in, things started to get worse. My uncle Adolph who lived with us was taken by the Hungarians into the army first. Later on in forced labor camp. So was my brother who was a young man.

How old was he at that time?

He must have been about--wait a minute, he was born in 1921, so must have been about uh, nineteen, twenty. He was away in a business school. He bra... he bra... he came home once things started to get bad. [long pause] He was taken by the Hungarians in a forced labor camp. That about destroyed my mother. He was gone for number of years. Once in a while came home to visit. Even there my mother was able to go and visit him, but very, very seldom. Stop it for minute and let, so I can.

Oh.

Yeah?

That's okay.

I'm trying to...I should have made myself some uh, notes of this, uh...

What are you trying to...

too. Well, I'm trying to remember the events, you know, how it went on [sigh] uh... From 1938 on, since we were occupied by the Hungarians, things were getting worse and worse. Jewish kids could not enter universities. As I said before, businesses were closed, taken away. Life was getting rough. I was a young teenager and I took it pretty hardly since I was the only one remaining at home and I was trying to help all I could my father to run the business. [sigh] He was, my father... [crying] he wasn't like a father to me. He was my friend. And I saw him being destroyed day by day, worrying about us. He ask me several times to take some money and leave town. Go away, go in hiding. I could not imagine myself leaving them behind...not knowing what would happen to them. So I stayed, and I was hoping that my brother, wherever he is, we did not know any more about him, that he would be able to hide somewhere and stick out 'til the end of the war and survive. [sigh]

Did you...

Well...

Go ahead.

Go ahead. No, go ahead, ask.

No, I don't want to...

When the Germans came... before we knew the Germans were already in town and we knew that they'd be taking us. They took us in a place where they used to make uh, what it is called um, bricks. It was a huge, huge pla... place on the end of town. They took all the Jews from the surrounding areas, from villages, from the whole town. I don't know how many thousands. There were no, no facilities for showers or, or toilets. They were locked--we were locked up like animals and treated that like such. At that point, I was glad and happy that my brother wasn't home and with us. Before they took us from our house, my father sat down [crying] and wrote a last letter to his son saying goodbye, which he didn't know whether it ever reach him or not. Never did I see my father cry inside, that time he sat at the table and he was sobbing as he was saying goodbye to his son. That was the worst thing for me to see my father totally destroyed and giving up. I still have the letter somewhere; I'm gonna find it. [sigh] Somehow, I don't know how, the letter came-- got here to the United States. My father had a brother here living in this country. He saved the letter and gave it to me when we came here. Few days later the Germans and the Hungarians came to our door and escorted us out of the house. The house which my father built, worked hard, it was our home, and we had to just march out of it, leave everything behind, not to even look back. After keeping us four weeks on outskirts of town, they were taking transports each day in the cattle wagons. We had no idea where. One day it was our time. They took us. We had a very old aunt--sick aunt--living with us. [sigh] They put us all in our--in the cattle wagons. As we were walking to the train the Hungarian, the Hungarians police shoved and pushed my mother for no reason at all with a bag on our backs. I tell my ??? go out for her. [crying] We were five days in the cattle wagon going, going. They never opened it. No air, no bathroom. Just buckets. After five days, they opened--finally the train stopped--they opened the door. We didn't know where we were. [sigh] As we got off the train they took all our baggages. Whatever we had with us. I held onto my mother and they pushed my father to another side. My father, my idol! [sobbing] I never saw him again. [pause] As we were marching down the street, we saw barbed wires, people looking out with shaven heads. We thought that they were crazy. In a short time, we looked just as crazy as them. My mother was with me for a few days in the barracks. I could not swallow the food they threw at us. It was bread. It was full of mud and dirt. It was impossible to eat it. They gave one pot to a dozen of people. No dishes, no spoons. Just like we're cattle. We had to get up every morning, stand in line of five, and we were counted. That went on twice a day. And if the count wasn't right, you had to stand for hours 'til they found what was wrong, who was missing. Missing, that's a laugh. Nobody could get away. After a few days [pause] in the morning, when they were counting us, the Germans came. There was a beautiful German woman, but she was only beautiful on the outside. She was the meanest thing on earth. Her name was Grace. She walked around with a German shepherd dog and with a horse whip in her hand, boots and uniform. She pointed at my mother, she had to step out of the row, and was taken away. I never saw her again. I was numb. I didn't know what to do. I went to the main gate and looked for her, but she was gone.


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