Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Petrinetz - October 25, 1982

Arriving At Auschwitz

Explain to me more specifically what, what happened actually when you arrived.

When we arrived, just like you see it, the, the movies are very, very real what they're showing or the documentaries on televisions. When we arrived they opened the doors and they pushed everyone out. And they separated the men from the women. Children separate. They grabbed many children out of their mother's arms. I was hanging onto my mother. As I told you before, this Mengele was standing there and he was just going. "This one to the right, this one to the left. Men here. Children here." There was a lot of screaming, yelling. Nobody--we didn't know where we were. We never heard of Auschwitz; that was a top secret. There were Polish Jews already there for four, five years. We never heard of it. We never knew they existed. I saw, one night I heard a lot of screaming and yelling. And I looked out from the barrack and that's when they brought in the Jews from Lodz One night they brought in Gypsies. The Germans didn't only hate Jews, they hated Gypsies too. They brought in I don't know how many loads of Gypsies. They exterminated them. I was in Auschwitz, and they called it Lager C they call uh, for "C". Next the, behind the barbed wire on the other side were the Czechs, the Czech Jews. They were there already. I don't know how long that time, when they brought us in. On the end of their barracks, I see one day that the Kommandos are pulling out skeletons. People, dead people. Skin and bone. And throwing them on a two-wheel wagon. It was for the people who starved, who went to the hospitals and that was going on daily. One day they led them out for the crematoriums. When we marched down that certain street--well our street it wasn't a street, just between the barbed wires, and we saw those people with--

[interruption in interview] They... got us into a building, and they told us to take off all our clothes.

That's when you first arrived?

When we arrived. We got off the train. We walked for a little while 'til we got to this building. They told us to take off all our clothes. We were totally... I can't say surprised, we were, we were bewildered; we didn't know what was happening. With a German soldier standing there, women and, and children and old and young. We were supposed to get undressed stark naked. They took uh, all our clothes. And then we had to stand in line, and they started to shave our heads and all the rest of the body wherever there was hair. Then we had to go throughout the shower, through a shower. And they they gave us some old raggedy clothes, not our own. Some different clothes. They took ours. Later on I found out that they went through all those clothes and they looked for jewelry, money, whatever, if people had something hidden in their clothes, shoes. From there they took us into the barracks. I don't know how many hundred were in a barrack. On one of the wooden, those wooden, they called it wooden perches. We were piled in like sardines. There were no blankets or anything so the sand from the shoes if were you were on the top on the bottom fell in your eyes, in your mouth, in your food, what they gave you. This sometimes even if they didn't make the bathroom, the bath, bathroom. They didn't make the toilet, it went right on you if you were in the bottom. I remember some woman was laying there. She was a diabetic. I didn't know it at that time. I had no idea about sicknesses. Now I know she was begging and crying for at least, for a cube of sugar because she didn't have her insulin. In the morning, she was gone.

Gone where?

They took her. They took her. They took her. And things like that. And every morning with the Zahlappell with the counting. And this woman, this blonde, she was beautiful, but she was the meanest thing on two feet. Boots, the German shepherd with her by her side, and she walked around with a horse whip and was hitting her boots. And her eyes were sparkling fire. Everybody was frightened and scared of her.

Did you ever see her...

She was...

Beat anybody?

Yeah, she gave me a ??? I told you before. She said that I tore my dress, and that I was lying and she gave me a big thrusk. I think she was caught when the war ended. I don't know, I'm not sure, but I think she was. I remember Mengele did his--Dr. Mengele I should say--did his duty on--as the train arrived standing there in his impeccable, clean, pressed uniform and shiny boots. He was a very handsome man. He did his dirty work. My aunt from my father's side--no, from my mother's side and my cousin were there too. My aunt died. I don't know when or where; we were separated. And this one cousin, she was the only survivor. She lives in New York. I don't know where she, where they took her afterwards from Auschwitz. What else you wanna ask?

What else--what did you do everyday in, in Auschwitz?

Everyday? [laugh] In Auschwitz? Stood to Appell. We were counted twice a day. Otherwise...


It wasn't a working camp.

Where you were wasn't a working camp?

No. This wasn't a working camp. After a few months when they, when I was transported to Germany, that's over there that's where we worked.

You think you were...


In Lager C for six months?

This was, this--yeah. This was uh, this was strictly exterminating uh, uh section. How I dodged it for that many months, I don't know, because this wasn't, this wasn't a working uh, section.

So, so by the end of the year you were transferred to the, to the Wehrmacht camp?

Well it wasn't--it, it was towards the end. It started to--I remember it was getting cold. It was maybe October. Uh, actually I think the Russians were coming closer and closer. They started clearing out people out there. I don't exactly know when Auschwitz was liberated, but it was uh, I believe it was sooner than the end of the war. And I was in Zittau in Germany 'til the end of the war.

So you were there five, six months.

I was...


Yeah. Half, half, half the time. About six months in one, six months in the other. Uh, for a year. [pause]

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