Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Petrinetz - October 25, 1982

Collecting The Pieces

Did you ever try to get your house back from the people that were living there?

I did live there for a few weeks before I left. It was a big house. I sort of uh, fixed up one room for myself. They stayed in the other, other part of the house. And after I left, I didn't care what happens to the house or whatever I left behind. It was uh, I didn't want to live under the Russian rule.

When your, when your husband-to-be--


Alex. Uh, did he come looking for you? Being sent by your brother Marcel?

No, he came looking for his family. We come from same town. He came looking for his, who, who came back, who--whether someone survived. He came looking whether anything left of his house, of their property. And one evening I--no he looked me up. He brought me that from uh, no I met him somewhere one evening and I was asking him whether he heard of my brother and he said, "Yes, he's in Prague." He saw him. And he took message back to him that I'm alive and I'm home.

And then Marcel came?

And then Marcel came to get me, yeah.


We didn't stay. We stayed one or two days maybe, that's all. We had to get out of there because the Russians closing the borders. Unfortunately for few Jews who stayed there, some are still alive, some are already dead after so many years. Not too many stayed. Few.

So you went with your brother and your uncle to Prague?

Went with them to Prague.

How long were you there?

And from Prague we went to town called Camogli. We fell in love there [laughing] And uh, they started a business there...

Who started?

and we were there for about... My brother and my uncle. And we were there 'til 1948, when we got our visas...

In Camogli?

In Camogli. When we got our visas to come to United States. You know. And uh, from--we arrive to New York and from New York we went to El Paso, Texas where my husband--where my uh, uncle lived. And that's another chapter of my life...

That Uncle Morris?

Uncle Morris. That's another chapter of my life. He had--well, I don't know how to say he had a wife who was an extremely jealous person. Not that only on me but everybody else.

You're talking about Uncle Morris?

Uncle Morris. He had a very unfortunate, bad marriage with this wife. I stayed with them for about three months, and then I rented a room with a Jewish lady, a Jewish lady's house. And I got a job in El Paso.

Doing what?

I was selling in a store. They were very nice to me. I lived there three years. And then Alex came from Israel to Canada and that's how I came to Detroit, cause Alex was in Windsor. And after three months--

Was he looking for you?

Well, we were, we were writing to each other. We were writing to each other. He had no--he didn't have any papers to come to this country after the war.

Was he in Camogli all that time?

He was, yeah. We lived in one building. We lived in one building, but we were going together but we weren't married. We were only married here. First he went from Camogli--I came to this country with my brother...

And your Uncle Adolph?

and Uncle Adolph, yes. And I left Alex behind, and Alex went to Israel. He was there... [unidentified speaker]: Two and a half years.

Two and a half years. I sent him papers to come to Canada, to Windsor. That's where I came from El Paso to Detroit.

By yourself?

With Marcel. Marcel came with me.

What happened to your Uncle Adolph?

Uncle Adolph uh, eventually got married...

In El Paso?

No. In Los Angeles. And he's still living there with his wife.

When you worked in El Paso with Marcel, did he go with you to...

Yeah. Sure. He came--all three of us came to this country together because Uncle Adolph is a brother of Uncle Morris. Uncle Morris...

Your father's brothers?

Yeah. Uncle Morris, Uncle Adolph, my father. There were no other brothers what I remember, and there was a half sister in New York. Aunt, Aunt Frida.

How old was...

The rest of them.

How old was your father when he died? IP:???

Uncover your mike there.

Oh. I thought he was born in 1902. And we were taken in 19....

He was there about forty-seven...

Yeah. Young man. And my mother was four years younger.

So about thirty-nine?



No. [unidentified speaker] ???

They were, they were young. And we were happy. They were awful nice. And [pause] I was gonna say uh, ??? if I say I wish that this had never happened. It can't be changed; it did happen. And as I said before I only hope that nothing even similar happens ever again.

Still after all these years it's hard for you to accept it?

Oh, you never accept it. We can never accept it. It's, it's still unbelievable to me. I came to this country many times uh, in the beginning people, you know, you met especially in El Paso, there weren't too many survivors. There were only about uh, I met maybe three, four uh, people, survivors because whole Jewish population was very small in El Paso in those days. And if anyone asks me about uh, what happened, I never uh, spoke of it. I never, I was very reluctant to tell anything because I felt that they wouldn't believe it anyhow. I don't think they would have believed me. Look what's happening now. People write books that it's a myth, it never happened. So... [unidentified speaker]: ??? happened.

Well, people who lived it--true. They know that it happened. Sure. I knew that it happened. I knew it. First, I thought it very hard to talk about it. Second, I was convinced that nobody would believe me. And then why tell 'em?

Did you ever tell your children in detail?

My children, know. Most of the things I went through--I did, when years ago when they used to have either movies or documentaries on television and they used to see it and they asked me whether that's how it happened. And I told 'em. They are very much aware of it and they know what happened. One of 'em told me once, "Mother, how come you didn't fight back? They could never take me the way they took you." And I hope that he won't have to fight for this. Why I didn't fight? I don't know. We weren't the type of people who would pick up guns and fight. Maybe we should've. Nobody told us. Nobody warned us. [unidentified speaker]: ???

Nobody believed in fighting or having guns. Who had guns? We lived with open doors. There were very seldom robberies or killings. We just didn't know how. We never thought that we should fight for our lives. It was different with us--it was different with us in uh, in Poland the Jews were for a long time closed in ghettos. They organized themselves. We were not organized at all. We were more like taken by surprise. We knew, we knew that things were happening and it was bad, but there was nobody to organized us, to get guns and to fight and... Who we gonna fight? Two armies? The German and the Hungarian army?

Did you, did you--you didn't know where you were being taken. ???

No. No. No. We had no idea. I saw my father once. Somehow he was brought into the camp for a short time. I was walking around on the camp ground and I saw them bringing in men and I start looking for him.

This is while you were in Auschwitz you're talking about?

While in Auschwitz. And I had a split second chance to see him. He used to have a mustache, even his mustache was shaven off. And he just told me, "Try to get out of here. Volunteer for work. Get out of here." I suppose he had the idea, the picture of it, better than I did. I was too naïve, too young and too naïve. I could not imagine that any human being could uh, do what they did. I was nineteen years old. I, I couldn't imagine that--I knew it was bad--but I could not imagine that something like this could happen.

Even while you were at Auschwitz?

While I was in Auschwitz, I saw it that it was bad. You heard, there were rumors. There were stories... always somebody uh, man working, cleaning toilets used to come in and they were saying, "Well, only way out from here--see those chimneys? The only way out from here is through the chimney." The only thing, the only way that, that the people who were taken, the people who survive and they were taken uh, if they didn't get sick and they survive it like I did, it's just that because the war ended. I don't know how I could have uh, gone on yet. I have no idea. But uh, many, many, many millions left through the chimney, not through the gates.

[interruption in interview] The advice I could give my children today that yes, they should get guns and they should fight back. Or go and live in our country, in Israel. But they were born here. They consider this country their country. If they let them. But yes. Even I would fight today. I don't know how much I could. I don't know how much, how much... Uh, maybe, maybe the idea of it, if God forbid anything would happen, maybe the idea of it to fight for my children would put some fight in me again. But I'm not a fighter; I'm not a killer. Never was, neither were my parents. I told my children many of times that I paid very dearly for my Jewishness, and that's why I would never deny it. Never. It was a big price to pay because we never hurt anyone. How very proud and pleased that we have a country today. [pause] For us. One more thing I want to say, what bothered me for many, many years while I was raising my children, that [crying] my children never had the pleasure of having grandparents. I think that they missed a lot. I never was able to leave 'em for five minutes. I had no parents to take 'em to, leave 'em with. And they never, never enjoyed the love of grandparents. They never know what it is and that hurts me a lot. I hope one day I have grandchildren. I'm able to enjoy 'em. I don't think I live so long that they will be able to understand what happened to their great-great-grandparents.

Now your oldest is going to be married soon, huh?

The oldest is going to be married soon. And I hope that one day the youngest one is gonna find someone who he loves and marries too.

You have two sons, Jeffery and Ronnie?

Two sons: Jeffery and Ronnie, yes. And I love 'em very much.

And how old are they now?

One is twenty-six and one is twenty-four. And they're good boys. And they love us too. I know it.

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