Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Irene Petrinetz - October 25, 1982

Family Divided

Did you have any conversations before then?

[softly] No. We weren't allowed to talk. You had no chance; they didn't even give you a chance to say goodbye. Not a kiss, nothing. [sigh] [pause] After that, I kept on looking for her every day hoping to find her somewhere, until workers used to come in and tell us about the ovens and the gas chambers--the bath. I did see it at nights, the flames and the smoke. And then I knew that I never will see her again. There was one thing living with me, in me. That my father was a strong man and that maybe he'll survive it and I shall see him again. But that never happened either. He died somewhere in Germany, I was told by some tee... people that it was in Zeis.


Zeis, I believe. Z-E-I-S. A few days after liberation, he got sick, and he died. I was in Auschwitz for about six months. I wasn't living, I was just surviving. There are certain things sticking out in my mind. When they were taking us for showers, and "delousing," they called it, to different places. We were standing in line. I had a pair of old shoes on my feet and a torn dress, which I held on to it shouldn't fall off. This German woman, this beautiful woman with a dog came up to me and asked me why is my dress torn. I didn't know what to tell her. She hit--she slapped me.

For no reason?

Yes. [sigh] She said that I tore the dress purposely.

This was the same woman...

This was the same woman, yes. This was the same woman. Later on, they were taking people, we heard that they're taking people to different places to work. This was already in the fall, it was getting cold and they were--I believe they were starting to close up. I been in c lager. They were starting to close it up. They were taking out people each time more and more and more.

Did you know where they were taking them?

We had no idea. One day they--oh, I forgot to mention, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Me... Dr. Mengele when we got to Auschwitz.

The day you arrived or...

The day, the day I arrived and then later on too he used to come into the camp and he used to pick out the sick people. One day I had a very bad toothache, but I didn't dare to say anything to anybody, because if they took someone, they had a hospital, they took someone to the hospital, you never seen the person again. Nobody ever came out of the hospital. That was the end of them. They were taking uh, blood from young girls. They were offering extra rations of bread. Some took it because they were starved and they were hungry. I did not. When I went--when they took us from home, I weighed about seventy kilograms. When I came out, I was skin and bone. I never had a chance to see a mirror. There were no mirrors. First time I walked in town on the street and passed by a window and happened to glance in the window and that's when I saw myself first. I could not believe that it was me. I did not recognize myself. I'm jumping from one thing into another.

It's okay.

It's, it's hard to go in a straight line because [crying] all is very painful. After six months, somehow--I don't remember exactly how--I got into a transport. They said it taking us to Germany to work. [sigh] [pause] We were shipped to Germany, and I worked in Zittwerke, Zittau.

Can you spell that?

Zittau uh, I don't know. But it was Z...Z-I-T-O-U. I really don't know. It was an old plane uh, engine factory. There were 500--500 of us from Auschwitz. We were working uh, with the Wehrmacht, with the German soldiers. Some of them were quite decent. [pause] I was there--I was liberated there--I was there 'til the end.

What was the name of this place?

Zittwerke, Zittau. Zittau. You know that nobody ever mentioned it.

That was in Germany.

That was in Germany. That was in--actually it was in Germany but it was close to the, to the Sudeten.

Close to the Czech border?

Close to the Czech border, yes. That's where I was liberated by the Russian army.

Do you remember what month that was?

It was exactly the end of the war. Was, I believe May 4th, was it? Something like that. In the Spring of 1945. [pause] Spring of 1945. [pause] Should I say anything about the Russian, Russian army?


The Russian uh, soldiers?


Uh...The Russian army was another story. They had a lot to learn. We were happy to see 'em, since they liberated us. The night they started to bomb the city, the Germans took us in the basement and locked us up. We thought that's the end of us. We were afraid they gonna shoot us before the Russians had a chance to get to us. We stayed all night in the basement. In the morning, when it was daylight, we saw, we realized that the Germans are gone. We went out of the basement, and we were crying and screaming from happiness that they're gone and that we're free. We all went into town and started to look around and see--tried to get some clothes, some decent clothes and food, mainly food. After two, three days, the Russians really didn't care what we do. They didn't give us any help. They didn't care what we were doing. One of the girls got two oxen and a wagon because there were no trains or buses. We piled into the wagon and we started to go to the nearest town or where we found a train running. We got on the train, which was going to Prague. We got there late night. I didn't even think that it would be possible, or I didn't realize it that my brother is in the Czech army, with the Czech army there in Prague.

When did you find that out?

I found it out many months later. He was looking for me all over. I was extremely anxious to get home [crying] because I was hoping that my father will be waiting for me. It took three weeks to hitchhike, to get home. My feet were swollen from walking. Getting on trucks, wagons, any way I could to come home. When I got home, it was late night. I knocked on the house of the door where we used to live, and the woman who used to work for my mother and the man who worked for my father opened the door. They did not recognize me. They didn't want to let me in the house 'til I told them, "it's me, I'm back, I'm home." They settled in our house. They took over everything. The business, the house, the furniture, the belongings. They did a big favor that they let me in to sleep. Next morning I found out that I had an aunt who was in hiding who survived and he was-- she was in town. Somebody told her that I'm back and she came right away. I was still in bed. She told me later...

Who told you later?

My aunt.

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