Holocaust survivor shares her memoir at Ann Arbor library

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 - 9:48pm

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Emma Richter/Daily

Author Irene Butter, a retired Public Health professor, presented her book “Shores Beyond Shores, From Holocaust to Hope: My True Story” at the Ann Arbor District Library Tuesday evening. Originally from Berlin, Butter is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She arrived in the United States on Dec. 24, 1945.

The Holocaust lasted from 1941 to 1945, where Jews and other groups were systematically tortured and exterminated by the Nazis throughout camps in Europe. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, approximately 6 million Jews, and many others from other groups, were killed.

Library Director Josie Parker introduced Butter, giving positive reviews of Butter’s book for its enlightening and moving content.

“It’s a very different story than many of you might think of or read in the past regarding the Holocaust,” Parker said. “It’s inspiring. It’s moving. It awakens your spirit in a time when we really that.”

Butter began by explaining how she came about to write the book with her co-authors, Kris Holloway and John Bidwell. Holloway was a former student of Butter’s and Butter met Bidwell through her. She explained that their goal was to recapture childhood memories Butter had at each stage of her Holocaust experience.

“The guiding principle throughout our journey was to recapture the (course) of the child at each stage in this narrative,” Butter said. “There are many memoirs about the Holocaust, yet how children lived through these experiences, what they heard, what they saw and what they felt has really been revealed.”

Holloway felt it was important to document what life was like for Irene before the Holocaust began.

“An important part for me of writing the book was to portray the early years before all the horror happened,” Holloway said.

Holloway then went on to read a section of the book detailing Butter’s first experience seeing a “Jews Forbidden” sign while biking.

Bidwell then read a section of the book detailing Butter’s experience in Bergen-Belsen as the camp became overcrowded and hunger more prevalent.

“As the food hit my lips, my body wanted to slurp down every last drop and chew every last crumb,” Bidwell read. “Maybe, maybe this is how vampires feel about blood.”

After working with Detroit and Ann Arbor students, Butter explained that she feels students see the importance of tolerance and have a desire for stories that bring hope.

“Students recognize that all of us are responsible for each other regardless of our color, religion or race,” Butter said. “We are all hungry for stories of hope and triumph over tragedy.”

Butter explained the impact of a marriage between her Jewish daughter and a Palestinian man.

“My granddaughters were born in Israel to a Jewish mother, my daughter, and a Palestinian father,” Butter said. “This has not always been easy for them. But I’ve learned that the surest path to peace may be when the other becomes your own.”

In a question and answer portion, Butter answered a question regarding what “Never Again,” a phrase dedicated to genocide awareness, means to her.

“‘Never Again’ is a wish,” Butter said. “So far, I would say it has been an unfulfilled promise. Just seeing it doesn’t make it happen. I think a lot more has to go on before ‘Never Again’ can become a reality.”

Butter then reflected upon her relationship with Anne Frank. Although she did not know her well, Butter lived near Frank when in Amsterdam, and eventually ended up at Bergen-Belsen with her. Butter was friends with Frank’s close friend Hanneli Goslar, and the two threw clothes to Frank when she did not have any in Bergen-Belsen.

“One day she (Hanneli) found out that Anne was in a joining (camp) separated by barbed wire,” Butter said. “She found out her sister (Margot) was too sick to come to the fence and she didn’t have any clothing, only a grey blanket wrapped around her, so Hanneli said she would try and find some clothing and come back the next night.”

Butter explained that the next day someone else picked up the clothing bundle they threw over the fence, but the pair tried again with another bundle and Frank received it.

Ann Arbor resident Helen Aminoff‘s family came to the United States from England at the beginning of World War II without any trouble. At the event, Aminoff explained she felt fortunate that her family could come to the US before the borders closed.

“We were very fortunate,” Aminoff said. “We did not have anyone who died in the Holocaust. I have so many friends who lost family members. I usually get very annoyed with people who deny the Holocaust and say it didn’t happen. It’s not true. Check your facts.”