Irene’s first person Holocaust memoir, Shores Beyond Shores , is an account of how the heart keeps its common humanity in the most inhumane and turbulent of times.
Irene’s childhood is cut short when she and her family are deported to Nazi-controlled prison camps and finally Bergen-Belsen, where she is a fellow prisoner with Anne Frank. Later forbidden from speaking about her experiences by the American relatives who cared for her, Irene is now making up for lost time. Irene has shared the stage with peacemakers such as the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Elie Wiesel, and she considers it her duty to tell her story now and on behalf of the six million other Jews who have been permanently silenced.
Book long description:Irene Butter’s memoir of her experiences before, during and after the Holocaust is not a recounting of misery and tragedy; rather it is the genuine story of a girl coming to terms with a terrible event and choosing to view herself as a survivor instead of a victim. When the Dutch police knock on their door, Irene and her family are forced to leave their home and board trains meant for cattle. They are taken to Nazi-controlled prison camps and finally to Bergen-Belsen, where Irene is a fellow prisoner with Anne Frank. With limited access to food, shelter, and warm clothing, Irene’s family needs nothing short of a miracle to survive. Irene’s memoir tells the story of her experiences as a young girl before, during, and after the Holocaust, highlighting how her family came to terms with the catastrophe and how she, over time, came to view herself as a survivor rather than a victim. Throughout the book, her first-person account celebrates the love and empathy that can persist even in the most inhumane conditions.
Irene’s words send a poignant message against hate at a time when anti-Semitic, fascist and xenophobic movements around the globe are experiencing a resurgence. Irene, through her book, reminds us of the impact one person can have in choosing to follow the mantra, ‘never a bystander’ — a phrase she adopted only 33 years ago, after her own voice was silenced by her cousins in the years after the Holocaust. Now, Irene Hasenberg Butter is a well-known inspirational speaker on her experiences during World War II.
|Publisher:||Easton Studio Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Irene Hasenberg Butter is a well-known peace activist, Holocaust survivor, and Professor Emerita of Public Health at the University of Michigan. She is a frequent and favored inspirational speaker, talking about her experience during World War II and stressing the importance of “never a bystander” and that “one person can make a difference.” Irene is a co-founder of Zeitouna, an organization of Jewish and Arab women working for peace, and a founder of the Raoul Wallenberg Project at University of Michigan.
John D. Bidwell is consulting editor of Monique and the Mango Rains, the critically esteemed book authored by his wife Kris Holloway that chronicles their time in the Peace Corps with the Malian midwife Monique Dembele. He is the Executive Director of the United Way, Hampshire County and has lectured and taught at the University of Michigan, University of Massachusetts, Smith College, and Marlboro College. John has his BA from McGill University.
Kris Holloway is author of the critically acclaimed Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali, which has been called “a respectful, unsentimental portrait [and] a poignant and powerful book.” (Kirkus, Starred Review). She has delivered hundreds of presentations, and the book remains a favorite “common read” and is used in 150+ college and university courses. Kris is President of CISabroad, a leading education abroad organization responsible for sending thousands of students to study and intern abroad worldwide. She holds a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan.
Read an Excerpt
When I got off the ship that brought me to the United States in 1945, the American relatives who took me in urged me to forget everything that had happened to my familyand to mein the Holocaust. They told me to never think or speak of it again. I was fifteen years old and they were adults, so I listened to them. For forty years I was quiet. I was not truly free until I started to tell what happened to me as a child. Here is my story.
CHAPTER 1 | BERLIN, GERMANY | SUMMER, 1936
My birth name is Irene Hasenberg, but you can call me Reni (pronounced “Ray-nee”). Everyone did. I was a lucky child. I grew up in a large, light-filled apartment in Berlin, the sparkling capital of Germany, with my parents, John and Gertrude Hasenberg; my almost-eight-year-old brother, Werner; and my grandparents Julius and Pauline Mayer. Our parents and grandparents spoiled Werner and me with attention and toys. My favorite was a red tricycle that I got for my fourth birthday. I pedaled it with speed through the park, and flew across sidewalks, being sure to clean its wheels and shiny handlebars when I got home.
We celebrated Jewish holidays and our birthdays with relatives, always gathering together around the dinner table to eat challah, sing our favorite Hebrew songs, and drink more hot chocolate. Our voices were not very good, but who cared? We were together. We weren’t making a record to be played on a phonograph! My experience as a young girl in Berlin was wonderful, despite the fact that Germany was changing. But what did I know? I was only five.
My grandparents, Opa and Omi, rented a small garden plot not far from our home. One warm morning, Opa announced it was a perfect day for planting seeds, especially for cucumbers and radishes, my two favorite crunchies. We all went. It took a lot of work to dig the ground and “prepare the soil.” We carefully put the tiny flat white seeds and the little round brown seeds into the dirt and covered them. Done with my row, I stared at the soil. I stared and waited a long, long time, until the top layer dried and lightened in the sun. Nothing happened.
“Reni, are you ready to go?” Pappi asked.
“Let’s wait until the crunchies come up.”
“That’ll take all summer!” Werner said.
“Reni, it takes a long time for the seeds to grow into vegetables,” Mutti explained.
Tears skidded down my cheeks. Opa knelt next to me, his knees clacking.
“Reni, don’t cry. These are special seeds. They grow very fast, for seeds. You need to be patient. Can you be patient?”
“That’s good practice.”
At home, Mutti and Pappi had a surprise: we were going into the city and to the zoo. I forgot about the seeds. But first, Mutti instructed, we had to clean up.
“I’m already clean,” said Werner. “I washed when we got back.”
It was true. Even his shoes were shiny. I looked at my dress and fingernails. There was dirt everywhere. I brushed off everything with great sweeps of my hands, even remembering to shake my hair.
“I’m all set to go, too!”
“Reni, you are not even close,” Mutti said, taking my hand and marching me to the bathroom.
She scrubbed me hard with soap and water, even digging into and around my ears.
“You’re breaking me,” I protested.
Mutti then wrapped me in a big towel, turned me around and dried me, like she was fluffing up my whole body. Then it was off to the bedroom to get me dressed in something fancy. Finally, I stepped into the front hall where Pappi and Werner were waiting.
“Oh Reni,” Pappi said with surprise, “you are here. I saw a little girl come in earlier, but I didn’t recognize her for all the dirt.”
“It was me!”
We took the big yellow tram to the zoo, the same tram Pappi rode every day to work. Cars and trucks honked here and there, weaving in and out. You never knew where the cars and trucks would go next, but the yellow tram always followed the same track and wires. And it always came and left at the same times, so I knew when Pappi would go to work and when he would come home. The brightly colored tram was easy to spot, so I could look out the apartment window and see it from far away and get ready for Pappi to return, when I would jump into his arms. He told me the other day that he could hardly lift me anymore. I was getting that big. I looked out on Berlin. It was busy like ants over a picnic basket.
“Mutti,” I asked, “what is the black zigzag?”
It was everywhere: on flags as big as buildings, on trucks and cars, and on clothes.
She said it was nothing, so I leaned toward my brother and asked him.
“Really, Reni? It’s a swastika,” Werner said.
“What’s a schweiss . . . schweiss schick . . . er?”
“Swastika,” he corrected me.
“I’m going to count them all. One, two, three, four, five . . .”
“Do something else, Reni,” Mutti commanded.
“All the banners and flags are for the Olympics in August,“ Werner said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Reni, do you know anything?” said Werner.
“I know there are maybe fifty swas . . . black zigzags,” I said, and looked toward Mutti to be sure she wasn’t listening. “Maybe more. I’ve really been counting.”
“The Olympics are when sports players from all over the world come here to play, “ said Werner. “They will compete for medals. I’ve heard Germany will win a lot, especially in gymnastics and track and field. It’s a big deal.”
“Yes it is,” Pappi added, “and Werner, you, and I are going to watch the action.”
For once, Werner didn’t know what to say, finally eking out ‘really?’” Pappi nodded.
“What about me?” I asked. “I want to go.”
“You and I will go shopping,” Mutti said.
Well, I didn’t want to go to the Olympics that badly. We walked up to the gate for the zoo, and I forgot about the black zigzags. Inside, Pappi let go of my hand and I ran ahead with Werner, but not too far. Everything was so green: the puffy trees and the bristly grass. Beds of yellow and red flowers hugged tiny fences. The red was as bright as the big flags that floated over the buildings. I wanted to run into all that color, but I had learned to stay on the gray paths. We saw the elephants swing their tails and trunks, and I pointed at the big-mouthed hippos. We fed the goats that circled us and nibbled at our hands. My favorite was the monkey house with the playful, swinging families. I rested my head against Pappi and his dark suit on the ride home. Then I remembered the magic seeds. What did they look like as they tossed and turned in their little dirt beds? I wondered out loud. Werner said I was hopeless, and Mutti pinched his arm. As we walked home from the tram, Mutti suggested we walk past the garden. I saw dots of green and red on the ground: shiny cucumbers and radishes. I ran across the dirt, though I knew I wasn’t supposed to, took a cucumber, and bit into it to make sure it was real. It was the juiciest and most delicious cucumber I had ever eaten. Oh, they were special seeds! Opa was right.
“Wait. You need to wash those first, Reni,” Mutti called.
I piled as many as I could into my skirt pockets. Mutti and Werner took the rest.
“Opa, Omi, look!” I cried as I entered our kitchen and emptied my pockets on the wooden kitchen table.
“You must have done a very good job planting them, my dear. I have never seen them come up this fast,” Opa said.
“Yes, and I’ve never seen vegetables grow without plants,” Werner said. “Like they came straight from the vegetable stand.”
“All the more special,” I added.
I took another bite of my cucumber. Sure, the seeds were special, but we were also very, very good gardeners.
That night, cozy in my bed, I thought of our cousin Bert’s upcoming birthday party, excited that I would be able to wear one of my nice dresses. Maybe my blue-and-white plaid one with yellow buttons, or, if I was really lucky, Mutti would let me wear my white dress with tiny red and blue hearts and the smock, if I promised not to get it dirty and change as soon as I got home. I liked the puffy short sleeves on both, and . . . I heard Werner’s bed creak. Even without the golden light from my monkey night-light, I knew Werner had gotten out of bed and was standing next to me. I turned my face to the wall.
“Reni,” he said, “are you sleeping?”
“Yes, I am sleeping.”
“Reni, I want to ask something. Do you think that I’ll have a bad dream?”
There was a wobble in his voice. I didn’t answer. Lately, Werner had bad dreams more and moreit was a pain. It was like he looked for bad things to dream about. I didn’t want to talk with him. I wanted to think about dressing for Bert’s birthday. Bert would be six . . . just like I would be in December. When I didn’t respond he continued.
“It’s all the swastikas. They’re everywhere now, like the Nazis. And I heard the Nazis are doing bad things. Bad things to Jews. Jews like us.”
“Stop it,” I interrupted, “You’re okay, Werner. No bad dreams tonight.”
“Oh . . . okay,” he said. “Thanks. Good night.”
With that, he went back to the dark of his bed and crawled under the blankets.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents:
The Happy Childhood
Berlin, Germany and Amsterdam, the Netherlands: 1936-1940
The Start of War
Amsterdam, the Netherlands: 1940-1943
Camp Westerbork, the Netherlands and
Camp Bergen-Belsen, Germany: 1943-1945
Freedom and Loss
Switzerland and France: 1945
Camp Jeanne d’Arc, Algeria: 1945
A Call to Action
What People are Saying About This
Young Reni, a girl on the precipice of adolescence, takes us through the darkest days of the Holocaust and her budding understanding of the human spirit. What I found was heart, courage, tenderness, and hope. Not since the Diary of Anne Frank, have I been so touched by a book that grapples with the dark abyss of the human condition during the Holocaust. is book is a revelation about what sustains the human spirit, what is far stronger than hate. -Jacqueline Sheehan, NYTimes bestselling author
In this striking memoir, Irene Butter gives us the sweep of catastrophic historythrough her child eyes. Taking the reader from "black zigzags" to cattle cars, from Berlin to Amsterdam to Westerbork to Bergen-Belsen to Algeria, and nally to the United States, young Reni shares the ordinary and the unimaginable with stunning detail, with generosity, with hope. Irene Butter's beliefs that one should never be an enemy and never be a bystander are important lessons for us to understand the past and to act in the world of today. -Ellen Meeropol, author of Kinship of Clover, named "One of the best books from Indie Publishers in 2017" by PBS
Irene Butter paints a gripping picture of a girl's sense of self in the Holocaust. German-Jewish through birth and heritage, stateless through persecution, and Dutch and American through refuge, Butter invites us to walk with her on the vulnerable journey of forging her young identity. In a time of resurging racism and xenophobia, the book forces the reader to consider what happens when adult dehumanization shapes the real life of a real child. The book bears witness to pre-war Germany, occupied Amsterdam, and the Bergen-Belsen of Anne Frank, and shares the warning of the Diary of Anne Frank: we lose our humanity when children are forced to normalize hatred. -Annemarie Toebosch, Director of Dutch and Flemish Studies, Lecturer of Anne Frank in Context, University of Michigan
As Holocaust memory moves into an uncertain future, Irene Butter's memoir will play an important role in keeping memory of the event alive. It also serves as a testament to one person's ability to build a life of meaning and hope in the wake of this horrible event. -Jamie L. Wraight, PhD, Director, The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dr. Irene Butter is a remarkable woman who made a conscious decision to be a survivor, not a victim of the Holocaust. Her story has an inestimable impact on students. They witness her dedication to live a meaningful life of activism based on her belief that we can make the world a better place. -Suzanne Hopkins, Saline Middle School, retired educator, Saline, Michigan
For many years Irene Hasenberg Butter did not speak of her own experience of the Holocaust but like her brother, Werner, got on with the headlong rush of making a new life in the United States. After the treachery and horror of the Bergen- Belsen Concentration Camp, learning to live as Holocaust survivors was work enough. With this book, Irene has given the world a deeply personal account of her own family's experience that bravely reveals how much all the terrible losses of the Holocaust meant not just in World War II but, sadly, today as well. -Jane Jarboe Russell, author, The Train To Crystal City
Following publication of an article on the Holocaust on April 13, 2018, Irene wrote a letter to the Editor which was published April 17, 2018 in The New York Times:
Holocaust Survivors 'Have Voices That Matter'
April 17, 2018
Re "Getting Facts Wrong on the Holocaust" (news article, April 13):
More than four decades passed before I could break the silence about my traumatic experiences during the Holocaust. It is a formidable challenge for survivors to speak and for others to listen.
The number of survivors is dwindling; they are getting quite old and their memories are fading. Yet it is ever more important that the signs of authoritarian regimes and how they evolved are brought into the consciousness of youths and adults, as warning signals of what must be prevented from happening again.
Survivors, when able, have the responsibility to bear witness and provide evidence so that the six million Jews who were murdered are not forgotten, so that perpetrators are not pardoned for their crimes, and so that deniers don't have a leg to stand on.
While the voices of the victims have been silenced forever, we the survivors have voices that matter. After four decades of not speaking, I realized that silence was no longer an option. I told my stories to my children and grandchildren as well as to many students in many schools over a 30-year period.
Schools and other organizations should take advantage of every opportunity to engage survivors to tell their stories.
IRENE BUTTER, ANN ARBOR, MICH.
The writer survived two concentration camps, Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. She recently published her memoir, "Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I can't remember ever reading a book that conveyed so much emotion, tragedy, love, optimism and indomitable will to persist and survive, in the language of a precocious teen-aged girl. I've read "Night" by Elie Wiesel, and other books about the holocaust, but this book moved me in a uniquely different way. It is as much a story of a family struggling to maintain their lives, their morality and their humanity, as it is a story of the holocaust. And it tells this story in the voice of the teen-aged girl who lived it. This is a book to be read by people of all ages, and makes an excellent subject for discussion in book clubs and classrooms. It is quite timely, given the tendencies toward hate and violence throughout the world, calling us to remember what these trends can lead to if we don't struggle against them. -TobyC