Petrinitz, Irene Thirman
Uzhorod (Czechoslovakia), Tegla-Gyav, Auschwitz, Zitav
Irene told the following to a class:
Irene Thirman Petrinitz was born in Uzhorod, Czechoslovakia to a well-to-do family that included her parents, one brother, an uncle and a sickly aunt. They led a good life and didn’t experience any anti-Semitism.
Irene’s father owned a transportation business, but in 1938, lost his business license. Her brother was thrown out of the university. The Jews had to wear a yellow star for identification. Shortly thereafter, they received a letter telling them to get ready to be relocated, carrying only what they could in their hands.
One day, the police suddenly appeared and they were taken to the outskirts of the city, waiting to be taken by train to a “work camp.” Their turn to leave did not come for six weeks. They were shoved into cattle cars where they stood with no food or water for three days and nights before reaching their destination, Auschwitz.
There, they were greeted by German soldiers with large dogs and told to drop all their possessions. Dr. Mengele, the “angel of death,” was there to make the selections, to the right or left. Old people and infants were taken to the gas chambers immediately.
The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and some despondent prisoners committed suicide by throwing themselves against the live wires. Irene and her mother first saw people with shaved heads who they thought were mentally ill, as the mental patients had their heads shaved for electric shock therapy.
They were ordered to disrobe and stood on chairs to be shaven. They were given old clothes and wooden shoes to wear, not even being able to recognize each other. They were not given numbers as they were supposed to be exterminated shortly.
In the camp, they slept in barracks. There were thirty of them, holding a total of about nine hundred people. They were forced to get up at 6 a.m. and stand for a roll call. The sentries were watching with machine guns. They were given coffee and bread to eat and, because food meant survival, there were bread thieves. The bread was uneatable.
Every morning there were selections, a German woman doing the selections, wearing leather gloves and holding a large whip. One morning, Irene’s mother was selected and was taken away, never to be seen again. Irene became very depressed. She remained in Auschwitz for six months.
She and five hundred other women were taken out of camp to a factory (Zitav) to work. On May 4, 1945, they heard bombs and were taken into the basement. In the morning, it was quiet and they discovered the Germans had gone. Suddenly they all began to sing and dance.
There was no transportation so they walked to Prague . . . and because no trains were running, it took three weeks to get home. Ordinarily, it would have taken only six hours.
Irene went to her house, now lived in by her father’s employees, together with Russian soldiers. She wasn’t recognized because she now weighed about 90 pounds, rather than the 150 she weighed before the war. Her brother was alive in Prague. Her father died of starvation just two days after liberation.
Irene now has two sons and grandchildren. She was nineteen when she was taken. Her brother is now a CPA who went to school at Wayne State University.
A student asked if she ever saw Hitler.
Length: 39 minutes
Format: Video recording