From Holocaust to Hope
A survivor remembers Bergen-Belsen
From the May, 2018 issue
For years, friends urged retired U-M prof Irene Butter to write a memoir. But while she's often talked about her experience as a Jewish teenager in Europe, when she was imprisoned with her family in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, writing a book always seemed too physically and emotionally draining.
That changed when a former student told Butter that she and her husband wanted to write a young adult novel based on Butter's experiences. Kris Holloway and John Bidwell ended up dropping their own project to collaborate on Butter's newly published memoir, Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope.
The research and writing took five years; since Holloway and Bidwell live in Massachusetts, they communicated on Skype. Butter owed her survival to a friend of the family, later killed himself, who delayed the family's transport to a death camp. Then, because they'd been able to obtain South American passports before their arrest, the Nazis agreed to exchange them for German families interned in the U.S. Though Butter's mother and brother also made it out, her father, starved and beaten, died en route to the exchange site in Switzerland.
"It hasn't been an easy journey ... to portray the worst that human beings can do to each other," Holloway says. But "loving Irene so much, I really felt I could channel her voice." Butter reads from Shores Beyond Shores at the Ann Arbor District Library on May 8 (see Events).
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