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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:              IRENE BASES

INTERVIEWER:          ERNA DZIEWINSKI MARTINO

DATE:                        APRIL 24, 1993

LOCATION:                 ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Irene Bases was born in Krakow, Poland in 1919.  When she was 17, she went to live in France for her education. She was in Austria when the Germans invaded in 1938 and saw what was happening to the Jews in Vienna.  In 1939, she returned to Poland from France because she knew that war was imminent and wanted to be with her brother and father.  When the war began, she and several family members left Krakow and went to Wolbrom, a town outside of Krakow.  Here they were forced to hide in the woods when they learned that there would be an aktion against the Jews.  They returned to the Krakow ghetto in 1940 and lived there until all the remaining Jews were sent to Plaszow in 1943. 

While in Plaszow, Irene worked in an envelope factory.  The work was not hard but because she hid a bag in the factory she was beaten with a whip and sent to a bunker for ten days.  While here, she was chosen by an SS commander to be his maid.  She worked in a magazine sorting food and items that came in from the ghetto.  Her father, brother and husband (she married while in Wolbrom) were all at Plaszow.  Her father and husband were in a transport for Gröss-Rosen.  Her husband, because he was an engineer, was chosen to go to Brünnlitz as part of the group of Jews saved by Oskar Schindler.  Her husband promised that he would not leave her father so he gave up his chance to go to Brünnlitz and perished with her father at Buchenwald.  Irene’s brother was killed in Plaszow.

In January of 1945, Irene was supposed to be transferred to Czestochowa with the SS guard that chose her for his maid, but instead she was forced to march by foot to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  She arrived at Auschwitz and was taken to a real shower where they were able to keep their clothes and their heads were not shaved.  After three days in Auschwitz they were marched to Gröss-Rosen and then transported by cattle trains to Ravensbrück. While in Ravensbruck, Irene suffered from typhoid but recovered to be sent to Malchow, a subcamp of Ravensbrück.  While in each of these camps, Irene saw sights that were unbelievable.  All the while she believed that she would not survive.  After a while at Malchow, she was transferred again by cattle car to Leipzig, Germany.  As the Russians were closing in on the camp in Leipzig, they were forced on a three week death march.   Irene and several of the women eventually decided that they were not going to walk anymore and decided to leave.  The women that chose to go with the SS guards were killed in the woods. The women with Irene tried to find help in the local town but were unable to find help. They found refuge in a home and the home was broken into by the Russians.   Some of the women were raped by the Russians, but Irene and a few other women escaped.  Eventually, they were able to get a cattle car back to Poland after the war was over. 

Irene returned to Poland only because she had promised her family members that they would meet at friend’s home.  Unfortunately, Irene returned to find that only an uncle and a cousin survived.  A friend had also survived in hiding and Irene stayed with her.  While with the friend she met her second husband, her daughter Eva’s father, and married him in 1946.  She went to Theresienstadt to look for her father later because she heard that some older people had survived there.  She did not find him there. 

Irene later emigrated to Canada where a friend from the camps visited her and encouraged her to testify against the SS official that she worked for as the maid.  She refused to testify. Although he killed other Jews, he had been good to her.  Irene did receive reparations from Germany for her time in the camps.  At the time of this interview, Irene was living in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Scope of Interview:

Irene discusses her early life in Krakow, Poland with her family and her decision to go to France for school when she was 17.  When the war began in 1939, she describes her family’s experience of going to Wolbrom, Poland and hiding in the woods as the town’s Jewish population was eradicated.  Irene discusses how the family returned to Krakow and later was sent to the Plaszow work camp where she describes work in an envelope factory, being beaten and placed in a bunker for punishment.  Irene recalls her experience of working as a maid for a SS man and her work in a magazine with plentiful food that she was able to steal for her friends and family.  Irene describes how her brother was killed in Plaszow and how her husband had the opportunity to go with a transfer of Jews to Brünnlitz as part of the Oskar Schindler Jews.  She describes her transfer by foot to Auschwitz-Birkenau and being reassured by her angel, a friend from Krakow, that they were not being sent to the gas chambers but showers.  From Auschwitz-Birkenau she recounts the transfer to Gröss-Rosen camp, Ravensbrück camp, Malchow camp, and Leipzig, Germany.  In describing these camps, she recalls the sights, the sounds, and the experience of being a prisoner.  In Leipzig, she describes being more or less freed from her captors after a three week death march when they refuse to go on.  Irene describes how no one would help them in Germany and how they are attacked by Russian soldiers, many of the girls being raped.  Irene recounts returning to Poland after the war and finding only her uncle and cousin still living and her subsequent unsuccessful quest to find her father at Theresienstadt.  Irene discusses her religious life as a Jew, religion in the camps and reaction to the formation of the state of Israel.  Irene also reflects on her hatred of Germans, receiving reparations from the Germans and her decision not to testify against the Nazi SS man that she worked for while in Plaszow. 

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