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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives


INTERVIEWERS:                  JOHN KENT

                                           RUTH EINSTEIN

LOCATION:                          ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                                  JANUARY 7, 2011

Transcript (PDF)


Irene Yabrow, now a resident of Marietta, Georgia, was born Irka Herskowitz in 1935 in Lodz, Poland.  She lived with her parents, grandparents, and her sister.  Her father was a prominent hair dresser in Lodz and she lived a very privileged life.  Like all Jews, after the Germans arrived in 1939 and when Irene was five years old, the family was forced to move into the Lodz Ghetto.  In 1940 her family, including an aunt and her three children and her husband, escaped to Russia.  Her father stayed behind and joined the Polish Army.     

Once in Russia the family was shipped to Siberia.  In Siberia her mother had to work and her sister was put in an orphanage.  Irene stayed with her mother.  Her mother ended up having twins with a Russian man so Irene has a step-sister and brother.  She was six when they were born.  When her mother was working more she went into the orphanage as well but was not treated right.  Her uncle came to get her and she returned to her mother. 

The family was then sent to Shymkent and Tashkent to work in the coal mines near Mongolia.  There they lived in huts.  Her mother, grandmother, step-sister and brother, sister, aunt and her aunt’s three kids all lived in one hut.  At seven years old, Irene worked in the coal mines.  This situation lasted until 1945. 

When the war was over they were sent via cattle cars back to Poland.  When they arrived back in Lodz, everything was gone – their home, the beauty parlor.  In Poland they found out through the American Consulate that her father was alive and in Germany.  At first it was hard to get to Germany, but her mother was smart and they were able to cross the border.  In Germany they went to a DP camp in Lampertheim near Mannheim. 

When they found her father he was very sick with tuberculosis and in a sanitarium.  During the war, he had met a German woman and lived with her.  He did not expect her mother to return and he did not want to live with her once he learned she was alive.  Her mother did not have a second partner with her, only the children from a one-time sexual encounter.  Her mother was most concerned that he would help support the children.  She led him to believe that the twins were his.  He never knew the difference.

Life in Germany after the war in the DP camps was the worst time for Irene.  She called it the “misery of my whole life.”  She did black marketing.  While doing this she met a man named ‘Willy’ who her mother eventually married.  When the DP camp in Lampertheim was closed they were moved to Ulm, Germany.  Her sister was married by this time and did not go.  She and her husband went to Paris, France because he had family there. 

Once in Ulm, her mother left her and the twins and went to live with Willy.  She thought they would be safe in the DP camp.  Irene was now 12 and the twins were six.  In Ulm she was raped by two Polish concentration camp survivors over the course of the year.  She was told that if she said anything, they would kill her brother and sister.  She finally was able to leave Ulm when her older sister came to say goodbye before moving to the United States.  It was her sister that made her mother take her back.  Irene did not say why it was so bad for her in Ulm.  She held that secret inside until a couple years before she was interviewed.

When she and the twins went to live with her mother and Willy, his brother beat her up because she was defiant.  Irene was very independent.  She did not tell Willy because she did not want to upset him.  She then began to go to Mannheim each morning to work for the woman her father had met.  She was a dressmaker.

Irene and her family’s quota finally came and they went to the United States in 1951 on the SS Sturgis.  Her mother married Willy and he followed them.  At the time of the interview Willy was still living. 

Upon arrival to the United States, they moved to Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.  Irene lived with her sister and the twins lived with her mother and Willy.  They had an apartment right away because her grandmother was already there.  Irene was 16 and went right to work.  She worked in a brazier factory and a luncheonette.  Once she saved up enough money she went to beauty culture school and became a hair dresser. 

Irene married a Jewish man named ‘Eddie.’  They had five children and nine grandchildren.  He was a sales man and then a teacher so she continued to work to provide the best for her children.  Her children were the center of her life.  She would do anything for her children.  Eventually, she and Eddie would divorce, but on good terms. 

Upon her divorce, she made a living running the day camp she and Eddie had run together.  This was all she had from the divorce.  She continued to run the camp even when she moved to Atlanta.  In Atlanta she does volunteer work and helps out some friends in their businesses.  She also spent four years taking care of her girlfriend Ruthie who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

She also cared for her father, traveling back and forth to Germany, when his health was deteriorating.  She was the only one who went back and buried him.  If she did not feel this responsibility, she would never have stepped foot in Germany and never will again.

Four of her five children live in Atlanta, Georgia along with eight of her grandchildren.  One daughter remains in New York and has a daughter.  Her greatest desire is to see her grandchildren go to college.

She is very well read.  Her one regret is that she never went to school and does not know how to write.  She is very proud to be an American.  She has traveled, but she stands firm that the United States in the best place to live and travel.  She stressed her value for freedom and specifically mentioned how everyone should vote. 

At the time of the interview she was still very independent and demonstrated much strength.  She certainly worked for everything she achieved in life and is proud of her accomplishments.

Scope of Interview

Irene shares a brief description of her life in Lodz, Poland before she and her family are forced to move to the Lodz Ghetto.  She then discusses her escape to Russia with her mother, sister, aunt and her three children and her husband and their journey to Siberia and ultimately Chimkent and Tashkent near the Mongolian border.  She was five years old in 1940 when they left Poland.  Until 1945 she remained in Chimkent and Tashkent working in the coal mines and living in a hut with her family.  She speaks of her mother meeting a Russian man and having twins, a boy and a girl.  Her father stayed behind and joined the Polish Army.  In 1945 she and her family, now including the twins, return to Poland.  There they find everything destroyed but learn that her father is alive and in Germany.  They make their way to Germany where they find her father who is sick with Tuberculosis.  He also had met a German woman and was living with her.  In Germany, Irene works the black market and meets a man named Willy who ultimately marries her mother.  They are in the displaced persons camp in Lampertheim, Germany near Mannheim.  There her older sister meets a man who is a concentration camp survivor.  They get married and move to Paris, France.  From Lampertheim she is moved to Ulm, Germany.  In Ulm, Irene is raped by two concentration camp survivors from Warsaw, Poland over the course of a year.  Her mother lived with Willy at this time and left Irene and the twins in the DP camp, in Ulm.  When her sister returns to say goodbye before immigrating to the United States, Irene tells her how bad life is.  She then moves back along with the twins to her mother and Willy.  Living with Willy he has a brother that beats her.  Eventually their quota to go to the United States comes up and they take the SS Sturgis to America and settle in Brooklyn, New York.  She is now 16 years old.  She works from the time she arrives.  In Brooklyn she meets and marries Eddie, an American.  Together they have five children.  She expresses how she would do anything for her children and still does.  One-by-one four of her children and eight grandchildren move to Atlanta, Georgia and she follows.  One daughter remains in New York and she has a daughter.  Irene loves living in the United States.  She is proud to be American.  She never wants to set foot in Germany, but does travel there numerous times to tend to her sick father.  Her final visit was to bury him.  Never having gone to school, she is unable to write, but she is a voracious reader.  She learned to be independent from a very young age and is still that way.  She worked hard her entire life becoming successful running a day camp in New York.  In Atlanta she does volunteer work, helps work for friends in their businesses, and helps out her children.  She is not one to participate in Holocaust Survivor organizations or meetings.  Her desire in life is to see all of her grandchildren go to college. 

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