Irene Butter is the author, with John D. Bidwell and Kris Holloway, of the new memoir Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story. It recounts her experiences during the Holocaust. She is a professor emerita of public health at the University of Michigan.
Q: You write that you were silent for many years about your experiences during the Holocaust. What made you decide to share your story and at what point did you decide to write this memoir?
A: Breaking the silence was prompted partly by Elie Wiesel when I heard him say, “If you were there, if you breathed the air and heard the silence of the dead, you must continue to bear witness…to prevent the dead from dying again.” This statement had a profound effect on me. Witnessing has remained very important.
I was motivated to write my memoir by numerous messages from students about how my story affected their outlook on life and their intent to become involved in some form of social justice. It is my hope that some day when I am no longer able to visit schools my memoir would serve that same purpose.
Q: How was the book’s title selected, and what does it signify for you?
A: In a literal sense the title reflects a multi-segmented journey of deportation, crossing border after border, by force rather than voluntarily. The title also is a metaphor for the meaning that swimming had for me as a form of freedom regained in Algiers after liberation from concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.
Q: What do you hope readers learn from your story?
A: First of all it is my intent that readers will learn how a child experienced the Holocaust at a young age, and from a story told in the voice of a child. Also I try to portray how one can live through a traumatic period and still live a rich, productive and harmonious life. That one can transform from victim to survivor. And other lessons as well.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Keeping busy with trying to get my book out into the world.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Young people, middle and high school students, are open to learning from stories like mine, more so than I expected. Students find ways of relating my story to their own lives as many have experienced displacement, loss, illness, discrimination or bullying, as examples. They are eager to learn about understanding and coping with tough situations.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb