Fire Burn is based on diaries kept during World War II by a single, young professional woman, Irene Zarina White. From September 1939 through May 1946 Irene lived under four different governments: the Republic of Latvia, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and the United States Occupation. She carefully recorded the details of each governments regime, World War II in full swing, and her everyday challenges. She met a remarkable variety of people who became astonishingly candid in her presence. And she documented it all. [For a sample click below to read about her encounter on a crowded train with an undercover Gestapo officer.]
Irene survived the Soviet occupation of her home country, Latvia, an ancient multicultural crossroads of East and West at the Baltic Sea. In Fire Burn, she describes that last year of peace while she studied chemical engineering at the University of Latvia. Then in 1940 two days after graduating (the only female among 150 students) the Soviets invaded. Terrible months of terror, torture, arrests, and deprivation followed for the citizens of Latvia.
Leaving extended family behind, Irene and her mother were able to escape to Germany where another horror awaited them the Nazi Regime. Irene endured the long war years, working as a research chemist in a large chemical plant near Frankfurt am Main. She and her mother suffered hunger, cold, and the daily fear of death from continuous Allied bombing. We survived by the grace of God, she says.
Liberation from this harsh existence came in the form of American Occupation Forces in the spring of 1945, three days before Easter. Finally the bombing raids ended, but hunger persisited. No food was provided or could be bought. Irene found a job working for the U.S. Army - first as a secretary, then a dining hall hostess. She underwent and recorded entirely new and unexpected experiences in these roles. She met and a year later married a young American scientist, Dr. Merit Penniman White, who had previously worked with Albert Einstein on the Atomic Bomb.
So in 1946, a new life as wife, mother, college teacher and researcher - as well as a new country - awaited her. Now sixty years after the end of World War II, and after turning ninety herself, Irene Zarina White is ready to impart her war time experiences. She wants to share her story with those few who also remember the war, as well as with new generations who could learn so much from her very personal piece of history.