You don’t ever expect to be hauled out of your house, marched into a gas chamber, and be choked to death,” says Irene Fogel Weiss.
Yet, that is exactly what happened to most of her family in the summer of 1944. Irene was thirteen at the time, and by several twists of fate, she survived.
“There is a life force in all of us that you just want to live another day,” she says. “Let’s survive this. We have to survive this.” Irene shares her story of survival with hundreds of high school students every year. In this program, we listen in on her presentation to Woodson High School students as she shares a personal account of the events that lead to the Holocaust.
She discusses her life as a child in Hungary, the changes she witnessed as the Nazis took power, and all manner of degradations imposed on the Jewish people.
Irene describes how her family was ostracized from society and how the Jewish “ghettos” were created. She discusses what her family did and did not know about Nazi practices across Europe and how the deportation of Jews worked. She recounts her arrival at the worst of all Nazi death camps – Auschwitz-Birkenau – and shares historic photos, taken by the Nazis, which capture the very day that her family arrived. She talks about the painful separation from her family and what it was like to be a prisoner at Auschwitz.
After sharing the story of her liberation and rebuilding her life in America, Irene examines the questions of propaganda and humanity that surround the Holocaust. She helps students understand the importance of critical examination of information and comparing sources. She discusses how a basic lack of empathy and humanity toward each other can lead to cruel, and ultimately horrific, behaviors. Irene uses her experience in the Holocaust as a lesson for us all.