Irene Weiss

* 1930

  • “In January [1945], winter, in terrible cold, thousands of people who were still surviving Auschwitz were pushed out on the highway and we were made to march hundreds of miles deeper into Germany, to avoid being liberated by the approaching Russian Army. We ended up… Well, along the way, the tragedy continued, because if you sat down, you were shot. If you leaned on someone, you were shot. And the side of the road had many, many dead people in the gutters. The rest of us were never fed or given water. The cold, it was definitely a death march. By the time we arrived deeper in Germany and they put us into other camps further away from the approaching Army, those camps were already filled with people, and the crowding and the circumstances were unbelievable. The German system broke down, as far as feeding and such as it was, broke down. Disease broke out. In this particular camp where we ended up, typhoid, typhus broke out. We were infected with body lice that carried typhus. My aunt Pearl caught typhus. She became high fever, delirious. We were helpless. She even became deaf from the fever. So in this camp, and in almost all of the camps, there was a so-called little infirmary. What we learned along the way, that these infirmaries were not to cure anyone, but they would come regularly and take the sick people to gas chamber. So this place didn't have a gas chamber, but we put her in this little infirmary, and there she at least had a bunk to herself. We soon realized that even though there was no gas chamber, they sent a truck from a concentration camp that did have one to pick up these people. We watched the truck come one day and empty the little infirmary, including my aunt Pearl on the truck, and took her away, and killed her.”

  • “We soon realized that having, well, the people that we met there, who came before us, when we asked them, you know, when do we meet with our families, and they pointed to the chimneys belching smoke and fire. They said, Look at the chimneys. That's where your family is. We thought what did they do to people here, that they make up such stories? We totally dismissed this for days and days. But eventually, it became hard to resist. We saw too much. We heard too much. So what we then were told, that the women and children, upon arriving and being selected on the platform, were immediately marched to gas chambers and killed within the hour, as fast as the process would take. So I realized, we all did, that I sort of skipped that selection, but I was still terribly vulnerable, because they selected every day beyond just the platform. So every day at dawn, we were lined up to be counted, and lined up in rows of five, and we stood there for hours, waiting for the German delegation to come and look down the rows of five and count, and also pull out the ones that were missed at the platform.”

  • [Bill Benson: You remember them marching in, the Germans?] “Oh, I do remember. There were announcements, parades, and people waiting for them on major highways, putting out flags. It was a celebration. The women and men came out with jugs of wine and bread and waited for them to come. They climbed the steeple of the church to see them approaching, how far they were from our town. The ten Jewish families in my town didn't know what to do, to come out.” [Bill Benson: Ten Jewish families in your town?] “Ten Jewish families, about 100 persons. We saw the celebration. My father, if I remember somewhat of a discussion, if he goes out with the crowd, that's dangerous. If he doesn't go out, that's dangerous. So it was this conflict. But we certainly knew that the kind of welcome that the townspeople were giving them, that we were in very big trouble.”

  • Full recordings
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Look at the chimneys. That’s where your family is.

Irene Weiss Fogel
Irene Weiss Fogel
photo: video

Irene Weiss, neé Fogel, was born on 21st November 1930 in a small town Bótrágy (nowadays Batrad in western Ucraine), which at that time used to belong to the territory of Czechoslovakia. When the Nazi régime took over and divided Czechoslovakia, in 1939 was Botragy annexed to Hungary, which at that time was a close ally of Germany. As the WW2 was going further, the Jewish origin of the Fogel family began to mean every time a bigger trouble – Irene had to quit her education at 7th grade, and her father was sent in 1942 to forced labors, As far as Germany began to lose the war, in March 1944 occupied the territory of its former Hungarian ally. A month later, in April 1944, was the whole Fogel family relocated to a Jewish ghetto in Munkacs, and in the end, in May 1944, to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, the Fogel family was separated – Irene’s father was killed, probably for not fulfilling with his work duties at the gas chambers, and about the destiny of Irene’s 16-year-old brother was never more known. Thanks to the fact that Irene’s hair had been shaved already in the Munkacs‘ ghetto, she passed the first selection, together with her sister Serena, as she looked older with her head covered with a scarf, and not like another children who went directly to the gas. At the Auschwitz barracks, both sisters accidentaly met with two aunts of theirs, Rose and Pearl. The was front was approaching, and Irene, Serena and their two aunts were forcibly evacuated from Auschwitz in January 1945 to other camps in Germany, through what is known as a death march. Irene’s aunt Pearl caught the typhoid fever at the death march, and after an attempt of ubicating her in an infirmary, Pearl was killed. Until the liberation by the Russian army survived just Irene, Serena and their aunt Rose. After hundreds of kilometers by foot, they finally reached Prague, where they received medical attention. In 1947 emigrated to the United States, where she lived first in New York and later in Virginia. She became an educator, and until today, when already pensioned, she volunteers in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In the years 2015 and 2016, she was a co-plaintiff in the trial of former Auschwitz guards and SS members.