Renee Schwalb

Renee Schwalb

Born: April 1, 1937

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, home to some 175,000 Jews before World War II, was a major center of European Jewry. Vienna was also the intellectual heart of the Palestine resettlement movement. Most of the city's Jews lived in two large districts on the east side of the Danube Canal. Renee's father owned a prosperous men's clothing store in the city.

1933-39: German forces occupied Austria in March 1938. Anti-Jewish measures were quickly imposed. My father was prohibited from doing business and his store was seized. He left for America in early 1939 with the intention of having my mother and me join him there. But in the interim, the situation for Jews worsened and my mother and I were forced to flee to Belgium to escape deportation. I was 2 years old.

1940-44: My mother gave me to a man from the "underground." It was because I was Jewish, he said. I was taken to some nuns who renamed me Suzanne LeDent. At the convent's school I played only rarely with the other children, because they might have asked me too many questions. I learned to pray using a string of beads called a rosary, and won medals for memorizing Catholic prayers. In 1943, when the Germans learned the nuns had been hiding Jews, I was moved first to a family and then to a Protestant reform school near Brussels.

After the war, Renee was reunited with her mother. Five years later they immigrated to the United States.