Irene and Rene were born Renate and Rene Guttmann. The family moved to Prague shortly after the twins' birth, where they were living when the Germans occupied Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. A few months later, uniformed Germans arrested their father. Decades later, Irene and Rene learned that he was killed at the Auschwitz camp in December 1941. Irene, Rene, and their mother were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, and later to the Auschwitz camp. At Auschwitz, the twins were separated and subjected to medical experiments. Irene and Rene remained separated for some time after their liberation from Auschwitz. The group Rescue Children brought Irene to the United States in 1947, where she was reunited with Rene in 1950.
RENE: Well to me it wasn't our separation, to me it was a, a feeling, it was separation from, from my mother. She was, like, taken away from us. Um, I'm not sure what I heard or what I felt, but it was my mother, and that was the only time I, I felt that she was in real agony. Was, it was a feeling, maybe a cry out or something, but I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong and that was the separation that I remember.
IRENE: I, um, I also remember it a little differently, but--
RENE: Well, it's probably more accurately from your point of view.
IRENE: But I remember knowing that something was changing and something horrible was about to take place, and I do remember an SS hitting our mom. Because I remember she didn't--
RENE: You saw this?
IRENE: I just remember, yeah, I remem...because she didn't want to let go of us...we didn't want to let go of her and we were actually physically separated. You know, like, kind of torn apart from her, pulled away. And she, I don't know what, maybe she screamed, but I remember a slap, a, a, you know, she was hit. And I kind of--if I close my eyes, I think she fell to the floor. That's all, that's--
RENE: That fits, it sort of fits, I have no, it fits into my thinking. It doesn't...I don't remember it as vividly as you would. It fits.
IRENE: But after that, I don't, kind of don't remember what happened immediately after that.
RENE: That was really, we were hurting, I think I was. I, I know that was a very emotional time, very, very hurtful. And after that, we were like, I was, we were, we were separated. I don't remember being separated from you but we were just in different places. I was with the boys, young boys, older boys, and men.
IRENE: And I, I don't know where I was. I was just with other women.