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.
IRENE: The next memory I have, shortly after that, is us walking--it was nighttime--through the snow and our, my mom, our mom had a suitcase that she was dragging along, and I remember I didn't, I kind of didn't want to go wherever it was that we were going. I remember she gave me a real yank, like, like, you know, just come. So I remember her--and that's when I remember her presence, 'cause I remember, you know, her actually pulling me, to, like...
RENE:I guess I was going peacefully, because I don't, I don't remember the pulling. I do remember that night, though, and I remember dogs.
IRENE: Yes, yes, there were dogs, barking. Then we got on a train.
RENE:Yeah, that train ride I remember.
IRENE: Yeah, me too.
RENE:I mean, this was, uh, this now, we now know, that this was the train ride to, to Auschwitz. But the combination of, uh, heat, odor, crammed quarters, the, uh, the size, the agony of it, uh, in the car. You, I mean you heard that people just died...
IRENE: There was this moaning and...
RENE:Moaning, I mean it was, it was horrible.
IRENE: And being little, it was, like, hard to, you know, it was just all these bodies kind of next to you. And I remember I just wanted to, like, I wanted to lie down.
RENE:Yeah, right, we couldn't lie down for some reason...
IRENE: Right, there was no place...
RENE:Either there was no place, or there wasn't room, or it was too dirty, or it was like nowhere to lie down.
IRENE: You couldn't, there was no place. You just kind of had to stay the way you got on. And...but we didn't cry.
IRENE: We didn't. We were scared. We knew that crying was not something you did.