Irene and her twin brother 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. Irene was sent to several orphanages in Europe. The group Rescue Children brought her to the United States in 1947, where she was reunited with Rene in 1950.
I got shipped, um, got shipped to France and finally wound up in a, in an orphanage in Fublaines. It, which is just on the outskirts of Paris. And I was one of the youngest children there, and I didn't speak to anybody except Miriam [a friend of Irene's], who was about, I guess about seven years older. She seemed like almost a mother figure in a sense to me, because she would, I had these long curls and she would fuss with them and she just was very compassionate, and I, um, the other children--I was the only child there with a number, so I also felt that there was something wrong with me. I felt that I had done something horrible, that I had gotten the number and nobody else did. Most of these children had escaped somehow by hiding, or their parents had temporarily given them over and some were subsequently reunited with parents, and some just had family members and they were just waiting to be shipped to, and you know, things like that.