Renée Firestone

Renée Firestone (née Weinfeld) was born on April 13, 1924, in Užhorod, Czechoslovakia to Mauritius and Julia Weinfeld. The middle of three children, she grew up in a Jewish but non-religious home. She enjoyed a happy childhood, sharing a room with her sister, swimming in the summer, and ice skating in the winter. Hungary, and ally of Nazi Germany, annexed the area where Renée and her family lived. Under Hungarian occupation, her family experienced antisemitic discrimination and violence. Her father lost his business, her brother was imprisoned in a forced labor camp, and Renée was forced to leave school and join a segregated, Jewish-only athletic organization. In 1944, as they were losing the war Nazi Germany invaded their ally, Hungary and, from May 15 to July 9, 1944 (a reminder that D-Day took place during this time) the German SS deported over 440,000 Hungarian Jews. Renée and her family included. Upon arrival in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Renée was separated from her parents, but managed to remain with her younger sister, Klara. One day, Renée woke up and her sister was gone. Renée was imprisoned for 13 months before she was sent on a forced death march to the Liebau Concentration Camp in Germany. She was liberated in Liebau by the Soviet Army in May 1945.  She travelled to Prague where survivors were gathering to look for remaining family.  One day, Renee was searching the names posted in Prague when she turned and saw her brother walk into the room. They learned that their father was liberated at Teresienstadt. He was very ill with tuberculosis and died soon after. Before her father died, he told her and her brother to return to their home in Hungary and look for a buried milk canister in the backyard. He wouldn’t tell them what was inside but insisted retrieve it. When they arrived at their home, they found that the Hungarians had dug up the ground of Jewish homes, in hopes of finding valuables that were hidden by the Jews before their deportation. In a pile of dirt, Renee and her brother found the cannister, which held over $300 US dollars. They used this money to begin their new lives. Renée immigrated to the United States in 1948 with her husband, Holocaust survivor Bernard Firestone, and their infant daughter. She arrived in Allentown, PA and eventually settled in Los Angeles, CA. Renée worked as a fashion designer for decades and did not speak about her experiences during the Holocaust. She decided to start sharing her testimony after a Jewish cemetery and synagogue in the area were vandalized with swastikas. She has been featured in the USC Shoah Foundation’s groundbreaking Dimensions in Testimony project at Holocaust Museum LA, in which museum visitors can have a conversation with a holographic capture of Renee was created to continue dialogue with survivors after they have passed. Renee recently celebrated her 98th birthday!