Renee Schwalb Fritz
Born: 1937, Vienna, Austria
Describes her experience, as a Jewish child, in a Catholic convent [Interview: 1989]
I was put into a um...into a convent which was also located in Belgium, and um some man came and picked me up, that I had never seen before. That scared me slightly. And he told me on the way that the reason for all the things that were going on was because I was Jewish which, of course, didn't mean anything to me. I was just too young to understand what "Jewish" meant. But that I was going to go and live in...in a school. And when I got there..uh...I saw nuns which scared me a little bit because in Europe, of course, not like today, the nuns were all in habits and it was a very, very strict order. And he took me to the Mother Superior, and the Mother Superior tried to explain as much as she felt that I could understand that I was going to be at the school and that I was going to be living with other children there during the day. However, those children leave at the end of the day and I was going to be taken care of by the nuns. I was also told that I was going to be taught religion and that my name would be changed and...to Suzanne LeDent, and this was the name that I would...that I can only answer by. I have to forget my other name, that there was no more name like that, because this was going to be something totally new and I just have to follow these rules. So I...I did. And she handed me some medals and, with a safety pin, and she told me every time that I memorized what each medal meant that I would get a new one. And I did. I started memorizing different...uh...prayers for medals and she gave me a rosary and she taught me how to do the rosary and this went on for periods of time. Uh, I think the most frightening part of the experience was the evenings because I was taken to what seemed like a dormitory that had miles upon miles of just corridors and they were just all partitions in between and I was put into one of these partitions that had a bed, a sink, and a huge crucifix, and one...one of the nuns was...was in charge, and I was left in this dormitory at night. Um, that was rather scary. And, uh, I would just say in my prayers.
Renee's father left for the U.S. in 1939. Before Renee and her mother could join him, they had to flee to Belgium to escape the repression of Jews in Austria. The Germans occupied Belgium in 1940. Renee was hidden in a convent for two years, until the Germans became suspicious. The underground took Renee to a Protestant family's farm, and then to an orphanage. After the war she was reunited with her mother, who had survived Auschwitz. Five years later they joined her father in the U.S.
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