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28 December 1929 |
|Known for||Holocaust survivor|
Irene Zisblatt, born Irene Zegelstein in 1929, is a Hungarian-born American Holocaust survivor. She was an inmate in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. She is most well known for her autobiography The Fifth Diamond. Her testimony is also a part of Steven Spielberg's USC Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
Irene Zegelstein was born on 28 December 1929, in the resort town of Polena, in what is now Slovakia, in a house with no electricity. Her father was a business owner, and her mother was a housewife. Around 1939, at the age of nine, she was expelled from school, since Jewish people were forbidden to leave their houses after six in the evening or before eight in the morning.
On March 19, 1944, she and her family were sent to the Miskolc ghetto, which, according to Zisblatt, consisted of " a couple of streets around a brick factory." All houses were already full, so her family had to "built a little tent from our tablecloths and sheets, whatever we had in our suitcases, and we lived under that." Two months later, she and her family were betrayed into thinking that they were being sent to work in a vineyard in Birkenau, Germany. Instead, they were sent on a train to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She was immediately separated from her family and she was the only one of her 40 family members to survive the gas chambers. Everyone older than 45 or younger than 15 was sent immediately to the gas chambers. Her entire family was gassed up in Gas Chamber No. 2, including her parents. Before leaving, her mother gave her four diamonds to purchase bread. However, not wanting to accept the soldiers' request to put valuables inside bags, Zisblatt swallowed the diamonds. She later stated that she then recovered the diamonds from her feces. She then would swallow them again. She did this numerous times when she was selected for testing. She would rinse them off in her soup, or if there was no soup in the mud before ingesting them again. Later she turned them into a tear drop shape, and she is planning on passing them down in her family to the first born girl. 
With the help of another prisoner, she was able to escape Auschwitz by getting on a train traveling across tracks running near the No. 3 gas chamber. The train took her to the Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany where shortly after she was forced to go on a "death march" as the war wound down. After marching for days upon days Zisblatt states that she and her friend escaped during a dark night as they stood between two forests. The next day, they were found by American soldiers. Her friend later died from disease the following day. She was adopted to an American family two years later.
Zisblatt was one of five Hungarian Holocaust survivors whose story was featured in the 1999 Academy Award winning documentary movie, The Last Days directed by Steven Spielberg. The documentary follows Zisblatt as she and her daughter travel back to sites of memory, including Zisblatt's childhood town, which she had not seen since her deportation in 1944. Zisblatt also visited the ghetto she was formerly placed in, before she was deported to Auschwitz.
Zisblatt now lives in Florida. She has a son Mark (born circa 1957), a daughter, Robin (born circa 1963) and five grandchildren, She frequently makes visits to American schools to talk about her personal Holocaust experiences.
- Zisblatt, Irene. The Fifth Diamond, 2008
- Holden, Stephen. The Last Days (1998) FILM REVIEW; In Hungary, the Final Days of the 'Final Solution' "The New York Times", February 5, 1999