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Irene and Henry Frank papers

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 2016.496.1

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    Irene and Henry Frank papers

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    The Irene and Henry Frank papers include correspondence, biographical materials, photographs, and Theresienstadt and Deggendorf materials documenting Irene and Henry Frank from Berlin, their survival in concentration and labor camps during the Holocaust, and their immigration to the United States in 1946.

    Correspondence primarily consists of messages from Henry’s mother, Anna, in Theresienstadt that were delivered to Henry at the Wulkow labor camp when supplies were delivered from Theresienstadt to Wulkow. Additional messages from Theresienstadt to Henry at Wulkow come from his sister, Inge, and his friends. The collection also includes a postwar letter from Dorothea Schonberg in Glasgow to Fritz Silberstein in Theresienstadt long after he had been transferred to Auschwitz and killed.

    Deggendorf materials include a photograph of a performance at the Deggendorf displaced persons camp, a torn tickets to an event at Deggendorf, and a picture postcard of Deggendorf. Henry Frank biographical materials include identification papers, certificates, and ration cards documenting his internment at Theresienstadt, postwar stay at the Deggendorf displaced persons camp, and immigration to the United States. Many of the records have adhesive and backing paper attached to them as they appear to have been removed from a scrapbook.

    Irene Frank biographical materials include identification papers documenting her status as a displaced person and victim of the Holocaust and a ticket documenting her immigration to the United States. Photographs depict Irene Frank’s arrival in New York aboard the SS Marine Perch, Theresienstadt, Deggendorf, and Holocaust memorials.

    Printed materials include 1975 and 1991 Theresienstadt reunion programs, a 1992 article describing Henry Frank’s Holocaust experiences, and clippings about Auschwitz. Belsora Silberstein biographical materials include her 1939 ID, 1946 displaced persons camp ID, and a vaccination card.

    The collection also includes picture postcards of Theresienstadt, many of which bear evidence of having been pasted into a scrapbook.
    inclusive:  circa 1930-1992
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Irene Frank
    Collection Creator
    Irene S. Frank
    Henry Frank
    Irene Frank (nee Silberstein, b. 1927) was born in Berlin, Germany to Dr. Friedrich (Fritz) Silberstein (1890-1944) and Lotte Frank Silberstein (1903-1941). Friedrich fought for Germany in World War I, and received the Iron Cross first class for his service. Later, he inherited his father’s successful moving company. The family lived in an affluent neighborhood, and had many Gentile friends. They were not religious, and did not observe holidays or the Sabbath. Irene was an only child, and had a sheltered and pampered childhood.

    On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. That same year, Irene began attending public school where she first experienced antisemitism. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed. The laws defined a person as Jewish if they had three or four Jewish grandparents, regardless of their religious practices, and mandated the total separation of Jews and non-Jews. No longer able to attend public school, Irene’s parents enrolled her in a private Jewish school. In the wake of the violent, antisemitic, pogroms known as Kristallnacht, Irene’s school closed, and her parents enrolled her in an American school for diplomats’ children. On September 3, 1939, France and England declared war on Germany, leading the school to close after Irene’s first year.

    The increasing restrictions, antisemitism, and violence led many people to leave Germany. Irene’s family was allowed to immigrate to the United States, but Friedrich’s reluctance to leave his mother alone in Germany caused him to delay their departure. Instead of escaping with his family, Friedrich’s moving company helped many others to move out of the country. Eventually, German authorities prohibited further emigration, forcing the family to remain in Berlin. In 1941, Friedrich’s moving business underwent Aryanization and was forcibly transferred to a non-Jew. Afterwards, he was forced into compulsory labor in a Bakelite factory. Irene’s mother, Lotte, was also forced into labor at a Siemens electronics factory. Never having worked outside of the home, this was very difficult for her. After Lotte's first day of work, she came home, overdosed on pills, and died in the hospital the following day.

    Following Lotte’s death, Irene’s grandmother Belsora (Bella) Silberstein (1868-?) moved in with Irene and her father. In September 1942, Bella was deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. Friedrich and Irene were also deported there on October 4. They were placed in separate housing, and Irene soon came down with scarlet fever. After a quarantine period, she was relocated to a youth home inside the camp and assigned to work in the agriculture fields outside the ghetto. Due to poor health conditions, Irene developed frostbite and contracted hepatitis for several months. The ghetto had a hospital and included some medical care, but disease, malnutrition, and illness were rampant in Theresienstadt.

    On September 28, 1944, Friedrich was deported on Transport Ek to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in German-occupied Poland and Irene never saw him again. A week later, on October 6, Irene was taken to Auschwitz on Transport Eo. Upon arrival, she survived the selection process, which was overseen by Dr. Josef Mengele. She had her hair forcibly shaved, and received a men’s undershirt for clothing. She was assigned to a barrack with1,500 other people who slept 10 to a bed. They had to stand outside every day for hours at a time.

    In early December, Irene and 100 other women were forced on a transport with a group from the men’s section. After stopping to disembark the men, the women were taken to Merzdorf, a forced labor subcamp of Gross-Rosen. They joined another 300 women processing, spinning, and weaving flax in a linen mill for Kramsta-Methner und Frahne AG. Irene worked on one of the processing machines, and was able to wrap some of the flax around her legs for extra warmth and eat some of the seeds when no one was looking. At night, they had to unload coal from trains, resulting in 16-hour workdays. The women were counted every morning and night, and many of them died from malnourishment.

    On May 2, 1945, Irene was working at the machine when she heard Germany surrendered. The SS soon abandoned the camp, and locked the prisoners in the factory. Merzdorf was liberated by the Soviet army on May 8. Some of the soldiers soon began sexually assaulting some of the prisoners, killing two. Irene and four friends fled to a nearby abandoned farmhouse and hid in the barn for a night. The following morning, they left the camp, walking and hitchhiking until they reached Dresden. From there, Irene got a ride on an Army truck to Berlin and snuck into the city.

    Irene then went to the Jewish hospital, and sought out a distant cousin who worked as an operating nurse. While living in Berlin, she met a friend from Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, who had just come from Deggendorf displaced persons (DP) camp. He informed her that her grandmother had survived and was there. Irene traveled to Munich, with help from the Red Cross, and arrived at Deggendorf in March 1946. The day before Irene arrived, her grandmother was sent to Sweden for medical care. Although she missed her grandmother, Irene met several people she knew from Theresienstadt, and made some new friends, including Heinz Frankenstein (1918-2002). After about a week in Deggendorf, Irene registered for passage to America, paid for by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the Joint). On May 14, 1946, Irene sailed from Bremen, Germany.

    After arriving in New York City, the Joint housed the refugees in the Hotel Marseilles. Irene soon got a job working for a dressmaker and moved into a furnished room. Since Irene had some English skills, she was able to get a job working in a patent office. Following her recuperation in Sweden, Belsora traveled to New York in July, where she and Irene reunited. Belsora then left New York for Mexico, where her daughter—Irene’s aunt—lived with her family. While living in New York, Irene built a tight-knit social circle with other Holocaust survivors. Among this circle was Heinz Frankenstein. He had changed his name to Henry Frank after arriving in the United States, and worked in the wholesale meat business. Irene and Henry married in April 1948, went on to have two children, and moved to New Jersey. They regularly visited local schools and gave talks about their experiences during the Holocaust.
    Henry Frank (1918-2002) was born Heinz Frankenstein in Berlin, Germany to Jakob (1888-1942) and Anna (nee Zydower, 1891-1944) Frankenstein. Heinz had four sisters: Dorothea (later Jastrow, 1914-1977), Irene (later Gratz, 1915-1944), Gerda (later Anschel, 1916-1942), and Inge (1925-1997). Jakob was injured fighting for Germany in World War I. He earned the Iron Cross for his service, but illness combined with his injuries made it difficult for him to work afterwards. As a result, the family was poor, and Anna had to work cleaning graves in a Jewish cemetery. As a child, Heinz was artistic and played the accordion and violin. The family was not very religious, but celebrated the major Jewish holidays. They lived in a mixed-religion neighborhood, and had many Gentile friends. Heinz always identified more strongly as German than Jewish, and never experienced antisemitism until 1933.

    On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Anti-Jewish decrees were passed that restricted every aspect of Jewish life. Heinz was forced to leave his public school, and he and his sisters began working to help support the family. He worked carrying coal in his neighborhood and later in a war supplies factory. In September 1939, in accordance with the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact, Germany and Russia invaded Poland. In response, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Heinz’s sister, Dorothea, her husband, and two children had fled for England earlier that summer, but the rest of the family were unable to leave Berlin. In April 1942, Gerda and her family were deported to the Warsaw Ghetto, and then to the Baltic region, where they were killed. Following the assassination attempt on General Reinhard Heydrich in Prague on May 27, 1942, Jakob was among 50 Jewish men who were rounded up in Berlin by the Gestapo. Jakob and the other men were transported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, lined up against a brick wall, and shot. Within the week, unaware of their father’s fate, Heinz, Inge, Irene, and Anna were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. Heinz was assigned to work as a men’s nurse in the ghetto hospital, and helped take care of patients’ daily needs. He was later transferred to work at a mental institution.

    In 1944, Heinz was among a group of young men deported to Wulkow near Berlin to build barracks for the Gestapo. They were beaten by the SS and promised that their good behavior would save their relatives in Theresienstadt from transport to the East. Irene had gotten sick and was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944. Anna volunteered to go along with her. A few days later, Inge was given permission to follow her mother, but by the time she arrived, Anna and Irene had been killed in the gas chambers. On October 27, Inge was deported to Oederan, a subcamp of Flossenbürg, where she was a forced laborer in a munitions factory. After a year in Wulkow, Heinz returned to Theresienstadt to find that his mother and sisters were gone.

    After four weeks in Theresienstadt, Heinz was deported to a camp near the town of Hof in Germany, where he renovated housing. After a month, Heinz and a group of nearly 200 prisoners were force-marched six days and nights back to Theresienstadt. Many people died on the march, but the group arrived on April 20, 1945. There, Heinz reunited with his sister, Inge—whose shaved head and dirty appearance made her unrecognizable—the following day. She was transported there following the evacuation of Oederan on April 14. Theresienstadt was liberated by the Soviet army on May 9, but a Typhus epidemic prevented Heinz and Inge from leaving immediately after liberation. Once he could leave, Heinz traveled to Berlin to find his mother, unaware she had died in Auschwitz. He returned to his sister in Theresienstadt, and they were picked up by the American army and taken to Deggendorf displaced persons (DP) camp. On the way, the trucks were involved in an accident, leaving Heinz with broken ribs and a short hospital stay.

    Heinz and Inge arrived at Deggendorf in June 1945, and stayed there until June 1946, when he immigrated to the United States. After arriving in New York City, the American Joint Distribution Committee put the refugees up in the Hotel Marseilles, and Heinz changed his name to Henry Frank. He could not speak English at first, but got a job working as a machinist at a factory in White Plains, a short distance from the city. He later got a job working in wholesale meat distribution. While living in New York, Henry belonged to a social circle with other Holocaust survivors. Every couple of weeks they would go to the piers to meet the arriving ships, and every Sunday they would go to Coney Island. Among this circle was Irene Silberstein (b. 1927), who he had met briefly while in Deggendorf. Henry and Irene married in April 1948, went on to have two children, and moved to New Jersey. They regularly visited local schools and gave talks about their experiences during the Holocaust.

    Inge remained in Deggendorf until September 1946, when she immigrated to England. She then joined her sister, Dorothea, who lived on a small farm in Scotland with her husband and children. Inge immigrated to the United States in November 1949. Later, Dorothea and her family also came to the United States.

    Physical Details

    9 folders
    System of Arrangement
    The Irene and Henry Frank papers are arranged as a single series.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Irene Frank donated the Irene and Henry Frank papers to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2016.
    Record last modified:
    2023-09-22 10:08:19
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