A group of friends walks arm-in-arm down a street in the Ardennes.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 71155
- Photo Designation
INVASION & OCCUPATION -- Belgium -- JEWS -- Daily Life/Families
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Irene Awret
A group of friends walks arm-in-arm down a street in the Ardennes.
Included in the group is Irene Spicker (left), a German-Jewish refugee.
- Irene Awret (born Irene Spicker) is the daughter of Moritz and Margarete Spicker. She was born on January 30, 1921 in Berlin. Irene had two older siblings: Werner (b. 1912) and Gerda. Her father, a merchant, fought in the Kaiser's army in World War I and was a deeply patriotic German. After his business failed, he became a traveling salesman of brushes and brooms. Irene's mother Margarete contracted the flu and passed away when Irene was only six years old. In 1927 the family moved to new working house development known as Uncle Tom's cabin. From a young age, Irene displayed an interest in the arts. After Margarete's death, Gerda cared for Irene until moved out after arguing with her father about her Christian boyfriend, Karl-Freidrich Schmidt. Werner also had a non-Jewish girlfriend and left the house at the age of eighteen. Gerda worked in a clothing store in her husband's name. After her son Peter was born, Gerda reconciled with their father. Brother's wife had a baby girl. Irene survived the initial purge of Jewish students from schools since father was a WWI volunteer. However, as anti-Jewish sentiment increased, Irene responded by becoming more deeply involved with Judaism. She joined the Zionist youth group Werkleute (Working People) which became center of her social life. In February 1937 a policeman caught Irene reading Leo Pinsker's Zionist tract, "Auto-Emancipation" and hauled her into a police station. They let her go when they realized the political message was not intended for Germany. At the end of the year, she was expelled from school, since no more exemptions were being granted to Jewish students. Her family decided that she instead could take art lessons provided that she also learned commercial art. In the mornings, Irene attended a technical school where learned art restoration and in the afternoon she received private lessons with a Jewish illustrator, Eugene Hersch with whom she also developed a romantic relationship. The family's situation continued to deteriorate. Gerda was forced to close her shop even though it was registered under husband's name. Her father lost his job, and they were forced to vacate their apartment. After Kristallnacht the Spickers felt compelled to leave Germany. Irene's brother immigrated to Santo Domingo (the only visa he could get) though his wife decided to remain in Germany with their daughter. An uncle in America provided affidavits, but his offer came too late to be of much use. After Eugene received a visa to England, Irene tried to immigrate there as well on a special domestic visa. However, her hopes were dashed after she received a failing grade on a test of domestic skills. The Spickers therefore decided to hire a smuggler to escort Irene and Gerda into Belgium. During their first attempt, the smuggler informed the police, and as a result, they spent two weeks in jail. After being freed, they decided to try again and were successful. After arriving in Brussels they reunited with Gerda's husband and son; their father joined them in August. Irene was allowed to stay provided that she didn't work. Irene supported herself as a maid and by selling small drawings. She also studied at the Academy of Art and became friendly with many of the other Belgian students. After the German invasion of Belgium, Gerda's husband and two cousins were arrested as enemy aliens and sent to a French internment camp. Gerda's husband eventually was freed and returned to Belgium, but Irene's cousins perished. Irene continued her art classes and supported herself with small commissions. During the summer of 1942 Irene discarded her star and went on vacation with her friends from the art school on a farm in the countryside. The owner, Mr. Dessy, belonged to the resistance. He knew she was Jewish and allowed her to remain even after the other students returned home. Meanwhile in Brussels, her Uncle David had been taken away and transported to Auschwitz. Eventually it became too dangerous for Irene to remain on the farm, and in early 1943 Mr. Dessy told her that she would have to leave. However, he first supplied her with an authentic Belgian identity card bearing the name of a baroness and extra food to take with her. Once she returned to the city, an intermarried Jew hired Irene to do some artwork. While she was there, the Belgian police raided the apartment. They brought her to the police station and interrogated her about the whereabouts of her father. Surprisingly, though Irene never disclosed her father's location, the police dropped the matter but transferred her to Malines (Mechlin), a transit camp near Antwerp. Though most prisoners remained in Malines for only a short period before being deported to Auschwitz, Irene was assigned a job in the camp's leather workshop where she painted small decorative brooches on scraps of discarded leather. Soon afterwards the camp commandant gave her the commission to paint the walls of the SS casino. Irene then was reassigned to the painter's workshop where she met Azriel Awret, (originally from Lodz, Poland). Irene helped him print prisoner numbers on name cards and also drew portraits in her spare time. In later November 1943, Awret was released through the intervention of the Belgian Queen Mother. He occasionally contacted Irene in the months that followed. Then on September 4, 1944, Irene was one of 527 Jews liberated from camp. She managed to reunite with her father. He survived the war in a Jewish old age home but passed away half a year later in March 1945. Irene also reunited with Awret. They married and she gave birth to a daughter. After the war, Belgium authorities decided that since Malines was under German jurisdiction, Irene and Azriel were foreigners without legal residence and demanded that they emigrate. In 1949, Irene, Azriel and their three year old daughter immigrated to Israel.
[Source: Awret, Irene. "They'll Have to Catch Me First." Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.]
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Irene Awret
Record last modified: 2012-02-07 00:00:00
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