April 23, 2024
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Rena Quint: Teaching the Lessons of the Holocaust

When Rena Quint shares her Holocaust testimony, she likes to end on a positive note, speaking of the life she built in Israel with her late husband and her three generations of descendants who live in the Jewish homeland. Her video testimony that was produced by Yad Vashem has over 350,000 views on YouTube, and 4,000 copies of her memoir, “A Daughter of Many Mothers,” have been sold. She has lost track of the number of groups she has shared her testimony with.

Rena is the only one of her family to survive the atrocities of the Holocaust. Nazi Germans invaded her hometown of Piotrkow, Poland, in 1939 when she was just 3 years old. At age 6, the Jewish residents of her town were forcefully sent to the Great Synagogue of Piotrkow, where she witnessed men, women and children being brutally shot to death by Nazis. She managed to escape the synagogue, but her brothers and mother found a different fate and were sent to their deaths at the Treblinka extermination camp. Rena managed to survive the coming months by dressing as a 10-year-old boy so that she could work with her uncle and father at a glass factory in a slave labor camp.

In 1944, Rena and her father were sent by cattle car to Germany on a harrowing journey with no food, water or toilets. She still remembers eating snow off the ground after she disembarked from the train. Rena’s father realized that he could no longer disguise his daughter as a boy, so he sent her off with another woman and gave Rena his only possession, a stack of family photographs. He continued to the Buchenwald concentration camp where he was sent to his death while Rena was sent on a death march in the freezing-cold temperatures. Moments after she arrived at the Bergen-Belsen camp, Nazis snatched the photographs from her hands and tore them up.

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Rena remembers vividly the moment in April of 1945 when British soldiers arrived at Bergen-Belsen to liberate the camp. She was 10 years old at the time and near death after being smitten with typhus. Rena was taken to a makeshift hospital and from there she went to an orphanage in Sweden before arriving in the United States with her newly adopted mother. After her adopted mother passed away, Rena was adopted by a Jewish couple who were living in Lyndenhurst, New York. Until that point, Rena was known as Freydel which means joy in Yiddish. Her adopted parents gave her the name Rena, the Hebrew translation of joy.

Rena excelled in school and went on to earn degrees in education. She worked for many years as an educator and lecturer in New York. She and her husband began making frequent trips to Israel in 1969, and in 1984 they made aliyah after purchasing a Jerusalem apartment that Rena says is “just perfect.” Rena has four children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren all living in Israel. Many of her grandchildren have served in the IDF or in Israel’s National Service.

In 1985, Rena began guiding groups in Yad Vashem and sharing her testimony. She has told her story to schoolchildren, teens, young adults and university students visiting Israel, high-profile actors, members of Congress, diplomats and ambassadors from around the world. “I hope I make some sort of impression of how I love Israel and living in Jerusalem and how important Israel is, and that maybe if we had Israel some of the 6 million Jews would have been saved,” Rena shared.

Rena feels that it is her obligation to educated others about the Holocaust. She shared the story of a 15-year-old who listened to her testimony. After Rena finished speaking, the teenager approached her and told her that now she wants to go home and tell her parents what she heard. “I feel that I did something that is important,” Rena shared. “I think the most powerful thing people can do is to meet one person and you come away with one story.”

Rena also opens up her home to groups from around the world. She especially loves hosting groups of Jewish and non-Jewish tourists for a Shabbat meal. She shares her testimony with them but also teaches them about Shabbat and Jewish tradition. She can still remember the “smell of Shabbat” in Piotrkow, when her mother would serve cholent and her large extended family would gather together. She no longer remembers the melodies she sang or even the faces of her family members who perished, but today in Jerusalem she is singing her own melodies and passing on her family traditions to her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“There is no victory when you think I lost everybody in my family. On the other hand, there is a victory that I have these children and grandchildren and great-children living here and loving to live here,” Rena shared.

Rena often wonders what her mother was thinking on the train to Treblinka. “I hope she is looking down from heaven and knows that her daughter survived and is living in Jerusalem and has this family. Life has continued.”

Rena Quint’s testimony can be viewed here. Watch it and share it with one other person.


Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit-management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.

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