The younger of two children, Irene Freund was born to Jewish parents in the industrial city of Mannheim. Her father, a German army veteran of World War I, was an interior decorator. Her mother was a housewife.
When the Nazis forced Jewish children out of public school, Irene began attending a Jewish school After the Nazis burned her school, Irene's older brother left for safety in Britain, but Irene was too young to join him.
when Irene was 10, her family was sent to Gurs and then Rivesaltes, terrible camps in southern France. There was little food.
The Jewish Children's Aid Society took Irene away, placing her in a Catholic convent along with 13 other Jewish girls. She became became Irene Fanchet and studied under a woman named Sister Theresa.
One day, Nazi police came to Irene's convent looking for hidden German-Jewish children. One of the girls at the convent, who was fluent in French, did the talking. It worked. The Germans left, and they were safe.
After being liberated in 1944 at the age of 13, Irene was placed in sevral children's homes before moving to America in 1947.