Obituary: Ilona Weiss / Holocaust survivor from Squirrel Hill
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As a young girl and a woman, Ilona Weiss endured one of the grimmest chapters in human history.
The Holocaust survivor devoted a lot of energy in her later years to making sure that others understood and would never forget that part of history.
Mrs. Weiss, of Squirrel Hill, died Tuesday of cardiac arrest.
She was 87.
Mrs. Weiss was born in Hungary to a large family.
She and her two brothers and two sisters were the only members of her immediate family who survived.
Her parents were killed at Auschwitz.
In May 1944, she and her sister were placed in the Auschwitz death camp in a barracks with 10,000 Hungarian girls.
They later ended up at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
After the British liberated Bergen-Belsen in 1945, Mrs. Weiss ended up in a refugee camp in Italy, where she began a new and brighter chapter in her life.
She met her husband, Joseph, and they moved to the U.S. and raised a family in Pittsburgh.
Her daughter, Beverly Weiss Manne of Squirrel Hill, recalled her mother's "remarkable resilience, strength and fortitude."
Mrs. Weiss became involved with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and would go to high schools to talk to students about her experiences.
Some of her written memories were included in "Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood During the Holocaust," a collection of first-hand accounts by Holocaust survivors.
The book came out of a series of writing workshops conducted at the Holocaust Center, which wanted to preserve the memories as they saw the number of survivors beginning to dwindle.
The book was edited by former Carnegie Mellon University professor Anita Brostoff and filmmaker Sheila Chamovitz, and was published by Oxford University Press in 2002.
In "The Gypsies," Mrs. Weiss describes the death of thousands of Gypsies who were at Auschwitz while she was there:
"The Gypsies were very noisy. We heard them singing and arguing at all hours. Then suddenly one morning, it was quiet.
"I asked the Kapo, 'What happened that the Gypsies are so quiet?'
"She pointed to the crematorium. She said that the Gypsies were there, up in the crematorium. All 20,000 of the young men and women Gypsies were gone -- all of them, in a single night."
"She thought it was so important that everyone understand the terrible crimes that were committed. She wanted to make sure the stories were told," Ms. Manne said.
"She instilled in me the need to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again."
Mrs. Weiss was an active member of the Shaare Torah congregation.
She was an avid reader and volunteered in fundraising efforts for Carnegie Library. She also enjoyed sewing.
In addition to Ms. Manne, she is survived by her daughters Judith Neborak of Squirrel Hill, Marilyn Hendricks of Butler and Linda Weiss of Phoenix; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
Graveside services and interment will be held at 3 p.m. today at Shaare Torah Cemetery.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh, 5738 Darlington Road, Pittsburgh 15217 or to USC Shoah Foundation Institute, 650 W. 35th St., Suite 114, Los Angeles, CA 90089.
First Published September 2, 2010 12:00 am