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Gelissen, Rena Kornreich 1920-2006

Gelissen, Rena Kornreich 1920-2006


Born August 24, 1920, in Tylicz, Poland; died August 8, 2006, in Bristol, CT; daughter of Chaim and Sarah Kornreich; married John Gelissen; children: Sylvia, Joseph, Peter, Robert.




Times/News T.E.D. Award for best writer of the year, 1995.


(With Heather Dune Macadam) Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1995.


Born in Poland in 1920, Rena Kornreich Gelissen was twenty-two when she volunteered for a Nazi work camp in a failed attempt to keep her Jewish family safe. Gelissen was condemned to Auschwitz, where she spent three years as a prisoner along with her younger sister Danka. Holding true to a childhood promise to keep her sister safe, Gelissen narrowly escaped death many times during her years of internment, including a close brush with infamous S.S. officer and physician Joseph Mengele. She was saved at war's end by a young Red Cross worker who would eventually become her husband, and the two sisters later immigrated to the United States.

In 1995 Gelissen recounted her World War II experiences in Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz. Written with freelance writer Heather Dune Macadam, the book is a firsthand account of the horrors faced by those who labored in the Nazi work camps, and details how the sisters relied on one another to come through the experience alive. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book a "spirited survivor's testament." Women's Review of Books contributor Julia Bard described Rena's Promise as "significant and interesting" and "a grueling portrayal of daily life in Auschwitz." Before her death in 2006, Gelissen traveled across the United States sharing her story as a guest lecturer.



Publishers Weekly, September 4, 1995, review of Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz, p. 60.

Women's Review of Books, October, 1996, Julia Bard, review of Rena's Promise, p. 13.



Hendersonville Times-News, August 10, 2006, "Rena K. Gelissen."

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