Irene Varga, 90, of Battle Creek, Michigan died peacefully at Glenn Arbor Place on Tuesday, January 31, 2023.
Irene was born February 18, 1932 in Ostojicevo, Coke, Serbia, formerly Yugoslavia to Janik and Helen (Terhs) Szimona. Her birth name was Irean Szimona.
Irene's father was a wealthy Jewish businessman who owned a vineyard among other venues. When she was nine years old, World War II began and the German Nazis began taking the Jews to concentration camps. Her mother was Catholic so she was not at risk, but her husband and Irene were. Her father was taken by the Germans and loaded on a truck with other Jewish men and later killed in 1939. Her Jewish grandmother died shortly after her father's death, so it was just Irene and her mother.
Then the Germans came to take half-Jews. Irene was only nine years old and taken to a German camp. Her mother paid one of the camp guards, who was a friend of her father, to hide Irene in a barn with the horses under the hay whenever the German guards arrived. She was there about 4 Â½ months, per her memory, when the Germans opened the camp and fled because the Russians were advancing. Irene was then reunited with her mother.
Then she and her mother fled Yugoslavia by boat on the Danube River. Her father had owned a large boat and a family male friend escorted them to Germany where the U.S. Military were stationed. The boat was confiscated by the U.S. because they thought that it was German owned. Thankfully her mother brought a suitcase with a significant amount of money as they fled.
Irene enrolled in a school in Passau, Germany after they arrived. She finished school there where she was trained as a tailor. She opened her own shop which was frequented by U.S. soldiers who wanted their issued military clothes altered. This is where she met her future husband. They married and returned at the end of the war, with her mother, to Cleveland, Ohio, her husband's hometown. They later came to Fort Custer in Battle Creek where he was stationed and built a home in Lakeview.
When the Vietnam war was in full force, her husband, who was a pilot, received orders to report . He was later killed by friendly fire one week before the end of the war.
Irene continued to live in Battle Creek with her mother and worked as a tailor for a number of local retail stores including Faulhaber's, Robinsons, Hudsons, Marshall Fields, and later out of her home.
Her mother passed away in 1995. Left alone, Irene then worked at Main Street Market, while continuing doing alterations for many people in the Battle Creek area. Irene was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church for many years.
Irene is survived by an uncle in Serbia, as well as special family friends, Charlie and Anne Burnham, their children and twelve grandchildren.
Friends will be received 10:30 â 11:00 a.m. Friday, February 24, 2023, at St. Joseph Catholic Church, where Reverend Christopher Ankley will celebrate Mass at 11:00 a.m. Inurnment will be held in May at Memorial Park Cemetery.
Arrangements are by Farley Estes Dowdle Funeral Cremation Preneed Care. Personal stories or messages may be placed in the Memory Book at www.farleyestesdowdle.com.