In Memoriam: Missing My Cousin Ira on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is the first January 27 in 93 years without my cousin Ira, zikhroyne-livrokhe (may his memory be a blessing). On January 27, 2006, on his 76th birthday, the United Nations held the first designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to remember the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust and encourage education to help prevent future genocide. That day was also the 61st anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.

Ira was not a Holocaust survivor, he was born and lived in the US, but he was my last living relative who had physically been with members of our family who were murdered in the Holocaust. His parents and he traveled by boat in 1932-33 to what was then Poland and is now Ukraine to visit his father’s family. Here is a picture taken during that trip of Ira with his parents (at left) and with his grandfather and step-grandmother, and some of his aunts, uncles, and cousins.

By the end of that trip, Ira’s father wanted to stay in Europe. It’s easy to imagine how being reunited with his family of origin would leave him yearning to do so. He was visiting them for the first time since he’d immigrated to the United States in his early 20s, eleven years before. But Ira’s mother could see that the situation was not good for them in Europe and convinced her husband to return to New York—a decision that most likely saved their lives. Not many years later when some of these same relatives tried to get papers to emigrate, they could not. To my knowledge none of the other people in this photo survived the war, but it is my hope that maybe some of the younger children did and didn’t remember their family’s names to get in touch.

When I think of the importance of remembering the Holocaust in recent years, I’m acutely aware that the last of the Holocaust survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust are in very old age. I wonder and worry about how that will impact our global memory of this horrific act of genocide and our vigilance to prevent both antisemitism and any kind of genocide. There was a powerful connection in knowing that, even though it was before his memory, the cousin I chatted with about family history and the current state of the world, among other things, had been present in an area where parts of my family had lived for generations, but where their culture is now erased.

Ira was also one of my few remaining family members who spoke Yiddish, a language I’ve dearly loved learning over the past few years. I was beginning to be able to speak with him a bit in Yiddish, and he liked sharing favorite words and phrases with me and seeing what I knew. I was always trying to discern more about his accent. I miss those conversations and that vital connection to the language of our ancestors.

Ira valued the perpetuation and vitality of Jewish culture and Yiddish language, and became a donor to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. One of many ways to honor this day is to visit their website and see what you discover:

Ira and I kvelled together over Aaron Lansky’s engaging book about the origins and growth of the Yiddish Book Center. Ira recommended it, and I do too. Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books.

Fortunately for children and picture book fans, Lansky’s story was also told beautifully by Sue Macy, with Yiddish sprinkled in, and illustrated by Stacy Innerst, influenced by the style of Marc Chagall. I recommend it too. The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come.

On this day, I think of the importance of remembering—remembering history and remembering loved ones. And I am glad we have many resources to help us remember.

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3 Responses to In Memoriam: Missing My Cousin Ira on Holocaust Remembrance Day

  1. What a beautiful post and remembrance day! We must keep their stories alive. It’s wonderful you have the large family photo. I never get tired reading books and articles. Thank you for sharing today!

  2. Karen – what a blessing you knew Ira and learned about your relatives. It is such a tragic tale to hear of those who chose to stay behind. My husband’s late grandparents did not want to leave Germany in the 30s but ultimately did. Thanks for such a thoughtful piece.

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