“Irma’s Passport: One Woman, Two World Wars, and a Legacy of Courage” by Catherine Ehrlich— A Challenged Identity

Ehrlich, Catherine. “Irma’s Passport: One Woman, Two World Wars, and a Legacy of Courage”, She Writes Press, 2021.

A Challenged Identity

Amos Lassen

Irma grew up in Austria and believed that the world was nearing the end of wars and prejudice but that all changed when her identity was questioned by the two World Wars. History seems to get in her way. Adolf Eichmann determines the fate of her prominent Jewish politician husband, Jakob Ehrlich and this brought about her escape from Vienna. She and  her son went first to London and then to New York where Irma enters a world of power elites (including Chaim Weizmann (the first president of Israel), British parliamentarians, and other renowned figures). She ultimately gains an opportunity to bring relief to refugees. 

The story is narrated alternately by Irma’s granddaughter, Catherine, and Irma herself as we follow Irma’s journey from a country girl in Czechoslovakia to grande dame in New York. Combining memoir and history, we get a look at human dignity and courage.

Irma attended university when there were only 4% women students, and she was in an English literature class with Franz Kafka. She was later driven on a quest to find  her missing first husband after WWI. As she does this we see a good deal about assimilation, the Jews of Eastern Europe, early Zionism, Antisemitism and the Holocaust.

Through her grandmother’s journals, Catherine Ehrlich follows Irma Ehrlich’s war years journey from a small town in Bohemia through Prague, Vienna, London and, finally, New York.  The journals reflect what Irma was going through and we gain a look at the life of an amazing woman.

I have heard over and over again the people are tired of reading about the Holocaust but let me assure you that this is unlike anything you have ever read before about that time in history. This is a story about community and self-reliance. Irma refused to see herself as a victim and did what he had to do to get into the position of being able to  help others.