In this gripping family tale, Catherine Ehrlich explores her Austrian grandparents’ influential lives at the crossroads of German and Jewish national movements. Weaving her grandmother Irma’s spellbinding memoirs into her narrative, she profiles a charismatic woman who confronts history with courage and rebuilds lives—for herself and Europe’s dispossessed.
Starting out in Bohemia’s picturesque countryside, Irma studies languages in Prague alongside Kafka and Einstein—and so joins Europe’s intelligentsia. Tension builds as World War I destroys that world, and Irma marries prominent Zionist, Jakob Ehrlich, bold advocate for Vienna’s 180,000 Jews. Irma’s direct words detail the weeks after Hitler’s arrival when Adolf Eichmann himself appears to liberate Irma and her son from Vienna.
Irma’s stunning turnaround in London unfolds amidst a dazzling cohort of luminaries—Chaim and Vera Weizmann, and Viscountess Beatrice Samuel among them. Irma finds her voice as an activist, saving lives and resettling refugees, and ultimately moves on to New York where her work resumes among high-profile friends like Catskills hostess Jennie Grossinger.
Along the way, Ehrlich queries her family’s fate: what was behind Eichmann's twisted role in her grandparents’ lives? How was Irma able to focus outwardly when her own life was in crisis? Part intimate memoir, part historical thriller, Irma’s Passport is an inspiring true story about remarkable women whose unsung courage restored the world we know.