My Dad, Irwin Y. Straus
My Dad, Irwin Y. Straus (Feb. 2, 1920-December 16, 1980)
So many people know me and know all about my mother, Charlotte Gerson, my brother Howard, and grandfather Dr. Max Gerson, originator of the Gerson therapy and by many considered the father of modern nutritional therapy.
Not many of my followers know about my father, Irwin Y. Straus.
Today I want to remember him, because it would have been his 100th birthday and I lost him many years ago.
Dad was one of 5 siblings, two boys and three girls, born to Friedrich and Edith Straus in the German town of Karlsruhe, February 2, 1920. He grew up with a passion for photography and some of his amazing early black and white photos are truly historic. In his teens he was sent to a private Swiss school in St. Gallen where, among other well-to-do sons, he became friendly with none other than the young man who would become Philip Duke of Edinburgh.
His family, in Germany, had no access to the foreign press, but in Switzerland Irwin did, and he soon noticed that when Hitler said he would do something, he inevitably did it within two months. So when the foreign papers he read reported Hitler’s threat to close the borders where many Jews were already escaping, he called the family to an emergency pow wow in a border village and told them what was going on. In Germany itself the net was closing very gradually and many Jews did not see what was coming.
Irwin was a good salesman and very persuasive from an early age. The entire family still credits him with having saved them, for after this meeting they packed up what they could and escaped from Germany, just 10 days before the gates slammed shut with the pogrom called Kristallnacht.
In the US, Irwin began to make his name as a photographer and among many jobs, worked with the legendary Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.
He met and married Charlotte Gerson in 1939,
With a young wife, Irwin was exempted from military service but promised to sign up if the United States were to enter the war. True to his word, he enlisted on December 8, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
His linguistic skill and excellent writing ability gave him the opportunity to work with renowned author Hans Habe on a propaganda newspaper to be spread to German troups behind their lines. I came across many copies of this newspaper when I lived in London and given its crumbling condition donated it to the Imperial War Museum, where it was restored and conserved.
I remember one story of how their truck was shot at as they rode back and forth with megaphones broadcasting in German behind enemy lines. They interrogated captured German soldiers about life in the camp and spoke directly by name to those they could, demoralizing them and trying to convince them the war was lost and they would be treated well if they surrendered.
Irwin was present and took some great photos of the liberation of Paris in 1945.
In 1947, I was born and he decided a photographer’s career was too precarious for a family man and built his own business, importing and exporting various waxes from South America and then developing products with them. He had a laboratory in the basement and I remember the strange smells that filtered through to our kitchen. Finally he hired a chemist and built a lab in his office.
My parents divorced in 1964, and two years later Dad married Maxene Taylor, a wonderful lady with whom I built a great and lasting relationship until her death a couple of years ago. I always considered myself privileged to have two amazing mothers.
Maxene brought to the marriage a son and a daughter who also, with their families have remained lifelong friends.
It would be impossible to summarize all of Irwin’s passions and activities, but I want to celebrate his life especially on this important anniversary.
Photo: Irwin and Charlotte, circa 1941
- Margaret Straus