Irving Karchmar – A Liberated Birth

“Like acid on skin, inflicting drops of pain, my father shared with me the details of his life and eventual escape from the Nazis during World War II,” started Irving Karchmar as he stood behind the lectern at London Middle School on Feb. 24 and explained his family history. “My father was a boxer and a fearless man,” he added.  When the Nazis wanted to rid the world of Jews, his father was determined to fight. “Save one life and save the world,” his father would say. Meaning when you save a life, that family legacy lives on. 

Karchmar’s parents lived in Lithuania and had two children, ages 7 and 9. His father went to work each day while his mother was a stay-at-home wife. When the Nazis came to their town, Karchmar’s mother hid the girl in the stove and the boy in the closet. They sheltered like that for three years until the Nazis eventually discovered the children and took them away, never to be seen again. When Karchmar’s father came home from work that day and was told the children were gone, he and his wife plotted to leave. 

The pair attempted a series of escapes – first by tying bed sheets together and descending from a second story dwelling, then living in the forest for several days. They were captured by the Nazis and brought to a camp. The Karchmars finally escaped when Karchmar – whose job it was to drive Nazi leaders around –  took off with a work truck while his boss was absent one day. After selling the truck, the pair moved to a DP (Displaced Persons) camp in Germany and Irving Karchmar was born. His birth was celebrated as one of the first babies born after the liberation in an Allied hospital. 

The Karchmar family stayed at the DP camp for approximately four years, having another son while there. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Boston but didn’t stay long as Karchmar heard there was better living and work conditions, as well as other Jewish communities, in Chicago. Karchmar worked on Maxwell Street, selling items to make clothes. 

Irving Karchmar was told his parents’ story when he was 18 years old but didn’t appreciate the gravity of the narrative until he was much older. He shared his family’s drama with London Middle School students where his granddaughter, Hayley Cohen, attends. Social studies teacher Lisa Thomas describes the scene, “The students were enthralled with his story. It was a living version of their history and English classes. Karchmar’s parents’ tenacity to live on through and after the horrors of the Holocaust should be an inspiration to students everywhere that they can overcome their circumstances.” 

Karchmar attended DePaul University and studied philosophy. He is 77 years old, currently a science fiction writer, living on the east coast.