Stories keep father's memory alive


WALLA WALLA -- Novelist Tim O'Brien once wrote "stories can save us" -- not our bodies, but our lives. In a blue photo album, encased in plastic sleeves, are the pictures and words that Sharon Kaufman-Osborn uses to save her father's life.

Irving Kaufman died July 14, but his daughter has been trying to preserve her father's life and memories for the past year. Kaufman, an octogenarian when he died, suffered from gradual memory loss, which prompted his daughter to create a biographical memory book that preserved all the characters, plot twists and tragedies of his life story.

"I made this for him so that people would know him, rather than just taking care of this man, and also so that he would know his story," Kaufman-Osborn said, while gently turning the pages of the "therapeutic" memory book, and recounting her father's past. Over the past year, Kaufman-Osborn, family members and caretakers used the book to help Kaufman remember who he was.

Inside, the book provides a brief biographical outline of a man who in 1938 -- just months before the infamous Kristallnacht -- was sent to America by his Jewish parents, who believed that their 13-year-old son would soon be imperiled by Germany's Nazi regime. Kaufman would never see his parents again, and wouldn't be reunited with his brother, Menachem, who was sent to Israel (then Palestine) in 1937, for some 25 years.

Even though Kaufman's memories had been gradually fading for the past 10 years, not even mental deterioration could erode the trauma of the Holocaust.

"He would say, 'my family was killed by the Nazis,'" said Kaufman-Osborn, whose grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members perished during the Holocaust.

While the family suspected the worst, the fate of Kaufman's mother, Hedwig, was unknown until two years ago, when Kaufman-Osborn scoured the records of Berlin's Jewish Museum to recover the stories, and lives of her family.

"This is going to give me chills," Kaufman-Osborn said before she related the emotional story of how she discovered the fate of her grandmother.

While Kaufman-Osborn says the information about Kaufman's mother provided a kind a sense of closure to the younger generation, the news was hard on her father, whose condition meant that he had to continually relive the pain of discovering the loss of loved ones. "My mother finally put them (pictures of deceased loved ones) away because, given my father's memory problems, he continued to rediscover his loss over and over again," Kaufman-Osborn said.

Despite what many would consider to be a life of overwhelming tragedy, the memory book illustrates the tremendous resilience, love and hope Kaufman always maintained. Inside are whimsical family songs Kaufman brought with him to America.

"He would sing this song bouncing me on his lap, and I would sing that bouncing my boys," Kaufman-Osborn said, pointing out a favorite song preserved in the book.

The book also contains poems and a Shakespearean love sonnet, which Kaufman recited to his wife, Ruby, verbatim; his love for poetry was unmarred by his peculiar memory loss, which Kaufman-Osborn said did not prevent him from reading, or even pointing out subtle inaccuracies in the book.

Kaufman-Osborn also pointed out a picture of her father's bicycle, which his wife's family gave to him as a gift after being accepted to graduate school.

Kaufman-Osborn was a successful electrical engineer and later a distinguished professor at Arizona State University. Students and colleagues at the university recognized the bicycle, and the cowboy hat Kaufman wore while riding it, as the professor's trademark. For the memorial service Kaufman-Osborn says the family plans to clean up the bike, and place flowers in the basket.

"My father had this sort of a spark in him, a lot of people refer to the twinkle in his eye. He had this gentleness and this sense of humor and this positive outlook that I think carried him through in really amazing ways," Kaufman-Osborn said.

Omar Ihmoda can be reached at

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For a comprehensive obituary of Irving Kaufman go to


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