Irma's Passport

One Woman, Two World Wars,
and a Legacy of Courage

A gripping family tale revealed through a woman's war-era chronicles.

A true story direct from Europe's epicenter.


Inspired to learn languages by her multi-lingual Austrian grandmother, Irma, the author seeks the wellsprings of Irma’s indomitable spirit. By delving into the late Irma’s extraordinary memoirs, shared in this book, she explores her outspoken grandparents’ influential lives at the crossroads of German and Jewish national movements. Along the way, she uncovers a deep heritage of empowered women.

Golden-haired Irma grew up in Imperial Austria believing that wars and prejudice were fading. Her journey from Bohemian country girl to grande dame in New York would traverse a fascinating landscape of renowned people at pivotal moments in history, captured in her memoirs. Irma studied languages as one of the first female university students in Prague while her cousin, Franz Kafka, was there. Her marriage after World War I to influential Zionist Jakob Ehrlich, sole Jewish representative on Vienna’s city council, placed her at the crossroads of German and Jewish nationalism at a fateful time. Irma would leave Vienna with her son under the calculating watch of arch-Nazi Adolf Eichmann and find her voice among a dazzling world of power elites, including British parliamentarians, Chaim Weizmann (first president of Israel), and unsung female philanthropists. Seeking an unencumbered life for her son, she would move on to New York and a career devoted to resettling refugees. The author, Irma’s granddaughter, blends Irma’s vibrant chronicles into a riveting narrative of history, heritage, and adaptation. Part personal memoir, part historical drama, Irma’s Passport is ultimately a tribute to human dignity, in which one woman can restore the lives of many and courage is a victory in itself.

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Foreword Indies
Book of the Year Finalist for 2021

Journey Book Awards
Short-list for Non-fiction


New Books in Women’s History Podcast

Host Jane Scimeca interviews Catherine Ehrlich on her new book Irma’s Passport


“Gripping, poignant, and inspiring, this true tale illustrates how pride can help to power through suffering and create meaning. Author Catherine Ehrlich, drawing heavily on vivid memoirs written by her grandmother, has added depth of research, beauty of language, and a haunting present-day perspective to the life of an extraordinary woman of Vienna during wartime and beyond.”