Growing up in Miami in the 1950s and 60s, Ira Gordon knew that his grandfather, Henry Fox, had survived the brutality of the Holocaust. But Gordon never heard the details from Fox himself — not about his capture by the Nazis in France in the 1930s, or about his internment in Auschwitz or about his liberation in 1944 from the concentration camp.
Gordon, 65, discovered those details more than a decade after Fox’s death in 1992, after Gordon applied for reparations for his mother as a victim of the Holocaust under a program sponsored by the German government. She qualified for reparation payments of $950 three times a year until her death in 2015.
“That was a slam dunk,” Gordon said of the process of applying for German reparations, which led him to apply for a program run by the French government.
But the true reward was not the money. It was the trove of information that Gordon discovered about his grandparents with the help of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and the International Tracing Service, a database of more than 200 million documents related to the Holocaust.
Gordon shared his story Wednesday at Beth Torah Congregation in North Miami Beach, where researchers and other representatives of the Holocaust Museum hosted a symposium titled, “Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice,” about the challenges of seeking restitution.
Diane Afoumado, chief of research for the Holocaust Museum, said the institution’s mission is as much about helping people piece together the missing details of their ancestors’ lives as it is about helping Holocaust victims find justice.
“We actually help families,” she said, “especially survivors who seek compensation. We also help survivors who want to know what happened to their loved ones between 1933 and 1945 and post war.”
Gordon started his search in 2010 to help his mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and was living in a nursing home. The reparation payments from Germany were not much, but Gordon was grateful.
“Every penny helped,” he said.
Laura Ivanov, an information specialist with the Holocaust Museum, researched Henry Fox and his wife, Fay Fox, and shared what she found with Gordon. The information gleaned from the ITS database included handwritten records from Nazi internment and concentration camps, transit documents, registries from Jewish ghettos, photographs and other information.
“I have a friend who calls me the history detective,” Ivanov said.
Gordon said he received 14 pages of notes detailing Henry Fox's life from the time he was captured in France through his imprisonment in numerous camps, including the infamous Auschwitz, to his liberation in 1944. Gordon said his father-in-law, Irving Whitman, was a U.S. soldier who helped liberate his grandfather.
The records Gordon received from the Holocaust Museum and the ITS were so detailed they even contained the stops made by the train that transported Henry Fox and his eldest daughter to the concentration camp.
“My mouth dropped,” Gordon said. “My grandfather's life was literally right before my eyes.”
The Holocaust Museum will host the symposium again on Thursday at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County in Boca Raton, 561-852-3100.