Karen Irwin (b. 1924)

Karen Irwin (nee Evelyn Aronson) was born on July 4, 1924 in Halberstadt Germany to Franziska (Emanuel) and Félix Aronson. Franziska was a chemist, born in Hedemuenden and grew up in Kassel. Félix was a businessman whose family came from Konigsberg, Prussia and grew up in Paris. Karen had no siblings. 

Karen’s parents moved several times within Germany, moving Karen from school to school and sometimes she was sent to live with aunts and grandparents. She attended public school in Kassel and Berlin which included Jewish education until the Nazis arrived. Her parents separated in her childhood, yet she continued to be raised by both of them.

Karen and her mother fled Berlin on September 4, 1933 for Paris soon after Hitler came to power, when she was nine years old. Her father followed in a few weeks and was employed by his father who lived near Paris. Karen attended school and joined the French Jewish Scouts which had a lasting influence on her life. 

Karen and her mother, after a lengthy effort, finally got an affidavit to emigrate to the United States in early 1939 after many of their relatives had fled Germany during the prior years. They came through New York on February 22, 1939 and stayed with Karen’s aunts and grandfather in Philadelphia. While her parents remained estranged, she stayed close to both of them. Her father died in 1968. Her mother died in Portland in 1976. 

Karen attended Grant High School in Philadelphia and was awarded a four-year scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her bachelor’s degree in microbiology. 

Karen married Samuel Irwin on Christmas day in 1946. He went to Rutgers College and received his Ph.D in pharmacology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where their first child, a daughter, was born in 1952. Her sons were born in 1954 and 1955. 

They moved to Portland, Oregon in 1964 for Sam’s research career. There, they joined Temple Beth Israel. They divorced in 1968. Karen subsequently did graduate work in French, gerontology and dance therapy.

After not being affiliated for many years, in the early 1990s she joined the Jewish Renewal Congregation P’nai Or of Portland founded by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield. She remained politically active and stood up for justice everywhere until her death July 5, 2015, one day after a joyful 91st birthday celebration with family and friends.

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