George Reisman’s Eulogy for His Wife

George Reisman’s wife Edith Packer has recently passed and he published his eulogy for her here.

Couple interesting tidbits:

Edith was born in a small city called Ushorod. According to her passport, Edith was born in the Ukraine. Actually, she was born in what was then the eastern-most province of Czechoslovakia, called Carpatho-Russia. The Munich Pact in 1938, when Edith was 14, gave that province to Hungary, which held it until 1945, when it became part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union made it part of the Ukraine, which was it’s second-most important territory.

From 1920 until April of 1944, Hungary was ruled by a Regent, Admiral Horthy, whose administration could generally be compared to that of Mussolini in Italy. From 1938 to early 1944, Jews could still live in Hungary, but only in an increasingly oppressive environment. They were banned from practicing various professions; Jewish students had to sit in the back of the classroom. Edith, who had been elected president of her class in Gymnasium, was removed from that position because she was Jewish. Toward the end of the period, Jews were compelled to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Young Jewish men were drafted into labor battalions, where many of them died, including one of her older brothers, who had been a lawyer and who had been prohibited from practicing his profession. In April of 1944 the conditions of Jews changed from bad to horrible: the Holocaust came to Hungary. Under the direction of Adolf Eichmann, the Hungarian government began rounding up the Jews for deportation to concentration camps and death.

At the age of 19, Edith saw the death camps coming. She urged her parents and the rest of her family to flee. She kept hammering at them with the question of how would the Germans feed them? Why would they feed them? Her family, particularly her parents, had the opportunity to flee. But they chose to stay, stuck like deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. According to Edith, her mother stayed because she couldn’t bear to give up such things as the familiarity of her home, and her father stayed because he was the leader of the Jews in Carpatho-Russia and believed that leaving would be a betrayal of his fellow Jews.

But Edith fled. And despite his own choice to stay, her father supported Edith’s decision for herself and had a special pair of shoes made for her, which contained a supply of gold coins and diamonds, so that she would not suffer want during her flight. She also found help from a Hungarian senator, who provided her with false papers. This senator became her first husband, and the father of her first child, Eva.

Edith, being blonde and blue-eyed and with false papers was able to avoid being identified as a Jew and succeeded in saving her life. She hid out for the remainder of the war first in Budapest and then across the border in Romania. But she felt guilty about having left her parents. I thought she had overcome the guilt many years ago, but it came back in her final days. I say that any guilt should have belonged to them, not to her. It was they who did wrong in refusing to leave, in refusing not just at the last minute, when it really was too late for them, since, not being blonde and blue eyed, they could easily have been identified as Jews, but much earlier, when the facts were already clear and they chose to ignore them. Edith, did absolutely right in leaving and thus living, not dying.

George Reisman himself is an interesting intellectual. One of the very few living students of Mises himself, he has sought to produce a synthesis between classical economics and Austrianism. David Gordon opines— and I agree with him– that his attempt was unsuccessful. In this way, he is probably not accurately categorized as an Austrian purist. Nevertheless, I very much do appreciate his hard hitting insights and his remarkably blunt attacks against any sign of socialistic narrative. Reisman was very close with another Mises student, historian Ralph Raico, until the two of them split as Raico followed Rothbard out of Ayn Randian circles as Reisman stayed committed. Rand circles, interestingly enough, were where he first met Edith, as he mentions in the eulogy:

Sometimes people ask where I first met Edith. I met her in Ayn Rand’s living room. We were both students in a series of lectures Ayn Rand was giving on non-fiction writing.

Reisman also expresses his Randian-esque hard-shell reflection on death, with an underlying brokenness:

As I’ve said, Edith’s passing has left a great void in me. And my knowledge and commitment to reality and rationality have only made it worse. I know that Edith no longer exists as any kind of actual being. All that physically remains of her is a small pile of ashes. She no longer has eyes and so she cannot see me. She no longer has ears and so she cannot hear me. There just is no longer any “she.” But nevertheless, I pretend that in some way, she still exists and that she can still see and hear me, and so I still talk to her every day. And when I’m alone, out of anyone else’s hearing, I talk to her out loud. So I now need Edith more than ever—as my psychotherapist, in addition to everything else.

But you know what. Until just this last Sunday, I did talk to Edith out loud, in reality, practically every day, for almost half a century. And so it feels much more normal to go on talking to her, even if only in pretense, than to slam into the brick wall of the fact that she simply is no more. So what I think I’m doing is trying to tap the brakes gently, so to speak, and come to a smooth stop, if that’s possible. I don’t think that’s actually unreasonable.

I hope he finds Peace.

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