Eugenia Yuspeh, one of the oldest remaining Holocaust survivors, passed away last month at the age of 97. Nearly a month later, her remains still haven’t made it to her final resting place, and it seems the United States Postal Service is at fault.
Traditionally, Jewish burial is encouraged to take place as soon as possible after death, and within 24 hours if possible. Though cremation is not a traditional method of Jewish burial, Yuspeh insisted on it.
Detailing the saga on Twitter., Arielle Yuspeh, her granddaughter, recalled her saying, “It’s how my whole family went, I want to go like they did.” Eugenia was alluding to her sisters and mother, along with dozens in her extended family, who died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, according to the Zachor Project.
Though she fled from Poland to the Soviet Union at the start of the war, Eugenia’s harrowing survival story had only just begun. In the USSR, she was captured by Soviet authorities and deported to a gulag in Siberia, where she worked as a lumberjack. She then escaped the gulag, and met her eventual husband, Albert, soon thereafter. For many years after the war, Eugenia, known as Jean but affectionally called “Nanya,” was reluctant to share her story, Arielle said. But late in life she began to open up about her experience with various Jewish groups.
Knowing that they would be moving her remains from Wisconsin to New Orleans, the Yuspehs expected it would take a little longer for Eugenia to reach them. But she has been missing since May 3, the day they shipped her.
Like so many other Americans who have passed away during a global pandemic, Yuspeh’s ashes were entrusted to the U.S. Postal Service.
In the past, cremated remains would usually be transported by family members themselves, but travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic have left more and more relying on the mail.
It’s become common enough that the USPS, who are the only legal transporters of human remains, offers a special kit for the transportation of ashes. The boxes are affixed with a bright orange label clearly stating their contents, they are only shipped by the USPS’s Priority Express Mail Service and can only be delivered with the signature of the recipient.
When those measures fail though, there seems to be little recourse.
Though the USPS is the only legal transporter of ashes, they frequently contract out overnight shipping to FedEx. Since Yuspeh’s ashes were sent on May 3, the tracking information has not been updated, Arielle wrote in a Twitter thread. The family believes that after leaving Wisconsin, the remains likely ended up in a FedEx processing center in Memphis, Tennessee, but have no way to know for sure.
The Yuspeh family aren’t the only ones to have their loved ones mishandled in the post.
Daniel Rubin, a veteran editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, quite literally lost his mother Lotti in February, and recently wrote about the experience. Like Yuspeh, her remains were entrusted to the post office. And like Yuspeh, after an initial update that they had been shipped, they disappeared.
Rubin also ultimately discovered that her remains had ended up in Memphis, where they had been relegated to a sorting bin for lost and damaged packages. Six weeks after she was supposed to arrive, Lotti finally made it to her family in Philadelphia.