Logo courtesy of JFCS of Long Beach & West Orange County

Obituary: Yacob Basner, Holocaust Survivor and Yiddish Teacher

Yakob Basner, 93, a Holocaust survivor and dedicated teacher seeking to preserve the Yiddish language, passed away peacefully on September 8, 2021, with his beloved family at his side. Although he mastered English, Russian, Latvian, Hebrew, and German, it was Yiddish that was closest to his heart. He made it his mission to connect new generations of Jews to their past by teaching Yiddish language and literature at the Workmen’s Circle, University of Judaism, California Institute for Jewish Culture and Languages, as well as many other community centers and teaching facilities. He lectured around the world, including Switzerland, Israel, Latvia, Germany, and the United States.

The recipient of numerous accolades, including the Award of Merit from Long Beach City College and the Judge Murray I. Gurfein Memorial Award from HIAS, he served as an advisory board member at Museum of Tolerance where he worked as a volunteer sharing his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. He was also an active member of the Claims Conference Advisory Board of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Long Beach & West Orange County.

Born in Riga, Latvia, he attended a Hebrew elementary school and, following the Soviet Union’s occupation of Latvia in 1940, a Yiddish high school. The last celebration at the Basner family home was his Bar Mitzvah in December of 1940. By June of 1941, Germany had attacked the Soviet Union and Riga fell under Nazi occupation within days. Mr. Basner and his family were forced into a ghetto where his mother, sister and 7-year-old twin brother and sister were all murdered, along with 40 other members of his extended family. Having survived 2 years in the Riga Ghetto, Mr. Basner spent the remainder of World War II being transported between 5 different concentration camps, including Kaiserwald, Stutthoff, Buchenwald, Leitmeritz, and Theresienstadt.

Finally, on May 9, 1945, Mr. Basner was liberated from Theresienstadt where he had been suffering from epidemic typhus. After receiving medical treatment, he returned to his home in Riga in hopes of finding his father, who Mr. Basner believed had been successfully liberated from the Stutthoff concentration camp in the months before his own liberation. Tragically, he learned that his father was killed just one day before Stutthoff had been freed. At age 17, young Yakob was totally alone in the world.

Determined to persevere and build a new life for himself, Mr. Basner found work in the leather cutting trade and began taking linguistic classes in the evening. Several years later he married his wife, Doba, whom he knew from early childhood and quickly started his own family, beginning with the births of his two daughters. After a decade struggling to leave Latvia, the Basners finally reached California in 1980 and found a new home in Long Beach. Both Yakob and Dora got jobs at Surfas Furriers shop in Long Beach.

Mr. Basner is predeceased by Dora and is survived by two daughters, Guta Basner and Elizabeth Karpukh and husband Ilya, three grandchildren Leon Fleyshman and wife Ellen, Lia Grippo and husband James, and Dan Fleyshman and his wife Casey, four great-grandsons Sasha and Sam Fleyshman and Rafael and Ariel Grippo.

A graveside service will be held on Friday, September 10 at 12:00 Noon at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park & Mortuary, 1625 Gisler Avenue in Costa Mesa with Rabbi Scott Fox officiating. A reception to celebrate his life will follow. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in his memory be made to Survivor Mitzvah Project or Yiddish Farm Education Center in New Hampton, New York.

This article was released by the JFCS of Long Beach & West Orange County.