Birger at his home in Seattle on 1 January 2019
|Birth:||2 January 1913|
Stakliškės, Kaunas County, Lithuania (then Russian Empire)
|Death:||9 May 2020|
Seattle, Washington, USA
|Age:||107 years, 128 days|
Pinkhos Leyb Birger (2 January 1913 – 9 May 2020) was a Lithuanian-born American centenarian who was among the oldest Holocaust survivors in the world at the time of his death. He also claimed to be the oldest person to have visited every country in the world, achieving this feat two days before his 107th birthday.
Birger was born in Stakliskes, Kaunas County, present-day Lithuania (then Russian Empire) on 2 January 1913 to Karl Joseph and Khaia Birger. His mother died of cholera when he was two months old. He was Bar Mitzvahed aged 13. At the age of 16, he finished school and joined the Soviet Red Army, being one of just 21 Lithuanian Jews.
After serving in the army for two years, Birger went to university, studying to become a neurosurgeon. He received his Ph.D. after 11 years, and moved to Kaunas after graduating in 1942. While at university, he met and married his wife, Rosa, and had a son, Raymondas (later anglicised to Raymond) in 1941.
That year, his father, an oil magnate in Lithuania, was shot dead by a Nazi breaking into their home. His elder brother, Eljus, also lost his life during a Nazi invasion. Birger himself was shot twice, but survived after seeking help from an elderly couple. He later found out that the Nazi who murdered his father was murdered himself by Birger's best friend, Gesel Alufovich, who lived to be 104.
The Birgers had another son, Petras (Peter), in 1947. Rosa Birger later developed mania and ran away with their children. She was found with them later on, and she was placed into a mental facility where she died a year later, in 1948, aged 29.
In 1952, Birger moved with his two sons to Johannesburg, South Africa, along with 15 of his friends and their families. Birger lived there for two years before moving to Seattle, Washington, United States aged 51. Birger became a neurosurgeon in Seattle, working as such for the next four decades.
Birger's eldest son, Raymond, married a woman named Bertha and they bore him a grandson, Maxwell, in 1991. Later that year, Raymond was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, dying seven months after the diagnosis. Birger's daughter-in-law moved with his grandson to New York City. In 1998, Bertha died of bronchiectasis, leaving Maxwell an orphan aged seven. Birger obtained custody of his grandson, moving him to Seattle to live with him.
In 2003, aged 90, Birger developed stage II pancreatic cancer and had to retire from being a neurosurgeon. His pancreas was removed, and he became a diabetic for the rest of his life. He was an avid traveller, having visited 156 countries by the end of the 20th century, and later visiting San Marino in 2002. Throughout the 2010s, Birger visited the remaining countries, including Japan in 2012, where he met with Saburo Shochi, the Guinness World Records holder of the oldest person to visit every country. He reportedly said to Shochi, "Your record will be broken by me, my friend. The competition has just begun."
On 31 December 2019, aged 106 years, 363 days, Birger broke Shochi's record by visiting North Korea, the last country he had not yet been to. However, this claim has not yet been verified by Guinness.
A few months earlier, on 25 September 2019, Birger became a great-grandfather to Carl Joseph Birger, the son of his grandson Maxwell and his wife Sarah. That same month, Birger was contacted by a distant cousin in South Africa, and communicated via email until his death.
Birger died in his sleep in Seattle, Washington, United States on 9 May 2020 at the age of 107 years, 128 days. Throughout his life, he lived by five main principles: religion, education, family, physical activity, and happiness. He kept a daily diary of his life, which his father had started up until his fifth birthday, and eventually amounted to 39,189 pages of his life story.
- The 107-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor That The Public Never Knew About Adam Rosen, 7 January 2021
- Pinkhos Leyb Birger Find A Grave