With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Justus Rosenberg, Beloved Professor With a Heroic Past, Dies at 100

For nearly 60 years, Justus Rosenberg was a beloved literature professor at Bard College. Clad in his familiar tweed jacket, he taught French, German and Russian classics and was known for popular courses like “10 Plays That Shook the World.”

But on Bard’s leafy campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., Mr. Rosenberg also represented a remarkable living link to Holocaust history.

As a teenager in World War II, he served as a courier in the fabled rescue team of Varian Fry, an American journalist who launched a covert operation that provided safe passage to artists and intellectuals out of Vichy France. The mission aided luminaries like Hannah Arendt, Marcel Duchamp, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and André Breton.

Mr. Rosenberg then fought in the French Resistance, lobbing grenades at German tanks, and aided the U.S. Army as a reconnaissance scout, earning a Bronze Star. He also received the Purple Heart: a jeep in which he was riding hit a land mine, badly wounding him and killing the soldier who had taken his usual seat.

He died at 100 on Oct. 30 at his home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. His wife, Karin, confirmed the death.

Sometimes Mr. Rosenberg’s students prodded him about the past, eager to learn about his heroics during the war, but he preferred to focus on the present. However, if they persisted, and he was in a storytelling mood, he might perch on a classroom table and tell his tale.

The story starts in 1921, when Mr. Rosenberg was born to a prosperous Jewish family in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland). When the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s, anti-Semitism spread through his homeland. At school his friends began to avoid him; he witnessed a mob destroying Jewish businesses in his neighborhood. When he was 16, his parents sent him to study in Paris, not realizing that they wouldn’t see him again for 15 years.

After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Mr. Rosenberg lost contact with his family. A year later, they also took Paris, and he fled the city with thousands of others on roads filled with people pushing their possessions in wheelbarrows.

When he ended up in Toulouse, fate was waiting for him.

He found refuge there in a cinema that had been converted into a rest stop, with straw bags laid across its floors. Settling in for the night, he met an American student named Miriam Davenport, who took a keen interest in him. She encouraged him to follow her to Marseille, and when he did, she offered him an unexpected assignment.

Read entire article at New York Times