“In the Ghetto,” page 5 from the book “Der Golem” by Center for Jewish History, NYC
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Description: A page from the book “Der Golem, Prager Phantasien, Lithographien zu Gustav Meyrinks Roman, von Hugo Steiner-Prag” Read the entire book Creator: Steiner-Prag, Hugo, 1880-1945 Object Origin: Leipzig Medium: Artists’ books Date: 1916 Call Number: NC 251 S73 G6 Persistent URL: Repository: Leo Baeck Institute, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011 Rights Information: No known copyright restrictions; may be subject to third party rights. For more copyright information, click here. See more information about this image and others at CJH Digital Collections. Digital images created by the Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory at the Center for Jewish History

In Plain Sight: The Marvelous, Unlikely History of Bard Professor Justus Rosenberg

By James Benjamin Nadel, Research Intern

You might not expect a 95 year old literature professor to emphasize youth when discussing his life. But that is exactly how Justus Rosenberg described his upcoming talk at the Center for Jewish History to me.

“I will do it from the perspective of a teenager…it is for someone like you.”

Next Wednesday, Justus will be discussing his time living in Nazi-occupied France, when he was just 20, and his heroic efforts to help people escape the country. Joining him will be journalist Sarah Wildman, who recently wrote a profile of Justus for The New York Times. In addition to this conversation, I have curated an exhibit of several documents and pictures from Justus’ personal archive. Last Monday, David Rosenberg, Senior Manager for Communications at the Center, and I visited Justus at his house in upstate New York to retrieve and learn more about these pieces.

Justus greeted us with a smile when we arrived. Despite his age, he still possesses the youthful energy that he wants to bring to his speech. This fall, he will start his 44th year of teaching literature at Bard College. He exercises at the gym three time a week. After some brief introductions, he led us into his living room, where he had set up two binders of material.

From 1940-1941, Justus acted as a courier for the “Emergency Rescue Committee,” an extrajudicial organization spearheaded by American journalist Varian Fry that worked to get Jews and anti-Fascist intellectuals the papers that they needed to leave France. Justus sneaked falsified documents and messages from Fry’s headquarters in Marseille to many people trying to escape through the city’s sea port. The nature of these clandestine documents means that not many survived the war. When I asked Justus if he could show us some of the materials from his days working with Fry, he responded, “We had to destroy most of them.” Much of what he showed us were photocopies of telegraphs and pictures that he had found in various archives.

However, Justus did manage to preserve some original pieces, mainly by sending them to friends in the United States during the war. These include a series of pictures of Justus – looking debonair in a suit jacket and tie walking down a street in Marseille; staring gallantly off into the distance in a photo taken when he joined the French resistance; posing in a rowboat alongside its owner, as he covertly looked for sea routes out of Marseille. In addition to photographs, Justus was also able to hold on to some documentary materials, including a letter that he pocketed from the famous French surrealist author André Gide. All of these items and more will be on display at the event this coming Wednesday. They will help illustrate certain moments of Justus’ life story.

“I will save my stories for Wednesday,” Justus said with excitement and anticipation in his voice, as we were leaving to catch our train. “The things I showed you today make the most sense, once you have heard the stories.” I look forward to seeing Justus bring these pieces to life at Wednesday’s event.

In Plain Sight: The Marvelous, Unlikely History of Bard Professor Justus Rosenberg

July 27, 2016 6:30PM

Ticket Info: $10; $5 Center for Jewish History/partner members, seniors, students

Presented by Center for Jewish History and Leo Baeck Institute

Refugee, smuggler, resistant, intellectual. Even before the age of 21, Professor Justus Rosenberg had lived many lives. Sarah Wildman — author of a major profile of Professor Rosenberg for the New York Times and the celebrated memoir Paper Love — will speak to Rosenberg about his life and work.

Professor  Justus Rosenberg is believed the last living member of the   American-sponsored Emergency Rescue Committee (headed by Varian Fry).   Working out of Marseille, Fry’s gang smuggled anti-fascist  artists and intellectuals out of occupied Europe.  Rosenberg himself was  a refugee, born in 1921 in the Free City of Danzig. He was captured by  the Gestapo in a round-up of mostly foreign Jews in Grenoble but escaped from a transit camp and joined the French  Resistance. In the last year of the war, Rosenberg served the Americans  in reconnaissance and, post-war, worked for UNWRA.

Professor Rosenberg is a Professor Emeritus of comparative literature at Bard College, where he still teaches, and the head of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation. Join us to hear his story on this  special evening.

A reception will follow the program.

Click here to purchase tickets