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The Art of Resistance by Justus Rosenberg

2020, HarperCollins

I think I'm being, as usual, quite overly optimistic thinking I can do this post before boarding my plane in about an hour thereby avoiding the necessity of carrying this book further on my travels. It's definitely worth reading and if I leave it behind maybe someone will pick it up and have that pleasure.

Note: well, indeed I was too optimistic; the above words were written over a month ago!


I've asked myself, as you may be asking yourself, why I read so many books related in one way or another to the Holocaust. The answer: I want to hear from anyone who wrote about that time because their memories are vital and I want to honor what they lived through. Although Justus Rosenberg's story is exciting to read and not about the camps -- he worked in the Resistance, and his immediate family survived the war -- the rest of his family and millions of others perished, and he stresses the importance of not forgetting.


We need to teach young people about the Holocaust- both the Jewish one and other "holocausts" in history and around the world--so that future generations will know where humankind's worst instincts and political ideologies can lead...We need to champion the notion that all human beings are equal and deserve to be treated as such...We need to be alert to the dangers and nip them in the bud. 273


Fleeing anti-semitism, Rosenberg immigrated in 1937 from Eastern Europe to France, where he later escaped from a train which would have landed him ultimately in a death camp. Instead, through a concurrence of circumstances, he worked at the

American Emergency Rescue Committee helping artists and intellectuals escape Europe, then in the French Underground leading raids and ambushes, and afterwards for the Americans in the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion. After the war his knowledge of languages (French, German, Polish, English, Russian and Yiddish) made him useful to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/nyregion/professor-justus-rosenberg-has-a-past.html
Justus Rosenberg at Bard College

(UNRRA) in helping displaced people and refugees, and also in denazification efforts. Rosenberg eventually resigned from the UNRRA, partly over a disagreement with the US policy of hiring former Nazis to root out Communists in America. He immigrated to the United States where he is still a professor at Bard college, at the age of 100. In 2016, France awarded him the highest honour of Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur for his service during the War.


Recommended reading for all!

 

I had to chuckle...

... when Rosenberg mentioned taking the same French language and culture classes at the Sorbonne in 1939 that I took in 1992. It seemed that in all those years nothing had changed: Required reading -- Balzac and Stendhal; Lectures -- optional as long as you learn every detail by heart; Professors -- strict and sarcastic. "Your essay was well-written, but your analytical acuity leaves something to be desired...Who are you to copy-edit Balzac?" was the reply to Rosenberg's assertion that Balzac was too wordy in the opening chapters to the Père Goriot. (Two decades later academia confirmed that Balzac, always broke and in need of money, was paid by the word.) As for my own Sorbonne exam experience, I mistook the word amour (love) for à mort (to death), resulting in a morbid analysis of what was actually a love poem, and earning me a searing look from the professor. Unfortunately, three decades later, academia has proven nothing in my favor!

 

Quotes


Art

Rosenberg met many famous artists trying to leave Europe while working for the American Emergency Rescue Committee, notably several of the Surrealists led by André Breton. He got along with most but said they were rather haughty (the artists). Overall he "wasn't sure I could accept so much downright weirdness as "art"". 125


Money could get you through most experiences.

The French, the Italians, the Spanish, and the Americans were all easily corruptible. The only people you couldn't corrupt were in fact the Germans. 139


Escape

As I was to learn again and again, survival is often a matter of luck, but being able to take advantage of good fortune depends upon alertness, preparedness, and constancy of intent. 161


A small detail

As a resistant, Rosenberg was lodged by a farmer named Anna. They became good friends and were sad when he had to leave permanently for a mission, but didn't mention their sadness directly. "During dinner, we made small talk and enjoyed each other's company as always."


A productive mission

On a mission to steal arms, food and supplies, Rosenberg couldn't resist stuffing three books into his shirt: English essays by Charles Lamb, A manual for Frenchmen studying Russian, and an old English-French dictionary, exclaiming, "What a bonanza!" 200


Reading

My favourite pastime...was reading by the stream, five minutes from camp. The forest about it was dense, cool and dark except for a few spots of sunshine coming through the canopy. 201



Teaching & tikkun olam*


Teaching should endeavour to make the beautiful simple and to make the simple beautiful. 208

For me, teaching literature is a vehicle for tikkun olam*. Within literature you can express and explore any ideas even ones that may be unpopular or considered anti-American, or, yes, anti-Semitic. Because those ideas are in a book you can discuss them-and hold them, along with your own beliefs, up to the light. I believe that it is wrong to censor ideas on college campuses, even the ones most people find offensive; doing so fuels ignorance, prejudice and strife, and makes destructive ideas even more powerful than they really are. 273

 

Read:

The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel

Deals with the Armenian genocide.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin

Benjamin struggled all his life for recognition, although according to Rosenberg he was one of most insightful, original and eccentric intellectuals of 20th century. His views, his habits and the sheer inventiveness of his literary manner made an academic career very difficult. 114


Listen:

"Judischer Todessang" (Jewish Death Song) by Martin Rosenberg (Rosebery D'Arguto)

Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a non-Jewish musician and concentration camp survivor made it his task to get this song performed throughout the world. He also worked on an extensive archive of concentration camp music which is now in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.







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