On October 30, Justus Rosenberg, a Polish-born professor of literature at Bard College in the Hudson Valley, died at the age of one hundred. With Polish schools and universities becoming increasingly unwelcoming to Jews, and imposing ever-more restrictive quotas, Rosenberg left for Paris to pursue his education. He was there in 1939 when World War II broke out. Shira Hanau recounts his remarkable experiences working for Varian Fry, an American journalist who engaged in a major private effort to save intellectuals and artists from Nazi Germany:
When the Nazis took over Paris, Rosenberg fled to Toulouse where he met a woman who recruited him to join Fry’s Emergency Rescue Committee-sponsored rescue effort in Marseille. Rosenberg—who was blonde, appeared younger than his age, and spoke French—worked as a courier for Fry, ferrying forged documents and accompanying some refugees across the border to Spain. The rescue effort saved about 2,000 people, among them the writers Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Mann and the artists Marc Chagall and Marcel Duchamp.
When Fry’s efforts ended in 1941, Rosenberg, himself a refugee, was on his own again and was soon sent to a prison camp outside Lyon. When he learned that his fate and that of the other prisoners was to be sent to a labor camp in Poland, Rosenberg feigned an illness that would get him sent to a hospital. But even after having his appendix removed due to his nonexistent illness, Rosenberg was still slated to be sent to the camp. Devising a new plan, he sent a message to a group of priests that worked with the Resistance who brought him a bundle of clothing and a bicycle, which Rosenberg used to escape before he had recovered from surgery. After his recovery, Rosenberg joined the French Resistance and later worked as a guide for the American army.
After the war, Rosenberg continued his studies in Paris before immigrating to the United States in 1946. . . . During his years in Cincinnati, he supplemented the meager Jewish education he received as a child by conducting his own study at the Hebrew Union College’s library.