Beloved professor with heroic past Justus Rosenberg dies at 100


“Gussie,” she told him, “I have a job for you. “

Ms Davenport had recently met Varian Fry, who was sent to Europe by the Emergency Relief Committee, a group of New York intellectuals who wanted to help cultural figures stranded in Vichy, France.

Mr. Fry arrived with a list of names and Eleanor Roosevelt’s blessing. His operation became one of the most successful US private rescue missions of World War II, saving some 2,000 people, and Holocaust historians remember him as the American Schindler.

But before all of that happened, Mr. Fry needed a courier he could trust to deliver messages and false documents through Marseille, which had become a port city of despair, teeming with refugees trying to get through. flee the country. Ms. Davenport told her about young Mr. Rosenberg, who was “Aryan in appearance” and spoke French. Mr. Fry quickly enlisted him.

“I looked very blonde, very Germanic and younger than my age, so I wasn’t often stopped to ask for papers because I looked so innocent and angelic,” Mr. Rosenberg in an interview with the International Rescue Committee. “I really ignored the danger. For me, it was something adventurous in many ways, a bit romantic too.

Mr Rosenberg was sent to buy passports on the black market, search for escape routes and find safe hiding places for refugees. When he worked with the team’s master forger, he became convinced that he recognized him, and he was right: he was the same man who drew cartoons near the harbor for ten francs a pop.

Mr. Rosenberg also accompanied Mr. Fry’s illustrious charges across the Pyrenees to Spain, which often accepted refugees who made the crossing without an exit visa. He once directed writers Heinrich Mann and Franz Werfel, who traveled with their wives. (Werfel’s wife, Alma, was Gustav Mahler’s widow.) While leading them, he befriended Mann’s wife, Nelly, who brought him a flask of brandy to sip on while they crossed the chain.

Mr. Fry’s operation ended in 1941.

The refugee crisis in Marseille had become serious and Mr Fry was forced to leave France after his clandestine initiative finally clashed with the Vichy government. Mr. Rosenberg’s protection was gone and he was left to fend for himself. He is quickly rounded up with others and sent to a transit camp outside of Lyon. A guard revealed that they were transferred to a camp in Poland.


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