For a quarter of a century, Mendel Rosenberg couldn’t talk about the almost four years he was forced by the Nazis to live in ghettos and concentration camps. Now, he shares his story with anyone willing to listen.
So when the Jewish Student Organization at MU asked Rosenberg to share his account during this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Week of the tragedies he endured, Rosenberg readily agreed.
“Right now, it’s not hard anymore,” said Rosenberg, a white-haired 77-year-old from St. Louis. “It might have been in the beginning, but right now it’s not.”
Rosenberg was 13 when, in 1941, he, his parents and an older brother were taken by the Nazis to a ghetto in Siauliai, Lithuania. At one point, his father and brother were taken away. It was the last time Rosenberg saw his father, who he learned was shot to death by the Nazis on July 19, 1941. After three years in the ghetto, the rest of the family was transported to the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland. Rosenberg and his brother were later moved to Dachau, a concentration camp in Germany where his brother would die. But Rosenberg stayed until American troops liberated the survivors in May 1945.
“One of the main reasons that we talk about it, that most all the survivors talk about it, is primarily because we want to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Rosenberg said. “I will continue speaking as long as my health allows me to.”
Rosenberg, who was 16 when he left Dachau, notes that the number of Holocaust survivors is getting smaller.
“I was one of the young ones,” he said. “But when it comes to the point where I can’t be speaking anymore, we are all on tape, we are all on DVDs. The stories will still be available.”
Marian Trattner, president of the Jewish Student Organization, said students and the community can benefit from hearing Rosenberg’s story. “If students have the opportunity to hear someone who has seen history in action, they should take advantage of it,” she said. “It’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Amanda Kushner, a freshman at MU, plans to hear Rosenberg speak. She heard one other Holocaust survivor’s story when she was in Hebrew school, and she said it gave her new insight.
“The actual emotions people go through,” Kushner said. “You can’t comprehend that without hearing the story in person.”
Rosenberg’s mother survived to be liberated from Stutthof by Soviet troops. It was a year before they were reunited. However, he never found out what happened to her after they were separated.
“We couldn’t speak,” he said. “We just couldn’t tell each other what happened to us. Life during that period of time was so horrible that some people never got to the point when they got to speak about it.”
An estimated 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, more than 28,000 people died in the Dachau camp and subcamps between January 1940 and May 1945. Rosenberg believes he has a unique view of tyranny, which is why he urges people to think for themselves.
“People forget about past history awful quick,” he said. “When I look at history...and I look what’s happening today, I can honestly say that I don’t think we have learned much.”
Rosenberg, who has been married for 48 years, is still strong in his Jewish faith and continues to go to synagogue every Saturday.
“This whole time, I had very much faith in God that he wouldn’t let me down, and he still doesn’t,” Rosenberg said. “Everybody will tell you a different story how they survived and why they survived. I can only (attribute my survival) now to the belief that somebody up there watches over me.”