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 had been sent to Europe by the Emergency Relief Committee, a group of New York intellectuals who wanted to help cultural figures stranded in the collaborationist 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 this happened, Mr Fry needed a courier he could trust to deliver messages and false documents through Marseille, which had become a city of despair, its port teeming with refugees trying to 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,” M said. Rosenberg in an interview with the International Rescue Committee. “I really didn’t know 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 accompanied Mr. Fry’s illustrious charges across the Pyrenees to Spain, which often accepted refugees who had 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 the widow of composer Gustav Mahler.) While leading them, Mr. Rosenberg befriended Mann’s wife, Nelly, who brought him a flask of brandy. to sip as they crossed the beach.
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.