Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Preserving the Humanity of the Holocaust Pitt Archivist Helps Tell Story of French Jews Sent to Auschwitz

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Preserving the Humanity of the Holocaust Pitt Archivist Helps Tell Story of French Jews Sent to Auschwitz

Article excerpt

After Nazi Germany conquered France in 1940, it set in motion the bureaucracy of persecution and ultimately state-sponsored murder.

Through the collaborationist French government, it required all Jews to report to local authorities for registration. The registration forms included names, addresses, dates of birth, nation of origin and other details, accompanied by black-and-white photos.

Now, copies of dozens of those same files are on display at Temple Emanuel in Mt. Lebanon, documenting the Jewish population of one French city, Amiens, a majority of whom eventually were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

The exhibit aims to reverse the dehumanizing nature of the records by retrieving individual names, photos and biographical details from historical obscurity.

The documents had sat in the national archives of France for decades before David Rosenberg of Mt. Lebanon, a retired University of Pittsburgh archivist, studied them and brought them to the wider attention of residents in Amiens, located in northwestern France.

"This was one of my goals, to make it less a matter of general history and more a concrete expression of what happened to real people, their neighbors and fellow citizens," Mr. Rosenberg said.

France has long honored the heroism of the French who resisted Nazi rule. But in recent decades it also has confronted the reality that many citizens and officials submitted to German occupation and collaborated in suppressing the Jews.

Mr. Rosenberg said he has worked with town officials, schoolteachers and residents who have been eager to learn more of their history. Mr. Rosenberg helped them create and dedicate a memorial to Holocaust victims near where a historic synagogue once stood. He has made copies of the historical documents, archived in Paris, more easily accessible for local residents.

High-resolution photographs of the files now line the walls of the exhibit, designed by his daughter, Cincinnati artist Lydia Rosenberg.

Viewers learn stories such as that of Albert and Victoria Behar, whose fabric store was burned in the German invasion and who apparently ran their business out of a truck before they were deported to their deaths in 1944.

And there's the harrowing story of Renee Louria, a young woman who was deported in 1944, gave birth to a son who she said was soon murdered by the Nazis. She survived a brutal ordeal in Auschwitz and other sites, returned to Amiens after liberation and gave a detailed interview to a local journalist who wrote that it was "exceeding in horror, in sadism, all ...that we could imagine."

Mr. Rosenberg, 74, has become such a regular visitor to Amiens that he's viewed as part of the community - the "most Amienois of Americans," a newspaper said.

He's been visiting Amiens since 1974, when he began research for his dissertation as he earned a doctorate in history from Yale University. He studied an earlier persecuted religious minority, the 16th century Protestants known as Huguenots.

The focus of his research was on the kinds of people and occupations that were more likely to become Protestant.

"There's a continuity to why I studied Protestants and why I studied Jews," said Mr. Rosenberg. "I realized I had written a whole study without really writing about what happened to the people. It was on sociological theory, which is fine if you're looking at general causes. But I experienced a frustration," knowing little about the people beyond their signatures and tantalizing references in parish registries.

So even as he embarked on a career as archivist at Pitt, he returned to Amiens whenever he could, researching those individual lives and publishing in scholarly journals.

On one trip in 1995, he went to the local synagogue's Rosh Hashana service, where he noticed a plaque dedicated to the Jewish deportees of Amiens. That planted the idea for research into this topic, which he began in earnest after retiring in 2008. …

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