Several weeks ago, we attended the Baltimore funeral of an old friend of my father-in-law (and our friend as well) in Baltimore. A refugee from Poland, he was in his mid-90s, his wife had died several months before and he had been in a nursing home, with decreasing mental capacity. He had no children, or other relatives, in this country, and attendance was small, limited largely to neighbors and members of his synagogue.
After the service, as we were walking out of the funeral parlor, an elderly man asked me a question. it was a non-consequential question, and I don’t remember what it was, but it started a brief conversation. He introduced himself as Morris Rosen. A short man, obviously an extrovert, he talked about our friend (you could only say good things about him), and then a bit about himself. He had a heavy accent, said he was also from Poland, and (after he found out we lived in Washington), he told us that he had worked in the archives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, presumably translating documents from the several languages he grew up with, into English. More than that, even at his advanced age, he was called by the Holocaust Museum from time to time to help with specific tasks and that he gave presentations on his experience during World War II in Poland at the Holocaust Museum and elsewhere. He told us that he was going to speak on April 5, and we told him we would come and hear him.
The Holocaust Museum hosts a program (currently twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays), where a Holocaust survivor tells of his or her experiences. Morris Rosen was the first presenter in the current series.
Every time I attend something at the Holocaust Museum, I am surprised at how crowded it is. Today was no exception. It was jammed. Student groups, tour groups and ordinary folks. Rosen’s presentation was held in one of the museum’s auditorium – I would guess that about 150 people were present. Rosen was able to respond to questions from an interlocutor for almost an hour. Perhaps there was a thought there would be questions from the audience, but there was no time.
The talk was very interesting, and instructive for those whose exposure to Holocaust stories is limited. Rosen was 16 when the Germans invaded Poland, and his father’s store was confiscated. For the next two years or so, under increasingly difficult conditions, Rosen continued to live in his home town. Then, his twelve year old sister and other young women were deported from the city and sent to a women’s work camp. In 1942, virtually all of the Jews (including his parents) were deported to Auschwitz, and the remaining Jews (all young and healthy) were put to work. For the next few years, Rosen was lucky or skillful enough to obtain some decent jobs (most often as a painter), and was good enough at what he did to win some favor (and some food) from those for whom he was working. But in 1942, the jig was up, and he was deported to a series of work camps, where he stayed until the Russians were closing in on the Germans and he wound up on a death march, as the Germans were trying to keep the Jews from the Allies. The march ended at Terezin, from which he was liberated.
After some time trying to make a life in Europe and in a displaced persons camp, he was able to immigrate to the United States and make a comfortable life for himself in Baltimore, where he owned a construction company and spent much of his spare time collecting things – mainly stamps and Olympics memorabilia. He apparently still known for both collections, which are considered of very great quality.
Every Tuesday and every Wednesday for the next few months, a different Holocaust provider will present. The sessions begin at 1:00 p.m., and end an hour later. Obviously, no cost. Well worth while.