December 12, 2008, - 12:04 pm
Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, My Cousin, Z”L: A Great Man & Survivor Founded Nation’s First Holocaust Museum
By Debbie Schlussel
Today, I mourn the death of a righteous man, my cousin, Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig. Our family called him by his Hebrew name, Yechiel.
Related to me through my father’s side of the family, Rabbi Rosenzweig founded the first Holocaust museum in the U.S. and was a renowned throughout the world as a Holocaust scholar. He thought it was so important that the world would never forget, and was the founder and Executive Director of the Holocaust Memorial Center of Farmington Hills, Michigan, which he founded in 1980.
A Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor, he also served as rabbi to the small Jewish community of Port Huron, Michigan from 1951 to 1993. He held a rabbinical degree from Yeshiva University in New York and was a very learned man and tremendous Torah scholar. We regularly consulted him on Jewish religious issues. Both my dad and my brother enjoyed learning and engaging in Torah study with him, regularly, and my dad always sat next to him at Sabbath prayers at synagogue.
Although leftists love the Holocaust, my cousin, Rabbi Rosenzweig was a right-winger, who was proud of both remembering the Holocaust and noting what is going on in Israel today, with daily attacks on Jews by Islamic terrorists. He also recounted to me and my family about how, on regular trips to Germany, he felt the German adults and kids wanted to forget the Holocaust. Now they are suffering the results, with their country invaded by Muslims.
Unfortunately, there are many liberal donors who gave to the Holocaust Memorial Center. And once it moved from its original location to a giant museum, it became more of a universalized display, meaning some groups not under the control of my cousin or his Holocaust Memorial Center tried to use it to compare the Holocaust to every allegedly repressed group’s tragedy. But, as my cousin Rabbi Rosenzveig knew and stressed, the Holocaust was specific and unique to the Jews and their planned elimination by the Nazis. Unfortunately, in that vein, the Holocaust Memorial Museum became the setting for an event co-sponsored by the pro-Hezbollah/HAMAS ADC (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) and other similar groups, though I only know specifically of a single such occasion.
Rabbi Rosenzweig was a fine man, a good soul, and an important vessel of history, knowledge, and goodness we have now lost. He was a mensch, and he will certainly be missed. Fortunately, his legacy–the museum–lives on. It includes important recordings of survivors, like my late grandfather, Isaac, retelling their experiences as concentration camp inmates and witnesses to the Holocaust that now live on beyond their deaths.
Rabbi Rosenzweig is on his way to Israel for burial, but he was memorialized in stories in both major Detroit newspapers, today. Here are some excerpts from the Detroit Free Press:
Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, a victim of the Nazis who channeled his personal tragedy into creating the first freestanding Holocaust memorial center in the United States, died Thursday . . . .
Because his personal documents were destroyed during the Holocaust, Rosenzveig didn’t know how old he was; estimates range from 80 to 88. . . .
The native of Ostrovitz, Poland, immigrated to the United States in 1947, after his parents, his brother, one of his two sisters and all of his aunts, uncles and cousins were killed by the Nazis.
He was ordained by Yeshiva University in New York four years later and was the rabbi of Congregation Mt. Sinai in Port Huron from 1951 to 1993.
But Rosenzveig’s true passion was creating a permanent Holocaust tribute to honor its victims and teach its lesson of tolerance to future generations.
That crystallized in 1984, when the Holocaust Memorial Center opened on the grounds of the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center. Exactly two decades later, the center moved to its own campus in Farmington Hills.
“He was well-known — not just throughout the state of Michigan — as a scholar and as a leader in Holocaust memorial movement throughout the world,” his son Rabbi Ely Rosenzveig said Thursday.
He also taught at United Hebrew Schools and Midrasha College in Detroit and was project director of the 1996 tome, “The World Reacts to the Holocaust.” He was in the middle of writing a book on Jewish legal decision-making when he died.
Rabbi Charles Rosenzweig, Zichrono LiVrachah–“Blessed Be His Memory.” His absence brings tears to my eyes.