When Ted Rosengarten was 3 or 4 years old, he opened up a cabinet in his family’s Brooklyn, N.Y., home and took out the books he found tucked away. Opening them, his eyes grew wide. Inside were images not meant for children – photos of concentration camps and extermination camps that, just a few years earlier, housed millions of Jews and other people deemed undesirable by the Nazis. The images stuck in Rosengarten’s impressionable mind, just like the Jewish refugees he saw around New York, whose forearms flashed identifying numbers tattooed in place by their Nazi captors.
More than 60 years later, Rosengarten is still curious about the Holocaust, and still unable to shake certain images from his mind. He’s come to associate other, less obvious visual cues with the Holocaust, too, such as railroad tracks, which remind him of the way the Nazis carted in boxcars full of Jews to the camps, designating them for hard labor or death. Rosengarten visits some of these camps every couple of years, taking along students from his class on the Holocaust that he has taught for 12 years at the College.
Thanks to a gift of $1.5 million from Charleston businesswoman Anita Zucker and her family, the College will soon be able to supplement the work of Rosengarten, creating a permanent chair of Holocaust studies, enhancing Holocaust archives and providing funding for Holocaust-related student travel. The gift could not have come at a better time. The ongoing teaching and studying of the Holocaust is at a critical juncture, says Rosengarten, with the last generation of Holocaust survivors dying out. Soon, he notes, there will be no living witnesses of the Holocaust, no one able to provide firsthand accounts of the horrors endured by the Jews and others targeted by the Nazis.
One witness to the Holocaust that still remains is Zucker’s mother, Rose, who survived a Nazi purge of her town in Poland by hiding under a mattress, then shuffled between hiding spots for years until the war ended, living for a time beneath the floorboards of a barn with her mother, two brothers and a cousin who was just a baby. Though she survived, she lost her father, a sister and three other brothers during the Holocaust and World War II. One of these brothers had been arrested by the Nazis, was brought to court and had his charges dismissed by a judge. A Nazi officer, however, was unhappy with this decision, so he pulled out a gun and shot the man, killing him in the courthouse.
Zucker’s father, Carl Goldberg, had it no easier: He was imprisoned at the Buchenwald labor camp after fighting in the Jewish resistance against the Nazis. About the same time, his first wife and 3-year-old daughter were killed by the Nazis. It was after the war that he remarried and started a family with Rose. After living in a displaced-persons camp outside Berlin for four years, the family moved to the United States, where daughter Anita was born.
Zucker says her recent gift to the College is meant to honor the previous generations of her and her late husband’s families who were displaced or killed during the Holocaust. Her family takes to heart the phrase tikkun olam, or repair of the world. By continuing to discuss the horrors of the Holocaust, Zucker says, future generations will hopefully avoid, or at least minimize, the occurrence of genocide. Sadly, she notes, genocide continues today, half a century after the Holocaust ended. Yet for her and countless others, the Holocaust trumps other genocides in its insidiousness and manifestation of pure evil.
This summer, Zucker visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill. Portions of the museum’s exhibits focused on the eugenics programs fostered by Nazi scientists and doctors, detailing their plans to create a master race by eliminating those judged inferior. Zucker recoiled, flabbergasted that highly educated men would instigate such atrocity. Similarly, Rosengarten shudders when he thinks of the resources devoted to the annihilation of people.
“Never before and never since did a state commit all its assets – intellectual assets, technological assets, material assets, social assets – to the destruction of one race of people,” says Rosengarten. “They had one thing on their mind: the destruction of the Jewish people.”
The Holocaust studies gift from Zucker is one of a number of significant donations recently made to the College’s Jewish Studies Program. This semester, Linda Gradstein, a longtime National Public Radio correspondent in Israel, is teaching two courses as the Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold Distinguished Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies. The Arnolds donated $1 million in 2009 to endow the position. This year, an anonymous gift was made to improve Jewish student life at the College, promising $45,000 a year for the next five years. On top of that, Samuel Greene bequeathed $250,000 to Jewish studies toward the development of the Center for Southern Jewish Culture and to boost the College’s Jewish studies archives.
Marty Perlmutter, director of the Jewish Studies Program, says the Center for Southern Jewish Culture will be a natural fit for Charleston, considering the city was home to the country’s largest population of Jews at the turn of the 19th century. Additionally, Charleston is home to the first Hebrew Benevolent Society and the first Hebrew Orphan Society and had the first Jew elected to public office. Capitalizing on all this philanthropy, the College will offer the first major in Jewish studies in 2011.
Perlmutter couldn’t be happier with the direction the Jewish Studies Program is headed and is proud to say the College has the best Jewish studies program in the state. And with the gifts from Zucker and others, the College’s program is sure to become even better, demonstrating to students that even in times of tragedy, goodness and kindness can shine through.
“Helping others and giving back is a responsibility that we all share,” says Zucker. “My family and I want to honor our parents and the countless victims and survivors of the Holocaust. We want their legacy to be the importance of helping others, even in the face of unspeakable evil.”
Anita Zucker photo by Ben Williams and Ted Rosengarten photo by Leslie McKellar