Just when I think I really do not want to read another book, fiction or nonfiction, about World War II, along comes a book about World War II that catches my interest. “Art of Resistance” dovetails nicely with the 75th Anniversary of the Auschwitz Liberation, on Jan. 27, 2020.
This true account is by a man who is now 98 years old, Justus Rosenberg, and covers his years in the French Resistance and the period shortly after the war’s end. Rosenberg was in his late teens and early 20s during his resistance work. His recall of specific details is amazing. He had a variety of jobs and moved frequently around France. He was a courier, an agent, a scout, a recruiter, a spy and a translator. He is fluent in French, German, Polish, English, Russian and Yiddish.
Rosenberg’s parents sent Justus to France from his home in Danzig. The Nazi mobs were becoming more strident and violent, and his parents thought he would be safer in Paris finishing his studies. At that point, Paris had not fallen.
Rosenberg looked “Aryan”—blond and blue eyed—so he was able to hide in plain sight, so to speak. He also thought fast on his feet and adapted quickly to new circumstances and situations. His time in the resistance focused on his goal of stopping the evil of the Third Reich. This is a story of unsung heroes who risked their lives everyday with courage and persistence.
What I found most interesting is the work Rosenberg did for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration immediately after the war. UNRRA became part of the United Nations at a later date. The title referred to the fact that many countries were working together. This organization was responsible for finding, reuniting, and relocating the approximately 60 million displaced persons and rebuilding cities and towns.
There were huge problems to solve. Logistics, medical care, and food and clothing supplies had to be organized. Towns and cities had to reconstructed. With the surrender of the Germans, there was no government, national or local. It was a time of chaos and disorder. The Red Cross and UNRRA had to act quickly to begin the monumental jobs they faced.
Nazis were not allowed to hold any office. But as the rebuilding began, it became evident that there were categories of Nazis: some believed firmly in Hitler. Some became Nazis for survival reasons. Some were forced to join the Party. Not every German was a Nazi. Rosenberg was instrumental in interviewing and translating for the Allied forces so they would be able to categorize and assign people appropriately.
Other situations and problems arose. Some Russians were terrified to go back to Russia, for instance. Russia also had many German POWS. Some people had no towns to return to because they had been obliterated during the war. Some wanted to go to the United States. Some of the Jewish people wanted to go to Palestine. German Jewish people wound up in German Nazi displacement camps. These were enormously distressing and difficult times.
This amazing memoir ends as the author immigrates to the United States to accept a teaching position of Language and Literature at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This is amazing too. While he worked in the Resistance, the author did manage to finish his education. In 2017, Justus Rosenberg became a Commander in the Legion of Honor from the French Government for his heroism. It is one of the highest decorations the French bestow.
“Art of Resistance” is an important addition to World War II historical literature because it helps us to remember, to not forget the past. It is vital to remember that good will triumph over any evil. And it is important that we remember the many nameless and silent people who did heroic work so that we, today, can live in freedom.