With the 75th anniversary of European liberation in World War II happening this month, 99-year-old Rhinebeck resident and Bard College professor emeritus Justus Rosenberg’s memoir The Art of Resistance: My Four Years in the French Underground is a timely read. Rosenberg, born to a Jewish family in Poland in 1921, was sent to Paris in 1937, with the hope that he would be safe from Nazi occupation.
His parents’ wish was realized, but the teenager didn’t exactly play it safe. In 1940, he joined a French underground network, as a spy and scout, to help thousands of people (including the likes of surrealist artist Marc Chagall) escape the Nazis. Rosenberg would constantly face danger — whether it was through deception like utilizing his blond hair and blue eyes to go undetected while en route to escort refugees across the Spanish border, or later, through his participation in a guerilla squad who worked to ambush German troops.
The suspense and bravery featured throughout Rosenberg’s memoir reads like a thriller, but the author sprinkles in grounding, intimate moments.
In the train station as his parents send him off to Paris, Rosenberg’s father surprises him with a modified version of the “birds and bees” talk. Immediately after, Rosenberg mentions that he never would have guessed it would be15 years before seeing his parents again.
Rosenberg not only survived Nazi occupation as a part of the resistance and managed to escape an internment camp, but he also was a part of the relief effort. After working with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration at the end of the war, Rosenberg finished his studies at the Sorbonne Université. This would eventually lead him to his work as a professor of languages and literature at various American universities, including Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.
The Art of Resistance is an unflinching look at how ordinary people can change history in extraordinary circumstances. Nearing 100 years old, Rosenberg stands as a testament to resilience and continues to fight antisemitism through the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation.
304 pages; $28.99 hrd; HarperCollins