Dr. Steve Salzberg recalls occasionally running into Morris Rosen at a local gym and asking the nonagenarian how he was doing. “He always told me how he was slowing down,” Salzberg said with a laugh, “that he was only taking two Zumbas and a kickboxing class. …
“Morris was always in a good mood and so excited about whatever he was talking about,” he said. “He was one of the special ones. He always had a glint in his eye and was very meticulous about everything.”
A longtime Baltimore resident and survivor of the Holocaust who frequently spoke publicly about his wartime experiences, Rosen died on Dec. 12. He was 98.
“The 12 years that the Nazis ruled was the darkest chapter in mankind’s history,” Rosen said at a 2018 Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s more than 6 million Jews who were killed, because they weren’t just killed by the Germans but also by [Nazi sympathizers]. Hanging and killing went on all day long. If I talked a whole week, it still wouldn’t be enough because I remember everything.”
Besides serving as a lecturer for the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Holocaust Speakers Bureau, Rosen was a longtime volunteer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
“I owe it to my fellow inmates from all the concentration camps where I was kept,” he said in an oral testimony for the museum. “They did not make it, but I did and want the world to remember them. The museum needs me in their archives where I do the translations, the most difficult of which are Polish written in Hebrew letters.”
In a statement issued on Dec. 14, the Baltimore Jewish Council said, “We were saddened to learn of the passing of Morris Rosen this past weekend. Morris was such a passionate advocate, and his experiences during the Holocaust always made a powerful impact on audiences of all ages. We were privileged to have worked with Morris for so many years in our collective effort to educate about the Holocaust.
“On behalf of the Baltimore Jewish Council and the BJC’s Holocaust Remembrance Committee, we extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends. May his memory be for a blessing.”
A native of the Polish city of Czestochowa who grew up in southern Polish town of Dabrowa Gornicza, Rosen — who was born Moniek Rozen — was one of 10 children and grew up in a traditional household. His father, Jacob, owned and operated a general store which was forced to close in 1938 due to rising anti-Semitism in the town. Rosen attended both public and Jewish schools.
After the Nazi invasion in September of 1939, Rosen fled to eastern Poland but was forced by advancing German troops to return to his hometown, where some Jews were already being killed and severe restrictions were imposed on the community. He worked for a German construction firm for a while as a bricklayer and carpenter.
In August of 1942, the Jewish population of Dabrowa Gornicza was ordered to assemble in the town and several thousand — including Rosen’s parents — were deported Auschwitz. Rosen was later deported to a series of labor and concentration camps, including Kretschamberg, over the course of the war.
In February of 1945, with the approach of Soviet troops, Rosen and hundreds of other inmates of the Kittlitztreben camp were sent on a death march to the Buchenwald concentration camp, walking 16 hours a day in frigid weather. When arriving at Buchenwald, he said the prisoners there looked like “movie monsters. … They had only bones and skin on them.”
Of the death march itself, he told WBAL-TV in 2015, “My God, so many people got shot. Who can walk 16 hours? You know they’re hungry. I had swollen feet also, but one [person] helped me walk them. Then I slept the next day with my feet up. It helped the swelling.”
Rosen endured another death march before being liberated by Soviet troops at the Theresienstadt camp and ghetto in Czechoslovakia.
Rosen lost his parents and five siblings during the Holocaust, but was reunited with some members of his family after the war.
In 1949, Rosen immigrated to the United States after spending several years in displaced persons camps in Austria and Germany. He lived initially in New York and came to Baltimore and studied interior design at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Rosen also became a major collector of Holocaust artifacts.
In 1991, through the auspices of the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center then in Baltimore, Rosen made headlines when he was reunited with Harry Nordon, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Queens, N.Y., and came from Rosen’s hometown. They were among the few Jewish citizens of Dabrowa Gornicza to survive the war.
“They called us the untermensch — subhuman,” Rosen told his Hopkins audience in 2018. “And I always told them, even if they killed me, ‘You are subhuman, not me. You are subhuman the way you treat people.’ I was very arrogant, believe me. But I had my pride, that’s all.”
In April of 2009, Rosen helped lead a prayer vigil during a Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in the Capitol Rotunda and received a hug from then-President Barack Obama.
“That was a very special day,” said Salzberg, the son of a Holocaust survivor who serves on the BJC’s Holocaust Speakers Bureau. “Morris had a very special connection with people. He was open and connected, and he had a powerful story to tell. When we would all speak at the John Carroll School [in Bel Air], he was always surrounded by people. He was just driven to tell his story.”
In her tribute to Rosen on the website of Sol Levinson & Bros., community activist and Holocaust survivor Martha Weiman wrote, “It was a privilege to serve with Morris on the Holocaust Remembrance Committee for many years. He was a stalwart leader in disseminating Holocaust education and engaging all who benefitted from his extensive community reach. I will miss his warm hug whenever we met. Never forget his perseverance, positivity and the profound influence he dispersed.”
In his eulogy for Rosen, Rabbi Chai Posner of Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation called him “truly one of a kind. The type of person you don’t replace. The type of man unlike any other you meet in your lifetime. The type of person you were honored to interact with and fortunate if you could call him a friend. It’s cliched to say, but it’s true. No words can do justice for this giant of a man. … He was always on a mission. He felt a responsibility.”
Rabbi Posner alluded to the fact that Rosen, who belonged to Beth Tfiloh, passed away during the Chanukah festival.
“Morris Rosen — Reb Moshe ben Yaakov — was our surviving flask of oil,” he said. “And that flask was a miracle for all of us. For his family, for his friends, for his community and for the thousands others he touched and inspired. He was that kankan notar — he was that surviving flask, a flask that perhaps should have only lasted one day but lasted eight … 98 years!”
Rosen is survived by his children, Jacob Joseph Rosen (Lynne Blume Rosen) and Jesse David Rosen; and his grandchildren, Hannah Rosen and Michael Rosen. He was predeceased by his devoted wife, Miriam Rosen (nee Miller).
Contributions in Rosen’s memory may be sent to American Friends of Meir Panim, 88 Walton St., Suite B1, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11206, or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024.