Menachem Rosensaft: Finding the Light in Darkness

by Eileen Korey

Poetry is not compatible with good legal writing. But that didn’t stop legal scholar Menachem Rosensaft from publishing a book of poetry. As he explains it, he expresses himself on two tracks: “one rigorously fact-based, and the other giving me the freedom to find refuge in images and shadows that take me on journeys inside myself.”

In Poems Born in Bergen-Belsen, published in 2021, Rosensaft takes readers along on a personal journey that drives his lifelong commitment to fighting against antisemitism, fighting for human rights around the globe, striving for peace in the Middle East, and teaching students how the law can be used to bring moral clarity to acts of bigotry and hate.

“My father taught me that all children are equal, regardless of their religion or nationality. Thus, I wrote: ‘The messiah will not come/God will not leave Her seclusion/until Jerusalem’s bearded/rabbis, imams, priests/teach daily that each Jewish child/Palestinian child/is created with one/only one/always the same/divine spark.”

Born in a displaced persons camp to concentration camp survivors, Rosensaft lost his brother and grandparents to the Nazi gas chambers. His family was nearly obliterated by hate, yet he has become one of the world’s loudest voices calling for the protection of innocents everywhere.

Earlier this year, he joined Jews, Muslims, and others in Bosnia to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and to remember the genocide of thousands of Muslim Bosniaks during Bosnia’s 1992–1995 interethnic war. “While we here today cannot change the past,” said Rosensaft in a speech, “we can and we must do all in our collective power to change the future, to prevent further destruction and violence, and to reject all manifestations of antisemitism, of Islamophobia, of bigotry, of xenophobia, and of hatred. And we must do so together, as Muslims, as Jews, as Christians, as human beings, all of us created by God, by Allah, by Adonai, in the image of God, of Allah, of Adonai.”

Rosensaft has sought light in the darkness and hope in despair. Just as his mother (a dentist who provided care to inmates at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen) was credited with saving lives of Jewish prisoners, Rosensaft believes we must “ease the suffering of the innocent” and is deeply concerned by Israeli government policies that cause suffering among Palestinian civilians. And just as his mother testified against Nazi concentration camp personnel at the first Nazi war crimes trial in 1945, Rosensaft has convinced the government of Panama not to give sanctuary to a Nazi war criminal, called on a Pope to condemn a Holocaust denier, and demonstrated against an American President for visiting a German cemetery where members of Hitler’s Waffen-SS are buried.

“Ever since he was a college student and in the many decades since, Menachem Rosensaft has been raising difficult questions. He has rarely if ever, turned away from a fight when truth and justice were at stake,” wrote Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt in reviewing his poetry.

Truth, justice, and difficult questions. That’s what Rosensaft takes from his life experience and brings into the classroom, in hopes his students will pursue a path through the law that rights wrongs and advances humanity.