The history of Bernat Rosner former boy of Selvino

Letter of Bernat Rosner to Miriam Bisk and former pupils and friends of Selvino:

Dear Miriam,
Thank you (and those others concerned) for putting my story on the Sciesopoli website. I am very grateful for being able to participate in the reunion at least in this vicarious way.
My brief message to those participating in the reunion is as follows:

“Dear Selvino Alumni:  My time in Selvino (בּית עלית הנוער) is among my fondest memories,  It was the place where I started to heal, was fortunate to experience great leadership and guidance and made many friends. I regret that I will be unable to attend your reunion in person but I will be with you in spirit.! אנא קבל ברכות לבביות. שלום!לשנה טובה ובּרוחה!” בּרוך רוזנר


The book ““Bernat Rosner e Fredric C. Tubach: An Uncommon Friendship” tells the story of two friends who live in California.
Their wives were high school friends and that is how their paths crossed. They become such good friends that sharing the idea of writing a book about their personal histories develops slowly, despite being so different from each other. In fact, one is an orphaned Jew, interned at age of twelve and survived Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Gusen, while his parents and brother disappeared into the gas chambers. The other is Tubach, a young German scout, Hitler “Jungfolk,” who lived the Nazi regime from within, born November 9, 1930.
The reconstruction of their two lives, sometimes painful and tragic, parallel with their friendship, becomes over time more profound then living. However, This story takes on a special meaning in the context of Sciesopoli and Selvino.
Indeed Bernat Rosner, after being freed from the death camps, and after many vicissitudes, arrived to Italy, to the refugee camps of Tarvisio, Bologna and Modena and then to the colony for boys of Piazza Torre and finally to Selvino.

Bernat would have liked to be among us in Selvino to celebrate with friends reuniting after 70 years, but it was not possible for him but he sends his greetings from the United States where he lives.
In fact, his dream was to Immigrate to the USA. Thanks to the friendship of an American soldier, Charlie Merrill, who helped him like a son. In November 1947 Bernat reached the United States. Charlie Merrill is today 94 years old and Bernat goes regularly to visit him.

Bernat offers us a picture of Selvino free of any commentary. The imprint of Zionist education as perceived by Moshe Z’eiri and inspired by socialism and humanitarian, advocates that all the children of Selvino will reach the Promised Land of Palestine, through the illegal immigration called “Alyia Bet”. This clashed with Bernat’s American dream, and to achieve that he had to leave Selvino and spend several months in the refugee camp of Cremona which consisted of two large and squalid barracks, then hosted by a family in Viareggio.
However, his time in Selvino will always be in his mind and in his heart, as a time of study and a peaceful life, where there was also his friend Simcha Katz, who then reached the Promised Land, but without which it could not have survived the extermination camps.

In the list of Jewish children of the municipal archives of Selvino in December 1946 to no. 52 is also referred Bernat Rosner was then called Baruch, was born January 29, 1932 in Tov [Tab] in Hungary.
1946-12-01 elenco Colonia Ebraica-Bernat-Rosner-Baruch

On the book by Aharon Megged citing Rosner, saying falsely that he had entered the US Army and died in the Korean War.
Each of us is waiting patiently for his turn to immigrate,” wrote Baruch Rosner on the same number of “Nivenu”, “and each of us is the cradle in the illusion of being among the starters. There are among us some who have remained disappointed because they have been here for a long time but can not leave because they are too young. Every conversation focuses on how and when. Although we know that life in Palestine is not a bed of roses, we realize that we are building a homeland for us and for our descendants, and a country can not be built without overcoming difficult experiences. We must overcome all difficulties to create for us a home where we can all be happy and satisfied.
Baruch Rosner was later adopted by an American soldier not jew, with whom he went to the United States.
Here he was drafted into the army, sent to Korea, and was among the war dead. (See. P. 74).”

Bernat Rosner - Frederic C. TubachTowards the end of the summer, Bernat was transferred, along with a group of boys in the same situation, to Piazzatorre summer camp, which was run by a Zionist organization that was in charge of Jewish children in Italy.
In the fall, however, the camp was closed and the small group of refugees had to move again. The head of the organization was a zealous Zionist named Moshe Ze’iri. He devoted all his energies to the fate of those children and the future Israel. If young Hungarian survivors of Auschwitz were not able to predict their future, Moshe Ze’iri did his best to defend their interests in the chaotic postwar situation. He reassured them by saying that he would find a way to organize their exodus to
Palestine, and kept his promise. Bernat had never heard of the Italian towns where they had to remain in uncertainty and continuous movement. Depending on the quality of life that characterized their stay in a certain place, the mood of the refugees vacillated between despair and hope.
In September 1945 finally they came to Selvino, a beautiful mountain town north of Bergamo. Here they were housed in the Sciesopoli sanatorium, which was built by the Fascist regime to treat children with tuberculosis. It was an idyllic stay, with many happy days spent in a charming landscape.
Bernat was happy, and thankfully remained there for a long time, almost a year and a half, until February, 1947.
Shortly after their arrival in Selvino, Moshe Ze’iri organized a gathering to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, along with those young spiritually disoriented children. It was to be their first opportunity to celebrate the rituals that the Nazis had tried to erase.
The religious life of Bernat and his Orthodox family had in fact been interrupted in the brick factory. Moshe Ze’iri hoped that the orphans would remember their roots, but was forced to suspend the ceremony because all the guys bursted into tears. Those rites so long forbidden did resurface in the memory of their terrible losses, and especially the death of family members with whom they had shared the celebrations.
But apart from this failed attempt to revive his religiosity, while staying in Selvino Bernat could enjoy again, for the first time since the day he left his home, the tranquility of life, a life organized by a social order that cared for the common good or the growth of the individual. He could even resume almost a regular school life.
Selvino possessed large library of Jewish texts, which also included numerous translations in English, and some highly motivated teachers introduced him to the humanities. Bernat devoured the books that were proposed, including a Hebrew translation of the biography of Vincent Van Gogh by Irving Stone. Reading the Hebrew version of the novel by Upton Sinclair,”The Jungle”, he found that social injustice existed in the United States. The camp leaders professed a humanitarian socialism that implied rejection of American capitalism. But the charm of the United States was felt through the cinema. The boys could attend the screening of films like “Under the Sky of Hawaii”, where Hollywood stars such as Alan Ladd and Rita Hayworth were moving in a fantasy world of wealth and happiness. The subtitles did not matter: they could be in English, Italian or any other language. What mattered was the power of the images, evoking visions of a magical kingdom in the west, beyond the horizon.
In the sports field of Selvino, the language of Yiddish was adopted as it was one language that everyone could understand regardless of their country of origin. The leaders of the field were striving also to spread the Hebrew language: Bernat was commissioned to teach it to his companions. The small group of survivors of Mauthausen, six children in all, including Bernie and Simcha, instead of communicating in Hungarian, their native language. Overall, the education provided was devoid of rigor that characterized the Orthodox Jewish school in Tab. Bernie began to approach the secular culture, and he was enamored by it. Among the pastimes off the field there were even dances and the custom, despite the prohibitions, to climb over the fence to explore the surroundings.

With the passing days and months, the recurrence of everyday serenity helped young people to get a sense of normalcy to their lives.
The education given in Selvino was designed especially to encourage those young minds to embrace Zionism, inculcating in them the image of a heroic “new Jew” ready to engage in the collective future of the survivors and the establishment of the state of Israel.
The message was spread with great fervor through the example of Moshe Ze’iri, representing the Zionist ideal and, in the eyes of those young naïve, he acquired gigantic stature. Serving as a model and as a guide, Ze’iri managed to instill in young Bernat a new awareness of his value.
The children participated in a demonstration to demand the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Moshe Ze’iri was omnipresent: took care of their past, managed the present and planned for the future of his young disciples.
After the liberation, and in particular during the stay in Selvino, Bernat realized that he had lost interest in his religion. The secular education he received and the example of those soldiers strong and tanned seemed more convincing than the submissive and subservient Orthodox Jews, who relied blindly on divine help. At Auschwitz, there was no trace of that help. Moreover, his Orthodox faith was linked to a family that has now disappeared. So when Bernat received a letter from his mother’s sister, Holocaust survivor, who urged him to reach Palestine to join the ultraorthodox community of Mea She’arim, newly formed in Jerusalem, he refused. The return to a life of an orthodox Jew held no attraction for him.
The camp leaders placed in him much hope. Bernie was strong, smart, independent, could speak German and Italian and, more importantly, he knew the Hebrew language. But above all he had survived Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Gusen, proving to have a vital instinct that made it more than suitable exodus to Palestine. The young initiates were trained in order to develop a shared sense of solidarity and dedication to the Zionist cause.  Instead the boy relied on the help of Charlie Merrill,
the American soldier he met and kept his address. Bernie had written in late August and had received an initial reply, which he guarded carefully. The two corresponded regularly. Charlie had also sent a box of vitamins to supplement food rations of the field.
Bernie still has the cardboard box containing the pills, one of the memorabilia that he was able to save, preserved along with photographs taken during his stay in Selvino.
The document which was to decide his future, a letter dated November 4, 1945. Charles Merrill Jr. had been discharged, he returned to the United States and at the age of twenty-four was married and father of a family.
He wrote to offer the Hungarian Jew who survived the death camps a new opportunity: “Wenn ich und Visum Reisemoeglichkeit fuer Dich bekommen koennte, wuerdest Du dann nach Amerika kommen wollen, um mit uns als unser Sohn zu le-well?”, “Ïf I can get you a visa and find a way to get you started, would you come and live in America with us as our son?”
Charles Merrill inviting him to decide freely and concluded with a generous offer of help, regardless of his response: “Und ganz gleich, Commented [ND1]: know Du bist Du tun und was willst, lasse mich bitte imrner wissen, was ich fuer dich tun kann” and whatever your choice, regardless of who you are and your project, please let me know what more I can do for you. It really is a strange irony that this letter, so important for the future of Bernat, was written in German. The text is quite ungrammatical, but the proposal is an outstanding example of humanity.
The war ended in August 1945 with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but for a long time Europe remained in chaos. In this climate of total uncertainty, the Hungarian Jewish boy from Tab had to make the most important decision of his life. Moshe Ze’iri drove him to devote himself to the collective cause of Zionism and immigrate to Palestine, but Bernat was aware of the hardships that the Zionist utopia would entail.
First, he would have to stay at another camp in Cyprus, where the British authorities promptly relegated immigrants “illegal” to Palestine. The idea to be re-interned in a camp surrounded by barbed wire was unbearable to him. And despite the care received in Selvino, Bernie could not fail to notice the pressure on their young minds of survivors to bend to the interests of collective strength. He struggled with an internal conflict between the feeling of solidarity, pride in belonging to a group of Jews who rebelled as victims, and the strong desire to enjoy individual freedom, to escape the restrictions either physically or mentally. It was
the dream of his childhood, the wonderful life that awaited him if he had decided to follow the path of the sun.
The boy realized he had the deepest desires of the new pride and solidarity for Palestinian cause that his mentor had told him as a Zionist. He needed to recreate a family.
When Bernie decided to accept the offer of Charlie, Moshe Ze’iri reacted harshly. There was a passionate argument. Moshe was brutal beyond measure, for the good of the cause.
So he did his best to change his mind. He subjected him to intense pressure, accused him of being a traitor and then isolated him as an intruder. He went so far as to circulate the rumor that Charles Merrill wanted to kidnap Bernie to convert him to Catholicism and let him take the vows. But Bernie did not change his mind, even though he knew that it was a risky decision that precluded an important alternative. Since then, in fact, he could no longer count on exodus to Palestine, and practices for moving to the US were terribly long and tiring. He had to wait, and the choice of immigrating to America made it increasingly difficult to stay in Selvino.
Towards the end of 1946 Bernie was still there and watched the arrival of a large group of Jewish children from Eastern Europe. These refugees had fled or had grown up in regions of the Soviet Union that had not been invaded by the Nazis, allowing them to escape the concentration camps.
Their stories differed from those of the smaller group of survivors who had initially accompanied Moshe Ze’iri in Selvino, and they were united by the suffering they endured. At the time, the guys in the camp were about a hundred and fifty, but most of the components of the original nucleus of survivors in Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Gusen had already left.
Towards the end of 1946, Bernie said goodbye to his friends from the concentration camp, because Simcha Katz was sent to Palestine via Cyprus.
They said goodbye, not knowing if they would ever see each other again.
Bernie had to leave Selvino in February 1947, under less than favorable terms. Along with the other veterans of Selvino who had chosen different destinations than Palestine, he was transferred to Cremona to a refugee camp rather large and shabby. Suddenly things took a turn for the worse, and Bernie again fell prey to depression.
During the autumn, however, a letter from Charles Merrill allowed him to escape the squalor of Cremona. Merrill invited him to contact a lady from Lucca who had been part of the resistance during the war. The woman had found a family of Viareggio willing to host Bernie for a fee.
Obviously, Merrill offered to undertake to pay. In Viareggio received Bernie with a warm, kind and friendly place, which left him with a lasting feeling of sympathy for the Italians. That stay, which lasted several months, marked the end of his sufferings in the fields of a Europe, torn apart by conflicts, the Nazi death camps and the refugee camps after the war.
Meanwhile, his benefactor was busy trying to get him a visa to enter the United States. The necessary documents were finally released in November 1947, two years after the letter in which Charles offered to help him. Bernie had to go to Genoa to register. Since he had no passport, birth certificate or any other document that could prove his identity and his origins, the US consulate issued him a special immigration permit as a stateless person. If Charles Merrill had not lavished with such constancy and he had spent large sums of money to shorten the bureaucratic process, Bernie probably would never be able to immigrate to the United States.
America finally began to loom on the horizon in a tangible way. Bernie immersed himself in the study of the language, using the dictionary of English and Hungarian that Charlie had sent him.”


Adapted from: “Bernat Rosner e Fredric C. Tubach: An Uncommon Friendship. From opposite sides of the Holocaust“, Patterson Tubach Sally (edited by), Regents of the University of California, 2001.



Remembering Auschwitz

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.
And today — January 29 — is the 83rd birthday of my wife’s uncle, Bernie Rosner, who was hurtled into that Nazi death camp’s cruel vortex as a twelve- year old in 1944.
Bernie’s ultimate survival and subsequent long and happy life is a lasting triumph over his Nazi tormentors.

Bernie’s extraordinary story, like those of nearly every Holocaust survivor, is brutal, dehumanizing, dramatic, courageous and, ultimately, life affirming.  In June 1944, when he was a 12-year old Orthodox Jew studying for his Bar Mitzvah in the provincial Hungarian town of Tab, local authorities and their Nazi allies ordered the transfer of over 475,000 Jews to the death camps.  Given 24 hours notice, Bernie, his younger brother, Alexander and mother and father, Bertha and Louis, were marched with hundreds of other Jews through the streets of Tab to the death camps.  Seven decades later, Bernie recalled for Libby and me at his northern California home last weekend that some of his Christian neighbors jeered as he left his home forever.

Bernie and his family were transported in a stifling, crowded, fetid cattle car to Hitler’s empire of death—Auschwitz–in modern day Poland.  He recalls a fleeting moment in the Budapest train station when a kind woman pushed a few slices of orange through the train’s barbed wire fence into his hand.  He remembers two elderly people who died along the way, their corpses left to rot in place by the guards.  And he will never forget when, nearing their final stop, his father turned to him and said flatly, “it’s all over”.

Fearful images of a hot, cloudy day on the Auschwitz train platform are imprinted in Bernie’s memory.  Thousands of crying, screaming, terrified people thrown from the train. Nazi guards yelling and pushing them toward a distant checkpoint. His father disappeared first, ordered to report to a different part of the camp.  Then his mother, forcibly separated from her two sons.  When Bernie tried to follow his younger brother to the line heading left, he was shoved by a German officer to a separate line to the right.  His brother and those in his line were gassed that day while Bernie’s line of men and boys was sent to the Birkenau work camp in the vast, horrible Auschwitz complex.

Over the next ten months, Bernie survived terrible cruelties at Auschwitz and three other death camps. Liberated by American troops in May 1945, he and hundreds of other Jewish orphans were spirited into Northern Italy by members of the Jewish Brigade from Palestine. They spent two years there, training to create a new state so Jews would never again be victims.

Bernie’s life was changed forever, however, by a visiting American GI who took a liking to this bright, precocious but wounded refugee kid.  Months later, the GI sent a letter offering to bring him to the United States as his ward.  14-year old Bernie chose America over Palestine, because, he reasoned, it was safer to go with the victor.

The young GI was Charles Merrill, Jr., son of the great Wall Street financier.  He gave Bernie a home in which to heal.  Excelling at school, Bernie graduated from Cornell and Harvard Law School and rose, eventually, to become General Counsel for Safeway Corporation in San Francisco. He survived every deadly trial of the Holocaust but refuses to consider himself a victim.

Hitler’s crimes at Auschwitz and other death camps are so enormous that they risk becoming a numbing abstraction unless we recall during this Holocaust Remembrance Week the distinct stories of each victim and each survivor.  Bernie’s life, along with those of millions of people caught up in the fires of World War Two, demand that we remember and vow– Never Again.

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