Menachem Z. Rosensaft, General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress and Senior Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, will receive the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) at its Graduation Ceremonies on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 4 pm, at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, at 10 East 66th Street in Manhattan. Rosensaft, who teaches courses on the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell Universities, is receiving HUC-JIR’s highest honor, an international award presented annually to an individual or organization whose work, writings, or research reflects the values and commitment to the betterment of humanity.
Born in the Displaced Persons camp of Bergen-Belsen, the son of two survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, he has been referred to on the front page of the New York Times as one of the “most prominent” of the children of Holocaust survivors and has long been a leader in Holocaust remembrance activities. He has devoted his life to advancing Holocaust commemoration and education, bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, promoting the Israeli peace process, and fighting racism and bigotry.
On May 5, 1985, he organized and led a demonstration at Bergen-Belsen in protest against visits that day by President Ronald Reagan and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the mass-graves of Bergen-Belsen and the German military cemetery at Bitburg that presented an immoral equation between the Nazi perpetrators and their victims. In April 1987, he played a key role in convincing the government of Panama not to give sanctuary to Nazi war criminal Karl Linnas, and in ensuring Linnas’ deportation from the United States to the Soviet Union. In December 1988, he was one of five American Jews who met in Stockholm, Sweden, with senior leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, resulting in the PLO’s first public recognition of Israel.
Rosensaft is the Founding Chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, former National President of the Labor Zionist Alliance, and a past President of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. In 2010, President Obama appointed him to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He was previously a member of the Council for two terms, from 1994 to 2004, and served on its Executive Committee. In 2008 he organized an international Nobel laureates conference in Petra, Jordan, on behalf of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. In June 2009, he was a member of the US delegation to the International Conference on Holocaust Era Restitution Issues in Prague.
He is the editor of the recently published God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections by Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (Jewish Lights Publishing), an anthology of essays expressing the impact of family Holocaust legacy on making a positive difference in the world today. He is also the editor of Life Reborn, Jewish Displaced Persons 1945-1951 (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2001), and is co-author, with his daughter, Jodi Rosensaft, of A Measure of Justice: The Early History of German-Jewish Reparations, published in the Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 25, Symposium (2001), and as an Occasional Paper by the Leo Baeck Institute. He has contributed articles to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, The Jerusalem Post, Tablet Magazine, the New York Jewish Week, and other publications. He received the 2003 Elie Wiesel Holocaust Remembrance Award of Israel Bonds and the 2006 Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Feature Writing from the American Jewish Press Association.
He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in creative writing from The Johns Hopkins University in 1971, an M.A. degree in modern European history from Columbia University in 1975, and his J.D. degree from the Columbia University School of Law in 1979. After clerking for two years for the Hon. Whitman Knapp, United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York, he was an international and securities litigator at several national law firms and an international bank before becoming general counsel at a financial services firm on Wall Street.
The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize in Arts, Letters, the Humanities, and Religion is an international award presented to an organization or individual whose work, writing, or research reflects significant contributions in these areas. Previous recipients include Dennis B. Ross, Special Middle East Coordinator in the U.S. Department of State; Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords; Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and advocate for Holocaust restitution; Count Folke Bernadotte, posthumously, for rescuing thousands in the concentration camps during the Holocaust; and Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, for his exemplary leadership, wise statecraft, and moral leadership for over sixty years.
The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize was established by the Co-Trustees of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation to honor Dr. Bernard Heller's memory, life, and belief in the Jewish tradition. Dr. Bernard Heller was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1949, served on the faculty as Visiting Professor of Jewish Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion at HUC-JIR/New York, was the Director of Restitution of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc., the agency charged with the restitution of cultural property seized by the Nazis from European Jewry and Jewish institutions, and served the only liberal Jewish congregation in India, the Progressive Union of Bombay. Dr. Heller pursued his interests in business as one of the founders of the predecessor to the United Brands Corporation and the West Indies Investment Company in the U.S. Virgin Islands.