Interview SummaryBorn in Magdeburg, Germany, John Rosenberg begins the interview by discussing the importance of Judaism in his family's life growing up. His father was a Jewish schoolteacher and assisted the local rabbi while his mother kept a kosher household. Rosenberg's parents met in Idar-Oberstein after his father moved there to be a religious schoolteacher. His mother, Gerta, was a student of his father's. Although too young to remember much of the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933, John Rosenberg notes that his strongest memories are of his parents and from photographs that he was shown. When he started school in the first grade, Rosenberg remembers Hitler's decree that Jewish students would be separated from Aryan children. This decree led to his father organizing a school for Jewish schoolchildren where he attended first grade in Magdeburg, Germany. Rosenberg then recalls the night of Kristallnacht on November 11th, 1938, which he remembers very clearly. He describes his family's oppression during the Nazi regime. He mentions that some of his extended family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp where they were then murdered. John Rosenberg and his immediate family immigrated to the United States on one of the last ships leaving Holland in 1940 before World War II broke out. He describes the name-changing process when they arrived at Ellis Island where his German name, Hans, was changed to John. John Rosenberg's father moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina to conduct services at the local synagogue. John and his family moved to Spartanburg shortly after in 1941 and started school.
Growing up, he spent a lot of time participating in a predominantly Christian scout camp. He participated in prayers and sometimes he sang Christian hymns, recalling that it did not bother him much. As he discusses other experiences in the non-Jewish community, he reflects on his views on anti-Semitism and the fact that he didn?t face overt prejudice during his time in the scouts or since he came to the United States. He then talks about his life today and how he and his wife have good relations with the local Christian community, volunteering at the Presbyterian church's service ministry programs. He then describes the rituals that his family tried to continue when they came to the United States such as keeping Sabbath and going to the synagogue.
Transitioning into a discussion on justice, John Rosenberg starts by quoting Isaiah in the Old Testament, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" when asked about the notion of justice within Judaism. When asked how he and wife ended up in eastern Kentucky, John recalls that he founded the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund which was involved in legal issues such as mineral rights and black lung and decided to join the branch in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. John Rosenberg also did a lot of the legal work that went along with purchasing the town and joined the Community Development Corporation which helped secure funding for the newly purchased town. The David School was formed in the community and it focused a lot on one-on-one education, which was why Rosenberg's daughter, Annie, left public school to go there. He then describes his children's current spiritual lives, saying that if they remembered their Jewish heritage that that would be good enough for him. Jean Rosenberg joins the discussion by describing her relationship with Judaism as a Quaker. They then discuss the dynamic of an interfaith marriage, saying they always celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah. John and Jean transition into a brief discussion on the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD), a legal aid program that John Rosenberg founded. They end the interview discussing their thoughts on Israel and with closing remarks.