This post is part of the JCPA’s “Celebrating New Americans” as part of Jewish American Heritage Month. Born in Bornheim, Germany in 1914 to Leo and Anna Levenbach, my mother was the third of four children. Her father, observing the rise of Nazism, encouraged her to leave Germany, as had her two older siblings, Walter and Bruno. In 1931, she made her escape at night (without documentation), over a guarded bridge between Germany and Luxemburg. By William Rosenberg
From Luxemburg she went to Paris, where she supported herself as a domestic and was befriended by the family of (Ze’ve) Vladimir Jabotinsky (Zionist leader and founder of the Betar Movement and the Zionist Revisionist movement that played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel). Eventually, with the support and encouragement of Jabotinsky, she emigrated to Palestine (without documentation), this time as a stowaway aboard a ship destined for Egypt and connected with the Jewish “underground railroad” that would facilitate her travel to Palestine. For five years she lived in Palestine and was active with the Irgun. In 1938, she emigrated to the U.S. aboard the Normandie. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen on November 4, 1943, and on November 8, 1943 enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. and requested assignment for foreign duty in Europe to fight the Nazis and search for her older brother, Walter, who was part of the Free French Resistance movement in Vichy, France. Martha would later learn that Walter had been captured by the Nazis and transported via the Drancy transit camp to his death in Auschwitz. In fact, so eager was Martha to serve her adopted country, she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt to solicit her assistance in enlisting prior to her naturalization; however, she would have to wait until the naturalization process was complete.
In November 1943, The Houston Chronicle ran a story about Martha’s escape from Germany to Paris; then to Palestine; and eventually to the United States and her naturalization and enlistment in the army (W.A.C.): “… I have been most fortunate in being able to make my home in the United States. Because of what this wonderful country has afforded me and my family, I consider it my duty to serve this country in any way possible, no matter how small. To be able to stand and take the oath of allegiance to this country and then to be sworn in as a member of the army to serve shoulder to shoulder with the men who are battling Hitler are to me the greatest experiences I have ever had. The women of America really don’t realize how wonderful their homeland is. My one ambition in life is to march back into Berlin as an American wearing an American uniform.”
Martha was stationed in Europe (Compiègne, France; and Berlin, Germany) at HQ 78th Infantry Division with a military rank T/4; Interpreter G-2 (Intelligence) to make use of her fluency in English, German, French, and Hebrew. After Germany surrendered, Martha and a male colleague from G-2, posing as a German couple, were sent to various bars and night clubs in Berlin which were frequented by young Germans (referred to as “Wolf packs”) who remained loyal to Hitler and Nazism. Their task was to infiltrate and gather information regarding the planning of underground activities meant to disrupt the Allied Forces’ post-war endeavors. In her free time, Martha volunteered to use her position to help displaced children in Berlin. Military decorations/citations: European-African Middle Eastern Service Medal; WWII Victory Medal; Good Conduct Medal; and American Service Medal. In 1946, Martha Levenbach married Bernie Rosenberg. In WWII, Bernie was a Tech Sergeant with the 11th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army (“The Thunderbolts”), a highly decorated unit which fought the Nazis in France, Belgium, Germany and Austria. During the Battle of the Bulge, Bernie developed snow blindness. He eventually recovered and was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service against an armed enemy.
Martha and Bernie had four children. The Rosenberg’s Bronx apartment served as a drop-off location for the collection of weapons as part of an underground network of gun-runners supporting the Jewish freedom fighters for Israel’s independence.
In 1976, Bernie and Martha became founding members of Hatzilu Rescue Organization, providing emergency assistance and housing relocation to the forgotten and abandoned elderly Jewish communities in Brownsville, Brooklyn and the South Bronx. The focus of Hatzilu’s services is now in Nassau County, helping those in need right in our own communities.
Martha maintained a love and respect for education which had been abruptly interrupted in 1931 when escaping from Germany. After raising the children, Martha returned to school to complete her education … a local high school equivalency program; Queens College with an honors degree in sociology; and Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University with a Master of Social Work degree. Thereafter, Martha worked with an adoption care agency and single mothers; and New York City Department for the Aging, senior citizen crime victims.
Martha Levenbach Rosenberg, z”l (of blessed memory), died in April 1988. Indeed, a woman of valor, substance, and integrity. Bernie Rosenberg, z”l (of blessed memory), died in February, 2014. We best pay homage to the memories of Martha and Bernie by continuing to sustain the values that were the driving forces throughout their lives: love of family; love of country; love of Israel; and the future of the Jewish people. L’dor v’dor – from Generation to Generation.