Memorial anchors legacy

Published 12:12 am Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ever since the early 1800s, a good number of Demopolis’s more prominent citizens were Jewish. They generated a lot of the business down in the local stores and shops, and they contributed to the community.

Names like Koch, Levy and Speight were among the most well-known in the community.

Over the years, though, many members of the Jewish community passed away or moved off, leaving former furniture store owner Bert Rosenbush as the last member of his faith in Demopolis.

The former B’Nai Jeshrun synagogue of Demopolis, a historical building at the corner of Main Avenue and Monroe Street, closed in 1989, but continues its service to the community, now being used to house the Food Pantry, providing food for the needy.

Rosenbush continues to contribute to the community, donating his building to the city, which will be used as the Marengo County History and Archives Museum. When he retired in 2002, the building was valued at $5 million.

He also worked to provide the Temple B’Nai Jashrun Cemetery with a Holocaust memorial withone simple yet poignant word: Remember.

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Tuesday, Bert and his wife, Mary Louise Rosenbush, dedicated a memorial at the B’nai Jeshrun Cemetery, located on land donated by Capt. And Mrs. John Cox Webb Jr. in 1878 on Jefferson Street in Demopolis.

The day, known as Yom HaShoah in Hebrew, began in 1951 and commemorates the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, actions carried out by Nazi Germany against the Jews from 1933 to 1945. In 1951, the date was officially set for the 27th day of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar, about five days following the celebration of Passover.

“This is something that we all need to remember,” said Bert Rosenbush. “My family came to America in the 1800s, so they escaped the Holocaust, but I’ve always had a tender spot in my heart for the Holocaust victims.

“I’ve wanted this memorial for about 40 years. I went to Montreal, Canada, and saw what they had done there about 40 years ago. I’m a charter member of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in Israel. It was a terrible thing in our lifetime, and let’s hope it is never repeated.”

A gathering of about 50 people were on hand for the dedication.

Dr. Ron Hood, a professor emeritus at the University of Alabama, was the guest speaker at the event. He is the immediate past president of the Rosenbushes’ synagogue in Tuscaloosa, Temple Emanu-El.

“It’s something unique to have a town with one Jewish person still living here to support his efforts to memorialize what happened and to help everyone remember,” he said. “There are so many people around the world who are trying to say that these things did not happen, which is, of course, not true.

“It wasn’t just Jews; it was a whole lot of other folks who were killed by the Nazis for whatever reason, and we need to remember them, too. I just appreciate Bert and Mary Louise doing this and giving us the opportunity to come down and support the community.”

“I am just proud to be Jewish and to live in a free country,” Bert Rosenbush said.