Menachem Z. Rosensaft, general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, has been awarded this year's Dr. Bernard Heller Prize from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York. 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. The international award is 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 in 1948 as son of two Holocaust survivors Rosensaft 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.
In 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 is the editor of the recently published book 'God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections by Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors', an anthology of essays expressing the impact of family Holocaust legacy on making a positive difference in the world today.
Previous recipients of the Dr. Bernhard Heller Prize include Dennis B. Ross, Richard C. Holbrooke, Stuart E. Eizenstat and Shimon Peres.
Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. It educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths.