An unforgettable World War II memoir set in Nazi-occupied France and filled with romance and adventure: a former Eastern European Jew remembers his flight from the Holocaust and his extraordinary four years in the French underground. Justus Rosenberg, now 98, has taught literature at Bard College for the past fifty years.
In 1937, as the Nazis gained control and anti-Semitism spread in the Free City of Danzig, a majority German city on the Baltic Sea, sixteen-year-old Justus Rosenberg was sent to Paris to finish his education in safety. Three years later, France fell to the Germans. Alone and in danger, penniless and cut off from contact with his family in Poland, Justus fled south. A chance meeting led him to Varian Fry, an American journalist in Marseille who was helping thousands of men and women escape the Nazis, among them artists and intellectuals Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Andre Breton, and Max Ernst.
With his German background, understanding of French cultural, and fluency in several languages, including English, Justus became an invaluable member of Fry’s refugee network as a spy and scout. The spry blond who looked even younger than his age flourished in the underground, handling counterfeit documents, secret passwords, and black market currency, surveying escape routes, and dealing with avaricious gangsters. When Fry was eventually forced to leave France, his trusted colleague Justus—Gussie, as he was affectionately known—could not get out. For the next four years, Justus relied on his wits and skills to escape captivity, survive several close calls with death, and continue his fight against the Nazis, working with the French Resistance and eventually the United States Army. At the war’s end, Justus emigrated to America and built a new life.
Justus’ story is a powerful saga of bravery, daring, adventure, and survival with the soul of a spy thriller. Reflecting on his past, Justus sees his life as a confluence of circumstances. As he writes, ”I survived the war through a rare combination of good fortune, resourcefulness, optimism, and, most important, the kindness of many good people.”