Judaism hasn’t had saints. We’ve had judges and prophets and kings in the Tanach, but really no saints. We’ve had great rabbis and scholars over the centuries, but no saints. The closest thing we have to saints are the Lamed Vavniks and we (and they) simply don’t know who they are. We haven’t had saints until the Holocaust, and those saints weren’t Jews: they were the Righteous Among the Nations. According to Yad vaShem, these Righteous Gentiles were “… non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. Rescue took many forms and the Righteous came from different nations, religions and walks of life. What they had in common was that they protected their Jewish neighbors at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed.”
In order to be a Righteous Gentile, you can’t be a Jew. So, how did a descendant of a Righteous Gentile come to be a Jew living in St. Louis Park? Eli Rosenberg, the great-grandson of one of the newest additions to the list of the Righteous Among the Nations – Ecuadorian Consul Jose Ignacio Burbano – explains how this came to be.
Rosenberg knows that his great-grandfather Burbano was the Consul of Ecuador in Bremen, Germany, from 1937-40; so, he was there to witness the horrors of Kristallnacht. Jews were seeking any safe haven in this storm but were being turned away by most of the world. At that time, Ecuador was still officially a Catholic country, but Burbano ignored the law excluding Jews and managed to secure more than 200 visas for German Jews – unquestionably saving their lives. He risked his professional and possibly personal life with his commitment to protect the lives of persecuted Jews, demonstrating an unwavering moral compass.
“It’s not a story I know from childhood and definitely a recent revelation for me,” Rosenberg admits. It was his mother and cousin who put in the research about their grandfather once their families were grown. “It makes me very proud to know that the other side of my family, the non-Jewish side, has this connection to protecting and helping Jews in need during the Holocaust. It definitely spurred me to explore his background more and learn more about him. It also makes me want to celebrate his story and share it more.”
Eventually, Burbano returned to Ecuador where his daughter – Rosenberg’s grandmother – married Federico Adler, an Austrian Jew who found refuge in Ecuador in 1939. The couple left Ecuador in 1957 along with Rosenberg’s mother Betty and her sister Margarita and settled in Kansas City, Mo. The whole family was active in the Jewish community there, and Betty formally converted to Judaism around the age of 16.
Eli Rosenberg was brought up in the Washington, D.C. area and only visited Ecuador once while growing up. He envisions going there with his wife and children when the kids are older to meet their relatives and learn about their family’s Ecuadorian roots. They all know that Eli’s mother Betty traveled to Ecuador recently to accept an award honoring Burbano.
“The reaction from our Ecuadorian relatives has been one of profound pride and genuine happiness,” Rosenberg said. “Knowing that he played an instrumental role in safeguarding the lives and survival of vulnerable individuals has undoubtedly left a profound impact. The recognition bestowed upon Jose Burbano highlights the substantial influence he wielded during a tumultuous period, and this awareness has served to strengthen the bonds within our family and, for me at least, reinforce a collective commitment to humanitarian values.”
What an odyssey for this family: Austria, Germany, Ecuador, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., and now – the Twin Cities! How did Eli Rosenberg get here? It wasn’t work; it was mishpucha. His wife Katie (Weil) Rosenberg is a Twin Cities native. She grew up deeply involved in Jewish life here and today is the advancement associate for Herzl Camp. The couple met in Chicago, but moved to St. Louis Park in 2016 after baby No. 1 was born. It helped to be in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, too, since Rosenberg’s professional field involves the fisheries industry.
Rosenberg’s Spanish has deteriorated a bit from his childhood when he spoke it almost exclusively with his Ecuador-born grandmother. He’s not engaged with the Ecuadorian community in Minneapolis, either. But he is proud that a part of his family, the Christian side, fought for human rights and Jewish lives. He knows that the memory of his great-grandfather Jose Ignacio Burbano will continue to be a blessing for all who share his values.