Update and Special Editor’s Note: A new interview has been added to this article on 11/13/17. Appended at the end of the article is an interview with Faye Teichman, the daughter of Joseph Teichman and the niece of Efraim Fischer Teichman, who knew Pinchas Rosenbaum (the father of Rabbi Moshe Rosenbaum and the man depicted in the movie discussed below). She tells remarkable stories about her uncle and father and mother (and their remarkable love story), and she is also hoping to get in touch with Rabbi Rosenbaum to learn more about her uncle and how well he knew Pinchas. (Rabbi Rosenbaum, if you see this, please see the interview at the bottom of this article and get in touch with me using the email provided so that I can connect you with Faye Teichman.)
The recent Hollywood feature film Walking with the Enemy (#WalkingWithTheEnemy), starring Ben Kingsley, Jonas Armstrong, and Hannah Tointon, is inspired by the true story of a Hungarian Jew, a man named Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum, during WWII. When the Nazis came to Hungary, they sent Pinchas’s family — and thousands of others — to the Auschwitz concentration camp where they were all killed. Pinchas was the only one in his family who escaped the Nazi’s deportations. In the midst of such horror, he risked his life to save Jews by disguising himself as an Arrow Cross officer (the Arrow Cross Party was a pro-Nazi party in Hungary) and sometimes as an SS Nazi officer with uniforms that he had obtained. He saved countless people and would become a hero to thousands who owed their lives to him; and, most recently, he would be portrayed as the brave hero Elek Cohen in the recent 2014 film that was released in theaters nationwide.
Pinchas (pictured right), however, was more than a WWII-era hero; he was also a brilliant Torah scholar that came from a long line of highly respected rabbis. After the war ended, he dedicated his life to helping the newly reborn state of Israel survive and thrive amidst great adversity. He died on October 23, 1980, and he was buried in the Har Hamenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.
I had the great privilege of interviewing the son of Pinchas Rosenbaum, Rabbi Moshe Rosenbaum. As a rabbi who lives in Israel, Moshe has continued his family’s legacy of Torah scholarship and devotion to the Holy Land (#Israel). He was also kind enough to provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the story of his heroic father:
As a lead-in to my first question, I shared with Rabbi Moshe some initial thoughts about the film Walking with the Enemy, which was very moving to watch. The scene that brought tears to my eyes the most was the final scene when your father’s on-screen equivalent, Elek Cohen, is safe with his family in New York years after the war, and he is honored with a moving toast. For the first time in the movie you feel a sense of safety; he is in a safe place, finally, after two hours of watching him endure danger after danger. The film was also very sobering and heart-wrenching — reminding me of my visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. when I was young.
Assuming you’ve had the opportunity to see the film, did you have any favorite scenes or moments from the film that especially resonated with you?
I saw the movie once in the fall of 2013 before Ben Kinsley got the role as Horty, and there might have been other differences between the version I saw and the final version. The scene you describe is indeed moving, however it is not what happened to my father who did not emigrate to the USA after the war. In general, I was moved about the movie especially when Elek shows his courage and determination to do whatever could be done to save and help others. There was one scene which I thought was brilliant because it showed the horror of those terrible days. When the two youngsters went back to their home town for the second time, the very same person who was so nice to Elek the first time by offering Elek a ride home, became this horrific person taking over the family home and wanting to get rid of the two boys. I felt that this was so powerful. One suddenly realizes that anyone can turn out to be a monster and unless there is a real fear of the All Mighty or at least fear of the local authorities (which was absent in those days), no one can be safe.
Did you have the chance to meet or speak with any of stars from the film; and if so, what was like it meeting the performers who were working to bring your father’s story to life on the big screen?
I did not meet any of the actors, only the producers, Marc Schmidt and Randy. I felt and keep feeling very grateful to them for producing a film which means a lot to me and my family.
It is one thing to see a personality portrayed on a larger-than-life screen in a theater, but it is always fascinating to hear the perspective of someone who knew him. What was your father’s personality like in day-to-day normal life, as you knew him?
My father, in real life, was very different than Elek. He was not only a man of action, he was mostly a man of spirit. He was deeply religious and very knowledgeable in many disciplines. He was an ordained Rabbi and had a PHD in economics. He was brilliant and also very funny. Wherever he went, he became the focus because of his wit and charisma and also because people in general admired him. He was also very kind in small things as well, always polite to an extreme. He loved life and his passing at the young age of 57 was a tragedy beyond words for us all.
This next question is related to the previous question, and it’s possible your answers might overlap. But as a preface, I wish to quote from Israeli journalist Menachem Michelson (who is also writing a book about your father) as published in Shalom Magazine:
“If we wanted to relate all the courageous actions that Pinchas Rosenbaum took part in, it would require a thick volume. Pinchas himself never made much of it. Occasionally, on his travels around the world, he would meet a man or woman who owed him their life, and when such a person started telling about what he had done, his heroism and courage, Pinchas listened intently, as though they were talking about someone else…”
Were there any clues in his personality, as you knew him, that might reveal why he chose not to trumpet his brave legacy loudly to the world or even to his friends and family?
I really don’t think my late father thought he did anything more than what is expected of anyone. After all, the Torah says, “Do not stand by the blood of your neighbor…” (Leviticus 19, 16). He was also looking forward, what else he could do for others. He did not like to keep looking behind.
Michelson also wrote that after the war, “[Pinchas worked] with all his strength for the State of Israel, even carrying out a few missions for the Mossad and for Israeli security.” Did you ever learn, either from your father or from later sources, what kind of missions he did for Mossad or Israeli security?
I only know that my father was very active in trying to help the state of Israel in different ways. I have heard that he was heavily involved in the purchase of weapons desperately needed in the fifties. He was very close to many of the leading people in the Jewish State, including high ranking politicians, army generals and religious leaders.
Although I am an American based in California, I greatly admire Israel. I believe it is the most inspiring, miraculous, forward-thinking democracy in the world (and I hope to visit it one day). Respected foreign policy analyst Michael Ledeen agrees; he wrote very recently this month that Israel “may well be the most dynamic country in the world, bursting at the seams with high-tech startups, dazzling inventions — especially in military and medical technologies — and highly educated and talented people.” What would your father think about Israel today if he could see all the amazing things that it is doing as a nation?
I think my father would have been so happy and proud of many of the accomplishments of the state of Israel. He loved this country very deeply…
I belong to a portion of Protestant Christianity that stands with Israel and detests anti-Semitism. Corrie ten Boom, for example, is a Christian I greatly admire for her support of Jews during WWII, when she hid them in her home in Holland to protect them from the Nazis. Scenes in Walking with the Enemy depicted Christians helping the Jews who were being persecuted, and that was also inspiring to me. According to what I hear in the news — such as this survey of European Jews conducted in 2012 — there is an increase in anti-Semitism in Europe, which is deeply troubling. There seems to be an increase in America as well; at least I’ve seen more news reports of it in recent times. What can Christians — or anybody for that matter, not just Christians — do to fight anti-Semitism?
Anti-Semitism is a disease. It is often transmitted from one generation to another and is also very catching! Since most of the time anti-Semitism is irrational, I think one can fight it by pointing out how illogical and plain stupid anti-Semitic remarks and behavior can be. If we keep doing it, it might really help! There is much to discuss about anti-Semitism and maybe if we ever meet we can do this in person.
You can learn more about the Liberty Studios (#LibertyStudios) award-winning film Walking with the Enemy — inspired by the true story of Pinchas Rosenbaum — at its official website, and you can read Rocking God’s House review of the film here.
I had the chance to speak via email with Faye Teichman (whose Jewish name is Feigie Teichman). Her uncle, Efraim Fischer Teichman, knew Pinchas Rosenbaum and was also in the Hungarian resistance and did the same feats of heroism as Pinchas during those difficult times. Her father Joseph Teichman holds an unusual world record: he survived the most concentration camps by anyone in history, and he has his own remarkable story.
She mentioned in the interview that she is trying to get in touch with Rabbi Moshe Rosenbaum to ask him what he knows about her uncle and how well Pinchas knew her uncle. If Rabbi Rosenbaum reads this or someone who knows him reads this, please have him contact the author of this article, Kevin Ott, at rgheditor (at) gmail (dot) com, so that he can get Rabbi Rosenbaum in touch with Faye.
In her own words, the daughter of Joseph Teichman and the niece of Efraim Fischer Teichman tells a little of their remarkable but heart-wrenching stories:
“I am the niece of Efraim Fischel Teichman (also known as Efraim Teichman Agmon) who was from Kisvarda and was in the Hungarian Jewish resistance. My uncle, like Pinchas, also dressed up in SS uniforms and saved hundreds of people at the river and from truck roundups and also before the trains, and he also printed Swiss passports at night. My father, Joseph Teichman, and his other brother, Avigdor ‘Vicki’ Teichman, survived together and watched their parents burn in crematoria on the night they arrived. My uncle arrived to rescue them too late, but he rescued an orphanage and hundreds of people from trains. My dad restored the kosher shechita in the DP camps along with his younger brother. My mom is a child survivor. Both my parents confronted the Nazis and that’s how they survived. My dad had a Christian couple who helped him with food during all this, but he was unable to locate them later. My mom and her mother’s hiding place was given away by a Christian. It’s not our religion; it’s who we are and how we want to be remembered by God and others.
“Pinchas Rosenbaum knew my father and younger brother at least after the war where they went to get safe harbor. I believe my uncle worked with another of the four divisions of Jewish resistance, but I remember hearing about the Glass House when I was young. There was divisiveness amongst the groups even then, as people are people. But I believe they ended up banding together in extremes. I would like to know if Rabbi Rosenbaum knows how much they banded together and how close they were.
“When I watched the movie I was overwhelmed. There are memoirs of my uncle Efra Teichman Agmon on YouTube you can feel free to watch. There are English subtitles, and you can see him wearing his uniform. But no movie. And my father, Joseph Teichman, testified for Spielberg, which did not cover the depth of the horror. There is much testimony on YouTube but but not my dad’s.
“A long time ago I asked Steven Spielberg to include my folks in a movie. Of course, I didn’t get an answer. I am still trying to get my mom to testify in permanent form. We wrote a poem together about her experience, which is heartfelt and heart-wrenching but lost in its original form. It was presented at South Jersey Holocaust Conference in 2004 and she lit a candle with Theodore Bikel and my mom sang with him the songs of the resistance. I got up on stage and introduced my father in the audience as the world record holder for the number of concentration camps survived. He did acknowledge this strange honor.
“My mom, Aleska Muller Teichman, was from Michalovske. She remembers her stories and lived with my dad’s and his nightmares that eventually killed him. She met my dad right after the war in resettlement, in Helein DP camp near Salsberg, Austria when she was 12 and he was 19. He was living nearby, but he came to help the people there and saw my mom from afar. So when they were both in the USA by the grace of God after the war someone mentioned that Joseph was single and available. He and my mom connected and they courted and married. It was amazing that they connected again in America after seeing each other in Europe.
“As a child of survivors I too often live in those times mentally. It’s a well-described phenomenon. Often life doesn’t feel as difficult when compared to what my own family faced. And unfortunately, Kevin, there is so much anti-semitism in Europe again, we are concerned it could happen again.
“In the movie it looks like Erik dies. If I knew it was based on Pinchas I would have known he survives. Then he is alive and in America. It’s very confusing how he dies and then is alive–a bit of criticism for the unnecessary tension the viewers are subjected to. And I don’t believe his wife was part of the Hungarian resistance though I could be wrong. A sentimental ending. Also incorrect geography. But the remainder was great. I was appalled by the YouTube comments of hate that were disgusting. And I salute you for presenting your interview. Enjoy the YouTube videos on Efra Teichman Agmon.”
-Feigie “Faye” Teichman
This interview was corrected on 11/14/17 to make the account of Faye’s parents meeting and marrying more accurate. The writer had written the incorrect ages and location where Joseph and Alaska first saw each other. This has been corrected with help from the Teichman family.