We have received the sad news that Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits passed away on 13 December 2020 at the age of 92.
Laszlo Berkowits was born in Derecske, Hungary, in 1928 to a Jewish Orthodox family. He had three sisters and one brother. In July 1944, the family was arrested and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his mother and younger sisters were immediately murdered. The 16-year-old Laszlo Berkowits was registered in the camp and transferred to the Neuengamme sub-camp in Braunschweig in November, where he had to do auxiliary work for the Büssing AG. This gave him a Neuengamme prisoner number. When the camps were evacuated, Berkowits was transferred via the Salzgitter-Watenstedt sub-camp and the Ravensbrück concentration camp to the Wöbbelin concentration camp on 26 April 1945. Extreme imprisonment conditions prevailed here and many people died within a few days from disease, hunger and exhaustion. On 2 May 1945, he was liberated by American troops. After the liberation, Laszlo Berkowits was evacuated to Sweden with other Jewish survivors of the Wöbbelin concentration camp in July 1945. From there, he emigrated to the USA. Most of his family was murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp, only two sisters survived.
Berkowits graduated from high school, served in the military and studied in Cincinnati. He earned a doctorate in theology and raised a family. In 1963, Berkowits was ordained and appointed as a Rabbi at the Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia, USA, where he was the senior Rabbi of his congregation from 1998. Rabbi Berkowits was a member of numerous religious, civic and humanitarian organisations. He wrote a powerful book, "The Boy Who Lost His Birthday", about his experiences of being imprisoned in concentration camps. In recent years, he visited the memorial in Wöbbelin several times. He also intended to visit the Neuengamme memorial, but unfortunately this never happened. On the 75th anniversary of the liberation last year, he sent a message of greeting to the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial’s digital commemoration site: https://www.kz-gedenkstaette-neuengamme.de/75befreiung .
Our thoughts are with his family.