A Legacy of Gratitude, Service, and Volunteerism
Kurt Rosenbach was 9 years old when the Nazi antisemitism of 1930s Germany penetrated his peaceful life.
School lessons disparaged Jews as “murderers, thieves, and rapists,” while once-friendly classmates began to bully him, Rosenbach wrote in an autobiography for his family in 2002.
Customers abandoned his father’s retail business because they no longer would buy from a Jew. His dad had to close his store, move, and sell goods from his home. In the news and conversations, Rosenbach heard about threats and violence against Jews, too.
It would only get worse.
At 15, Rosenbach immigrated with his family to the United States in February 1938 – just nine months before Nazis searched their neighborhood for Jews to send to the concentration camps.
The trip to America – and the grueling transition of leaving behind his home, learning a new language, and starting over – shaped Rosenbach’s sense of gratitude.
“Yet, we were among the fortunate ones who escaped the fate of six million Jews who perished during that period,” Rosenbach wrote about the Holocaust.
Rosenbach passed away in 2020 at age 97 after a life of service and volunteerism in the region and beyond. His wife, Rose, died eight months later in 2021. Their legacy of love and philanthropy lives on. The couple arranged a charitable bequest to the Hampton Roads Community Foundation in the form of an unrestricted gift. Their generosity will benefit an array of nonprofits helping the region for years to come.
“They were very, very fortunate to get out,” son Murray Rosenbach recalled about his dad’s family. “I think that just gave him such an appreciation for life and for being able to go forward. I think that was part of always why he felt like ‘I’m going to give back.’”
The late Rosenbach served on the Board of Directors for the community foundation’s predecessor, The Norfolk Foundation, and he also served on its finance and audit committee for many years. Additionally, he served in many philanthropic organizations, like the United Way of South Hampton Roads, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, and as the founding president of the Downtown Norfolk Council.
“He worked with nonprofits through his 90s,” daughter Caroyln Perlman said.
“With my dad, there was no such thing as difficulty. You just keep going,” Murray Rosenbach added. “He always had that can-do attitude.”
Kurt Rosenbach settled in Baltimore with his family and later earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Baltimore. He met and married Rose in Baltimore, and they had two daughters and a son. Rosenbach began working as a comptroller for a women’s specialty store in Baltimore before moving to Norfolk in 1955 to start a 30-year career with Rices Nachmans, an upscale department store, as chief financial officer. He later became its chairman and CEO. Following the sale of Rices, he began a 23-year career as senior vice president with Haynes Furniture before retiring in 2008.
Rosenbach loved retail, his children said, and years ago he envisioned a thriving downtown at a time when shuttered storefronts and parking lots accounted for much of the space.
“He very much believed in downtown Norfolk,” daughter Marcy Terkeltaub said. “He had a vision of it growing into retail, eating establishments, and living. He wanted to see Granby Street come to life.”
Rosenbach’s volunteerism started with retail and business advocacy in downtown Norfolk, Terkeltaub said. “Then, that just basically went into ‘how can I give back to the community?’”
Rosenbach and his wife Rose were active in the community and passionate about their Jewish heritage.
“My parents belonged to Ohef Sholom Temple from day one until the very end,” daughter Carolyn Perlman said. “And the Temple was their life. They were so devoted to that synagogue. My dad was president there.
And when he wasn’t president, he was always on a board or on a committee.”
Rose Rosenbach cared for her family and remained active over the years, including volunteering as a candy striper for the former DePaul Hospital, checking on patients, bringing them magazines, and caring for their nonmedical needs.
Their children and grandchildren have followed in their footsteps by volunteering, donating, and serving on nonprofit boards.
“It’s a great legacy from both of them. I don’t think we could have had better role models,” Murray Rosenbach said.