Rozalia Herszkowicz, born September 15, 1921 in Chelm, Poland, died November 16, 2019 in Berkeley, California.
Roza in her leather mini, in her late 80’s , maybe 90?
Rozalia Herszkowicz (‘Rouzha’), née Pofelis, died peacefully at her home in Berkeley, CA on November 16, 2019. She was 98. A distinguished physician whose fully self-made life and accomplishments spanned two continents, she was also a Holocaust survivor who repeatedly overcame displacement and prejudice. In the most adverse circumstances, she fought resiliently for her dignity, her values and the right not only to exist but to succeed. She was a strong-willed high achiever passionate about her medical career and a natural feminist decades ahead of her time.
Rozalia Herszkowicz was born in Chelm, Poland in 1921, to Szandla Gordon, a dressmaker, and Chaim Pofelis, a milliner, Communist and atheist.
The family relocated to Kharkiv, Ukraine in 1933, to escape a reactionary government. There they faced famine and the squalor of life in the Soviet Union. Rozalia finished at the top of her high school class and gained admission to medical school. Her father was deported to the Kolyma gulag in Siberia. When World War II broke out, her medical school evacuated to Kyrgyzstan, and she snuck her mother and sister onto the transport. As a medical student, she was dispatched on horseback to remote mountainous Kyrgyz villages, to vaccinate and promote hygiene. She earned a medical diploma with honors in 1944 and served in the Red Army as a Captain. Her brother Leon was killed in action.
After the war, Rozalia specialized in ENT, but found that her job applications were rejected because she was Jewish. Hoping to find a more welcoming environment the family left Ukraine for Poland, returning to a ravaged Warsaw. They settled in the equally bombed-out western city of Wroclaw. She switched her focus to pediatrics, treating children injured and traumatized by the war. In 1948, she met and married Izrael Herszkowicz, a philosophy student and printer. They had three daughters and would remain together for 59 years until his death in 2007.
In Poland, Rozalia’s career thrived. As a woman of 32 she served as a Professor and Chief of Pediatrics at a major hospital, surrounded by exclusively male peers decades her senior. Despite her professional success and a vibrant social life in Wroclaw, Rozalia could never shake the feeling that her Jewishness was an impediment to full acceptance. She proudly retained her identity, refusing to ‘Polonize’ her name. Her fears were proven right in 1968, when a full blown anti-semitic campaign orchestrated by the Communist party caused most of Poland’s Jewish population to emigrate.
In 1968 the family left everything, arriving in New York City with only five dollars and rudimentary English. With support from HIAS the construction of a new life began. Rozalia worked tirelessly to certify her medical credentials in the US, and became a clinical instructor at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn before going into private practice as a pediatrician on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Many of the children she treated came from the city’s underserved and underprivileged communities.
The Herszkowicz family lived in Manhattan near Fort Tryon Park, before relocating to Cliffside, NJ and Berkeley, CA. After her retirement from medicine at age 75, Rozalia took up oil painting, including painting portraits of all her grandchildren.
Rozalia Herszkowicz is survived by her sister, two daughters and six grandsons. A memorial service will be held on December 22 at Home of Eternity Cemetery in Oakland.