Home May 2021 We All Must Consider Ourselves Witnesses

We All Must Consider Ourselves Witnesses

Before the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library was dedicated in 2005, before the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education was opened in 2000 (both at Chapman University) there was the Rosen Holocaust Center of Southern California, operating out of a small office at Federation, then located on Warner Avenue in Tustin. The driving force behind the center was Oscar (Osi) Sladek, an internationally known musician who was part of the folk music revival scene in California in the late 1950 and early ‘60s. He was also a Holocaust survivor. Born in Czechoslovakia, Osi was a child prodigy who hid with his family in the frigid Tatras Mountains to escape the Nazis. After the war, the Sladek family immigrated to Israel, where Osi served in the IDF Entertainment Corps, composing and performing many songs, including Shir Hatzanchanim, the official hymn of the Israeli Paratroopers. Osi’s family later moved to Venezuela and then to Los Angeles, where he met and married pianist Selma Rosen. The couple lived in Orange County from the late 1980s until 2001; while here, Selma served as the assistant director of the Orange County JCC and director of the JCC Arts and Culture Department and Osi was the executive director of Temple Bat Yahm. Besides a devotion to music and all things Jewish, Osi was one of the first Holocaust survivors to tell his story publicly, and his belief in the necessity of doing so led to the creation of the Rosen Holocaust Center in 1992. Said Sladek in an LA Times article that year: “We all must consider ourselves witnesses.” Dedicated on Kristallnacht, November 9, the center started out small, sending speakers to area organizations and schools, working with teachers on developing new curricula, and creating a library of Holocaust materials. However, though it never expanded due to funding issues, the groundwork had been laid – eight years later the Rodgers Center opened, and is today one of the preeminent Holocaust education facilities in the country.      

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