Robert Morgenthau is being hailed this week, and rightly so, as a legendary District Attorney of Manhattan, known not only for his record-setting length of tenure (34 years) but for his effectiveness, savvy and integrity in the pursuit of justice.
Morgenthau, who died on Sunday, a week before his 100th birthday, will always have a special place in the hearts of Jewish New Yorkers. In addition to his support for Israel and a variety of Jewish causes, he was the driving force in the creation of the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, which opened in Battery Park, looking out at the Statue of Liberty, in 1997. (See story, Page 1.)
Morgenthau came from wealth and a prestigious family. His grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., alerted the U.S. government to the Armenian Genocide in his role as U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and his father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., sought to save Jews from the Holocaust when he served as treasury secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Deeply affected by Hitler’s efforts to wipe out European Jewry, Robert joined the war effort, serving in the Navy, and was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. That experience, along with his knowledge of the Holocaust and the roles his father and grandfather played in government, were motivating factors in his deep commitment to creating and sustaining a Holocaust museum in New York. “I just felt that if you wanted people to understand Israel, they had to understand the Holocaust,” he said in an interview posted on Jewish Virtual Library.
It was Morgenthau who was the museum’s chief promoter and fundraiser, working tirelessly even well into his 90s on its behalf.
Through his work as DA and in his personal life with the museum and other vital causes, Robert Morgenthau embodied the values of his country and his heritage, his people. His legacy will live on; may his memory be a blessing.