Throughout his life, Moritz Rabinowitz was a man of words. His letters, newspaper articles, and other pieces of writing give vivid images of Rabinowitz’s life – as a young, bright boy in Rajgrod and later as a citizen of Haugesund with a sharp pen and strong opinions.
Rabinowitz in his 20s and 40s.
Photos: MHB-F.007093 and MHB-F.001417, Karmsund folkemuseum.
Moses Elias Izkov Leibor Rabinowitz was born on September 20, 1887. His father was a rabbi, and little Moses learnt to read the Talmud already as a five-year-old. Yet he showed a greater interest in pursuing a secular education; he decided to switch from the Jewish religious school to the public school.
Aged eleven, equipped with knowledge of foreign languages, the boy made money by helping illiterate villagers with their correspondence with businesses and relatives who had emigrated abroad.
Rabinowitz’s childhood home in Rajgrod.
Photo: MHB-F.008437, Karmsund folkemuseum.
In 1901, the year after his bar mitzvah, fourteen-year-old Moses received a letter from his uncle Isak Eidenbom, inviting him to join him in Norway, Eidenbom’s new homeland. Soon after, Moses started his journey north, with instructions from his father never to deny his Jewish background.
The 14-year-old travelled on his own by train and ship through Northern Europe, and arrived in Bergen. There, he changed his first name to Moritz.
Moses’s journey from Rajgrod to Bergen.
From Arne Vestbø’s children’s book about Rabinowitz, Øverst på nazistenes liste (Spartacus, 2014).
Over the next ten years, Rabinowitz had a varied career in trade and manufacturing. He worked for his uncle’s clothing store, as a travelling salesman in Western Norway, and even as a dealer of Norwegian canned herring in Poland and Russia.
In 1911, he settled in Haugesund, which was to be his home for the rest of his life.
Rabinowitz sells garments to the crew of the cutter «Our Boys», Haugesund, ca. 1915.
Sønstabø photo collection.
Haugesund was a harbour city with a population of 13 000. Rabinowitz was the only Jew.
He opened a clothing store for men, and quickly became successful thanks to his innovate advertising strategy, reasonable prices and modern displays. His business developed into a small empire, with 150 employees and shops all along the coast, from Haugesund to Kristiansand.
a) Rabinowitz’s shop on the street Strandgaten.
Photo: MHB-F.002032, Karmsund folkemuseum.
b) Family was very important to Moritz. Here, he is photographed with his daughter Edith in 1938.
Photo: Margit Petersen, MHB-F.007109, Karmsund folkemuseum.
Business was far from Rabinowitz’s only area of interest. He was deeply politically engaged, and a strong defender of democracy and human rights. Throughout the 1930s, he fought against the Nazis with his pen as his weapon; he wrote hundreds of letters to the editors of Norwegian newspapers, published the book The World Crisis and Us, and sent telegrams to Hindenburg, Roosevelt, and Chamberlain. When the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940, this activity made Rabinowitz a fine target. He was arrested as early as 1940, was deported, and died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.
The World Crisis and Us, privately printed in 1933.
Moritz Rabinowitz’s tireless idealism and activism have left traces that are still visible more than 70 years after his death. His story is told through books for adults and children, a documentary film, a play, and even an award winning puppet theatre piece.
1) Moritz Rabinowitz: a biography by Arne Vestbø (Spartacus, 2011)
2) First on the Nazis’ list: The Story of Moritz Rabinowitz, a children’s book by Arne Vestbø (Spartacus, 2014)
3) From the puppet play «Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz» by the American company Wakka Wakka. The production has won and been nominated for several prestigious awards.
Photo: Nordland Visual Theatre.
4) The documentary «The Man Who Loved Haugesund», directed by Jon Haukeland og Tore Vollan. The film has been shown at film festivals across the world.
5) From the play «Rabinowitz», produced by Scenekraft and Rogaland teater.
Photo: Øyvind Sætre / Scenekraft.
In Haugesund, his beloved hometown, he is remembered with a memorial, a park, a café, a “Stolperstein,” a museum exhibition, and a seminar dedicated to the values Rabinowitz represented – as a world citizen, entrepreneur, minority representative and a champion of human rights.
6) Memorial in Haugesund, installed in 1986.
Photo: Sidsel Nachtstern.
7) The café “Rabinowitz” in Haugesund.
Photo: Haugesunds Avis.
8) Reconstruction of Rabinowitz’s office, Karmsund folkemuseum.
Photo: Karmsund folkemuseum.
9) Every two years, the Rabinowitz seminar is held in Haugesund.