Herbert D. Rosenbaum, a longtime political science professor at Hofstra University credited with inspiring students to pursue public service with his own life experience of escaping Nazi Germany, has died. He was 95.
He had been ailing in recent months and died in his sleep from complications of congestive heart failure on May 18 in his Rockville Centre home, his family said.
“He had a close interest in the way politics could affect people’s lives,” said his son Dan Rosenbaum, 59, of Brooklyn, who recalled a story his father told.
The son of a Jewish, single mother who worked as a tailor, Rosenbaum hid in the basement of a town community center in Germany, his son said.
The Nazis were counting the votes that would later elect Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany.
In 1937, Rosenbaum immigrated with his mother and brother to the United States from his hometown in Grossen-Linden, Germany. The family settled in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, New York University and then went on to Columbia University for his graduate studies.
Rosenbaum, who was a Hofstra professor emeritus, had served on the faculty of the Hempstead institution for 39 years before his retirement in 1991.
He was a key figure in shaping Hofstra’s political science department and was instrumental in recruiting new faculty. He served as director of the university’s presidential conferences on Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.
“He believed in teaching over everything else. He would run into former students everywhere he went,” said his other son Edward Rosenbaum, 62, West Caldwell, New Jersey.
Even in retirement, Rosenbaum remained an active participant in campus events, conferences and programs. He had good relationships with many alums who went on to become local lawmakers and prominent figures in public service.
One of his former students, Phil Schiliro, held several different senior positions in the Obama administration, including assistant to the president.
“Dr. Rosenbaum was an enormous inspiration. He was brilliant, had tremendous integrity and was a friend after Hofstra,” said Schiliro who grew up in Baldwin and took Rosenbaum’s class in the 1977-78 academic year. “He changed the course of my life. He did not preach but lived by example.”
Another former student, state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli called Rosenbaum “one of my earliest inspirations for entering public service. More important, he was a lifelong mentor and friend.”
Rosenbaum launched a trip to Washington, which was an opportunity to bring current political science students and alums working there together. He continued to make these trips well into his 80s, even riding the bus for six hours with the students and walking all over the capital with them.
Bernard J. Firestone, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences, said Rosenbaum set the tone for the political science department.
“When you walked into a class with him, as another professor, you were almost as nervous as the students,” Firestone said. “Not because he was intimidating but because you knew that he knew so much that you just didn’t want to say something wrong.”
In addition to his sons, Rosenbaum is survived by his wife, Nikki, and five grandchildren.