At the behest of his father, 17-year-old Erwin Rautenberg boarded a steamer for South America in 1937 to escape Nazi Germany. His brother, sister, and parents planned to join him, but never made it. His father died in 1938, soon after being forced into the German army. The rest of the family was killed during the Holocaust.
Rautenberg spent the war years working on a ranch in Patagonia, where he was recruited by the United States government to spy on German naval operations in Argentina. He later built a large freight-forwarding company in Southern California, shipping military supplies for the Central Intelligence Agency.
His longtime accountant, Tom Corby, now the president of the foundation that bears the Rautenberg name, remembers Erwin as a hard-working, deeply principled man. “He established the Erwin Rautenberg Foundation to strengthen Jewish causes,” Corby says. “He wanted to make sure that the Jewish people and religion endured.”
The foundation’s support of USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness website helps fulfill that mission on a global level. The award-winning educational platform capitalizes on the power of visual history testimony through the innovative use of more than 1,900 personal testimonies of survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides. IWitness reaches close to 15,000 educators and 68,000 students in 80 countries and all 50 United States.
“IWitness shows young people the reality of the Holocaust,” Corby says. “It’s an amazing teaching vehicle.”
Although Rautenberg passed away in 2011, his memory lives on through his foundation and its support of programs such as IWitness. It also survives through his testimony at the Visual History Archive, which he gave in 1998.
“I think he would be very proud of how USC Shoah Foundation uses IWitness to spread tolerance around the world,” Corby says.