By November 25, 2013 Read More →

Charleston doctor thankful for 40 years of freedom

Photo by Chris Dorst In the trophy room of his home, Dr. Alex Rosenstein talks proudly about the caribou he shot in Alaska. An African antelope (on wall, right) also attests to his skills as a big game hunter. Rosenstein is the director of reconstructive orthopedic surgery at CAMC, where he specializes in adult hip and knee replacements. He defected from the Soviet Union in 1973 and will celebrate his 40th year of freedom with his family on Thanksgiving Day.

Photo by Chris Dorst
In the trophy room of his home, Dr. Alex Rosenstein talks proudly about the caribou he shot in Alaska. An African antelope (on wall, right) also attests to his skills as a big game hunter. Rosenstein is the director of reconstructive orthopedic surgery at CAMC, where he specializes in adult hip and knee replacements. He defected from the Soviet Union in 1973 and will celebrate his 40th year of freedom with his family on Thanksgiving Day.

Readers of the Charleston Gazette look forward each Monday to an in-depth interview with someone from the paper’s readership area. Writer Sandy Wells excels in both the selection of her subjects and in mining their memories for terrific human interest. Here’s the latest example: 

By Sandy Wells

Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On Thursday, as families gather to say thanks for food and loved ones and blessings galore, Alex Rosenstein will say an extra prayer of gratitude for the opportunity to be an American.

This special Thanksgiving marks the 40th anniversary of his freedom from the Soviet Union. His mother and brother are traveling here to celebrate with him.

In 1973, at 17, he arrived in Vienna with few belongings and $100 to his name. He spoke no English. The journey took him to Israel and Rome, and eventually to Minneapolis, where he realized his dream of a college education.

 A respected orthopedic surgeon, he was lured to Charleston from Texas in January. As chief of reconstructive orthopedics at CAMC, he hopes to build a regional program in knee and hip replacement surgery.

 But there’s a lot more to this vibrant, outgoing man than medicine. A longtime musician, he’s working now to master the banjo. Big game hunting takes him to exotic, far away places. He maintains a ranch in Texas.

 There’s an eagerness about him. He embraces life and all its offerings with unbridled vigor, like a wide-eyed child wondering what’s next.

 Nothing in that full, multifaceted life means more to him than the title of American citizen. The story is compelling.

“I was born in Odessa, southern Ukraine. My mother was a chemist. My father was a very famous engineer. He was anti-Communist, but they could not put him away because he was very well known and had some international patents.

“My maternal grandfather was in the Red Army through World War II, a commando who got the Medal of Valor. At the end of the war, my grandfather became the commandant at a German prisoner-of-war camp. Being a Jewish man and a commandant of Nazi war prisoners was an interesting reversal of justice.

“I wanted to be a doctor. My great-uncle was a surgeon, and I always admired him. However, growing up a Jewish kid in the 1960s in the Soviet Union, that was just a dream. Because of government anti-Semitism politics, they basically would not allow any Jewish kids to go to college. When my father realized his kids could not get an education, he became determined to leave.

“In Russia, it was illegal to be unemployed. It was punished by imprisonment. When you requested to leave, they would fire you from your job and arrest you two weeks later. So they laid him off. We worried every day that he would get arrested.

“Fortunately, that’s when the détente talks started. Kissinger convinced Brezhnev to release some of the noticeable people, and we were lucky enough to be in that group. So we were notified suddenly by a motorized cop saying here is your visa and you are out of here in two weeks or your visa is revoked. We could take a few things we owned. They allowed us to take $100 per person and a one-way ticket to Vienna. That’s how we left the Soviet Union. I was 17…

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