(Part One) Born in Jersey City in 1947, Robert L. Berkowitz spent his very early years in Newark and then grew up in West Orange. In the interview, he traces his family's Eastern Europe Jewish roots and immigration to Jersey City, as well as his father's service in World War II and his mother's role in helping Jewish family members in Austria immigrate to the U.S. to escape the Holocaust. Berkowitz highlights his heroes growing up: Rabbi Joachim Prinz, boxer Allie Stolz and Weequahic High School basketball coach Les Fein, and explores formative events and experiences in his youth, including the deaths of Longie Zwillman and John F. Kennedy and spending time in the summers at the swim club and camp Mountain Crest. During high school, he tutored students in math at the Newark office of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). From 1965 to 1969, he attended Rutgers College, majoring in history. In the oral history, he details his remembrances of the teach-ins in the fall of 1965 sponsored by the Committee on Free Speech and the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He became involved with anti-war activism on campus, first through an anti-war march from campus to the New Brunswick Post Office and then through SDS. In electoral politics, he volunteered in the 1966 campaigns of peace candidates David Frost for Senate and Carter Jefferson for the House of Representatives. In the summer of 1967, he partook in the anti-war efforts of Vietnam Summer, including attending a meeting held by Tom Hayden in Newark in July amidst the rebellion.
(Part Two) In the fall of 1967, he spoke at a teach-in against the Vietnam War along with history professors Warren Susman and Lloyd Gardner. He was involved with the occupation of Army ROTC headquarters and the public debate with Dow Chemical on the morality of using napalm as a weapon of war in Vietnam. He describes his dissociation from SDS, as his views on acts of civil disobedience began to differ from the leadership of the group. After graduating from Rutgers, he studied history at the University of Rochester and Rutgers, before deciding to leave academia. He went to work in the private sector, first working for a research and publishing company and later founding a strategic consulting firm. In his retirement, he has written and lectured on a variety of topics, including his family’s history and the climate crisis.
The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2022-2023 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.