- Birth Date: July 23, 1950
- Birth Place: Bucharest, Romania
- Parents: Moses & Sabine Kozinski
- Arrival in U.S.A.: 1962
- Port of Entry: New York, NY
- Homes in U.S.A.: Baltimore, MD; Los Angeles, CA
- Place of primary residence: Los Angeles, CA
The Kozinski Family and the Holocaust
In the early 1930s, Judge Alex Kozinski's paternal grandmother, Reizl Kozinski, left the Polish village of Dzurov (now Dzurova, Ukraine) for Bucharest, Romania. Reizl and her four children, Ruth, Lisa, Moses and Malka, lacked the travel permits that allowed them, as Jews, to legally travel, so they disguised themselves as Polish peasants. Reizl's husband, David Kozinski, had fled to Bucharest three years earlier after getting in trouble with the law in Dzurov.
The family's move was well-timed. On the evening of December 7, 1941, Nazi troops entered the village of Dzurov. "Jewish families were pulled from their houses, which were then burned. Jews from Dzurov and surrounding villages were loaded onto trucks and taken to a field outside Zablotov, the regional center. There they were marched, single file, to the top of a rise and shot. Their bodies fell into a pit dug for that purpose. About 400 Jewish men, women, and children died that day."
Alex Kozinski's father, Moses, survived the Second World War, despite spending four years in Transnistrian concentration camps where tens of thousands of Jews and Romani (Gypsies) perished. Alex's mother, Sabine, lived through the war years in a Romanian ghetto. The Romanian ghettoes, referred to as "colonies" by the Romanian government, were, in many instances, hardly better than the concentration camps. Alex's parents were lucky to survive the war, as more than 270,000 of Romania's approximately 730,000 Jews died during the holocaust . After the war, in 1946, Moses and Sabine met and were married. Alex was born on July 23, 1950 in Bucharest, Romania.
Early Life in Romania
"My parents were fairly well off in Romania. My father had gotten pretty good positions in terms of jobs, benefits and the like after the war," Alex says. As a child, Alex would often visit his father at the weaving factory that Moses managed. He was about seven years old when, he says, "the factory workers asked if I could read. They asked me the name of the newspaper and I answered it was Free Romania. But then I questioned why there were so many people in prison in Romania. To talk like that is treasonous and the government might wonder what my father was telling his children about the government.
"In Romania, they didn't want people to have their own opinions. My father and I worked out a code where he'd pinch his nose and sniff in order to signal that I should stop talking. We had to use it several times, and I would stop talking, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. People didn't ask why I had stopped talking, they just knew. Romania wasn't a place where you were free to express yourself. In fact, it was very dangerous. People would just disappear."
Despite having built a good life for themselves, his parents "saw Romania as a dead end for me," Alex says. In 1958, they applied to the Romanian government for permission to emigrate from the country. "You had to get permission to leave, because Romania was completely surrounded by other communist countries. Unlike countries where one can cross a single border to the west, it was almost impossible to escape Romania, especially as a family because there were multiple borders and communist countries to pass through," Alex says.
"Asking to leave was considered treasonous, so they both lost their jobs. My father was in management in the factory, but after asking permission to leave, he was demoted and had to work long hours at the loom. My mother had been a teletypist, as she was multi-lingual, speaking Romanian, French, German and a little English. It was a good job. Because the transmission of the telex was charged by the minute, it was important that one be a fast typist, which she was. She lost her job and ended up working from home taking dictation for engineers and doctors on her home typewriter. The doctors and engineers were usually translating professional journal articles into Romanian. My mother would type as they translated and dictated. My job was to assemble the carbons so that they could have seven copies of her translations. The carbons were expensive, so I would place them in the sun to make the ink bleed so that they could be reused.
"It was four years later that we got permission to leave," he says. "When we left Romania, all my mother's family was in Israel. The thought was to leave Romania and communism and go to Israel. We had family there and we were accepted there. My parents applied to the United States, but didn't think it was likely we would be accepted, as it seemed like a dream, like going to the moon or something.
"When we left Romania, we couldn't take anything with us at all, so when we moved to Vienna we had to work in order to buy things again and rebuild. When we were in Vienna it began to look like we'd been accepted to the U.S. One of my aunts in Israel invited us to live in Israel for a while to see how we liked it so that we could decide where we would move to. My father and I spent about six weeks there in the summer of 1962. I had my twelfth birthday there. I liked Israel, it was a new country and very hopeful. It had a sense of renewal and people seemed happy and victorious. I thought it was great to have family and cousins, as I hadn't had any in Romania. I didn't want to leave, and I decided I wouldn't leave and told my father to go and get my mother and bring her to Israel.
"We eventually went back to Vienna, where our family had a counsel and my parents decided we should go to the United States. My father made two arguments for going to the U.S. First, he said that if we go to the U.S. and decide we don't like it, we can go to Israel; but we can't go to Israel and then decide to go to the U.S. Second, he said if we go to America we could get a TV set. We later got a Westinghouse TV. I remember coming to the United States and finding a TV in the hotel we stayed at. One Saturday morning I came down and found a cartoon playing. I took note of the time it was on and came down the next Saturday and discovered that cartoons were on all Saturdays. I never looked back."
Life in the United States
"We flew over (the Atlantic) on a four-prop Sabena Airlines plane and landed in Bangor, Maine to refuel, because the plane couldn't carry enough fuel to get all the way to New York. The United States seemed large, cold and distant. It seemed quite vast by European standards. Moving from Europe, it was different to see people of different colors, races and speaking different languages. It was a little disconcerting in the beginning.
"There's something about coming to a country and not knowing what people say on the street. It takes a while to figure out what's going on. We had lived in Vienna for a year. We spoke German. We didn't speak English. My mother and I knew some, but my father didn't know any at all. It was sort of daunting. We picked up the language pretty quickly. Baltimore was a very friendly place once I learned the language.
"We lived in a neighborhood that was primarily Jewish, so we used Yiddish to communicate. After about a year, my father bought a grocery store downtown in a black community. My father learned to communicate very quickly in English, as the folks there didn't speak Yiddish. Cigarettes were .29 a pack, and the Pall Mall brand were a best seller. My father used to open the packs and sell a match and a cigarette for two cents. In the store he had a hand pump for kerosene and people could come in and pump kerosene that they could use in Coleman-type stoves. Candies were sold out of a jar and weren't individually wrapped."
Alex first attended a Jewish school in Baltimore. "A lot of people spoke Yiddish at the school," he recalls. "They taught both secular and non-secular classes. In Vienna, I had just finished the fifth grade. We had hoped I wouldn't lose any grades when we moved. They actually moved me a year ahead so that it would be age-appropriate. In Europe, at the time, school began later, at age seven, so I would have been one year behind. I should have gone to sixth grade and instead they put me in seventh.
"A couple of years later I moved to Baltimore Polytechnic for high school, which was difficult to get into. I had to take two buses to travel to the high school. It was about an hour and a half each way. On the way home we would hitchhike. Nobody thought twice about it. It was a very nice experience and we did it every day. We came in December 1962, and a couple of months later I was out with my parents and we were waiting at a bus stop and a man pulled over and offered us a ride in his car. He was a very nice man and I thought it was a very nice gesture. It was a way to interact with people and it helped with learning the language. It was a different time and it's too bad it no longer exists. One time, many years later, I was driving my minivan and saw a family waiting at the bus stop in cold weather. I pulled over and offered them a ride, but they turned it down. We've become so aware of the few instances where people have been unlucky hitchhiking."
Alex's family moved to Hollywood, California in 1967. He finished his last year of high school in California and then attended the University of California, Los Angeles. After graduating, he enrolled in UCLA's law school, where he graduated first in his class. He clerked with Justice Anthony Kennedy while Kennedy was a judge with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and then he clerked with Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. On November 7, 1985, he was appointed by Ronald Reagan to his present position as a Judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He became chief judge, based on seniority, in December 2007, and is known as a conservative judge with libertarian leanings.
In addition to adjudicating cases, Judge Kozinski is an avid snowboarder, bungee jumper, paint ball warrior, video game enthusiast, builder of computers and a writer of everything from law reviews to book reviews. He has twice appeared on the TV game show "The Dating Game", and was the winning contestant during one of his appearances.