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German Books Return to Germany

July 15, 2011

Here is a very nice story that I’d like to share with you. Source: Der Spiegel.

“German Jews who fled Nazi persecution to what is now Israel took as many books as they could carry. But their descendants, many of whom don’t speak German, are left with cratefuls of heirlooms they can’t read. Now the Goethe Institute [in Jerusalem] has started a project that sends the well-traveled books back to Germany — as teaching materials for students.”

Read more on the program, called “Keine leichten Pakete,” or download a flyer (pdf) that outlines the project in German.

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Searching for German-Jews in New York

May 24, 2011

In early May, the Leo-Baeck Institute in New York and the Baruch College Jewish Studies Center held a conference entitled “German-Speaking Jews in New York City: Their Immigration and Lasting Presence”.

Only a handful of German-Jewish émigrés, who had fled to the United States from Germany in the early 1930s, were present. I was sitting in the audience, missing the many German-Jews whom I’ve met in New York in the early 1990s, when I was managing editor of the legendary German-Jewish newspaper Aufbau (which was founded in 1934 and folded in 2004. Read my article about Aufbau’s history, in German). I remembered our devoted German-Jewish readers, so attached to their paper that they would call the office to ask for the time. I missed our German-Jewish freelance writers and photographers, who had so much inner strength, poise and intellect.

The almost empty auditorium at the Leo-Baeck Institute made me miss them even more.

It was ironic that of all the Jewish institutions in New York, it was the Leo-Baeck Institute that hosted a conference like this. Even though the Institute has dedicated itself to preserving German-Jewish culture, back when Aufbau struggled to survive, we approached its directors again and again to help us save the paper, at least as long as there was still one survivor, one German-Jew, alive. Our pleas, however, fell on deaf ears. To be fair, there were a few individuals on the Institute’s board who supported us as much as they could, but officially, the Leo-Baeck Institute never seemed to care too much about Aufbau’s demise.

Now, panelist after panelist remembered the Aufbau and its important role in the survivors’ lives. For them, however, and for the paper, these reminiscences and acknowledgements come too late.

I miss the resolute Werner Stein and the soft-spoken Jerry Brunell, chairman and publisher respectively of the Aufbau. I had fierce discussions with both of them about which direction the paper should take, but I always learned something new from their experiences; their stories will stay with me forever. (Werner Stern contacted me on June 16, after learning about this blog post, and I was glad to learn that he is well! I hope that Jerry Brunell is too.)

I miss our freelance writers, like our 80-year-old art critic Judith Helfer, who had the wrinkle-free face of a delicate Chinese porcelain doll and a soft voice to match her features. Judith came from a prominent family of Rabbis; she died in 2002.

I miss Frederick R. Lachman (top right), a Jewish scholar, author, historian and executive editor of the Encyclopedia Judaica, who wrote Aufbau‘s column “Was das Judentum dazu sagt”, on how Judaism approached the issues of the day. Lachman — with his disarming wit, poignancy and very long-form writing style — once took me aside and shared with me his anguish that some people still thought that German-Jewry started with Hitler. “Child,” he urged me, “continue to fight this misjudgment.” I have and always will. Lachman died in 1998 at the age of 96.

I miss our photographer Erich Hartmann (at left), who worked for MAGNUM and accompanied me to many assignments, most memorably to an interview with Wolf Ulrich von Hassell, the son of a German resistance fighter in Nazi Germany. You can read the article (in German) and view the photo Hartmann took here. Hartmann, who was as elegant and polite as an English gentleman and such a Mensch, passed away in 1999.

I miss Lisa Schwartz (bottom, at right), who was the vice president and Grande Dame of Aufbau. As a former hat model, she was as eccentric and charming as you’d imagine, and I miss her dry humor and hearty laughter. She chain-smoked and flirted with everyone. She had survived the war in Switzerland as a child and still vacationed there every year. We lost contact; but I do hope she is alright. [Update: Lisa Schwartz passed away in March 2012 at the age of 90. May she rest in peace.]

Years back, all of them would have been present at a conference like that, either participating in the panels, sitting on the podium, or in the audience.

But very few people sat there with me now, as if I needed a reminder that their numbers were dwindling and that their children and grandchildren, for the most part, didn’t care much about their German-Jewish roots.

But there are still a few witnesses, like retired history professor Henry L. Feingold and Max Lerner, who came to New York from Germany and Austria respectively in the late 1930s early 1940s. Both recounted their experiences after arriving in the New World:


Representing the second and third generation was author and poet Janet R. Kirchheimer (How to Spot One of Us), who shared her grandparents’ and parents’ experience after coming to New York.

In her poems (i.e. “This Is How My Opa Strauss Died“), she comes to terms with her own German-Jewish heritage and identity:

I don’t know how many survivors will sit in the audience, or on the podium, next year. But I do know that I will miss those who won’t.

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3rd Generation Dialogue

April 18, 2011

Here is a query that I received from two readers. Please respond directly to them:

Hello,

We are beginning a project that we believe might be interesting to you. Our intent is to bring together 3rd generation (grandchildren) of victims and perpetrators of the WW2 Holocaust such as Jews, homosexuals, sympathizers, Nazi, SS, Polish, Vichy, etc. We wish to create a safe, open space to inclusively listen and experience each other’s stories of growing up and living with family members who lived during the Nazi period. This space will be open in many ways and might include modes of expression that go beyond words, like movement, free association, and expressive theater.

We will use questions about our formative experiences with family, in school, and with friends to structure the circle.
Questions might look like the following:

  • When did you first learn about the Holocaust?
  • What ideas do I have about my own community and about the ‘others’ community?
  • What do we know about our own historical links to the Holocaust?
  • What was it like to be a grand-daughter of a Nazi soldier or a survivor?
  • What is guilt, what is forgiveness, what is reconciliation?
  • What do you feel when you meet a German/Jew?
  • What is the role of commemoration?

We ask that all participants hold the intention to go beyond blame. We hope that in experiencing the stories of each other, we will begin to build a shared experience, one which struggles to move beyond the conventional notions of the ‘other’ with which most of us have been raised. Meetings will be facilitated and will follow guidelines to maintain structure, confidentiality and the emotional safety and stability of the circle. The purpose of the group is not to debate or argue historical facts, but rather to encounter each other and listen deeply to each other’s stories and truths. Participants must be committed to a self-transformative process.

At this stage, we call for all those interested to write in with a short statement including an introduction, your relation to the Holocaust, and your intent for joining. Once we gather a solid group we will announce our first meeting. If you know of others that are linked historically to the Holocaust and might be interest, please send this invitation along.”

Rami Efal and Charla Malamed, Charlarubym@gmail.com

http://3rdgenerationnyc.blogspot.com/

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Exhibit:”Radical Jewish Culture. The New York Music Scene Since the 1990s”

March 29, 2011

The Jewish Museum in Berlin is showing a new exhibit on the contemporary Jewish music scene in New York, from April 8 to July 24, 2011.

From the curators: “Radical Jewish Culture is an avant-garde Jewish music movement that developed in the New York underground scene at the beginning of the 1990s. Musicians such as John Zorn, David Krakauer, Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman, and Frank London passionately explored the possibilities for a new form of Jewish music, emancipating themselves from conformity and inconspicuousness. Their music blended free jazz forms with klezmer improvisations, experimental music with rock, blues, and punk. The exhibition »Radical Jewish Culture« presents this music scene through audiovisual documents, lots of music samples, and primarily unpublished material.”

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Kurt Münzers Roman von 1928 Neuaufgelegt

March 21, 2011

Kurt Münzers 1928 erschienene Buch Jude am Kreuz ist jetzt erstmalig wiederveröffentlicht worden: Unter ISBN Nummer 978-3-923211-85-2 beim Verlag Autonomie und Chaos, Leipzig-Berlin.

Münzer (1879-1944) war ein deutsch-jüdischer  expressionistischer Schriftsteller, dessen Werke sich mit dem sozialen und seelischen Leben in Deutschland zwischen 1910 und 1933 sowie der deutsch-jüdischen Identität befassten und in hoher Auflage erschienen.

Der Roman Jude am Kreuz “enthält eine tiefgründige poetisch-literarische Auseinandersetzung mit dem Sinn des Jüdisch sein angesichts der zunehmenden antisemitischen Pogromstimmung im Deutschland der 20er Jahre.”

Das Buch kann als PDF kostenlos heruntergeladen werden.

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Happy Chanukah

December 2, 2010

The leaders of Berlin’s Jewish community set up a 20-foot (six-meter) tall Chanukiah on Wednesday against the backdrop of one of Germany’s most historically important symbols, the Brandenburg Gate.

The newly elected president of Germany’s Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, told the daily Tageszeitung that Germany’s aging Jewish community needs to attract younger people and ensure that the Holocaust “should not be the only cement holding Jews together.” The menorah is stationed next to a 56-foot (17-meter) high decorated Christmas tree erected last week.

The Jewish Telegraph Agency writes:

“It marks the sixth year that Chabad of Berlin, with the support of numerous Jewish organizations, has hosted a Chanukah first-night celebration at the Brandenburg Gate. In 2004, [Chabad’s Rabbi in Germany, Yehudah] Teichtal won permission from the German government, arguing that this would be an event of national importance worthy of such a location.

Sure enough, the image of rabbis dancing in front of the Chanukah menorah at the Brandenburg Gate appears in newspapers and on websites around the world. The message is clear: In Germany, the Jews live again.”

 

 

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Final Sale

November 29, 2010

The Leo Baeck Institute in New York will be showing a new exhibit, “Final Sale: The End of Jewish Owned Businesses in Nazi Berlin.”  The exhibit opens December 9 and will run through March 31, 2011 at the Katherine and Clifford Goldschmidt Gallery, Center for Jewish History.

“From 1933 on, Jewish businesses were under direct threat of Nazi persecution and “aryanization.” This culminated in the night of 9-10 November, 1938, when thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed. By 1945, all Jewish businesses in Berlin had been liquidated or transferred to non-Jewish ownership. In response to increasingly hostile conditions, Jewish business owners developed a number of different strategies. Some tried to take judicial action against their persecutors. Others tried to build up foreign contracts in order to provide valuable foreign currency and secure an escape option. Many explicitly addressed the Jewish market for the first time. This exhibition illustrates the process by which Jews were disenfranchised and their livelihoods destroyed through the example of sixteen Berlin businesses.”

The exhibit originates at the Aktives Museum Faschismus und Wiederstand in Berlin e.V. in Berlin, were it was vandalized and reopened at the end of 2008 after it was temporary closed.

The museum is now showing the exhibit “Varian Fry: Berlin – Marseille – New York.”