Posts Tagged ‘German Jews’

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Happy New Year

December 11, 2013
Berlin in December

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, December 2013

 

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Exhibit: Beer, Art and Revolution

March 16, 2013

Exhibit: Beer, Life and RevolutionThe Leo Back Institute in New York is showing a new exhibit about Jewish Life in Munich, 1806-present, until July 31, 2013. “Beer Art and Revolution”  sheds a light on Jewish life in Bavaria’s capital.

“Before the Nazi regime, Jews were instrumental in shaping the traditions and character of Germany’s third largest city, from Löwenbräu beer to the top purveyor of Lederhosen and Dirndl to the city’s champion soccer club. Like Jews across Germany, they considered themselves as much Germans as Jews, but they could add a third identity to their hyphenated existence – Bavarian. Today, seventy years after the end of World War II, Munich is again home to a flourishing community of 11,000 members, the second largest in Germany.”

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New Jewish Newspaper Launches in Germany

November 16, 2011

A new Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Voice From Germany, will be launched in Germany beginning next year. The English-language quarterly will be published in Berlin starting in January 2012 by novelist and political commentator Rafael Seligmann with an initial circulation of 25,000.

In his welcoming message, Seligmann writes: “There is a revival of Jewish life in Germany. But […] little is known about the fertile German-Jewish relations.”

“Germany is politically and economically one of Israel’s most reliable and important partners. A communication-bridge is missing between German-speaking countries and the influential Jewish communities in the U.S., Canada, GB and Israel. Jewish Voice From Germany will forge this missing link. [It] supplies information and provides commentaries for disseminators in economics, politics, sciences and arts. Our paper will help revive German-Jewish relations and voice mutual interests.”

If you wish to subscribe to the publication, please send your address to:  info@jewish-voice-from-germany.de.

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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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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.”

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Sugar Cones and Bittersweet Memories

October 20, 2010

German-Jews in exile, who fled Germany to escape the Holocaust, shared many memories of their childhood. They remembered friends, the language spoken and the foods they ate. They remembered bullying, being cast aside, harassed or worse.

But childhood memories were also filled with warmth, of remembering a first day in school. German school children carry cardboard cones, filled with sweets and little treats, to their first day in school. The so-called Schultüten are a century-old tradition. There’s not a child in Germany, then or now, that has not carried his or her precious load to school.

That old tradition that unites all school children led to the idea to launch a unique remembrance project, initiated by Carolyn Naumann and co-organized by the Anne-Frank-Zentrum and the Humboldt University in Berlin:  “The sugar cone project” — a collection of photographs of  German Jewish schoolchildren just before they fled Nazi Germany into exile and their stories of life before the war. The idea for the project was born while Naumann accompanied German Jewish refugees on their federally funded visit to their hometown, Berlin, where they shared such childhood memories as standing side-by-side with their non-Jewish school friends, all proudly displaying their cones. (In the picture, the brochure of the project, showing Heinz Goldstein on the left with an unknown friend, ca. 1935, in the Jewish Elementary School Fasanenstrasse in Berlin).

The collection of pictures showing six-years-olds and their sugar cones — just before they were deemed unfit to stay (or were sent to their death) — can help school children of today understand the realities of that time, the brutality of daily struggles, when people were clinging to even a sliver of normalcy.

If you have photos of that time, showing Jewish schoolchildren with their sugar cones, or would like to share your story, please contact Carolyn Naumann, who is also searching for teachers that are interested in the project and would like to help.