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January 18, 2017 / 20 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘German Jews’

New Jewish Community in Berlin Linked To Pre-War Congregation

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

A new Jewish community was dedicated in the former East Berlin, in the footsteps of one destroyed by the Nazis.

In an odd twist, the community has the same name as another Berlin congregation that is mired in legal limbo and debt after failing to prove it has any members.

In Tuesday’s ceremonies at the century-old Beth Zion synagogue, descendants of pre-war Adass Jisroel rabbis symbolically transferred the spiritual legacy of their forefathers to the new congregation, Kahal Adass Jisroel.

The new group’s 250 members include many young families and students at the Skoblo Synagogue and Education Center and its Orthodox Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, groups that are under the umbrella of the Lauder Yeshurun. The synagogue is located within the Lauder complex, and the congregation itself is independent of other organizations.

It is not part of the official Berlin Jewish community but hopes to cooperate with it, according to Josh Spinner, a member of the new congregation, and executive vice president and CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. The Central Council of Jews in Germany has given its unequivocal approval.

There is unlikely to be any cooperation with the largely defunct Israelitische Synagogen Gemeinde Adass Jisroel. Its president, Mario Offenberg, told JTA he knows “next to nothing” about the new group and takes “a neutral position.”

Establishing continuity with a pre-war congregation can lead to property restitution, but Spinner said the new congregation is only interested in spiritual continuity.

It is unclear whether there are any properties involved, aside from the synagogue building and cemetery.


Top German Jewish leader blasts Gov’t’s Weak Stand on Neo-Nazis

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Germany’s top Jewish leader has slammed the government’s decision not to join efforts to ban the country’s most powerful neo-Nazi party.

“The decision of the Federal Government is disappointing and politically completely wrong,” Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement Wednesday. “They chose hesitation and procrastination over courage and determination.”

The decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government not to submit a supportive brief to the Supreme Court is seen as a setback but not a final blow to attempts to ban the National Democratic Party of Germany, or NPD. Those attempts picked up steam in December, when the Bundesrat – the legislative council representing Germany’s 16 states – voted to submit a petition to the top court.

Critics had hoped for a united front of the executive, Bundesrat and Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament. Now, legislators are scrambling to build support within the Bundestag, so that at least two of the three governmental bodies will stand firm for an investigation against the NPD.

Germany’s main neo-Nazi party, which according to the latest government figures has 5,800 members, is known for its anti-democratic, anti-foreigner and anti-Semitic stances. It blames foreigners for Germany’s problems and belittles the Holocaust, while publicly trying to avoid outright Holocaust denial, which is illegal. The party has representatives in two state legislatures, where it barely passed the 5 percent vote threshold. It thus receives federal funding – about $1.7 million in 2011, according to a report in the Bild newspaper.

German law protects even the most abhorrent of speech, as long as it is not illegal. A 2003 attempt to ban the NPD failed after the Supreme Court found that government informants may have incited the very illegal acts that were then under scrutiny. The failure was seen as a great embarrassment for the government.

In the years since, the NPD has been “spreading its Nazi poison and offering many right-wing extremist groups ideological and logistical support – with German taxpayer monies, no less,” Graumann said in his statement Wednesday.


German Jews to Israeli Chief Rabbi: Your Circumcision Commotion Did More Harm than Good

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Israel’s Foreign Office and the Jewish community in Germany have criticized the intervention of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in the issue of the ban on ritual circumcisions in Germany.

Dr. Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, criticized Yishai’s call on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to intercede in the matter, as well as Chief Rabbi Metzger’s comments during his visit to Germany last week.

“We are concerned that Interior Minister Yishai didn’t think of becoming better informed about the details,” complained Graumann, suggesting Yishai had not paused to consider “whether his intervention was necessary or beneficial.”

In a polite but strongly worded letter to Israel’s ambassador to Germany Yaakov Hadas, Graumann declared: “There’s no need to elaborate – it’s not beneficial.”

Accoring to Graumann, Yishai chose to “ignore the fact that the Chancellor had clearly expressed her position supporting the right to perform ritual circumcisions.”

Referring to Rabbi Metzger’s visit, Graumann accuses him of meeting with high level government officials without notifying or even consulting with the local Jewish community or rabbinic institutions.

“This is an unprecedented example of interference in religious and political issues in an independent Jewish community outside the State of Israel,” Graumann stated.

In reference to Rabbi Metzger’s proposal of mohalim (ritual circumcisers) being trained by German doctors, Graumann wrote that “it raises doubt regarding the training being provided for the mohalim.”

Graumann concluded that “if the intervention of Interior Minister Yishai and Rabbi Metzger yielded some limited benefit, it was outright inefficient by causing needless harm and introducing additional mistrust.”

A source in the Foreign Office told Maariv that “the Jewish community in Germany is in the midst of several moves, both public and confidential, on the political, judicial and legislative levels, that are ripening. Suddenly the arena is invaded by forces like Minister Yishai or Rabbi Metzger who are unfamiliar with the local rules of the game, the create a a big commotion that damages our efforts.”

Jacob Edelist

City of Graveyards: The Demise of Jewish Newark

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

It is a story that should serve as the ultimate cautionary tale for any Jewish community tempted to mistake a period of vibrancy for a guarantee of immortality.

The story is that of the Jews of Newark, New Jersey, who at the midpoint mark of the 20th century had on their side numbers and history and carefully nurtured social, religious and cultural institutions – but for whom communal desolation awaited and whose legions of rabbis, businessmen, philanthropists and activists could not, in the end, stave off the deluge.

Curiously, to date there has been just one comprehensive account of the rise and demise of Newark Jewry – sociologist William Helmreich’s The Enduring Community: The Jews of Newark and MetroWest (Transaction, 1998), a book that is at once meticulously researched, carefully documented and eminently readable as it transports readers to the fields and roads and streets of Newark as it evolves from farmland to village to city.

(The MetroWest in the title refers to the name appropriated by the Federation to represent the municipalities in the general vicinity of Newark to which generations of Newark Jews migrated.)

In Helmreich’s well-crafted narrative the sounds, sights and smells of Newark’s long-dead Jewish districts come alive: the pushcarts of Prince Street giving way to the bustle of Springfield Avenue and the cash registers ringing up sales at such downtown emporia as Bamberger’s, Hahne’s, Kresge’s and S. Klein’s; ornate synagogues and humbler street-corner shuls marking the movement of Newark’s Jews from the Canal Street area to the Central Ward to the leafy neighborhoods of Clinton Hill and Weequahic; bakeries, candy stores and luncheonettes all along Bergen Street and Chancellor Avenue; local fixtures like Beth Israel Hospital, the Newark Museum, the Newark Public Library and the YMHA – all first rate and all contributing a cosmopolitan ambience to a city that, in terms of sheer physical size, was actually rather small.

But even in Jewish Newark’s heyday, a golden age that would stretch, roughly, from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s, social and political forces – the decline of the city’s once thriving banking, insurance and smokestack industries; the movement of upwardly mobile Jews to suburbia; the steady growth of a black underclass – were at work that would, in time, spell catastrophe.

* * * * *


Newark’s first Jews were Sephardim, but they were few and unorganized. It wasn’t until the 1840s, and the first stages of the mass immigration of German Jews to America, that a definable Jewish presence established itself in Newark, a city in the midst of rapid change.

The former backwater of dirt roads and family farms was fast becoming a center of industry and commerce; in 1870 the city’s population stood at better than 100,000 and two years later an estimated 130,000 visitors attended the Newark Industrial Exposition.

Jews from Eastern Europe began arriving in the U.S. in the 1880s. In Newark, as in New York City, there were important religious and cultural differences between the newcomers and the already-settled German Jews, who in many respects seemed more comfortable with their non-Jewish German neighbors than with their brethren from Russia and Poland.

“In Newark,” writes Helmreich, “the relationships between [Eastern European and German Jews] were even more tense than elsewhere because Newark was small enough for people to know each other. For example, the German-Jewish and East European synagogues were located within walking distance of each other. Newark was small enough for youngsters to know which summer camps were for German Jews and which were not, just as their parents knew which country clubs accepted Eastern Europeans and which did not.”

The prejudice against Eastern Europeans first showed signs of weakening during the 1920s. By the 1940s, with the Holocaust raging in Europe, it would be reduced to a negligible aspect of Jewish life in Newark, though even then it would not be entirely eradicated.

Meanwhile, the Jewish population of Newark had already topped 45,000 by the mid-1920s – more than half that number of Eastern European background. The 1920s were notable in other ways as well: the Conference of Jewish Charities was formed in 1923, giving Newark’s Jews a central communal organization and Newark Beth Israel Hospital, which had been founded in 1901, moved in 1929 to its permanent Lyons Avenue location. (Little-known fact: Paula Ben-Gurion, wife of Israel’s first prime minister, was a trainee at Beth Israel’s school of nursing).

* * * * *


The growth of Newark Jewry’s influence and prestige continued unabated over the next couple of decades – the city elected its first (and only) Jewish mayor, Meyer “Doc” Ellenstein, in 1932 – and reached full bloom in the 1940s.

With about 60,000 Jews (or about 12 percent of the city’s total population) living in Newark proper, and thousands more in Greater Newark – the nearby towns of Irvington, Hillside, Maplewood, the Oranges, Bloomfield, Millburn and Verona – the community appeared set for continued growth and success.

Indeed, as Rutgers history professor Clement Alexander Price observes in a 1994 paper for the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest, “despite its pockets of poverty and the divisions between the Orthodox and Reform and political conservatives and radicals, Newark’s Jewish community became by the end of World War II one of the city’s most vibrant entities. It was, in short, emblematic of the ethnic success story.”

By the end of World War II, Newark’s Jews, having emerged unscathed from sporadic confrontations with local Nazis and Nazi sympathizers found among the large German population of Newark and next-door Irvington – a little-remembered tale told with flair by Warren Grover in Nazis in Newark (Transaction, 2003) – were more confident than ever, more secure in their status as Americans, more comfortable than they probably ever expected to be.

The center of Jewish gravity at mid-century was the city’s Weequahic section, made famous by native son Philip Roth, whose body of work reflects an ambivalence about Judaism and Jewish identity but none about the singular experience of growing up Jewish in Newark. (Roth was one of many prominent American Jews born and/or raised in Newark; some others were Fanny Brice, Ed Koch, Jerry Lewis and Dore Schary.)

Roth’s conflicted feelings about religion and ethnicity were typical of a generation of American Jews squarely on the fast track to secularization and assimilation. Even so, Newark’s Jewish community had a rich religious tradition going back to the city’s first three synagogues – B’nai Jeshurun (founded in 1848), B’nai Abraham (1855) and Oheb Shalom (1860). All three started out as traditional or Orthodox congregations but each eventually fell away from strict observance.

Over the years Newark was home to a surprisingly large number of prominent rabbis from the three major denominations. (By 1948 there were at least 40 synagogues in the city.) The most widely recognized Reform leader, certainly on a national scale, was Joachim Prinz, who arrived at B’nai Abraham from Germany in 1939 and became a major figure in Jewish organizational life and the civil rights movement.

The Orthodox community was well represented by rabbis such as Hyman Brodsky (his synagogue, Congregation Anshei Russia, was one of Newark’s most important); Joseph Konvitz (Brodsky’s successor); Chaim Glatzer; Mordechai Ehrenkrantz; Jacob Mendelson; Elias Singer; David Singer; Israel Turner; Herman Kahn; Zundel Levine; Louis Weller; Meyer Blumenfeld; the Pittsburgher Rebbe, Avrohom Abba Leifer; Oscar Kline; Zev Segal; Moshe Kasinetz; and Sholom Ber Gordon (a major influence on a young Newark resident who decades later would go on to help make ArtScroll an enormous success story – Rabbi Nosson Scherman).

Newark’s Orthodox community was a lenient one, Helmreich told this writer in an interview about the book.

“In fact,” he explained, “Newark offers us a very clear understanding of a typical mid-20th century American Orthodox community. What makes it particularly unique is that when American Orthodoxy began its steadily rightward drift, Jewish Newark was already in its decline. And by the time the new, stricter climate had become the norm even in Modern Orthodox circles, Newark’s Jewish community had, for all intents and purposes, passed from the scene.”

The result is that scholars and researchers can look at Newark’s Orthodox community as a specimen frozen in time – a community that ceased to exist before it had the chance to change in the manner of other similar communities.

“It was a more tolerant Orthodoxy,” Helmreich said. “The rabbis were willing to work with non-Orthodox leaders for the greater good of the community. There was a greater acceptance of differences. People didn’t march in lockstep – there were disagreements even on such matters as day-school education.”

Helmreich notes in his book that in 1932 a Reform rabbi, Marius Ranson, was invited to address the Yong Israel Sisterhood. “Not only was Ranson Reform,” writes Helmreich, “but he was in the left wing of his movement. People were not permitted to wear a yarmulke or tallis in his temple. Imagine a Young Israel synagogue today tendering an invitation to such a rabbi!”

Citing yet another example of changing times, Helmreich told me that “as unbelievable as it may sound today, there were Orthodox rabbis back in the 1940s who opposed the formation of what became Newark’s most successful day school, Hebrew Youth Academy.

“It was a totally different climate and an almost unrecognizable mindset.”

* * * * *


The end of Jewish Newark is described by Helmreich in all its sad detail. He makes a point of stressing that, in a larger sense, Jewish Newark had begun its inexorable decline decades before, with a steady stream of Jews slowly making their way out of the city and into the surrounding suburbs.

But it was the escalating tensions between Jews and blacks that added a sense of urgency to Jewish flight. Helmreich is remarkably fair in apportioning blame for the demise of the Jewish community and doesn’t hesitate to address such uncomfortable questions as Jewish racism on the one hand and the acquiescence of Jews in the takeover of their neighborhoods on the other.

The racism touched on by Helmreich may come as something of an unpleasant surprise to some – the American Jewish community, in Newark and elsewhere, was famous for its support of liberalism and civil rights – but it was a painful reality and hardly exclusive to Newark’s Jews. Neighborhoods across the country were witness to the seemingly anomalous spectacle of liberal Jews fleeing their homes and neighborhoods at the first sighting of black newcomers – while presumably more conservative blue-collar white ethnics stayed put.

The journalist Max Geltman, in The Confrontation: Black Power, Anti-Semitism, and the Myth of Integration (Prentice-Hall, 1970) describes the good Jewish liberals of Newark who “mourned the dead in Mississippi, the wounded in Alabama, the uneducated in Little Rock, and every slight to a Negro anywhere outside New Jersey. But in Newark things were different . It was almost three months after I had moved there before I realized that my neighbors always said ‘they’ when they meant Negroes. My daughter heard the word schwartze for the first time in her life – from friends whose parents were members of the A.D.L. and solid supporters of integration in the South.”

There was a time when black-Jewish relations in Newark held at least a semblance of promise. “Blacks and Jews,” writes Professor Price, “were among the most prominent of the groups who came to Newark to escape terrible circumstances. Both groups found that the city’s racial and ethnic relations were benign when compared to many other cities. There were no race riots or other dramatic forms of racial/ethnic confrontations that would stem the tide of blacks and Jews seeking some semblance of a Promised Land.”

But that relatively idyllic state of affairs could not survive the contrasting fortunes of an upwardly mobile Jewish community and a black populace struggling, mostly unsuccessfully, to overcome poverty, prejudice and a series of ill-advised government policies.

“The decline of Newark,” adds Price, “was a part of the general decline of old American cities in the twentieth century . As the old cities decayed, they were surrounded by a glittering array of shopping malls, corporate parks and residential communities whose newness seemingly underscored the inferiority of urban life . Although many old cities experienced much the same decline after World War II, few rivaled the losses which Newark sustained in population, vitality, and prestige.”

* * * * *


The riots of July 1967 served as the coffin nails for a Jewish community that had for all intents and purposes died years before. The weeklong explosion of violence, aimed in significant part at Jewish merchants (Geltman describes rioters “shouting ‘get Goldberg!’ as they ravaged business establishments without care whether anyone was in them or not”) destroyed the hopes of the few optimists who had dared hold out hope for the city’s remaining Jews.

Most of those Jews departed within the next few years, and by the mid-1970s there were few tangible signs left of Newark’s glorious Jewish past.

No matter how great a revival Newark may yet experience, writes Helmreich, “it will bear little resemblance to the Newark that its Jewish population identified with. After all, B’nai Jeshurun [became] the Hopewell Baptist Church, Anshei Russia [became] home to the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and the Y that was a second home for thousands of Jews became, for a time, the abode of the Citadel of Hope Miracle Temple, now defunct.”

For Jews, Newark today is little more than a graveyard, figuratively and literally: The city is home to at most a few hundred Jewish residents and nearly 100 Jewish cemeteries. In the end, there may be no epitaph for Newark more moving or appropriate than that offered by journalism professor Jeffrey Brody, whose observations on the destruction wrought by the rioters of ’67 are included by Helmreich in his book:

Walking along the former business section, it seems inopportune to recall the names of former shops (Blaustein’s Furs, Kartzman’s Deli, Kaye’s Drugs, Manhoff’s Fishery, Masur’s Furs, and Tabatchnick’s the herring king, for example). Repeating their names is like reciting Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Jason Maoz

Rosh Hashanah In a Nazi Prison

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

“I was arrested by the Gestapo on the 9th of September 1939, and taken out of the house to a prison in Frankfurt a/M. There I met quite a number of people in the same situation who had been arrested in and around Frankfurt and they knew as little as I did about what was happening, except that we have been arrested by the Gestapo.”

With these laconic words my father, Chaskel Tydor, began his memoirs of his wartime experiences. The war that broke out on September 1, 1939 was not the first war he had experienced. My father had been born in Bochnia, Poland in 1903 and the first years of his life were those of a typical Polish-Jewish chassidic child. He went to cheder, played with his friends, lived in a protected Jewish environment and had all his basic needs cared for by his loving family.

All this was to change during the summer of 1914. Following the outbreak of the First World War he and his family left Bochnia almost overnight, fleeing the invading Russian army. Leaving everything behind, the Tydor family found refuge first in Austria and soon after in Germany, Austria’s ally.

Like thousands of Galician Jews who did not return to Poland at the end of the war, he and his parents remained in Germany, ultimately building a life for themselves as part of the Breuer Torah im derech eretz kehilla in Frankfurt am Main.

Chaskel completed his high school studies in the Jewish Realschule in Fuerth and later learned in the Breuer Yeshiva in Frankfurt while beginning pre-medical studies. The economic crisis of the early 1920s put an end to his academic aspirations and he began working first as a bookkeeper and later as a manager for a Jewish metalworking firm in Frankfurt.

By the late 1920s, when he had become owner of that firm and was financially able to consider marriage, his parents found him a suitable bride from among the Orthodox young women in Bochnia, their former hometown.

“You may be able to take Jews out of Bochnia,” my father once remarked, “but it appears to be more difficult to take Bochnia out of those Jews.”

Chaskel and his wife settled in Frankfurt, trying to keep themselves solvent during the growing economic crisis and watching with concern as Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party grew in strength. When the Nazis came to power in early 1933, Chaskel’s parents decided it was time for them to leave Germany and return to Poland. With a heavy heart they bade farewell to their son and his young family.

Chaskel, already the proud father of a two young children, decided to stay in Germany. Like many German Jews, he hoped Hitler would be a passing phenomenon and life in Germany would soon go back to normal.

He was mistaken. The years only brought with them a worsening of conditions. Chaskel and his family, like all German Jews, were barred from public parks and municipal swimming pools. Chaskel’s car was seized by the authorities. Hs factory was boycotted. His daughter had rocks thrown at her on the way home from school.

In March 1938 Austria was invaded, and four months later the Evian refugee conference showed that there were almost no countries willing to take in Jewish refugees. In September the Munich agreement promising “peace in our time” heralded an era in which Germany took over the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.

In October 1938 Chaskel, along with close to 20,000 Polish Jews living in Germany, was deported to Poland, torn from his wife and children. In November, his family, still in Germany, experienced the horrors of Kristallnacht.

For months Chaskel corresponded from Poland with his wife and finally convinced her to send their children to Belgium with a kindertransport. He desperately wrote to all their friends, acquaintances and contacts in England, trying to obtain a visa for himself and his wife so that they could reunite there and bring their children to England.

After months of correspondence with people – including former partners living in Switzerland and businessmen in France and England – who could vouch for his past business dealings, Chaskel was informed that by the end of the summer visas to England for his wife and himself would be sent to the consul in Frankfurt.

In August 1939 he was permitted to re-enter Germany and settle his affairs while waiting for his visa to England, which, he was told, would arrive any day.

The outbreak of the Second World War on Friday, September 1, 1939, put an end to all hopes and plans of emigration. Like many German Jews, my father spent the first week of September waiting for “the knock on the door,” a visit from the Gestapo that would once again take him away from what was left of his family.

Just as he feared, the Gestapo arrested him a week after the war’s outbreak, transporting him to a local prison. At the time, my father was almost 36 years old, entering early middle age by the yardstick of his time. Little could he know this was only the first step into the concentration-camp world he would live in – and survive by the grace of the Almighty – for the next five and a half years.

* * *

As a first step in his wartime odyssey, my father was taken to a prison where he met Jews arrested by the Gestapo in the same area. Small groups of prisoners were put into each cell, sharing sleeping and washing space, and twice a day the entire group would eat together in a larger cell that served as a prison “dining room.” None had ever been in prison before.

Three days after being imprisoned, the Jews realized Rosh Hashanah would begin the next evening. Still not comprehending the abrupt change their lives had undergone, a number of them approached the German police guards, mentioning that the next day was the Jewish New Year and that they wished to recite their prayers as usual.

In order to do so, they explained, they needed machzorim, special holiday prayer books. Would it be possible for the police to supply them with machzorim so that they could pray on the holiday?

Just as Orthodox Jewish leaders in Germany in 1933 believed they could cause the Nazi regime to alter decrees by submitting petitions, here, too, the Orthodox Jews appeared to be under the na?ve impression that the German affinity for law and order would compel the Nazi police to supply them with the necessary Rosh Hashanah accoutrements.

And just like the Orthodox leaders in 1933, they were greatly mistaken.

“Were they crazy?” I asked my father. “Didn’t they realize where they were, who they were talking to?” He looked at me with a sad smile. “We were German Jews. We were taught to believe in a system of law. I personally thought it nonsense to ask the policemen for machzorim, but I expected that at worst the request would be refused.”

Naturally, no machzorim were provided. When a number of Jewish prisoners reminded their guards of their request, they were met with a blank stare. A few minutes later a policeman entered the dining room and asked the Jews, with a smile they only later realized was meant to ridicule them, asked, “Who among you can ride a bicycle?” Most answered positively. “How many can drive a car?” Many said they could. The next question dealt with driving a truck and there were several positive answers.

The policeman left the room without explanation. “Maybe they want a driver to get machzorim?” asked one of the Jews. Most looked at him as if he was out of his mind, but a few still lived in hope.

On erev Rosh Hashanah Chaskel and the rest of the Jewish prisoners assembled in the prison dining room, where they recited as much of the holiday prayers as they remembered by heart.

“It was a very sad davening,” my father recalled. “We stood together but in truth everyone was alone with his thoughts, missing his family and loved ones.”

The next morning they were awakened at six o’clock and the police called out of their cells those who knew how to ride a bicycle. Then came the call for those who drove cars and trucks, and finally the policeman turned to the group with a mocking smile and said they were all going out to the courtyard to wash the police cars.

“This was the ‘surprise’ they had in store for us,” my father told me, his voice flat.

“How did you feel at the time?” I asked him, unable to comprehend the dispassionate tone in which he told me this story.

“Of course we were upset – angry – in that we had been tricked, cheated. But this was exactly the problem of German Jews. Even under the worst of circumstances there was this underlying belief in what was proper, acceptable behavior. Some who could not understand that those days were over rarely survived for long. The rest understood that we were now helpless, totally at the mercy of our captors, and that there was no law or justice that could help us anymore.”

The Jewish prisoners were forced to clean the cars until noontime, after which they gathered again to recite the day’s prayers from memory. And what prayers they were! Though the prisoners attempted to remain unobtrusive, fearing more scorn on the part of their captors, the usual disciplined Yekkish form of davening gave way among many to heartfelt tears.

This was Chaskel’s first taste of being treated as a Nazi prisoner – a person with no rights. When he was deported to Poland in October 1938 he had little contact with the Gestapo, and like most Jewish prisoners in the Frankfurt jail he was slowly beginning to understand that to his captors he was no longer a human being. This was to be the framework of his existence for the next five and a half years.

It was also his first taste of the Nazi approach to Judaism. In their desire to mock the Jewish prisoners and desecrate anything they considered sacred, the Frankfurt prison guards singled out Saturdays to force them to perform the dirtiest and most uncomfortable tasks of the week, including the cleaning of latrines.

A few of the Orthodox prisoners protested, saying this was their holy day of rest. “Rest?” roared the policeman on duty. “Prisoners are not entitled to any day of rest!”

“It wasn’t even necessary to beat us to get us to carry out orders,” my father said. “After all, we were German Jews ” He sighed, recalling the extent of their na?vet? at the time.

Chaskel and the other prisoners did not yet know that this was typical Nazi behavior: mocking Jewish symbols such as the Sabbath and Jewish holidays even without comprehending their deeper meaning. These days were often chosen for incarcerating, punishing or deporting Jews, not only in Nazi camps but throughout occupied Europe.

From the Frankfurt prison the Polish Jews were transferred to a penitentiary in the Kassel area where they remained for Yom Kippur. A few in the group knew of Chaskel’s religious background and turned to him in a matter of Jewish law: Should those with heart ailments fast, in view of their condition?

Realizing that those questioning him were not only looking for halachic assistance but a listening ear and human guidance, he gave all those who posed this question the same response: as they were incarcerated in a Nazi prison for an indefinite amount of time, anyone who felt his health would suffer was under no circumstances to fast, as it might endanger his life.

This answer would set the tone for similar halachic responses he would give throughout his years in concentration camp: One had to do everything within the boundaries of moral propriety in order to stay alive and survive the Nazis.

While he, personally, continued to fast every Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av during his incarceration, he constantly reminded others who asked him that if they felt any potential danger to their health, they must eat. The idea was to stay alive and not to afford the Nazis another victory by harming or, chas v’shalom, murdering an additional Jew.

This was the framework of his answer to Jews who would ask him halachic questions in Buchenwald and later in Auschwitz. “Venishmartem me’od lenafshoteichem” – one must greatly guard one’s life (Deuteronomy 4:15) – while keeping to morally permitted behavior.

It was that first set of Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 1939, that gave my father a glimpse into what his life would be like for the next half decade and that strengthened his soul in a way that enabled him to survive his travails – both physically and spiritually.

Prof. Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz is the chair of the graduate program in Contemporary Jewry and teaches in the Department of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. This article is adapted from her forthcoming book “The Incredible Adventures of Buffalo Bill of Bochnia (68715): The Story of a Galician Jew – Persecution, Liberation, Transformation” (Sussex Academic Press, January 2010).

Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz

He Changed The Paper That Changed His Name

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

When reporter Abraham Michael Rosenthal’s byline began appearing in The New York Times back in the 1940’s, the sensitivities of the paper’s owners – German Jews of the fully assimilated “Our Crowd” variety – dictated that he use the initials A.M. in place of his glaringly ethnic first name.

By the time he stepped down as executive editor nearly four decades later, A.M. Rosenthal could take credit for some of the most sweeping changes ever implemented in the nation’s premier newspaper.

During his first 20 years at the Times, Rosenthal reported from locations as diverse as the United Nations, Africa, Poland, India and Vietnam. His work in Poland won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1960, one year after he’d been expelled from the country for his brutally frank coverage of the Polish government.

Rosenthal’s experience as a foreign correspondent was followed by a steady rise through the Times’s managerial ranks. It was as executive editor that he left his most enduring mark, a fact long acknowledged by admirers and detractors alike (and there were always plenty in both categories).

A familiar complaint about the Times in the years before Rosenthal took charge was that the liberal views expounded in the paper’s editorials seemed at times to creep into the news articles. But under Rosenthal’s stewardship the Times achieved new levels of objectivity in its reporting – so much so that some liberal staffers accused Rosenthal of tilting too far to the right.

Rosenthal was suspicious of his younger reporters’ political views. Joseph Lelyveld, a future Times executive editor, told Susan Tifft and Alex Jones, authors of The Trust, a monumental history of the Times, that Rosenthal “tended to regard [them] as being naturally left wing. Abe would always say, with some justice, that you have to keep your hand on the tiller and steer it to the right or it’ll drift off to the left.”

While Rosenthal may have been wary of those staffers he considered prone to injecting personal agendas into their stories, there is no real evidence that ideology played any role in the hiring, firing, or promoting of news personnel.

The picture one gets from Joseph C. Goulden’s none-too-flattering Fit To Print (the only full-length biography of Rosenthal to date), as well as from the late media critic Edwin Diamond’s Behind The Times, is that of an executive editor who was astonishingly lenient with some of his subordinates while itching to pull the trigger on others – primarily for reasons of personality, not politics.

Rosenthal had his flaws, to be sure. He was, according to former Times reporter John Corry, all too easily charmed by John Lindsay when the latter ran for mayor in 1965, to the point of jubilantly hugging metropolitan editor Arthur Gelb on election night and yelling “We’ve won.”

And Times watchers who are less than enamored of the paper’s foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman have Rosenthal to thank for solicitously watching over Friedman’s ascent at the paper.

Still, there is no denying that the Times during Rosenthal’s tenure was in general a fairer, better-balanced newspaper than it had been before he took over – and, for that matter, than it has been since he relinquished the reins in 1987.

Under Rosenthal the Times became a more readable newspaper, the dense gray corporate prose that had long been the paper’s trademark giving way to a snappier, more personalized style.

Rosenthal was also the prime mover in getting the Times to introduce the weekly supplements pegged to individual news categories (sports, science, lifestyles, etc.) that upon their debut in the mid-1970’s immediately gave new life to what had become a sleepy format.

All things considered, the irony inherent in Rosenthal’s tenure at the paper is inescapable: Whereas in the beginning it was the Times that permanently altered his byline, in the end it was Abe Rosenthal who permanently altered the Times.

Jason Maoz

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/he-changed-the-paper-that-changed-his-name/2006/05/17/

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