Aufbau: Donít Stop The Presses

Aufbau: Donít Stop The Presses

Associate Editor

Henreich Heine, the German-Jewish poet, wrote more than a century ago, ìder vorhang fallt, das stuck ist aus,î the curtain falls, the play is done. Then, in that tragic coda, the ax fell, too. Yet the drama goes on, a few German-Jews puttering around on a stage they refuse to leave, enchanted by that language.ìWir haben viel fur einander gefuhlt,î how deeply we were wrapped in each otherís lives, wrote Heine. In almost every Holocaust drama, one Jew is sure to say what is now the greatest cliche of the 1930s: ìBut this is the country of Goethe and Schiller!îEven on Manhattanís Upper West Side, in the Broadway offices of the Aufbau, the famous German-language Jewish newspaper, new publisher Chaja Koren insists, ìBefore Hitler it was a beautiful culture. We had Goethe. We had Schiller. We had Heine, who was a Jew who converted because he had to.

The Aufbau, which once had 50,000 readers, now is literally more than decimated; fewer than 5,000 readers remain. The paper scheduled euthanasia for itself in mid-February for lack of money and interest. Somehow, it lives on thanks to a cash infusion from devoted readers, and Korenís life support.

Sheís the perfect nurse, cheerful and caffeinated, the exuberance of her spirit matched by the unkempt blond hair of an artist, an easy laugh, and tight black pants of faux alligator-skin. A chai and kabbalistic hamsa are charms around her neck.

Born after the war ó you know what war ó she is a young 44. ìYou donít ask a lady this!î she laughs before confessing.Born in Israel, a child of Frankfurt, and transplanted to Miami, she publishes Israeli books in German translation. Now she wants to increase the Aufbau readership in Germany, too. She is aware that second-generation American-German Jews donít read German (the 24-page paper now runs four English pages) but there are 30,000 Jews back in the Fatherland. More than a few of the Aufbauís subscribers are already in Germany reading the Jewish paper edited by non-Jewish German expatriates in New York. (While the Aufbau has Jewish freelancers, even in New York there is no longer a talent pool of Jewish journalists either willing or capable of editing in German.)

She figures the Aufbau can ìwork together with the new generation in Germany, explaining how we Jews live in the world. Because the new generation of Germans mostly doesnít know Jews. They are afraid of Jews. Jews are always telling them, ëOh, you were bad. You did the Holocaust. You parents or grandparents were murderers.í OK, we should never forget the Holocaust, but we have other aspects to our tradition, and that we are going on with our tradition. We can write about our religion.ìThe reconstruction of the German-Jewish community is now happening in Germany,î she says. Aufbau is the German word for reconstruction and referred to what German Jews once attempted here. ìIronically, 65 years later, we carry the culture back to Germany.

Despite some computers, the Aufbau office evokes a distant time. Immense photographs of Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein and Franklin Roosevelt loom over the old-fashioned newsroom comprised of gray metal desks and old wood.The paper was born in Manhattan as the newsletter of a German-Jewish sports club. It was 1924, one year after Hitlerís aborted beer hall putsch, and the Nazis were losers and obscure. Ten years later, the newsletter had more to write about than soccer.The Aufbau found reluctant glory, reporting about the horrors early on and, then, becoming a touchstone for survivors at warís end. Its reach became international, finding readers as distant and diverse as Viennaís Simon Wiesenthal and Ruth Westheimer, an orphaned refugee in Israel.She recalls, ìWhen I was in Israel, I already knew about the Aufbau. In í45, it was used for finding survivors. Iíd look for names of relatives. Later, when I was in France and thinking of America, I knew that the Aufbau would have listings of furnished rooms in Washington Heights.îWestheimer suggests, ìit wasnít just the language, though ties to language and childhood were of great importance. The editors were always real thinkers and brilliant journalists. They gave us a sense of belonging. We were strangers, unaccepted by Americans, even by Yiddish-speaking Jews, even unaccepted by the ëOur Crowdí German Jews who wanted nothing to do with the refugees.îThe old sports club that first published the Aufbau morphed into the New World Club, a social center for the young refugees. The Aufbau was proof, yet again, that a Jewish newspaper could be transcendent, going beyond the news to create community; it was the next best thing to family when families were gone.With non-Jewish editors, the Aufbau today is something less than family, but the editors Monika Ziegler and Andreas Mink are certainly good and true friends.Ziegler, 46, says the Aufbauís interns, from Germany, ìcome with a freshness and a curiosity because they havenít met much Jewish life from Germany. They want to get to know it here.îA Munich native, Ziegler came to New York in 1984 precisely ìbecause I heard of the Aufbau and I wanted to write for it. I wanted to get to know the emigre community and the quality of their lives. I was so curious about their culture, to learn about them as human beings.îShe had worked on a kibbutz for several months after 1967ís Six Day War, when Jews ìwere threatened again with annihilation, just 22 years after Auschwitz. That, of course, helped trigger my interest. I wanted to help. Gunter Grass, the writer, sponsored a group of young Germans to go to Israel.

She admits, ìI did feel guilt although I had none.î Her father did time in Dachau. ìI was born after the war, so I had no reason to, but I did feel very bad.îThe Aufbau in recent weeks featured a front page story on the Haggadah, articles on ìEin unberechtigter streit um Elia Kazan,î a Kurt Weill fest back in Dessau and ìDie Nazi-jager [hunter] von der Rambam High School.îThere were ads from the German newspaper Die Welt; the Austrian government suggesting ìSommer in Osterreichî; and the Leipzig University Chorus. There were notices about upcoming evenings of ìkonzert, muzik, diskussion.

Nevertheless, an informal street-survey of German Jews in Washington Heights bore out the grim truth of the dwindling circulation: No one wanted to say anything bad, but few had seen it lately. For many survivors, now comfortable enough with English, the old language is quaint, not critical. They choose not to pass it on to their children. Sure, itís the language of Goethe, Schiller and Heine. But Heine, himself, wrote:ìThe oaks are green, and the German womenhave smiling eyes that know no treason;they speak of love and faith and honor.I cannot bear it; there is a reason.

read more: