Posts Tagged ‘journalism’


New Media Project: The Last Yekke

June 12, 2008

A few months ago, I wrote a profile of Walter Schnerb, a German-Jewish bookbinder who fled the Nazis and settled in New York. I offered the article to The New York Times, but because the paper had just run an article about a Jew with a similar story, it hesitated to print my piece as well. Eventually, they shortened my article considerably and ran it under the title “As an Age Recedes, a Craftsman Soldiers On.” Their version focused on Schnerb being a bookbinder and left out any substantial description of his character and his community.

But Mr. Schnerb is too interesting a person to be reduced to 300 words. So I took all my leftover reporting, added some new media elements and created The Last Yekke, a fuller portrait of not only the man, but the German-Jewish community he represents so well. Please see for yourself by clicking on the photo.


Still controversial: former star journalist tries another comeback

May 15, 2008

Michel Friedman, 52, the former vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and celebrated TV journalist, is back on German television. At the height of his prominence, in 2003, he was involved in a cocaine-and-prostitutes affair, quit his job and stepped down from all public positions.

Back then, the Forward wrote: “Friedman’s life had, to this point, been a success story; the son of parents saved by Oskar Schindler, he grew up to become an important political figure and an outspoken Jewish personality in Germany. But the current investigation threatens to bring his tale to an ugly denouement.”

It did. Although Friedman didn’t give up – he wrote a novel and launched a talk show in October 2004 – his new career never even came close to what it had been before. He made headlines, however, when he interviewed Germany’s top Neo-Nazi Horst Mahler for the German Vanity Fair and was greeted with “Heil Hitler, Herr Friedman.”

Now all eyes are on Friedman again. According to one review of his new reportage, which deals with youth delinquency, Friedman is an “excellent journalist.” However, the reviewer doubts that Friedman will be able to rid himself of the stigma that has clung to him since the affair. Another review makes fun of Friedman for his inability to show compassion with the prison inmates he interviewed, but never mentions the ugly past.

Friedman has always polarized Germans, Jews and non-Jews alike. Many hated him long before the scandal for his alleged arrogance and vanity. They added hypocrisy to that list when it came out that the seemingly clean Mr. Friedman was really not that clean. (He used to be a real hardball when he interviewed politicians and often gave the impression that he stands on a higher moral platform than anybody else.) But many Germans – especially Jews – also loved Friedman for precisely this arrogance, which they said he can afford due to his sharp intellect and his impressive eloquence. He is also a staunch supporter of Israel.

Whatever one thinks of Friedman, one thing is clear: the man knows how to divide opinions.


More on Germans and Israel

May 9, 2008

image courtesy of DPA

Jews and non-Jews celebrated Israel’s sixtieth birthday all over Germany, as seen in the photo above from Stuttgart’s Schlossplatz. Yet, the occasion naturally called not only for celebrations, but for political commentary as well. German papers were full of historical reviews and analysis. Die Welt, a conservative paper published by the traditionally pro-Israel Axel Springer Verlag, wrote that most Germans were not too interested in Israel’s creation 60 years ago. Apparently, only German politicians really cared.

For them it was an epic event, and soon after the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany on May 23, 1949, there was contact between leading figures in both countries, at first mainly in the area of science. However, the Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion, as well as the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, wanted more.

But in the Holy Land a majority of people then were not in favor of direct talks with, let alone financial support from, the ‘country of the perpetrators.’ However, in a memorable debate, Ben-Gurion convinced the majority of parliamentarians that it was time to have some sort of relations with the new, democratic Germany.

In the Luxembourg Agreements signed on Sept. 10, 1952, Germany promised to give Israel 3 billion German marks, on top of compensation payments to individuals. The money was meant to be used to help the integration of former European Jews. The ice was broken, but it still took a long time until the two countries established diplomatic relations.

Today, Germany is Israel’s second-most important ally after the US. Luckily, the main reason for that is not the ever-present history of the two countries, but the common belief in the fundamental values of our existence.

Read more about the German press on Israel here.

German-Jewish journalist Henryk Broder wrote several pieces on the occasion of Israel’s Independence Day. I found only one translated into English: “The Poisoned Congratulations of German Know-It-Alls.” Last but not least, let it be known that the Jewish elementary school in Cologne posted three videos of its Israel Independence Day celebration on YouTube. Part 1 and part 2 are noisy and hardly bearable 10-minute pieces showing an introductory presentation by the teachers followed by the kids singing Israeli songs and waving flags. Part 3 is a mute slide show featuring nice photos of the presentation and the subsequent party in the school’s backyard. Enjoy!


The Germans and their Hitlerphobia

March 9, 2008

More than 60 years after he killed himself, the Germans still have a weird relationship with Adolf Hitler and what his name stands for. Even when Hitler is really is Whitler.

The Hitler-Blog, published on the Web site of die tageszeitung, a left-leaning German daily, chronicles the highlights of this hitlerphobia. Whenever the Führer’s name is invoked for an especially silly reason, the blog reports (basically contradicting those who say yemach shmo, may his name be erased, after uttering Hitler’s name.)

A funny occurrence of hitlerphobia could be witnessed recently in the online version of Bild, Germany’s biggest daily newspaper. A reader wanted to sign in to a Web site and was asked to provide one of these so-called Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, or captcha. Here is what he saw:


Looks like the Web site is asking the guy to type the word “hitler,” if you disregards the little “w” to the left of the “h.” Not a big deal, one might think, especially since these letter combinations are created completely randomly. Not so for the German hitlerphobics. The shocked reader quickly took a photo of the screen and sent it to the newspaper, who smelled a little Nazi scandal.

“I immediately closed that window,” the reader is quoted as saying. “Something like that really shouldn’t happen!” A spokesperson for the company pointed out the little “w” and the randomness of these letter combinations. But, politically correct as German have to be these days, he conceded that “the incident is very regrettable.”


The NY Times about how Germany deals with the Holocaust

January 30, 2008

Finally an article that addresses the question I hear time and again from American Jews when they learn that I grew up as a Jew in Germany. How do “the Germans” feel about the Holocaust? Did they sincerely regret or are they just waiting for a chance to murder us again?