May 2004 Journal

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Sister paper at 70

Back in distant 1924 a group of German-Jewish immigrants to America who felt rather isolated set up a club in downtown New York as a venue for meetings and social contacts. The time was not particularly propitious for newcomers to the USA from Central Europe. Congress had just introduced the quotas-by-countries system which gave preference to immigrants from Britain and Scandinavia over applicants born further east and south. The club's founders also encountered lingering anti-German prejudice dating back to American involvement in the Great War.

Nonetheless, the German-Jewish club established itself on secure financial foundations, which enabled it ten years later, when the first wave of political and racial refugees from Nazism reached the US, to create Aufbau as its (German-speaking) monthly journal.

Aufbau had a strong team of writers virtually from its inception. Occasional contributors included Thomas Mann, Hannah Arendt, Oskar Maria Graf, Hans Sahl and Franz Werfel, while Albert Einstein and Rabbi Joachim Prinz served on its Advisory Board. The editor who guided it during the quarter-century of its greatest influence was Manfred George, a former Ullstein journalist with biographies of such divergent personalities as Theodor Herzl and Marlene Dietrich to his credit.

One of the highlights of Manfred George's career was the publication in 1941 of the Aufbau Almanac, a handbook for immigrants. The Almanac purveyed such snippets of information of use to newcomers as the conversion of Fahrenheit thermometer readings into Celsius, the text of The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America, and the meaning of such vernacular expressions as the 'Bronx cheer' and 'sawbucks' ($20 notes).

Since then a lot of water has flowed under Brooklyn Bridge and Aufbau has had to accommodate itself to changing circumstances. The most obvious change is that it is now a bi-lingual German-English publication (in this it differs from the venerable left-leaning Forward, which started as a Yiddish paper - with contributions from Isaac Bashevits Singer - and now also appears in English as well as Russian versions).

The 70th anniversary edition, which ran to 56 pages, provided a rich feast for Aufbau readers. Besides many articles focusing on the current German-Jewish situation there was also one that amounted to an election year party-political broadcast on behalf of the Democrats. It took the form of an interview with the eminent US historian Fritz Stern of The Politics of Cultural Despair fame. Stern, who also happens to be the author of another standard work entitled The Failure of Illiberalism, adroitly turned the answer to every question put to him into an indictment of George W. Bush.

However, Stern's perceived bias was counter-balanced by an article on deep-seated German Americophobia from the pen of the redoubtable Henryk Broder. He traced the phenomenon back to its roots in Nazi propaganda, which accused the USA of worshipping Mammon and of producing effeminate men and mannish women.

The issue of Jewish integration into contemporary German society was the subject of an interview with the Federal Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily. He declared himself fully alert to the onerous task of protecting the 100,000-plus strong community against neo-Nazis on the right, and militant pro-Palestinians on the left, of the political spectrum. Where he sounded less sanguine was with regard to reconciling the conflicting claims of Orthodoxy and Reform within the state-subsidised communal structure of schools and other institutions.

We congratulate our older and more substantial cousin on this 70th anniversary; if they can keep going for just another half-century they'll make the wish 'bis hundert und zwanzig!' redundant.
Richard Grunberger

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