Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

June 2004


Aufbau: the New York newspaper created by exiled German Jews

I was stunned and surprised when, on April 13, I saw my former boss, Andreas Mink, editor of the newspaper Aufbau, on the German news program “Die Tagesschau.” In a brief report he was shown symbolically locking the doors of Aufbau’s editorial offices on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for the last time. So, it seems, I was the last intern ever to work at this great institution. Aufbau, the German-Jewish New York weekly, has gone bust. This is the end of a 70-year-old tradition. The paper, founded by German-Jewish émigrés, was first published in 1943 and within a couple of years the circulation had reached 50,000, a figure that was maintained up to and into the 1960s.

For many Jews who had fled the Nazis, Aufbau represented home. And this was something perceptible to anyone who stepped into the paper’s offices on Broadway. After sharing your lift space with a dozen ballet students whose studio—a dance school where, I am told, Madonna practiced her first pliés—lay one floor below, you would be greeted by the 82-year-old secretary Lisa Schwarz. Even today, after 50 years of living in New York’s Upper West Side, this chain-smoking daughter of a wealthy Berlin banker retains all the charm and largess of the German-Jewish upper class. Every new intern was embraced with the same warmth. Before Schwarz came to New York she had begun a promising career as a figure-skater in Switzerland, the country to which her family had initially fled from the Nazis. Having used up all their money there, the family went to New York. For Schwarz, who began working at Aufbau in 1946, the publication represented a kind of second home.

From the room that Schwarz shared with the marketing director, a long corridor led to the editorial offices. The walls of this hallway were lined with steel filing cabinets in which old copies of Aufbau were stored. Articles by the first editor-in-chief, Heinrich George, could be found here. Once employed by the publishing house Ullstein in Berlin, George wrote of the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 in Aufbau, “That for which thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions have died, those who took with them to their deaths the shadow of this great dream—this has become reality in the sober light of day.”

Both Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein suffered homesickness for their homeland. For years their portraits hung above the desks of the editors. Both had a long association with Aufbau as members of the Board of Trustees, and would submit articles for publication. They never ceased to be revered by the editorial staff. Thalia Bloch, a young third-generation German-Jewish journalist, whose father had written for Aufbau, has fond memories of these two great men. For Bloch, Aufbau is living memory: not even the New York Times was read with such care at the family home in Brooklyn. In fact, it was not only Brooklyn but also Washington Heights, right in the north of Manhattan, districts that had large German-Jewish communities and German synagogues, where many Aufbau readers resided. Now and again they would pay a visit to the editorial offices—elderly ladies and gentlemen who still spoke English with a pronounced German accent and German with a Swabian or Berlin dialect. Those were probably the most moving encounters at Aufbau. I remember being reminded by an elderly reader to listen to all the stories of Jewish emigration very carefully as there would soon be nobody left to tell them.

Now, along with the generation of the exiled, Aufbau is dying, too. The second- or third-generation refugees no longer speak German and this is what has finally brought down the paper. The first generation were faithful to a degree unheard of in the publishing world. The paper was frequently in receipt of generous donations bequeathed to it in the wills of former readers. Now, however, Aufbau can no longer capture the minds and imaginations of the young. Sections such as “Looking for ...,” in which Holocaust survivors posted search notices for relatives who had emigrated to America, a section that had once filled whole pages, finally dwindled to perhaps two or three messages per publication. And the circulation had shrunk to a paltry 7,000 copies, among a readership with an average age of 70.

Attempts had been made to move with the times and articles began to appear in English. Even Thalia Bloch, who speaks German, finally went over to writing almost exclusively in English. It made her sad but, she said, “My parents still felt themselves to be German Jews in New York, whereas I am really an American with German-Jewish roots, like just about all my generation.” Many of Bloch’s friends are out of touch with their family’s past and often the parents had little interest in preserving their German heritage. The wounds inflicted upon them by the Germans had simply been too great. Sometimes Bloch thinks back on the words of a friend who said that Aufbau had achieved a great feat by giving those people a home who had lost theirs, but that the young generation had a home in America. So Aufbau has fulfilled its purpose and can now bid a dignified farewell.

tell a friend