Some people live lives that seem to have been written by a Hollywood screenwriter. Harry Rosenfeld, the editor-at-large of the Times Union, is one of them.
Rosenfeld embodies the cliché of living the American dream. He came to this country as a 9-year-old Jewish refugee who couldn’t speak any English and 33 years later he was an editor at The Washington Post, overseeing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they reported on the greatest scandal in the history of our country’s presidency.
He writes about it all in his new memoir, “From Kristallnacht to Watergate,” and some of it is rather painful stuff, such as his earliest memories in Berlin, Germany in the 1930s.
“My childhood was spent entirely within an encompassing anti-Semitism that was a natural part of my world. Its absence would have seemed strange. Even as a child, I was buffeted by the overpowering racial stereotyping of Jews as disloyal, unscrupulous, obese, thick-lipped, and greedy. Although I could with a child’s insight see the lies of these racist caricatures, they overwhelmed me and inculcated a sense of inferiority in me. This feeling never wholly disappeared, as in later life I disdained going into business because the Nazis proclaimed that vocation the sole talent of Jews.”
Arrival in America
Unlike many of his Jewish friends and some of his relatives, Rosenfeld was able to leave Germany with his family in April 1939. They first arrived in England before boarding the Aquitania, which brought them into New York Harbor.
‘From Kristallnacht to Watergate: Memoirs of a Newspaperman’
AUTHOR: Harry Rosenfeld
PUBLISHED BY: State University of New York Press (357 pages)
HOW MUCH: $29.95
“I got my first and most meaningful look at the Statue of Liberty, understanding as a boy the symbolism of her standing at the gateway to America. My appreciation of what she stood for deepened over the years as I learned of her history and of the ideals she represents.”
He and his family moved to the Bronx, and his father opened a fur shop on the western side of the Grand Concourse. Rosenfeld threw himself into becoming a regular American boy. He worked hard at learning the language and at losing his accent. He went to the movies frequently and became a diehard Yankee baseball fan.
The ‘Trib’ days
As an immigrant child, he observed how hard his parents worked, and Harry did his part by taking on numerous part-time jobs. Working hard was a trait that he never lost.
One of the jobs he took between high school and college was as a shipping clerk at the Herald Tribune, his favorite New York newspaper.
“I worked at the Herald Tribune until it ended its distinguished run in 1966. During those first few months I began to learn about the newspaper business in boundless detail, an introduction for which I always have been grateful. The shipping clerk duties were varied and touched on many of the paper’s operations. I got to know the infrastructure of the Trib from top to bottom and inside and out. It was a priceless experience.”
After graduating from Syracuse University in 1952, he was hired by the Herald Tribune as an editorial assistant in news.
There are many things I like about this memoir, but what I enjoyed the most was Rosenfeld’s obvious love of newspapers. He was there during the golden years of the great New York newspapers of the 1950s and the 1960s. He went to Vietnam in the mid-1960s and wrote articles about the war for The Washington Post, and he was there in 1972 as an editor when five burglars broke into the Democratic headquarters of the Watergate Building.
Editing a scandal
If you’re one of those people who can’t get enough of the Watergate scandal, then you will need to add this book to your collection. Harry Rosenfeld was there right from day one, editing the first drafts of Woodward and Bernstein, the lead Watergate reporters who would eventually be tagged with the name Woodstein.
In simple straightforward prose Rosenfeld looks back on that scandal with some intelligent reflections about what the Washington Post did well to report on it and what Nixon and his administration did wrong that ultimately brought about the downfall of the Nixon presidency.
As you read the book, you realize the love Rosenfeld has for his family, for newspapers and for his country. “Newspapering was my world and I was happy in it. I regard my five decades as a newspaperman as a down payment on a bill that can never be stamped ‘Paid in full.’ I owe America for the lives of my families and for the opportunity to live my life as I wanted.”