A large group of faculty, alumni, and students attended Harry Rosenfeld’s lecture, “From Kristallnacht to Watergate: Memories of a Newspaperman,” Sunday in the Campus Center. This was the third annual lecture at the university commemorating Kristallnacht or the “Night of Broken Glass.”
Rosenfeld has led a long and successful career in journalism and is best known for his work at the Washington Post where he oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal that won a Pulitzer Prize and forever changed the face of politics and journalism.
Rosenfeld discussed his experience as a child in Berlin. Although his family was financially well-off, they struggled as a Jewish family in Nazi Germany. Rosenfeld was not allowed to go to public school, faced prejudice from his community, and in 1938, when Rosenfeld was 9 years old, Gestapo officers took his father away without explanation. Although his father eventually made it safely to the home of a family friend, the event shook the Rosenfeld family.
“In the Hitler years our lives evolved from being difficult, to becoming a daily hardship and finally, a peril,” Rosenfeld said. “We lived in a Berlin suffused with overt Jew hatred from which neither loving parents nor a doting older sister could entirely shield me.”
In November 1938 the family received a warning from a non-Jewish family acquaintance, urging them to go to the Polish embassy for safety because “bad things were about to happen.” When the family returned home, they found their business untouched; however theirs was one of the few. Shattered glass from looted and ransacked Jewish businesses littered the streets. The city’s most prominent temple had been burned and firemen made no effort to put out the blaze. It was after this ordeal that his family realized they needed to reach safety soon.
In May 1939 Rosenfeld’s family arrived in Manhattan. Rosenfeld fully immersed himself into American culture, leaving his German language and culture behind. His future career as an editor for several publications lead him to share his knowledge about investigative journalism and integrity with the crowd.
“It did not take long to see just how easy it was to fall into the trap of reporting the surface of things and pass it off as good work,” Rosenfeld said. “You have to reveal the hidden whether it was purposely camouflaged or not recognized at first. The essence of American democracy… is a free press to hold to account, the accountable, especially when there is no one entity that will do so.”
Rosenfeld closed his lecture by going into more detail about the Watergate scandal, emphasizing the importance of using credible sources and contributing to true democracy.
President Devorah Lieberman explained the importance of this lecture for the university.
“Whether you are Jewish or not, this is something close to all of our hearts,” Lieberman said. “This event reminds us of our values… especially those related to social justice.”
Christina Delgado, a junior political science major attended the lecture for the Honors Colloquium class.
“It’s incredible to hear how his experiences shaped him to be the person and journalist he is today,” Delgado said. “It’s really inspiring to me that he always did his work as a public service for the betterment of society.”
Claremont resident and La Verne alumnus Bernard Karmatz frequently attends lectures at the University and felt this lecture was particularly important.
“There are links you can see historically between what happened then (during the Holocaust) and now, though it’s much more subtle, like trends in states where women’s rights are being taken” Karmatz said. “You have to be careful of being apathetic of the political process and people are missing the boat by not engaging.”
Katie Madden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.