Former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir with Harry Rosenfeld

Former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir with Harry Rosenfeld

 

My Uncle Harry Rosenfeld turned 91 years old this month.

His is a remarkable story that constantly reminds me why I value the message of the Statue of Liberty so much.

Harry was born in Berlin, Germany in 1929, eight years younger than his sister, my mother Rachel. Their father, Sam, was an uneducated Polish immigrant who became a very successful furrier in Berlin. After Hitler came to power, Jews were not allowed to go to public school. Before Krystallnacht happened in 1938, Sam was arrested in the middle of the night and deported to Poland along with other Polish Jews living in Germany.

The Rosenfelds had applied for entry to the U.S. in 1934, but did not receive permission until 5 years later. At that time, Sam was permitted to return to Berlin to accompany his family to America—shortly before War broke out with Germany’s attacks on Poland.

They came to New York City. Rachel, lacking a high school degree, worked in her parents’ new fur shop right on the same block as Alexander’s Department store in the Bronx. Harry got to go to elementary, junior high and Stuyvesant high school. Upon graduation but before going to Syracuse U, Harry got his start in newspapering at the New York Herald Tribune, as a shipping clerk.

He worked there summers and some months after he graduated from Syracuse, and before being drafted and sent to Korea during the war.

When he was discharged, he again returned to the Trib, working his way up from typist, to copy editor, and then becoming Managing Editor of the paper’s news service, the youngest ever to hold that job. In time, he became the Trib’s foreign editor.

That led me to my second job in journalism—the first being a paperboy when I was 10 years old. During one summer when I was in college, Uncle Harry got me a summer job putting up signs on lampposts in Manhattan heralding the column by Jimmy Breslin.

Harry worked for the Herald Tribune for over 18 years if you subtract the four he spent in college and the two years in the Army. When the paper folded, he was hired by the Washington Post to help run their foreign operation and he eventually became Metropolitan editor overseeing the local news. As an assistant managing editor, he oversaw Woodward and Bernstein during the Watergate Investigation. But there was no path to a promotion at the Post because Ben Bradlee was firmly ensconced, so Harry took a job as Editor in Chief of the two Albany, New York daily newspapers, the afternoon Knickerbocker News and the morning Times Union.

And there he still sits. He’s emeritus and is a member of the editorial board of the surviving Times-Union, and his mind is extremely active and he has written two great autobiographies, one about the years at the Trib and the Post and the other about the Albany years.

I was headed across the country to surprise him for his birthday but Covid put the damper on that plan so we have to settle for schmoozing on the phone. My wonderful aunt Annie is also very healthy and they have three wonderful daughters who have them surrounded, Susan in Boston, Stefanie in New York City, and Amy in Chicago.

Journalism is literally in my blood, thanks to Harry, and by hook or by crook, I’m going to get myself to Albany sooner than later.