THE WORLD OF AUFBAU: HITLER'S REFUGEES IN AMERICA
By Peter Schrag
University of Wisconsin Press
2019, 266 pp, $39.95
Newspapers, especially those that cater to a particular community of readers, tend to be the sources rather than the artifacts of history. They report the news; they don't often make it. Aufbau, the "hometown paper" of German Jewish refugees in the United States, was something else entirely--more of a lifeline than a chronicle. Over a period of 70 years between 1934 and 2004, but particularly in the mid-20th century, this German-language publication served a distinctive population at a remarkable historical moment: the successive waves of German-speaking refugees from Hitler's Europe who arrived in New York before, during and after World War II, and whose array "I homesick intellectuals, displaced merchants and traumatized survivors indelibly shaped its urban culture and that of the nation.
Peter Schrag's study of Aufbau uses the paper as a prism through which to tell the story of this immigrant group, whose influence, he argues, has not been fully appreciated. Though the story of German Jewish refugees and their impact on American culture may seem familiar to some, the paper itself is less well-known--perhaps, the author muses, because as its readers successfully Americanized and learned English, they stopped needing it, and the next generation, brought to America as young children or born here, never read it at all. At first a monthly newsletter of the German-Jewish Club, Aufbau quickly matured as its unfortunate readership poured onto American shores. By 1940, it was a weekly under the editorship of a colorful Berlin-born emigre named Manfred George. Though immigration overall had been sharply restricted by legislation in 1924, between 1933 and 1945 some 130,000 German and Austrian refugees made it to the U.S., most of them Jewish, along with 150,000 from elsewhere in Europe. In the eight years after the war's end, they were joined by 140,000 Holocaust survivors (known at the time as displaced persons).
The paper informed, reassured, comforted and sustained its readers, many of whom arrived not just scarred by events but deeply homesick for German culture. Aufbau enabled German Jews of the 1930s and the DPs of the postwar era to find their footing and rebuild their lives in the United States--a process, noted one of their number as early as 1951, that "took place with a speed and thoroughness unparalleled in the history of...