October 18, 2018

Making It: Max Frankel and Henry Kissinger

I have been reading two books lately, sort of shifting from one to the other — a bad habit, I know, but it has been with me too long to correct at this point. The books are Henry Kissinger’s “Years of Renewal,” an indecent 1,151 pages, all about foreign policy during Gerald Ford’s administration; and Max Frankel’s memoir, “The Times of My Life,” a mere 525-page account of his escape from Germany in 1940, when he was 10 years old (chapter 1), and his subsequent life in America, nearly all of which took place at The New York Times.

What is striking to me about the two authors is how parallel their lives have been; how much these two Jewish immigrant men put their stamp on U.S. politics these last 40 years; and, more importantly, how much we owe them (and others) for clearing a path within mainstream America that led to the legitimation and acceptance here of all Jews.

Both men were German-Jewish children whose parents fled Germany with them in tow. Kissinger (older by seven years) was 15 and landed here in 1938. Frankel, born in 1930, escaped with his mother shortly after Germany invaded Poland. His account of the family’s flight from Germany to Poland and then back again, without proper papers or passports, reads like a Hollywood drama. Both families settled in Washington Heights, an enclave of working-class German-Jewish, Irish, Hispanic and black families, on the northern perimeter of New York City.