Memoirs of Harry Rosenfeld, Newspaperman Who Survived Kristallnacht and Covered Watergate

Fascinating Look Back at Jewish Journalist's Career

Rosenfeld & ‘Woodstein’: At age eighty, Harry Rosenfeld, who oversaw the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, took a break from work to confront the one deadline no human can escape - and wrote his memoir.
Excelsior Editions
Rosenfeld & ‘Woodstein’: At age eighty, Harry Rosenfeld, who oversaw the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, took a break from work to confront the one deadline no human can escape - and wrote his memoir.

By Pamela Cytrynbaum

Published February 27, 2014, issue of March 07, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

If you’re lucky and smart, life as a newshound means that your day job consists of being a semi-ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. You invariably sidle up to history — and its makers — just by showing up for work.

As a boy growing up in Hitler’s Berlin, Harry Rosenfeld, author of the new memoir “From Kristallnacht to Watergate,” saw his father grabbed by the Gestapo in a middle-of-the-night raid. He was there for the shattering and the burning of Kristallnacht.

Rosenfeld carried with him a deep sense of outrage and justice on his journey as the longtime newspaperman who, as metropolitan editor at the Washington Post, played a key (and often cranky) role in overseeing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s historic Watergate coverage. In his book, Rosenfeld offers what Woodward himself blurbs (on the book cover): “real history, illuminating and told honestly with a deep sense of the moral obligation of the press.”

Not to be out-blurbed, Bernstein, the rougher half of the team known as “Woodstein” that takes up much of Rosenfeld’s narrative, opines in his back-jacket quote: “Rarely has a newpaperman’s personality and experience intersected so perfectly with his time.”

Harry Rosenfeld is what we’d call a stiff (thank God), a champion of old-school investigative reporting and fact-driven news, and a man who holds deeply to the belief that good journalism is key to our democracy.

Though not widely known outside the Beltway old-school newsiverse, within the family, Rosenfeld is widely and deeply respected. He is known as a stalwart, a stickler for fairness and accuracy.

I have never met him, but as a recovering daily metro reporter I can say that he’s the kind of guy who makes you want to throw your shoulders back, push the hair outta your eyes and get your damn facts right. He’s no show-off. In fact, he’s more of an avuncular old prof. He introduces a section on Watergate by stating, “My only valid contribution to elucidating the thoroughly worked-over ground is to relate what I remember witnessing and my interpretation of events as Watergate unfolded. What follows pretends to be no more, and it is no less, than my insider’s view of that momentous story.” And that’s just what you get: how Woodward and Bernstein didn’t much like or trust each other at first; how Rosenfeld gave Woodward his big break and why; what Rosenfeld regrets about Deep Throat; Bernstein’s quirks; what editors knew and when they knew it; juicy behind-the-scenes disagreements about Watergate coverage.

He’s clearly on Team Woodward, whom he writes had “a sober personality and was a solid adult.” He took criticism well and cultivated sources with aplomb. The wild and wooly Bernstein, on the other hand, “hungered for the big story,” racked up insane amounts of “self-assigned” overtime, and was on thin ice just before the Watergate story changed everything.

There’s an element of “it’s my memoir and I can write what I want to.” He names colleagues who pissed him off and why. He’s not above noting when he didn’t get credit for something but should have. He even ends one such anecdote with “so there.”

Luckily for the reader, much of the score settling is fun to read. There are also choice bits about his family life — during the height of Watergate, Rosenfeld’s daughters “became accustomed to answering the office extension and our private phones in our home by saying, ‘Hello to anyone listening.’”

One of the great comforts that comes from reading “From Kristallnacht to Watergate” is knowing that Rosenfeld is still in the game. He is now editor-at-large and a consultant at the Albany Times Union. He took a break from writing his column to work on this memoir. “I was eighty,” he writes, “and had to confront the deadline no human can circumvent.”

A former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Pamela Cytrynbaum is now the executive director of The Chicago Innocence Project.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.