International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Refugee Journeys: Max Frankel - Germany, 1940

“My entry to the U.S. was in the city of Hoboken, New Jersey, and distant cousins who had exerted valiant efforts to help us get out, picked us up at the boat and drove us through the Holland Tunnel. I’ll never forget it because there in the frieze of the tiles of the Holland Tunnel it says ‘New Jersey/New York’ and I shouted to my mother we had just crossed a border without any fuss. Which is quite an experience for a European kid in the middle of a war.”

-    Max Frankel

Max Frankel was born in Gera, Germany, on April 3, 1930, into a family expelled to Poland with thousands of other allegedly “Polish” Jews in 1938 as the Nazi campaign against Jews intensified. He and his mother were allowed to return to Germany in 1939 to claim long-sought American visas and through her daring, extraordinary efforts obtained a rare exit permit from wartime Berlin in February 1940. But his father was imprisoned and detained in the Soviet Union and did not reach the U.S. until October 1946.

The young Frankel attended public schools in New York City and then Columbia College, where he edited The Daily Spectator and began part-time work for The New York Times in his sophomore year. He received his B.A. and an M.A. in American government from Columbia.

He joined The Times, where he spent his entire career as a full-time reporter in 1952. After two years in the army, he was sent to Vienna in November 1956 to help cover the Hungarian Revolution and the ensuing refugee crisis. From 1957 to 1960 he was one of two Times correspondents in Moscow, covering the thaw in U.S.-Soviet cultural relations and the simultaneous Cold War diplomatic tensions.

He moved to Washington, becoming diplomatic correspondent, White House correspondent and finally was chief Washington correspondent and head of the paper’s Washington bureau.

Back in New York in 1976, he became Sunday editor, then editor of the editorial page and finally executive editor from 1986 until his retirement in 1994. He wrote a column for The New York Times Magazine from 1995 until 2000.

Frankel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for reporting on President Nixon’s visit to china the previous year. He is the author of an autobiography, The Times of My Life and My Life With The Times (Random House, 1999) and of High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis (Random House Publishing group, 2004).

He and his wife, Joyce Purnick, a former Times editor and columnist, live in New York City.

Max Frankel is one of 10 distinguished refugees who were honored by the International Rescue Committee at our 2010 Freedom Award Dinner in New York City.  Check back each Monday for a new story of a refugee who has fled tyranny and persecution and who has made the most of the opportunity to begin again and thrive in the U.S.

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