Veterans: Moshe Aumann: From Frankfurt to New York

"Israel's Declaration of Independence and the war that followed electrified me," Aumann says.

Moshe Aumann 88 248 (photo credit: Joe Charlaff)
Moshe Aumann 88 248
(photo credit: Joe Charlaff)
Moshe Aumann, brother of Robert John Aumann, Nobel Prize winner in economics, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1926. His mother was born in South Africa but grew up in London. "She met my father on one of her frequent visits to Frankfurt to visit a relative. Her maiden name was Landau, and at their wedding someone commented that she lost her 'Land' but gained a 'Mann.'" An interesting aspect of Aumann's childhood was his nanny, a Christian nun. "She would tell us about life and answer our questions, but never spoke about religion. That was my first contact with the Christian world, and that probably planted the seed for much later in my life, when, as an Israeli diplomat, I was given the task of bringing Israel's message to the American Christian population." Nazism was already making its presence felt when Aumann and his younger brother started school. They would encounter violent gangs of Hitler Youth on their way to school and found roundabout ways to avoid encountering them. Attacks usually took place in relatively unpopulated streets. They learned to stay away from parades because of the order to raise one's hand in a Nazi salute. "We felt the Nazi boot." On the street corners where newspapers were sold, Der Stürmer, a viciously anti-Semitic newspaper, was on prominent display. LIFE BEFORE ISRAEL In 1938 the family fled to the United States to escape the Nazis. "My father lost all his money from his textile business because he was forced to sell for next to nothing. What was most important was that our lives were saved." They lived in New York. Moshe and Robert first went to public school and then to Yeshiva High School. About his choice of career, Aumann said, "I always wanted to be a journalist - but I also wanted to come to Israel. The events of 1948 with Israel's Declaration of Independence, and the war that followed, electrified me. It was Israel coming back to life and I wanted to be a part of it, but I decided to get started in journalism first, and then go to Israel." He became discouraged after writing to several prominent journalists in New York about his prospects of breaking into journalism. He was told it would be impossible because of his Shabbat observance. He tried to study business administration but gave up after a year. "I decided to go back to my first love, journalism, and graduated from City College of New York in 1950 with a degree in English, journalism and social sciences, and decided to launch my career in a country where Shabbat would not pose a problem." ALIYA The same year, at 24, Aumann made aliya with a school buddy, sailing from New York on the s.s. Jerusalem. His brother followed him in 1956 and his mother arrived a year later, after his father died. LIFE SINCE ALIYA Aumann settled in Jerusalem. He lived in a boarding house on Rehov Ibn Ezra, run by a Mrs. Goldstein. The conditions were very primitive. Mrs. Goldstein kept her food cold with huge ice blocks bought from a vendor on a horse-drawn cart. "My first job was a proofreader for The Jerusalem Post. After working a few weeks in that position, I was hired by Mrs. Polly Van Leer as assistant editor of Chronicles - News of the Past." After the editor resigned, he was promoted to that position. When Aumann became editor, Chronicles changed its format from book form to that of a modern newspaper and was sold on newsstands. He related an anecdote about a group from the States who were on a tour when one of the ladies asked the tour guide to take them to the inauguration of the Temple. The guide had no idea what she was talking about. She explained that she had seen a headline in a newspaper about the Temple's inauguration at the hotel's newsstand. "Lady," the guide informed the disappointed visitor, "I'm afraid you are 3,000 years behind the times." Four years later he left Chronicles to become managing editor of Here and Now, an English weekly published by the Mapai party. During this time, The Jerusalem Post offered him a job as night editor working four nights a week, but after sitting in on a session with the night editor, he decided that the pressure was too great so he stayed with Here and Now. Shortly before the Sinai Campaign in October 1956, the Foreign Ministry put out a notice that it was looking for writers and editors as it needed to beef up its PR. Aumann applied for the job, was accepted and worked in that capacity until 1961, when he received a posting as consul in New York. After a brief spell back in Jerusalem, he was transferred to the embassy in Washington where he served as consul-general for the Mid-Atlantic states. Due to his special interest in Jewish relations with churches, he became minister-counselor for relations with the churches. His brief was to explain Israeli positions to the US Christian public, and since then he has taken a special interest in developments connected with that subject. On his return to Israel, he resumed his position as the Foreign Ministry's chief writer and editor in English until he retired in 1991 with the rank of minister. In 1979, Aumann's wife, Mady, died of cancer - a fate that was to await their daughter Giti, who passed away in 2005, leaving a husband and four children. DAILY LIFE As an 82-year-old retiree, Aumann leads a very active life, giving lectures and writing articles and book reviews. He still works occasionally for the Foreign Ministry doing editing and proofreading on their yearbook. Since his retirement, he has written a book titled Conflict and Connection: The Jewish-Christian-Israel Triangle which focuses on changes taking place in the major Christian churches regarding their attitude toward Judaism. The book, published in 2003, was translated into German. "This edition was published just in time for me to give former president [Moshe] Katsav a copy to give to the pope, who is of German origin." LANGUAGES English is his mother tongue, and he also speaks Hebrew, German and Yiddish. INTERESTS Aumann loves classical music and horseback riding. He played the violin in the high-school orchestra, and still likes to play occasionally. BEST THINGS ABOUT ISRAEL "You come to a country where Shabbat is not a problem, and where all the Jewish festivals and special days are part and parcel of the social and cultural life of the nation. It's your own country. It's a Jewish country, in the full sense of the word." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Don't burn your bridges. Come on a pilot trip. See what you want to do and what the prospects are of finding something in your field, and have the confidence that when you do come you are treading on firm ground." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: