Book Royalties: Giving Back

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The term ‘royalty’ has been associated with rights granted by a sovereign ruler to an individual since the late 15th century. That is a fitting term for the share of profit given by the publisher who has almost complete control over the fate of an author’s body of work that represents many hours of hard, sweat-soaked labor.

When I promised that all royalties from sales of A Place They Called Home would be donated for good causes, I wondered if there ever would be any royalties. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that our book generated a modest sum of 435 Euros in 2019. Now we have the chance to give something back. Just as the book project was supported by the Stiftung Zurückgeben, a foundation that ‘gives back’ to Jewish women living in Germany, we can do our small part to help repair all that is bent and broken in the world.

After consulting with the co-authors of our book on reclaiming German citizenship, we are making the following donations:

These donations will help people living on the streets in Berlin, needy Holocaust survivors, victims of police violence in America, and people suffering from Covid-19 in South Africa. Donating the royalties has given me a chance to reconnect with my wonderful group of co-authors and offers me a small sense of solace after the recent months of feeling helpless and frustrated during the global pandemic.

Andy Warhol painting by Olivia Swarthout. Follow Olivia’s art on instagram at instagram.com/grendelsfather

Stitch by Stitch, Solace during the Pandemic

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We have always been a family of knitters. It’s what we do to relax and pass the time when we are indoors. It’s just as soothing yet more enduring than a cup of chicken noodle soup. A good knitting project occupies more time than a game of Monopoly or Ticket to Ride. And the soft yarn brings relief to fingers tired from too many hours at the keyboard. Our local yarn shop, Frau Wolle, is open during this time for individual appointments and even does yarn deliveries. To knit my way through the pandemic, I’m working on my first garment, a tank top that is off to a dubious start.

Aside from knitting, I scour the news each day for a sign that there is “Licht am Ende des Tunnels” (light at the end of the tunnel). This weekend I came across an item on German idioms for getting through a crisis. The one that stood out for me was “In Der Ruhe liegt die Kraft” (Strength lies in serenity). Berliners, who can come across as dour and grumpy in an average daily encounter, mostly exude a sense of calm in the face of the coronavirus. Toilet paper doesn’t seem to be as scarce here as it is in some places, though recently we’ve had a hard time finding flour. Not known for hugging and kissing, Germans also seem to have no problem following social distance guidelines. Cooperation and Ordnung, along with trust in government and the health care system, are generally the norm.

Berlin’s calm atmosphere is reflected within my household where four of us have been mostly secluded for the past two weeks without having any family arguments. On Friday night our older son Avery who is stuck in Southampton joined us for Shabbat via Zoom, something we never did before the pandemic. As we lit the candles and recited the blessing, his presence felt almost more real than virtual, bringing us together in peace for a few transitory moments. Like our daughter Olivia, he may also rejoin the family in Berlin if the crisis continues to disrupt his engineering work.

Our family harmony is bound to be disrupted as we work, study, teach, and do everything else from home in the coming weeks. But we are fortunate to be healthy and we’ll knit our way through the crisis, stitch by stitch, not to mention keeping the fridge stocked with wine, baking bread, taking long walks, and staying connected with loved ones online.

Places to Call Home

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Winterfeldtplatz, December 2010

Nine years ago I was learning not to pet peoples’ dogs or smile at strangers like we did back in Montana. Parenting took up a lot more of my time than it does nowadays with only one very independent tenth grader left at home. And I was obsessed with eating giant cheesy brezels with pumpkin seeds on top.

Every year since we moved to Berlin seems to bring as much change as continuity. Retirement planning was a big focus this year, and though it sounds boring, the outcome of our efforts was to swap our house in Montana for a pied-à-terre near my sister in California. We won’t be using it for a while though since Brian and I are both still working full-time, in my case in a new position at a small private international university. But, as I wrote in my essay Reflections on Inhabiting Two Cultures, family ties exert a strong pull and keep me rooted in the U.S. as well as Berlin.

Cutting back on writing this year after A Place They Called Home was published gave me a chance to discover and contribute to other projects documenting a Jewish return to Germany. I especially enjoyed meeting Aaron Lucas, whose forthcoming documentary, I’ll Be Frank, traces his journey through the recorded and animated memories of his Opa who fled Germany in 1939. Aaron is one of the many third generation descendants of German Jews who have moved to Berlin, in his case from Sydney, Australia.

Although 2019 was marred by continuing reports of anti-Semitic incidents and far-right political gains in a number of German state elections, Berliners still turn out regularly in record numbers to oppose the forces of hate that seek to undo the democratic advances of the last 70 years. It’s disappointing that the sensationalised headlines that sow fear and evoke outrage are often followed by scant analysis, a theme I explored in my recent piece, How the Media Distorts Public Perceptions of anti-Semitism.

Each year we put our German passports to good use and are fortunate that the big kids still like to take family trips with us. My dream destination for 2020 is Ethiopia, our son Sam’s birthplace. But if Avery moves to Italy as planned and Olivia continues her studies in Scotland, we won’t be lacking for European getaways either.

Shelf Life

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I never expected fame or fortune from a book about German Jews reclaiming their German citizenship. In fact, the positive reviews and publicity for A Place They Called Home quite exceeded my expectationsMy eleven co-authors and I, most of us novices in the publishing world, were elated that our stories reached, and even touched, an audience of readers interested in our journey towards citizenship and reconciliation. The criticism I feared did not materialize (though it still could!!) and I allowed myself to indulge in a transient sense of pride in our collective accomplishment.

Gratitude and fulfillment notwithstanding, I’ve now learned firsthand that it can be even harder to market a book than to write and edit one. With no agent and a niche publisher of limited resources, I’ve hardly been deluged with speaking invitations. Readers regularly tell me they are unable to get their reviews approved for posting on Amazon.com, a likely factor contributing to sluggish sales. Plans for a soft cover edition and translation into German remain on the back burner. But there’s some good news too.

When the book was released at the Center for Jewish History in New York last December, I made a commitment that any royalties would be used “to foster a robust civil society in which non-native Germans — whatever their religious, ethnic, or cultural background – can make Germany their Heimat.” Our first royalty payment has just been donated to the International Rescue Committee – Deutschland. I plan to do some more targeted marketing towards libraries and academics this fall and hope that the book will generate additional proceeds to contribute to a worthy organization.

In a news climate filled with reports of anti-Semitism, it’s important that we continue to share positive stories and experiences about Jewish life in Germany. Co-author Yermi Brenner has just published a moving personal essay for the Huff Post, I Migrated To The Country That Ethnically Cleansed My Ancestors. If you have ideas for articles, interviews, or speaking engagements to promote the book, please contact me!

BBC’s ‘Heart and Soul’ Comes to Berlin

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audience

My efforts to find a venue for the Berlin book launch of A Place They Called Home had left me frustrated until I met the team at Archetyp Cafe. Owned by a couple of brothers from a German Jewish family, the cafe became our living room for last month’s lively and intimate Sunday afternoon conversation about the “new Jewish return to Germany.” With coffee, home-made cookies, and wine to celebrate the occasion, we delivered our stories into the hands of a warm, receptive, and standing room only audience.

Besides the friends, colleagues, and other Berliners who attended, we were joined by reporters from the BBC and the Jüdische Allgemeine. The BBC’s ‘Heart and Soul’ in depth radio documentary Jewish and Returning to Germany has just been aired and the Jüdische Allgemeine recently published our first German language coverage, Rückkehr nach Berlin. I couldn’t be more pleased with the favorable coverage of the book, including reviews in the Washington Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Co-authors Yermi Brenner, Maya Shwayder, and Sylvia Finzi (featured below) easily connected with the audience as they each took the spotlight. We all fielded lots of great questions, Eva Schweitzer (publisher) once again sold all the books she brought along, and Brian Crawford took these amazing photos.

With all the excitement of book launches and press interviews behind me, I’ve taken the first steps on a new project to research restored citizenship for Jewish families from Austria, Lithuania, and other points in Eastern Europe.

To keep things interesting, I’ve also become a volunteer with Rent A Jew, an organization that promotes encounters between Jews and non-Jews in Germany to break down stereotypes and misconceptions. Don’t be fooled by the name, the service is free!


Berlin Book Launch – March 17th

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“A Place They Called Home. Reclaiming Citizenship. Stories of a New Jewish Return to Germany” Edited by Donna Swarthout (in English)

WHEN: Sunday, March 17, 3pm-5pm
WHERE: Archetyp Café, Marienburger Str. 5, 10405 Berlin

Donna Swarthout and co-authors will discuss their stories of returning to Germany and reclaiming the German citizenship that was stripped from their families. The event will take place at Archetyp Café, a new coffee shop and cultural center in Prenzlauer Berg that is set to promote the common good in its neighborhood, the city, and beyond.

Books will be available for purchase from Berlinica Publishing LLC.
Complimentary light refreshments will be provided, separate from the café’s standard menu.

The event will be held in English and German.

Buchpräsentation: “A Place They Called Home. Reclaiming Citizenship. Stories of a New Jewish Return to Germany” Herausgeberin: Donna Swarthout (in englischer Sprache)

WANN: Sonntag, 17. März, 15:00-17:00 Uhr
WO: Archetyp Café, Marienburger Str. 5, 10405 Berlin

Donna Swarthout und Co-Autorinnen sprechen über ihre Rückkehr nach Deutschland und über die Wiedererlangung ihrer deutschen Staatsangehörigkeit, die ihren Familien einst entzogen wurde. Die Veranstaltung findet im jüngst im Prenzlauer Berg eröffneten Archetyp Café statt, das sich als Kaffeestube und Kulturzentrum der Förderung des Gemeinwohls verschrieben hat: im Kiez, in der Stadt und darüber hinaus.

Das Buch (in englischer Sprache) kann während der Veranstaltung vom Verlag Berlinica Publishing LLC erworben werden.
Über das übliche Café-Angebot hinaus erwartet die Gäste ein kleiner Imbiss mit kleinen Happen und Getränken aufs Haus.

Die Veranstaltung wird in englischer und deutscher Sprache gehalten.

Photo credit: Lee Davis

January News

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My recent ‘featured’ Times of Israel column, I’m Jewish, American and happy to live in Berlin, sparked some outrage and hateful messages from people like Nanette (“I spit on your post!” she screamed into my inbox). Ah well, naysayers like Nanette can’t seem to digest positive reports from Jews who live in Germany. All the more reason to keep writing and seeking to promote understanding of the different ways to lead a Jewish life.

Nasty comments aside, the year is off to a wonderful start. Though this blog is on the back burner, I’ll continue to post occasional news and announcements. So here’s the latest:

Shortly after last month’s book launch at the Leo Baeck Institute, the New York Post published an in depth story, Why American Jews are moving to Germany, that explores the reasons why my family and some of my co-authors chose to reclaim our German citizenship. It’s refreshing to see an American newspaper (a tabloid no less!) provide coverage of Jewish topics that diverges from the usual narrative.

We had fun at the photo shoot in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

My new book, A Place They Called Home, got stuck in a major holiday distribution backlog, leading me into endless and ultimately fruitless communications with Amazon customer service reps. It has finally started shipping and a couple of book reviews are in the works.

Hilde Schramm

The foundation that supported my book project, the Stiftung Zurückgeben, was chosen for a 2019 Obermayer German Jewish History Award, along with Hilde Schramm, one of its founders. Last week I was honored to attend the awards ceremony and see Hilde and the foundation receive the recognition they deserve for supporting the creative pursuits of Jewish women in Germany. Hilde is the daughter of Hitler’s chief architect and one of his key ministers. You can read about her amazing life story here: Reinvented Legacy: Nazi’s Paintings Fund Foundation for Jews

A Place They Called Home: Event Photos

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A Place They Called Home. Reclaiming Citizenship. Stories of a New Jewish Return to Germany was introduced at the Leo Baeck Institute’s Center for Jewish History in New York on December 10th. Yale historian David Sorkin gave introductory remarks, I spoke about the development and significance of the book, and we had a lively panel discussion moderated by William Weitzer, LBI’s Executive Director.

Here are some photos from the book launch which was attended by over 100 people, including seven of eleven co-authors. We missed having Nancy, Ruth, Yermi, and Pippa there for the celebration.

from left: Rabbi Kevin Hale, me, Carole Fabian, Maya Shwayder, Peter Meyer, Sally Hess, Sylvia Finzi (not pictured: Dena Romero)

Carole and Donna

Introducing the book — a special moment for me.

Donna and Sally

panel discussion with David Sorkin (L) and William Weitzer (R)

And here’s our first news coverage: British Jews claim right to German Citizenship before Brexit.

December 10th Book Release

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A Place They Called Home. Reclaiming Citizenship. Stories of a New Jewish Return to Germany, my edited collection of essays published by Berlinica and supported by the Stiftung Zurückgeben, will appear on December 10, 2018. This is the first book to give a voice to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who reclaim German citizenship.

From Berlinica’s press release:

A Place They Called Home includes stories from Pippa Goldschmidt, the Edinburgh-based author of The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space, Rabbi Kevin Hale from Massachusetts, who wrote a mezuzah for the Auschwitz Jewish Center’s Café Bergson in Oswiecim, Poland, TV journalist Maya Shwayder, who has covered topics from LGBT civil rights to the United Nations, and Yermi Brenner, an Israeli reporter who covers migration and minorities for The Jewish Daily Forward, Al Jazeera, and Huff Post.

The Leo Baeck Institute is hosting a book launch event at the Center for Jewish History in New York on December 10th at 6:30 pm. I will be there along with many of the book’s contributors, and historian David Sorkin will give remarks on the history of citizenship and Jewish emancipation in Europe.

A Place They Called Home is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at bookstores all over.

And last but not least, here’s my latest blog post for The Times of Israel: Where’s the Good News About the Jews? A Report from Berlin.

What’s Next?

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The writing, editing, and proofreading are done. The hand-wringing, fretting, and kvetching are almost behind me. My co-authors, a sundry mix of descendants of German Jews spanning generations and continents, have stuck with me on an uphill path that slowly twisted towards its final destination. Together we have produced a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Our book, A Place They Called Home, is scheduled for release on December 1st and can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.

So what’s next? Maybe not much for a while. But I can’t help thinking that it’s important to build on whatever momentum comes from my stubborn pursuit to broaden the narrative of the post-Holocaust Jewish experience with Germany. I’ve tried to bring new voices to this narrative, hoping to have a modest impact on public perceptions and opinion. Few Jewish opinion leaders in the U.S. or Germany today represent my views. That’s why I’ll continue to voice my perspective, whether through writing, public speaking, or even political action.

I’m toying with the idea of creating a speakers bureau to bring a diversity of Jewish voices into German schools and communities. I’ll try to also contribute and promote more positive news coverage of Germany’s Jewish population, like the recent reports on a community initiative to rebuild the Fraenkelufetr synagogue in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, an area with a large immigrant population. And there’s no question we need more interfaith projects and initiatives. German Jews, with our history of loss and displacement, are uniquely positioned to support migrants and refugees who’ve come to Germany after fleeing their homelands.

I contemplated my next steps over a family birthday dinner on the sidewalk patio of one of my favorite restaurants this week. As you can see, Avery and Sam were very enthusiastic about whatever project I decide to launch or join next. They’re used to hearing about all my latest plans and ideas. And they’re a pretty good cheerleading squad too. My greatest hope is that my book, this blog (which is nearing its end), and next endeavors will leave a valuable legacy for my children.