Joachim Prinz the forgotten Civil Rights hero

I have been reading the book 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster. In the book he mentioned that the hero who he always refers to as Ferguson was influenced, as so many other people were in 1960s, by the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the book he mentioned that as a local boy raised in Newark New Jersey he was proud that one of the speakers in the famous 1963 Civil rights meeting in Washington where Dr Martin Luther King made his most famous speech “I have a dream” was his own local Rabbi, Rabbi Prinz.

I have to admit That I had never really heard of this person. I therefore decided to research him. I found out that he had been a young Rabbi in the early 1930’s in Berlin where he bravely stood up to the Nazis until he had to flee in 1937 to go to the United States where he settled in Ferguson’s beloved Newark, a position as Rabbi at the Temple B’nai Abraham where he worked until his retirement in 1977.

Prinz was able to see that the country he moved to had some things in common with the country he had fled. In 1963 he gave the speech just before Dr. King’s famous “Dream” speech. His speech, although not as intense or as well known was still very powerful as can be seen in the following video:

I think the most powerful part of the speech is as follows:

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

Prinz could see comparisons with the ghettos of the American cities and the experience of the Jews of Europe. The outsiders of their societies. Victims of having their rights infringed. People who were persecuted, victimised and unable to achieve their potential. He saw the fight for black civil rights as being the same fight that he had fought in Germany and he was able to strike up a powerful friendship with Martin Luther King, the leader of the movement.

In the following picture he is standing next to Dr King when they met President Kennedy after the “March on Washington” was over.

He was involved in marches in the American south where he was never too far from his friend Dr King.

I have been so pleased that a modern novel has led me to find out about a man who deserves to be remembered a lot more than has been the case in modern history. Perhaps in a very small way this post has helped to rekindle the memory of an undoubtedly brave and significant figure in the fight for human rights.

About malbell

I am a retired Teaching and Learning Consultant. Previously I was a Primary school headteacher and deputy headteacher. I enjoy reading, doing MOOCs and learning new things.
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