Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cousin Maurits: A driving force ... in journalism

(Part II on Maurits Kopuit, our cousin)
"The death of Mau Kopuit has left many in Jewish Netherlands stunned. Many had deep differences of opinion with him, yet he was appreciated and respected by everyone. Not in the last place because Mau Kopuit with his inexhaustible energy, humor and unrelenting hold of other people eventually stuck to his convictions and made the New Israelite Weekly what it is today: an independent, critical news and opinion magazine in which the entire Jewish community knows he represented them. A newspaper, his newspaper, high-level journalism plays a vital role in the Jewish community. Jewish Netherlands without Mau Kopuit is hard to imagine."
   -- NIW tribute story, February 1992    
     Before I detail the impact of Maurits Kopuit's life and newspaper career, I will write about his driving.
My mother (right) and her older sister, Annie,
with their first cousin, the young Mau Kopuit.
     Behind the wheel of his compact car, Maurits was a madman ... and a magician. Riding with him was an adventure.
     One of my mother's favorite memories of her first cousin was Maurits, at about age 8 or 9, riding up to Mom's family's apartment on his bicycle ... without his hands on the handlebar. "He was a daredevil," she would say, laughing.
     Before Dad and I went to Amsterdam in 1991 -- my first trip back in 36 years -- Mom warned us about Maurits' driving. She had ridden with him on several trips back to The Netherlands.
      Amsterdam has many small streets strung alongside the numerous canals. Not much room there, and then there are the roads with streetcar tracks down the middle. No matter; Maurits raced up and down those streets; not speeding per se, but not being all that careful. He knew exactly where he was going.
      Don't know about others, but I was holding on.
      Then there was the day we were on a four-lane loop around Amsterdam, heading out of town. Suddenly Maurits realized we were not going the right direction for our destination. No problem. No traffic was coming from the other direction, so at 45 miles per hour -- or maybe 60 -- he simply U-turned the car.
       I think we were nearly back in downtown Amsterdam when I began breathing again.
        Don't know how many traffic tickets, wrecks or dents Maurits had driving. But I do know that auto racing's loss was journalism's gain.
        Fortunately, he was as fearless as a journalist as he was behind the wheel.
Always the dedicated, tireless, opinionated but fair journalist
     He worked as a proofreader, then a writer at the Algemeen Handelsblad -- the liberal Amsterdam-based paper (published 1828-1970) that employed his father before World War II. From early on in his writing career, he also was a correspondent and contributor of articles for newspapers in Israel and the United States.
      But the New Israelite Weekly (NIW) editor position is the one he wanted, and he took the job in 1971, but not until after nine months of negotiations as he sought -- and received -- full control of editorial direction.
      The paper, still in operation, has been in existence since 1865, and Mau held the editor's position longer than anyone in the last 97 years.
      When it reached the 120-year mark in 1985 -- commemorated by a 120-page special edition and a series of grand events in Amsterdam -- Maurits was granted knighthood in the Order of Orange Nassau, a prestigious honor given by the Dutch government to people for their work for the good of society. 
      In a 1985 interview, he described the NIW as "a stern paper in which nothing and no one is spared."   
      After he took over as editor, the staff was expanded, the number of pages each week expanded and, significantly, the circulation jumped 40 percent.
     Mostly, from what I surmised reading the tributes to him after his death, he was fair -- the paper did not shy from controversy within the Jewish community, presenting both sides of issues, and thus often irritating people -- religious leaders, politicians/government officials, regular readers -- on one side or the other.
       And one great attribute was that he could handle criticism, could deal with it -- that is an admirable trait in the newspaper business (or any business).
       He did not have great belief in Jewish-Christian dialogue, although his paper always had a page of news from the Christian sector. In an interview he called the so-called Jewish-Christian dialog "spielerie" (games-playing), "the kind liberal Jews are interested in."
       He was vigilant about anti-semitism; it was one element he fought in print and in person. He had seen enough before and after World War II to last a lifetime.
       If at times he had a sharp writing style and a sharp tongue, it was only part of the job. Because in reality, Maurits was -- as I noted in the previous blog -- a compassionate soul.
       From the "Goodbye to a Friend" tribute written by G. Philip Mok: "Mau seemed hard. But really, he was the opposite; he radiated so much feeling that was not possible to think of him without feeling. There were people, readers and listeners, employees and opponents, notables and what not, who ... were upset when he brought out painful truths about the limelight, when he "hung out the dirty laundry.
      "... But Mau spoke nicely. He was a gentleman, small in stature, [cheerful and lively], but in the end a gentleman. And above all, he was a journalist, with an unerring nose for news, a keen understanding of people and a sense of reality that, for one example, brought many an ambassador of the State of Israel to anger and despair."
      And, yet, no question, as the editor of a Jewish newspaper, he was a staunch supporter of Israel. But that fairness principle held true.
      Mok's column again: "... Mau loved Israel, felt at home. His son Philip lives there -- Mau joked that he was merely 'on the other end of the telephone line' -- but the deep love he [Mau] felt for the Jewish state did not give it a blank check with him.
       "Mau stuck to his own standards, and to the realization that people are enemies, you must connect people with peace, and that peace can require a price. He reminded that in a free world he could reserve to have an opinion on those enemies and even about the price he could deem reasonable for peace."   
October 1955: Henny and Maurits,
newlyweds in Amsterdam
         Mau was sensitive to the plight of the Jews, especially in The Netherlands. Mok recalled Mau telling him that, "I know the social problems, so I deal with the trauma and wounds of our Jewish people with caution in my newspaper. Otherwise the outsiders think we are only just nebbisj (victims) of war. But we are brave, we are a proud community, for centuries."
       And that pride came through in a book Maurits wrote late in his life and career, a collection of short stories based on his experiences during the Holocaust years and afterward.
Henny and Mau: Some 2 1/2 decades later
 at their daughter's wedding.
     Mok quoted him as saying, "I'm proud of Israel as I am proud of The Netherlands. The Netherlands is my fatherland; Israel is my motherland. What else can I be but proud. Without The Netherlands, I can exist because Israel is there. That made me a different person than I would have been. Israel is my Jewish insurance, the policy of my identity. In Israel I have grown, by generations before me."
      What my parents most remember, and what my sister Elsa and I recall, was Maurits' sense of humor and fun. Like my mother, he could break into song; he knew so many tunes.
      He would laugh outrageously -- "infectious" is how one tribute piece described his laugh -- and, even after arguments about newspaper work or the world situation, he was quick not to hold grudges and brought the people around him to even keel.
      His sense of humor was recalled by Rabbi Lody van de Kamp, who conducted his funeral service at the family's request: "Mau always said, 'As long as I work at the newspaper, I will get a big lewaje (burial).' "
      Van de Kamp said Maurits' vision of the NIW and the way he managed the news derived from his experiences in World War II: "I once went into hiding. No more. From now on, I will say and write what I will."
      NIW's presentation often did not please its readers, they did not like what they saw in the mirror. "What they did not realize," Van de Kamp said, "was that Mau himself held a mirror."
      There are now seven Kopuit grandchildren; the three oldest boys -- born before February 1992 -- were the ones Maurits knew. Most of them now are based in Israel, even a couple of the (daughter Heleen) Boorgenicht family in Belgium.
      Those grandkids have been told, and reminded, how proud their Opa Maurits was of Henny, Heleen and Philip -- and the family they built. The Van Thyns, in Louisiana, far from Holland, Israel and Belgium, are privileged to be an extended part of that family.
      And all of us are proud that Maurits Kopuit was for Jewish Netherlands, as one tribute put it, "one of its most memorable personalities."


  1. From Philip Kopuit: After so many years you brought my Dad back alive for a few moments. Thanks for this blog. It's so real. He was a great and compassionate journalist, but more than that he had that typical undescribable before-the-war Jewish humour.

  2. From Netty Matthews: Sounds like my kind of driver!

  3. From Kitty van der Woude: [Her sister] Reina [Spier] said that Mau was vain enough to have loved your article.

    1. Maurits was pretty sure of himself, and I did not write that he was humble. Nevertheless, all of us had great admiration for his talents and even more so for his personality.