Margrit Pittman, a working class journalist and lifelong advocate of world peace, equality, and socialism died Feb. 4 in New York City. She was 93.
Pittman served for many years on the staff of the Worker and its successor newspapers, the Daily World and the People’s Weekly World. Her lifelong partner in that endeavor was her journalist husband, John Pittman, an outstanding African American writer and editor. He was co-editor of the Daily World when it was launched in 1968. She served as editor of World Magazine and as editor of the editorial page of the Daily World.
Portside, an online website carries an obituary headlined “Margrit Pittman Presente” which reports that she was born Margrit Adler in 1919 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. As a teenager, she experienced the vicious anti-semitism and hatred of the working class unleashed by Adolf Hitler. She was unable to complete her formal education when the Nazis banned Jews from public schools and universities. German Jews were the targets of ruthless oppression, excluded from schools, ostracized, harassed, and publicly humiliated. It led ultimately to “The Holocaust,” the vast genocide in which millions of Jews and other victims were herded into concentration camps and executed.
One of Pittman’s aunts and her cousins were deported from France, disappearing into one of the death camps. Pittman experienced the solidarity of a teacher and of German friends, including non-Jewish friends, who risked their own personal safety to defend her rights. She joined the Internationaler Sozialstischer Kampfbund, an antifascist underground organization operating throughout Germany that was high on the Gestapo’s hit list.
She fled Germany at age 18 in 1938, settling in New York City during World War II where she helped organize the German-American Emergency Conference to Defeat Hitler. She was the managing editor and editor of the youth page of the antifascist newspaper, The German-American. It was the largest circulation German-language antifascist paper in the U.S. Bundles of the newspaper were distributed at German POW camps.
Pittman was denied U.S. citizenship until 1944 when her application was accepted. She then joined the Communist Party USA and later, she met and married John Pittman. In 1955, the couple moved to San Francisco with their young children, Carol, and John Peter. John Pittman served as editor of the West Coast People’s World.
In 1959, the family moved to Moscow where John and Margrit covered the Soviet Union for the Worker for three years. While there, they co-authored a book, “Peaceful Coexistence: Its Theory and Practice in the Soviet Union,” published in 1964 by International Publishers. They also co-authored “Sense and Nonsense About Berlin” in 1962.
In the late 1970s, Margrit Pittman was assigned to cover the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia while John served as the representative of the CPUSA on the Editorial Board of the World Marxist Review based in Prague. Her writing in that period reflected her belief that the GDR “epitomized the repudiation by the German people of the Nazi past,” the Portside obituary reports. She wrote a book “Encounters in Democracy: A U.S. Journalist’s View of the GDR” published in 1981.
During the years that she lived in Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic, she played a leading role in bringing trade unionists, including teachers and actors, writers and many others from the U.S. to the GDR to see for themselves what was going on in that country. Because of her efforts many in America were able to get an accurate picture of what life was like in a socialist country.
Pittman was also a grassroots organizer, a leader of Women Strike for Peace in San Francisco, an organizer of events in New York that were sponsored by the U.S. Committee for Friendship with the German Democratic Republic, the Communist Party USA, and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. In her later years living in cooperative housing in the Chelsea community of Manhattan, she was active in neighborhood and tenant associations, and the movement for universal health care as well as Chelsea Standup Against the War in Iraq.
Margrit Pittman is survived by two children, Carol Pittman and John Peter Pittman, and by four grandchildren.
A memorial meeting in New York City is planned for later this spring. Donations in her memory should be made to: Code Pink, Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, and Portside.
Photo: The Memorial to Victims of Fascism in Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic, featuring an eternal flame to the victims, was only blocks from an apartment that Margrit Pittman lived in during the 1980’s. The flame was extinguished after the GDR was absorbed into West Germany. Wikimedia Commons