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Victor Bienstock, Former JTA Editor, Dead at 79

Victor Bienstock, former editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, died Friday in Boca Raton, Fla., of a heart attack. He was 79 years old. Funeral services were held there Sunday.

Bienstock, one of the first war correspondents to write about the Nazi death camps in Europe, devoted his life to the cause of Jewish journalism as well as to the future of Jewish journalists. In what was probably the last article he wrote as a columnist for American Jewish newspapers, he described his career in journalism, and particularly Jewish journalism, of which this month would have marked the beginning of his 59th year.

Born May 21, 1908 in Hartford, Connecticut, Bienstock began his career as a cub reporter on The New York World. He wrote that his Jewish-ness clearly colored his outlook of general news. “I was always aware of the fact that, being Jewish, I could not detach myself personally and regard with complete objectivity developments affecting the Jewish wellbeing. I suspect that the heightened sensitivity to racism, religious bias and prejudice that lay in my Jewish subconscious made me more alert to discrimination in all its forms against others wherever it was manifested.”

Although his prior contacts with the Jewish world were limited, he said, “my sense of Jewish kinship flowered when I moonlighted to assist the staff at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.”

The year was 1929, and the occasion was the outbreak of Arab anti-Jewish riots in Palestine. Four years later, with the advent of Adolph Hitler to power in Germany, Bienstock by design became a totally Jewish journalist, resigning from The New York Herald Tribune, where he was editor of the Tribune news service, to become managing editor of the JTA in New York from 1933-35.

‘SENSE OF JEWISHNESS . . . NEVER LEFT ME’

“My sense of Jewishness was something that never left me,” he wrote. Even when he had worked on general news (he was a correspondent in London for the London Morning Post) he would go out evenings to search for Jewish news, to the point of near obsession.

From 1935-40, he worked in London as JTA’s chief foreign service editor, where he met his wife, Rebecca Kosiner, who was the bookkeeper in the London office. They returned to New York in 1940, where he became chief foreign editor of the Overseas News Agency (ONA), the JTA subsidiary dealing in more general news about the Nazi-occupied countries.

In June 1944, working for the ONA, Bienstock accompanied the Allied Fifth Army in its liberation of southern France. After filing his stories, if he had no other leads for Jewish news, Bienstock would check out the tombstones in the local Jewish cemetery and then look for the survivors.

He wrote that he didn’t believe in covering up news that might portray Jews in an unfavorable light. “Jews like everyone else, I believed, must be made aware of their sins and errors to be able to guard against them.”

Between 1950-70, Bienstock was general manager, editor and vice president of JTA.

CONTINUED TO WRITE AFTER RETIREMENT

In 1970, after his retirement from JTA, he became executive editor of the New York Jewish Week, where he remained for three years until he retired to Florida. There, although technically retired, he continued to write. From 1975 until his death, he wrote an editorial page column for the Boca Raton Daily News.

He was also secretary of the American War Correspondents Association (AWCA) from 1944-52, as well as chairman of the AWCA Freedom-of-Press Committee, and a member of the National Press Club in Washington. In 1946, he received the U.S. War Department’s Citation for his services as a war correspondent.

John Kayston, executive vice president emeritus of the JTA, recalled his years working with Bienstock: “Vic Bienstock and I worked together at JTA for almost half a century. During these turbulent years, the years of the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel, Vic Bienstock did a yeoman job for the Jewish community by advancing and improving the standards of Jewish journalism. He made a great contribution to JTA and thus to the entire Jewish community. Because of his journalistic skill, devotion and experience, JTA has over the years become one of Jewry’s most effective instruments.”

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