Schlesinger, Joe

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Schlesinger, Joe

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1928-2019

History

Josef (Joe) Schlesinger was a Canadian foreign correspondent, television journalist, and author. He was born to a devout Jewish family in Vienna, Austria, in 1928, and raised in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia). After Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1938, he and his younger brother Ernest were sent to England by his parents as part of the Kindertransport, organized by Englishman Nicholas Winton, that rescued 669 Jewish children. His parents were later killed in the Holocaust. Schlesinger would later appear in and narrate the 2011 documentary Nicky's Family about Winton and the Kindertransport.
Schlesinger pursued a journalism career after the war, first working at the Prague bureau of the Associated Press in 1948 as a translator. He fled Czechoslovakia again in 1950, after its Communist government began arresting journalists. He emigrated to Canada, arriving at Pier 21 in Halifax and travelling to Vancouver to join his brother, who had emigrated to Canada earlier under the Canadian Jewish War Orphans Project.
After studying at the University of British Columbia and editing The Ubyssey, Schlesinger started reporting for the Vancouver Province newspaper, before moving to the Toronto Daily Star. He then left Canada and edited for United Press International in London and the International Herald Tribune in Paris.
It was in Paris that Schlesinger met Myra “Mike” Kemmer, who was stationed there as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. They married and eventually had two daughters, Léah and Ann. Mike Schlesinger was primarily responsible for the preservation of Joe’s news scripts and other materials related to his professional life. As Léah Schlesinger later wrote:
[S]he supported him, stood by him and was incredibly, incredibly proud of him. As anyone who knows him even slightly has heard him say, she was the center of his life… she was the force that kept him grounded when all else was chaos and loss. [She was] both the person who stood by his side during all those decades, and … the person who loving archived all of these documents for posterity… because she believed in the importance of what he did and the passion with which he did it.
After Mike died in 2001 Joe penned a heartfelt obituary that was published in the Globe and Mail.
Schlesinger returned to Canada in 1966 and joined the CBC, eventually becoming executive producer of The National and providing occasional on-air commentary on world news events. However, he left his management position and returned to reporting in 1970, moving to Hong Kong as the CBC’s Far East correspondent. He would go on to serve as the CBC's senior foreign correspondent in various assignments around the world: China, Vietnam, Europe, Iran, the United States, Nicaragua, Africa, and the Middle East, to name a few. In 1989 he returned to Czechoslovakia to report on the Velvet Revolution in Prague, when the country’s Communist government fell.
In 1990, Joe Schlesinger published his autobiography, Time Zones: a Journalist in the World, which became a bestseller. After reporting on the 1990-91 Gulf War he returned to Canada, and was appointed chief political correspondent for The National. He was later promoted to managing editor of CBC News, producing commentaries and documentaries for CBC’s Prime Time News. He retired as a full-time reporter in 1994 but continued to produce essays and special reports for CBC News. Later that decade he hosted several foreign news magazine programmes on CBC Newsworld, including Foreign Assignment (shared with Ian Hanomansing), and Schlesinger. He continued to produce occasional documentaries for CBC and write commentaries for the CBC News website until he was well into his eighties. For example, in 2015 he wrote about the plight of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Canada – as a former refugee himself he urged Canadians to show compassion rather than fear and resentment. His final piece for the CBC was published in September 2016, on that year’s U.S. presidential election.
During the course of his career Schlesinger was nominated for 18 Gemini Awards, winning three: "Best Reportage" (1987, 1992), and "Best News Magazine Segment" (2004). He also received the Gordon Sinclair Award for "Best Performance by a Broadcast Journalist" (1987), and the John Drainie ACTRA Award (1997), and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation in 2009. In 2016, he was inducted to the CBC News Hall of Fame. Schlesinger also received honorary doctorates from UBC (1992), the Royal Military College of Canada (1997), Dalhousie University (2000), Carleton University (2010), Queen’s University (2010), and the University of Alberta (2011). He was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1994.
After his “retirement” Joe Schlesinger lived in Toronto with his second wife, Judith Levene. He died in 2019, at the age of 90, after a long illness.

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