The Woman Keeping Yorkville Alive

16 Feb 2015 | 10:46

By Vanesa Vennard Historian Kathy Jolowicz remembers like it was yesterday when she couldn't walk down 86th Street without hearing people speak German.

 She remembers when she could get authentic German food at mom-and-pop shops and when Christmas time meant the streets were ambushed with music, the polka and the waltz. She remembers when the Upper East Side was Yorkville, where everything from the old country was either imported or recreated to feel like home.

"It's my passion, its my heritage, it's my childhood," Jolowicz said, who was born and raised in Yorkville. "It was my Disney Land."

Jolowicz lived the memories that are now in picture frames on her walls and are written in massive books on her shelves.  But she shares those memories in exhibits and lectures and displays over 40 pictorial panels that are 30 by 40 inches wide, decorated with Yorkville facts and photos.

During her lectures, her topics shift according to what her audience wants to know.

"If it's a young group, they all want to know about the war, what was it like for Germans in the war," she said. "If I have an older group, they reminisce."

Jolowicz has been writing a book that covers German roots in New York City from the 1600s to the 1960s. It also covers the German's contributions to New York City and the Upper East Side when it was German Town, or Yorkville/Kleindeutschland.

When she started the book in 1988, she originally wanted to write a six-chapter book about Yorkville. However, the book has grown to 20 chapters as she continues to research and add information about Germans in the city.

"It's not that you just sit down and write a book," she said.  "There are so many details that have never been put together and that's what I'm trying to do now. It's not easy."

She also writes about her family. Her parents Ruth and Paul Jolowicz were Yorkville pioneers and moved to New York City in 1932 from Leipzig.

"When you write from the head, the chapters about my family and my experiences, and how they adapted to this country and how I grew up in the adaptation of their life, that was easy," she said.

Another topic she touched on was her family's experience adapting to America during World War I and II. At the time of the World Wars, Jolowicz said Jewish kids picked on her for being German American when she was younger.

"Germans still have a bad connotation, not so much the younger ones, but the Holocaust is kept alive, and rightly so," Jolowicz said. "I would have never condoned such a thing. What I'm trying to do with my book is to bring out the positive side to Germans."

Jolowicz started the German Language Learning Club in 1990 where she teaches children and adults German at P.S. 169 between Park and Lexington Avenues. Her students and their families march in the German American Steuben Parade every year. Jolowicz, who has two Bachelors of Fine Arts degrees, is currently working on her German Language Certificate from the Goethe-Institut in Germany.

She holds a Stammtisch that meets once a month in Yorkville to eat, drink beer and speak German whether native or non-native. Since 1973 she has run the East 83rd/84th Street Block Association. And she's a member of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District.

"My memories are still in my heart of walking 86 Street, the music, everybody knowing everybody," she said. "This was a community, it was a family, it was a village. And it was all I knew."