Juergen Corleis - journalist

In Memoriam
a. Alexandra de Freitas c. April Pressler
b. Frank Walker d. Linda Lee & Heinz Klippert
e. Sydney Morning Herald
You can select Alexandra and the friends above to go directly to their eulogies
given at his funeral in Sydney on the 15th of August 2011 or
just scroll down to read them in the order they were delivered.

Juergen in Madeira
A. Alexandra's Eulogy to Juergen:

Dear love, dear Tiger with beautiful blue eyes. There was never a dull moment in life with you.

We can’t reach each other anymore with our red mobile phones but we don’t need them, we are in each other’s hearts forever.

I want to tell you and our dear friends that your children, Aglaja, Janja, Joshua, David and Jasper, your grand children and families have you in their thoughts. They are having a memorial to you in their hearts in their countries, Germany and USA at this very moment.

Our family, Bruno, Liria and all our relatives in Portugal, whom you loved so much, are thinking of you at this very moment.

Dear Sassa rang and she told me to tell you that she loves you, she sends you a big hug. Her family and relatives have you in their thoughts.

Your friend Keith Bushnell and his wife Dugan: Keith said “even though it should not have been a surprise, I feel as if I’ve been hit. We have lost a lovely man and a dear friend”. Keith will be travelling to Amersham to the grave of your half sister who died in England under a German bomb. This grave is also in memory of your own sister who died in Germany under a British bomb. His nephew Lloyd is amongst us to represent your great friend Keith.

Joelle and Willy Dietrich in France, said: “ we will miss him a lot as he was one of a kind, a real diamond for us who were lucky enough to have met him, above all a dear friend. He certainly has brightned and made more interesting all our lives and it is sad to think that we won’t see him again on this earth …”

Robbi, Angelika and Culb der Karppianer, your old colleagues from school in Germany have you in their thoughts, they have written to me.

Christiane and Gerhard Benz, also Manuela Luckey said that they love you and give you a big hug. Manuela said:” A tiny flame can illuminate the darkest room and the deepest abyss can never overcome the light of a single candle”

I have also sent messages to Tante Erika who loves us very much, Karl und Adelheid and also the Baron Abrecht von Egloffstein.

From many other friends around the world their thoughts are with you, my love.

I met Juergen first via his mother. She was a teacher of languages at the Languages School at Wynyard in Sydney where I also worked. She was bragging about her son and I thought to myself that only a mother can do that.
What a man he was!

Everyday had to be filled with something new to do and to learn from. Juergen always wanted a plan, we had to have a plan and things had to be done, understood, lived, appreciated and we had to move forward.
He wrote a book entitled ALWAYS ON THE OTHER SIDE – A journalist’s journey from Hitler to Howard’s end, published on the Internet. Juergen was trying to write the same book in German. This was becoming harder for him because of the power of the emotions of the language and the events were quite powerful. It would have been a different book.

Juergen was always interested in everything around him. His determination and precision in work to achieve a goal was always intense. He wanted to change the world to be a kinder, more just place and as some of you know he made a difference whenever he had the chance.

This Tiger of mine was not a religious person but he was a spiritual man. He had his guardian angel and once a friend asked him about the name of his guardian angel, he got upset because for him guardian angels don’t have names.

Juergen had great sense of humor. He didn’t like being in hospital, he said; “he was being deprived from seeing the flowers”. On another occasion when he was asked what day was it, he replied to the nurses “how should I know it, it changes every day”.

Tiger wanted to die with his books and boxes and his wish was fulfilled.

To the public your work will remain proof of your character and the person you are.

Paragraph from his book, page 65.  Studentenkurier (1955-1957)

Pandit Nehru, the Prime minister of India, visited Hamburg in 1956, and for the first time in my life I attended a significant press conference. Amongst progressive young
Germans Nehru was held in high esteem, as the symbol of an anti-colonialist and non- aligned policy.
Before Nehru entered the room in Hamburg’s ‘Atlantik-Hotel’ the organizers had “urgently” advised the journalists not to ask any questions relating to German re-unification. This might sound surprising; as the unsolved problems of Germany’s division were at the core of all the issues we were concerned with, like rearmament and the threat of war, in which Germans would have to fight Germans. This was even more surprising, since every German politician and all the media would claim that unification was the paramount national goal. You had, however, to add the phrase “in peace and freedom“, every time you used the “re-unification” word. This meant, a united Germany was only desirable if it maintained its freedom as an ally of the West – in a world divided by the Cold War! Nehru would most certainly have said something the Christian-Democrat organizers would not want to hear or see published. Their “urgent advice” was followed by everyone. When it was my turn I asked: “Mr. Prime Minister, what can we students do for peace?”

Nehru looked at me with a stern face, then smiled and only said one word: “Study!”
I was stunned, speechless. With nuclear war looming, none of us was sure to be alive tomorrow. Wasn’t it everyone’s duty to do something for the survival of mankind? Whilst he was already answering the next question it began to dawn on me that he was right. Certainly, graduates would be more useful for peace than a horde of rioting students. Still, I felt like a kicked dog and silently went home. The expected headline for the “Studentenkurier”, something like “Pandit Nehru: Show, that you are a peaceful power for peace!” had not materialised.

My poem to Juergen for Valentine’s Day

Be my Valentine 

Your Smile

Your smile is so magnificent,
When I see it on your face,
Oh I can believe that it is magnificent
And how many times
You have that special smile
Just for me
It is the source of my energy
Your smile is tenderness
And it will remain forever!

Tiger-Katze, Blue Mountains 2011

With his hip pocket flask I had filled for the last time for him I drink some whiskey to you and to you my friends. (which she promptly did... and a healthy Juergen sized "sip" it was too!)

I love you, je t’aime et je embrace bien fort, amo-te muito, Ich liebe dich.

Thank you all for your support and love to us both.

Merci beaucoup, Danke schon, Obrigado, Thank you.

back to top B: Frank Walker:

I first heard of Jurgen Corleis when I was about 18 or 19. I was visiting my parents in Germany where my father was the press attaché at the Australian Embassy in Bonn. I remember he came home one night very excited – “ I’ve just persuaded Germany’s top documentary filmmaker to go to Australia to make films,” he said.

Jurgen had made groundbreaking documentaries and magazine stories about the Cuban Revolution and Che Guevara, repression of freedom in eastern Europe and the growth of the terror group the Baader-Meinhof Gang in west Germany.

I remember my father was beside himself-in the 1970s to get a journalist of this high caliber to do in-depth stories about Australia was a great coup.

Well, Jurgen produced very significant documentaries and print stories about Australia shown across Germany, including the great mining boom and the success of multiculturalism.

But something else happened Down Under. Jurgen fell in love with Australia. He loved the sense of freedom here, he was overhelmed by the welcome he got and the friendly people. He was wrapped in the notion of the fair go, and the fact Australians accepted you for the character you are, not your family background or the past you come from. He loved it so much that in 1981 he packed his bags and migrated to Australia and became one of the first non-English speaking foreign correspondents basing themselves in Australia. He wrote for the massive Springer press- Germany’s equivalent of the Murdoch empire -for the next 30 years.

It wasn’t until Juergen eventually sat down in 2007 to write his autobiography ‘Always on the Other Side’ that I discovered why he was so driven to expose how political leaders manipulate and draw on fear to enhance their own power.

Imagine you are 11,12, 13, 14, years old. You are in Germany as the Nazis take power and launch the Second World Wasr. You have a family secret, a secret that if anybody finds it out, could get you killed. Jurgen had Jewish heritage – his mother’s mothers’s mother was Jewish, so his mother Amelie was quarter Jewish. Although she wasn’t a particular Jew, it would have been enough for the Nazis. His father Helmuth was a senior officer in the German army, and knew the danger his family was in.

Jurgen’s mother and father divorced three years before the war as the Nazi power grew. Amelie married an Englishman, Alan Hansbury-Sparrow, a Colonel in the first World War who still had close links to the British Army. He met Amelie in Germany and he could well have been a spy. Young Jurgen liked the friendly Englishman he called Uncle Alan – so different from the stern stiff militaristic father he rarely saw.

As war approached Helmuth told Amelie she could leave Germany with Alan, but Jurgen and his sister Gisela would have to stay. Jurgen said he always hated the German folk song Mussi den – later made famous by Elvis Presley – as his sister sang the song as his mother and Uncle Allan left on the train at Hamburg for England.

Helmuth played a smart card to try and save his son from the Nazis – he put him in a military private boarding school. Jurgen was just 10 when he started at the school, but the dreaded SS took it over. It was a school for future elite SS soldiers with pure Aryan blood. And among them was a part Jewish kid, living in fear that his secret would one day be discovered. Jurgen survived. He hated the things that he had to do to keep up façade, things he regretted and felt guilty about for the rest of his life.

Jurgen turned 16 in 1945. He was conscripted. Most of his classmates went into the SS and headed to the Russian front. But Jurgen’s father, by then Colonel in the signals division, got Jurgen assigned to a special unit developing rockets. He probably saved Jurgen’s life. The post was Bavaria and Jurgen’s unit spent most of the time hiding in forests waiting for the Americans to come so they could surrender.

After the war Jurgen discovered his 19 year old sister was killed by British bombs dropped on Dresdedn. He also discovered his mother and Alan had had a baby called Christina. Sadly when Jurgen’s half-sister was 18 months old she was killed by German bombs dropped on London.

It’s natural this horrific experience would have a huge impact on Jurgen’s life. He had a lifelong hatred of those who use racial hatred and fear to manipulate people. He thought he’d found a refuge from that in Australia. He was thrilled and proud of his adopted country at the Sydney Olympic Games. It was his highlight as a foreign correspondent.

But in the years since, he became distressed as he watched Australian politicians whip up fear of illegal immigrants and minorities and sought to ennoble war through the Anzac legend – Jurgen felt this wasn’t the Australia he’d fallen in love with.

Jurgen fought against this sort manipulation all his life in the best way he could – by exposing the lies and manipulations and warning where they can end up.

If you go to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp today, there is a documentary film showing in the camp’s information centre that runs non-stop. Millions of people have watched as it tells how the Nazis manipulated public opinion, and how the Germans followed. It will play to the visitors for many more years.

The powerful film was made by Jurgen Corleis.

back to topC: April Pressler:

Juergen Corleis, Journalist, Documentary Film Maker, Foreign Correspondent,
Dear Friend and Mentor

In the late 1970s, I was Overseas Media Visitors Liaison Officer at the Australian Information Service headquarters in Canberra.  We looked after foreign journalists from all around the world on short-term visits to Australia, between 400 and 700 visitors a year. 

To have official assistance, visiting journalists had to be recommended by our strategically-based representatives in Australian embassies overseas and Juergen Corleis was recommended for a first visit in 1978.  His journalistic credentials were very impressive and in those days, he was covering most of Europe including the Eastern Bloc countries for German TV ARD’s 1st Program.  At the same time, Juergen was keen to produce programs and documentaries on Australia, where his mother had already migrated and he moved here permanently in 1981 and set up Southern Cross Productions, working with cameraman Keith Bushnell who has remained a colleague and good friend of Juergen’s ever since.

Of course, there were no questions about AIS supporting Juergen’s first visit in 1978 – he turned out to be brilliant and I was really glad to help look after his program then and subsequent ones, organising stories and trips around the country.  He taught me a lot about Germany and Germans along the way and at the same time, I introduced him to many people here.  We became great friends and even though I was away for 11 years between the 1980s and 90s on postings in Latin America, Europe and Asia, Juergen and I remained in contact and in those years, he continued to write and produce television reports and important documentaries for Germany and Australia, including “Australia’s Germans” for our Bicentennial in 1988 and which was televised several times on the ABC. 

Living in Sydney with my partner Keith Looby since 1996 made some wonderful times possible for us since then with Juergen and dearest Alexandra and lazy long Sunday lunches stretching into the evening on the back deck of our house in Naremburn, telling tales of all kinds. 

When he urged me to use all my experience with international media and become active with the Foreign Correspondents’ Association in 2006 as the FCA’s Executive Secretary and eventually online editor too, Juergen and I worked together in a different way and his knowledge, wisdom and advice was always instrumental for me in that role, not to mention for the FCA itself which he served in many capacities over several years.  

Since Juergen resigned as the FCA’s Honorary Secretary a little over a year ago due mainly to illness, much has changed and now we have both moved on to different spaces. 

Even though we said goodbye on the telephone last Tuesday, I will always hear his wonderful, rich voice and his wicked chuckle whenever I need, but I will miss him enormously. 

He and Alexandra also got to know other dear friends who are away at this time but have sent messages.  They include Lydia Fegan, Jo Palaitis and Janet Eastman, who has written a message from Amsterdam which Alexandra has asked me to read to you today:

“I was very sad to hear about Juergen and to know that the world has lost such a nice man and that you have lost a good and faithful friend.
Please pass my best wishes and my respect for Juergen on to Alexandra.” 

Juergen was an exceptional overseas media visitor and a true friend and he also seemed to live by every line in Mother Teresa’s poem entitled “Life Is An Opportunity”:

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it
Life is beauty, admire it
Life is bliss, taste it
Life is dream, realise it
Life is challenge, meet it
Life is a duty, complete it
Life is a game, play it
Life is costly, care for it
Life is wealth, keep it
Life is love, enjoy it
Life is a mystery, know it
Life is a promise, overcome it
Life is a song, sing it
Life is a struggle, accept it
Life is a tragedy, confront it
Life is an adventure, dare it
Life is luck, make it
Life is precious, do not destroy it
Life is Life, fight for it.

Ciao, my dear Juergen.  


back to top D: Linda Lee & Heinz Klippert:

Dear Juergen – oh how we’re going to miss you especially your devilish laughter, your sharp wit and your lust for an argument and shot of whiskey.

I’d like to tell you how we met, and for that I have to thank my mum and the postman.

It was about 1994. Heinz and I lived in Manly and so did Juergen and Alex; around the corner from each other as it turned out, although we’d never met.

My mum sent me a birthday package from England and the postman delivered it to the wrong address. We were in Laurence St; Juergen and Alex in Lauderdale (an easy mistake). Juergen being Juergen took the trouble to look us up in the book and called. I thanked him and said if it’s OK I’ll come around straight away and pick it up it is not far.
Juergen was a little bit hesitant, “well he said if you come straight away because I’m …….” I didn’t understand the reason then but I later found out that national news time around 6 until after the 7.30 Report was a DO NOT DISTURB part of Juergen’s day.

I detected that he was German and before I hung up I said something like Vielen Dank bis bald – Thanks very much, see you soon – showing off my bit of German. Oh he said, you speak German. Oh just a bit I said, my husband’s German.

I went around and he opened the door with a flourish, come in come in he said, so very welcoming. He led me through the apartment and as we passed the kitchen he looked in at Alex sitting at the table, this is my wife Alex, he said. I looked at Alex and after a moment I said “ I know you – you study Indonesian at the University of New England as a distance education student, I saw you there at the last residential. Alex’s face lit up and Juergen said”that’s right, that’s right, well I never”, what a coincidence.

Juergen, again being Juergen, wanted to know all about me and Heinz, of course, and was very keen to meet him. And so started our wonderful friendship. We’ve got all these memories of times spent together, especially the Russian Breakfasts and our holidays at Byron which Juergen loved so much. And I’m so grateful to my Mum, Phil, whom Juergen and Alex later met and made a big fuss of when she visited Australia and gave her such great memories of Russian Breakfasts in the mountains. Not forgetting the postman of course, we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

You’ll be forever in our hearts Juergen, for ever.

back to top E: Sydney Morning Herald:

"Journalist dodged Hitler and fought tyranny"

Obituary, 6 September 2011

copyright Aglaja Beyes, Estate of Juergen Corleis. All rights reserved.