I feel like I knew Jeff German, the Jewish Milwaukee boy who moved to Las Vegas.
I know the type, the fearless journalist who lives in the job. When I was an editor at a daily, I felt like I worried about that reporter on my staff more than they worried about themselves. They were driven, by a thirst for the story as much as by a sense of responsibility. They were amazing, finding things nobody else would find.
I’ve known the journalist who found attempted tampering with his vehicle, the journalist who got threatening messages. And so many of us, myself included, have been the journalists who raced down to a dangerous scene after hearing an alert on the police radio scanner, perhaps getting there a bit sooner than our mothers would have preferred.
Everything I’ve read about German tells me he was as amazing as all the amazing ones I’ve known, or that much more.
German was stabbed to death outside his home, reportedly in connection with his coverage of a county administrator in Las Vegas. That man has been taken into custody. German worked for decades as a columnist and reporter in Las Vegas, covering courts, politics, labor, government and organized crime. In 2001, he published a true crime book, “Murder in Sin City: The Death of a Las Vegas Casino Boss.”
I can’t even imagine covering Sin City. I look up to it as heroic, important work. It appears to have been his dream that he made come true.
When German was a senior at John Marshall High School, 4141 North 64th St., he was a key student administrator of the 1970 Winter Regional Convention of BBYO, the Jewish youth group.
Bert Bilsky, former executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation, remembers when German served as AZA boys’ chair for the convention, while Bilsky was an adult program director – his first job out of college. Bilsky remembers the teenaged German as “a very serious guy” who was “good at detail.”
There may have been as many as hundreds of programs to track at the time, with a book filled to the brim with schedules of athletic events, speakers and more. “He handled this coordinating job that he had to do with a great deal of attention to the details,” Bilsky recalled.
German’s mother was president of the Temple Menorah Sisterhood and the temple administrator at the synagogue. German’s father was president. Rabbi Gil-Ezer Lerer remembers the family as very involved at the shul, where he is spiritual leader. He added that though he’s lost touch with the family, the news of German’s death was “very terrible” and “devastating.”
German graduated from John Marshall High School in the early 1970s. Rick Paler, a lifelong Milwaukee resident, and a teacher at Milwaukee Jewish Day School and Congregation Shalom, remembers German as a high school classmate.
German and Paler were not close friends, but later served together in adult basketball tournaments and all-star teams, affiliated with the Jewish Community Center. German wrote an article for this newspaper, remembering his trip to Cincinati to help defend the Milwaukee Jewish Community Center basketball team’s 1976 Midwest title. This was part of the Jewish Welfare Board’s annual Midwest Basketball Tournament.
The editor of the Chronicle at the time appended a note that German’s article was written in the “new journalism” style, that German was attending Marquette University for journalism graduate school, freelanced for this newspaper, and was a 1977 summer intern for the Milwaukee Journal.
The “new journalism” article was what journalists today would today call a first-person feature story. Little did I know, German was here, paving the way for me and so many others, as I was a 10-year-old boy reading comic books on Long Island.
Jim Romenesko was a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal while German interned there.
“He was interested in the police beat and he had an interest in crime, that’s where we bonded,” Romenesko told the Journal Sentinel, in an interview after German’s death. “He was a very passionate and intense reporter.”
Romenesko remembered that German wanted to go to Las Vegas, where he would spend his career. In fact, several family members would move to Las Vegas from the Milwaukee area, according to Rabbi Lerer.
The Las Vegas Review Journal published a Sept. 8, 2022, editorial, “German’s legacy lives on in the work of his colleagues.” The editorial board wrote about how the newspaper’s reporters tracked down German’s alleged killer.
“Think of the courage that takes. Here’s a man who appears to have murdered your colleague because he didn’t like Mr. German’s investigative reporting. Now, you’re standing near him and peppering him with questions. That alone should be reason enough to support local journalism,” the editorial board wrote.
“To help find Jeff German’s killer, Review-Journal reporters followed the example he set for 40 years. Nothing would have made him prouder.”
At one point, in that old 1970s basketball article German did for the Chronicle, German wrote of a couple teammates: “There’s an aura about them, a desire for excellence, that seems to rub off on everyone with whom they play.”
Fifty years later, it seems he could have been writing about himself.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle