Prominent German Publisher Turned Back at JFK

Here’s another interesting tidbit for those interested in US border control, and the effect that has on perceptions of the country by foreigners. Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung reports today (Astonishing USA entrance-ban) that Karl Dietrich Wolff (66 years old) was supposed to attend a human-rights conference at Vassar College, co-sponsored by the German Historical Institute of Washington, DC, but was detained last Friday as he tried to enter the country at JFK airport in New York, kept there for several hours as officials questioned him, and finally packed on a flight to take him back to Germany. Now, he thought he was in good shape with a 10-year visa to enter the US valid until next year, and had indeed traveled there without incident invoking it on three previous occasions – except that US authorities had revoked that long-term visa back in 2003. Or at least so he discovered during his extended questioning in the bowels of JFK; Wolff claims no one had bothered to inform him about that before. (The question remains open whether during one or more of those previous trips he had managed to enter the country despite relying upon that “revoked” ten-year visa – how much does anyone want to bet that that did not happen at least once?)

Just who is this enemy of the (American) people, Karl Dietrich Wolff? That brief Süddeutsche Zeitung piece – credited to news agencies – makes a game attempt to figure out what the problem could possibly be. Back in his mid-20s, it seems, he was chairman of the Socialist German Student Federation (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentbund, or SDS) and further founded the “Black Panther Solidarity Committee” in Frankfurt in 1969. Since then, though, he has been a publisher. It’s true that his first publishing-house was called “Red Star,” but that one went bankrupt in 1993 and he went on to found others, while winning a few German literary prizes along the way.

Ah yes, a publisher – just the sort of figure you want in any foreign land to become disenchanted with the way he is treated by uniformed officials from another country! Then again, we can strongly assume that Wolff has a better grasp of American border-control policies and procedures than most of the rest of us: he is known particularly in his career for bringing out critical editions of the works of Kafka, among others.

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