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Ingrid Scheib-Rothbart

March 18, 1930 – January 31, 2023

Ingrid Elisabeth Scheib was born in Wuppertal-Barmen, Germany, on March 18, 1930. In 1935, her family moved to the capital, Berlin, where Ingrid grew up. She was an athletic child and enjoyed gymnastics. Both of Ingrid’s parents were active in the anti-Nazi resistance and she was enrolled in a private secondary school to prevent her education from being steeped in Nazi ideology.

In the fall of 1943, Hitler ordered that all children be evacuated from Berlin. Ingrid’s paternal aunt ran a children’s home just outside Berlin. This allowed Ingrid and her older brother to take a train into the city and visit their mother on weekends. Her father, who was too old to fight in the war, was ordered to direct a textile company in Holland. Ingrid’s older brother was drafted into the army.

At first, the British would bomb Berlin at night. Later, the Americans would bomb the city during daylight hours. One day in 1944, bombs fell on her neighbor’s home to the left. The next day, her neighbor’s home to the right was also bombed. On the third day, her own home was flattened by a bomb, leaving Ingrid’s mother and young brother buried in rubble. French prisoners of war were cleaning wreckage from her neighbor’s home at the time, and risked their own lives during the bombing by digging with their bare hands. They managed to free Ingrid’s brother and then her mother.

The children were sent to live with different members of Ingrid’s family.  These were very difficult times due to constant air raids. Her father then acquired a steam car by which they escaped to a quiet village where they lived at a farmhouse until the end of the war. The Nazi mayor of the village fled and Ingrid’s father negotiated the entry of American troops into the village.

Ingrid remembers seeing an African American GI and being struck by his height and stature. The children were also fascinated by the Wonder Bread that the soldiers ate. The Americans only stayed a few days. Later, the British arrived and administered her area, imposing strict rules limiting freedom of movement.

Nonetheless, Ingrid’s father rode a bicycle 125 miles to the Rhine River because he wanted to know if the company he worked for had survived the war. Due to its location near a Ford motor factory, it had remained unscathed. After a long search, her father found a house for the family in Cologne, away from the widespread rubble and destruction. Ingrid’s parents continued to live in this home until their death.

After high school, Ingrid studied to become a textile designer of silk fabrics, but her real desire was to travel the world. Her father, who had many American customers, invited the CEO of Burlington Industries to dinner. The CEO asked Ingrid, “Wouldn’t you like to come to America?” Ingrid said “Yes.” She thought he was just being polite but a few weeks later, she was contacted by the Personnel Department at Burlington, offering to assist her in any way. Within eight weeks she had a Green Card and was on her way to New York City, where she intended to stay for two years.

For her first two years in New York, she worked as a sales representative in the export department of Burlington Industries. She grew tired of that work, however, and applied for a job at Goethe-Haus. This American non-profit organization was founded in the late 1950s by commanders of the British and American Zone for the purpose of furthering cultural relations between the peoples of Germany and the United States. Its location was a Belle Époque townhouse on Fifth Avenue across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ingrid got the job and her first role was Assistant to the Program Director who had been sent over from Germany. About nine years later, Goethe-Haus became a branch of the Goethe-Institut, a world-wide cultural organization. Ingrid worked as the cultural programmer of the Goethe-Institute in New York from 1962 until her retirement in 1995 at the age of sixty-five.

The Goethe-Institut in New York was visited by a community of German-Jewish expatriates who had fled Germany in the wake of Nazism. They came to use the library and attended events. Ingrid appreciated the importance of film in sharing current information about Germany with this community. She programmed films that dealt with the past but also those portraying the younger generation coming of age. She also programmed films by women filmmakers. At the time, she could only work with 16-millimeter film and had to locate prints for her screenings. During her tenure at Goethe, Ingrid built an important archive of German film that endures as a resource for artists and scholars.

A friend of Ingrid’s taught German to the children of diplomats at a special school in New York City. She approached Ingrid and asked if she would like to work for Hannah Arendt, the famous philosopher and historian. Ingrid said that her shorthand was not good enough, but the friend reassured her that she would only need to write Arendt’s German letters. Ingrid went to meet Arendt after her day at Goethe and began to work for her. Hannah Arendt would dictate letters and Ingrid would write them. Ingrid also helped to organize her library. In a movie, Ingrid is depicted as her private secretary but, Ingrid points out that Arendt didn’t have a private secretary. Ingrid would help her after work and only when she had German letters to write.

Their time together became a good friendship. They would work together and then dine afterwards, discuss current events, and watch the 11:00 o’clock news. Arendt’s husband, who had a stroke, wasn’t very communicative and spent a lot of time reading. They lived together in a beautiful apartment at 370 Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson River. Arendt had many friends and visitors. They sent their manuscripts to her for review and her table was always covered with books. Arendt was very matter of fact and Ingrid never felt overwhelmed by the work.

Arendt could be unfriendly at times and had bad moods, but Ingrid enjoyed their conversations. Arendt often reflected on her childhood in Germany. Through Hannah Arendt, Ingrid briefly worked for another well known author, Susan Sontag. Ingrid felt that the relationship with Hannah Arendt greatly enriched her life.

Through colleagues at the Deutsches House at New York University, Ingrid attended a loft party downtown. Her host was a German literary agent who was scouting American manuscripts for his publisher. You couldn’t legally live in the loft at that time, so he would arrange sewing machines in the daytime to make it look like a commercial enterprise. Once a month, the German cultural community gathered at his loft for a potluck.

At one such party, she met George Rothbart. George was currently teaching at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Through a friend in New York City, George was invited to the loft party.

Ingrid and George discussed a film that both had seen and enjoyed. For some time, Ingrid didn’t hear from him but, all of a sudden, he was standing there at her workplace. George had gone to the German Consulate, only knowing that the charming woman he had met was named Ingrid. When Ingrid started to date George, she took him to visit Hannah Arendt, who approved of Ingrid’s new boyfriend. George and Ingrid were married on September 9, 1976, and were together for forty-three years until George’s death in 2019.

George had a friend named Morgan Pinney who was a former Professor of Business.  Morgan had experience renovating buildings and encouraged George to buy 716 Broadway with him to convert it to residential units. George, Ingrid, and Morgan, with borrowed money, bought the building. Ingrid and George kept the storefront and fourth-floor loft for themselves and, together with Morgan, sold the other units. They later moved to the sixth top floor.

Ingrid’s passion for film extended beyond the Goethe-Institute and she began a working relationship with experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas. Mekas had founded Anthology Film Archives in what had been Manhattan’s Second Avenue Courthouse building. At the time of its founding, this was a very dangerous neighborhood, but the building contained large and small screening rooms. Mekas brought interesting films to the City and screenings were often accompanied by conversations with the filmmakers. Ingrid remarked that Jonas Mekas and Karen Cooper, who had founded Film Forum, were the most knowledgeable people she knew in the film world. Both venues were very responsive to German filmmakers and Ingrid worked with both Mekas and Cooper. For many years, Ingrid served on the Advisory Board of Anthology Film Archives.

Ingrid frequently attended German film festivals to scout new films for the Goethe-Institute and, in 1985, she was herself a Member of the International Jury of the Berlin Film Festival. She would later be a member of the International Jury of the Short Film Festival Oberhausen (1987 and 1996), the Mannheim Film Festival (1988), and EXPO International Short Film Festival in New York (2001 and 2002). From 1997 through 1999, Ingrid also served as President of the New York Film/Video Council. Ingrid was instrumental in founding the DEFA Film Library of East German Cinema at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Ingrid worked closely with the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art that screened new German films on a regular basis, and through MoMA she met Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Fassbinder would visit New York City more to amuse himself than to do any work. Ingrid hosted evenings for him at the Goethe-Institute and people came streaming in. Fassbinder would arrive with his coterie, dressed in black, and he would stand in the corner without talking. Fassbinder never said anything about his films. One time he came, stayed a short time, and left because there were no shrimp hors d’oeuvres.

For Ingrid, in his crazy and wonderful way, Fassbinder was the best chronicler of life in post-war Germany. After her retirement from Goethe, she served as an Officer of the Fassbinder Foundation, which listed her home at 716 Broadway as its business address in New York City. During her years at Goethe, Ingrid also worked with filmmakers Alexander Kluge, Wim Wenders, Rosa von Praunheim, and Werner Herzog.

Ingrid also worked with visual artists and played a critical role in facilitating Joseph Beuys’ performance “I Like America and America Likes Me” at the René Block Gallery 1974. In this work, Beuys lived for three days, eight-hours a day, with a live coyote. This took place before an audience of three-hundred adoring people. Ingrid procured the coyote from Arizona. It was shipped to New York City and lived in a giant cage that had been installed in the Soho gallery. Naturally, the coyote had to be fed. Afterwards, Ingrid arranged for the coyote to be shipped back to Arizona.

Ingrid co-authored the book New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen Through the 1970s that was published by Ungar in 1984. It traces the careers and analyzes the films of twenty-one German directors including Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Wim Wenders. In 1995 she was awarded the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany and in 2004 the CineFest Reinhold Schünzel-Preis.

“Film has so many different angles.” Ingrid once remarked. “Look at an advanced, experimental film or a documentary film, or an animation. What a rich medium it is! The only real cultural achievement of the twentieth century is the moving image in all its forms.”

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