One interviewer called him “a mobile office.” Others called him “a pusher, a hyperactive bundle of energy and ideas, a class act.” Magazines referred to him as “a Japanese institution,” and “a one-man United Nations.”
Of himself, several years later, Bernard Krisher, a retired journalist in his 70s, said, “I had a good education, the profession I wanted, my wife and two good kids. What do I do the rest of my life?”
He gave his own answer. “If you have a roof over your head and three meals a day, stop and think, do something in return and don’t expect anything.”
So far, Krisher’s life divides neatly into three divisions. The first third began in Germany, where his father was a fur trader from Poland. As Hitler rose in power, the Krisher family left for France. With the German occupation of France in 1939, the family caught the last train from Paris, eventually secured visa for Portugal, and then for the United States.
In New York, Krisher, at the age of 12, began publishing a monthly magazine. “Journalism was in my blood. I never contemplated any other profession.”
The second division of Krisher’s life jelled when, still an undergraduate, he worked part-time for the New York Herald Tribune. Graduated, he spent two years as an army radio school interpreter in Germany.
He returned to report for the New York World Telegram, then entered the Ford Foundation’s program at the Columbia Journalism School for Advanced International Reporting. Newsweek took him on for its Asia Bureau in Tokyo. Nearly 20 years later he retired as Newsweek’s Asia Bureau chief. Today he is still Tokyo-based.
Two interviews electrified Krisher’s record at Newsweek. He said, “The most difficult and rewarding was with President Sukarno of Indonesia, and the most important of my life was with the late Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Neither had ever given exclusive, face-to-face interviews before. No emperor of Japan, in 2,000 years, had ever given a one-on-one interview.”
Sukarno introduced Krisher, ever on the watch, to Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. The shaping began of the next division in Krisher’s life. His was not to be a gentle retirement.
Prince Norodom Sihanouk, exiled in North Korea, personally sought Krisher’s promise to help rebuild shattered Cambodia. When North Korea was devastated by floods in 1994, Krisher swung into action.
Opposing the policies of the U.S. and Japanese governments, he used the Internet to solicit donations and bought relief supplies that he took to the North Korean countryside. His carrying heavy bags of rice gave him a heart attack necessitating heart valve replacement surgery.
These days, “my focus is mostly Cambodia,” Krisher said. He says that every morning in the shower he gets a fresh idea of something that he can make possible. A seven-day-a-week man who takes no vacations, he works without any committees. True to his belief that people need to know, Krisher founded the independent newspaper Cambodia Daily.
He launched the Sihanouk Hospital Center for the American charity HOPE, and took up the requirements of the Future Light Orphanage.
He founded two nonprofit organizations, American Association for Cambodia and Japan Relief for Cambodia, which operate programs to improve opportunities for Cambodian youth and rural poor.
AAFC’s Rural Schools Project has helped build in districts that had no suitable buildings more than 300 schools, many of them computer-equipped. Krisher has raised the money, equipment and technology by persistently urging his worldwide network of influential friends and celebrities.
He has seen to it that each donation received is matched with funds from the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank.
Restless, he develops his causes. He is concerned with a village’s silk products, with the future of bright children, with the antitrafficking of young girls. He engineered having a U.S. 50-cent version in the Khmer language of J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’ He said, “I think of things that have to be done. They may take a bit of magic.”