July 23: The Manhattan Transfer
Janis Siegel of the four-member vocal group The Manhattan Transfer was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1952. The quartet, which covers many styles of song from jazz to pop, is directed by Yaron Gershovsky, and the other three ongoing vocalists are Alan Paul (with whom Siegel has recorded Jewish music), Cheryl Bentyne, and founder Tim Hauser. (Some websites identify them all as Jewish, but Jewdayo has been unable to verify this.) Siegel has been with the group since she was 20 and has earned nine Grammy Awards for her music, both with the Manhattan Transfer and with other projects that have taken her all over the world. To see her singing lead on “The Boy from New York City,” look below.
“Four-part harmony singing used to be part of popular music and we felt that it should stay there. I feel we’ve done a great service in keeping it alive and keeping the art of vocalese alive in particular. We definitely recognize that there are many young groups now all over the world that are picking up the torch and we’re very proud. We’re like proud parents.”—Janis Siegel
July 22: Augusta Fox Bronner and Juvenile Deliquency
Psychologist Augusta Fox Bronner, who redirected the study of juvenile delinquency to social and environmental rather than biological causes, and to character rather than intelligence, was born in Louisville, Kentucky on this date in 1881. After training at Columbia University’s Teachers College and spending several rewarding years as a classroom teacher, Bronner attended a Harvard summer seminar at which she met and joined forces with William Healy, whom she married after co-founding the Judge Baker Foundation, a model center for guiding adolescents through the trials of youth. Bronner kept the Foundation (later called the Guidance Center) running throughout her life, and became a model for hundreds of child guidance clinics in the U.S. and other lands. Her 1917 book, The Psychology of Special Abilities and Disabilities, and her 1927 book with Healy, A Manual of Mental Tests and Testing, were significant in both clinical psychology and criminology.
“Particularly significant was their development of the widely adopted ‘team’ concept in psychiatric practice — which brought the psychologist, the social worker, and others into a case conference with the physician.” —Notable American Women, the Modern Period, Volume 4
July 21: Jerzy Bielecki’s Christian Foundation of Auschwitz Families
Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish social worker who survived for four years in Auschwitz, escaped with the Jewish inmate he loved, Tzila Cybulska, on this date in 1944. Bielecki had been captured by the Gestapo while crossing the Hungarian border in 1940, and was on the first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners to the newly built camp at Auschwitz. His fluency in German allowed him to be assigned work at an Auschwitz subcamp, where he made contact with the Polish anti-Nazi resistance and also met Cybulska, who was suffering through hard labor. Bielecki and Cybulska managed to walk out of Auschwitz with a fake order forged by Bielecki, who was wearing a stolen SS uniform. They trekked for ten days — sometimes he carried her — until finding shelter with his family and friends. Bielecki became active in the resistance, and the lovers were separated by the end of the war, each believing that the other had died. In May 1983, the two of them met for the first time since in thirty-nine years. Bielecki co-founded and chaired the Christian Association of the Auschwitz Families, and was inscribed by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1985. He died at age 90 in 2011.
“Sometimes I cried after the war, that she was not with me. Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again.” —Jerzy Bielecki
July 20: A Nazi Ban on Jewish Olympians
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on this date in 1936 that the Nazi government in Berlin had forbidden all German newspapers from “reporting anything about the activities of Jews on Olympic teams or to comment on participation of Jews in next month’s games… One of the purposes of this measure was believed to be to prevent Jewish papers in the Reich from mentioning that Greta Bergmann, a champion high-jumper and one of the two ‘non-Aryan’ member of the German Olympic team, has been eliminated from competition.” Thirteen Jews (or people of Jewish descent) nevertheless won medals in the Nazi Olympics, including six Hungarians and one German, Helene Mayer, a mischling fencer (mixed-race, in her case with a Jewish father) who had fled the Nazis once Jewish athletes were expelled from sports associations, but returned to compete on the German team, wearing a swastika on her sleeve. Roma people were also purged from German sports. Two days after the 1936 Olympics, Captain Wolfgang Fürstner, head of the Olympic village, killed himself after being dismissed from the military because of his Jewish ancestry.
“In 1940, the Olympic games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium.” —Adolf Hitler to Albert Speer, Spring, 1937
July 19: Max Fleischer
Animation pioneer Max Fleischer, who brought Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Koko the Clown, and Superman to the big screen, was born in Krakow, Poland on this date in 1883. He came to New York at age 4 and eventually married his childhood sweetheart. Trained as an illustrator at Cooper Union, he created the Rotoscope, a device that allows frames of live-action film to be traced and translated into animation. He and his brother Dave used the Rotoscope to make their first cartoon in 1914. (Richard Linklater would revive the Rotoscope to make his 2001 film, Waking Life.) The Fleischer Studios also introduced the “follow the bouncing ball” singalong and introduced many other innovative — and risqué — elements to their cartoons, with far more artistic khutspe than Walt Disney, their main competitor. They were the first studio to synchronize sound and animation, which they brought to tremendous heights, using jazz music and pulsating, dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish animation. They also produced two 20-minute educational features that combined live action and animation to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. To watch Max Fleischer (and Koko) battling a fly, look below. To see his Einstein film, look below that. To see Betty Boop vamping for Halloween, look at the bottom.
“The ‘Out of the Inkwell’ series set the trend for Fleischer cartoons to come; they had a certain self-awareness about them, it was as if all participating (Koko included) knew that they were part of a cartoon and in turn they worked the medium accordingly. Fleischer was certainly not the first animator to mix the real world with the cartoon one, but he certainly did it like no other.” —Noell Wolfgram Evans, “The Technical Innovation of Max Fleischer”
July 18: Thomas Kuhn and the “Paradigm Shift”
Historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), was born in Cincinnati on this date in 1922. His immensely influential book claimed that the progress of science is marked by periodic “paradigm shifts” that open up new understandings of reality unimagined based on previous scientific knowledge, and that scientific truth, at any point in human development, is not a matter of objective fact but of consensus within the scientific community. The Copernican Revolution, for example (as described in his first book in 1957) involved “a transformation of mathematical astronomy, but it embraced conceptual changes in cosmology, physics, philosophy, and religion as well” and “could only be assimilated by men able to create a new physics, a new conception of space, and a new idea of man’s relation to God.” Kuhn’s concept of subjectivity in science very much influenced feminist and postmodernist thought in the so-called social sciences. His teaching years were spent primarily at MIT, although he taught also at Berkeley and Princeton. Kuhn died at 73 in 1996.
“Under normal conditions the research scientist is not an innovator but a solver of puzzles, and the puzzles upon which he concentrates are just those which he believes can be both stated and solved within the existing scientific tradition.” —Thomas Kuhn
July 17: Commander of the Vilna Partisans
Yitzhak Wittenberg, communist commander of the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye, the United Partisan Organization of the Vilna Ghetto, was found dead from swallowing poison in his jail cell on this date in 1943, after surrendering to the Gestapo the day before. His surrender had been arranged by Jacob Gens, head of the Vilna Yudenrat (Jewish Council), whose primary survival strategy for Vilna’s Jews had been to organize their labor to support the German war effort. Gens had at times cooperated with the partisan underground, but when the Nazis threatened to raze the entire ghetto unless they could lay their hands on Wittenberg (who had already escaped from the hands of Lithuanian police in the ghetto), Gens mobilized the ghetto for his capture. “The pursuit of Wittenberg by the ghetto leadership in order to turn him over to the Germans had proven to underground members that the majority of Jews in the ghetto were not prepared to fight,” says Yad Vashem. “Following stormy arguments, the FPO decided that although for the most part they would remain in the ghetto, some members would begin leaving for the forests. The first group to leave… numbered twenty-one members and was called ‘Leon’ (Wittenberg’s pseudonymn in the underground).” To see and hear testimonies from Vilna partisans, filmed by Yad Vashem, look below (turn on your English captions).
“Wittenberg’s [statement], ‘Ich gehe‘ (‘I go’), spread like thunder through the ghetto. Cries suddenly became silent. Jews began to swarm outside. Doors and windows were opened again.” —Shmerke Kaczerginski, I Was A Partisan
July 16: Tess Slesinger and The Unpossessed
Tess Slesinger, a New York writer who helped to establish the Screen Writers Guild in 1933, was born in New York on this date in 1905. Her mother, Augusta, was a psychoanalyst who helped found the New School. Tess Slesinger’s short story, “Missis Flinders,” based on her own abortion experience, may have been the first widely circulated work of fiction on that topic when it appeared in Story Magazine in December, 1932. She was married twice before her death at 39 — first to Herbert Solow, editor of The Menorah Journal, the preeminent Jewish periodical of its day, and then to screenwriter Frank Davis, with whom she wrote the screenplay for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1946). Slesinger was also responsible for the 1936 screen adaptation of The Good Earth, among other screenplays. Her short fiction, which appeared regularly in the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, combined personal, emotional stories with reportage on the culture of the New York and Hollywood left.
“The notoriety [that her] quasi-autobiographical story received convinced Slesinger to expand the piece into a complex novel tracing not only the Flinderses’ disintegrating marriage but the ravaged lives of a group of left-wing writers and artists gathered around a charismatic Jewish professor to start a magazine. Critics immediately praised Slesinger’s novel, calling it ‘impeccable,’ ‘brilliantly written,’ and ‘sheer genius,’ and began sorting out the characters of this roman à clef convinced that, in Murray Kempton’s words, The Unpossessed was a ‘document’ about 1930s literary radicals.” —Paula Rabinowitz, Jewish Women’s Archive
July 15: Smashing Tablets
Traditionally observant Jews will be fasting today: The Fast of Tammuz, which takes place three weeks before Tisha B’Av, commemorates the date (by biblical calculation) on which Moses, in 1313 BCE, descended from Mount Sinai, saw the idolatrous worship of the Golden Calf, and smashed the Tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The Fast of Tammuz also commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Roman military in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege, and three other calamities recorded in Jewish religious texts. One midrash in the Jerusalem Talmud states that (according to Rabbi Yochanan) Moses forgot whatever Torah he had absorbed from God on each of the forty days they communed on Mt. Sinai — until God, on the fortieth day, bestowed it all as a gift. Then why did God not bestow it all on the first day? asks Yochanan. “In order to encourage the teaching of those who learn in a non-traditional manner.” To see Mel Brooks as Moses, look below.
“Let not Your anger, Eternal One, blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand. Let not the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and to annihilate them from the face of the earth.’ Turn from Your blazing anger, and renounce the plan to punish Your people.” —Moses to God, Exodus 32:10-13
July 14: Gustav Klimt’s Jewish Models
Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, who led the “Secession” movement of painters and architects from Vienna’s conservative art establishment in 1897, was born on the outskirts of Vienna on this date in 1862. Klimt was Catholic, but he had many Jewish patrons and backers and used several Jewish women as models — including Adele Bloch Bauer, pictured here. She was the wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer,an industrialist who sponsored the arts and supported Klimt. Adele Bloch-Bauer was the only model known to be painted twice by the artist. Both portraits were seized by the Nazis during World War II, and it took a lengthy court battle to force the Austrian museum where they hung after the war to return them to the family. In 2006, five Klimt paintings were returned to Maria Altmann, a niece of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who sold the golden portrait of her aunt at auction for almost $88 million.
“The fervent movement of erotic symbols such as triangles, eggs, eyes, in the flow of her gown hints at an intimate relationship between the artist and his model. Another indication of their relationship can be found in Klimt’s 1901 portrayal of ‘Judith’ as a femme fatale, in which Adele is presumably recognized through her similarities in facial features and flashy neck-band to the subject in the later painting…. The rumors about an affair between her and Klimt were never confirmed.” —Elana Shapira, Jewish Women’s Archive