October 31: Balfour Declaration
The Balfour Declaration, a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild expressing the view of “His Majesty’s Government” that “a national home for the Jewish people” should be established in Palestine, was adopted by the British cabinet on this date in 1917, amid World War I. The Declaration would be dated November 2, 1917. “At the time,” writes Harold Ticktin in an article in the forthcoming Jewish Currents (Winter 2010-11), “European imperialism was at its peak, with Britain, France, and Germany slicing up Africa and the Middle and Near East, while Russia was intent on wrestling Constantinople from the Turks. . . . All of these variables added up to a golden moment for the Zionist aim of a legitimate presence in Palestine and a future Jewish state — though the word could not yet be uttered, as the Declaration showed.”
Great Britain “will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” —The Balfour Declaration
October 30: From Nazi Germany to the USSR
Nobel Prize-winning experimental physicist Gustav Hertz died in Berlin at 88 on this date in 1975. Hertz, who lived most of his life as a Lutheran in Germany, probed the energy levels of atoms, which helped to confirm Niels Bohr’s model of the atom and to prove that atoms can absorb internal energy only in definite quanta. His work, with research partner James Franck, earned the Nobel Prize in 1925. But with the Nazi move to power in 1933, Hertz refused to sign a loyalty oath, then resigned his positions and moved to the USSR. There he headed a research laboratory from 1945 to 1954 and conducted work that helped the Soviet Union become a nuclear power and brought him a Stalin Prize. Hertz returned to East Germany in 1954 as director of the Physics Institute at Karl Marx University in Leipzig. Hertz was the nephew of Heinrich Hertz, who discovered radio waves.
“Following Niels Bohr’s theory for the structure of the atom, an experiment to verify it was made by James Franck and Gustav Hertz in 1913. A potential difference was applied to a tube containing a low-pressure gas. When the current through the tube was increased, the potential difference increased until it reached a certain voltage, then it was suddnly reduced. The result gave support for Bohr’s theory in which the electrons have only specific discrete energies. The freely moving electrons could, at a certain energy, make the electrons of the gas atom move to a new orbit.” —Nobelprize.org
October 29: Editor of the New Yorker
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker since 1998, was born in Hackensack, New Jersey on this date in 1958. He began his career in journalism as a staff writer at the Washington Post in 1982, and served for four years as the paper’s Moscow correspondent, which inspired his 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. He has written five books since, including studies of Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama. Since Remnick took over as New Yorker editor, the magazine has earned thirty-seven National Magazine Awards, restored itself to business health, launched a major New York cultural festival, and maintained its reputation as the country’s best general-interest publication — by far.
“It is a strange and wonderful piece of business.” —David Remnick
October 28: P.T. Barnum and Admiral Dot
Leopold S. Kahn, a pituitary dwarf (once called a midget) who was exhibited from childhood by P.T. Barnum as “Admiral Dot,” died at 59 during the influenza epidemic on this date in 1918. As he grew up, Kahn became a popular comedian with the Locke & Davis Royal Lilliputian Company. He married a fellow dwarf performer, Charlotte Naomi “Lottie” Swartwood, who converted to Judaism. The couple had two average-sized children, but their daughter also died in the flu epidemic. Like many pituitary dwarfs, both Lottie and Leopold continued to grow, even as adults, with Leopold eventually standing four feet high and Lottie 4’2″. They lived in White Plains, New York, and invested their show business earnings in the Admiral Dot Hotel. Leopold became a volunteer firefighter and battled the blaze that took their hotel in 1911. For an interesting perspective on dwarfism in modern Israel, click here. To view a history of the circus sideshow, look below.
“During the week we spent in seeing San Francisco and its suburbs, I discovered a dwarf more diminutive than General Tom Thumb was when first I found him, and so handsome, well-formed and captivating, that I could not resist the temptation to engage him. I gave him the soubriquet of Admiral Dot, dressed him in complete Admiral’s uniform, and invited the editors of the San Francisco journals to visit him in the parlors of the Cosmopolitan Hotel.”—P.T. Barnum
October 27: A Swiss Rescuer
Paul Grueninger, a Swiss border police commander who falsified documents and facilitated the survival of more than 3,600 Jews fleeing the Anschluss, the Nazi invasion of Austria, was born on this date in 1891. Grueninger decided to disregard his official instructions: He allowed Jewish refugees to enter Switzerland and legalized their status by falsely stamping their passports to show that they had entered before the date of restriction, March, 1938. This enabled them to find legal sanctuary at the Diepoldsau camp, where Jewish organizations sustained them and helped them obtain residency permits or to transit to further destinations. Grueninger also blocked efforts to trace refugees who were known to have entered Switzerland illegally, and helped to buy winter clothes for needy refugees. He was dismissed from the police force in March, 1939 and brought to trial, found guilty of breach of duty, and made to forfeit his retirement benefits and pay a fine of 300 Swiss francs. Grueninger lived the rest of his life in poverty and died in 1972, but not before Israel’s Yad Vashem proclaimed him one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1971. The Swiss government, however, did not reverse his conviction until 1995.
“It was basically a question of saving human lives threatened with death. How could I then seriously consider bureaucratic schemes and calculations?” –Paul Grueninger