Israel presented medals of honor on this date in 2006 to the living relatives of five anti-Nazi resistance fighters of the European Union, a Marxist-influenced group of Germans who came together in 1939 to resist the barbarism of their Nazi rulers. The group produced anti-Nazi leaflets and hid Jews and others hunted by the regime. Of the EU’s fifty-odd members, consisting of both Germans and forced laborers from conquered countries, forty were arrested in a sweep by the Gestapo in 1943, and the Jews they were hiding were sent to Auschwitz. There were more than a dozen trials of EU members, with thirteen executions. “Dwell on this,” wrote Georg Groscurth, a founder of the resistance group, before his execution, in a letter to his wife and co-founder, Anneliese, who survived the war, “that we’re dying for a better future, for a life without man’s hatred for man.” She and her husband, both of whom were doctors, along with three other key members of the European Union, were named “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem at the 2006 ceremony in Berlin.
“In Germany and countries occupied by Hitler, many anti-fascist groups are today still working without connections. Many valuable and skilled political people are still isolated. They’re all striving for agreement. This agreement can today only be realized with the elimination of all ideological, dogmatic and religious prejudice. Today, we have no time for such discussions, which mean nothing to the practical political work. The goal is the overthrow of fascism in Europe.” —The European Union, Flyer #35, July, 1943
Lyricist Sammy Cahn (Cohen), whose collaborations produced such hits as “All the Way,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Love and Marriage,” “Come Fly with Me,” and “High Hopes” (all sung by Frank Sinatra, who recorded 89 of Cahn’s songs), was born on the Lower East Side on this date in 1913. His other memorable songs included “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Time After Time,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and many more, including four Academy Award winners. Cahn, who lived to 79, was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and took over its presidency when Johnny Mercer, the founder, fell ill. To see Sinatra singing “All the Way,” look below.
“Cahn and [Jimmy] Van Heusen [his key collaborator] were a dynamic combination, being so modern in what they brought to songs of their era: jazz, snap, swagger, heart and great craft.” —Michael Feinstein
Guatemala’s President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was overthrown in a CIA-supervised coup on this date in 1954. The Eisenhower administration portrayed the coup as an uprising against a Communist government, but the Arbenz’s real crime had been to redistribute fallow land owned by the United Fruit Company, which owned 42 percent of Guatemala, and to demand that the company pay a fair corporate tax. The three-year propaganda campaign against Guzman was led by Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud who had become the doyen of public relations in the U.S. “Never mind that Arbenz claimed no allegiance to the Communist Party,” writes Rich Cohen in The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and TImes of America’s Banana King. “Never mind that Arbenz cited Franklin Roosevelt as among his heroes; never mind that many of the Arbenz policies that United Fruit found so offensive were patterned on the New Deal . . . Bernays set various goals: convince the American people of the Communist presence in Guatemala; convince members of Congress the issue is a winner; convince the CIA, which can actually do something on the ground, it’s time to act.” The coup (Operation PBSUCCESS) resulted in two military governments and then a thirty-six year repression of the left in Guatemala, 1960-1996, during which time some 200,000 civilians were killed or made to disappear. In October 2011, the government of Guatemala formally apologized to Juan Jacobo Árbenz, the son of the deposed president. To see a brief video about coup, and Bernays’ role in it, look below.
“It’s the biggest threat in the world, Arthur, and for God’s sake, it’s not being covered!” —Edward Bernays to Arthur Sulzberger, New York Times publisher, 1951
Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company on this date in 1903, with eleven investors and $28,000 in capital. He sold his first automobile, a Model A, to a Detroit doctor one month later. Ford perfected factory assembly-line production, turned the car into a middle-class necessity, and transformed the American economy. He also published the Dearborn Independent, an anti-Semitic weekly with a circulation of 900,000, which popularized the anti-Jewish forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A libel suit brought by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith and a Jewish-led boycott of Ford products caused Ford to shut down his newspaper in 1927 (by which time his company had sold more than 15 million Model T cars) and to issue an apology. In 1938, on the eve of World War II,Ford (who considered himself a pacifist) accepted Nazi Germany’s Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal bestowed by Germany on foreign citizens.
“I am fully aware of the virtues of the Jewish people as a whole, of what they and their ancestors have done for civilization and for mankind and toward the development of commerce and industry, of their sobriety and diligence, their benevolence and their unselfish interest in the public welfare.” —Henry Ford, 1927
Actress, painter, and poet Adah Isaacs Menken, who scandalized audiences in the 1860s by appearing onstage in the role of a man, wearing a flesh-colored body stocking and riding a horse on a ramp extending into the seats, was born in New Orleans, possibly on this date in 1835. Her ancestry was contested throughout her life: She may have been a mixed-race woman; she may have had a Jewish Spanish father and a French Catholic mother; her parents may have been Creoles. Raised Catholic, she married a Reform Jewish musician, Alexander Isaac Menken, in 1856 (he became her manager) and began to build a Jewish identity for herself, publishing articles and poems on Jewish subjects in The Israelite in Cincinnati and the Jewish Messenger in New York. Menken became well known as an artist and poet, but gained her greatest fame as the best-paid stage actress of her day, both in the U.S. and in Europe. She led a bohemian life, had affairs, married several times, cropped her hair close to her head, sometimes dressed in men’s clothes, smoked cigarettes in public, was strongly influenced in her writing by Walt Whitman, wrote political commentary, and generally broke boundaries of propriety as a woman of her time. Menken lived only to 33, but “when all is said and done,” she wrote to a friend just before her death, “have I not at my age tasted more of life than most women who live to be a hundred?”
“She publicly protested the Mortara Affair, the kidnapping by Italian Catholic officials of a young Jewish boy whom the officials claimed the Jewish community had stolen. She also spoke out forcefully when Lionel Nathan was denied his seat in the English Parliament. And long before Hank Greenberg or Sandy Koufax did so, Menken refused to appear on stage during the High Holy Days even at the very height of her public success.” —Jewish Virtual Library