July 30: A Post-War Pogrom in Hungary

ghetto-1A workers’ demonstration became an anti-Semitic pogrom in Miskolc, Hungary on this date in 1946. The riot was part of a series of post-war pogroms that rocked Hungary under its new Communist leaders. A contemporary report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency called the rioters “a fascist mob,” yet the Communists, according to Peter Kenez’s Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets, “explicitly approved . . . spontaneous demonstrations, and even lynching . . . by promising to hang black marketers. The leaders knew or certainly should have known that many of these traders were Jewish, and even if they were not, in the eyes of the common folk they were. . . . In effect, the party attempted to turn the powerful anti-Semitic currents, which were present in Hungarian society at the time, to its own advantage in the struggle for power.” Two Jews were killed and one wounded in Miskolc, an industrial town with a Jewish population of some 14,000 at the start of World War II, of whom little more than 100 were alive by 1945. The town served as a transit point for concentration camp survivors, however, and had a population of more than 2,300 at the time of the pogrom.

The plaque reads: “On this site stood the Miskolc ghetto during the summer of 1944, from where the fascist authority carried off 14,000 Jewish-classified Hungarian city-residents to Nazi death camps. With everlasting reverence, we remember them and the other senselessly massacred Miskolc martyrs
of the Holocaust of the Second World War.”


July 29: Mama Cass

TheMamasAndThePapas-IfYouCanBelieveYourEyesAndEarsCass Elliot (Ellen Naomi Cohen), one of the four members of The Mamas and the Papas, died from a heart attack at age 32 on this date in 1974. Elliot had already recorded as a big-voiced folksinger when the Mamas and the Papas began to harmonize in 1966, and her voice and charisma were a large part of their success before their break-up in 1971. Their hits, mostly written and arranged by Papa John Phillips,  included “California Dreaming,” “Monday, Monday,” “Words of Love,” and “I Saw Her Again,” among several others. Elliot was a big woman, ranging in weight above 300 pounds, and her rapid, drug-fueled weight loss in 1973 as she was pursuing a reasonably successful solo career may have helped wreck her health. She was also a single mother and would not reveal the identity of her baby’s father, a rare choice in her time. The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009. To see her singing her solo number, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” look below.

“[T]he group epitomized sunny optimism and galvanized westward-bound youths at the dawn of the hippie era with strong harmonies and expectant lyrics, all slightly ringed with darkness.” —New York Times


July 28: Judith Martin and the Paper Bag Players

MARTIN-obit-articleLargeJudith Martin, the co-founder and director for half a century of the children’s theater The Paper Bag Players, died at 93 on this date in 2012. “The troupe’s approach,” wrote Douglas Martin in a New York Times obituary, “was to do quick, witty skits — 12 to 15 in a one-hour show — on aspects of children’s lives, from sleepovers to homework to taking baths. Bouncy music from a harpsichord or piano propelled the antic, vaudeville-like capers” — and paper bags and similar household paraphernalia served as costumes and props. Martin’s co-founders were Shirley Kaplin, Sudie Bond and Remy Charlip. She created and performed in more than 35 shows before several million audience members in 37 states and countries around the world. Martin helped run the dance project of the National Youth Administration during the New Deal, studied dance with Martha Graham, and performed with Merce Cunningham and Anna Sokolow. To see the contemporary Paper Bag Players in action, look below.

“Ours is a lovely field to work in. It compels you to do something more basic, more fun-loving, more joyous. It is a great support to your imagination.”—Judith Martin

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July 27: William Wyler

wyler-hepburn crGerman-born film director and screenwriter William Wyler, whose films three times won Academy Awards both for Best Director and Best Picture, died at 79 on this date in 1981. Wyler came to Hollywood in 1923 and began to work his way up (his mother was a cousin to Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures). His best-known films include Ben-Hur (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Mrs. Miniver (1942), which were his Oscar-winners. He also directed Dodsworth (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), The Heiress (1948), Roman Holiday (1953), Funny Girl (1968), and numerous other movies that brought Academy Awards fourteen times to his performers. Wyler was known as a difficult director who reshot scenes over and over. This approach allowed him to use fewer, longer takes in his finished films, but resulted in few actors performing in more than two of his films — with the notable exceptions of Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, and Walter Brennan. To see Audrey Hepburn getting a haircut in Roman Holiday, look below.

“From the early 1930s, William Wyler was either planning or directing films that tackled such issues as capitalism, class struggle, war and pacifism, and repressive politics . . .” –Gabriel Miller, William Wyler

William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director – See more at:


July 26: Ai T’ieng of Kaifeng

200px-Jews_of_Kai-Fung-Foo,_ChinaAn Italian Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, wrote to his superior in Rome on this date in 1605 about a visit to him in Beijing from Ai T’ieng, a Jew from Kaifeng. Ricci’s letter bore the first news to reach Europe about the presence of Jews in China since reports by Marco Polo in the 13th century and by one or two other Christian and Muslim travelers in the 14th. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Jews arrived in Kaifeng, the capital of Hunan Province in Central China, in the early 12th century from India or Persia. (Oral reports hold that Jews came to China as early as the 1st century CE, following the Roman capture of Jerusalem in 70.)  In Kaifeng, they were “an ethnic unit of approximately 1,000 in all. It is believed that their daily language was New Persian and presumably they were experts in the production of cotton fabrics. . . The first Kaifeng synagogue was constructed in 1163.” Assimilation took its toll, however, and “by the middle of the 19th century the Jews of Kaifeng preserved only a rudimentary knowledge of Judaism and only the ruins of the former synagogue were left.” They are not considered a national ethnic minority by the Chinese government today. In the 19th and 20th centuries,Jewish merchants arrived in China in the wake European imperialists, and several thousand Jews resided there, most of them temporarily, to escape the the Nazi onslaught.

“When Matteo Ricci walked the streets of Beijing more than 400 years ago, he was a celebrity. The Jesuit was the first Westerner to enter the gates of the Forbidden City. He impressed the emperor by predicting solar eclipses. He created an enormous map that gave Ming dynasty Chinese a sense of the rest of the world for the first time. He spoke and read Chinese well enough to translate Euclid.” —Debra Bruno, The Atlantic