Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Food Poisoning: A Primer

“I think I’ve had food poisoning,” people have told me. As somebody experienced with several bouts of 24-hour viruses, I can tell you: if you get food poisoning, you’ll know it. I had it once, and it’s nasty.

Shortly before beginning my senior year in college, I awoke with what I thought was another 24-hour virus attack. Symptoms need not be described here. My roommate offered to stick around – he had errands to run – to make sure I was o.k. but I said I’d had  these before and thank you anyway. 

Within an hour I felt it must be a super virus strain. Extreme nausea and progressing weakness accompanied the expulsion of what felt was my entire insides. Finally, I called my mother and asked her to find a doctor in Boston. By the time she called back with a name, I was too weak to even drive even a short distance. Luckily, I lived a half-block from Boston City Hospital and a block and a half from Boston University Hospital.  I summoned enough the strength to walk past City Hospital (one didn’t go there unless you were on death’s door) and enter the emergency room at University Hospital. The staff took my information and told me to take a seat. By now I felt the worst in my life. Knowing the zeitgeist about drug overdoses, I began moaning and groaning loudly; in what was probably less than a minute, a door opened and I was ushered into the ER.

The nurses put me on an examining table and the doctor asked if I’d taken any medication. I had taken an anti-nausea pill provided from home but didn’t remember the name. After describing the capsule’s colors, a copy of what I now know was the Physicians’ Desk Reference was thrust in front of me, and I quickly identified it. The doctor then said, “Nurse. Compazine.”

There’s a saying to always wear clean underwear in case you’re taken to the hospital. In my case, it was to make sure you wear underwear. Given the circumstances, I simply pulled on a pair of jeans and headed to the hospital. After I heard someone say, “Drop your pants and turn on to your side,” my embarrassment quickly ended when I saw the largest syringe in my life. A veteran of several years of allergy shots, I didn’t worry as the huge needle entered my left posterior but it stung pretty good. The intravenous Compazine injection did the trick, for within a few hours I felt fine.

I had no idea how I had contracted food poisoning, figuring my home cooking wasn’t the cause. A few days later, I mentioned my plight to my friend Calvin (of my Calvin posts). “Wow,” he replied. “Earl ended up in City Hospital for two days.” The night before my bout, Calvin had hosted a party at his Roxbury apartment. Two guys I knew from the South End, Roy and Earl, came by, each with a bag of take-out food. Roy wasn’t friendly at all and didn’t offer whatever he brought. Earl, on the other hand, graciously asked me to share his onion rings. Luckily, I remembered my mother’s lesson of parsimony in sharing other’s offerings, despite the greasy breaded goodness of the still-warm onion rings. My hospital stay may have been overnight too if I’d overindulged.

I write this as a public service of sorts. There’s a big difference between a simple stomach virus and food poisoning; with the former one feels distress, with the latter death seems imminent. Unfortunately, by the time you realize you’ve been “poisoned,” it’s too late for home remedies. Don’t be shy; call 911 or have somebody get you to an emergency room right away. It can only get worse. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Remembering the Astro Zapper

Many well-known campaigns started as ideas by public-relations agencies to bolster sales for or otherwise bring attention to clients.  The seemingly ubiquitous Butterball Turkey Hotline began as a Thanksgiving PR program suggested for Swift.  Changing the batteries in smoke detectors at the beginning and end of Daylight Savings Time originally was first and foremost a way for Duracell to sell more product. 

Television news stories on dangerous Christmas toys are running already, with groups including the Consumer Products Safety Commission and W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm), started by a trial attorney, providing lists of offenders.  These toys provide great visuals news assignment editors love – sharp toys, loud toys, toys kids can swallow – and enough dire warnings for appeal to parents and grandparents at holiday time.  My first big public-relations campaign was one of these dangerous toys lists, which was hardly scientific but effective nonetheless.

In the early 1980s, before the explosion of dangerous toys publicity, the Illinois Optometric Association (IOA), through its PR agency, published a Dangerous Christmas Toys List.  It obviously pinpointed toys that could damage a child’s eyes, particularly ones with sharp points or shooting projectiles.  My assignment: compile the list and publicize it in newspapers, television and radio.  To make up the list, Janet and I walked the aisles of a local Toys “R” Us and picked out toys that combined action (dart guns and the like) with snappy names (Astro Zapper is the only one I remember).  None were made by big-name toy companies and, in retrospect, these small-time operators probably rejoiced about the free publicity.  This arduous research probably took an hour at most; because the project was on a flat fee, there was no incentive to pile up billable hours.

After writing and distributing the news release with the list, I selected a date for staging toy demonstrations at Chicago television stations.  The team was the president of the IOA and two children – my daughter, almost 4, and an older boy, the son of one of the administrative assistants.  Three of the four major television stations carried the story, as did the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.  I enlisted local optometrists for TV appearances in St. Louis, Peoria and other cities across the state, where the success rates were good.

My “Surviving the Firing Squad” post described my initial foray into public relations with the worst agency in the city after ten years in the more genteel publishing field.  Management let me take my daughter to lunch for her time (but didn’t pay for it).  After that it was back to work and more media calls.  If you haven’t guessed already, the day I would hand in my final report on The Most Dangerous Christmas Toys of 1981 I instead was handed my pink slip . . . four days before Christmas, with my family out of town (and they knew that).  I’ll not rag about these low-life individuals here, for that could be grist for another post.

So the next time you view a news story on the virtues of doing this or that, look beyond and see if you can find the publicity angle.  Sure, not having your house burn down because the smoke-detector batteries went dead is a good thing, but this only started because a PR agency wanted to generate work, please a client and increase billing, while the client wanted to sell lots of batteries under the guise of consumer safety.  A former boss once described our business as “Doing good work and getting paid for it.”  Pretty much sums up these campaigns.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Calvin: Part 3

I learned many things from my friend Calvin.  Here are just a few.

  • Forgive those who know no better. We stopped for dinner at a restaurant in suburban Saugus on the way back from Cape Ann. I noticed our middle-age waitress took orders at every table except ours, even patrons who entered after us. She looked at us disdainfully with each pass.  This was Boston in the ‘70s, not Alabama in the ‘50s, I thought indignantly. Calvin, however, didn’t say anything, and we moved to another table. The young waitress took our orders promptly. He obviously had experienced this enough times to figure it wasn’t worth confronting the bigot. I admired his tolerance, as I experienced my first real taste of discrimination.

  • Sometimes one must make snap judgments. One evening during a bull session, Calvin remarked he could walk into a crowded room and figure out each person’s opinion of him within a split second. One friend asked if being so quickly judgmental was a good thing.  Calvin showed us a whole new perspective. “Often I’m the only black person when I walk into a room," he told us, “so I better know right away what everybody is thinking.” 

  • School experiences are not the same. Calvin went to segregated inner-city schools in Boston wracked with controversy, fueled in part by black opposition to controversial school-board head Louise Day Hicks. While reminiscing about their school days, Calvin and his friends mentioned school-provided pens. Unfortunately, the pens tended not to write. They recounted, with some laughter, heating the tips to get them working again, only to ruin the pens entirely. Curious, I asked what type of pen it was. Calvin’s answer was vague, so I asked again, to which he replied, “The type of pen Louise Day Hicks would give to a bunch of nigger kids!” That answer certainly transcended the issue of writing instruments.

  • Never run during a demonstration. Calvin and I wandered into a protest march against the Kent State killings, for which the Boston Police’s Tactical Patrol Force (Tac Squad) had been called out. The Tac Squad was nastiest and most heavily armed division of the police, who were not averse to cracking heads. That night, they came armed with police dogs. I took one look at them advancing toward me and sprinted into the first open door, a girls’ dorm in a brownstone. After returning outside, I found Calvin standing calmly in the middle of the street. “Don’t ever run during a demonstration,” he told me. “The dogs are trained to go after people who run.” This advice worked well during a massive demonstration in the Prudential Center the following year, when I was the lone remaining protester left on the other side of the long security line after the police had moved it back several yards. A policeman on horseback politely instructed me to join the rest of the crowd.

In the late 1970s, Calvin worked as a community garden organizer for the Department of Agriculture’s Suffolk County Extension Service. According to George Mokray, a writer and energy-policy activist who worked with him, it was a great group of people, recruited from the community gardening movement across the Boston area. Beginning in the 1980s, Calvin administered the Fruition Program for the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture, which provided food-bearing trees and bushes for public plantings.

I only heard from Calvin once after leaving Boston. He called from Chicago’s West Side on a frigid day in December 1983. We were leaving for the annual grandparents’ visit to Florida that afternoon, so I couldn’t see him. I believe he became ill around that time and passed away shortly thereafter. I’ve contacted his daughter via Facebook but haven’t received a response. This will be my final post unless I find out additional information.  I’m hoping I will.

UPDATE:  Calvin died in September 1988 after a long illness. He was 46. Ironically, up until that time he was living almost across East Springfield Street from where I lived during my senior year in college. I also found two letters and a photograph (below) from 1984 stashed away in a large envelope of correspondence. They still bring tears to my eyes.

Calvin, ca. 1984

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nate Greenberg: Making Friends by Helping People

Fate is a funny thing. If I hadn’t transferred after my freshman year, I wouldn’t have met my wife-to-be. If I didn’t have allergies I probably wouldn’t have met here either, as I was in the university clinic for my allergy shots when I introduced myself to the beautiful girl with long red hair who was getting antibiotics for a cold. And if his roommate hadn’t decided at the last minute to live in an apartment, I wouldn’t have met my good friend, Nate Greenberg.

Nate Greenberg

Nate was one of three roommates during by sophomore year at Boston University. We were thrown together, as it were, into a three-room suite at Myles Standish Hall. Nate wasn’t around much because he carried a full course load and worked 20 hours a week at the Boston Herald-Traveler as part of his scholarship requirements. Shortly after the semester started, Nate’s father died suddenly and he spent each weekend at home in Manchester with his mother and sister. A lesser person wouldn't have kept up with that, but he did, without complaint.

Nate’s absences gave us an opportunity to pull his leg one Monday evening after the suite's locks were changed. Nate was like clockwork, so we knew when he would show up and find his key wouldn't work. Sure enough, as Brent, one of my roommates and another transfer student, and I waited inside, we heard the key unsuccessfully trying to turn the lock. Opening the door, we told Nate that because he had not paid his tuition, the bursar changed the locks. Nate was uncharacteristically pissed, muttering angrily to himself. Finally, Brent started laughing, and Nate shook his head and simply said in his great Boston accent, "You fuckin' guys!" I can still hear him, 41 years later.

I lost track of Nate after the Herald-Traveler was purchased by the Hearst Corporation and hearing Tim Ryan announce at the end of an NHL game on NBC in March 1973, “Our statistician was Nate Greenberg.” The next season, he was named the director of public relations for the Boston Bruins. We reconnected in late 1983 at a Bruins-Blackhawks game in Chicago, the night the Hawks retired Bobby Hull’s number. As we walked through the concourse, Nate spotted Hawks executive Bob Pulford, not the most popular guy, approaching. “I’m going to yank Pulford’s chain,” he told me. “Hey, Pully,” Nate said, “Why are you retiring this guy’s number after all of the trouble he gave you?” In typical Pulford fashion – he also didn’t like Hull from his playing days with Toronto – he muttered something unintelligible while looking at the floor and not breaking step. 

Ticket stub, Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks
December 18, 1983

The lockout at the beginning of the 1994-1995 season ended my plans to see the last Hawks game at the Boston Garden, so I traveled to Boston for a Saturday afternoon game vs. the Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers. After lunching in the team dining room on the Nate Greenberg Sandwich, we watched the game from one of the crow’s nest press boxes beneath the second balcony. After the game, Nate stayed on the ice to art-direct a photo shoot for the Sunday’s Boston Globe, so I hung out near the Rangers’ locker room. A young boy in full Rangers gear sat next to me in a motorized wheelchair. Getting antsy, he and his mother went down the ramp to wait right outside the door. Finally, Mark Messier, team captain and one the NHL’s all-time greats, came out and spotted the lad. “I thought you’d be here,” he said, as he pulled a bunch of trading cards out of his shirt pocket, signed them and handed them over. Messier posed for photos with him, then commandeered somebody from the crowd to take pictures of all three. Every pro athlete should learn from Mark Messier.

The 2006-2007 season figured to be Nate’s last, so it was time again to see a game in Boston.  March 22 and a game against the Montreal Canadiens provided the optimal date. It was also my birthday and most likely will be the only time my name will be displayed on a scoreboard. I sat in seat #2 in the press box between Nate and Gerry Cheevers, one of the goalies on the great Orr-Esposito-Buyck teams. Over the years, he had arranged for tickets in Florida, Detroit, Denver and Philadelphia, as well as Chicago (Hawks comped the tickets once in 14 seasons), and my television appearance during the last Bruins game at Chicago Stadium in February 1994. 

Media pass, TD Banknorth Garden
March 22, 2007

Nate is a great raconteur, and this is one of his best. He and Bruins vice president and Hall-of-Famer Tom Johnson (I met Johnson as he was being booted out of the lobby of the Four Seasons in Chicago for smoking a cigar) were late getting into Chicago for a game during the 1970s and headed straight for the hot-dog cart Bill Wirtz kept at Chicago Stadium for media and guests. After getting their hot dogs and mustard packets, they asked for relish. “The concessionaire is too cheap to give us relish,” she snapped. Knowing that the Jacobs family owned the Bruins and Sportservice, Johnson asked facetiously, “Who’s the concessionaire?” She replied, “Some Jewish guys from Buffalo.” I related the story to a friend, a Bulls executive during Wirtz’s ownership, who laughed and said, “That was Della. I’ll bet I had to go to Wirtz four or five times a season about something she’d said to somebody.”

After 34 years with the Bruins, Nate is now enjoying his retirement, especially the time with his grandson and granddaughter. He saw his job as helping other people and liberally used the word “friend.” Nate had legions of them, as witnessed by the outpouring of retrospectives by columnists and reporters upon his retirement (worth a Google search). I once asked him if he considered doing something else, and he replied, “Yes, but then I’d have to find out what it’s like to work for a living.” Nate's mother wanted him to be a CPA, and he started in the College of Business Administration. He might have become richer monetarily but not in the love and admiration of his many friends. If I ever meet a person who doesn’t like him, it surely would be the first. How many people can you say that about?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Fighting Illini at The House That Ruth Built

Chicagoans are focused on the return of football to Wrigley Field this weekend for the first time in forty years, as the University of Illinois takes on Northwestern University. On the East Coast, the story is the first football game at either Yankee Stadium since 1987 and the renewal of the Army-Notre Dame rivalry. The New York Giants vacated The Stadium in 1972, eventually crossing the river to the Meadowlands, and only twelve college football games were played there after the 1970s renovation. Ironically, there’s an Illinois-Army-Yankee Stadium connection.

Several publications, including Wednesday’s New York Times, have written extensively about the storied history of the Cadets vs. the Fighting Irish. In summary, they played 22 times at Yankee Stadium, with the majority of games between 1925 and 1946. After routs of 59-0 and 48-0 by Army in 1944 and 1945, respectively, both teams entered the November 9, 1946 match-up undefeated, ranked #1 and #2 and averaging more than 30 points per game. Scalpers were getting $400 a ticket for 50 yard-line seats, while end-zone tickets fetched $200. In what would be the only college football game to feature four present and future Heisman Trophy winners (Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis for Army; Johnny Lujack and Leon Hart for Notre Dame), both teams played conservatively, resulting in a 0-0 tie.

Army vs. Notre Dame,
Yankee Stadium, November 9,1946

Army coach Red Blaik refused to renew the Notre Dame rivalry in New York, due to the high emotions (although the Cadets traveled to South Bend in 1947), and instead enlisted another “Fighting” outfit, the University of Illinois. The Fighting Illini won the previous year’s Rose Bowl, 45-14, vs. UCLA and would play their second game in Yankee Stadium since a 13-0 loss to Army in 1930. Both team were 2-0 for the October 11 meeting.

Program cover, Army vs. Illinois
Yankee Stadium, October 11, 1947

Of course there’s a personal angle here: my parents, married a little more than a year, attended the game. My mother, still very sharp at age 87, doesn’t remember much about the East Coast trip that brought them to Yankee Stadium. The photo below is dated “10-5-47” on the back. She accompanied dad to Washington to audit the Pick-Lee House Hotel at 15th and L Streets, N.W. and to New York City. Pick Hotels didn’t have a New York facility (it would later purchase the Belmont Plaza at Lexington Ave. and 49th St.), so mom doesn’t remember where they stayed, who may have been with them or how they got to the Bronx. She does remember visiting friends at the El Dorado on Central Park West and 90th St., where the bathroom window overlooked the park.

Dad and Mom, Washington, D.C., October 5, 1947

Both teams had lost key players from the previous season. Illinois featured halfback Dike Eddleman, probably the greatest athlete in Illinois history. He would later finish fourth in the high jump at the 1948 Summer Olympics and play in two NBA All-Star Games as a member of the Fort Wayne Pistons. The Cadets’ opposition may have changed but the result was the same: a 0-0 tie before some 70,000 fans, keeping their undefeated record intact dating back to 1943. Illinois would not return to the Rose Bowl until 1963.

Dike Eddleman

I attended the last two White Sox game at Yankee Stadium in 2008. Because we’d never shared a father-son experience at The Stadium, my thoughts when exiting The House Ruth Built were of my parents – 30 and 24 at the time – watching a college football game and my wonderful wife – only 22 and my girlfriend at the time – and me being yelled at by an usher for not tipping him (see “The Sound of Metal Spikes on Concrete” http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2010/10/sound-of-metal-spikes-on-concrete.html) before a Sox-Yankees game. We were so much older then, we’re younger than that now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Remembrance of Ballparks Past ( À la recherche du palais des sports perdu)

Sports fans like to talk about the stadiums and arenas they’ve visited. After comparing amenities and swapping anecdotes, the topic often becomes: how many have been demolished? I’ve been to ten, but two stand out because the stadiums that replaced them have been replaced. They had several commonalities: the first two steel-and-concrete American League ball parks, locations in blighted urban areas, shared by two baseball teams and a football team and on their last legs at the time of my visits.

The original Busch Stadium in St. Louis for most of its life was called Sportsman’s Park. It opened in 1902 as the home of the St. Louis Browns. The St. Louis Cardinals joined them in 1920, and both teams played there through 1953, when the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles and the park was renamed Busch Stadium for the new owners. Two years earlier, Bill Veeck sent 3' 7" Eddie Gaedel to pinch hit in a game vs. the Detroit Tigers; he walked on four pitches. After moving from Chicago, the St. Louis Cardinals played football at the stadium from 1960 to 1965.

Eddie Gaedel returning to the Browns' dugout after walking
Sportsman's Park, August 15, 1951

While visiting my friend Bill Glassman in Mount Vernon, Illinois, his grandparents took us to St. Louis to see a Cardinals game. Our seats were high up in the right-field corner but noticing the ushers didn’t patrol the aisles during the game, Bill and I sneaked down to the box seats.

 Ticket stub, Reds vs. Cardinals

The Cincinnati Reds played the Cardinals on the 90-degree evening of August 13, 1965. The Cardinals won the National League pennant the season before, catching the faltering Philadelphia Phillies during the last week of the season, then defeated the New York Yankees for the World Series championship. Although they would win that night, 7-2, the fans were not in the best mood, as the Cards would eventually slip to 7th place. Both teams featured impressive line-ups: for the Reds, Pete Rose, Frank Robinson, Tony Perez and Vada Pinson; for the Cardinals, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Dick Groat, Bill White and Ken Boyer. The Cardinals moved to the new Busch Stadium in the middle of the 1966 season, and the stadium was demolished that same year.

Busch Stadium
1964 World Series (Mickey Mantle on deck)

Another stadium with a late-life name change was Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. Called Shibe Park from 1909 to 1953, the Lehigh Avenue ballpark’s first tenant was the Athletics, owned by Ben Shibe and Connie Mack. The Phillies moved from the nearby Baker Bowl in 1938, and the teams shared the stadium until the A’s moved to Kansas City in 1955. The Philadelphia Eagles played there from 1940 to 1957, the most memorable game being the Eagles’ 7-0 victory over the Chicago Cardinals in a blizzard for the 1948 NFL title.

Shibe Park

As a Lehigh University freshman, three of us traveled to Philly on April 19, 1968, for the Phillies-Houston Astros game. Our seats in the upper deck just beyond first base seemed to hang almost to the field. Neither team got a man past second base, as the Phillies won, 2-1, Chris Short besting Dave Guisti before only 6,671 fans. John Bateman homered for the Astros, while Dick Allen hit his first of 33 home runs that season, a line shot that was still rising when it hit halfway up the upper deck (he was booed the next time at bat anyway), and Bobby Wine lofted his first of 2 round-trippers in 1968. This feat was so rare that when the guys sitting behind us returned from the concession stand, saw the score was 1-0 and were told that Wine had homered, one asked, “Now how did we really score?” Connie Mack Stadium was closed after the 1970 season and demolished in 1975. [Note: Glenn Diehl, who drove us to the Phillies game and almost got us killed returning from a Bulls-76ers game on a snowy night, passed away in July. Glenn was a great guy, and I’m happy he saw his Phillies win another World Series.]

Connie Mack Stadium

The late 1960s trend of circular, multiuse stadiums ended with the advent of retro baseball parks in the early 1990s. The last MLB-NFL shared arrangement ends in 2012, when the Florida Marlins open a new ballpark on the site of the former Orange Bowl, west of downtown Miami. The second Busch Stadium and Veterans Stadium, which replaced the predecessor St. Louis and Philadelphia ballparks, have been demolished after less than 50 years of life. Sure, they became obsolete faster than expected, but you still know you’re getting old when stadiums that replaced these and other grand old stadiums in turn have been replaced by new 21st century ballparks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Calvin: Part 2

During my last two years in Boston, Calvin and I became close friends. As noted in “Calvin: Part 1,” he attracted all types of people: young and old; rich, poor and in-between; men and women. Because of his powerful personality, people naturally wanted to help him, which resulted in some interesting encounters.

One such person was Adele Seronde, an artist and the daughter of Christian Herter, who served as a Congressman from Boston, Governor of Massachusetts and Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. Her mother was a scion of the Pratt family, which owed its wealth to Standard Oil. Adele, who I note is alive and well at 85, met Calvin through an art gallery in the South End. She had a family farm somewhere outside of Boston, complete with horses. Calvin had a vegetable garden in the Back Bay Fens, and Adele arranged for us to drive out to the farm to shovel manure-laden compost for Calvin’s garden. After filling up the back of a flatbed truck, we drove into the Fens and completed the unloading just as the sun set, my first experience in agriculture beyond a back-yard garden.

Calvin knew somebody in Middlebury, Vermont, through the learning center, so one morning we headed to New Hampshire and Vermont with no set itinerary. We picked up a hitchhiker on Route 100 who guided us to a bowl factory (bought one and mailed it home to mother) and a swimming hole near Waitsfield for an unplanned skinny dip. The water was rather muddy and we didn’t have towels, so we sat in the sun to dry off, then brushed away the accumulated dirt. We drove around the college in Middlebury before arriving at our overnight accommodations: a chicken farm.

The farm’s owner (I call him Mr. Pederson) worked as a maintenance man at Middlebury College, as well as selling eggs. Upon arrival, we found a teepee pitched in the yard, where the Pederson’s daughter and her husband were sleeping during their visit. The Pedersons also had a two-year-old son; we slept in his room on the floor near his crib. Having turned 21, we joined the daughter and her husband (surname: Greenberg) for drinks in town. Greenberg was a Middlebury graduate, I believe from the New York area. He told us at the bar that Mr. Pederson was anti-Semitic. Without giving much thought, I asked how he knew. “Because when I walked into the house for the first time, he yelled, ‘Get that goddamn Jew out of my house!’” Greenberg replied. I guess that’s why they were sleeping in the teepee.

One interesting visit much closer to home was not possible. Calvin played the numbers occasionally at a place on Northampton Street, not far from the station on the Washington Street Elevated line (closed and razed in 1987). As we walked down the street, he told me sheepishly that I couldn’t come upstairs because the one time he brought a white person in, “all hell broke loose.” Flash paper was tossed into buckets of water, and patrons scrambled to escape. “I was so embarrassed because I didn’t know I’d caused it,” he said. “They thought my friend was a cop.” I missed my one chance for seeing the inside of a numbers hall, where the most popular combination was the Zip Code for Roxbury.

Thanks to Calvin, I had an amazing vantage point for one of the most notable concerts in rock history. Janis Joplin was giving a free concert on August 12, 1970, in Harvard Stadium in Allston, not far from my apartment. Calvin and I hadn’t intended to go, but we wandered up to the stadium nonetheless. According to photographer Gwendolyn Stewart (see www.gwendolynstewart.com for photographs from this concert and of major world leaders), only 10,000 persons were to be allowed into the stadium but about 40,000 made it in. The concert was delayed, mainly due to the band’s equipment being stolen that day. Arriving rather late, Calvin in the lead and I in tow snaked our way through the crowd toward the stage. We finally reached points where security began asking questions. Calvin just kept walking like he knew where he was going – nobody made an effort to stop him – and I simply kept saying, “I’m with him.” We ended up in the first row, right in front of the stage. It turned out to be her last public concert. She died of a heroin overdose on October 4.

(To be continued)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lesson Learned: Cubs Chairs vs. Bears Chairs

A convergence of events – my annual Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field today, the upcoming Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field and a photograph in this week’s Sports Illustrated of the Bears-Packers game on November 17, 1963 – reminded me of a lesson learned just five days before the Kennedy assassination.

The Bears played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970, when the NFL dictated that teams play in larger stadiums. The end of the baseball season necessitated the Bears play their first three or four games on the road, which pushed a preponderance of home games into November and December. The field ran north-south, and the Bears erected temporary bleachers in right field, increasing capacity by 9,000 to 46,000.

Wrigley Field, November 17, 1963

My father’s company had two tickets for each game, and my brother and I received them for the big Green Bay Packers game, our first Bears game and second NFL game.  Less than 16,000 fans showed up for the second-to-last Chicago Cardinals game at Comiskey Park, a 27-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, on November 23, 1958. Our parents drove us to the game and waited at our grandparents’ apartment, less than a mile away. We settled into our seats – chairs, really – in row 2 of Box 36, very low at the 5 yard line (roughly behind the Cubs on-deck circle, making us barely visible in the Sports Illustrated photo). Frank and I figured to buy hot dogs from a vendor.

Ticket stub, Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
November 17, 1963

Now for the lesson. Until the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971, there were no permanent seats in what are today’s club boxes. The Cubs had their chairs, and the Bears had theirs. The difference? In order to get butts into more seats, the Bears chairs were narrower than the Cubs chairs, allowing George Halas to place an extra one into each box’s row. The fit was tight, especially during cold-weather games with bundled-up spectators. Upon the opening kickoff, the fans at the end of each row in unison moved their seats into the aisle, and the rest of us moved accordingly. It also eliminated the aisle and, thus, vendor access. Frank and I went without lunch that day, no easy feat for two hungry high-school freshmen. So much for the fire code.

Program Cover, Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
November 17, 1963

The Bears trounced the Packers, 26-7, and went on to win the Western Conference championship with an 11-1-2 record. The Packers finished second, at 11-2-1, their only losses coming against the Bears. The season tickets, it turned out, were owned by somebody else; when the NFL championship game was played at Wrigley Field, the company did not get the tickets. Strange as it seems, prior to 1973 all NFL home games were blacked out in the local market, regardless of attendance and/or importance. We watched the Bears defeat the Giants, 14-10, on a fuzzy black-and-white picture picked up from South Bend by our roof television antenna.

Having learned our lesson, Frank and I had hot dogs at Ray’s Bleachers before the 1964 Bears-Packers game on December 5. It had snowed heavily during the week, and Papa Bear just plunked down the chairs on top of the snow. He was too cheap to hire a crew to shovel it out. This time, we were ready for the opening kickoff.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Major Gives Us a Day to Remember

Earlier this year, Ralph Houk, who managed the New York Yankees after Casey Stengel was fired following the 1960 World Series, passed away at age 90. He led the team to world championships during his first two seasons (the first featuring the Maris/Mantle drive to break Babe Ruth’s home-run record). After being swept by the Dodgers in 1963 World Series, Houk moved upstairs as general manager in 1964 and returned to the helm in 1967, managing seven more seasons without another pennant. He would later manage the Tigers and Red Sox. Our family and Houk crossed paths during the 1972 season, resulting in a memorable and now bittersweet day.

Mickey Mantle. Ralph Houk and Roger Maris

Arriving home at midnight on Saturday, June 3 (I was living there at the time), I was surprised to find my parents still awake. They couldn’t wait to tell me this “great story.” They had pulled into the garage of their condominium building on Lake Shore Drive after dining out and saw their neighbors and another couple had just arrived. The neighbor, Harold, introduced them to Ralph Houk, who they had seen dining alone at That Steak Joynt (a long-closed Old Town restaurant) and asked to join them. The Yankees were staying a few blocks away at the Ambassador East, so they drove him back to the garage. Harold then informed my father that Houk wanted them to join him for drinks at his hotel suite. Harold and his wife declined, but the other couple and my parents took up his offer.

Houk was nicknamed “The Major” for his Army rank during World War II, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star. He was known to enjoy a drink or two. My father, on the other hand, was not much of a drinker, although I gathered from my mother that he had a few more than usual in the spirit of the evening. A rather reserved guy, she said he and Houk enjoyed swapping baseball stories, which ended with an offer of tickets for the next day’s doubleheader. My mother concluded the story by saying, “Now don’t get your hopes up too high.  He had a lot to drink and he might lose our phone number.”

Ralph Houk

I was barely awake the next morning when the phone rang and my mother called out, “Marv, it’s Ralph Houk!” My father asked for three tickets – my brother was studying for his first-year law school exams and couldn’t make it – and we headed out to Comiskey Park. We picked up the tickets at will-call and made our way to our seats: one in the first row behind the Yankees dugout and two in the second row. Houk came out of the dugout before the game, and my father and I shook his hand and thanked him for the tickets.

Shortly before the game started, a distinguished gentleman and a pretty young woman sat down next to my parents. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell them they were sitting next to Yankees President Michael Burke, a former OSS agent known for a botched wartime action in Albania that may or may not have been compromised by Kim Philby. My mother spent most of the game trying to figure out who the date was, hearing only that they had met at a party the night before.  Burke, who was a year older than my father, turned out to be divorced. After the sale of the Yankees to George Steinbrenner the following year, Burke became the president of Madison Square Garden and also president of both the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.

Michael Burke and George Steinbrenner, 1973
The White Sox, beginning a pennant run after losing 106 games only two seasons earlier, defeated the Yankees, 6-1, in the first game. We had long departed by the time Dick Allen won game 2 with a walk-off, 3-run pinch home run. The announced crowd was 51,904, more than 7,400 over capacity.  Fans were everywhere – even packing the walkways behind the center-field bleachers – and here we were sitting right behind the dugout, having had absolutely no intention of going until the night before.

Comiskey Park, September 30, 1990
Every available space was filled on June 4, 1972

We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be our last Sox game together. My father died suddenly a week before Opening Day in 1973. I can still see him sitting next to Michael Burke, as happy as can be. And maybe he’s swapped a few more stories with The Major; I know he’d enjoy it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Rabbi and the Mechiza

When a retired politician, professor or clergy starts talking, it’s time to pack a lunch. Lacking audiences they once commanded, he or she knows no time clock when you are in their presence. For example, I missed the 25-minute eulogy by a former state official for her colleague that was obviously as much about her as the deceased. A retired Northwestern professor, at a book signing by the reporter who interviewed me for a Kansas City Star feature, talked extensively about his younger days as a New York Giants baseball fan (Charlie “King Kong” Keller once told him, “Go to Hell, Kid!” after he asked for an autograph before an exhibition game) and then left without buying the book. This leads me to a relative, Rabbi Morton Berman.

After a long and distinguished career as the rabbi at Temple Isaiah Israel on Chicago’s South Side, he and his wife Elaine, my mother’s first cousin, made aliyah in 1957. I remember one return visit, when he held court at my grandparents’ apartment.  His voice was seemingly the only one heard all evening, opining on several subjects and the famous people he knew. Rabbi Berman mentioned Cong. Adolph J. Sabath, the third Jewish member of the U.S. House of Representatives and, when I said that his papers had just been donated to a local museum, he went off on a long rant about a more appropriate repository.

Don’t get me wrong: I understood Rabbi Berman’s dilemma. Morton Berman was born in Baltimore in 1899 and graduated from Yale during the era of Jewish quotas. He studied at the New York School of Hebrew Union College, as well as in Jerusalem and Berlin. After working at Hebrew Union, he was appointed rabbi at Isaiah Israel in 1937, replacing Rabbi Gerson Levi, who had joined Isaiah Israel after a decade-earlier merger (see “There Used to be a Synagogue Here: South Side” for details). Rabbi Levi was a disciple of Rabbi Emil Hirsch at nearby Chicago Sinai Congregation, which eschewed rituals, Zionism and even the Sabbath. 

Upon arriving at Isaiah Israel, located at 50th and Greenwood, Rabbi Berman set out to bring the congregation back into the Reform Jewish mainstream. He reinstated Friday night services and dropped Sunday morning worship. Jewish rituals and ceremonies returned, and the congregation strongly supported the growing Zionist movement. Membership swelled to more than 500 families. As a leader in the community, he joined Vladimir Horowitz, Isaac Stern and Arthur Rubenstein in opposing the appointment of Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra during World War II, to be primary conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Rabbi Berman also served as a Navy chaplain during World War II, which included landing with the Marines at Okinawa. He joined Protestant clergy there in a rare interfaith service eulogizing President Franklin D. Roosevelt (the Catholics wouldn’t take part). His second marriage was to Elaine, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Chicago and 23 years his junior. 

Rabbi Berman retired in 1957 and moved to Israel, I’m told, because Elaine had tired of being a rebbitzen. He was succeeded by Rabbi Hayim Goren Peremuter, who officiated at my father’s funeral (we were between congregations at the time), and Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, the first rabbi at Congregation Solel, which my parents helped develop in the 1950s. (Note: KAM, the oldest congregation in the city, merged with Isaiah Israel in 1971.)  Dr. Berman took an important position at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, while Rabbi Berman, unable to officiate as a clergyman, stayed home with the young children and wrote books and articles. One can see why he relished opportunities to provide his wisdom and commentary.

Rabbi Berman, for better or for worse, may be known more in death than in life. He was buried on the Mount of Olives after passing away at age 86 in January 1986. Almost immediately, a group of ultra-Orthodox erected a fence – considered a mechiza, the barrier that separates men and women at ritual services – around Rabbi Berman’s grave. These zealots did not deem him worthy of a Jewish interment there. Elaine Berman and the American Jewish community protested vigorously, and the fence was taken down. This incident leaves me with lingering suspicions about the motivations of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel today. Again, that’s one man’s opinion.  I may be wrong.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Calvin: Part 1

My first trip outside of my white, upper middle-class suburban comfort zone was tutoring at a learning center in Boston’s South End as a college sophomore. Not all of the experiences ended up having to do with helping the young black and Puerto Rican children. 

A well-known educator and author (Howard for this post’s purpose) operated the center on West Newton Street, having gained national attention following his award-winning book on the failure of inner-city education. I usually came in two days a week – working with the youngsters was extremely gratifying – and there met one of the most charismatic and personable individuals I’ve met to date.

Calvin was one of the directors of the learning center. The kids loved him, for he grew up and lived in neighboring Roxbury and had four children of his own. He understood them, their everyday wants, needs and challenges, and helped make their lives better. I marveled at his way with people – all people – seeming to know how to relate to each one individually. He saw me pretty much as a clean slate, somebody he could teach the ways of his world and thus open my eyes.

Despite not having a college education, the next year Calvin got a teaching job at the Palfrey Street School, a private alternative school in Cambridge. He later told me that his job before the learning center was at a meatpacking plant. Carcasses weighing more than 300 pounds would come down a line on hooks. His task was to grab one off the hook, stagger a few feet with it and hang on a hook on a line going in a different direction. He was forced to quit the job after his wife stabbed him in the stomach after an argument on whether he was cheating on her turned violent. Because he couldn’t regain the strength needed to fulfill the job at the packinghouse, he turned to social work and was referred to the learning center.

I hadn’t picked up on the bad blood between Calvin and Howard following Calvin’s departure until he dropped into the center one day because he knew I would be there. Howard sat in a corner of the large room, not acknowledging Calvin’s presence as we chatted and obviously not pleased. Finally, Calvin said rather loudly, “I’m going out. I’ll be right back.” But after some time he didn’t come back, so I left and found him talking to friends on the street. We walked a few buildings down and entered an unmarked door into a small one-room office. Little did I suspect this was a satellite office of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

The BRA had set up the South End office for Calvin’s friend, Della (not her real name), because she rocked too many boats downtown. Her desk filled up the room, with barely enough space to allow Della, a very large woman, to get through. She basically held court behind the desk, facing the door to ensure she knew all who entered. Chairs were arrayed on the other side of the desk for those seeking favors or just shooting the breeze. Visitors were an eclectic mix, to say the least: Benny, who she was helping get a job as a toll collector on the Mass Pike; Ron, a football player at Dartmouth whose teammates were some of my high-school classmates; Roy and Earl, who would later figure in my only bout with food poisoning; and Connie, a good-hearted neighborhood alcoholic who continually reminded us, “Self-preservation is the first law of nature.” The cast continually changed.

After settling down in the BRA office, Calvin filled me in on the feud. I can’t disclose his take on the reason because I never heard Howard’s side, but let’s just say it was personal, not professional. According to Calvin, Howard told him if he ever set foot inside the learning center, he would call the police, a strange pronouncement from a supposed anti-establishment character. Calvin never intended to come back, once again yanking Howard’s chain. Shortly thereafter, my college newspaper did a laudatory article on the center, which I thought spent too much time on Howard and too little on the rest of the staff. My letter praising the staff was published, and shortly thereafter I was informed that nobody except Howard was to speak about the center. From then on, I spent increasingly less time at the learning center and more time at the BRA office.

The small office was always thick with smoke, and often not entirely from cigarettes. Della kept everybody in stitches, except when she was laughing uncontrollably, like after Connie’s dirty joke about a fisherman using certain body parts for bait. I can still hear gasping and almost falling out of her chair. The craziest episode occurred when my brother accompanied me. After a few hours, Della opened the top drawer, grabbed a handful of pills and rolled them across the desk, asking, “Who wants some pills?” Benny grabbed a few, took a quick look and with a shit-eating grin popped them into his mouth. “Did you take those pills?  Did you take those pills?” Della asked incredulously, as the rest of us stared in amazement. Benny never answered before Della informed all of us that it was methadone. I don’t think he suffered any ill effects.

(To be continued.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Going on 100: Connie Marrero

I’ve been fascinated by a photograph in The Ballpark Book by Ron Smith, published by The Sporting News in 2000. On page 300, in the history of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., a photograph of a nearly empty grandstand – I counted approximately 45 people in the lower deck (not counting ushers and police) and 14 fans in the upper deck – contains no information in the caption about the game. Research found the date of the game and the box score, but also led me to an interesting character, the second oldest living former Major League player (almost 100 years old).

The game between the 6th-place Washington Senators and 7th-place Philadelphia Athletics on September 7, 1954, set a record for the lowest attendance for the original Senators: 460. The A’s line-up included Forrest “Spook” Jacobs (now 85 and certainly the last holder of that nickname), Joe DeMaestri and Slovakian-born Elmer Valo, who was spelled by Vic Power in right field. The starting pitcher was Al Sima, who is on the mound in the photograph. The A’s manager, Eddie Joost, is the 14th oldest living ex-Major Leaguer at 94 years old. Senators in the line-up were Mickey Vernon, Eddie Yost, Pete Runnels and Carlos Paula, the Senators’ first black player who made his Major League debut the previous day. Roy Sievers pinch-hit for the starting pitcher, Connie Marrero. My post now had a different subject: Conrado Eugenio Ramos "Connie" Marrero, a fascinating link to baseball’s fairly distant past in two nations.

Connie Marrero was born August 11, 1911, in rural Sugua La Grande, Cuba. He’s listed as being between 5’5” and 5’7” and approximately 155 pounds. He did not play professional baseball until the 1946-1947 season, when he finished in the Cuban League for Almendares. He was a teammate of Buck O’Neill and, later Monte Irvin. His opponents included Minnie Minoso, Hank Thompson (see “Hank Thompson: The Third Man”) and Murray Franklin, my father’s Phi Ep brother at the University of Illinois. Marrero continued to play in Cuba during the off-seasons through 1958.

Almendares, Cuban League

The Washington Senators signed Marrero to a minor-league contract with their Havana Cubans farm club, where he pitched from 1947 to 1949. The first obviously light-skinned Cubans played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1911, and the Senators used several Cuban players to fill their roster during World War II. Marrero made his Major League debut on April 21, 1950. The diminutive right-hander threw mostly slow stuff – curve balls, sliders and sinkers – and his funky delivery helped him strike out Mickey Mantle three times in one game. He pitched a one-hitter in 1951, when he was selected for the All-Star team but did not play.

Washington Senators, 1951

Ironically, Connie Marrero’s last Major League game was his 3-inning stint as the starter in the sparsely attended game vs. the A’s. The Senators came back to win 5-4, leaving Marrero with a no decision. He finished with a 39-40 record, not bad for a guy who didn’t make the big leagues until age 38. But the story doesn’t end with the 99-year Marrero relaxing in air-conditioned comfort in Miami’s Calle Ocho, for he never left Cuba.

Topps baseball card, 1953

Following his retirement, Marrero became a coach with the Havana Sugar Kings under manager Preston Gomez. Several Havana players made it to the Major Leagues, including Mike Cueller and Cookie Rojas. The Sugar Kings defeated the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, 4 games to 3, in the 1959 Little World Series. Because of the Cuban Revolution, Secretary of State Christian Herter (I once shoved horse manure on his daughter’s farm outside Boston) pressured Commissioner Ford Frick to move the team to Jersey City in the middle of the 1960 season. Marrero elected to stay in Cuba, where he currently resides with a relative. Major League Baseball refuses to pay him a pension.

Havana, 2008
Courtesy Jennifer Ettinger and Max Weder

I stumbled across the Connie Marrero story after seeing a photo of him taken in 2008 by a person on a CubaBall Tours (http://www.cubaballtours.com/) visit to the island. The tour features a visit with the still-sharp Marrero, who regales visitors with stories about his big-league career. He’ll be turning 100 after the All-Star break. I hope ESPN or some other network does a feature on the man; he’s certainly one of a kind.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Free Markets vs. the Greater Fool

With the elections over, many believe the new Congress will attempt to rollback much of the Wall Street recent re-regulation. Pundits like the cocaine-addled Lawrence Kudlow will champion “free markets” as the panacea for the current economic malaise and whine about “socialism.” The nation would be better served by observing the Greater Fool Theory. It got us into the mess we’re in and it will get us into another in due time . . . it always does.

The greater fool theory is the belief that one can make a questionable investment if he or she can sell it later to "a greater fool"; in other words, buying something not because it is worth the price, but rather because it can be sold to someone else at an even higher price. The mortgage meltdown is a prime example.

Tea Party clowns like Rick Santelli constantly rail against people who took out mortgages without the financial wherewithal to pay them. Excluding those whose circumstances changed later because of the recession or (uninsured) family illnesses, why would any institution write a mortgage for people who clearly couldn’t make the payments to begin with? Were they just plain stupid or was there a greater fool in the wings?

Enter the mortgage bundlers. Wall Street firms, having gone public and needing to continually boost profits, found packaging mortgages and selling them as investments would be a wonderful business. Subprime mortgages in particular became attractive, increasing the incentive to write huge volumes; after all, the mortgage issuers had a greater fool who was happy to take them off their hands for healthy fees. Wall Street found willing accomplices in the rating agencies, which assigned AAA ratings to BBB-worthy securities. With this seal of approval, the money machine was cranked up and ready to peddle this junk.

I won’t attempt to describe how these “synthetic collateralized debt obligations” worked (read The Big Short by Michael Lewis), other than they were sliced and diced further to create tranches of the worst of the worst and sold too. The so-called best and brightest at the big Wall Street firms later claimed not to have understood these investments. They did, however, understand the huge profits they created and, with it, their stratospheric compensations before the whole thing blew up in September 2008.

A safety net supposedly existed: credit default swaps. AIG, the nation’s largest insurance company and one of the biggest in the world, was a major underwriter. Perhaps investors should have heeded the simple fact a client at a bankrupt real-estate syndicator told me twenty years ago: Your guarantee is only as good as your guarantor. Once the defaults started, there wasn’t enough capital to pay the fools. Just think of the Smokey Robinson-written lyrics, “Like a snowball rolling down the side of a snow-covered hill, it’s growing.”

So I ask: Why didn’t the free-market system save us from a possible global meltdown? The bank bailout, probably the last major bi-partisan cooperation on Washington, has been wildly reviled by politicians seeking political gain. I was in New York at the time, attending the last two White Sox games at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees would play three more games there before the historic edifice was closed and razed. Perhaps if the free-marketers had had their way, the edifices on Wall Street would have been razed too. Then again, a new Yankee Stadium was constructed for $1.5 billion, and tickets my cousin pays $40 or $44 at Sox Park originally cost more than $500 each. Like musical chairs, the trick is ensuring you aren’t the last fool standing. Remember that when you hear the next call for unfettered free markets.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nazism in America

Europeans, I’ve read, are baffled by the sudden surge in the talk of Nazism in the United States during the past two years, especially after the election of the first African-American President. Those having lived through Nazi occupation, as well as an entire generation hearing stories from the parents, wonder how the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s can be possibly equated with the political situation in America.

Until last year, my closest connection with the Holocaust was conducting the publicity for the annual Holocaust Survivors Memorial Service in Skokie for fifteen years. The gentleman with whom I worked spent his teenage years as a slave laborer machining parts for V-1 and V-2 rockets in an unheated bunker beneath Auschwitz. His entire family was liquidated. One of the youngest survivors was a woman who was tossed over the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto as an infant and raised in secret until the war ended. I once watched fascinated as another gentleman ate lunch, remembering he told me an American G.I. carried him out of the concentration camp because he weighed only 60 pounds. And one never forgets seeing a petite woman pull up her sleeve to show a reporter the numbers on her arm.

Entrance to the Belzec death camp
I was therefore very disturbed at Nazi references that started even during the 2008 election, including Peggy Noonan writing that the huge gathering at Invesco Field in Denver during the 2008 Democratic National Convention could take on aspects of the Nuremberg rallies. Since an Internet search couldn’t find her response to the subsequent criticism, I sent an e-mail asking for her rationale, pointing out that if the Nazis came to America, a large number of rally goers would be murdered or sent to labor camps, including Barack Obama. I never heard back.

Because three of my four grandparents were born in Chicago and the fourth immigrated here around 1900, I’d always assumed no family members were liquated in the Holocaust. While doing some routine research last year on my father’s family, I found a Web site with genealogies for my mother’s father’s family. My great-grandfather, Abraham Bloomfeld, was born in 1868 in Bursztyn in Galicia, then part of Austro-Hungary. He had three sisters, one of whom was Rose Winz (I don’t know why he didn’t share the same surname as his sisters.). Rose married Meshulum Mandel in Bukachevtsy, Austro-Hungary, in 1884, and they had ten children (the first three died as infants). I was shocked to discover that one son, Benjamin, and two daughters, Charcha and Gitel, and most of their families were murdered in the Holocaust. The other four had moved to the United States before the war.

Benjamin Mandel (1888-1942)
Murdered at Belzec

Despite the many degrees of separation, this Nazi talk is now personal. Benjamin’s wife died before the killings began; of their six children, three were liquidated, one survived and two had died in infancy. Charcha married David Lempel and had one son; all perished. Gitel, her husband Leon Dawer and their three children were murdered (a fourth died as an infant). Ironically, the killings took place at a ghetto and death camp for which I had no knowledge.

Gitel Mandel Dawer (1901-1943)
Murdered at Belzec

The Jews of Galicia were sent to a ghetto in the north of Lvov in late 1941. German police shot thousands of elderly and sick Jews on their way to the ghetto. In March 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews to the Belzec extermination camp, where several of my relatives were liquidated in gas chambers. By mid-1942, more than 65,000 Jews had been deported from the Lvov ghetto and murdered. In June 1943, the Germans destroyed the ghetto, killing thousands of Jews. The remaining residents were sent to the Janowska forced-labor camp or deported to Belzec.

Jews being deported to Belzec, March 1942

Approximately one-half million Jews were murdered at Belzec, constructed for the sole purpose of mass liquidations. Only one or two persons escaped. Somehow believing this atrocity might go undiscovered, the Germans dug up the mass graves and burned the corpses, although about 15,000 remained. After decades of neglect, the fomer camp was cleaned up and a memorial was erected in 1994, thanks in great part to my sister-in-law’s uncle, Miles Lerman, who lost immediate family at Belzec.

Polish soldiers at the dedication of the Belzec memorial, 1994

The ignorance of Beck, Limbaugh and those carrying Nazi-inspired signs and placards at Tea Party rallys is appalling. I’ve nearly come to blows with LaRouchies, with their Obama-as-Hitler posters, especially when one equated “people in hospitals” to Holocaust survivors. What part of our country does the Mandel family experience resemble? Maybe a few hours listening to the bravest people I’ve met talk about being nearly worked or starved to death by other human beings would end this talk forever. Or perhaps looking at the mass of photographs from which I chose these few. It has gone on far too long.