[GONG] JONATHAN BOYARIN: Good afternoon. My name is Jonathan Boyarin. Welcome to the closing session of webinar series "Di Linke: the Yiddish Immigrant Left from Popular Front to Cold War."
As those who have attended previous sessions know, this webinar series conference is exploring the IWO/JPFO a Jewish Yiddish multi-ethnic fraternal order that was supportive of the Soviet Union, and also that most materials about them in the Cornell archive at Catherwood were, in effect, confiscated by New York state and given to Cornell in 1961. These holdings were significantly enriched by the donation of relevant papers and books in 1984 by the family of Zorya and Seymour Schwartz, including the marvelous documentary film with which we opened this series last week. And now, just a few words in Yiddish--
We acknowledge all who participated in the struggle against Nazism and fascism who helped make it possible for us to remember them, to be inspired by them, and to continue that struggle today. Once again, I want to warmly thank the series sponsors, especially Cornell's and Syracuse's Jewish Studies programs, the Central New York Humanities Corridor, the Cornell Center for Social Sciences, the Kheel Center's Catherwood Library and the Society for the Humanities at Cornell. Other academic departments and cosponsoring programs include Cornell's Departments of History, Anthropology, Near Eastern Studies, and Government, and the American Studies program.
Co-sponsors outside of our universities are the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and New York University's Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. And I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the yeoman work of Elissa Sampson, whose brainchild both this webinar series and the digitization project on which it is based are.
Now, today's closing session has two parts. The first hour, titled "The Art of Resistance," will include a presentation by Ben Katchor and a response by Paul Buhle followed by questions and answers chosen from those posted by the audience. Ben Katchor's picture stories have been collected in a number of books, Cheap Novelties, The Pleasures of Urban Decay, Julius Knippel, Real Estate Photographer, The Cardboard Valise, The Jew of New York, Hand Drying in America and Other Stories, and most recently, The Dairy Restaurant, a marvelous history that, I may add, features our local favorite on the Lower East Side, the B&H.
Ben has collaborated with composer Mark Mulcahy on six music theater shows, most recently "The Imaginary War Crimes Tribunal." He was the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. He's an Associate Professor at Parsons, the New School, in New York City.
Paul Buhle is a pioneering and long-time scholar of the Jewish Left in the US and an editor and creator of graphic novels. Among his 40-some books are Tender Comrades: A Backtory of The Hollywood Blacklist, Jews and American Popular Culture in three volumes, Jews and American Comics, and Yiddishkeit, with Harvey Pekar and Hershl Hartman, whom we'll be meeting later in this session.
The second hour, "Memories and Reflections," will consist of a brief homage by Amelia Glaser, a memory poem by Paul Buhle, and short presentations by people whose lives were shaped by growing up the JPFO and its broader cultural sphere. And I should mention, as with previous sessions, feel free to post your questions during the course of the talks. And there will be time for Q&A before the first hour, before the first pair of presentations ends, and hopefully, after the second part of the session as well. And now, Ben Katchor.
BEN KATCHOR: Hi. Thank you. Thanks for the kind introduction. I'm delighted to be here. My family, or immediate interest in all this material, is that I grew up-- my father was from Warsaw. He was a lifelong reader of the Frayhayt, and had a kind of communist-oriented hotel up in Saratoga Springs in the '30s. So that interested me in this material to begin with.
But when I started looking through the Cornell archives, I discovered that incidentally, it contained a large collection of children's drawings, so let me just share the screen with you. So this is one of the many objects. And it's Nayland-- it's a journal connected to the children's colony of Kinderland, I think '27.
But anyway, this led me to look into Kinderland. And then I found there's another big photo archive at the Tamiment Library, other material at the Center for Jewish History. And that's what I'll be showing you in this little talk.
The first issue is, what's so interesting about children's drawings? And they're of sentimental value to parents, but to people who study graphic expression-- like looking at work of outsider artists, or foreign or isolated cultures-- they offer an alternative approach to the graphic display of ideas. And there are some well known archives of children's drawings.
There are two large ones from the Spanish Civil War. These are examples of that. There's a collection of drawings from the Theresienstadt concentration camp. More recently, there are collections from refugee camps in Darfur. And from 2008, there's at least one collection from Gaza.
So for psychologists, children's drawings are a record of the psychomotor connection between hand and mind. And they can reveal feelings that can't be expressed with words. Anyway, this whole area of outsider, and untrained, and deskilled art is a major part [INAUDIBLE].
JONATHAN BOYARIN: So we seem to have lost Ben. I apologize. Hopefully, he'll join us in a moment.
PAUL BUHLE: I have a few words, if I might fill in a bit.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: Please. Go ahead.
PAUL BUHLE: Oh, OK. The first one-- I hope you can see this, maybe you can't-- is a book from about 10 years ago, Tales for Little Rebels. It's left-wing children's literature from the 1910s to the 1950s in the US. A small amount is German or English, republished in the US, but most of it is American material, and a small chunk of it is from left-wing Yiddish magazines for children in the 1920s and 1930s, including Bill Gropper, whose images are hiding behind Jonathan Boyarin, and some other wonderful, wonderful favorites among Daily Worker and New Masses artists. So I think you can still find this of interest.
As long as I'm still filling in, I have a little, tiny piece of an interview with the humorist of the Frayhayt named Sam Lipson. "They called me Feter Shepsl, Yiddish for Uncle Sam. I wrote 23 books of humor, mostly focused on labor and left. I got here from Russia in 1908.
Here's a story from my younger days-- I was introducing a speaker in 1910. Someone from the audience said, "Explain socialism to us." I said, "I am like the clerk in the bagel shop. You want to know how the bagels are made? Here, I give you the baker."
I was trying to say, wait for the main speaker. At the Yiddish humor weekly, they wrote that a grine yingel, a new immigrant boy, was being funny. I liked that.
Pretty soon, I was writing for them. We had our own magazine, Der Humorist in 1920. It did not last.
Then came a new daily Morgn Frayhayt with beautiful Yiddish. I joined some of the greatest writers of the day-- Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Mani Leyb, and the greatest of Yiddish humorists, Moyshe Nadir. We published many volumes of Nadir's work, also the collected works of the zeyde Morris Winchevsky I was more the jokester, still the warm-up act, this time for high literature and high politics. We were young and so full of life that if the Allerton Avenue co-ops had no elevator, we never thought about getting old and weak."
That's what he said to me. And after he died, his niece, a prominent left-wing leader, called me up and insisted I drive to the Bronx from Providence and pick up as many books as I could fit into my car from his library. I did so and gave most of them to the Yiddish Book Center, and kept a couple of volumes of the humor magazine for myself.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: Paul, if I may ask, when did you do that interview?
PAUL BUHLE: Let's see-- all of my Yiddish interviews are between 1978 and 1983 or not many years afterwards. I was on funding from NEH from 1981 to '83. So with Sam, I would say about 1981, and there was still a presence of old-time Yiddish speakers in the Allerton Avenue co-ops.
And as I was leaving, a lady of 86 years said to me, "Let me walk you to the subway. It's a dangerous neighborhood." And she did, waving at people along the way.
So it was quite the experience. And I was awfully fortunate to have been directed to them, as I was directed many places by Itche Goldberg at Yidishe Kultur. He was my savant, and he would send me places, and call people up. And then I would go and see them, and talk with them, and put the interviews in our archive at the Oral History of The American Left
JONATHAN BOYARIN: We're waiting for Ben Katchor to rejoin us, to reboot and rejoin us, and resume his presentation-- momentarily, we hope. But I'm going to take the chance to ask Paul one more question from that period. Did you deal with anarchists as well? Or were you focusing on the Communists primarily?
PAUL BUHLE: Actually, the anarchists had grown very, very thin, being generally of an older generation. The very last editor of the Fray Arbeter-Shtime was or became a good friend of mine. And I spent a good while with him.
And I met some Yiddish anarchists in Los Angeles and interviewed them, but they were few when they were going. It was sort of like old-time, 1920s Poale Zionists on the left. And now, I give it back to Ben Katchor.
BEN KATCHOR: If I can get this thing to play. Hi. Sorry. So anyway, as I was saying, just as a collection of children's drawings, the IWO archive is of interest to me.
And as I said, this world of outsider, and unskilled, and deskilled drawings-- sharecroppers like the African-American Bill Traylor, the work by paranoid schizophrenic African art-- is all very popular in the world of art these days. But pseudo primitivism and deskilled drawing have become a stylistic default position for lots of professional artists. But the question is, why. This is Edward Lear and some other early people trying to evoke children's drawing styles.
So that's the Theresienstadt. I think I showed you these things. This is slightly a different slide show. This is all from the Spanish Civil War and Gaza.
So that's one point that I wanted to talk about. The other point is what kind of art is reflected in some of these drawings? These were, at the moment, a historical moment in which children were introduced by their teachers and counselors to a particular form of graphic expression that involved both text and image.
And then this February '33 issue of the "New Masses," Meyer Schapiro, writing under the name of John Kwait, reviewed an exhibit of paintings and drawings at the John Reed Club in New York City. It's a very negative review.
It was a show called "The Social Viewpoint of Art." And he says, "The mere presence of factories and workers does not indicate any social viewpoint. And these elements are often treated abstractly and picturesquely, without reference to a social meaning of the objects."
"For an exhibition could easily have been arranged with carefully prepared series of pictures illustrating phases of the daily struggle, and reenacting in a vivid, forceful manner the most important revolutionary situations. It could have included examples of co-operative work by artists, series of prints with content for cheap circulation, cartoons for newspapers and magazines, posters, banners, signs, illustrations of slogans, historical pictures of the revolutionary tradition of America. Such pictures actually reach their intended audience, whereas the majority of paintings are stuck away in studios. Sometimes, they have purchased by a sympathetic dentist in exchange for a tooth pulling.
The John Reed Club must offer specific tasks, especially cooperative tasks, to the revolutionary artist. Only in this way will it develop an effective revolutionary art. The artist who must produce daily a trenchant pictorial commentary on daily events for a worker's newspaper quickly develops an imagination and form adequate to his task.
The good revolutionary picture is not necessarily a cartoon, but it should have the legibility and pointedness of a cartoon. And like the cartoon, it should reach great masses of workers at little expense."
So I wondered what sort of cartoon-like picture was Meyer Schapiro thinking about-- Dick Tracy, George Herriman, the political cartoons of William Gropper, an illustrated text by Yosl Cutler, or the satirical agitprop posters of Vladimir Mayakovsky. There's a photo from Kinderland-- these are some of the images-- showing them with sort of current periodicals. And we see copies of the "New Pioneer Magazine" for boys and girls, a couple of issues of that, "Fight Against War and Fascism," the "New Masses," the "Morgn Frayhayt."
And then some of these Soviet agitprop images, Gustav Klutsis, a Latvian designer, and Alexander Rodchenko-- all of this stuff was in the air-- El Lissitzky a protegee of Malevich. This was a group of painters, constructivists, who kind of declared the end of easel painting. And they thought all of this graphic energy should go toward a more didactic, functional kind of picture making. Varvara Stepanova was a theater and poster designer, the Stenberg brothers-- there were these agitprop trains. And a lot of this aesthetic, I discovered, found its way into Kinderland.
Let's just jump ahead. These are some of the people who taught there. There was a very wide-ranging art and dance program. Robert Minor, the "Masses" cartoonist, visited. There's documentation of his visit.
So these teachers exposed, --Robeson, and all these well-known people-- The arts and crafts at Kinderland was fairly-- at least for this year, I think it's '33-- fairly well documented. The teachers exposed the campers to the idea of didactic picture-making, posters, banners. And then the children made them. And-- one of the workshops.
It's particularly interesting-- Kinderland before the break, the journals were of a much more middle class and folkloric imagery. This is the other Workmen's Circle camp that opened on the other side of the lake. But with that break, there was this moment where children were making this Soviet agitprop-influenced work. And just the idea of a magazine illustrated by children-- I mean, the counselors were sometimes not much older than the children. But that's also part of this aesthetic, a Soviet agitprop aesthetic.
So the rest of this talk-- there was a Constitution for this new land. And that's why I think these young girls are pretending to be carrying arms. It talks about armed resistance. And these are some of the images from these journals. [INAUDIBLE] the boss whipping workers, the machine-- these kind of constructivist monuments. There was one with Lenin, which I think is somewhere in this collection of photos.
So these are some of these children's posters for the United Front against racism, against fascism, against war. There's Tom Mooney. They used photo collage, which was a big part of the Soviet agitprop aesthetic. And there are some closeups of these posters.
There's these cannons. These all feel very Soviet influenced. Lenin pops up all over the place, and American Indians, pioneers against war, some more like political cartoon imagery. This was the bunk that was named after Yosl Cutler, the puppeteer that Eddie Portnoy spoke about. He was involved at this camp.
And these are some of the school journals, where this kind of child handmade aesthetic, so this is 1929, I think. Sometimes more modern. And there's a whole study to be made of the writing of these children. There's also children's texts.
Some of these are obviously based on prints and photographs. Karl Marx at work. Another one of these great, monumental Soviet structures. And the journal, all from the collection of Kalmen Marmor.
There are some multi-paneled comic strips, like these-- very young children, probably, drawing these things. Yet someone thought these were worth publishing. And then these posters, big, didactic posters about war. Some of them are against child labor.
Shoeshine-- there's a child hanging a picture of Lenin on the wall. And there's that sort of a cardboard Lenin monument, not made by children, but probably by the art counselors. That's the model it's based on.
Anyway, there are a lot-- these works were documented by this photographer, at least for this year. I don't know how many other years were this well documented. But the collection at Tamiment has some more recent books of art projects.
This is the one against the children labor-- shoeshine and newspaper boys. It's black and white children. This health poster-- I don't know if this was done by a child. This looks a little too competent to have been drawn by a child, but maybe one of the counselors.
And theater with stage props. There's some pretty elaborate stage props in the background of these photographs. More collections of these didactic posters-- some details.
And you can look through this, of course, at your leisure online. But it's great, out-of-control children trying to somehow duplicate the kinds of graphics they must have been shown. A literature booth at Kinderland, a library, a book sale of some sort.
These are from a later collection, from '53. This was an arts and crafts project to build a model Warsaw ghetto. There's no images of it, but it's a kind of interesting idea.
And then these look like typical grade-school mimeographed comic strips by children. I think that really strong agitprop moment may have been very brief, short-lived. Children's stories, and also, I think, Yiddish went out. I mean, talking to people who went to Yiddish-oriented camps, by the '60s, almost no one was speaking Yiddish. So this is a 1950s-style Kinderland journal.
And so here's a Mad Magazine at Kinderland from '57. Harvey Kurtzman, the founding editor and writer of Mad Magazine, was born in 1924. Both of his parents read the Daily Worker and sent him to Kinderland.
And in an interview, he said that he was uncomfortable there. It had seemed both too Russian and too completely Jewish. He said he did not want to be part of some radical Jewish subculture, but wanted to join the mainstream and have a big success. And he did with Mad Magazine.
The other thing about this moment, this text image moment at Kinderland, for me, is that in the bigger picture of the art world in New York, it sort of represents something that was pushed out of the mainstream by high modernism and by the New York intellectuals, ex-Communists, maybe, who became Trotskyites, and so on, and then became neoconservatives. This whole idea of medium specificity, and that justified non-representational painting, and the idea that representational painting in some artists' hands was linked to this agitprop work and social realism, and was Stalinist, related to Stalinism. And so when I went to school in the '70s, my teachers all grew up in that world of high modernism.
And the idea of doing comics was just off the charts to them. They didn't know how to talk about stories. They thought storytelling and picture making had nothing to do with one another. And this was an academic issue. In the real world, in popular culture, comics were always thriving.
So anyway, I felt a particular kinship with that moment, where art teachers were encouraging children to mix text and image. Because I had the exact opposite experience in college. And I think I could end.
I'm going to end the talk here and see if I can get out of this thing. These are topics I think I've talked with Paul Buhle about in the past, since we were both involved in comics. But I don't know if you have anything else to say about that.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: So it sounds like the two of you are-- Paul, we'll get to you.
PAUL BUHLE: Right here. We are simpatico since 1990. Ben lived in Providence for a little while. Are we ready for me?
JONATHAN BOYARIN: Yes.
PAUL BUHLE: Good. Very good. Then I can start here. This is the final year of Mad Comics before Mad Magazine existed.
And the artist is Willy Elder, who grew up in the Bronx with Harvey Kurtzman. And he was described in his time, by Kurtzman, as the most Yiddish of the artists for Mad Comics. He created a mother who would be seen recurrently, rather heavy set, saying "Billy, Billy, where is Billy," calling Billy Elder.
This particular thing is Willy Elder's counterattack against abstract expressionism. It's probably the most intellectualized of any story in Mad Comics, which was in its final year because it was about to be suppressed, more or less, by the Comics Code, and therefore, became a black and white magazine beyond the reach of suppression, unlike comic books, which were by and large going to disappear.
I was told later that there were dozens of people, or maybe only a dozen, who interviewed Harvey Kurtzman. But I was the only one that ever asked him any questions about his political background. And that sort of makes sense. I was interviewing Harvey Kurtzman in the same time as I was interviewing old Yiddish lefties.
Kurtzman was my boyhood hero, and I wrote, with Denis Kitchen, the first biography of Harvey Kurtzman. On the one hand, as Ben said, Harvey Kurtzman wanted very much to be a greatly successful person and therefore, not to be held back by Yiddish, or by Russianism, or by left-wing politics as such. But the Daily Worker that his mother read to him at the kitchen table at home in the Bronx left a very deep impression.
In the army, he became militantly anti-racist during the war. And when he and Willy Elder and others formed this new magazine or comic book, Mad, it was a militant attack on commercial culture, the commercialization of culture, in the post-war era, which was more radical in form and content than Mad Magazine was ever to become. And in my very particular review-- I think in Ben's as well-- reflected this sort of counterattack from a cultural left as well as the political left that had been more or less wiped out in the McCarthy era, but still had some very, very critical things to say about American culture and American politics.
I should have said the high point of Mad Comics was an attack on the Army-McCarthy hearings, which was quite something to do in those days. One more footnote-- I was doing some more research and writing about comic strips and comic books at this time, and I came across an essay by Irving Howe from 1949 saying that comic books were among the most degrading form of culture that had ever existed, and warning parents to keep their children away from comic books.
As Ben said, this was the high modern attack on popular culture, nearly all popular cultures being degraded. But also, in my mind, an attack on the WPA-style art and New Deal sentiment of finding things in life around you, finding things in communities around you, which was, by the 1950s, something that was no longer to be seen, heard, or really appreciated. We, historically interested people in the New Left, had to rediscover this part of American history. Labor history walking tours are a tiny part of it, but representative of this search to recuperate it.
And I would say the program that we're conducting now is another element in this search to recuperate a past that was taken away, but seems more and more precious now that we're decades away from it. I wonder if anybody has any questions, because I'm happy to go along in this vein and comment on Ben's contributions and why I think they mean so much in this program.
OK, hearing none, I began writing about Ben in the Nation in the middle 1990s, probably because Art Spiegelman had said that Ben was the most Yiddish of all comic artists, even if there was never a word in his dialogue that was specifically Yiddish, or only a few. Because there was a sensibility, from the early '90s on at least, of something that had disappeared, but was precious and needed to be recovered. And it was a sensibility shaped by a certain Yiddish sentiment which was terribly elusive, and yet, for those who saw it in his comic strips, terribly memorable.
It brought all kinds of things back to mind. It brought back a vanished world. And in my mind, as I've written reviews of Ben's various comics-- I like to think I've reviewed every one of them in one place or another-- always speaks to that sense of loss, the same sense of loss that he's written about in prose, of walking around New York City and seeing all of the vernacular architecture that's disappeared and been replaced by essentially a big shopping center across large parts of the city.
Why is this so terribly important to remember now? Partly because it's disappearing with such incredible speed, partly because it speaks to those things in our collective memory that are of a different way of seeing life, a more collective-- if not always more cooperative-- way of seeing life, but one that was at the human scale of the small merchant and the sidewalk stroller, rather than the scale of the enormous buildings and the wealthy people who own these fabulously priced condominium units.
I think that Ben's wide scale of his work has done this repeatedly, and that if only a wider audience would look at this, glance at it, not merely as being entertainment and enjoyable and so forth, but read deeper and deeper into Ben's work-- something we all should encourage-- they would find a great deal more for themselves, but also to trouble themselves in a highly useful way, and to understand that very particular thing in Yiddish culture, which seems now, perhaps, more important than it's ever been.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: Are you both ready for questions?
PAUL BUHLE: Absolutely.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: So I'd like to ask Ben, you showed us a lot of intriguing images, content, context, general context for a return to interest in non-professional art and in popular art, which obviously aren't the same things. And you also showed us a number of images from the archive, from Kinderland from the '30s through the '50s, but you didn't zero in on any of them, any one of them. You kind of just intrigued us. Are there one or two that you find particularly intriguing.
BEN KATCHOR: Those early ones from '27, from that Nayland, which are-- that moment that's most influenced by the Soviet agitprop kinds of compositions, I think, interest me. But I'm interested in all genuine art that somehow yet hasn't been acculturated. It's always fascinating to look at.
And this was done-- all of this stuff a child-- you know somebody has to give them the pencils and crayons to draw with. So there's always some adult influence involved in children's art. But then they just take off.
But I just wanted to briefly give you a sample of a lot of this work. But it's all up online, and you can study it. People can study it. You have to respond to have an interest in that kind of work.
You see it thrown out if you walk by a public school at the end of the year. People are always throwing out piles of children's art. So it's hard to monetize children's-- all other outsider art has been highly monetized and commodified, but children's, I guess it feels a little more exploitative, otherwise people would be dealing in it. I don't know that they do. So it's good that it's in a free archive where people can just look at it.
So someone asked, I think on the first day, this question about what's Jewish about the Left and about this work? And I always thought the question is, of all the different kinds of Jews, what is it about certain Jews that are drawn to the Left? Because I think if it were 50,000 people in the IWO at its height, and then that was out of two million Jews in New York, or I don't know if in the whole country-- that's not a lot of people.
And a lot of them were probably not politically engaged. This is just a social kind of decision to make. I mean, I know among my own relatives-- wasn't a particularly-- it was many Jews who were willing, happy to go to work for the Pentagon as to be Frayhayt readers. So I don't know if there is-- the numbers sort of, like in all these kinds of attempts to-- just because a lot of Jews are involved in something, I don't think the majority are not.
The majority-- a lot of Jews were involved in comics, comic books in 1939, but most Jews were not. So to say it's a Jewish thing-- it may have shaped some-- for those in particular-- I'm more interested in what kind of Jews those were who chose to be part of the Left, and what drove them there, and if that was-- well, but anyway-- I mean, I see a lot of this has to do with aesthetic choices, wanting to be, aspire to be in the middle or upper middle class, or saying it's OK right now for me to be a worker and live like a worker lives.
And these are kind of boiled down to a lot of aesthetic choices. Same with art and comics-- the kind of high modernist art worked really well in the boardroom of a corporation. And an agitprop thing wouldn't work. There was a kind of aesthetic decision.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: So I'm going to invite Elissa Sampson to respond if I'm correctly-- to a few of the questions that have come in, maybe not necessarily directly for Paul and Ben but definitely raised by these provocative comments.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Hi. My name is Elissa Sampson. I'd like to actually right now pose a question for Paul and for Ben that came from Judy, which is the Mad Magazine takeoff on Mount Rushmore is priceless. In other words, you got the ultimate compliment from New York.
I recognize Elsie Suller, camp director for many years. Can someone please identify the other three figures? So I don't know if either of you can, but if not, you may want to find Elsie out later.
BEN KATCHOR: The other three figures--
PAUL BUHLE: We're not seeing it.
BEN KATCHOR: --on Mount Rushmore?
ELISSA SAMPSON: That is-- it was the Mad Magazine cover, I believe.
BEN KATCHOR: Yeah, I could put that up-- wait-- if you want to see it again, if I can figure out how to do that.
ELISSA SAMPSON: And while Ben's looking for-- ah, yes, there it is. There it is.
BEN KATCHOR: Yeah. Right, I actually never-- I assumed these were-- right, there is Alfred E. Neuman, but I don't know who that is. It's great that someone-- so which one was identified?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Elsie Suller was camp director.
BEN KATCHOR: Is that this figure or this? One of them. Yeah, that's pretty funny, 1957, so it's not that long ago.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes. That might be a good research item for all of us. All right, there's a suggestion for Paul and for Ben that Walt Kelly had something going for him with Pogo. And while he may have come out of a different artistic tradition, a political tradition, he might have actually been more effective as a cartoonist when it came to McCarthy.
PAUL BUHLE: Yeah. My response to that is that he began drawing for a Bridgeport, Connecticut newspaper at the time when the mayor of Bridgeport was a socialist. He was the only socialist mayor in office outside Milwaukee in the whole USA. And nobody has really done a careful enough historical treatment of Walt Kelly to say so, but Walt Kelly was already dealing in a kind of dialect humor in the late 1940s that was a little bit African-American and a little bit troubling.
But he was trying to find a milieu in which he could express ideas culturally and politically that could not be expressed any other way. But of course, he was striving for success, as Harvey Kurtzman was striving desperately for success. Mad Comics ended. Harvey Kurtzman jumped ship when he couldn't keep creative control, and was a failure in comic art terms the rest of his life.
Walt Kelly found the road to success and was enormously successful, although the more the Boy Scouts of America liked him, the less radical his critique was, the more of a calm sort of liberal he was. And even he didn't like Castro, a number of other things. But was he effective? Yes, he was very effective. Could he have been as effective for me as Harvey Kurtzman and Mad Comics? Absolutely not.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Ben, do you want to go for Mr. Kelly or--
BEN KATCHOR: No, it was something that I was never attracted to this kind of anthropomorphized animal comic. So I think as a small child, the politics of it were beyond me. So I never got that into it [INAUDIBLE]
ELISSA SAMPSON: Ben, here's another question coming your way-- how does looking at this artwork by Kinderland children influenced your thinking as an artist? What led you to the artwork?
BEN KATCHOR: Well, I came across this collection just a few years ago. So I can't say it directly influenced my work, but I've always been looking at outsider and non-skilled work, just for the pure pleasure of it and the kind of freedom of invention. That's something I think people take-- that's why it's had such a gigantic impact on the adult art world, because there's a kind of freedom, and freedom of invention, and a discarding of all the norms of picture making.
And the thing is, the danger of trying to make pseudo primitive or pseudo children's art-- that's something I try to avoid. But it doesn't influence me in that way. It's just an artifact that I love to look at.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes.
BEN KATCHOR: Someone asked about the children out of Kinderland compared to non-political children's art. Well, I remember in public school, they'd make us design these posters, these really boring posters about various subjects. So there's always been an element of didactic picture making directed at children.
The only thing is this work in the late '20s was connected to an entire movement of art in the Soviet Union that had a very gigantic, world-shattering meaning. So it wasn't making a poster that was the Pilgrims arriving in the United States or something, in America or something. I don't know, it seemed it was much more in tune with a political world that they were trying to introduce to people.
ELISSA SAMPSON: And Ben and Paul, I don't know if you've seen in the chat and the Q&A, your Mad Magazine, or our Kinderland figures have been identified, including Peysekh Novick.
PAUL BUHLE: That's wonderful.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Also, if you remember Gedaliah Sandler as one of the leaders, he had a brother, Herschel. Guess who's up there on Mount Rushmore, and it's not Trump. And one of the people who has posted here actually was in the group that did this. So--
PAUL BUHLE: Amazing. Astounding.
BEN KATCHOR: Yeah, that journal is at Tamiment, I'm pretty sure.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yeah, that one does strike me as a Tamiment, because I think I would have noticed if it was at Cornell. Ben and Paul, I think this might be one of the last questions for you-- do you see something utopian, not simply manipulated in terms of the children's art here? Ben, I know I've heard you speak before about this topic. And you stress that children have agency and that different art traditions can be reflected in many different ways. And what becomes mainstream is not always apparent in its day.
BEN KATCHOR: Right. The question is--
ELISSA SAMPSON: The question is--
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes. People want to know if there's something utopian about it, something that can be glimpsed here.
BEN KATCHOR: Yeah, I think so, but trying to realize the Soviet experiment in upstate New York-- I mean, how more utopian can you get?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Wait a second-- you're the one who wrote a graphic novel about a different type of utopian experiment in the early 19th century. Do you want to say what that is?
BEN KATCHOR: Oh, yeah.
ELISSA SAMPSON: That is certainly upstate New York.
BEN KATCHOR: It was Mordechai Noah's plan to start a Jewish state on Grand Island in the Niagara River, this what he thought was kind of a deserted piece of property. And it's considered now like a failed proto-Zionist or territorial scheme. So yeah, that's another kind of idea.
But no, I think in Vivian Gornick's book, The Romance of American Communism, I think one of these devastating reviews, probably by Irving Howe said she made it sound like they were at summer camp. Well, they were at summer camp. They were at Kinderland. That was this realization of a Soviet utopia. So that's why they felt like that. They were not in the Soviet Union, and some of them may have gone there. Most of them, that was it. They did it. And it happened to be a summer camp and the associated school.
PAUL BUHLE: I have a slightly different response. A couple of things-- first of all, for historians of the US 19th century, western New York state was the center of the burned-over district, of abolitionist women's rights, and some also very crazy utopian projects. But the other one is from the late 1920s, when we have the directly Soviet divisionary quasi-construction something or other that children are aiming at, to the middle 1930s with the rise of the Popular Front, not only is there some general sentiment of antifascism, but there is the crystallization in children's art and sentiment of anti-racism.
And there, we really hit home into some kind of Americanski something or other, where children can be told by their parents, read about race relations in the situation of Black people in the US, and as little Jews, think about what persecution meant, means, and identify in some vital way so that when Paul Robeson or someone like him visits, it's not an abstraction. It's a very real thing. And the joining of these people into some kind of global antifascist movement achieves a solidity and reality that earlier primitivist Sovietist something or other could not achieve, but gives Kinderland and Yiddish a kind of vitality, even as most Yiddish speakers in the world are about to be destroyed.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Paul, thank you very much for that because I think there was one last question, which might do better on the second panel about the differences between these various camps for the JPFO.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: And with that, I am going to take the opportunity to thank Ben and Paul for these rich interventions. All of this, of course, is just scratching the surface, both of the archive and of the historical record more largely, and the kinds of debates that are in some ways the same ones as they were 80 years ago and in some ways very new ones. And with that, we're going to move on to Elissa is going to introduce the second hour of today's panel.
ELISSA SAMPSON: So Sholem Aleichem. Again, a thank you to all of you who are literally embodying what "zitsfleysh" means. And the second part of this panel is "Memories and Reflections." So we're going to have a brief homage by Amelia Glaser, a memory poem by Paul Buhle, and some short presentations by people whose lives were shaped by growing up with the JPFO and its broader cultural sphere.
JENNIFER: So I'm going to introduce Amelia. Amelia, thanks so much for being with us today. Amelia is going to give remarks on David Shneer and Matt Hoffman. And then I'm going to give some remarks on Mickey Flacks. And then we're going to move on to the presentation.
Amelia Glaser is an Associate Professor at the University of San Diego. She's the Director of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies program and Director of its Jewish Studies Program. Thank you, Amelia.
AMELIA GLASER: Thank you so much, Jennifer. So I realize that there are probably many people in the audience who were close to Matthew Hoffman and David Shneer, both of blessed memory. So I'm honored to get to say a couple of things about the work of both of these remarkable scholars, who we lost this year. I met both Matt and David about 20 years ago when I was beginning my graduate PhD program at Stanford and they were both finishing their PhD programs at Berkeley just across the Bay, and across disciplines. They were both historians, whereas I was beginning my career in comparative literature.
Matt Hoffman was one of those scholars whose work was always just a little bit too close to my own. And as such, he made me a better scholar. I changed my dissertation topic when I realized that Matt was already writing about Jews writing about Christianity.
His book From Rebel to Rabbi, Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture, which came out in 2007, became the definitive source on the topic. He also wrote a really fantastic article on the Yiddish writers in the 1929 disturbances in Palestine, called, The Red Divide, the Conflict Between Communists and their Opponents in the American Yiddish Press. Matt was incredibly generous with me, on a number of occasions sending references and resources.
In fact, last spring as I was finishing my book, I wrote to him. I didn't know that Matt was sick until after he died. I wrote to him for help tracking down William Gropper's heirs, and he helped me to successfully contact Gropper's son. I had no idea he was ill.
And when I went back to that email afterwards, I'm so glad for my own sake that it had afforded me the opportunity to tell him how much his work meant to me. He responded to my question about his Gropper work that now that I am not attending the Cornell conference, the Gropper work is still on the back burner. And I responded with something very naive saying, something like, oh, you're not attending. I'm so sorry I won't see you there.
David I knew better than Matt, and he had told me about his illness, both back when it was in the benign stage and also after his diagnosis with a glioblastoma this year. We first met at another conference on Di Linke in Oxford in 2000. And I was, like so many who meet David, completely charmed by his energy and enthusiasm.
David's Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Culture is a wonderful resource on Soviet Yiddish culture and the press. He's also helped to make queer Jewish studies an academic field in its own right. He's published several works on both American queer culture and queer Jewish culture, including edited volumes.
Over the past decade, he's turned his attention to the history of photography. And his books Through Soviet Jewish Eyes, which came out in 2011, and Grief, the Biography of a Holocaust Photograph, which came out this year, are beautiful readings of documentary moments. And we have these as gifts from David.
David brought me onto the board of the East European Jewish Affairs. And he encouraged me within, in fact, the last few weeks of his life, to edit a special issue together with Gennady Estraikh on Crimea. I saw him not only at conferences, but also whenever possible on my visits to see my family. My father was born in Denver, and my paternal grandmother, Barbara Glaser, passed away this past summer, although at a much more appropriate age of 98.
It was on one of these visits 15 years ago that David invited me to give my very first university seminar, which was on Proletpen at DU when he was still at DU before transferring to Boulder. My grandmother came and immediately developed a crush on David, of course. But we'd also meet for coffee, for beer, for breakfast, sometimes with our families.
And we'd talk about everything from academic life to my family's Denver Jewish history. David was not well this fall, but he was working up until the end. He sent me a supportive journal-related email a couple of days before he passed away.
The loss of these colleagues has hit me very hard, particularly David, who I considered a friend. Both were too young. Both were in the midst of a creative process that was not finished. But I feel incredibly lucky to have learned from them both. I want to add that thinking about them has also made me feel incredibly lucky to be in a field, broadly defined as Soviet and leftist Jewish studies, that's as close-knit as this one, where my colleagues feel a little bit like family.
JENNIFER: Thank you so much, Amelia. That was truly heartfelt and very important. I also want to add, very importantly as well, is that Amelia's book, which is appropriately entitled Songs in Dark Times, Yiddish Poetry of Struggle from Scottsboro to Palestine, was just published by Harvard University Press and I'll put a link to it in our chat.
AMELIA GLASER: I want to encourage others who might even be closer to the colleagues that we've lost to maybe share memories in the chat or in the Q&A.
JENNIFER: Absolutely, yes. I wanted to say that as well, that in a moment, we'll be moving on to the next section where we'll hear from people involved in Di Linke. And then at the end, we'll definitely have a few minutes, and people who want to talk about Matt and David are definitely invited to participate, especially in the chat. That's very important, and their work is so, so important. And we wish we were in another world where we're all together at Ithaca with them as well, sharing these experiences.
Someone who was very important to this movement, who-- she didn't get her 120 years, but she got a little bit closer-- is Mickey Flacks, who passed away this past spring. I interviewed Mickey and her husband, Dick Flacks, at their home in Santa Barbara in August 2012. With great humor and generosity, Mickey told me about her childhood growing up in the Jewish Left.
She was born Miriam Sally Hartman in 1940. And she lived not in the coops, but in a neighborhood that she called the middle-class neighborhood that was just adjacent to the coops, which was an apartment cooperative where many members of the JPFO lived. Mickey attended the JPFO Shule in the coops. It was known as Shule Number 23 or the Haim Zhitlovsky Shule. She would walk to the coop after school, to go to shule after public school.
And she talked about what that meant to enter the Jewish Left totality of experience, an environment where the local candy store sold the Morgn Frayhayt and The Daily Worker, and the local record store blasted Paul Robeson records out into the street. She attended Kinderland and the hekhere kursn. And that's where she met Dick Flacks, at Camp Kinderland in the summer of 1955. Mickey told me that "Kinderland turned me into a new leftist," meaning that the political environment stimulated her to participate in the causes and actions that felt most meaningful to her generation.
After she received a biology degree from New York City College, she and Dick eloped. And she joined him in Ann Arbor where he was doing graduate work. She participated in the founding of the activist group Women Strike for Peace, and became very involved in the New Left movement. And she said for the first time, she was inspired by non-Jewish political traditions, especially Quakers and the liberal Christianity of the Midwest.
Dick and Mickey moved to Chicago and then later to Santa Barbara, where Mickey became deeply involved in grassroots organizations that advocated environmental and social justice causes. She served on the boards of the Santa Barbara Tenants Union, the ACLU, Citizens Planning Association, the Environmental Defense Center, and the Jewish Secular Humanist society. In describing her commitment to political activism, Mickey told me that she understood her Jewishness as a sense of responsibility that imbued "every pintele of my life."
She believed her early years at Kinderland, especially in the singing and dancing and communal aspects of daily life there, gave her a profoundly collective and communal experience, which was akin to a spiritual experience. Her memoir, co-written with her husband Dick Flacks is titled Making History / Making Blintzes: How Two Red Diaper Babies Found Each Other and Discovered America. And it was published in 2018 by Rutgers University Press.
So now I'm going to hand it over to Paul Buhle, who has a poem to read for us.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Jennifer, one second. We are going to do certainly Paul Buhle's poem, but we want to make sure that people know that we were expecting Matt Hoffman and David Shneer at this conference. They were invited as panelists. So that is part of why we remember them. Paul.
PAUL BUHLE: Oh, yes. This is a little something that came from going to an apartment in Miami Beach in one of those big buildings. And I think there were six ladies who were in their mid 80s. And before they began, I turned to the host closest to me.
And she said, pointing to a photograph next to her chair, "Take a look at that photograph over there-- our convention, 1931. We had a needle's trade union of our own and it was red. But we had to go back to the ILGWU with our heads down. We have one rule in our book circle-- you have to see something new, and do not talk about your aches and operations."
ELISSA SAMPSON: So we can have a tayne or a complaint, but not others. Some things are morally allowed, some things are not. Some things one could regret. Some things one should not. If we follow your gist, Paul, would that be fair?
PAUL BUHLE: I think so. To that I add a footnote-- in interviewing people at the Emma Lazarus Clubhouse in New York, their one rule was even if you live in Co-op city, even if you can be robbed in the elevator, even if you have to take a bus to the subway and walk from the subway station to the Emma Lazarus Center, if you can't come to meetings anymore, then you're not part of our group.
ELISSA SAMPSON: They had the rights of it. So thank you, Amelia. Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you, Paul, for starting us off, I don't want to say "down memory lane," because it's "Memories and Reflections." It's today as well as what might have happened in Kinderland in 1931 or '48.
So I'm going to suggest here, before we introduce our speakers for the rest of the session, that the JPFO's work itself created a community, one bound by memory, language, and shared purpose, as well as the vicissitudes of history. The study of Soviet-aligned Jews, including fellow travelers, contributes to debates about how communities fracture as well as pull together, and how they forge alliances, and find allies across generations. And we'll hear from people from different generations here.
There are lessons that can be learned from our Linke, and I say "our" most decidedly here, including how their deep affiliation with a variety of cultural [activities] and communities, reinforced and sustained their politics and social connections. I'm introducing as our first speaker Seymour Schwartz, who will be speaking about an ACA gallery exhibit that the JPFO put on called "The Jew in Poland, from Ruins to a New Life." And by the way, Seymour provided the film that we saw during the first session. Seymour, if you can be called on by Matt Gorney, that would be great.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: Can you hear me?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: OK. Good afternoon, everyone, stakeholders. How does one feel to hold an instrument of death in one's hand? What if it felt like a rock crying out in tears as a remembrance of the millions of victims of Hitlerism who had perished with its help?
That object in my hand appeared to be similar to an oval-shaped bar of soap. Yet it was made of hardened and coarse plaster of Paris, and it had a number on it. It was only one of the many that had been issued to each death camp victim who was lured en masse into the so-called showers or the gas chambers.
And each bar of soap with a number was designed to help the executioners count how many of the tens of thousands of victims had been suffocated in each of the groups being led nakedly to their shower, a shower of choking death from deadly poison gas streaming from the ceiling nozzles above. And then they were fed to the coke ovens.
I had been commissioned by the special committee of the JPFO's National Shule and Cultural Commission in late 1948 to make something, so to speak, from the over 300 documents, photographs, photostats, sent to the United States by the Central Committee of Jews in Poland in connection with the memorialization of the 5th anniversary of the heroic uprising of the Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw ghetto. And that was on April 23, 1943. In addition to the documents, a number of representative personal articles taken from the piles of dead were included.
There were quantities of actual human hair, gold teeth, eyeglass frames, and shoes ghoulishly snatched from the piles of skeletal dead stacked like cordwood in the death camps. And then there were the Gele Lates, the yellow armbands and the pieces of yellow gelt from the ghetto of Lodz. But above all, there was still that fake soap, that fake soap with the numbers on it, the defining metaphor of the Nazi systematic carnage against the Jews.
With all before me, where was I to start? How to make something of this? How shall I present the sufferings of its victims, the destruction of Jewish life, and the massive crimes executed by their barbarous executions?
And then, how to display, in contrast, the evidence from these horrors of the past to the rebirth and new life, life of the surviving Jews of Poland? It began with a period of comprehensive examination of all the materials at hand, itself a searing, headache-producing, and unforgettable experience. It became clear that the answer was to follow the methodical campaign of the extermination that unfolded through these documents that could be arranged in unifying themes, and with the public proclamations which the limited and slowly strangled Jewish life, the forced surrender of possessions-- for example, their sewing machines and household possessions-- the herding the families into the ghettos, the transportation to the death camps led the life and the systematic extinction of the tens of thousands in the camps.
Forgive me. Darn it.
Oh, my God. I don't have the phone nearby. Forgive me, folks.
The project was to take shape with the creation of 17 4-by-8-foot framed and decoratively colored panels, each identified with the central theme, together with a number of glass display cases. In contrast to the loathsome horrors of the past, a half dozen panels were to be dedicated to the postwar uplifting and proudful achievements of the Polish Jewish community. In charts and graphic displays, there were examples increasing levels of achievement and productivity, as examples of the Yiddish books and journals being published, the flourishing arts, the number of functioning Yiddish children's schools, the rise of Yiddish cultural institutions, and production levels of the Jewish coalminers in Silesia.
I then brought my proposal before the special commission and received its endorsement to proceed. And now I was on my own. With no other suitable venue available, the lengthy period of construction of these panels, and since I was at the time a graduate student at nearby Cooper Union and a freelance commercial artist, all the work was performed after my studies and during JPFO late office hours, with a large panel spread out on the open floor of the JPFO office.
Understandably, the ambitious and extended process required many months for completion. And the work proceeded at my pace and discretion. In designing an attractive and professional display appearance, for example, since Yiddish display letters were not commercially available at the time, part of my efforts included the design and cutting out of the individual three-dimensional Yiddish letters that represent the panel's themes.
Finally, the project was com--
ELISSA SAMPSON: Seymour.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: Yes.
ELISSA SAMPSON: You're getting the equivalent of the 30-second warning simply because we have many speakers. And we'll have a Q&A in which people can ask you questions.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: I have difficulty in cutting it short.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Nonetheless, Mir hobn nisht keyn breyre.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: All right. Finally, the project was completed in April 1949. JPFO arranged for the exhibit of the project to be held at the prestigious ACA art gallery on 57th Street, at the time a street known for tenanted-- by a number of important art galleries. The exhibit did receive considerable advance consideration, and the gallery was crowded on opening day, with many visitors, among them Yiddish cultural workers, a sprinkling of political notables and diplomats, and of course, activists and members of the JPFO. The panels were displayed throughout the gallery rooms, with examples of the fake soap, teeth, hair, eyeglasses, shoes, and all this on display.
And of course, there were the speeches noting the importance of the event and its connection to the 5th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the now-unveiled Warsaw ghetto monument. The show continued for two weeks, and then it moved on to the major cities across the United States and Canada. I have no information or could not discover what happened to the exhibits after that point.
So I cannot recall if I had mentioned that there was little attention paid to me at that point. But suffice it to say, I was satisfied that the trust placed in me had satisfied the objective of both the JPFO and the Central Committee of Polish Jews.
JENNIFER: Thank you.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: I have the honor and satisfaction--
JENNIFER: We have to--
We're moving on to Hershl Hartman. Hershl, you've got five minutes. Thank you so much.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: My final sentence, if you please. I have the honor and satisfaction to shed light on one of the more unspeakable horrors in human history and to inspire the rededication to the cause of the Jewish people, as well as the universal struggle for peace and equality among all people. Thank you.
JENNIFER: Thank you.
SEYMOUR SCHWARTZ: I'm sorry for the interruption.
JENNIFER: Hershl Hartman.
HERSHL HARTMAN: OK. Just let me add to Seymour's description of that exhibit-- that I wrote the captions and was very proud of the fact that I wrote them so that an English reader could go through the exhibit from right to left, and a Yiddish reader could go through the exhibit from left to right. And the captions should work for either one. OK, I'm sorry I wasn't on video for that comment.
Thanks to J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, my file includes actual copies of two publications that I wrote, one for the Jewish Young Fraternalists of the JPFO and another in Yiddish for the Emma Lazarus Federation, after it became independent and moved to 160 Fifth Avenue, out of the JPFO/IWO offices at 80 5th Avenue. This is the nine-page script I prepared for Khanike 1948 for JYF. If a copy is not in the archives-- and the same applies to the Emma Lazarus work I'll describe in a moment-- if they're not in the archives, I will be glad to provide copies.
Some details about the script and the Emma Lazarus document as insights into the ideology of JPFO and IWO-- the Khanike 1948 script was for a dramatic reading, for use in clubs of JYF as they lit the menorah. Let me point out that in lighting candle number six, the script refers to "my brother in black skin stands by my side." This is 1948, long before the Civil Rights Movement.
In the Emma Lazarus, extremely detailed, 1952 Konspekt vegn dem fertn yoyvel fun medines yisroel--
--an outline about the fourth anniversary of the state of Israel, eight and a half pages, a detailed review of the history and current situation of the state of Israel, generally supportive of Israel, especially of its left-wing parties. I wonder whether that's in the Emma Lazarus archives. Let me again point out that on the last page,
I wrote about discrimination against Arabs and dark-skinned Jews, describing the fact that in Israel, Arabs, now called Palestinians, were second-class citizens, whose passports were imprinted with the letter "Beis" or "Bet" or "B." In the last lines, I pointed out that the Arab population of 175,000 was proportionately similar to the percentage of Negroes in the United States. And the closing line is, "We support those in Israel who fight for Jewish-Arab unity and against racism as official policy."
As to the Jewish Young Fraternalists, the JPFO had three sites for first-generation children of Yiddish-speaking immigrants. First were the Yiddishe Kinder Shuln, the supplementary schools meeting after public school hours, usually from Monday through Thursday. A small percentage of the children who went there went on to Mitlshul, high schools, which tended to meet on Friday evenings and for four hours on Saturdays.
And a much smaller percentage of those in the New York area attended the kursn far lerers un hekhere yidishe bildung, courses for teachers and higher Jewish education, not the Jewish Workers University that we discussed earlier. Very interestingly, while Itche Goldberg and Nathan Kaminetsky of the JPFO were the leaders of the kursn there were non-Communist-connected members of the faculty. The Rabbi of Brooklyn College Hillel, whose name I haven't been able to remember or track down, taught Jewish traditions. Menashe Unger, who was a columnist for Der Tog, the middle-of-the-road, pro-Zionist Yiddish daily-- he wrote on Hasidim. He taught Tanakh from a secular point of view at the kursn.
JENNIFER: Hershl, 30 seconds, please. Thank you.
HERSHL HARTMAN: Pardon?
JENNIFER: 30 seconds, please.
HERSHL HARTMAN: Oh, well, I'm--
JENNIFER: We'll come back to you at the end if we have time.
HERSHL HARTMAN: Since I haven't gotten into a quarter of what I planned to say, and I apologize for not rambling on and on, I will stop right here.
JENNIFER: OK. Hopefully, we'll have time to come back to you later. And we'll definitely want to talk to you more.
HERSHL HARTMAN: And we may find out about "how we shall overcome" came into American culture.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Among many, many other important questions, including that of the origins of Mad Magazine and of the politics that we deal with today. With pleasure, thank you very much, Hershl. I'd like to introduce Maddy Simon, who's going to be speaking to us about the Jewish Young People's chorus and Camp Kinderland itself. Maddy, you're on.
MADDY SIMON: Hi. Thank you so much for this opportunity, because I've been listening to all the days of the webinar, and living my younger days while I listened. It's been wonderful. And I'm so glad I'm talking right after Hershl, because I am participating in a number of the things that he is already spoke of and will probably speak of again.
He mentioned the Jewish Young Fraternalists, which was the youth adjunct, the mostly second-generation JPFO people. The parents were from the JPFO, and they started the Jewish Young Fraternalists. From the Jewish Young Fraternalists, they developed a drama group and a chorus called the Jewish Young Folk Singers. It started in probably 1948 or '49 in the Bronx.
The conductor was a non-Jew. His name was Bob De Cormier, and I was his accompanist. And we met on Sunday mornings or Sunday afternoons for three or four hours. And it became a great social event for the young people, 17, 18, 16, 19-- that age group. And it blossomed into a huge organization.
We had a chorus in Brooklyn, which was conducted by Harvey Schreibman. We had a chorus in Washington Heights, which I later became the director of-- It was first directed by Hal Colter. And we met and sang songs, Yiddish songs, that were of a revolutionary nature, and of love, and of peace, and of social justice.
When the chorus expanded to having four or five different branches, we would meet once a month with Bob De Cormier, our conductor, chairing the meeting. And we would discuss repertoire and things that we were going to accomplish for the season. Each of the choruses had their own concert at the end of this season.
And our first major, major event was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where we sang "Song of the Forest" by Shostakovich. And there were 2,000 people in the audience. And we really achieved a great success.
After that, there were choruses that met for a long time. The choruses in Brooklyn and Washington Heights eventually ended. And the chorus in the Bronx moved to Manhattan and I became the sole conductor of that chorus, which lasted until, I believe, 1960 or '61.
We performed in many different locations. One that I remember specifically was for the American-Soviet Friendship Committee, the year that Czechoslovakia was invaded. And it became a big issue among the chorus members.
Because there was going to be a picket line outside of the meeting that they were running, to which we were invited as a chorus, we were going to have to cross a picket line for one of the first times in our lives. And it became a big issue.
JENNIFER: Maddy, 30 seconds. 30 seconds, Maddy.
MADDY SIMON: OK, well, I'll have to go on from that to Camp Kinderland. And Camp Kinderland has had a big influence on thousands of children, and still exists to this day. In 2023, they are going to celebrate their 100th anniversary, still going on with the same wonderful objectives that the original founders had.
But now, the emphasis is much more on social justice. And of course, the children all speak English. I'll have to--
JENNIFER: Thank you so much. We're going to stop there. We have to move on to Milton Leitenberg, but hopefully, we can come back to you in the Q&A. Thank you very much. Milton Leitenberg. Milton, are you there? If Milton is not there, we'll move on to--
MILTON LEITENBERG: I am here.
JENNIFER: Great. Welcome.
MILTON LEITENBERG: Can you hear me?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes.
JENNIFER: We can. You have five minutes.
MILTON LEITENBERG: All right. I'm going to tell you something about the chorus and dance group of the IWO/JPFO Jewish children's shul, the Elementarshul and Mitlshul, as I participated in both the chorus and the dance group. I had hoped that you would see photographs as I was speaking.
ELISSA SAMPSON: You're about to.
MILTON LEITENBERG: There they are. OK, the first little arrow, that's me. And the conductor-- you can only make out his hands-- that's Moyshe Rauch. In any case, these photographs were in my two Shule graduation magazines, which I saved. And I'm always the very smallest figure in both, in the front row directly to the left of the conductor. In the second photograph, I'm in a light-colored jacket bent over there. I don't know what I'm doing. But that's me.
Shule meant Elementarshul Number One in the Bronx, New York City. And the Mitlshul and it were both held in the four large rooms at the street level in the coops, the apartment houses, the workers' cooperative houses. And I happened to live in those houses as well. And I want to be able afterwards to say just a few sentences about that, because many people have mentioned them.
There were five years of Elementarshul and four years of Mitlshul. Elementarshul classes took place Monday to Thursday after public school ended, one hour each day. Mitlshul took place Friday afternoon and evening, and Saturday until 2:00 PM.
Chorus rehearsal started directly after classes ended at 2:00 PM and were held in the coops auditorium. And the dance group would rehearse in the same space after the chorus rehearsal had ended. I started Elementarshul in 1939 at age 6, and by 1943, I was singing in the chorus. I didn't join the dance group until I was in the first grade of Mitlshul.
The chorus director was Moyshe Rauch, who also led the JPFO adults chorus, that we never performed together. The dance group was taught by Edith Segal. The chorus performed at least once per year, a big annual concert. In my first years, the concerts were held in Town Hall in Manhattan, and the dance group would perform in some concerts as well. Later, they were held in Hunter College in their auditorium, also in Manhattan.
Two concerts also included oratorios. One was a theatrical rendition of Y.L. Peretz's Di Shlang. And in 1943 or '44, we did an oratorio that portrayed the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, and then the destruction of the Ghetto. I was one of the performers as well.
On several occasions, we had a guest artist who appeared with us while the chorus remained on stage. Since I was so short and a tenor, I was positioned directly to the left of the chorus conductor, as you see on both photographs. That meant that the guest was always directly in front of me, just a few feet away.
The first guest was Solomon Mikhoels in 1943, the Soviet actor and theater director for the Jewish Antifascist Committee in Moscow. He did not perform, but spoke in Yiddish to the audience for the purpose of raising funds. One or two years later, the second guest, Paul Robeson, joined us during the concert. He performed by himself, singing three, four songs, at least one of the songs in Yiddish. A few years, later Martha Schlamme was a guest at a third concert.
In 1948, after Israel proclaimed its independence, there was a mass event in which some 40,000 people filled the Polo Grounds in the Bronx, the stadium of the New York Giants baseball team. Two youth dance groups were selected to perform from among Jewish groups in New York City-- ours, and one from the left-wing Zionist organization, Hashomer Hatzair.
We formed two circles on the field and performed simultaneously to recorded music. As we in the audience in the stands filed out of the stadium, our shule group kept singing and dancing under the elevated trains in the street for another 20 minutes or so. As the people filed out, they would stop around us and watch.
I just want to add a few sentences about the coops. Dr. Buhle used the way of saying at the co-ops, it was the workers cooperative housing project, but to everybody that lived in the houses and everybody else in the Bronx-- Jewish, Italian, and Irish-- it was "the coops." Now many of you may know that there's a documentary film that was produced about the coops about 20 years ago.
The two people that were instrumental in making that documentary were Perry Rosenstein and Yaakov Ziebel, both of whom I knew personally, though they were in an age cohort of-- Yaakov was seven years older than me, and Perry was about 12 years older than me. They had a showing of the film here out in Columbia, Maryland, a suburb of Washington. I was present and my wife, and I got up and got Yaakov to admit that in the coops, there were 750 families, 750 apartments-- that no more than 7% to 10% at most were either members of the Communist Party or sympathizers of the Party.
And I think you should know that. When in the Boy Scouts and World War II-- I was not a Boy Scout. They collected newspapers and we did, too. And when I collected the coops' waste newspapers, 90% of them were the Daily News and not any other paper, not even The New York Times.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Milton, thank you very much.
MILTON LEITENBERG: Finished.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Finished. Fertik, fertik, right? Thank you very much for your lived experiences, including with the newspapers. My pleasure right now is to introduce Rae Lisker to talk about JPFO life in Newark. Rae?
MILTON LEITENBERG: I'm through.
ELISSA SAMPSON: You're through, Milt, so we're looking for Rae right now. Rae? If Rae comes back in, then--
RAE LISKER: OK.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Ah, OK, good. Rae, you're on.
RAE LISKER: Thank you for inviting me, Elissa. I've enjoyed it tremendously. And I would like to say that the foundation for who I am today, at 89, was largely built during my years in the JPFO family. When I was six, along with about a dozen other children, we were enrolled in the Shule, the JPFO Yiddish school to learn to read, write, and acquire Yiddish language skills.
At the end of that year in the Shule, dressed in a blue skirt, white blouse, and a red neckerchief, I sang the "International" with a raised fisted arm. Before long, under my mother's tutelage I was memorizing Yiddish poems, and was asked to recite it to various local JPFOs. When I was nine, I joined a bus full of JPFO khaveyrim on our way to join a fantastic May Day Labor celebration in New York City.
We marched and sang in Yiddish. And in the midst of all the other JPFO groups in the front of us and in back of us, the various ethnic sections of IWO marched and sang in native languages and in native garb. It seemed endless, as phalanx after phalanx marched by.
By the time I was 10 years old, JPFO was in Popular Front mode, and I learned to knit by joining with the Emma Lazarus women, knitting scarves for the Russian war relief. That year, I also learned to play the mandolin from an IWO teacher who was also the conductor of the mandolin orchestra. All these activities emanated from "the center," which was at 516 Clinton Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. It was a beehive of activity all week long.
I became skilled in using the bus to get back and forth so that I would not miss out on any planned activities. The center was comprised of a large auditorium used for concerts, bazaars, conferences, dinners, hootenannies with Pete Seeger, and the showing of what were considered worthy films such as "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator." There was a fully utilized kitchen and several smaller rooms for committee meetings, choral practice, mandolin lessons, and mandolin orchestra rehearsals.
Any large-scale excursions, such as to the Bronx Zoo and to the Museum of Natural History, left in buses from the center. It was truly the heart of the JPFO in Newark. I never questioned how these wonderful opportunities were made available to me.
From that center, we connected to a larger world. When I was 12, all the JPFO mandolin orchestras in the New York area gave a concert in Carnegie Hall. I was absolutely thrilled to be there and to experience the joy and the strength of all of us together.
I was able to go to Camp Kinderland for two weeks one summer. It was there that I first sang "The House I Live In," the first time I saw "The Ox-Bow Incident," and also enjoyed the natural beauty of Sylvan Lake. The progression from a childhood in JPFO to adolescence included becoming an active member of the American Youth for Democracy, which I did at 14. It was a comfortable decision and there was a nucleus of JPFO kids when AYD was born. After being taunted, however, and being called a Communist for my affiliation with AYD, I skillfully mounted a defense in an American History class in high school, called "Problems of the American Democracy."
However, at the age of 16, disenchantment set in for me after two students from the University of Chicago "infiltrated" the group, and challenged us about the Stalin trials. We had no knowledge of the trials. I felt this was an intellectual challenge.
I wanted to learn more about the differences between Stalinist and Trotskyist ideologies. The two adult group leaders promised a thorough examination of the issue at the next meeting. I was looking forward to it, but the actual exploration of the subject at that meeting was as follows-- "The Trotskyites are destroyers. Wherever they go, they come in to disparage and destroy leftist efforts." This lack of a true political ideological explanation did not meet my intellectual needs and my respect for AYD leadership and their basic philosophical knowledge has plummeted.
However, in conclusion, I must acknowledge how very fortunate I was to experience the warmth, the inclusion of two families, the JPFO and my nuclear family.
JENNIFER: Thank you so much. We have to move on.
RAE LISKER: I'm almost finished. My values, my Weltanschauung, developed from these sources. All my social and political life actions were forged during those incredibly full years where cooperation with and commitment to work with others towards a better world was established.
JENNIFER: Thank you very, very, very much, Rae. Thank you. We're going to move on now to Eric Salerno Eric, are you there?
ERIC SALERNO: Yes, I'm here.
ERIC SALERNO: Do you hear me?
ERIC SALERNO: Wonderful. Good. I basically am speaking from Italy, from Rome. It's evening here, late evening, and so I wish you all a happy afternoon, and good evening coming for you. I think the basic thing that I had in common with some of the people that spoke to-- sorry, there we are. OK, something was wrong before, sorry about that.
Basically what I have in common with a lot of the people that spoke before is the fact that I went to a children's camp in the United States, which was called Wo-Chi-Ca, World Children's Camp, which was less sectarian. It wasn't just a Jewish camp. It was very mixed, much more radical in the choice of people that went there, more communist, less socialist-- let's put it this way.
And it was a very interesting place. I went there, I think, for three summers between the age of 8 and 10, and I'm talking about-- I was born in '39, so we're talking about 1948, '49, '50, something like that, which were the three years prior to the time that my father-- an Italian Communist, not Jewish-- was deported from the United States. He was a journalist, a very well-known Italian Communist and he was deported.
He was married to a Jewish-Russian woman, my mother. And this part was interesting because the combination of the two, the Russian Jew and the Italian originally Catholic, but not really interested in Catholicism-- on the contrary, he was against all kinds of religions, as many Communists were and still are today. And growing up in this family and going to Wo-Chi-Ca was a very important experience for me, because I found myself in an environment which brought out everything that I was being taught in my family, and which connected me, and which had connected me to a lot of friends.
Because obviously, my family was connected to other families that were very similar. And the whole idea-- I grew up in the Bronx-- the whole idea, also in our neighborhood, was that of trying to be more tolerant and to have a relationship with the other, even if the other was of a different religion, or a different color, or a different whatever. This was important.
And when I was in New York for a while, as a young kid when I was growing up, I went to hand out leaflets for the left-wing parties that were at the elections and stuff like that. But I didn't have this connection which I found amongst other people that were friends in the family, but distant friends, to the Jewish community that other people did. But one reason was the fact that, as I said, it's a mixed family, and not that connected to Judaism as such.
Yes, I was listening to Yiddish and I picked up a little bit of Yiddish as a kid. And that was useful to me later on, and I'll explain that. Because a good friend, my mother's best friend, lived on the same floor in this place in the Bronx. She was married to an Italian Catholic by birth, who was a friend of my father's, who had gone to Spain with the International Brigades.
And so they spoke Yiddish, because she was from Poland, my mother from Russia. And the common language for them was the English that they both spoke well, but also Yiddish. And then so to get around, I imagine, their husbands-- and maybe around me, too-- they would speak amongst themselves in Yiddish.
One of the elements that was very interesting growing up and talking about religion was that our neighbors in New York knew what was happening with my father. Because we had the FBI sitting on a bench outside of our building on Crotona Park for a couple of years. My father had been arrested after-- I think the first time in 1948.
And after that, they were around because my father had a heart attack. And that was an element that kept him out of jail, basically, and retarded his judicial process. But eventually, in 1951, he was deported from the States and went back, came back to Italy, where he became the editor of an Italian newspaper.
What I found that I enjoyed-- and I wrote a book about the history of his family, of my family. And what was very interesting and important for me to have gone through was the fact that, for instance, on the eve that the United Nations was voting on recognizing Israel as a sovereign state, I and my children friends, the children of the different groups of people, we were in an apartment, friends. And the parents were in another room.
And I remember we, the kids, were dancing. Not all of us were Jewish or had any Jewish connection, but we were dancing the Hora because it was something that in the environment, in the left-wing environment, whether it was com-- in this environment, in any case, was part of our growing up, like Paul Robeson was part of our growing up, like Woody Guthrie and his ballads was part of our growing up.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Eric.
ERIC SALERNO: Yes?
ELISSA SAMPSON: I am going to do that sort of vaudeville routine which is the 30-second warning, and then we're going to--
ERIC SALERNO: Wonderful. Definitely. I was almost there. 30 seconds-- I've spent most of the last 35 years in the Middle East and most of it in Israel. And I think it's very important because some people spoke about Israel, about the attitude towards Israel then.
I think it's important to note that the majority of the Jews that I knew, and the majority of the Communists that I knew in that time, and that I read about after, did not realize that in Palestine, there was a population. They didn't really thought about it. They thought about this idea of creating a new kibbutz socialist society in an area that was abandoned for some reason.
The Jews were going back to their homeland to create something totally new, which was not a Jewish homeland in the eyes of my parents. It was a socialist country with liberties that they did not have and see in the Soviet Union. It was a different kind of thing. Thank you.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Eric, thank you. And I am going to call on our last speaker for brief remarks, Susan Garfinkel, who's going to be talking about stories of Grandma Bessie. So we're going to see another generation's connections here to the JPFO and its world, and storytelling. And I thank everybody for their patience, including most particularly those who've spoken and had to do so briefly.
SUSAN GARFINKEL: Hi. I'm assuming you can hear me.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes.
SUSAN GARFINKEL: OK, great. Hi. I've written this out and I hope it's really only five minutes. Thank you, everyone, for sticking with us.
So my name is Susan Garfinkel. I do need to say that today, I'm speaking as an independent scholar and not representing the views of any institution. I'm also speaking on behalf of myself as a grandchild, and of my mother, Lillian Garfinkel, who is the former Lillian Magid, who is listening today.
Lillian was born in New York City in 1931 to Bessie Helfand and Joseph Magid, the only child in a working-class family that was right at the center of this cultural moment we're exploring in this conference. So behind me is the 1940 image of their apartment building in the Inwood neighborhood of upper Manhattan, where the family moved in 1937. But they had all the affiliations-- the International Ladies Garment Workers Union or ILGWU, the IWO and JPFO, the Allerton coops and weekends and summers at Croton Park Colony, which was one of the many bungalow colonies outside of Peekskill where leftist Jewish community prevailed.
So Lillian herself attended the IWO Yiddish schools, the Folk Shul and the Mitlshul and the Hekhere kursn, where Itche Goldberg was among her teachers, as well as camps Wo-Chi-Ca and Kinderland. I have always been especially proud that teenage Lillian was an usher at the first Paul Robeson concert outside Peekskill, the one that never happened, and then attended the second concert with her parents.
So about three years ago, Lily and I traveled to the Kheel Center at Cornell to look at ILGWU records relating to my grandmother's involvement in the union, and found compelling documentation that has helped to fill out the mystery of her exciting life in the Yiddish Left before Lillian was born. So 14-year-old Bessie Helfand arrived at Ellis Island with her parents in 1913, and soon joined older siblings at a factory job. Sorry, I just bounced my talk up-- at a factory job working in ladies underwear with the White Goods Workers.
By the early 1920s, she had become active in Local 62, the White Goods Workers' Union of the ILGWU. In 1925, Grandma Bessie attended the National Convention in Philadelphia. And her delegate's badge occupies a place of privilege in my mother's jewelry box, but I didn't know that Bessie was part of the faction promoting a Communist agenda that year.
In early 1930, Bessie was expelled from Local 62 for, if we read between the lines, taking her shop into the Communist Needle Trade Workers Industrial Union. I'm not sure how the details all fall out after that, but Bessie got married, the Depression hit. Lillian was born.
Bessie was not working for a few years. She talked her way back to Local 62. She eventually worked as a chairlady on and off in underwear for two more decades. She died when I was about six months old, and is buried in an IWO cemetery on Long Island.
One of Lillian's favorite stories-- and this is really what I wanted to share with you-- one of her favorite stories to tell about Bessie's political engagement is also one of Lillian's earliest memories. So one time, and this would have been 1935, they were walking near their home in the Bronx when they came across a protest of four or five women in front of a kosher butcher shop.
Bessie wanted to join the protest, but four-year-old Lillian was jealous of her mother's interest in social justice, so she piped in, in Yiddish, "Mames tuen dos nisht," meaning "mothers don't do that." One of the picketers explained that she was also a mother. It's just that her children were in school.
So still not convinced, Lillian piped up again, but mama, we're vegetarians. What do we care about meat? A good friend, another vegetarian standing by, then turn to the pair and said-- ponderously, I suppose-- Bessie, the child is smarter than the mother.
So they did not join the protest that day. And Bessie didn't involve Lillian in protests again. But she did continue to attend meetings without telling Lillian where she was going.
It was only recently at the Kheel Center where we found documents to begin to tease out an old connection to Ben Gold. So Bessie ran into him one time in, perhaps, 1950. And I won't attempt to imitate my mother imitating her mother imitating Ben Gold, but the quote is in a thick Yiddish accent.
And it goes, "Hello, Bessie from the White Goods Workers." And Bessie was thrilled to be recognized. And that quote has passed down through the generations.
So Lillian was born within a year of the IWO's founding. And I didn't really learn about IWO until years later, she bought a copy of Labzik. And I think a copy of the cover went by in Ben Katchor's slides. This was a book about a Depression dog. And Lillian found the copy at the Yiddish Book Center. So Labzik is copyrighted to the IWO.
Lilly remembered it from her childhood. It was seeing that copyright that got me to start asking questions. And I'll note that it's copyrighted the same year as the kosher meat strike, so there's really a cultural moment there.
So as a grandchild who is also a scholar in American Studies, I have long wanted to do this research. Both my grandparents died early, but my only real tie was to the bungalow colony. So learning about the IWO came for me as an adult. I sort of gained the politics by osmosis, and I always felt Jewish, but didn't understand why I felt so Jewish if I wasn't religious.
And now, as an adult, I understand that it was the revelations about Stalin, the dissolution of the IWO, and the scare of real harm from McCarthyism that made this radical background submerge for so long in my own family experience. So I'll just end by saying that Lillian, in her retirement, has really recentered herself in her love of Yiddish language and culture. And I'm quite confident in attributing that to the IWO, and that she grew up in that moment and that sphere. So thank you.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Susan, thank you so much. And I'm also going to thank all the attendees here. I know we've gone over time. So first of all, for those who are interested in Hanukkah, a Freylekhn Khanike, and that is extended to all here. We want to genuinely thank everyone who attended this and other sessions in the webinar series.
But we want to also respect your time. And for those who need to go now because it's after 5:00, we want to bid you a fond farewell. But you'll be hearing from us by email. And you can find us by email as well.
We'd also, for those who want to stay online and have the patience to do that, have the geduld and zitsfleysh, you are welcome to stay online with me and whoever else would like to. And we will try to handle whatever questions we can or follow-ups. So I thank you, a profound thank you, a sheynem dank to our speakers today.
And we're opening up for Q&A. So Jennifer, do you want to look at the Q&A for a sec with me and see if we can go for something? I see we have a lot of comments in which people are asking about the camps, and what are the differences.
Eric Salerno gave us a sense of Wo-Chi-Ca. We've heard about Kinderland. Does anybody here know about Camp Wyandot that might want to type something in or ask a question?
JENNIFER: I also want to bring out a question that one of our panelists, Nerina Visacovsky asked, which is, do we have a complete list of Shules and camps coordinated by the JPFO with their names, their cities, and the years that they were in operation? Now, to my knowledge, we don't have such a list. We should make one. And that could be maybe something we talk about in terms of the next steps from this conference, is how to pool everyone's information to create new archival resources for scholars and for everyone. So questions about camps or thoughts about lists of information and resources.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Ah, I see Richard Flacks here has a comment that he attended all three camps. Not everybody gets three camps to go to. Richard, could you type a little bit about that or if you type your email, Matt might be able to turn the spotlight on you for a second. Richard,
RICHARD FLACKS: Can you hear me?
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yes.
RICHARD FLACKS: I don't know that I-- oh, OK. No.
ELISSA SAMPSON: We definitely hear you. We hear you.
RICHARD FLACKS: OK, so I'm not sure what the question is about. Wyandot-- I could go on and on. I think I came in late. I stupidly forgot the time that this was going to go on.
So I understand that Mickey was, my wife Miriam, was mentioned. I don't know exactly how that happened, but we've written a joint memoir. I don't know if that was mentioned.
ELISSA SAMPSON: That was mentioned, and the question is about the three camps and how Wyandot was different and--
RICHARD FLACKS: OK, so Wyandot was formed, as I always understood it, to take over from Wo-Chi-Ca but with less overt political connections at the time. Because Wo-Chi-Ca in New Jersey really had to close because of very severe community right-wing attacks on the camp, physical attacks and threats of attack.
So Wyandot started at the same site with a different name and different management. I'm not sure how the IWO connection continued. I've never really understood it, and I'm not sure if anything has been written about who actually was the putative owner of Wyandot.
But it was certainly an overlapping and politically connected situation. That site was used for one year. They left that-- presumably it was too dangerous-- and moved to Mount Tremper, New York, which is near Woodstock, where the camp existed for I think it was four years after.
And that site had some physical problems that affected the sewage and other physical features of the camp that created a lot of tzores. But then the camp was horribly affected by being one of the centers of the polio epidemic of 1953. I think there were six campers and counselors who contracted polio that summer. Camp had to close, tried to function for another year after, but attendance was way down. So I guess it was folded.
But it had many similar features to Wo-Chi-Ca in terms of being very consciously interracial staff and campers, I think maybe even more than Wo-Chi-Ca. I don't have any data for this, but my impression might be that there were more African-American staff members, counselors, in Wyandot than there were at Wo-Chi-Ca. And it was a camp that stressed not only the interracial theme, but also very much a working class, pro-labor attitude, but partly directed at making a lot of us feel questioning and guilt about our own relative class privileges, I felt.
In any event, I don't know what else to say. There were a lot of similarities, and yet I'm not sure whether the sort of decline or ending of IWO and the fact that this camp sort of existed, as far as I could tell as a kid, in a somewhat isolated way compared to what Wo-Chi-Ca had represented, whether or how that affected the functioning of the camp. I don't know if anyone else--
ELISSA SAMPSON: Thank you.
RICHARD FLACKS: I don't know if anyone else in the room also has the Wyandot experience.
ELISSA SAMPSON: No, thank you very, very, very much for that, because people were curious about the differences in the camps. And as Bob Zecker has noted here, there were also camps near Cleveland, Camp Robin Hood. So there are a number of camps, but these are the three that are best known.
RICHARD FLACKS: I think one important point to say is that Kinderland, as you probably reiterated, continues to exist. It's approaching its 100th anniversary. So that's a remarkable, not only survival, but really, in many ways, a flourishing story.
And I always like to say that Kinderland was founded the same year as the Chinese Communist Party. And I always follow that by asking which has adhered more closely to its values and principles, which of those two organizations? And does that potentially suggest that rather than form parties, we should form children's camps?
PAUL BUHLE: [LAUGHS]
ELISSA SAMPSON: All right. It looks like we're winding down a bit here. A lot of people have posted really, really good comments about resources here, or something about their own experience, whether they grew up in the Bronx, or someplace else, or in the coops. And that's really helpful in terms of trying to pull together a picture of both a movement, a moment, and being able to bring it as a resource, as an oytser, as a treasure, into a future that we all badly need to reshape.
And it is an absolute pleasure, a fargenign, to thank everybody here who has contributed to this program, by attending it, by speaking, by typing, whatever, or telling other people about it. Because that's the way community gets created. And that's something that has happened here.
Not least, I very, very much want to thank the working committee here that put together this conference. That includes Jennifer Young, Bob Zecker, Matt Gorney, Ayla Kline, and a number of others at every unit at Cornell, and outside of Cornell at Syracuse University, that contributed to this conference. Please do not hesitate to find us. That's what email is for. And thank you.
Again, a Freylekhn Khanike for those who want their Hanukkahs to be happy. Yet Hershl has noticed that Hanukkah could be happy, and is about to donate a copy of that to everybody. And please use the archives and tell people about them because ultimately, people speak best with their own words. And that's what these archives allow us to do. Thank you again, and hope to hear from you soon.
PAUL BUHLE: Thanks.
ELISSA SAMPSON: A gute nakht.
JENNIFER YOUNG: Thank you, Elissa. Thank you for being the heart and the brains of this whole operation, and bringing this conference into the world despite so many setbacks. And we really appreciate all of your wisdom, and guidance, and perseverance in bringing this through. So thank you. Thank you very much. And everyone, use the archive. It's online.
JONATHAN BOYARIN: Yosher Koyekh, Elissa.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Yosher Koyekh to everybody who's here. And again, a gute nakht, because it really is nighttime now.
PAUL BUHLE: Good-bye vicariously from Paul Robeson. Thank you.
ELISSA SAMPSON: Good-bye, Paul.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
"Di Linke: the Yiddish Immigrant Left from Popular Front to Cold War" explores the history, cultural and political activities of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO), a significant component of the Yiddishist immigrant Jewish Left. The JPFO, the Jewish section of the Soviet-oriented multi-ethnic International Workers Order (IWO), was shut down with the IWO during the Cold War when its funds and organizational archives were confiscated. Much of the material discussed is from the now partially-digitized IWO/JPFO archive housed at Cornell’s ILR School Kheel Center.
Art Presentation and Discussion: Ben Katchor with Paul Buhle on Children’s Text-image Work. Memories & Reflections: Seymour Schwartz, Hershel Hartman, Maddy Simon, Milton Leitenberg, Rae Lisker, Eric Salerno, and Susan Garfinkel.