Archive | Historical Perspective by Jerry Kasten

Hail Drebin: America’s Fighting Jew in 20th century

Posted on 12 April 2018 by admin

When it comes to choosing topics to write about, I am always a “sucker” for the unusual, out-of-the-ordinary and unorthodox.
An historical character who fits these descriptors is Samuel Drebin, a Russian Ukrainian Jew, who five months after arriving in New York in 1899, decided to join the U.S. Army at age 21.
After a brief training period, he was shipped to the Philippines to help put down a native insurrection led by the rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo.
After distinguishing himself in battle, Drebin joined troops headed toward China, assisting in the rescue of westerners trapped in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion, where he received additional recognition as a courageous fighter.
With the end of the Rebellion in 1901, Drebin was released from active duty and failed to find satisfaction in a succession of manual-labor jobs.
At the start of the Russo-Japanese War, Drebin attempted to fight for the Japanese, but he was quickly turned down since he couldn’t speak a word of Japanese and they also thought he might be a Russian spy.
Having experienced success as a soldier, Drebin re-enlisted in 1904 at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he trained and became proficient in the use of the Army’s new machine guns.
After Drebin’s second army enlistment ended, his newly acquired machine-gun skills helped him find work as a security guard in the Panama Canal Zone and as a fighter in the Nicaraguan rebel army.
With a reputation as a fighting soldier, Drebin was recruited for several liberation movements, eventually joining Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing in January 1917 in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Pancho Villa.
As Pershing’s personal scout during the search for Villa, Drebin earned Pershing’s respect, resulting in a genuine friendship.
With the inability to find or capture Pancho Villa and the looming entry of the United States into the World War in Europe, the search for Villa was ended.
Drebin married and seemed to be settling down in El Paso. The Drebins had a child and life seemed to be slowing down for Sam.
With the start of World War I, however, he was drawn back into the Army, joining the heaviest fighting in France.
True to form, Drebin, an excellent soldier-fighter, was recognized by the French, British and Americans with some of their nations’ highest awards.
Perhaps Drebins greatest award was the statement by the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Pershing, calling him “the finest soldier and one of the bravest men I ever knew.”
Learning of his wife’s infidelity while he was away, Drebin divorced her and settled in El Paso, establishing a prospering insurance business.
In 1921, Pershing called Drebin to duty once more to join Alvin York as honorary pallbearers at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
Having served three tours of duty, First Sgt. Samuel Drebin had fought in more wars than any other American soldier.
In addition to the medals and ribbons awarded Drebin, another outstanding honor was a poem honoring his memory by the famous writer Damon Runyon in 1942:
Hail Drebin!
There’s a story in that paper I just tossed upon the floor that speaks of prejudice against the Jews;
There’s a photo on the table that’s a memory of the war And a man who never figured in the news.
There’s a cross upon his breast — That’s the D.S.C., (Distinguished Service Cross) The Croix de Guerre, the Militaire — These, too.
And there’s a heart beneath the medals That beats loyal, brave and true — That’s Drebin, A Jew.
Now whenever I read articles that breath of racial hate Or hear arguments that hold his kind to scorn,
I always see that photo With the cap upon his pate And the nose the size of Bugler Dugan’s horn.
I see upon his breast The D.S.C, The Croix de Guerre, the Militaire — These, too.
And I think, Thank God Almighty We have more than a few Like Drebin A Jew!


U.S. Civil War ended during Passover

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

Can you imagine your feelings as a northern Jew on the first night of Passover in 1865, a day after receiving the news that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending America’s Civil War?
After the youngest child asks the question “Why is this night different from all other nights?” we probably would be thinking of fellow Jews, lost in the war, no longer able to celebrate the freedoms they fought and died for, no longer with us at the Seder table.
Because of a shortage of space, let the following remarks of an unnamed Union officer be considered representative of Jewish soldiers in both the Union and Confederate forces.
“Personally, I know several Hebrews who served in the California regiments known as the ‘California Column,’ but in the long years that have elapsed, I have forgotten their names.
“They were all good faithful soldiers to the flag they pledged to defend. One I remember, Soloman Davidson, belonged to a regiment which saw service in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico.
“Davidson was a brave man, carrying dispatches and orders from one part of the command to another, regardless of storms and dangers of Indian ambush.
“I have only good things to say regarding the performance of our Hebrew soldiers.”
As for Jews living in the South at that time, most lived and worked in cities, rather than on farms or plantations.
Any slaves they owned were workers in their homes or laborers in their business.
There is an anti-Semitic rant which alleges that Jews dominated the slave trade before the Civil War, but in reality, according to slave historians, Jews accounted for only 1.25 percent of all slave owners.
On April 15, 1865, four days after the start of Passover, President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre, then carried across the street to a boarding house, where he died the next morning.
At Lincoln’s last gasp of breath, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Some say there is a link between Lincoln’s life and Passover, which marks the end of slavery for the Israelites in Egypt. Lincoln’s death coincides with Passover in the Hebrew calendar every year.
We need to also remember the end of slavery in our own country as we celebrate Passover, the story of our ancestors going from slavery to freedom.
My parents, of blessed memory, escapees of Czarist shtetls with hopeless futures, experienced their Passover by coming to America to live a life under freedom.
“God Bless America!”


Jews have served proudly in many police departments

Posted on 15 March 2018 by admin

Some people were somewhat shocked and surprised to learn that Broward County, Florida Sheriff Scott Israel is Jewish.
Most Americans don’t normally consider policemen as being Jewish. Surprisingly there are many young Jewish men and women who have chosen to serve their communities in law enforcement or in the military instead of becoming doctors, lawyers or accountants.
An official in the Jewish Shomrim (Watchers) Society estimates the approximate number of all Jewish law enforcement in the U.S. as 30,000.
This is not a new phenomenon. The first Jew to become a police officer in the “New World” was Asser Levy, who fled to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam with 22 other Conversos from Recife, Brazil, in 1654.
Upon arriving in New Amsterdam, Levy’s impoverished group was initially denied admittance by the governor, Peter Stuyvesant. Because of the governor’s open condemnation of the Jewish faith, historians consider this as the first case of anti-Semitism in the new world.
However, the Dutch West India Company, which oversaw the New Amsterdam colony, contained many Dutch-Jewish investors and officers in Holland.
Each time Asser Levy, acting as spokesperson for the impoverished group, was denied a request for equal treatment, he would petition the Dutch West India Company in Holland and receive approval of his requests over the objections of anti-Semite Stuyvesant.
In 1655, Levy requested to join the Burgher Guard, which manned the stockades along Wall Street against possible Indian attacks.
His request initially denied, Levy again sought help from the Company directors and received approval for his request to join the Burgher Guard.
After two years of service, Levy then requested that he deserved to be listed as a burgher (citizen) since he kept watch and Jews in Holland also had burgher status. This request was also initially denied, and again overruled by the directors in Holland.
Winning his petition, Levy officially became New Amsterdam’s first Jewish citizen and policeman on April 21, 1657, honored today for fighting for the right to protect his community.
New York, of course, because of its population and port-of-entry for European immigrants, always has had a large police force made up of either immigrants or children of immigrants, some of whom were Jewish.
It was the Depression of the 1930s that attracted many into civil service work, including the police department.
The stereotype of Jews as doctors, lawyers and scientists was affected by the scarcity of jobs and the need for secure employment found in civil service.
In spite of Jewish parents’ preference for their children to become professionals, there seems to be a growing number of youngsters today who, instead, desire to become police officers.
New York Police Department’s Shomrim Society, which began in 1924 with just a few members, added 400 new members from 1935 to 1937.
The National Conference of Shomrim Societies was formed in 1958 and now has chapters in at least 12 states, as well as additional members in various federal and state law-related units such as the National Park Service Rangers, court bailiffs and prison guards, among others. Once, Captain Max Finklesten, NYPD, became famous in 1938 when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia selected him to lead a special squad of all Jewish officers to act as a security unit to protect visiting officials from Nazi Germany and the German consulate who had requested extra security.
The Nazis reacted angrily at learning that their security consisted of Jewish policemen and protested to no avail. The New York newspapers made the most of the Nazis’ embarrassment with photos and cartoons of their shocked expressions when confronted with their security wearing yarmulkes.
In writing about Jewish policemen, I vividly remember my oldest brother, Rubin, of blessed memory, who served 25 years as a New York Police traffic officer, retiring as a sergeant.
Rubin, early in his first year on the force, ran after a fleeing robbery suspect wanted for a string of downtown holdups, capturing him, later receiving medals from the NYPD and the New York Daily News.
His wife then quickly made him promise to become a traffic cop, which he did, dodging cars instead of bullets.


The true tales of Morris Morris and Lewis Morrison

Posted on 01 March 2018 by admin

Recently, while searching for information about Jewish soldiers in the Civil War, I came across someone whom I found to be so unusual and interesting in many different ways, that his life story is a tale worth telling on its own.
On Sept. 4, 1844, in Kingston, Jamaica, Morris W. Morris was born to an English-Jewish father and a Spanish-black mother.
As a youth, he left Jamaica for the United States, living in Louisiana when the Civil War began.
Enlisting in the first free black military regiment in the South, the Louisiana Native Guard, he soon rose in rank to lieutenant, making him the first black Jewish officer to serve in the Confederate Army.
At first, the Confederacy was unsure how the Louisiana Native Guard troops were to be used, but the problem was resolved when the Union captured New Orleans before the Home Guard had a chance to face combat.
Morris had risen in the ranks to lieutenant by the time New Orleans had been captured by Union forces.
He soon joined others of the Louisiana Guard, who switched their allegiance to the Union cause, making Lt. Morris the first black Jewish officer to serve in both the Confederate and Union Armies.
There is no evidence that Morris saw any combat as a Confederate, but he participated in many battles as a Union officer of the reorganized Union Guard.
At the Battle of Port Hudson, Morris’ unit gained fame as the first black regiment to fight for the Union. Morris had been promoted to brevet captain.
Phil Downey, great-great-grandson of Morris Morris, in a letter to the Jewish-American History Foundation, expressed his belief that after the Civil War, Morris changed his name to Lewis Morrison upon leaving the Army in pursuit of an acting career.
Downey believed that Morris wanted to escape both his Jewish and black heritage as he pursued dramatic roles.
From Baltimore to San Francisco, eventually to Philadelphia and New York, Morrison found success playing opposite leading actors of the day.
Morrison appeared in roles with Edwin Booth, Lawrence Barrett, Charlotte Cushman and others before forming his own touring company in 1884.
Morrison’s most outstanding portrayal of Mephistopheles in Faust earned him international acclaim, becoming his most popular character, from 1889 until his death in 1906.
As a result of marriages to two actresses, his grandchildren’s names include Barbara Bennett, Joan Bennett and Constance Bennett. He was a great-grandfather of television talk show host Morton Downey Jr.
In spite of unexpectedly dying at a relatively young age (61) from complications during surgery, Lewis Morrison had enough of life’s adventures to satisfy any Broadway story.


Though it tries to deny: a historical perspective on Poland’s Holocaust guilt

Posted on 15 February 2018 by admin

Poland has been in the news lately, denying that it was responsible for the Holocaust.
Some years ago, my wife, Deanna, and I took a trip to Central Europe, which included a trip to Auschwitz.
As we walked from room to room, we gaped at the stacks of prisoners’ shoes, eyeglasses, and other personal items that were displayed.
Photographs of victims were hung on the walls. We saw the ovens, yet at no time did the Polish guide use the word “Jew” to describe the victims.
As she was about to leave us, I had to ask, “Weren’t these Jews that were killed?” “They were Polish…Some were Polish Jews. Many were Polish political prisoners,” she brushed us off.
In reality, we know that almost all the victims were Jewish.
We also know that the Polish government’s officials and citizens were complicit in the roundup, capture and transport of local Jewish inhabitants in order to gain favor with their Nazi invaders.
Many tens of thousands of Polish citizens collaborated with the Nazis, burning a barn-full of 1,500 Jews in Jedwabne, spying on and betraying hiding places of others in order to be rewarded by the Nazis.
Even after the Holocaust camps’ liberation, when some Jews attempted to return home, many were attacked, causing some to migrate to Israel.
Yes, many Poles were involved in the attacks and the killings of Jews, but there were also Poles who hid and rescued Jews at the risk of their own lives.
Yad Vashem in Israel has memorialized those Polish Gentiles for their attempts to save Polish Jews.
This past summer, while President Trump was in Europe, he had an opportunity to try to dissuade the Polish president from pushing for a new law that makes it illegal to blame Poland for any aspect of the Holocaust, but he failed to do so.
Poland’s Holocaust Denial Law threatens three years in prison for anyone accusing Poland of being responsible for the Holocaust.


Dallas’ Jewish business pioneers — both big and small

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Time marches on. I read recently that a number of the major Jewish businesses had, over time, mostly been sold to others.
These high-profile businesses include Neiman-Marcus, E.M.Kahn, Titche and Goettinger, Volk, Sterling Wholesale, Sanger-Harris, and Zales.
These were the “upscale” stores of the day and were generally located on Main, Elm, and Pacific streets in what was referred to as “the courthouse area” of downtown Dallas.
A number of excellent articles about Jewish leadership in Dallas by David Ritz appeared in D Magazine (November and December 1975, and more recently in November 2008). They featured interviews with the Jewish business leaders of Dallas, as well as with the highly respected religious leader, Rabbi Levi Olan, who was the Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El for many years.
While these businessmen may rightfully deserve credit for building a strong Jewish power base in Dallas, there were others, perhaps considered “smaller and less powerful,” who deserve credit for their contributions as small business pioneers both to the Jewish community and to the city in general.
European Jewish immigrants, escaping the pogroms of Czarist Russia, entering from Galveston were settling in Houston and Dallas seeking opportunities for a livelihood.
In the 1870s, Dallas, ex-slaves and recent immigrants were both attracted to the east Elm Street area, where a new railroad depot and the Houston and Central Texas Railroad tracks came through town.
Storefronts were rapidly being built along this industrial area where jobs could be had, deals made and partnerships forged.
Because of the growing pedestrian traffic, Elm Street was one of the first streets to be paved.
Many of the earliest Jewish merchants pioneered a strong bond with the African-American freedmen, many of whom worked for them and who also lived in that early Deep Ellum area.
Among the earliest Jewish shop owners on Elm were Meyer Goldstein (fruit seller), Abraham Cohn (saloon owner), Jacob Susman (shoemaker), Max Friedman (tailor), Abraham Smith (men’s clothing store) Samuel Singer (dry goods), Nathan Yonack (dry goods) and Daniel Rabinowitz (real estate).
By 1873, Jewish merchants owned 12 of the 29 dry goods stores. But by 1900 Jewish merchants owned 10 grocery stores, 25 clothing stores, eight saloons, six tobacco shops, nine tailor shops and 14 dry goods stores.
Perhaps one of the most important types of businesses expanding in the Deep Ellum area and elsewhere as the city grew were the pawnshops.
Jewish immigrants saw the need by low-income people to secure loans without having to establish credit with banks.
One of the most well-known pawnshops of the many found in Deep Ellum was Honest Joe’s, which opened in the early 1930s and did not finally close until 1984.
“Honest Joe” was, in reality, Rubin Goldstein, a New York Jew who started a pawn business, which he ran until his death in 1972. (Editor’s note: The TJP will have a feature on Honest Joe’s in the next few weeks.)
He was so well-known that he was referred to as “the mayor of Elm Street.” When the Ku Klux Klan began to threaten blacks who worked and lived in the Deep Ellum area, the Jewish shopkeepers, who also felt threatened at times, stood up to the Klan.
It is too bad that a permanent Deep Ellum historical display has not yet been established because Deep Ellum was such an important part of our city’s history.
I highly recommend Rose Biderman’s (of blessed memory) outstanding story of Dallas Jews, 1870-1997, They Came to Stay.


5 reasons to make a family tree in 2018

5 reasons to make a family tree in 2018

Posted on 04 January 2018 by admin

Wikimedia Commons illustration A family tree can be as simple as a two- or three-generation tree, or as complicated as European royal family successions.

Wikimedia Commons illustration
A family tree can be as simple as a two- or three-generation tree, or as complicated as European royal family successions.

Here it is … The start of a new year! As to be expected, there have been lists both in newsprint and on the air of “The Top News Stories of 2017.”
What we tend to forget in considering the history around us is the history of our own family. It’s not exactly the same as it was a year before, is it?
Perhaps there’s a new child or two, a marriage, a graduation, a divorce, a bar mitzvah, a death, other changes?
Whatever your age, you are probably part of a family. If someone in your family has not already made the effort to draw up a family tree or has not updated an old one, you have an opportunity to do some good.
There are a number of advantages to making a family tree, beyond just satisfying your curiosity.

  • 1. You will feel wiser as you research and learn more about your family.
  • 2. Interacting with older members will make you feel closer.
  • 3. You will feel good, as you’re performing a service for others.
  • 4. You will be helping family members connect with one another.
  • 5. When you do a good job of collecting and sending the completed chart to each member of your family, you will have done a wonderful mitzvah.

The basic family tree lists all the members as far back as possible, up to the present. Dates of birth, marriage, and death are usually shown. Last known location (state) could be included.
The search itself can be very exciting. The Dallas Public Library is a good source for tracing American genealogy. Jewish family history, unfortunately, is not easy to trace as records in Europe either have been burned or are often sketchy.
My wife and one of her nieces in California, however, have been able to gather enough information to put their family history online, available to all their relatives.
There is an even more advanced type of family tree, usually referred to as a genogram. In addition to the names of family members, it describes how members interact with each other and provides medical history as well. Such detailed information could be helpful to medical and mental health practitioners attempting to diagnose a physical illness or a mental disorder of a family member.
“Has anyone in your family had this or that?” the doctor would ask. I usually didn’t know when asked. A family genogram requires members to be more open and willing to share with other family members mental and medical health information they normally would not reveal to strangers. A genogram is also used in family counseling to pinpoint psychological issues and interrelationships of family members.
Those TJP readers with children still at home can use this first week of the new year to talk with them about the start of their own family, going back to where their parents met, perhaps roughly drawing and explaining a family chart.
Such family stories supposedly have been shown to improve children’s self-esteem, helping them to better understand their place in the world, while also increasing their interest in history.
There are a number of websites online dealing with tracing ancestry, including Jewish genealogy. Seeking family information from relatives, near and far is often the best source of all. Children may not be interested at the time, but may seek out their history when grown. Genealogy can be a worthwhile and an enlightening family project.


Lesson from history could help solve tensions

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

All the recent complaining by Palestinians and others in response to President Trump’s selection of Jerusalem as America’s future embassy location is due to the Palestinians’ historic rejection of Israel in general, including the location of its capital, Jerusalem.
During America’s war for independence (170 years before Israel’s), there were also issues concerning location of our nation’s capital. This is an aspect of America’s history your teacher may have skipped.
One can imagine the uncertainty of the times, a rebellion for independence, various self-interests seeking a break with what many considered as a tyrannical master far from our shores.
Between 1774 and 1790, our nation’s capital changed locations eight times. At the war’s end and with a peace treaty finally signed, our nation’s capital was one of the first major issues facing the new United States of America.
The primary reason there were a number of different capitals at various locations was that colonial delegates were fearful of being captured and were quick to relocate at the first hint of British troop movements in their area.
Technically, each building where the Continental Congress met and carried out governmental business was considered “the capital.” There were eight of them by war’s end.
The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774 when delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met to plan a unified response to England’s “Intolerable Acts.”
Successive Congresses during the next 16 years met in Baltimore, Maryland; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; York, Pennsylvania; Princeton, New Jersey; Annapolis, Maryland; Trenton, New Jersey; and New York City before the final move to a permanent national capital.
The final choice of permanent location of America’s national capital was left to George Washington, but a much greater problem was facing the new nation.
Once independence was achieved, numerous creditors were demanding to be paid back the loans made by the lenders. You might think of this as one of our nation’s first kvetches.
When Alexander Hamilton suggested that the new national government should assume all the debt of the states, the states with the least debt felt that it would be unfair for them to be taxed equally with states that owed more.
The key to solving this inequity was the creation of a compromise devised by Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson and Washington. They used their influence to gain the votes necessary to pass both bills, the Funding Act, allowing the national government to collect state taxes to pay off the nation’s debt, and the Residence Act, setting the site of the nation’s capital in the South, along the Potomac River.
The Southern location was said to have increased the Southern states’ political power as opposed to the North’s growing economic power, a fair compromise.
If only some of the same basic bargaining concepts used by our founding fathers were applied by Israel and Palestine today, there might be more solutions.
But the complexity of the Middle East leaves little room for compromise.


Let’s remember Pearl Harbor, not forget those un-American detention camps

Posted on 07 December 2017 by admin

On one hand, the Japanese navy’s sneak attack on the United States’ naval fleet at Pearl Harbor 76 years ago today taught us a lesson we must never forget. Never let your guard (defenses) down … “Always be prepared!”
The second lesson we should have learned is not to be willing to surrender our basic belief in human rights as we did when herding Japanese-Americans, German-Americans and Italian-Americans (all legal aliens or citizens) into internment camps.
Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were suddenly deemed potential security risks, as were Italian-Americans and German-Americans throughout the nation.
I wondered as a child growing up in The Bronx during World War II why our neighbors, named Schmidt, changed their name to Smith. Their two sons were serving overseas, but they still must have felt the stigma of having a German name.
The Fox Movie Tone newsreels show the forced removal of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans from their businesses and homes along America’s West Coast.
They were resettled further east, into guarded internment camps in rural areas, often surrounded by barbed wire, watchtowers and armed patrols. It was an orderly process, meeting little resistance.
Most Americans, shocked by the surprise and success of the Japanese Navy’s attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, were concerned with the possibility of a Pacific coast invasion more than they were with the rights of Japanese-Americans.
When U.S. Army General John L. DeWitt, in charge of the Army’s Western Defense Command, in his report to the president, surmised that all Japanese-Americans, being loyal to their emperor above all, could not be trusted, the president felt justified in implementing a nationwide Alien Control Program, also known as the WRA (War Relocation Program).
“After all, what was to prevent Japanese sympathizers from assisting in a Japanese invasion by spying on military installations and committing acts of sabotage?”
Further quoting General De Witt, “A Jap’s a Jap. There’s no way to determine their loyalty.” Also, “The Japanese race is an enemy race…” Such was the thinking behind the internment camp orders in Final Report: Japanese Evacuation From the West Coast 1942.
In addition to the larger internment camps housing primarily Japanese-Americans, there were a number of special smaller camps operated by the Department of Justice.
One such camp was located 35 miles north of Mexico near Crystal City, Texas. Only complete families of Japanese, Italian, and Germans who had been captured in Central America, South America and Mexico, were held in Crystal City. They were to be traded for American prisoners caught in foreign territory.
The South American roundup even included some Jews who had previously escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing to Columbia.
This little known unique aspect of World War II history is described in Jan Russell’s The Trail to Crystal City. It is a story of family perseverance during the effort to return civilians to their native lands through prisoner exchanges.
Elsewhere in Texas, there were internment camps of various sizes at Fort Bliss, Kenedy, Seagoville and Fort Sam Houston. Some detainees were held until 1948, almost three years after World War II had ended.
While a small number of the “enemy aliens” received some monetary compensation for loss of property, nothing could make up for the disruption of so many lives.
In 1980, in response to the pressure brought by Japanese-Americans, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine if the decision to force Japanese-Americans into camps during the war was justified.
The appointed commission’s report found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty and concluded that the entire process was based on racism, recommending that the survivors be paid reparations for their losses.
In 1988, President Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which formally apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II.
So, remembering Pearl Harbor, we always need to be prepared and — remembering those camps — we also need to protect civil rights.


Ethics as important as microscopes in science

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

On this Thanksgiving Day (and every day), let us be thankful for those at all levels of scientific research in their laboratories, be they at drug companies, at universities, in the field, in forests, in deserts, on or under oceans, or in the mountains, who work to attack the scourges of mankind through scientific research.
Their work has helped save millions of lives from the ravages of tuberculosis, polio, and other life-threatening diseases and afflictions.
I especially wish to dedicate this article to my brother of blessed memory, biochemist Dr. Frederick H. Kasten, a combination teacher and research scientist who always set a high standard of professionalism, both in his classroom and in his laboratory.
I thought of Fred as I recently read a magazine article in my doctor’s waiting room similar to one he had written in 1987, in Gambit, a New Orleans publication. In both cases, the complaint was opposition to the common practice of the lab director’s insistence that the director’s name be listed as a contributor to whatever results emerged from his lab, taking credit for others’ work.
The writer of the current article, a laboratory research scientist, was also complaining about the fact that during a recent brief discussion with another researcher he had suggested a solution to a lab problem he was having.
After a few months, he noticed, in a science publication, his “associate” taking sole credit for “his idea.”
Irritating at the very least, in the field of scientific research, such “thievery” or “borrowing of ideas without giving proper credit” can be very costly.
One prime example was the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to Selman Waksman, a Rutgers University professor, for his discovery of antibiotics, including streptomycin, which saved many lives from the ravages of tuberculosis.
He was later accused by one of his lab assistants, Albert Schatz, of failing to give Schatz proper recognition and credit for doing the actual lab procedures of isolating and producing streptomycin.
While Waksman was given sole credit in the 1952 Nobel Prize for the discovery of streptomycin and other antibiotics, legal proceedings by Schatz forced Rutgers University, where the research took place, to take a closer look at the degree of assistance that Schatz and others gave to Waksman.
While legal proceedings by Schatz resulted in a cash award and recognition as a co-discoverer of streptomycin, the Nobel Committee still awarded sole recognition to Waksman, ignoring the research assistant.
In addition to a resulting cash settlement, Rutgers University eventually reviewed the facts, including interviews with Schatz, recognized his truly significant role in the development of antibiotics, and in 1994 awarded Albert Schatz the University’s highest award, The Rutgers University Medal, as co-discoverer of streptomycin.
The first patients treated with streptomycin were soldiers at a U.S. Army hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. The first one treated did not survive, the second patient survived but became blind, and the third patient experienced a healthy recovery, eventually becoming well enough to become Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole.
I am surprised that Hollywood has not yet seen fit to capture the drama, the excitement of discovery and intrigue one can find in this true account of personal ambition, scientific competition and discovery.
For those who wish to read more about this true tale of two Jewish scientists with conflicting ethics, I recommend Peter Pringle’s Experiment Eleven, Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug.


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