Tag Archives: Hamburg

Jews of the Week: Margaret and H.A. Rey

Curious George

Margaret and H.A. Rey

Margaret and H.A. Rey

Margarete Elisabethe Waldstein (1906-1996) was born in Hamburg, Germany, the daughter of a Jewish politician. She studied art and worked in advertising until 1935, when she fled Nazi Germany for Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, she reconnected with an old family friend who had also moved to Brazil. Hans Augusto Reyersbach (1898-1977) was born in Hamburg, too, and now working as a salesman in Rio. The two got married that same year, and resettled in Paris. Reyersbach started drawing a series of animal cartoons and was soon commissioned to write a children’s book by a French publisher. Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, a story about a giraffe and her monkey friends, was published in 1939 under the pen name H.A. Rey. The story became popular very quickly. Particularly beloved was one of the monkey characters in the book, originally named Fifi, and commonly translated to other languages as George. The following year, Rey started working on a new manuscript featuring the curious monkey. By this point, World War II had started, and the Nazis were approaching Paris. Hans and Margaret fled the city on a pair of bicycles. The manuscript was one of the few things they took with them. The couple arrived in Spain, then Portugal, then headed back to Brazil, and finally settled in New York. Curious George was published in 1941, and like its predecessor, was very popular. Hans and Margaret went on to produce seven Curious George books together. Hans wrote and illustrated many more children’s books before passing away in 1977. Two years later, Margaret became a professor of creative writing at Brandeis University. Meanwhile, she worked on a second series of Curious George books, as well as a number of short TV films based on the stories. In 1989, she established the Curious George Foundation with two goals: to promote creative writing among children, and to prevent cruelty to animals. When she passed away in 1996, Margaret left major donations for the Boston Public Library, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and donated the family’s entire literary estate. Curious George continues to be among the most popular children’s books all over the world. A third series of Curious George stories have been produced in recent years, as well as a TV series which airs on PBS. In 2006, an animated film starring Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore was released. Two sequels and a video game have been produced since then. Today, there is an official children’s bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts called The World’s Only Curious George Store. There is also a Curious George Live national tour, and a popular Curious George-themed water park at Universal Studios in Florida.

Words of the Week

One should always see to it that tomorrow should be much better than today.
– Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch

Jew of the Week: Sigmund Freud

The Father of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigismund Schlomo Freud (1856-1939) was born in what is today the Czech Republic to Galician-Jewish parents. His father, a once-Hasidic wool merchant, brought the family to Vienna where Freud grew up. A natural academic, he absorbed his studies effortlessly and became proficient in 8 languages. His favourite were the works of Shakespeare, which he read his entire life and are said to have greatly influenced his theories. He became a doctor and worked for several years in hospitals, asylums, and clinics before starting his own practice specializing in nervous disorders. At the same time, he married the daughter of Hamburg’s chief rabbi and they would go on to have 6 kids. After learning hypnosis in Paris, Freud found that a certain patient was able to open up to him while hypnotized and in the process of talking out her problems, brought about her own relief. Freud realized that patients need only be guided to speak freely, with no need for hypnosis. He also found that much of their issues were reflected in their dreams. By 1896, he abandoned hypnosis entirely and created “psychoanalysis”. From his own experiences and that of his patients, he put together a series of new theories about the mind, emotions, consciousness, religion, dreams, and sexuality. He published a range of books and papers, and delivered lectures each Saturday night. On Wednesdays, he led a small discussion group with 5 other physicians, all Jews. The Wednesday Psychological Society would evolve into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and spawn many other such groups across Europe and the world. Freud would go down in history as the founding father of psychoanalysis. His ideas inspired a proliferation of new literature in psychology, philosophy, science, and sociology. Despite the rise of the Nazis and the burning of his books, Freud was determined to stay in Austria until he was finally convinced by colleagues that his life was in danger. After much difficulty, he escaped to London (though 4 of his older sisters could not, and perished in the Holocaust). He continued his work, analyzing patients and writing more of his ground-breaking ideas. After battling an oral cancer for nearly two decades – a direct result of his smoking addiction – he reached a critical state of illness and a decision was made together with doctors and Freud’s daughter to end his life. After several days of high-morphine doses, Freud passed away on Yom Kippur.

Words of the Week

Someone else’s material needs are my spiritual responsibility.
– Rabbi Israel Salanter

Jew of the Week: Albert Ballin

The Inventor of Cruises

Commemorative Stamp of Albert Ballin

Commemorative Stamp of Albert Ballin

Albert Ballin (1857-1918) was born in Hamburg, Germany to a lower-middle class family. At 17, Ballin’s father died so the young man took over his father’s work at an emigration agency. By 22, he owned the agency, and at 29 he was the director of HAPAG, a ship liner providing service from Hamburg to New York. Ballin transformed the company into the world’s largest sea company with 175 ships. He revolutionized the business, focusing on providing customer service and a comfortable voyage. By using return voyages to deliver goods, Ballin was able to cut the price of a Transatlantic trip by nearly 40%. This work made it possible for myriads of Jews to escape Eastern Europe before, and during, the World Wars, saving countless lives. He would often sail on his own ships and ask the customers how their voyage could be improved. To make sea travel even better, Ballin constructed a massive neighbourhood on an island near Hamburg’s port (later called BallinCity) where voyagers could relax, shop, pray, and receive health inspections and travel documents. Ballin pioneered the production of ever larger and more luxurious ships. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the invention of the cruise ship. When Transatlantic voyages were perilous in the winter, Ballin had an idea to use his idle ships in other ways, outfitting them for “pleasure cruises”, where the voyage was not only a means to get somewhere, but the destination itself. Many scoffed at the idea (some said Ballin totally lost his mind), but the first such voyage, a 57-day Mediterranean adventure in 1891, was a huge success and sparked the cruise ship industry. Ballin became the German Emperor’s ship operator, and was nicknamed the “Kaiser’s Jew”, though his religion cost him many great opportunities. The Kaiser once admitted that Ballin would have been made Chancellor if he weren’t a Jew. A gentle and kind man, Ballin also donated anonymously to a great many causes, and strove to make peace between the European powers. Unable to prevent World War I, he was labelled as a “pacifist traitor” of Germany, and at 61, overdosed on sleeping pills. His home in Hamburg is now the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

 

Words of the Week

Why is the Torah called “fire”? Just as fire receives no impurities, so too the words of Torah.
– Talmud, Berachot 22a