Greta Zimmer Friedman

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Greta Zimmer Friedman
Legendary kiss V–J day in Times Square Alfred Eisenstaedt.jpg
Greta Zimmer Friedman being kissed by sailor George Mendonsa in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic 1945 photograph
Grete Zimmer

(1924-06-24)June 24, 1924
DiedSeptember 8, 2016(2016-09-08) (aged 92)
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
EducationQueens Vocational High School
Central High School of Needle Trades
Harlem Evening High School
Alma materFashion Institute of Technology
New School of Social Research's Dramatic Workshop
Hood College
OccupationDesigner, painter, dental assistant
Known forV-J Day in Times Square photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Mischa Friedman
(m. 1956; died 1998)

Greta Zimmer Friedman (born Grete Zimmer; June 5, 1924 – September 8, 2016) was an Austrian-born American who was photographed being grabbed and kissed by Navy sailor, George Mendonsa (1923–2019[1]) in the iconic V-J Day in Times Square photograph of 1945 by Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.[2] Widely misattributed as being a photograph of a nurse, she was actually a dental assistant with a similar uniform.

Early life and education[edit]

1939 passport issued by the government of Austria for "Grete Sara Zimmer," the middle name added by national socialist decree

She was born Grete Zimmer on June 5, 1924, to a Jewish family in Wiener Neustadt, Austria.[3] At age 15, Zimmer emigrated to America from Nazi-controlled Austria in 1939 with her younger sisters Josefin (Fini) and Bella; as Americans, Josefin became Josephine (Jo), while Grete and Bella traded the last letter of each name to become Greta and Belle. The eldest Zimmer sister Lily emigrated to Palestine, took the name Tirza, and remained in Israel after fighting in the 1948 War of Independence. Their parents, Max and Ida, unable to leave Europe, died in concentration camps during the Holocaust.[4]

Zimmer attended Queens Vocational High School, the Central High School of Needle Trades and the Harlem Evening High School. Supporting herself as a dental assistant, she then took classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and studied costuming with the New School of Social Research's Dramatic Workshop, led by Erwin Piscator. Later, while living in New York in the 1940s and 1950s, she variously worked in toy design and doll clothing, as well as early television with the Bil Baird puppets, and summer theater at the Camp Tamiment Playhouse.

V-J Day in Times Square[edit]

On VJ Day, August 14, 1945, Zimmer had left work at the dentists' office dressed in her uniform and was celebrating the end of World War II in Times Square when a stranger dressed in a Navy sailor's uniform grabbed her and kissed her.[2][5] Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, who was in Times Square documenting the celebration, captured the moment with his Leica. The resulting photograph, V-J Day in Times Square, was first published in Life magazine in 1945 with the caption, "In New York's Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers".[6]

When Eisenstaedt took the photo, he failed to get any personal information from his subjects leaving their identities unknown for decades. In the ensuing years, many women claimed to be the woman in the photo. Zimmer, now Greta Friedman, eventually saw the photo again in the 1960s and instantly recognized herself. She wrote to Life magazine and provided additional photos to verify her identity. Life editors did not contact her until 1980 when, after research and analysis, confirmed that Friedman was the woman in the photograph.[7]

While V-J Day in Times Square went on to become an iconic photo that was generally viewed as a celebratory and romantic photograph, Friedman had mixed feelings about it.[7] "I was grabbed by a sailor and it wasn't that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back, I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war. And the reason he grabbed someone dressed like a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded," Friedman stated in a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress.[8] She went on to say, "I felt he was very strong, he was just holding me tight, and I'm not sure I -- about the kiss because, you know, it was just somebody really celebrating. But it wasn't a romantic event. It was just an event of thank God the war is over kind of thing," adding that "it wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed."[8] "I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip," Friedman told CBS News in 2012.[9]

Later years and death[edit]

In 1956, she married Dr. Mischa Friedman, a WWII veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps and a scientific researcher for the Army at Fort Detrick, moving to Frederick, Maryland. She attended Hood College, studying oil painting, printing, sculpture, and watercolors, but did not graduate until 1981, the same year her two grown children Mara and Joshua also graduated from college. Friedman worked for ten years at Hood restoring books.[10]

Inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery

Friedman died at age 92 on September 8, 2016, in Richmond, Virginia. She is inurned beside her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.[5]


  1. ^ "George Mendonsa, sailor pictured in iconic Times Square vj Day kiss photo, dies aged 95".
  2. ^ a b "Greta Zimmer Friedman dies; kissed sailor in World War II iconic photo". The Washington Times. September 11, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  3. ^ Rosenberg, Eli (September 10, 2016). "Greta Friedman, Who Claimed to Be the Nurse in a Famous V-J Day Photo, Dies at 92". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  4. ^ Callahan, Maureen (June 17, 2012). "The true story behind the iconic V-J Day sailor and 'nurse' smooch". New York Post. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Chuck, Elizabeth; Calabrese, Erin (September 10, 2016). "Greta Zimmer Friedman, 'Nurse' in Iconic WWII Kissing Photo, Dies at 92". NBC News. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  6. ^ Kreps, Daniel. "Greta Friedman, Woman in Iconic Times Square Kiss Photo, Dead at 92". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Lewis, Danny (September 14, 2016). "The Woman in the Iconic V-J Day Kiss Photo Died at 92, Here's Her Story". Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  8. ^ "Woman in V-J Day photo dead at 92". CBS News. September 10, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  9. ^ "Interview Transcript: Greta Zimmer Friedman: Veterans History Project (Library of Congress". August 23, 2005. Retrieved September 15, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Redmond, Patricia (August 23, 2005). "Interview Notes". American Folklife Center. LOC.
  • Sulzgruber, Werner, Lebenslinien. Jüdische Familien und ihre Schicksale. Eine biografische Reise in die Vergangenheit von Wiener Neustadt. Berger, Wien / Horn 2013, ISBN 978-3-85028-557-5. [biographies of Jewish families from Wiener Neustadt, Austria, incl. a chapter about family Zimmer]
  • Verria, Lawrence, and Galdorisi, George. The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II. Naval Institute Press, May 15, 2012, ISBN 1612510787.