Greta Zimmer Friedman
Greta Zimmer Friedman
Grete Sara Zimmer
June 5, 1924
|Died||September 8, 2016 (aged 92)|
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
|Resting place||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Education||Queens Vocational High School|
Central High School of Needle Trades
Harlem Evening High School
|Alma mater||Fashion Institute of Technology|
New School of Social Research's Dramatic Workshop
|Occupation||Designer, painter, dental assistant|
|Known for||V-J Day in Times Square photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt|
(m. 1956; died 1998)
Greta Zimmer Friedman (born Grete Sara 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) in the iconic V-J Day in Times Square photograph of 1945 by Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. For decades the photograph was misattributed in popular culture as being that of a nurse, however, Friedman was wearing a white uniform because she was a dental assistant.
Early life and education
She was born Grete Zimmer on June 5, 1924, to a Jewish family in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. In 1939 at age 15, Zimmer emigrated to America from Nazi-controlled Austria with her younger sisters Josefin (Fini) and Bella. In the process 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. She took the name Tirza and remained in Israel after fighting in the 1948 War of Independence. Unable to leave Europe, their parents, Max and Ida, died in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
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 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, in early television with the Bil Baird puppets, and in summer theater at the Camp Tamiment Playhouse.
V-J Day in Times Square
On V-J Day, August 14, 1945, Zimmer had left work at the dental office dressed in her uniform and was in Times Square among those gathering in anticipation of an announcement of the end of World War II, when a stranger dressed in a Navy sailor uniform grabbed her and kissed her. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, who was in Times Square to document the event, captured the moment in four frames with his Leica. One of those frames became the photograph, V-J Day in Times Square, that was 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".
When Eisenstaedt took the photograph, 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 photograph. Zimmer, now Greta Friedman, eventually saw the photograph in the 1960s and instantly recognized herself. She wrote to Life magazine and provided additional photographs to verify her assertion that she was the woman in the photograph.
Life editors did not contact her until 1980, however, when renewed interest in who the subjects of the photograph were and, after research and analysis confirmed that Friedman was the woman in the photograph.
V-J Day in Times Square became iconic and was viewed popularly as a romantic photograph taken during the 1945 victory celebrations. As she adapted to that interpretation of what she acknowledged as not consensual, Friedman expressed mixed feelings about it decades later. In 2005, during an interview at the Library of Congress Friedman stated, "it wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed." and "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." 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."
Along with the man identified as the sailor in the famous photograph, George Mendonsa, she was invited to attend civic events and anniversary celebrations of the victory. Although she participated, she never agreed to a re-enactment.
Later years and death
She attended Hood College, studying oil painting, printing, sculpture, and watercolors, but did not graduate until 1981, the same year in which her two children, Mara and Joshua, graduated from college. Friedman also worked at Hood for ten years, restoring books.
- "Kissing sailor from iconic WWII photo dies at 95". www.abc.net.au. February 19, 2019.
- "Greta Zimmer Friedman dies; kissed sailor in World War II iconic photo". The Washington Times. September 11, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Kreps, Daniel. "Greta Friedman, Woman in Iconic Times Square Kiss Photo, Dead at 92". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
- Lewis, Danny (September 14, 2016). "The Woman in the Iconic V-J Day Kiss Photo Died at 92, Here's Her Story". Smithsonian.com. Smithsonianmag.com. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
- Martino, Andy (September 2, 2016). "How a celebrated image marking V-J Day in Times Square has taken on a sinister shade". Daily News. New York. Archived from the original on September 16, 2016. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
- Redmond, Patricia (August 23, 2005). "Interview Transcript: Greta Zimmer Friedman: Veterans History Project (Library of Congress)". American Memory. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
- "Woman in V-J Day photo dead at 92". CBS News. September 10, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
- "Interview Transcript: Greta Zimmer Friedman: Veterans History Project (Library of Congress". memory.loc.gov. August 23, 2005. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
- 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.