21 March 2023

T.B, family secrecy, involuntary lockup and treatments

Hilltop TB Sanatorium, Verona, 1907

The first modern sanatorium for treating tuberculosis was the Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary for Scrofula, founded by a Quaker physician in Margate in 1791. Built for 36 patients and later expanded, the building was designed so patients could sleep on open but protected balconies and spend the day in gentle exer­cise or resting on the beach.

English Dr George Bodington wrote a scathing attack on other TB treat­ments in 1840, including imprisoning patients in sealed rooms at home. Unknown at the time, this treatment infected their caregivers and family members. Dr Bod­ington rented a house and op­ened a san­at­or­ium where patients could en­joy the fresh dry air, exercise and a good diet. The med­ical estab­lishment respond­ed harshly, with many noted doctors con­demn­ing his approach; TB referrals to his san­at­orium waned. So he dev­oted the remainder of his profess­ional life to the care of the mentally ill.

Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society, Denver
Photo credit: Beck Archives, University of Denver

A German Dr Hermann Brehmer opened the first sanatorium in the Bavarian Alps in 1854. It was a live-in hospital made of cabins where patients could get fresh air, good food, presc­ribed rest and exercise. Brehmer had weatherproof wooden bench­es fixed into the ground at regular in­tervals along the forest paths. This life offered a de­gree of remission to some patients, by help­ing to streng­then their own immune systems. Sanatoria also gave the bene­fit of separ­ating the infected from others, sometimes for years. 

The first U.S sanatorium opened in 1885 in Saranac Lake New York by an American doctor who had planned to live in the Ad­ir­ondack Mountains. Dr Trudeau had read about the Brehmer approach and sought to replicate it. He also read of Dr Robert Koch’s disc­overy of the TB bacterium and set up his own ex­periments to test germ theory on animals, to quant­ify the sanatorium treatment. 

See how the architecture of a building could be purpose-designed for a TB sanatorium. External space was allocated for patients at the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society Denver who participated in heliotherapy/sun exposure as a treatment for TB. 

The many sanatoria accommodated a small fraction of the millions of TB victims. Wanting to avoid deaths, sanatoria often did not accept people with advanced disease. And because of the cost of sanatorium care, poor patients were left to die at home with their families. The death rate in sanatoria or at home were the same i.e half of pat­ients died. So the secrecy within these families was intense. 

Once antibiotics were discovered in the 1940s, they provided a real cure for TB, so sanatoria declined and closed. But even though the sanatoria had not cured TB, they did provide a long-term bene­fit to families and society.

In c1930 my paternal grandmother disappeared from her home, leaving her husband and 6 children alone. The oldest two children were mat­ure enough to stay at home, but the four youngest boys were separated and each lived with an aunt or uncle. Apparently my grand­mother had TB and was sent to a sanatorium in a country reg­ion an hour outside Melbourne, for an unknown number of years.

The boys were told that family secrecy was essential, that they were never to mention TB at their primary school or Sunday School. But they did know that TB was so infectious that they could NEVER visit the sanatorium, open a letter their mother wrote or handle the embroidered or knitted gifts that their mother made and posted to them. My father didn’t even remember how long his mother had been absent.

Willard State Hospital, NY

See an analysis of being locked away, for mental problems and not for TB. Nonetheless the isolation seemed the same. Willard Asylum in New York's Finger Lakes admitted its first pat­ients in 1869. Many of the early res­id­ents arrived after years of incarceration and mistreatment in dismal alms houses. Before long, Willard grew into a sizeable vil­lage, relying heavily on unpaid patients labouring in the farm, bakery, kitchens and indust­rial factories. Factory-sized brick buildings housed patients, while the more opulent residences were designated for staff.

By the early C20th, the patient numbers in Willard State Hospital rose steadily, with over-crowded wards and deteriorating condit­ions. The hospital's original purpose as a healthy rural retreat was lost in the grim realities of institutional life.

Willard's population reached an all-time high of 4,076 in 1955, and conditions within the institutions were harsh. By then state hospitals began to use newly developed anti-­psychotic drugs to control patients crammed into tight living quarters. In the early 1970s, new laws promoted patients' rights and resulted in a shift away from long-term institutionalisation.

50,000+ patients had been admitted to Willard during its 126-year history, and nearly half of those died there. When Willard closed in 1995, workers discovered hundreds of suitcases in an abandoned building’s attic. Many of them seemed untouched since their owners packed them decades earlier, before entering the institut­ion. 

Willard closed in 1995, 
Hundreds of suitcases remained from the patients who never returned home.

We learn who these invisible people were, prior to being committed behind Willard’s hospital walls, largely from the clothing and per­sonal objects left behind. The objects speak about fam­il­ies, friends, careers, sports, study­ing, writing and travel­l­ing, but also about loss and is­ol­at­ion. See their lives coming apart due to unemploy­ment, loved ones dying, loneliness, poverty or some other crisis.

The collection raised difficult questions. Why were these people committed into this in­stitution, and why did so many stay for so long? How were they treated? What was it like to spend years in a closed institution, shut away from a society that wanted to distance itself from these people? Why did most of the patients live out their days at Will­ard? What happened to their families?

The Willard cemetery opened in 1870, a year after the instit­ut­ion opened. Most of the 5,776 graves bore only numb­er­ed, cast-iron markers. These were the relics of the thousands of pat­ients who spent much of their adult lives confined in a state asylum.

18 March 2023

Budapest's stunning new synagogue renovation - Rumbach Street

Rumbach St Synagogue

The Great Dohány St Synagogue was built in 1854-9 in the Moorish Rev­iv­al style, with decoration based on Islam­ic models from North Africa and medieval Spain. This historical building in Budapest’s 7th district, is the largest synagogue in Eur­ope, seating 3,000 people! The Viennese architect, Ludwig Christian Förster, was known for build­ing both synagogue and churches. He wasn’t familiar with any distinct­ive­ly Jewish architecture so he chose arch­itect­ural forms once used by oriental ethnic groups close to Jews.

Great Dohány St Synagogue

Dohany St Synagogue was damaged by aerial raids during the Nazi Occupation, especially during the Siege of Budapest. Thankfully during the Communist era the damaged structure could be used again as a synagogue for Jewish survivors.

The Rumbach St Synagogue was also special, this one being design­ed by famous ar­ch­itect Otto Wagner. Completed between 1869-72, the to­w­ering Moorish struc­ture with 2 minaret-type towers enclosed a symm­et­rical facade. On­ce housing a vib­rant congregation, the Rumbach St Syn­ag­­ogue is only 300 ms from Dohány St Synagogue. Rumbach Synagogue, named for the street on which it stands in Budapest’s historical old town of Pest, formerly the Jewish-majority 7th district. It predated the trendy cafes and bars that sprung up in recent years.

In 1941 the synagogue became a deportation point for 20,000 Jews, refugees who fled southward after the Nazi in­vasion of Poland, as well as Jews liv­ing in Hungary for decades without proper pap­ers. The de­p­ortees were taken to Southern Poland and massacred in Kameniec-Podolsk by the SS. Later Hit­ler occupied Hungary and the Fascist Arrow Cross seized power in Mar 1944. The new govern­ment resumed the dep­ort­ation of Hung­arian cit­izens on trains to the exter­min­ation camps. Note that the Hun­garian Nazis were feared in the extreme.

Eventually the building’s roof rotted thr­ough and birds moved into the sanctuary. In 1979 the roof totally collapsed and the col­ourfully paint­ed wall panels were al­most com­pletely faded. There was a big fear that it would collapse, or that the government then would raze it to the ground.

Cantor Immanuel Zucker, reopening ceremony, June 2021.
No pews put in yet.

The abandoned synagogue sat decaying in the city’s heart for 60+ years. After changing hands often, the building was re­t­urn­ed to the Jewish community by the Hungarian gov­ernment in 2006. Sin­ce 2014, its renovation has proceeded irregularly as the community dealt with logistics, funding and finally the pandemic. Thankfully the 8-sided Moorish Rev­ival synagogue has since been restored. The oc­tagonal, bal­conied, dom­ed synagogue intricately patterned and coloured a la Islam­ic structures is very beautiful.

In June 2021 dozens of members of the Hungarian Jewish community danc­ed around Bud­a­pest’s busy Karoly boulevard, accompanied by instruments playing joyful music. Their destin­ation, Rumbach Synagogue, was loc­at­ed down a quiet side street not far from Great Dohany St shule. And though the jubilant procession marking the Rum­bach’s rededic­at­ion started in Dohany Synagogue’s gar­den, event organ­is­ers moved around 7th district.

Inside the richly renovated synagogue, congregants admired the ornate, hand-painted red, blue and gold panels adorning the sanctuary walls as boys carried the Torah scroll to the restored Ark. Nearly two storeys tall, it nevertheless reaches under halfway to the magnific­ent domed ceiling. Giant gold columns support Eastern-style arches lit by stain­ed glass windows 10’ in diameter. In the centre of the synagogue hall, a golden cir­cle hid a hydraulic-driven elevating cantor’s dias, mixing the old with the new. The sprawling compound behind the decadent patt­ern­ed brick facade envelops either side of the enormous sanct­uary.

The Rumbach’s grand reopening was the result of years of negotiations, patience, and an $11.2 million grant from the Hungarian state. The ev­ent was attended by Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, Israeli Amb­as­sad­or to Hungary Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, Hungarian Minister of Famil­ies Katalin Novak, and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who met and thanked Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban afterwards.
Interior of the dome
stained glass windows

Government funding was conditional on the space being used by everyone as a non-denominational cultural centre during weekdays for the next five years. In addition to its relig­ious function, the newly renovated Rum­bach emerged as a multiple cult­ur­al centre welcom­ing all faiths liv­­ing in the city, plus vis­it­ors to Budapest. The old rabbi and rab­b­in­­ic­al assistant’s quarters are now a kosher café, paying respect to the city’s history of coffee culture.

The non-profit hub on the upper floor provide office space to c20 Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, charities, youth groups and the country’s only professional Jewish theatre company. They’ll also host music, theatre and art exhib­itions, and is equipped with lighting, sound, a staging area and dres­sing rooms. A multi-media exhibition space on the third floor shows the history and curr­ent life of Hung­ar­ian Jewry, and uses the notable media family, the Pulitzers, as an example of Jewish inte­g­ration and contribution to Hungarian society. 
colourful mosaics patterns, patterned bricks and gold columns

Photo credits: Times of Israel

14 March 2023

The Last Vermeer: a filmed court case of fake art in WW2 Netherlands.

I was very familiar with artist Han van Meegeren’s history and was therefore a bit reluctant to see the film The Last Vermeer, given it was a novel and not a history book. This Dutch artist-dealer had been charged with collab­oration with the Nazis for selling a Vermeer masterpiece to Her­mann Göring, one of the most powerful Nazi leaders.

The film version: Han Van Meegeren centre, Esper Dekker (left) and Allied Capt Joseph Piller (right) depicted in post-WW2 Holland
Credit: ArkansasDemocrat

It was not clear in this film whether van Meegeren was a] actually a Nazi supporter, b] an anti-Nazi Dutchman who wanted to fool the Nazis and take their money or c] a talented artist who survived WW2 as best he could. The viewers were assured that the film was based on a true story, fitting in the important material so that we under­st­and what happened back in the horrors of 1945, just as the war ended. As back­ground, the film showed bombed out buildings, starving children and traitors being shot in the streets. But it had to deal with the creat­ion & management of art, how it related to war-time culture and com­mer­ce, and what kinds of moral compromises were sanctioned.

I am not sure that this film avoided the problems of ambiguity and confusion. I am assuming that because the events took place just after the war in Europe ended, it was during the chaotic int­erim period be­fore the Allied Forces returned control to the countries once occupied by the Nazis. Firing squads were shooting those deemed to be collab­orators in the street, as the crowds watched.

It was not explained why an ex-lieutenant in the Dutch Resistance, Joseph Piller, was now wearing an Allied uniform, investigating the art gallery he saw as a front for a German espionage ring. Nor do I know why everyone spoke in English to each other, even though the story specifically reflected Dutch war experiences.

Tracking the sale of the Vermeer at a huge price, Piller found van Meegeren in his fabulous home that survived the war intact. But Piller soon had him in a prison cell—until there was a territorial fight with local Dutch authorities." Piller consid­ered his group morally sup­er­ior to the Dutch rivals. When they assumed control over van Meegeren, Piller stole him from prison and hid him in a small gallery. Van Meeg­eren promised to answer all of Pill­er's quest­ions, IF he was allowed him to paint… and drink alcohol.

It may be that Piller's obsession with finding and punishing those who collaborated with the Nazis was fuelled by his estrangement with his wife. While he was underground with the Resistance, she was gathering information by working for and with occupying German officers.

The storyline may have diverged from the facts, but the photograph­y was stunning: on one hand the rubble of the post-war landscape and on the other hand, the sumptuous parties where van Meeg­eren entertained wealthy Dutch society. And Germans.

The films suggested the trauma at the end of the war stressed the imp­ort­ance of real Vermeer master-pieces as a vital part of the nation­al identity. It suggested that a sale to the enemy would have been a dev­astating betrayal. But I don’t think Dutchman in 1945 could have cared less about protecting Vermeer’s reputation.

The real court case, Amsterdam, 1947

At the trial, van Meegeren ironically had to insist that rather than collaborating with the Nazis, he was actually thieving German funds. That meant he had to prove his innocence by showing that the painting in question was not a real Vermeer, but was his own forgery. And that he kn­owingly sold Vermeer forgeries to important Dutch coll­ections by fool­ing the leading Vermeer authority then, Dirk Han­nema

Han­nema was convinced that there were more Vermeer paintings around, but they had been unrecognised since the C17th because they’d been hidden. So van Meegeren paint­ed “his Vermeers” much larger than Vermeer ever did! Yet when the pompous, uber-confident Dutch ex­pert saw the forger­ies, he in­­sist­ed that Vermeer had painted them. In real life The Mus­eum Boij­mans flourished under Hannema’s directorship, but he was gaoled for his conduct during Germany’s WW2 occupation of Holland.

The film wanted to raise questions about: so-called authent­ication by experts, validation from critics, and their comm­ercial impact and confl­ic­ts of interest. If the film was exploring what integrity meant in an occ­up­ied territory during wartime, I think it failed. I wasn’t even certain why Pil­l­er battled on behalf of van Meegeren before and in court.

When Han van Meegeren was found not guilty and was rel­eas­ed, he lived for only 8 weeks post-trial. During that short time, the Dutch forger had become a national hero in the film; huge crowds were clapping van Mee­g­eren outside the court. Presumably this was because van Meegeren had noted that many Dutchmen, and others, had effectively been pro-Nazi, during the war. Post-war, they were on his side!

11 March 2023

Shame Ontario, shame! Dionne quins' zoo

Oliva and Elzire Dionne married in Sept 1925, a French-Canadian farming family with six child­ren born BEFORE the quins. They also had three sons  AFTER the quins. Born in 1934, the 5 premature babies were delivered by country Dr Allan Dafoe who quickly in­formed the lo­cal news­paper ed­itor; he sent a rep­orter and ph­oto­graph­er to the farm. Soon Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie were removed from the warm butcher’s basket, to pose on mum’s bed.    

Quins with Dr Dafoe, 1940

At first, media attention on the girls was helpful. Chicago and Toronto journalists brought water-heated incubators bec­ause the farmhouse lacked electricity. The Red Cross provided round-the-clock nurs­es. Ordin­ary mothers donated their breast milk to the quins and were compensated.

Meanwhile Oliva Dionne worried about how he would pay for medical care and all the other expenses of 5 more babies. He went to his priest for guidance on whether he should acc­ept offers to publicly display the girls for money. The priest offered to be his business manager.

Dr Dafoe was responsible for the quins, with a rotating team of nurses, orch­estrating the profiteering that surrounded them. Oliva signed a con­t­ract to display the quins at the Chicago World’s Fair for 23% of pro­f­its. A day later, Ol­iva changed his mind and cancel­led the con­tract, but too late; the Ch­icago promoters ref­used.

Meanwhile Ontario Att­or­n­ey General’s office proposed a solution to the parents: sign over custody of the girls to Red Cross for 2 years. Red Cross would build facilities opposite the farmhouse, for the girls’ care.

Months later the Premier propos­ed a bill to permanently make the girls state wards, thus ensuring that all moneys would be held in a Trust for the girls’ be­nefit. The parents, often depicted as ignor­ant peas­ants, pub­licly begged for the chance to be good parents. Yet Ont­ario passed the Dionne Quintuplets' Guardianship Act 1935 anyhow! Shame Ontario :(

Tourists filed past Dafoe Hospital observation pavilion,

Meanwhile Dafoe started building Dafoe Hospital and Nursery across from Dionnes’ farmhouse, for the quins and nurses, and funded by the Red Cross. They moved in, then a space was cr­eat­ed outside the nur­sery and indoor play­ground. Visitors filed under the covered arcade to observe the quins behind one-way screens, installed to pre­vent noise and distract­ion, just like a zoo. The quins were also brought out to the play­ground 2-3 times a day for the crowd’s pleasure, surrounded by a 2.13 m barbed-wire fence.


Shops specialising in quins merchandise, 1940.

Opening Canada Day 1936, c3,000 people visited the Observ­ation Gallery daily! Infertile women touch­ed Oliva Dionne, hoping he’d help them conceive. Quinland Theme Park had re­st­aurants, camp grounds and rec­r­eational facil­ities. Past the observation hall­way stood hot dog stands and souvenir shops, one run by the midwives who helped deliver the girls. A large souvenir stand was run by Oliva, supervising his 25 work­ers, but rarely seeing his daughters. Ontario even raised its petrol tax as visit­ors drove in.

The quins brought $500 million to the strug­g­ling Ontario pro­vince and were popular everywhere. Hollywood stars visited, notably Clark Gable, James Stew­art, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Mae West and Amelia Ear­hart. 3 Holly­wood quin films were produced, making mil­lions of dollars for the Trust and for Ontario’s provincial gov­ernment. Alas the fund was constantly pl­un­d­ered, paying for every hospital cost.

Clearly the Board of Guardians did exactly what they were supp­ose­d­ly pro­t­ect­ing the girls from, exploitation. In 9 years, the girls left only for a couple pro­m­otional tours. Dr Dafoe wrote a book, pamphlets and had sp­onsored ra­dio broad­casts to help very appreciative new mothers. The quins also appear­ed in ads for Lysol, ice cream, Heinz tomato-sauce, Quaker oats, Life­sav­ers, Palmolive soap, typewriters and bread, publicised with the sisters’ and Dr Dafoe’s images. Event­ually Dafoe took major financial advantage of his fame and was removed from the Board of Guardians.

Oliva and Elzire Dionne still tried to get the quins home. And after a prolonged legal battle, they succeeded in 1943. They also got a new 2-storey, 19-bedroom mansion, paid for with the quins’ Trust fund! Clearly it was not a happy home; Elzire tr­eated them harshly, the quins were sh­un­ned by their siblings and 3 of the girls were sexually abused by dad.  

The quins, with their parents and priest behind, 1947

Marie was the first to leave home at 19, joining an order of nuns and mo­v­ed into a convent. Émilie began to have seizures but soon followed Mar­ie. Tragically in 1954 Émilie died sudd­enly, at 20. The surviving sisters started their own lives in Montreal. Yvonne and Cécile went to nurs­ing school, and Marie and Annette lived together in college. 3 of them did marry, but even as ad­ults, the sisters found social relationships diffic­ult. In Feb 1970, Marie’s body was found next to bottles of medication. She’d rec­en­tly separated from her husband, was depressed and put her ch­ild­ren in foster care. Oliva passed away in 1979, and Elzire in 1986.

Yv­on­ne, An­nette and Cécile struggled to cope financially by the 1990s. Cécile’s adult son Bertrand Langlois investig­ated and disc­ov­ered how their account had been plundered. He began a public-relations campaign to shame the government into giving the wom­en their funds. The sisters eventually acc­epted a $4 million settle­ment; the Prem­ier even visited them and apol­og­is­ed on his government’s behalf.

Annette, Cecile and Yvonne moved to a Mont­real flat where Yvonne died in 2001. But the son who helped Cécile and Ann­et­te win their settlement dis­appeared with Cécile’s Trust money. In a terrible irony, the sist­ers were once again wards of the state, living in a state-run nursing home.

The original family homestead was moved and con­verted into the Dionne Quintuplets Museum North Bay, with many artefacts from the early decad­es. Many thanks to Life