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The View Not Seen

kissingsoldierFacebook is filled with this image today. The reason – the young woman in this picture recently died at the age of 92.  Her name was Greta Zimmer Friedman. She was 21 years old at the time the picture was taken, an orphan whose Jewish parents had died in the Holocaust.

Like many, I’ve seen the picture hundreds of times. Until now, I’ve always felt the joy in the street. They had just announced that World War II was over. The streets are filled with smiling people and there, in that instant, a natural human response – a kiss.

But then I read today that Greta didn’t know the man who grabbed her and kissed her and she was, overall, upset that he did it. Although nearly a dozen men have claimed to be that sailor, the most likely candidate admitted that he’d had a few drinks, that his fiance was even nearby and saw the whole kiss. It was, he assured everyone, just one of those things.

Except…except…except.

For all the joy and innocence of the time, what we have here is really nothing less than a sexual assault. I know. We don’t want it to be and so we don’t think of it in those terms. And that I should be the one writing it when I am known far and wide to be anything but a “feminist” in the current incarnation of that word, astounds no one more than it does me.

But it was wrong, that kiss. As a mother of a nearly grown young woman, I’m seeing things from a different perspective, and I don’t like what I’m seeing at all. She was 21 years old. She was grabbed, bent over, and kissed by a man she didn’t know. What gave him the right? Other than a few too many drinks?

For those involved – the young man, the young woman, the photographer, these questions are meaningless. For generations who view that image, the act must be explained. It was wrong. Even in innocence, it was wrong.

In celebrating this image, we are celebrating an attack against a woman, sexual in nature. No, not anger, perhaps not even a need to dominate, but an attack nonetheless.

There are often two sides to an image and if you are like me, there is a side to this image you might not have considered. I have a 17-year-old daughter; Greta was someone’s sister. Her parents had been murdered, though whether she knew about that or not when this picture was taken, we don’t know.

In an interview in 2012, Greta told a reporter that “I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this vice grip.”

In another interview, her son, Joshua, was specifically asked if she felt that she’d been assaulted. His answer was “My mom…understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street. She didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time.”

We live in a different world than that of 1945. What today would be a clear case of sexual assault may indeed not have seemed that way, may indeed have been somehow more innocent. But that seems somehow wrong to me.

And that’s what leaves me with a sad feeling. I’m just not sure the innocence we apply to this picture fits what was done. His future wife was with him; they were on a date. Why did he feel the need to grab some woman and kiss her? The sailor gave three responses. The first was about how much alcohol he had prior to meeting Greta. The second was that, like Greta, he had just heard that the war was over and in his somewhat befuddled mind, Greta, dressed in her white nurse’s uniform, represented “the troops” that were streaming in to Times Square to celebrate. And finally, it was just one of those things.

What things? I’d never imagine myself going against an iconic picture such as this…perhaps when I was young, I even thought the image romantic. Her son assures us that she never considered the image one of romance and so how can we? But more, when you grow up, more, when you have a daughter not so very much younger than Greta was at that moment, all you can think of is the anger you would feel if someone did that to your daughter.

It wasn’t just one of those things. It really wasn’t. It was a man, a bit high on booze and yes, the joy of having the war end…who forced a young girl into kissing him. Why do we like this picture?

I’ll never look at it again and think of innocence and that loss bothers me, saddens me.

About the author

Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
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