It was no joke at security gate

It was no joke at security gate


By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Columnist

POSTED: Jan 21, 2010

In the tense new world of air travel, we’re stripped of shoes, told not to take too much shampoo on board, frowned on if we crack a smile. 

The last thing we expect is a joke from a Transportation Security Administration screener – particularly one this stupid. 

Rebecca Solomon is 22 and a student at the University of Michigan, and on Jan. 5 she was flying back to school after holiday break. She made sure she arrived at Philadelphia International Airport 90 minutes before takeoff, given the new regulations. 

She would be flying into Detroit on Northwest Airlines, the same city and carrier involved in the attempted bombing on Christmas, just 10 days before. She was tense. 

What happened to her lasted only 20 seconds, but she says they were the longest 20 seconds of her life. 

After pulling her laptop out of her carry-on bag, sliding the items through the scanning machines, and walking through a detector, she went to collect her things. 

A TSA worker was staring at her. He motioned her toward him. 

Then he pulled a small, clear plastic bag from her carry-on – the sort of baggie that a pair of earrings might come in. Inside the bag was fine, white powder. 

She remembers his words: “Where did you get it? “

Two thoughts came to her in a jumble: A terrorist was using her to sneak bomb-detonating materials on the plane. Or a drug dealer had made her an unwitting mule, planting coke or some other trouble in her bag while she wasn’t looking. 

She’d left her carry-on by her feet as she handed her license and boarding pass to a security agent at the beginning of the line. 

Answer truthfully, the TSA worker informed her, and everything will be OK. 

Solomon, 5-foot-3 and traveling alone, looked up at the man in the black shirt and fought back tears. 

Put yourself in her place and count out 20 seconds. Her heart pounded. She started to sweat. She panicked at having to explain something she couldn’t.

Now picture her expression as the TSA employee started to smile. 

Just kidding, he said. He waved the baggie. It was his. 

And so she collected her things, stunned, and the tears began to fall. 

Another passenger, a woman traveling to Colorado, consoled her as others who had witnessed the confrontation went about their business. Solomon and the woman walked to their gates, where each called for security and reported what had happened. 

A joke? You’re not serious. Was he hitting on her? Was he flexing his muscle? Who at a time of heightened security and rattled nerves would play so cavalierly with a passenger’s emotions? 

When someone is trying to blow planes out of the sky, what is a TSA employee doing with his eyes off the ball? 

When she complained to airport security, Solomon said, she was told the TSA worker had been training the staff to detect contraband. She was shocked that no one took him off the floor, she said. 

“It was such a violation,” the Wynnewood native told me by phone. “I’d come early. I’d done everything right. And they were kidding about it. “

I ran her story past Ann Davis, regional TSA spokeswoman, who said she knew nothing to contradict the young traveler’s account. 

Davis said privacy law prevents her from identifying the TSA employee. The law prevents her from disclosing what sort of discipline he might have received. 

“The TSA views this employee’s behavior to be highly inappropriate and unprofessional,” she wrote. “We can assure travelers this employee has been disciplined by TSA management at Philadelphia International Airport, and he has expressed remorse for his actions. “

Maybe he’s been punished enough. That Solomon’s father, Jeffrey, is a Center City litigator might mean this story isn’t over. 

In the meantime, I think the TSA worker should spend time following passengers through the scanners, handing them their shoes. Maybe he could tie them, too. 

Their love for Phila. was too much of a gamble

Their love for Phila. was too much of a gamble


By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Columnist

POSTED: Dec 13, 2007 

Bob Sola can pinpoint the moment he started falling out of love. It was Dec. 19, 2006, and his girlfriend, Maureen Duffy, called him on the cell phone as he drove home from work to Fishtown . 

“You’re not going to believe this,” she began. 

The state Gaming Control Board had granted licenses to two casinos on the Delaware River. One, called SugarHouse, would be built six blocks from his house. The other, Foxwoods, would be six blocks from her house. 

What were the odds on that? 

Since then, Bob and Maureen have been experiencing the sort of revisionist view of their relationship with their city that you see in those trying to convince themselves they never really loved something in the first place. 

“The traffic is getting to me,” Bob said the other day. “I used to be able to stomach it. The litter. The crime. I can’t imagine any other place where they’d allow anyone to put these casinos so close to people, where they’d have such utter disregard for the middle class. “

Bob, soft-spoken and hulking at 6-foot-3, stood in the kitchen of the duplex he bought three years ago, with its long, deep backyard filled with twigs, leaves and regret. 

“I have a vision for here, and it will be awesome,” he said, pointing to where he’d like to see stone pavers, a picnic table and a small umbrella. “I just won’t be living here. “

Gone, baby, gone

He and Maureen are to be married in March. Instead of moving into either his place or hers, they’re packing up their St. Joe’s degrees, their good incomes (he’s a middle school counselor in Berwyn; she’s a medical writer at Merck), their dreams of children and community, and heading out of town. They’re eyeing the suburbs. 

Betrayed is the word Bob used over and over – betrayed by the courts, by the politicians, by the regulators, by the city and state. 

“It’s all been insulting,” said Maureen. “We had no say from beginning to end. “

Both are full Philly – from twins and rows to parochial school and St. Joe’s. Bob, 35, grew up in Rhawnhurst, and moved to Merion Station after beginning his teaching job on the Main Line. 

But Fishtown reeled him back in when he found himself at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall watching the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance with some friends from St. Joe’s Prep. He was charmed by the little streets and how the skyline seemed so close you could hit it with a snowball. 

Then he discovered the pancakes at Sulimay’s, the grilled pork and indie bands at Johnny Brenda’s. A good place to be single, he figured. 

Eight days after moving into his duplex, he spotted Maureen at North Third Street, having dinner with a friend. He liked her laugh. 

Philly all the way

He walked away with the phone number of the 33-year-old, who came from Pennsport, where she lived in a rowhouse she bought from her grandmother. 

Maureen is the one who’s finding it harder to say goodbye. 

At first, Bob was so happy to be in Fishtown that he didn’t think of the casinos as a problem. But the more he read, the angrier he got. 

First he thought about traffic. Already it takes him more than an hour to drive home from school. 

“It started to dawn on me that there’s nothing good about it. I’m worried about property crime, problem gambling, and 24-hour liquor licenses. I wouldn’t feel I was making a responsible decision to raise a family here. When people drink and drive, they don’t say, ‘Oh, the school just let out here. ‘ They just drive. “

Every day the couple seems to have a new spot in mind – Lafayette Hill, Erdenheim, Havertown. He likes the way Media has a Main Street. Narberth would work if they could afford it. 

“I’d love a place where kids can run around, have friends right down the street,” he said. 

Sounds a lot like their first love. 

Remains of a once-vibrant block contains clues to Phila’s decline

Remains of a once-vibrant block contains clues to Phila’s decline

Dec 24, 1990 

By Daniel Rubin , Inquirer Staff Writer

 Bernard and Anna Cohen parked the rental car at Ridge Avenue and North 21st Street and hoped that the street signs lied. 

 Seventeen years ago, they had sold the factory and moved from Philadelphia. They had heard what happened to the old neighborhood, but they weren’t braced for this. 

 Nathan Cohen Inc., wood-turners, the family business, had once anchored one of North Philadelphia’s most bustling blocks. 

 When the elder Cohen moved his shop in 1945 into a wagon factory on the corner, 17 stores ran along 21st and Ridge. Towering above the strip was the giant neon oyster shell of the Pearl Theater, a former vaudeville showcase, by then a last-run movie house with a fondness for action films. 

 From this sturdy building, the business had turned out lampposts for Independence Mall, rolling pins for Army mess halls in Vietnam, flagpoles for the White House. 

 On a brilliant day in June, the elderly couple drove down Broad Street to Ridge, watching for the familiar landmarks. 

 They found none. 

 The procession of stores was punched out like a bad prizefighter’s smile. Grass and two-story weeds grew wild where there had been barber poles and billiard halls. A fenced-off gravel lot had replaced the Pearl Theater. 

 The building next to the factory – where neighborhood children once came for tutoring – sat vacant, crumbling, its insides littered with refrigerator parts, garbage bags and picked-over splinters of furniture. 

 Now rusted, a sign bearing the family name still hung by the front door of the factory, where all five of Nathan Cohen’s children had worked. Bernard stayed the longest, until 1973, when he sold out and retired to Jerusalem. 

 Jerusalem has done better than the 2100 block of Ridge Avenue in the interim. 

 From the car, Bernard, 79, and Anna, 77, could see an open window on the second floor. Someone was still working inside. 

 The couple sat a moment, then drove on. 

 ‘It was just too depressing,” said Anna. “With all the other buildings gone, it was like a bombed-out neighborhood. It used to be viable, a place where people lived. It was productive. “

 A city block that once gave now takes. What had contributed taxes and provided jobs and kept a community whole now costs – to clean, to seal, to bulldoze, to police. 

 That block is a miniature of problems that have brought this old city to its knees, leaving it with a population too small and too needy to pay what it costs to keep government running. 

 Most of the people and businesses are gone from the block. The ones remaining are poorer and older. Buildings crumble around them. 

 The image Don Kligerman, commissioner of the Licenses & Inspections Department, cannot shake is of the children, racing by the trash heaps and discarded buildings, carrying brightly colored knapsacks. “They have no notion,” said Kligerman, “that this isn’t normal. “

 Men and women push shopping carts down the street at 21st and Ridge, scavenging scraps of metal and wood dumped onto the barren lots. Vacant buildings inherited by a city that cannot afford to raze them become

 invitations for crack and prostitution. 

 “Poverty, drugs, racism, redlining by banks and insurance companies that didn’t want to invest there – everything that is wrong with society has manifested itself in the little corner of 21st and Ridge,” said Kligerman. 

 And there are lots of blocks in the city like the one bordered by 21st, Lambert and Redner Streets and Ridge Avenue. Kligerman would like to shore up, or tear down, most of them if he could – but he can’t.

 In October, he was able to identify 141 buildings citywide that were in such bad shape that if they “collapsed the next second, we wouldn’t be surprised. “

 At that time, the department had $3 million left in its annual budget to raze these buildings, which it classifies as “imminently dangerous. ” Demolishing all of them would cost $5.2 million, Kligerman said. 

 There are 480 more that the department will not get to because there are merely dangerous. 

 Every week, 10 buildings or parts of buildings collapse in the city, the result of a “tired, old housing stock,” Kligerman said. 

 “Instead of having a thoughtful plan, . . . what we are left to do in this department is catch things when they fall and hope they don’t fall on people.”


 A generation ago, the block that Bernard and Anna Cohen visited last summer was quite a different place . . . 

 Needle & Boonin’s drugstore was on the corner. Running up Ridge was Brown’s restaurant. Georgia Rose’s billiard parlor. Carl’s Cleaners. Mike the Tailor. Eddie Kessler’s men’s store. The Glaberson brothers’ stores. The Powell family’s bootblack stand, where they also cleaned hats – “everyone wore hats then,” recalled Paul Kleiman, 75. He managed the Pearl Theater when Nathan Cohen moved his wood-turning shop into McCabe’s old wagon factory. 

 When Kleiman started as a bookkeeper in 1933, the Pearl lived up to its name – one jewel in a necklace of showcases for black talent that stretched

 from the Apollo in Harlem to the Royale in Baltimore. Cab Calloway played the Pearl. So did Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman. 

 “They all came through,” Kleiman said. 

 The Pearl’s greatest contribution to local lore came in Kleiman’s first year when a 15-year-old singer from the neighborhood upstaged her brother at a talent show there. Pearl Bailey was paid $5 for her professional debut. 

 By the war, the theater had long given up stage shows for motion pictures. Though no longer a stop on any entertainment circuit, The Ridge still jumped. 

 “Every inch a business,” recalled Richard Drayton, who walked that beat as a member of Dick Anderson’s elite squad, plainclothed black detectives culled from various stations to patrol Ridge Avenue, South Street and 52d Street, the black commercial centers. 

 “There were tons of people, little kids running around, all kinds of stores,” recalled Cynthia Bayete, an L&I spokeswoman who grew up in the neighborhood. “It was kind of a treat to go to Ridge Avenue. You knew there was going to be some activity. “

 After the war, there were 13 stores along Ridge and four more hugging North 21st Street up to the Cohens’. The top floors of the brick buildings were divided into small apartments and professional offices. Many of the families who owned the stores lived above them, such as the Glabersons. 

 The 1950 census recorded 44 homes on the block – mostly apartments, renting at an average of $25 a month. These were not the plushest places in the neighborhood, let alone the city. Nearly a quarter of the homes did not have a bathroom that was private or in good repair. Ice chests were more common than refrigerators. 

 Most of the merchants in the block were white, most of them Jewish. All but one family living here was black, although as late as 1950 this part of the city was one-third white – of German, Ukrainian and Irish stock. 

 “It was a working-class neighborhood,” said Drayton. “There was crime, but not that much. The biggest crimes we had were burglaries. They’d break into the homes of the working people and steal clothes. “

 In fact, a ticket-taker named Cora Holland was shot to death in the Pearl’s lobby in 1952 during a scuffle that began as two guards hired by the theater tried to evict a young patron. 

 But that was the exception in a neighborhood that looked after itself.


 That all changed Aug. 28, 1964. 

 The riot began two blocks away at 22d and Columbia Avenue, on a steaming Friday night when a crowd gathered around two policemen trying to still a domestic squabble. 

 When it was finally brought under control 72 hours later, 600 rioters had been taken into custody, more than half of them charged with crimes, mostly burglary. Nearly 340 people were hurt, including 100 police officers. More than 600 businesses were looted or vandalized. Damage was put at $3 million. 

 Sidney and Harry Glaberson, who along with Kleiman had organized a group of local youngsters called “Tomorrow’s Citizens” and helped build a children’s library over the local police station, drove by their stores and apartments on Ridge Avenue that weekend. 

 “They ransacked the whole buildings,” recalled Sidney, now 78. 

 They never went inside their places again. 

 Julia Caldwell never left. She and her husband, Carl, had opened a dry cleaners next to the Pearl in 1942. At its peak, shortly after the war, Carl’s Cleaners had 13 dropoff points throughout North Philadelphia. Two dozen people worked for the family business, most at the plant, two blocks up North 21st Street from Ridge Avenue. 

 Now it’s down to Julia, 75, her sister, Ernestine Smith, her son and grandson. They work out of the original plant, a warm, homey place filled with pictures of Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson and the young Carl Caldwell, a big, bearish man with a broad smile. 

 “This was a beautiful neighborhood,” said Julia Caldwell. “Everyone’s houses were taken care of and nice people lived in them. “

 “It was just like Market Street and Chestnut Street,” said Smith. “It was nice until the riot came. People got frightened who had the stores. It never came back. “

 The result for 21st and Ridge was social dislocation, unemployment and despair. Soon came the gang wars, then drug gangs. 

 “They came in and took over the corners,” Smith said. “You can’t walk the street. You can’t wear your jewelry. 

 “Drugs. That’s where the money is. I see kids 16 and 17 years old driving Cadillacs. They ought to be in school preparing for a better future for themselves and everyone else. You can’t talk to them. “

 Despite the steel mesh over the door and windows, the store has been broken into dozens of times over the years. Yet no one has ever tried to harm them, said Caldwell, who is known as “Mom” in the neighborhood. 

 “Since Carl died 20 years ago, everyone’s sort of looked after me,” she said. 

 Caldwell says she is trying to sell the place, with its beat-up equipment and old clothes that people left years ago. 

 “Business is bad. We don’t take anything in here anymore, maybe $40 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But I just stay in here anyhow. I hate to give it up.”


 When the Cohen family started turning wood, the block supplied scores of jobs. Twenty-eight properties produced taxes. 

 For the entire block last year, the city billed $3,005 in real estate taxes. 

 Collecting that is another matter. 

 At the end of 1988, the last period for which records are available, only one property owner on the block was paid up and current on school and city taxes. Taxes for one property had not been paid in 27 years. 

 In 1945, employees of 17 businesses on the strip were subject to the city’s new wage tax. Cohen’s company alone provided work for more than a dozen people at its peak. 

 Now there are two businesses on the block. Neither has a business license, according to an L&I spokesman. 

 Over the last 10 years, the main trade at 21st and Ridge has been demolition. Where there had been 33 brick and stone structures on the block, there now are seven. The one house left on Lambert is vacant, with trees growing through knocked-out windows and patches of the roof. 

 Only two buildings still stand on the north side of Redner Street. The

 windows and doors are gone. Garbage and clothing fill the hallways. The city has sealed the openings with tin, but that is gone now, too. 

 The buildings have been vacant for six or seven years, said Daniel Littlefield , the second owner of Nathan Cohen Co. since the family sold its interest. 

 People go to the two buildings to buy crack – another form of demolition. 

 “You can see people going in and out of them all day long,” Littlefield said. “You wouldn’t have to be a college grad to figure that one out. “

 The owner of both properties is the City of Philadelphia. 

 The city, in fact, is the single largest landowner on the block, having picked up nine of the properties after they went to sheriff’s sale because of unpaid taxes or bills for sealing or bulldozing. 

 Sidney Glaberson says he lost two of his riot-torn buildings that way. The third, he says, he gave to the city. 

 The decline of the block is much like the decline of North Philadelphia, only magnified. 

 In the three decades after 1950, lower North Philadelphia lost more than half its population. In the 10 years before the 1980 census, it lost 28 percent of its people. 

 The latest figures, from 1980, show just 11 people living on the block. That was before much of the bulldozing. 

 The city has had little success getting others to pay for the demolition and sealing work its crews perform or contract out throughout Philadelphia. Over the last two years, city officials have written off $31.5 million in those costs after determining that they were uncollectable. The cost of bulldozing now averages $5,000 a residence. 

 Andrew Bralow, head of the city solicitor’s enforcement division, illustrated the problem. In 1988, his office selected the 85 cases for which the city had the best odds of recovering its bulldozing and sealing costs. 

 Out of a possible $127,000, they recovered $8,000. 

 “It was our determination,” he said, “that our staff time would be better spent elsewhere. “

 Said Revenue Commissioner Cheryl Weiss: “Some people in the community make a lot of hay about the amount we write off, that the city isn’t doing enough to collect what it is owed. I can’t get it because the people aren’t there to collect it from. “

 The demolition business has literally made room for another plague on the block and in the city: illegal dumping. 

 It costs Philadelphia an estimated $10 million a year to clean up trash that people unload on neglected lots rather than pay to have disposed. 

 “Not a day goes by that you don’t see a truck riding by with debris that is going to be dumped in those neighborhoods,” said Littlefield. He was standing in a field behind his building, knee deep in cinder blocks, drywall, plaster, joint compound tubs, tree stumps, joists and beams. 

 “This here came from a pickup truck,” he says. “That came out of a dump truck. . . . The only people who have done anything (constructive) on these lots is the city. “

 Kligerman acknowledged the problem: “We have become municipal maids. We clean a lot one day and someone else drops another load the next day. “

 The trash dumps, too, contribute to the local economy. People pick through the mounds for something of value and peddle it to local pawnshops and used- furniture stores. 

 “Every day you see shopping carts loaded with aluminum, cast-iron scrap,” Littlefield said. “On any given day you’ll see radiators going down the street.”


 The lathes stopped turning wood at Nathan Cohen Co. on Sept. 13, 1990, ending an 85-year tradition. That day they held a going-out-of-business sale. 

 “Woodworking is a dying-type industry nowadays,” Littlefield said. Nayco, the name of the company’s product line, supplied dowels for cabinetmakers, but then handmade cabinets became too expensive to produce. The U.S. Forestry Service used to buy 10,000 wood mallets a year, in a half-dozen styles. But this year’s bids called for no more than 500 over two years. 

 When Nathan Cohen bought the building in 1945, 103 other shops in Philadelphia also turned out wood products, providing work for 2,210 craftsmen. 

 Last year, there were 36 wood manufacturing businesses in the city, employing just 350 workers. 

 Littlefield considered upgrading his equipment so he could produce new lines, but the idea of investing further in the place didn’t make sense, considering the break-ins – about three a year. 

 “If it weren’t for the alarm system, we’d probably be broken into every day,” he said. “They’ve broken through the roof, dug through three layers of brick in the walls, literally cut out cinder-block windows, broken front  windows, smashed skylights. They’ve done it all to break in. “

 Nathan Cohen Co.’s tools and machines and remaining stock were sold at absolute auction. That meant the owner agreed to take whatever was the highest bid. 

 Doug Hernberg, owner of Martin’s Machinery & Tool Co., came to buy some equipment. When he saw how little the 16,000-square-foot building was bringing, he bought that, too. 

 For $7,000. 

 He expects to use it for storage. 

 That should bring the city $165 a year in real estate taxes. 

 The week after the auction, Littlefield closed the shop. He stopped by again the next Monday. 

 Someone had dumped 200 tires behind his building. 

The Titanic – a Philadelphia story

The Titanic – a Philadelphia story


Dec 19, 1997 

By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Staff Writer

 The sea was smooth and starlit. “Like a mill pond ,” Jack Thayer remembered years later, “and just as innocent-looking. ”

 He was all over the ship, as a 17-year-old boy would be, exploring the largest and most splendid moving object built by man. 

 Palm courts. A Turkish bath. A gymnasium and swimming pool. Suites outfitted in the style of Louis XV. A Parisian cafe. 

 The family’s holiday over, Thayer would be returning to the Haverford School that spring. Then, according to designs laid by his father, it would be Princeton and apprenticeships in banking houses throughout the capitals of Europe.

 “It was planned,” he wrote nearly 30 years after that chilly night, April 14, 1912. “It was a certainty. ”

 As certain as the word that the great ship, Titanic, was unsinkable. 

 He was about to climb into bed at 11:40 p.m. when he felt the ship sway slightly to port, “as though she had been gently pushed. ”

 Nearby, in another first-class stateroom, Richard Norris Williams, 21, sensed it as well. “Not a shock,” the young man descended from Ben Franklin would later write, “merely a jar, and the ship seemed to tremble slightly. ”

 It was strong enough to stir Martha Eustis Stephenson from her sleep. Her sister, Elizabeth Eustis, threw on a wrap, slippers and cap and stepped out into the hallway. “Go to bed,” a steward told them. “It’s nothing at all. ”

 Seeing a man pulling his shoes into his stateroom was all the confirmation the sisters from Haverford needed. They decided to dress and investigate.

 * It’s fitting that in making Titanic, James Cameron chose as his heroine a woman from the Main Line. 

 Cameron may have invented Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson, a spirited artist up from steerage, to tell his love story aboard the ill-fated steamer, but nearly every other detail is anchored in fact – down to Cameron’s insistence on filming the actual wreckage, 400 miles off Newfoundland. 

 The events in the film that opens today are largely Philadelphian because the story of the Titanic was largely Philadelphian, first-class Philadelphian. The city and its surroundings produced 38 passengers, most of them socially prominent and traveling in style. Many went down with the ship.

 “Philadelphia society was a very strong presence on board,” said Don Lynch, historian for both the film and the Titanic Historical Society. “One of the ladies, the wife of a New York theatrical producer, wrote that all these people seemed to know each other already. They’d meet on the passenger deck as one big party. ”

 George Dutton Widener, the Cheltenham street-car baron whose family had part ownership of the White Star Line, was aboard with his wife, Eleanor Elkins Widener, and their son, Harry. They embarked in Cherbourg, France, having selected a new chef for the Ritz Hotel, which George was building in Philadelphia. The story back home was that after Eleanor had been invited to leave the Bellevue Stratford for smoking in its dining room, her husband vowed to create a better hotel across Broad Street. Harry, a Harvard-educated bibliophile, was carrying a rare, 1598 edition of Bacon’s essays. 

 Mrs. Charlotte Drake Martinez Cardeza was returning to Germantown with her son Thomas, her maid and his valet, having wintered at their Hungarian chateau. They stayed in one of the ship’s two “Millionaires” suites, each with two bedrooms, a sitting room and private promenade. Those accommodations cost the Cardezas $3,300, nearly seven times the average American’s salary in 1912. She brought 14 trunks, containing 70 dresses, 10 fur coats and stoles, 38 large feather pieces, 22 hat pins, 91 pairs of shoes, and one pink diamond valued at $20,000. 

 The William Carters of Bryn Mawr were traveling with their two children, a maid and chauffeur, as well as 24 polo sticks and a 25-horsepower Renault automobile, the only motorcar in the ship’s hold. 

 There were other familiar faces aboard: Frederick Sutton, a coffee importer from Haddonfield, N.J.; William Crothers Dulles, a Philadelphia attorney; Dr. Arthur Jackson Brewe; and Robert W. Daniel, a banker who was bringing home a champion bulldog, Gamin de Pycombe. Three Gimbels buyers were traveling first-class – J.H. Flynn, James R. McGourgh and E.P. Calderhead – as was Emma Ward Bucknell, widow of the benefactor of the college of the same name. 

 The trip was less welcome for the Arthur Ryersons and their three children. The week before, the steel magnate’s namesake died in a Radnor motoring accident. The family was coming home for the funeral.

 “These were ordinary days, and into them had crept only gradually the airplane, the talking machine, the automobile,” Jack Thayer wrote in his 1940 memoir. “Upon reaching the breakfast table, our perusal of the morning paper was slow and deliberate. . . . Nothing was revealed in the morning, the trend of which was not known the night before. ”

 Of course, that was the view from the best seats. 

 Steven Biel, author of Down With the Old Canoe, a cultural history of the Titanic, says, “This was a much, much more diverse, conflict-ridden, and certainly not-innocent time. ”

 It was a time, he said by phone, “that was rife with labor conflict. Race relations may have reached their all-time low. It was also a time where gender roles are under intense revision. ”

 The era’s portrait of grace under pressure was etched with accounts of Benjamin Guggenheim’s going into his stateroom to dress formally for his gentlemanly death. Or of John Jacob Astor, the richest man on board, withdrawing when informed that lifeboats were for women and children first. 

 But the final tally shows the odds were with those with first-class tickets. Sixty-three percent of first-class passengers lived, compared with 42 percent of the second cabin and 25 percent of steerage. The only children to die went in third class. 

 For Philadelphians on the Titanic, death played no favorites. Ten men went down, with names such as Widener, Thayer, Ryerson and Williams. A valet named Keeping and a driver named Aldworth accompanied them.

 * A man was calling for assistance. His stateroom door had jammed, trapping him as the ship began its two-hour-and-40-minute dive. 

 Richard Norris Williams – a Swiss-born tennis star, heading to the states for tournament play – acted fast. He threw his shoulder into the man’s door, splintering the magnificent wood. 

 A steward addressed Williams sharply: “I’ll be forced to report you for having damaged the property of the company. ”

 It was not the last time, Williams wrote later, that regulations seemed ill-fit for the events. 

 He and his father, a lawyer and Chestnut Hill native named Charles Duane Williams, watched the women and children clamber onto what lifeboats there were. It was clear the Williams men needed something to brace themselves for the cold. 

 They found a bar, long-closed, and asked the tender if he’d fill their flask with whiskey. 

 It is not done, the man said. Father and son repaired to the gymnasium, where they waited in the quiet.

 * Jack Thayer threw on his mohair vest, then his tweed suit and tweed vest. On top of that, he strapped a thick, cork life preserver and then bundled his overcoat around the layers. On “A” deck, passengers were hurrying, pushing, crowding. The band played lively songs, but no one seemed to mind them. The stewards ordered all the women to port side, and Thayer and his father – the second vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad – bid goodbye to his mother, who left with her maid for the lifeboats.

 “It seemed we were always waiting for orders, and no orders came,” Thayer wrote. A while later he went with his father to check on the women, and a crowd separated the two men. He never saw his father again. 

 The boats were leaving half empty – they could hold more than 60 people, but he saw them pull away with as few as 12 passengers. 

 He saw J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, push his way into an empty seat. “It was,” Thayer wrote, “every man for himself.”

 * The Williamses were standing on the sunken deck, nearly even with the frigid sea, when the first of the four massive smokestacks broke.

 “I heard the crack of a revolver shot,” the son would recall. “I yelled, `Father! Quick! Jump! ‘ He started toward me, just as I saw one of the great funnels come crashing down on top of him. ”

 Williams remembers staring at the massive stack, “curiously enough, not because it had killed my father, for whom I had a far more than normal feeling of love and attachment; but there I was transfixed, wondering at the enormous size of this funnel, still belching smoke. ”

 He swam what seemed like a half mile, only to look back and realize he’d gone but 40 feet from the ship. 

 “I looked back again and, suddenly, the stern began rising,” he told the Bulletin in 1948. “It went straight up and swung toward me. When I looked up, it seemed that the ship was directly over my head. I could see her three huge propellers. Then she went down with a vast, swirling suction. I swam until my feet touched a half-submerged collapsible boat. I clung to it. Gradually, others swam up and grabbed hold. Within a short time there were 22 of us clutching the craft. As the hours wore on, we decided to `count off’ from time to time. . . . Finally, there were only 12 of us.” 

 * Just before it went down, Thayer took in the scene: the lights still burning, the stars shining brilliantly, the water glistening with oil. Perodically he’d hear an explosion from deep within the ship as it pitched forward. “It was like standing under a steel railway bridge while an express train passes overhead, mingled with the noise of a pressed steel factory and wholesale breakage of china. ”

 Thayer threw off his overcoat and slid down the starboard rail, facing the ship. About 10 seconds later, he pushed off and plunged from about 15 feet.

 “The cold,” he wrote, “was terrific. The shock of the water took the breath out of my lungs. Down and down I went, spinning in all directions. ” His watch stopped at 2:22 a.m.

 He swam furiously under the surface, maybe for a minute. When he came up, his lungs were bursting, but he hadn’t taken in any water. The life preserver held him up by the shoulders. The second stack lifted and started coming toward him, shooting sparks. It missed him by 20 or so feet, but the suction drew him under again. 

 When he fought back to the surface, he felt something above him – a cork fender from one of the collapsible lifeboats. He joined four or five men hanging onto the upside-down boat in the 28-degree water. 

 From there, he watched the end. Knots of people clinging to the raised stern, falling alone and in swarms until the ship, at a 70-degree angle to the water, turned its deck from view “as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle. ” Then it vanished.

 “Probably a minute passed with almost dead silence and quiet. Then an individual call for help, from here, from there; gradually swelling into a composite volume of one long continuous wailing chant, from the 1,500 in the water all around us,” he wrote. For 20 or 30 minutes the cries continued, then they died away.

 * The hip flask has not been filled since that night, Quincy Williams, 38, says from a back room at the Philadelphia Print Shop in Chestnut Hill, where he produces the treasure, half-sheathed in alligator skin, and bearing the inscription: “RNW on the Titanic, Monday April 15, 1912. 2 o’clock A.M.”

 His great-grandfather handed it to his grandfather before they went into the water, and Richard Williams kept it safe on the half-submerged boat, where it felt as if 1,000 needles were injected into his legs, and again on the rescue ship Carpathia, where a doctor suggested amputation – unless the young man wished to walk the deck constantly. He did. 

 Quincy Williams says his grandfather, who died in 1968, did not talk about the history that he lived. Quincy, however, is fascinated by it. “It wasn’t hard for him to talk about, he just didn’t think it was a big event,” he said. “He didn’t see it as the Titanic enthusiasts do. He was a well-known tennis star in the teens and ’20s; he didn’t like talking about that either. He was a modest man. ”

 The Titanic cast a long shadow on the Thayers as well.

 “I never could understand his complete and utter love of the sea,” Charlotte Rush Toland Thayer, 77, of Haverford, said of her late husband, John B. Thayer Jr., the son of the 17-year-old survivor. “He was a wonderful sailor. He really loved the water and was always fascinated by the Titanic. I sailed with him for 30-odd years and never was that crazy about the situation. ”

 Her husband amassed a museum-quality collection of nautical memorabilia and Titanic artifacts. His father, however, rarely mentioned the experience.

 “Don’t forget,” she said, “in those days nobody was dealing with emotions the way they are now. ”

 Jack Thayer never went to Princeton. After losing his father, he chose Penn, where his father and grandfather had studied. Then World War I began, and Thayer joined the Army. He tried the railroad, but didn’t care for it. He worked in banking for many years before becoming treasurer at Penn.

 “I just thought he was the most wonderful person in the whole world,” his daughter-in-law said. “I absolutely adored him. When he died, it was most upsetting. ”

 It was 1945. Jack Thayer didn’t come home one night in September. That was unusual. His body was found in his black sedan with yellow wheels, parked in the Philadelphia Transit Co. turnaround at 48th and Parkside. He had cut his wrists and throat. 

 Two years before, his 22-year-old son, Edward Cassat Thayer, had been shot down over the Pacific. Friends said Jack Thayer never recovered.

 “I think the consensus was,” said his daughter-in-law, “that when his son was shot down and presumed lost at sea, what that must have done to someone who was on the Titanic and who had lost his father on it.” 

Art in the midst of Hell

Art in the midst of Hell


Sep 26, 2004 

By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Staff Writer

Zdenka Fantlova remembers Terezin as the best of the Nazi hells: a ghetto with a swing band, a concentration camp with shoe stores and cafes. 

Here she wore her own clothes; here her family was still alive. 

Called Terezin by the Czechs and Theresienstadt by the Germans, this fortified town held World War II’s most improbable collection of artists, musicians, scientists and scholars. 

At a time when Jews were banned from going to school, Terezin became their university: 2,430 lectures took place, on such topics as the Jews of Babylon, the theory of relativity, Alexander the Great, and German humor. 

There was a boys’ literary magazine, a library, and a cultural life rich enough to warrant its own critic. 

“Compared to all the others,” recalls Lory Cahn, of Philadelphia, “it was gold. “

But Terezin was no retirement villa, as the Nazis had promised old and prominent German Jews, such as Cahn’s father. For most, Terezin was a way station, to Auschwitz and other death camps. 

More than 150,000 Jews – first from the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, and then from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Denmark and Hungary – were forced into this 18th-century fortress 37 miles north of Prague. 

The Nazis created a Jewish Council of Elders and made them decide who should ride the cattle cars east, to near-certain death, and who could stay. 

“They had to play God,” recalls Edgar Krasa, who worked as a cook here. 

Even staying in Terezin was no guarantee of survival. Half died of malnutrition, disease or despair – such as Otto Loewe, Sen. John Kerry’s great-uncle. 

Terezin’s cultural life – first banned, then tolerated – wound up starring in the Nazis’ efforts to dupe foreign dignitaries and the International Red Cross as suspicions of mass murder grew. 

Propaganda movies showing the Jews playing soccer, reading novels, sipping coffee were shot to demonstrate how well they lived. After being filmed joking with the commandant, children were sent to their death. 

Since the 1989 collapse of communism, Terezin’s legacy has spread far beyond the city’s walls. 

As the survivors’ numbers dwindle – of 37,000, only 2,000 remain – and fewer are left to tell their stories, the ones who remain feel compelled to bear witness while they can. For those who are lost, the plays, music, paintings and literature they created speak for them, enjoying a renaissance that is testimony to the strength and beauty that can arise from the most horrific conditions. 

“The Germans knew that we were sentenced to death,” recalls Fantlova, 82, who now lives in London. “And they thought, ‘In the meantime, let them play, let them laugh, let them sing, because soon the smile will be wiped off their faces. ‘

“Well, they were right, but we didn’t know that, and we sort of danced under the gallows.”

Fantlova’s family was eating dinner in the fall of 1941 when the Gestapo came for her father. His crime: listening to BBC Radio. 

Since March 15, 1939, when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the noose had been tightening. Using the Nuremberg racial laws, which restricted everyday freedoms, the Nazis began to isolate, degrade and annihilate the Jews of Europe. 

Fantlova recalls her father’s farewell: “He looked at us as though he wanted to imprint us in his memory, and said just these words: ‘Just stay calm. Remember, calmness is strength. ‘ “

A few months later, the family was shipped off to Terezin, a place Fantlova had never heard of. How would her father find them? 

He wouldn’t. She never saw him again. 

Emperor Joseph II had built the garrison in 1780 to protect the Hapsburgs from Prussian invasion. In October 1941, the SS gave it a new strategic role, the first of several that Terezin would have during the war. 

With its 13-yard-thick walls, moat, and nearby Gestapo prison, the fortress could contain Jews without many guards. The Nazis could cram 50,000 to 60,000 prisoners at a time into the place – its several dozen houses, barracks, stores and factories arranged around a market square – where 7,000 soldiers and villagers had lived. 

Here they could warehouse Czech Jews – until their deportation to Poland or the Soviet Union, a culling the Nazis wanted to hide from the world.


Krasa, 21, knew that something didn’t square. 

If he volunteered for Terezin’s setup detail, a Jewish leader in Prague had said, he might save his parents from being transported farther east. 

What was “farther east”? 

The workers had six days to prepare the barracks before the first 1,000 Jews arrived. 

“And as we entered,” Krasa recalls, “the gate closed. We all knew, ‘Now we are really prisoners.’ “

The figures walk in a line, stooped, eyes cast down. A child’s arm is draped around a mother’s shoulders. Their numbers are scrawled on luggage and hang from their necks. They wear Jewish stars on their coats.

Helga Weissova Hoskova, 12, drew the scene from memory. Her first picture had been of children making a snowman, but her father said, “Draw what you see. ” So she drew the grim lines for food, the filthy latrine, the empty washroom that was their first bedroom. 

The Nazis forbade photographs, but they didn’t consider that they could be indicted by the doodlings of a child. 

To German Jews, the Nazis sold Terezin as a spa. 

At a conference on Wannsee Lake outside Berlin, they had announced that the stronghold would also house elderly, war-decorated and prominent German and Austrian Jews. 

In exchange for signing over their property, they were promised lifelong care. Some packed dinner jackets and silver for the holiday town in the hills. 

They began arriving in the summer of 1942, and their disillusion was immediate. 

“Where were the clean houses where everyone would have his own well-furnished room?” asked Gerty Spies, a Munich woman, in a 1984 memoir. “Through open doors, we saw people clad in rags lying on the floor or on wooden frames. “

Kurt Moses, who now lives in Harrisburg, went to Terezin, even though he was Dutch, because his German father had earned an Iron Cross during World War I. “The story was told at Terezin that a family checked in and a man who had asthma wanted a first-floor apartment,” Moses recalls. 

“The SS man said: ‘Yes. Go show this man his apartment. See if it is to his liking. ‘ No one ever saw him again. “

To make room for the new arrivals, the Czech Gentiles who lived in the town were moved out. But the overcrowding was suffocating. By year’s end, three out of every 10 German Jews who had arrived that summer were dead. 

Inmate Egon Redlich, a Moravian, wrote in his diary: “Terezin is a privileged ghetto where more than 100 people die daily.”

They grew used to the funeral wagons, piled high with wooden boxes. Every morning, the elders posted lists of the dead by the gates. The able worked – farming, splitting mica, sewing uniforms, and running the camp. Others waited – for news, for loved ones, for thin soup and stale bread. They waited for death. Time was marked by the lines that formed at the kitchen. 

In this purgatory, miraculously, Terezin’s cultural life flowered. 

In December 1941, a Czech conductor, composer and pianist named Rafael Schaecter cobbled together a small chorus. 

That month, a 22-year-old Czech pianist named Gideon Klein started composing folk songs for the singers. 

So many readings and plays followed that the Jewish elders established Freizeitgestaltung, a department of leisure-time planning. Soon, the Nazis insisted on approving each activity. 

Terezin’s first opera premiered in November 1942: Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. Karel Berman, a star of Prague’s National Theater, sang the lead. Schaecter provided the accompaniment, on a legless piano that prisoners smuggled into the barracks. 

“There’s a paradox,” recalls Krasa, who sang in the chorus. “It starts out . . . ‘Why shouldn’t we rejoice? ‘ And to sing it, you know, in the ghetto. But it did bring the house down. “

Dagmar Lieblova was 13, a radiant, dark-haired girl from central Bohemia: “It was something special, quite special, which one wouldn’t forget. You could hear things which you have known from the normal life before. “

The audiences grew so quickly that the elders printed weekly programs and issued tickets for admission. That December, prisoners staged 10 theatrical programs and two concerts and produced their first costumed play. 

The Nazis permitted the prisoners to open a coffeehouse and gave out musical instruments that earlier had been confiscated. Musicians with cafe and nightclub experience performed, such as Egon Ledec, of the Czech Philharmonic. Ledec formed the camp’s first string quartet. 

At Terezin, there was time, opportunity, and talent for the arts. The Nazis saw the advantage: If the Jews pacified themselves with performance, they’d be less likely to rebel. 

Terezin produced the richest cultural life of the Holocaust – for those fortunate enough to enjoy it. 

“You could have prepared a concert or prepared an opera and tomorrow half the people were gone,” says Hana Greenfield. 

“That was the big lie. “

In 1943, the residents staged 410 theatrical performances in Czech. There were also puppetry, poetry, cabarets and children’s plays, including Hans Krasa’s chamber opera Brundibar, the story of children triumphing over an evil organ-grinder. 

No one had to be told who the organ-grinder really was.

The postcard came from Auschwitz, in a code that the censors missed. 

To Edith Salamon Listman, her cousin’s message, scrawled in Hebrew script, was too awful to contemplate:

Cain & Abel and naked. 

“They are killing each other,” realized Listman, now 86 and living in Cherry Hill. “We are not going to a ghetto. “

Another warning sounded from the east. A former Terezin inmate named Vitezslav Lederer escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944. According to Czech historian Miroslav Karny, Lederer sneaked back into Terezin to reveal what really went on at the death camp. 

But that can’t be true, protested the elders, who decided not to pass on Lederer’s news. 

After the war, Rabbi Leo Baeck, head of the German Jewish community, explained: “Living in the expectation of death by gassing would only be harder.”

For a while, Coco Schumann’s blue eyes, blond hair, and strong Berlin accent kept him safe. His Star of David stashed in his back pocket, and guitar in hand, he moved at will through the German capital. 

He was 18, and Jewish on his mother’s side, a secret kept even from friends. His taste for jazz was just one of his several offenses against the Reich. 

“If you were Jewish and slept with a German girl, it was verboten,” he recalls. He concedes that he broke the rule a few times. When the Nazis arrested Schumann in March 1943, Jews of mixed parentage and Jews married to Gentiles were no longer spared from persecution. The Nazis wanted Berlin Judenfrei – free of Jews – by April 20, for Hitler’s birthday. 

They tried to send Schumann to Auschwitz, but his father begged the SS to let the teenager go to Terezin instead. 

By the time Schumann arrived in spring 1943, the place was surreal – “one big world of make-believe for internal and external propaganda,” he calls it. The Nazis organized their deception “so unbelievably perfectly” that it never occurred to the inmates not to “join the game. “

When Schumann saw the camp’s coffeehouse, he started talking with the musicians, the Ghetto Swingers. Their drummer had just been sent to Auschwitz. “I said, ‘I can play drums,’ ” Schumann recalls. They invited him to return the next morning. 

Martin Roman, a renowned jazz pianist who would play with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins after the war, led the Swingers. Friedrich Weiss, a Czech Benny Goodman, played clarinet. 

“Every style was there,” Schumann recalls. 

Karel Ancerl, later a famous conductor, led an orchestra at Terezin. There were also a string orchestra, chamber groups, a jazz quintet, piano duos, a liturgical choir, and exquisite soloists. 

“They were really the next generation of leading figures in classical music,” says Mark Ludwig, who runs the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation in Boston, which ensures that works from the camp are still performed. “. . . And they disappear off the face of the Earth.”

Art gave voice to the inmates’ defiance. Karel Svenk produced a cabaret called The Last Cyclist, mocking the Final Solution by depicting a world in which all bicyclists must be eliminated. 

The Council of Elders banned its performance, for fear of Nazi reprisal. 

In an opera by Viktor Ullmann and Petr Kien, The Emperor of Atlantis, an evil leader so overworks Death that Death goes on strike. Death agrees to return to work, but only if the emperor will be his first victim. 

There had been no transports for several months when Rafael Schaecter decided to stage Verdi’s Requiem. There was much debate about the appropriateness of Jews singing a Catholic Mass for the dead. 

But Schaecter wanted to make a point. “He wanted to sing a requiem for the Third Reich,” says Edgar Krasa, a distant cousin of Hans Krasa’s. The text was in Latin, and Schaecter had only one score for 150 singers. Six weeks into rehearsal, the transports resumed: 5,000 people were sent east. The choir lost half its members. 

Over the next months, amid so much grief, Schaecter had to recruit new singers and start again. 

“We could sing to the Germans in Latin,” recalls Edgar Krasa, a baritone in that production, “what we couldn’t tell them to their faces: ‘This is the day of wrath. You will not escape the punishment.’ “

Streets were cleaned, houses painted, and store windows filled. Terezin would be having visitors. 

The Allies had been pressing for Red Cross inspections since December 1942, when 12 nations protested the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. 

In December 1943, the Nazis decided that Terezin could help deceive the world. After a cleanup, they would allow representatives of the International Red Cross Committee to walk through. 

“They created a kind of Potemkin-like village to fool the press, the International Red Cross,” says David Marwell, director of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. 

The Nazis planned the exact route the visitors would take in June 1944. For two days before the performance, the actors in this fiction were served proper meals so they wouldn’t become sick in front of the guests. 

Shortly before the Red Cross visit, thousands of inmates who “looked bad or were ill were sent directly to the gas chambers of Auschwitz,” says Vojtech Blodig, historian at the Terezin Ghetto Museum. 

The visitors snapped photographs but asked the inmates nothing. Afterward, the head of the group, Maurice Rossel, marveled at this “remarkable” Jewish town in war-torn Europe. 

He concluded that Terezin was a final destination – not a way station to worse. He reported that inmates were fed well – 2,400 calories a day. In reality, they didn’t get half that.

“Oh, Uncle Rahm , sardines again? “

The children were well-rehearsed, joking with commandant Karl Rahm as the cameras rolled. Nurses at the children’s hospital delivered buttered bread. 

Moses of Harrisburg remembers playing soccer, splashing in a swimming pool. That was the only bath he took in an entire year at Terezin. 

Two films were made. The better-known picture was so obviously a sham that during Rahm ‘s war-crimes trial in 1947, it was called Hitler’s Gift to the Jews, according to Dutch historian Karel Margry. The real name is no less cynical: Theresienstadt: A Documentary Film From the Jewish Settlement Area. 

Needing a director, the SS chose inmate Kurt Gerron, a German film star, who had acted with Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel. Gerron thought his cooperation would save him. 

But he never saw the final cut. He was sent to Auschwitz in 1944 and was gassed. 

The film, completed by a Czech company in 1945, was shown to a few visitors to Terezin and to the SS in Prague, Margry says. It got little distribution. 

By then, the extermination of European Jewry could not be denied.

The show over, the Nazis shipped out the players. 

In one month in the fall of 1944, transports carried 18,402 prisoners east and sent some of Europe’s most talented artists to the death camps, where nearly all were killed. There were Hans Krasa, Rafael Schaecter, Viktor Ullmann, Egon Ledec and Gideon Klein, the Ghetto Swingers, and Ancerl’s string orchestra. 

As they boarded the cattle cars for Auschwitz, they were told one last lie: They’d be establishing a new labor camp. 

Zdenka Fantlova found herself sitting across from Schaecter, who for three years had struggled to give his fellow prisoners music, comfort and hope. He had saved some sardines and bread. Before the train reached the death camp, he told Fantlova: “Put it all together. Here is my spoon. Mix it all up, and that will be my Last Supper. ” 

“And so,” she recalls, “I gave it to him, mixed it, he ate it with great relish. And then we got to Auschwitz. He was selected and went to the gas chamber.”

Near death, Esther Dobrowolska Haneman wasn’t sure how many days she’d been traveling. The train crawled through Germany, traveling by night because the Allies were bombing by day. 

This was a coach of the barely breathing, collected from the camps by the retreating Nazis and guarded by an old German soldier. 

They were headed for Terezin. 

Haneman, 23, had grown up in comfort, in Belchatow, Poland, three maids tending to a family of 10. Now, only she and four sisters remained, clinging together in the train. “Everybody was looking like skeletons, without hair, shaved down. Just big eyes,” says Haneman, now a Philadelphia grandmother. 

Sick with tuberculosis, she stayed in Terezin 12 weeks, according to records she keeps in her apartment. 

But Haneman had no sense of time: day, night, weeks, months. 

That changed the morning of May 8, 1945, when the girls opened the barracks doors to see a strange parade: Russians marching, their rifles trained on Nazis. 

Some of the Russians wore armfuls of wristwatches, prizes captured along the way. Haneman noticed that one soldier had an alarm clock slung around his neck. Time had returned. 

Haneman remembers this from the confusion: The Russians were shouting, “You are free. ” Suddenly liberated inmates attacked the Germans, banging their heads against walls. One of Haneman’s younger sisters ran up and yanked a German woman’s long hair. 

Soldiers let the Jews have their way with their former captors. They offered them guns. One prisoner, a woman, picked up a rifle and started shooting. 

Haneman couldn’t even stand. She sat down on the grass and cried. There had been enough killing. 

Contact staff writer Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5958 or 

How this story was reported

Reporter Daniel Rubin visited seven countries and interviewed 14 survivors of Terezin as well as a dozen Holocaust historians, museum curators and art experts. The accounts of life in Terezin also come from more than four dozen diaries, memoirs, histories and academic articles. In particular, Rubin relied on records of the Ghetto Museum in Terezin, historian Raul Hilberg’s three-volume The Destruction of the European Jews, and survivor Ruth Bondy’s Elder of the Jews, a biography of the first leader of Terezin’s Jewish administration, Jakob Edelstein. 

Are checks in the purse the TSA’s business?

Are checks in the purse the TSA’s business?


Aug 18, 2010 

By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Staff Writer

At what point does an airport search step over the line? 

How about when they start going through your checks, and the police call your husband, suspicious you were clearing out the bank account? 

That’s the complaint leveled by Kathy Parker, a 43-year-old Elkton, Md., woman, who was flying out of Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 8. 

She says she was heading to Charlotte, N.C., for work that Sunday night – she’s a business support manager for a large bank – and was selected for a more in-depth search after she passed through the metal detectors at Gate B around 5:15 p.m.

A female Transportation Security Administration officer wanded her and patted her down, she says. Then she was walked over to where other TSA officers were searching her bags. 

“Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. A TSA officer said, ‘Hey, I’ve always been curious about these. Do they work? ‘ 

“I was just so taken aback, I said, ‘Yeah. ‘ “

What happened next, she says, was more than embarrassing. It was infuriating. 

That same screener started emptying her wallet. “He was taking out the receipts and looking at them,” she said. 

“I understand that TSA is tasked with strengthening national security but [it] surely does not need to know what I purchased at Kohl’s or Wal-Mart,” she wrote in her complaint, which she sent me last week. 

She says she asked what he was looking for and he replied, “Razor blades. ” She wondered, “Wouldn’t that have shown up on the metal detector? ” 

In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000. 

Her thought: “Oh, my God, this is none of his business. “

Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not. 

“It’s an indication you’ve embezzled these checks,” she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn’t before that moment, she says. 

She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. “That’s my money,” she remembers saying. The officer’s reply? “It’s not your money. “

At this point she told the officers that she had a good explanation for the checks, but questioned whether she had to tell them. 

“The police officer said if you don’t tell me, you can tell the D.A.”

So she explained that she and her husband had been on vacation, that they’d accumulated some hefty checks, and that she was headed to her bank’s headquarters, where she intended to deposit them. 

She gave police her husband’s cell-phone number – he was at her mother’s with their children and missed their call. 

Thirty minutes after the police became involved, they decided to let her collect her belongings and board her plane. 

“I was shaking,” she says. “I was almost in tears. “

When she got home, her husband of 20 years, John Parker, a self-employed plastics broker, said the police had called and told him that they’d suspected “a divorce situation” and that Kathy Parker was trying to empty their bank account. He set them straight. 

“I was so humiliated,” she said. 

What happened sounds to me like a violation of a TSA policy that went into effect Sept. 1, after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the agency on behalf of the former campaign treasurer of presidential candidate Ron Paul. 

In that case, Steven Bierfeldt was detained after screeners at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport discovered he was carrying about $4,700 in cash. He challenged their request that he explain where his money came from. 

The new TSA directive reads: “Screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security. ” If evidence of a crime is discovered, then TSA agents are instructed to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency. 

So just what evidence made them treat Kathy Parker like a criminal? 

Lt. Frank Vanore, a Philadelphia police spokesman, said that TSA personnel had called his officers, who found the checks to be “almost sequential. ” They were “just checking to make sure there was nothing fraudulent,” he said. “They were wondering what the story was. The officer got it cleared up. “

 TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said the reason Parker was selected for in-depth screening was that her actions at the airport had aroused the suspicion of a behavior detection officer, and that she continued to act “as if she feared discovery. “

“We need to ascertain whether fear of discovery is due to the fact a person is concealing a threatening item, be it a dangerous weapon or some kind of explosive,” Davis said. “If the search is complete, and shows individuals not to be a threat to the aircraft or fellow passengers, they are free to go. “

But why call police? Davis said, “Because her behavior escalated. “

When Parker first told me her story, she didn’t know the initial TSA officer was a behavior specialist. She told me he peppered her with questions about her trip as she knelt to consolidate three bags into two, and suddenly realized that her shirt was revealing too much for her comfort. When the man then volunteered to examine her belongings, she felt “it was just strange. “

“When they decided to search me, there was nothing wrong with my behavior,” she said. “I was trying to keep a positive demeanor about everything. My behavior didn’t escalate. I did ask questions. “

Vic Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, called what happened to Parker “preposterous” and a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches. 

“I think they clearly crossed the line,” he said, adding that no one had probable cause to examine her checks. 

“None of this makes any sense except as a fishing expedition, which under the U.S. Constitution is not allowed. They can’t rummage through her personal life. I’m not surprised this woman is outraged. She should be. “

In darkness, sense of taste gets a guide

In darkness, sense of taste gets a guide


Nov 24, 2002 


Majid Bitarafan is the master of his own dark universe. It is a rectangular space, about 30 paces by 20, where the walls are unadorned and the tables are turned. 

Bitarafan, a waiter who has been blind for two decades, serves as trusted guide to Berlin’s new Unsicht Bar, which is enveloped in complete darkness. Customers with perfect vision fumble, relying on his soothing voice to make it through something as routine as dinner. 

No cell phones, no cigarettes, no fluorescent watch dials are allowed in the restaurant, whose name in German means invisible. Customers exchange the gift of sight for an elevation of the other senses and an appreciation of things that often are overlooked. 

“We always put our hands on the left shoulder of the person in front of us,” Bitarafan says at the threshold of the dining room. He is 36 and stout, with a round, pleasant face and wraparound shades. As the candlelight recedes, a rail on the right helps. Then the rail is gone. 

 Stan Getz ‘s tenor sax plays a samba somewhere above. “A pillar is on your right, and after that, your table,” he says to our stutter-stepping caravan of three. 

We feel for the backs of chairs, then for the seats, dropping into the secure planes and reaching out for the silverware, trying to gauge the distance to the people sitting opposite us. Bitarafan’s beeper sounds, and he excuses himself. 

There are voices off to the right. A woman is speaking English. Another woman, farther away, says something in Russian. A table behind us fills soon, Bitarafan leading the way. One can hear a kiss, a cough. The space seems infinite. 

The visionary behind the Unsicht Bar is Axel Rudolph, an acoustical designer from Cologne, where the first – and only other – Unsicht Bar opened a year and a half ago. Rudolph, 46, wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the way sounds influence a customer’s path through a department store. He’s been experimenting with sightless places since 1988, when he designed “Dialogue in the Dark,” a series of blackened environments – a street crossing, a subway station, a swimming pool – set up across Europe to show what it is like to move through the darkness. 

If the Unsicht Bar has an antecedent, it is the coffee bars he placed at the ends of some of the exhibitions, where customers had to feel around for the right coins to pay for their drinks. In May 2001, Rudolph opened the restaurant in Cologne. Now, customers have to wait six weeks to get one of its 50 seats. 

The Berlin edition is a franchise, three times as large as the original, and operated by a nonprofit group that has found work for 22 people with varying degrees of visual impairment. In January, the group hopes to add live performances by blind musicians, singers and poets. 

The mystery of the Unsicht Bar begins with the menu. In the light, diners select vegetarian, fish, lamb, poultry or beef, but the descriptions only tease. “In a pool of red roses, little red buds flutter,” begins the poultry portion on the English menu. The German menu reveals no more. The page embossed in Braille lists the week’s television schedule. 

“The more you think about it, the more uncertainty is created,” Rudolph says. “It is like training for living in darkness. You have people next to you – Is it a table of three or four? Men or women? The more you think about it, and the more you hear it, the less certain you are. “

Rudolph worked to create comfort, too. Acoustic dampeners in the ceiling make the sounds more intimate. Pillars are upholstered. One hears others, but doesn’t sense that they are too close. The customers walk into a lighted foyer, where they select their dinners. The kitchen is also bright. Should there be an emergency, each waiter carries a switch that will raise the house lights gradually. 

The staff is trained to connect with each guest. So when Bitarafan brings a bottle of Czech beer to the table, he mentions that it can be emptied into the mug that also was put on the table. He reaches for a customer’s hand to get things started. 

Courses are announced but not described. A salad yields woody leaves of arugula, slippery mushrooms, crisp bacon. The entree, advertised only as lamb, is an adventure. The first catch is a garlicky wedge of roasted potato. The fork spears a chunk of lamb next. Then a crunchy sprig of rosemary. Then something unknown. 

Rudolph says this is intentional: He wanted each plate to contain finger foods of differing shapes, textures and temperatures. Most would be familiar, but each dish should include a stumper. This time, it is beans wrapped in pasta. Dessert is soft and tart, a blackberry cake. 

When it is time to go, Bitarafan leads the caravan again. The rail reappears. The candlelight returns. He waits as a cashier presents the bill and handles the transaction for him. 

On his break at the bar, he drinks coffee and has a smoke. 

He says his work breaks down barriers. “I consider it quite important that society gets to know us better,” says the father of four. 

He studied education and law after gaining political asylum in Germany 11 years ago – he was born in Iran – but until he was hired at the Unsicht Bar in July, he had not been able to find work in his new country. 

“It’s not the job of my dreams,” he says, “but it gives me more insight into the world of the seeing than anything else. I meet a lot of people. And normally, those who can see are too shy to ask us questions or don’t know how to deal with it if they meet a blind person. Here, they do ask. The ice seems to be broken as soon as they have to fully trust you when you take them to their table. It is a very different experience in the dark. “

“Some people panic,” he says. “They can’t stand the total dark and want to go out. Others suppress the panic, and are terrified when you bump into their chair or touch them by the shoulder by mistake. ” Occasionally his hand brushes by someone’s arm or hair when he is serving the food. 

His beeper sounds again, so he stubs out his cigarette and says goodbye. Approaching the passageway, he careens off a counter and bumps into the door frame before fading into the darkness, where he rules.