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Milwaukee’s Area 51?

Archive for May, 2016

Milwaukee’s Area 51?

By: Jaxon Katch, 7th Grade Student

Jax KatchWhen it was time to pick a project for my Bar Mitzvah, my Mom and I talked about ideas and I knew that I wanted to do something different.  In fact, when she asked me what I was going to do, I thought to myself “am I going to have to collect underwear?”  Not that collecting donations isn’t a valuable project, but I just wanted to do something different.  Because I really like history, my Mom talked to Ellie Gettinger at the Jewish Museum in Milwaukee and asked if there was something for me to do at the Museum.  When my Mom told me that the museum would allow me to volunteer in their archives, I was shocked.  I said….”the archives?  That’s like the Area 51 of Jewish Milwaukee!”  I was really excited.

When I first arrived at the archives I looked around a bit and realized that I was right, this place is the Area 51 of Jewish Milwaukee.  I mean, they have everything there, stuff not a lot of people know about….. I got to take a tour of the archives and see all sorts of really neat stuff. It was really exciting.

Because I like history so much, for my project, I got to read through some old WWII letters written by Jewish soldiers with a connection to Milwaukee.  The museum needed help typing some of the hand-written letters so they could reference them later.

Jay Hyland, of the archives, randomly gave me the file on a soldier named Leonard LeVine, a Major in the Army Air Corps, and I never really moved on from him.  Leonard was from Milwaukee and even went to Whitefish Bay High School, the same High School that I will attend. This intrigued me even more.  Jay also found an old article about Leonard’s parents’ house in Whitefish Bay.  On the way home that day I made my Mom drive by his old house.  This house is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  All this only made me wonder more about Leonard’s life after the WWII letters.  From the letters, I knew that his family had owned Rosenberg’s department store in Milwaukee – Leonard would sometimes talk about business and sales in his letters to his parents.  He also talked about getting private tailor to make his military uniform for him with the budget from the military instead of ordering it through the army.  He knew business well and I guess fashion too.

Well, then I started googling him.  I soon realized Leonard grew up to be a very successful man.  I found that he died on December 22, 2008, Jax Katch gravestonehe was 91 years old, and was buried in the Spring Hill Cemetery, also right here in Milwaukee, and also another reason to hop in the car and go find his grave.   My googling also found that when he died he gave $7.6 million to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which was their biggest donation ever.

Leonard wrote a lot about not having any spare time in the service, most letters started with him saying that he only had a few minutes, but he always wrote.  He regularly wrote his parents about how and what he was doing and where he might be transferred next.  In one letter, he talks about getting into the officer candidate school, after I put the letter back in the stack, I noticed that a few letters down in the stack a return address was peeking out and it was from the school he wanted, I was excited to see that he got into the school and of course couldn’t wait to read more. I almost never wanted to leave when my time was up.

I feel really lucky to be able to see into Leonard’s life and am thankful to him for his military service and for his contributions to Milwaukee.  They say that a Mitzvah project can be my way of saying “thank you” for my blessings in a real way.  In the end, I typed and scanned all of Leonard’s letters which probably helped the museum only a little, but I got to “know” a really cool man and part of Jewish history and for that I thank the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

Purchase a Mah Jongg Tile

Honor that special Mahj player in your life or offer your own show of support with a Project Mah Jonng Sponsor Tile that will be beautifully displayed on a large tiered rack in the JMM Atrium Game Gallery for the complete run of the exhibit. These tiles are of varying sizes ranging from 3.5” x 4.75” to 14” x 17”  and will be personalized with a name. Tiles purchased at the $150 level or higher also come with a brief tribute message option. All sponsorships come with incentives that increase with each level and include perks such as free admission to the June 2nd Preview Event, free museum and program admission, a 1-year JMM membership, and free group play sessions in the designated atrium game gallery. Consider honoring mothers, grandmothers, friends and/or the person who taught you to play the game you love. Purchase your tile today!

Purchase your tile today! (sample below) If you would prefer to talk to someone about this, call 414-390-5730.


Sponsor Levels

  • Bams – $36
    1 Free Admission (*excluding Preview Event)
  • Craks – $50
    2 Free Admissions (*excluding Preview Event)
  • Dots – $100
    2 Free Admissions, admission to 2 programs during run of exhibit (*excluding Preview Event)
  • Winds – $150
    1 free membership or gift membership, and all benefits of Dot-level Sponsor
  • Dragons – $250
    Bring your Mahj Group for Tour and Game, and all benefits of Wind-level Sponsor
  • Flowers – $500
    2 complimentary tickets to Preview Event and all benefits of Dragon-level Sponsor
  • Joker – $1,500
    4 complimentary tickets to Preview Event, Mah Jongg Swag (TBD), and all benefits of Flower-level Sponsor
  • Mah Jongg! – $5,000
    Presenting Sponsor (name on all major marketing material) 6 complimentary tickets to Preview Event and all benefits of Joker-level Sponsor

You can purchase your tile here>>

Questions? Email

An Exploration of “Madness”

By: Michael Fishbach

I began interning at Jewish Museum Milwaukee a month ago, and last week, I took my first guided tour with a group of students from Rufus King Middle School.  We first toured the visiting exhibit, which consisted of beautiful drawings by the late Arthur Szyk, where Ellie Gettinger guided the group.

Ellie gravitated toward a set of drawings, one original drawing created by Szyk and a reproduction of the same piece from the January 17, 1942 issue of Collier’s Magazine.  The students examined the pictures for differences and immediately noticed there were two figures missing in the lower right-hand corner of the cover.  Ellie had no definitive answer to why these men were removed and presented two possible answers: (1) the Collier’s staff was averse to keeping the two unnamed figures on the cover, and (2) Collier’s needed a section for copy.

•1942. New York. Collier's January 17, 1942, Madness [Nazi Propaganda] original work. Reproduced with the cooperation of The Arthur Szyk Society, Burlingame, CA

• 1942. New York. Collier’s January 17, 1942, Madness [Nazi Propaganda] original work. Reproduced with the cooperation of The Arthur Szyk Society, Burlingame, CA

Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138x9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2 Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138x9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2

Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138×9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2
Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138×9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2

The second answer could be the reason, but that age old question of “why?” popped into my head.  I decided to study and inspect the source material and the Collier’s Magazine cover.

Upon closer inspection of the two figures, I concluded that the figures must be Philippe Pétain, the Head of State of France’s puppet government in Vichy during World War Two.  The two aspects of this figure that allowed us to discern Pétain were the bushy mustache as well as the French Kepi, a military head cover that Pétain commonly wore.

The other figure next to Pétain appeared to be Benito Mussolini, also known as “Il Duce” (The Duke) who was the dictator of Fascist Italy from 1922-1943 and ally of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan through the Tripartite Pact.  What led me to believe this figure represented Mussolini was that the figure donned a black military uniform.  Persons within the Italian Fascist movement wore black military uniforms that lent them the nickname “black shirts” which was later coöpted by the Nazi Sturmabteilung, or “SA”, with their adoption of brown uniforms which lent the nickname the “brown shirts.”

Another element of the figure that led to the conclusion of Benito Mussolini was the helmet/hat donned by the figure that depicted a perched eagle clutching a Fasces, the symbol for Italian Fascism.  If one were to look at other examples of Arthur Szyk’s drawings depicting Benito Mussolini, one recognized the same helmet/hat emblazoned with the same symbol.

Despite these conclusions deduced with the pictorial and historical evidence, the question remained, “Why were these figures eliminated for the Collier’s cover?” We know that Szyk completed the drawing in September 1941, which was prior to the United States entering the war.  At this time, the Italian military suffered embarrassing defeats in East Africa and North Africa against the British forces, and they failed to conquer Greece in Spring 1941.  Because of these failures, Hitler sent German soldiers to North Africa and Greece to defeat and re-conquer the territory the Italians failed to gain and hold.  In my subjective view, these defeats lowered the prestige of Benito Mussolini to that of marionette to Hitler as puppet master, which was of a similar status of Pétain at this time.  One could argue that other nominal figures of conquered European nations at this time could also have been depicted, including Vidkun Quisling of Norway, however, his name along with other puppet leaders possibly did fulfill Arthur Szyk’s artistic vision with the more well-known Mussolini and Pétain.

On the other hand, did the Collier’s staff eliminate these figures to leave space for their headline “DON’T BELIEVE A WORD OF IT”?  With the inclusion of this and the elimination of those two figures, the Collier’s cover solely depicted the bedrock Nazi leaders Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goring, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler.  The addition of the figures offered a less fixed message against “Dictators” as seen in Arthur Szyks drawing.  It may have been easier for subscribers of Collier’s to fix on a single regime as the “enemy” of United States as opposed to the possibility of having multiple enemies.

The final item that I researched was the diplomatic relationship between the United States government and Vichy France.  I learned the United States government recognized and practiced diplomatic communications with Vichy France from 1940-1942.  Because of the tenuous situation in Europe and the United States’ declaration of war on the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) when this Collier’s issue was released, I believe the Collier’s staff decided to eliminate Pétain as a means to not criticize Vichy France while the United States maintained diplomatic with them.  With the elimination of Pétain, the Benito Mussolini figure had to be removed as well or else face questions of why the Benito Mussolini figure was contorted in an unusual position in relation to the rest of the drawing.

However, we will perhaps never know the true reason for the elimination of Pétain and Mussolini for the Collier’s cover, but it offered the opportunity for this viewer to ask “why?”