'Kiss was not romantic'

This is an outtake of the famous photograph of an American sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in August 1945.
This is an outtake of the famous photograph of an American sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in August 1945.PHOTO: THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION

Greta Friedman, who claimed to be the nurse in iconic WWII photo, said she was grabbed by the sailor

NEW YORK • Greta Friedman, who said she was grabbed and kissed by a sailor in a euphoric moment that made for one of the most defining American photos of the 20th century, died last Thursday. She was 92.

She died of pneumonia, her son Joshua Friedman said.

The black-and-white image of a woman and an American sailor was shot by renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt on Aug 14, 1945, after the news of Japan's surrender effectively heralded the end of World War II.

The photograph ran as a full page in Life magazine shortly after.

Yet the identity of its subjects - a dark-suited sailor and a woman in a white nurse's outfit captured in what seemed to be mid-embrace amid a celebration in Times Square on V-J Day - has long been debated.

At least 11 men have claimed to be the sailor in the photo, while three women, including Friedman, had prominent claims that they were the nurse.

Friedman said she did not see the photo until the 1960s, when she came upon a book of Eisenstaedt's images and found the moment immortalised on the page.

She wrote to Life and was told that another person had been identified as the woman in the photo.

"I didn't believe that because I knew it happened to me," she said in 2005 in an interview archived by the Veterans History Project.

"It's exactly my figure, and what I wore and my hairdo especially."

Eisenstaedt, a photojournalist who produced more than 2,500 picture stories and 90 covers for Life, did not have a definitive record of the man and woman in the photo.

Decades later, he met Edith Shain, a kindergarten teacher from Beverly Hills, California, who claimed to be the woman in the photo. Eisenstaedt died in 1995; Shain died in 2010.

The photo has served as a symbol of the exuberance Americans felt at the end of World War II, capturing what many saw as a charmingly ideal portrait of the United States at a portentous moment of history.

It has been the subject of countless reproductions, re-enactments and tributes.

But in recent years, some have noted its darker undertones.

In 2012, a writer on the website Crates And Ribbons argued that the picture depicted not a moment of romance, but a "sexual assault by modern standards", pointing to Friedman's description of the kiss during her interview with the Veterans History Project.

"I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I'm not sure about the kiss," Friedman said. "It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn't a romantic event."

In a story in 2014 about the photo, Time, whose parent company discontinued the monthly publication of Life magazine in 2000, noted that "many people view the photo as little more than the documentation of a very public sexual assault, and not something to be celebrated".

Friedman did not shy away from the photo or her role in it, her son said.

He said he believed she understood the argument that it was an assault, but did not necessarily view it that way.

Friedman was born Greta Zimmer on June 5, 1924, in Wiener Neustadt, a small town in Austria outside Vienna.

She was one of four daughters born to Max Zimmer, a clothing store owner, and Ida Zimmer.

As conditions worsened for Jews in Nazi-occupied Austria, her parents sent their children out of the country.

Friedman and two of her sisters came to the US in 1939, while their other sister went to what was then Palestine. The Zimmer parents were killed in the Holocaust, Mr Joshua Friedman said.

Greta Friedman landed in New York City. She had been working at a dentist's office on Aug 14, which was why she was wearing the white nurse's outfit, she recalled in the Veterans History Project interview.

She married Dr Mischa E. Friedman, a scientist for the US Army, in 1956. Besides their son, the couple had a daughter, Mara, in Frederick, Maryland.

Greta Friedman had a studio in Frederick where she painted and made silk-screen prints, her son said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline ''Kiss was not romantic''. Print Edition | Subscribe