norman and sylvia circa 1950
Norman Feinberg (1911—1994)
October 25, 2021, was the 110th anniversary of my father’s birth. He grew up in the Bronx, New York, the son of Russian immigrants.
His father Isadore was born in 1886 as a “Sklarewicz” but shortly after he arrived in the U.S., changed his surname to Feinberg. As the family legend goes, he thought it was more “American.” I suppose I could have ended up Sandy Sklar!
Grandpa Izzy was a skilled metalworker whose beautiful grill work adorned the halls of their Fteley Avenue brownstone in the Bronx.
Norman’s mother, Sadie, was born in 1886 into the Biales family. She came to the U.S. in 1898, first living in Texas, then Chicago, then moving to New York City, where she married Izzy in 1907. Sadie raised four children: Edward, Norman, Mildred and Gloria. During the depression, Sadie ran the family-owned “candy store” selling snacks and drinks and other items.
Norman met Sylvia Schwartz in 1939 and they were married in 1940. My sister Joan was born in 1942, my brother Bob in 1945 and I was born in 1952. You can read more about my mother here.
Memories of My Dad
gimbels. new york. circa 1960.
a hard day’s night. 1964.
My parents at first didn’t like the 1960s popular music. Then in 1964, I took my Dad to see the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night then later played Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ and they realized there were social critics and political activists among the pop stars.
willis reed. 1965.
One night, after a “grownup” dinner of filet mignon and chocolate mousse at a French restaurant, we went to a Knicks game at the old Madison Square Garden. I may have been 14. Somehow he arranged for me to go on the court and meet one of my heroes, Willis Reed (considered one of the 50 greatest basketball players of all time.) I remember being amazed at how tall he was and appreciative of how gracious he was to a kid.
We March with GIs!
fbi file on sandy and norman. 1967.
My most treasured memory is walking arm in arm with my Dad down Fifth Avenue at the April 15, 1967 Vietnam War protest march. 400,000 marched from Central Park to the United Nations. Similar protests happened around the nation including 75,000 in San Francisco.
I had not remembered the details until I sent in a FOIA request to see if he or I had an FBI file. I was amused to see a page which recommended further follow-up on us since we may have been “connected to the GI’s United Against the War in Vietnam.” We certainly were marching with them. You can see them in the photo. I was age 15.
My Dad encouraged critical thinking among all of us. He introduced me to books and articles which would change my life. He understood the connections between poverty, racism, the war machine and fascism around the world. His lifelong love of learning inspired me and my brother and sister. Norman should have been a college professor of history, economics or political science.
Here is a short overview of his life. We had thought his commitment to progressive action originated with meeting my grandfather, however I now believe it started when he was in college, both at CCNY and Columbia. Read more to find out why!
james monroe high school yearbook. 1929.
Dad graduated from James Monroe high school, in the Bronx, in 1929. Although this yearbook listing says he was on his way to New York University (NYU), he graduated from the City College of New York (CCNY) in 1933.
NYU tuition was about $400 a year—a large sum for a working class family, while CCNY was free.
CCNY also had a significant Jewish student body which made it more comfortable for him.
“In the years when top-flight private schools were restricted to the children of the Protestant establishment, thousands of brilliant individuals (including Jewish students) attended City College because they had no other option. City’s academic excellence and status as a working-class school earned it the titles ‘Harvard of the Proletariat,’ ‘the poor man’s Harvard,’ and ‘Harvard-on-the-Hudson.’ Ten CCNY graduates went on to win Nobel Prizes. Like City students today, they were the children of immigrants and the working class, and often the first of their families to go to College.” Source: CUNY
I’ll write more about the importance of his years at CCNY below.
Dad was the first college graduate in his family. It may be difficult for many people in 2021 to realize how important this was in the 1930s for immigrant families who had sacrificed so much to build a life in the U.S.
After graduation, Norman may have taken some time off to work and accumulate funds for his next stop, Columbia University. In an email in 2018, the Columbia archivist confirmed that “Norman Feinberg graduated from Teachers College on June 1, 1937 with a Master of Arts in Communication and Education. He attended from 1936-1937.” They still offer this degree. Of course, the curriculum has changed in eight decades, but using this degree in preparation for teaching at a higher education level is still an option.
He never taught, but his family and friends all believe with his brilliant mind and communication skills, he would have been a great professor.
norman’s CCNY fob. 1933.
draft registration card
norman. coney island. circa 1935.
His draft registration form in 1939 shows he worked at the Main U.S. Post Office in Manhattan. He had physical issues which prevented military service during WW2.
After WWII, when my grandfather opened his clothing business with Mike Schulman, my Dad managed production and the front office and made sure workers were well treated. Many of them were Holocaust survivors hired by my grandfather and my Dad as soon as they arrived in the U.S. From my many visits and discussions with workers as I got older, I believe they loved him.
Whatever project management and people skills I have, I learned from his example.
When the shop closed in 1969, Dad helped Calvin Klein open his first samples shop, then he dumped him for a younger, hipper team. Norman opened his own clothing business which closed after a short time. Dad then worked for my uncle in his food distribution business, as he got close to retirement.
marki original advertisement. 1946.
Norman Feinberg graduated with a Masters Degree from Columbia University. City College, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1934, was a hotbed of radical left politics. I found this amazing photo of students against war at Columbia in 1936. I have no proof, but imagine Norman participating.
Caption under photo reads: “When half a million students throughout the nation struck classes Wednesday In the greatest student peace mobilization yet held In the United States, these Columbia students assembled at 116th Street, New York City. Veterans of Future Wars actively participated, and later formed a parade In which the horrors of modern war were assailed.”
We have thought that my grandfather was the primary influence on Dad’s political views. Certainly Kalman steered him left and introduced him to progressives in his community, but Dad’s college days were also significant in setting him on his path. He was at City College during their largest student protests.
“At City College (CCNY), the years of the Great Depression ushered in a student and faculty body as politically active as any since the school’s founding in 1847. With student activists embracing radical ideas, the college’s campus became a hotbed of protest and demonstration throughout the 1930s. William Randolph Hearst owned newspapers even derisively dubbed the college, “the little red schoolhouse.” During the decade, CCNY’s grounds played host to anti-fascist rallies, peace protests, and anti-ROTC marches, all of which were held with seeming regularity and participation that frequently numbered in the thousands.” Source: CUNY
There were contingents of students from many political groups. They aligned with faculty who had sympathies with socialist philosophy of the 1930s. And predating the anti-military demonstrations of the 1960s, the students protested against on-campus ROTC recruiting.
In fact, a group called Veterans of Future Wars, which began as a parody at Princeton, soon morphed into a movement showing the horrors of war. Many of their fathers were WW1 vets who did not want their children to experience what they did. Little did any of them know what was coming in less than 10 years.
PART OF STUDENT MOBILIZATION AGAINST WAR GATHERED AT COLUMBIA.
DAILY WORKER APRIL 24, 1936.
Jack and Philip Foner
You will read below an article about a rally protesting the firing of CCNY history instructors Jack Foner and his twin brother Philip Foner. They were friends of Norman later in life and, although I am not certain, they likely met at CCNY. Jack and Phil were renowned historians of the U.S. labor movement. Jack’s son Eric followed in his father’s footsteps and is the “DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, and one of this country’s most prominent historians.”
Articles and Images Below
Take a look at the images below from CCNY during and right after Norman’s time there.
Take a look at the images below from CCNY during and right after Norman’s time there.
Anti-War & Anti-ROTC Rally, May 1933
Protest Against Student Treatment
“One day after an anti-war/anti-ROTC demonstration that led to the suspensions of students, clubs, and campus publications, student activists assembled again, only this time to protest their treatment at (and the consequences of) the prior day’s demonstration.
Many of the student grievances are expressed in this flier which calls for a strike in effort to “force the administration to reinstitute suspended and expelled students” from the May 29, 1933 protest. That protest, which took place during an ROTC review on campus, escalated with the arrival of police officers who had been called in by CCNY President Frederick B. Robinson.” Source: CUNY
Rally Supporting Jack Foner
“This flier promotes a student rally in support of suspended City College history instructor Jack Foner. Foner, a CCNY graduate of 1932, was just one victim of the Rapp-Coudert hearings which lasted from 1940 to 1941. … While Foner was alleged to have belonged to the Communist Party, no evidence was ever presented in support of the claim. Refusing to testify before the Rapp-Coudert Committee, however, Foner was shortly thereafter suspended from his position and later fired. Foner was an ardent anti-fascist and champion for civil rights as well as trade unions. He taught at CCNY along with his twin brother, Philip, who was also fired as a result of the Rapp-Coudert hearings.” Source: CUNY
The Crisis in City College
“Cover of the December 1933 edition of the National Student League’s Student Review, CCNY President Robinson is depicted in full academic regalia as a cat, following in step behind a German military officer.
Robinson’s tail, meanwhile, is wagged by Tammany Hall, New York’s corrupt Democratic political machine.”
Rally Supporting Expelled Students
“Rally on CCNY Quad, November, 20, 1934 This photograph was taken at the November 20, 1934 rally at CCNY. The demonstration was held to demand the reinstatement of twenty-one expelled students as well as the removal of college president, Frederick B. Robinson.
The twenty-one were expelled following an anti-fascist rally on October 9th. …The protest began at 11am and lasted approximately two hours, attracting a crowd in upwards of 1,500 students. Due to its size, the event ultimately moved out of the area seen in the photo to the nearby Jasper Oval.
By event’s end, three students were reported to have been arrested during a clash with police and a two-headed effigy of CCNY President Robinson and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini was burned.” Source: CUNY
Read about my upcoming book
Beginning with a trip to my grandfather’s ancestral home of Sárospatak, Hungary in 2007, I have been on the hunt for more information about Carl Schwartz aka Kalman Marki. It has been, in some cases, like searching for six needles in six separate haystacks.
What I can say now is my grandfather’s influence was more important than I knew and his connections reached the highest level of the Hungarian government. Perhaps my Mom and Dad knew more. However I believe I have uncovered some information which even they did not know. They certainly did not share it with my sister and brother and me