Greta Zimmer Friedman, a Jewish woman whose Times Square kiss from a sailor on the day World War II ended became an iconic photo, died on Sept. 8. She was 92.
Friedman, who had been living at an assisted living facility in northern Virginia, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery alongside her husband, Mischa Elliott Friedman.
For years, the identities of the people in the photograph by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, taken on Aug. 14, 1945, after the news of Japan’s surrender was broadcast, were unknown.
After an appeal from Life Magazine in 1980, a number of people identified themselves as being in the photo. A 2012 book, “The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II,” used forensic analysis to validate two claims, by George Mendonsa, a sailor back from the Pacific, and Zimmer, who had fled Austria with her younger sisters in 1938.
Mendonsa was in Manhattan on a date watching a movie when news of Japan’s surrender broke. After celebrating at a bar, he saw Zimmer, a dental assistant, in Times Square and mistook her for a nurse.
Because he had recently developed an appreciation for nurses — having seen them in operation after kamikaze planes hit his aircraft carrier — he grabbed Zimmer and kissed her, with his grinning date looking on. (The kiss didn’t dampen the future of the young couple, who were on their first date: Mendonsa and Rita Petry married and are still together to this day.)
Zimmer became a costumer and for a time was part of a circle of theater professionals in New York. She met Friedman, a doctor, and they married in 1956.
The kiss became Eisenstaedt’s most iconic photo, though he was already well known before the shot. A Jew who fled Nazi Germany for the United States in 1935, he shot one of the best known photos of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, at a League of Nations conference in Geneva in 1933. In it, Goebbels glares at the camera. Moments earlier, Eisenstaedt had captured Goebbels grinning. Some photography enthusiasts have speculated that in the interim Goebbels learned Eisenstaedt was Jewish.
As time went on, the Times Square photo prompted discussion over whether Mendonsa’s actions were appropriate. Zimmer did not anticipate the kiss. Her son, Joseph, earlier this month told the New York Daily News that his mother was sympathetic to those views, but also to Mendonsa, with whom she was reunited for a CBS news story in 2012.
“My mom always had an appreciation for a feminist viewpoint, and understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street,” he said, but added that she thought Mendonsa to be “a lovely person.”
“She didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time,” he added. — jta