Kessler, Laibe
Interview Date
Respondent Neurosurgeon, born 1923.
[T1S1] Respondent details family background, father arrived from Ukraine, 1908, settled in McKeesport; mother from Halifax, Nova Scotia; notes family involvement with Socialist Party. Respondent reflects on father's death during depression: age 32; raised in fairly Orthodox environment. Respondent adds additional information on mother's family.
[T1S2] Respondent describes early life in McKeesport and involvement with Temple B'nai Israel; comments on anti-Semitism in community. Respondent explains family's move to Pittsburgh: 1938. Respondent recounts decision to attend Penn State: 1940-1943; active in Hillel Foundation; chairman college division of United Jewish Appeal, 1941.
[T2S3] Respondent discusses various positions in organizations on campus. Respondent comments on Pearl Harbor: 1941; describes conditions on campus: changed to a military operation; discusses difficulty for Jewish students to enter Medical School: only 9-10 taken each year at University of Pittsburgh; had to wait one year (1944) to enter; joined Navy during interim.
[T2S4] Respondent describes duties in Navy; life during Medical School. Respondent comments on return to Pittsburgh; describes collecting funds from friends to start Young Adult Division, United Jewish Federation (UJF) Respondent details opening medical offices in Squirrel Hill and Hill District: general practitioner; describes first patients; practiced until start of Korean war and enlistment in Air Force as flight surgeon; sent to Europe.
[T3S5] Respondent elaborates on American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and trip to Europe: 1948; sponsored by AJDC and Respondent's mother; details plight of displaced Jews after World War II in various countries, difficult conditions: major issue; supplying people basic needs for survival.
[T3S6] Respondent continues discussion of European trip and return to Montefiore Hospital as surgical resident under Dr. Yale D. Koskoff; names additional institutions attended for specialty: Neurosurgery; Respondent comments on return to Pittsburgh. and admittance to Montefiore Hospital; did cerebral blood flow research and cerebro vascular surgery.
[T4S7] Respondent provides lengthy details on rise and fall of Montefiore Hospital: recounts history of hospital from depression to 1948; only Jewish hospital in Pittsburgh. Respondent talks about Sidney Bergman's leadership of hospital; influence on Respondent's career path; explains power struggle among several physicians.
[T4S8] Respondent details study, work with Dr. Koskoff, their joint effort to start Montefiore Institute of Research; lists people who helped fund or find funders to set up Institute. Respondent continues talking about power struggle among board members and Jewish community at hospital. Respondent talks about Dr. Robert Grauer's lab at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), problems Dr. Grauer faced being only Jewish doctor at that hospital; Dr. Koskoff ousted from hospital. Respondent details decline of Montefiore Hospital; hospital decided to affiliate itself with University of Pittsburgh's Medical School; lists advantages hospital offered its Jewish doctors before change over occurred; many doctors upset by loss of autonomy, voiced their concerns at meeting, Lester Hamburg, president of board "If you don't like it here, you can leave;" some doctors left; Dr. Stanley Rosenbloom and Dr. Harold Zubrow started Central Medical Pavilion.
[T5S9] Respondent continues to detail demise of Montefiore Hospital; new plan for hospital which focused on residency program, compares Montefiore's program with successful Allegheny General Hospital's (AGH) program; law suits brought by doctors failed; Montefiore started to hire non-Jewish doctors, many doctors left, other hospitals finally began to hire Jewish doctors.
[T5S10] Respondent continues talking about Montefiore Hospital. Respondent explains Magee-Women's Hospital control of its OB/Gyn department; Montefiore started losing large amounts of money; Jewish community finally sells hospital to University of Pittsburgh; mentions no chairman at Montefiore ever became chairman at University of Pittsburgh. Respondent explains work with Allegheny General Hospital during this time; many friends hurt by hospitals sale; expanding employment opportunities for Jewish doctors. Respondent describes reason why selling Montefiore was good for Jewish community. Respondent mentions first marriage in 1950; divorce 2 years later Respondent details courtship, marriage in 1957 in New York to second wife, Sydelle Radin, former fashion director for <i>Mademoiselle</i> magazine.
[T6S11] Respondent repeats information from previous tapes; elaborates on medical practice he started after residency, duties, fees; involvement with Jewish Home for Aged; enlistment in Korean War, only Jew in unit, training in South Carolina, attending flight surgeon school; duties in France. Respondent describes medical conditions in France during his service; experiences flying throughout Europe; move back to Pittsburgh. Respondent mentions Dr. Koskoff performed lobotomy on criminal Wilbur Wright.
[T6S12] Respondent explains Dr. Koskoff was criticized for performing lobotomy, book "Dark Side of the House" written on subject. Respondent repeats discussion of Dr. Koskoff's career; became head of Montefiore; started research department. Respondent elaborates on his neurological studies; lists famous people who trained at Neurological Institute. Respondent talks about his experiences at Institute; very few Jewish doctors; focused on science not feelings; finished residency in 3 years; married wife in last year of residency; received fellowship to study under James Poppin at Lahey Clinic in Boston. Respondent describes Poppin's medical background; also talks about Harvey Cushing, father of neurosurgery and his successor, Harvey Horrax. Respondent mentions experience working in Dallas, Texas, at Southwestern Medical School in 1959; no one seemed interested in Respondent's lectures, studies; contrasts this school with experiences in New York and Boston; talks about problems adjusting.
[T7S13] Respondent explains decision to leave Dallas; lack of culture, trees; poor relationship between Blacks and whites. Respondent talks about working at Montefiore Hospital in New York City; work with blood vessels to the brain; affiliation with Albert Einstein Medical College, first medical school to accept students on basis of grades not religion; studying strokes; using Zeiss microscope to perform surgery and research on blood vessels. Respondent notes work at NYC Montefiore Hospital, tumultuous; Montefiore not interested in their research in neurosurgery; moved to Pittsburgh; worked for Montefiore Hospital. Respondent mentions mother's marriage to Elmer Hamburg, son Lester arranged for Respondent to work at Montefiore; not well received. Respondent talks about his research; laboratory he set up; experiments on radioactive cerebral blood flow; unable to secure appointment at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
[T7S14] Respondent explains why he was not appointed to Medical School; no Jew had ever been appointed head of surgery; Dr. Koskoff had appointment in psychiatry not in surgery. Respondent describes new neurological surgeries performed at Montefiore. Respondent relates becoming employed in neurosurgical department at AGH; 1963; why he decided to leave Montefiore Hospital; in 1972 Respondent explains practicing at AGH only; some anti-Semitism at AGH. Respondent lists his contributions to AGH including floor, nurse specialization; with help from George Magovern; developed and improved x-ray techniques; developed technique called intraluminal manipulation of cerebral circulation, first person to write about it. Respondent talks about AGH's push to improve, expand trauma service; expanding neurosurgery to include many sub specialties. Respondent describes career at University of Pittsburgh Medical School; 1967 received first appointment; 1977 made full clinical professor; 1987 AGH developed new medical school, Respondent made full professor; retired 1995; lists projects he is working on now. Respondent explains how HMO's changing medical profession.
[T8S15] Respondent mentions letter from cousin that describes Respondent's father's homeland; Respondent reads part of letter. Respondent talks about family life; marriage in 1957; wife's careers in New York, friendship with Beverly Sills; move to Pittsburgh; provides names of children, their education and careers; being prominent surgeon helped break down religious barriers; children's activities; wife's activities. Respondent mentions religion; wife's family background; children's religious education; his involvement with Hebrew Institute, 1980-1983.
[T8S16] Respondent continues talking about family's involvement with Jewish community; his involvement with American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); career with United Jewish Federation. Respondent lists community involvements; in 1990 recruited Jewish physicians to join UJF; received Maimonides Award; details other activities with UJF. Respondent explains work as medical legal consultant; chairman of Jewish Family Assistance Fund, elaborates on duties of this fund. Respondent talks about importance of Jews getting involved in politics.
[T9S17] Respondent describes AIPAC's involvement lobbying Congress to support Israel, mentions Senator Arlen Specter, supportive of Israel; raising money for various political campaigns, details importance of Israel-American relationship, government needs to support Jewish community. Respondent lists local politicians who have been supportive of Jewish community. Respondent describes attempted peace process between PLO, Palestinians, Israel during George Bush's Presidency. Respondent continues to talk about involvement with AIPAC; its involvement in Israel
[T9S18] Respondent elaborates on troubles of peace process in Israel: 1991. Respondent explains importance of loan money for settlements for Russian Jews; complains Baker and Bush were willing to sacrifice anything for peace in Middle East. Respondent gives his reaction to Bush's public statements against loan guarantees and settlement issues in Israel. Respondent continues to detail fight with Bush administration; describes how Clinton's attitude was positive toward Israel, Bush's comments seemed anti-Israel
[T10S19]. Respondent lists contribution of United Jewish Fund; different contributions of different Jewish factions. Respondent mentions contributions of various community members including, Respondent explains how United Jewish Fund was started. Respondent talks about his connection with Hagana; its purpose, conflict with British Government.
[T10S20] Respondent continues talking about Hagana; their fund raising experience in America. Respondent talks about his involvement with WQED radio station. Respondent mentions involvement with Pittsburgh Symphony; friendship with William Steinberg; also talks about opera.
[T11S21] Respondent describes involvement with Hebrew Institute; its history, Rabbi Israel Abrams founder; how it started; when synagogues developed schools Institute wasn't necessary; funded by UJF; conflict between Institute; local synagogues, Jewish schools; conflict between Institute and School of Advanced Jewish Studies headed by Dr. Aharon Kessler; starting day school program; shrinking Jewish community led to competition between institute and synagogues; conflict, lack of funding, poor management led to demise of Hebrew Institute. Respondent explains school started at Institute now very successful. Respondent elaborates on his involvement with Maimonides Midwestern Executive Committee. Respondent talks about changing Jewish community, youth are leaving to pursue own professions; mentions accepting presidency of Jewish Family Assistance Fund.
American Israel Public Affairs Committee; American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Bergman, Sidney M.; Central Medical Pavilion (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Europe; Grauer, Robert; Haganah (Organization); Hamburg, Lester; Hebrew Institute; Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945); Hospitals; Allegheny General Hospital (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Montefiore Hospital (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Israel; Jewish Family Assistance Fund (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Jewish Home for the Aged (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Kessler, Aharon; Koskoff, Yale David; Maimonides Society; Physicians; Medicine; Nervous system--Surgery; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Steinberg, William, 1899-1978; United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
Length (hours)
Braun, Howard
Collateral Materials
Box 103 FF 3
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