Harry Greissman, raised in 1920’s and 30’s Brooklyn by his immigrant parents, represented the Greatest Generation as he defeated the Nazis in World War II, became the first in his family to graduate college, led the exodus to the suburbs in Westchester, served for 40 years as a “Mad Men” in an anti-Semitic advertising agency, and retired to sunny Florida.
“David Greene offers us one of the most compelling portraits of the world of New York’s immigrant Jews in a time of nativism, Depression, and war. Harry Greissman is a relatively ordinary figure, a child of immigrant parents, who ended up in advertising after attending what is now the City University and fighting during World War II, but David Greene is no ordinary writer.His stories of Harry’s life are laced with anecdotes and comments on twentieth century life, ethnic animosities, and the rise of global fascism that both bring the past to life and force us to examine our present. Anyone who loves history or who wants to face the challenge of the new nativism embodied by Donald Trump will benefit from reading this book.”
– Dr. Mark Naison, Professor of History, Fordham University
– Kirkus Reviews
Harry’s life is the subject of an interesting story told by his son-in-law in a new book, He Could Make Words Sing: An Ordinary Man During Extraordinary Times. It reveals the message that we can all relate to Harry as an “every man” and take away insightful lessons on how to live and view our own lives in an era of struggle and discontent.
“Almost all Americans come from an immigrant family or are immigrants,” says Greene. “We all have either suffered through the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Many families have veterans who served their country in war and have seen its effects. Many of us lived through the ups and downs of the second half of the 20th century or had relatives who did. This book is a historical and sociological story of each of us, as told through the life of an “everyman.” Of course everyone’s story is unique, but we can all relate to the life and times of Harry Greissman.”
Walk through the extraordinarily tumultuous 20th century with Harry. His story recounts the issues so many Americans faced then and now, well into the 21st century: Immigration. Economic deprivation.
Lost love. War. Discrimination at work. The transition from urban to suburban life. A working couple raising a family. His story should resonate with most Americans.
At the same time look at the events of the present to better understand the history that led to them. Compare and contrast. Relax… and see that no matter how bad the social media-exaggerated issues are today, they do not compare with the issues faced by those who survived the 20th century.
With the use of excerpts from love letters and letters sent from the war front back home, as well as sharing original documents, records, and photos, Greene pieces together the life of Harry and ties it into the generational history of the last century. His story is America’s story.
Greene, a history teacher for nearly 40 years, explores the following:
• The challenges and dreams of 20th century immigrants – and the parallels to today’s newest wave of immigrants.
• Why it’s important to discover our family history and learn the lessons of life through the experiences of our elders.
• The significant historical moments of the 20th century and what we must understand about them.
• The way we each find our purpose and passion in life.
“Ordinary men and women like Harry (who died in 1997 at age 82) had to deal and survive throughout a series of extraordinary circumstances that thankfully we have not come close to replicating – and I hope we never do,” notes Greene. “We can only learn to deal with our own problems by understanding what those like us went through back then.”
Greene explores Harry’s greatest challenges and triumphs, including:
• How he survived the Great Depression.
• What it was like to be the first in his family to graduate college.
• What the streets of 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s Brooklyn were like.
• His role in defeating the Nazis during World War II – and the German items his family donated to the National Holocaust Museum.
• Why his youthful interfaith relationship could not be allowed to go on – and how he made his marriage to a Jewish woman last almost a half-century.
• His 40 years with a leading advertising agency – an original “Mad Men” and how anti-Semitism stunted his rise within the firm.
• How he confronted his failed dreams of being a sports writer and novelist.
“It’s the 20th anniversary of Harry’s passing,” concludes Greene. “This book is not only intended to honor him and keep his memory alive for his family and those who knew him, but to share with others the story of an ordinary man that we all recognize in ourselves or a family member – and to appreciate, understand, and even salute the battles they won and the lives they lived.”
About David Greene
He has been interviewed by or featured in The Washington Post, Education Weekly, US News and World Report, scores of radio shows, and at one time had the most-responded-to letter published in The New York Times. He is also the author of Doing the Right Thing, an insider’s view on the state of American education. He taught social studies and coached football at A.E. Stevenson HS in Bronx, Woodlands HS in Greenburgh NY, and Scarsdale HS in Scarsdale NY, for 38 years. He was an adjunct and field supervisor for Fordham University thus mentoring Teach For America Corps Members in the Bronx, Corp Members in Bronx. He was a staff member of WISE Services and treasurer of Save Our Schools. He was born in Los Angeles but was raised in South Bronx. He went to public schools in Bronx, including The Bronx High School of Science. He graduated from Fordham University’s Undergraduate School of Education. He resides in Dobbs Ferry NY.