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Estonia No “Fairy Tale” for Kahn Family

In “Journey to Estonia” [Jan/Feb] Samuel Hughes draws a vivid sketch of the artistic, intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, and emotional effects of the decision by “a group of Estonian architects” to “organize a symposium about Louis Kahn, who was born Leiser-Itze Schmuilowsky in the Estonian town of Pärnu” with the cooperation of Kahn’s surviving family. Both Hughes himself and members of the Kahn family he interviewed convey the unmistakable impression that Kahn, an architect of extraordinary prowess with a bond to the University of Pennsylvania through undergraduate years spent there and later as a professor of architecture, was a true native son of Estonia, that his father had been a military man, and that his childhood on the island of Saaremaa was like a fairy tale. Hughes also underscores that nationalistic theme when he writes about “the intense professional relationship between Kahn and his fellow Estonian, the structural engineer, August Komendant.”

Two of Kahn’s three children participated in the symposium in Estonia that convened on Friday, October 6, 2005. “‘The only thing missing is that I wish my sister Sue Ann was there,” Hughes quotes Kahn’s son Nathaniel as saying. But there is something missing from “Journey to Estonia,” namely, a mention, even once, of Kahn being a Jew who happened to have been born in Estonia. That fact not only is crucial to understanding Kahn as a man and as a maker of imaginative plans for buildings, but is rudimentary to historical accuracy. It should be noted that: (1) Louis’ father, Leopold, had been conscripted into the military and emigrated to the United States in 1904 specifically to avoid being recalled into the army during the Russo-Japanese War, and (2) had the Schmuilowsky (Kahn) family not left Estonia, it is very possible that Louis and some of his relatives would have been murdered by “fellow” Estonians during the Nazi occupation of 1941-44. The evidence of complicity of ethnic Estonians in military units such as those of the Estonian Legion and in police battalions in genocidal operations against Jews in Estonia is established incontrovertibly.

Louis Kahn was under no misapprehension about the authentic history of his family and of the history of Estonia vis-à-vis the Jews. An article that memorializes him in a publication of the University of Pennsylvania should be faithful to facts.

A. Bernard Ackerman GM’67 New York

Samuel Hughes responds:

I thought the fact that Lou Kahn was Jewish was widely known, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that he was anything but. My use of the phrase “fellow Estonian” to describe August Komendant was intended as a reference to their mutual birthplace, not their ethnicity. Had the Schmuilowsky/Kahn family been forced to leave Estonia because of a pogrom or something else connected with being Jewish, I definitely would have discussed that, and it would have affected the tone of the article. As for what might have happened to the family 35 years later had it not left Estonia, I respectfully submit that that was beyond the scope of this story. 

A Welcome Bonus

Though my Penn degree is from Wharton, I work as an architect. I didn’t realize that, when I subscribed to the Gazette, I would be receiving an architectural magazine. The last few issues have been chock full of articles that are really interesting to me, especially the Jan/Feb issue. Your mission may not be architecture, but you’re going a good job writing about it.

William B. Tracy WG’75 Denver, CO

Don’t Dis Designers

In an issue highlighting Lou Kahn and his architectural contributions to Penn, Philadelphia, and the world, the omission of the names of the architectural firms (and the principal designers) from Amy Gutman’s “From College Hall” column, “A Great Year for Buildings,” was especially striking. If these five new buildings are truly “transforming campus life and learning,” then surely the designers of these “innovative spaces” deserve to be credited.

Wendy Peck MCP’80 Wynnewood, PA

Account(ing)s Differ on First Tut Tour

In “The Radical and the Restorer” [Jan/Feb], Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and a member of the Penn Museum’s board of overseers, is quoted as stating, “In the previous exhibition on Tutankhamun, the museums in the United States received everything.” He adds, “American museums sucked the blood of the monuments and brought no money to the monuments.”

In his 1993 book Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas Hoving, the museum’s director, who negotiated the 1976-79 Tutankhamun tour, recalls a very different result: “The participating museums made hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Egyptian Organization of Antiquities eventually received eleven million dollars with which to renovate the Cairo Museum and other museums,” he writes.

Either Hoving’s long-standing accounting of the 1970s King Tut exhibition is incorrect, or Hawass’s is. Far more perturbing is Hawass’s virulent language and the attitude it betrays to both the nation and institution that host him. That the Gazette chose to publish it is distressing.

Myrna Schkolne, parent Winston Salem, NC

Blockbuster for One?

I read with interest Beebe Bahrami’s article, “The Radical and the Restorer,” describing the Penn Museum’s companion show to the current King Tut exhibition, now at the Franklin Institute. The article mentions, in passing, the 1976-79 “blockbuster” Treasures of Tutankhamun show. However, I remember going to an even earlier King Tut exhibit, at the University Museum itself, in 1961-62, when I was a freshman. I believe the famous gold mask was displayed then, but otherwise that long-ago exhibit was no blockbuster. The day I went I was the only one there.

Ray Hadrick W’65 Brooklyn, NY

Paternity Case

The statements in “The Radical and the Restorer” that Akhenaten was Tutankhamun’s “putative father” and that Tutankhamun was born in Amarna should have explained that considerable evidence is available to contradict these conclusions.

As the article stated about Tutankhamun “no definitive text or inscription has yet been found that names his parents.” Nor has any evidence been discovered which describes his place of birth or where he spent his childhood. While many depictions of Akhenaten have survived the millennia, some showing him with his wife, Queen Nefertiti, and several including their daughters up to and including the sixth one, not a single portrait of Akhenaten has been found showing him with a son! Nor do any of the many inscriptions from his reign mention his having a son!

“Who was Tutankhamun?” remains a mystery, one which has spawned much speculation but no conclusive answer. However, significant circumstantial evidence points toward a candidate other than Akhenaten for having fathered Tut—namely, Suppiluliumas, the great warrior-king of the Hittites:

A cuneiform tablet discovered in excavations near the village of Boghazkoy in Turkey dated to the time right after Tutankhamun’s death records that Suppiluliumas received a message from an Egyptian queen—the timing implies that she must have been Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun’s queen—who said she was a widow and begged Suppiluliumas to send her a son for marriage and to become king of Egypt. After sending an emissary to ask whether the queen had offered herself to anyone else and if she had any sons—Ankhesenamun replied, somewhat indignantly, in the negative—Suppiluliumas dispatched his unmarried son Prince Zennanza (who unfortunately was murdered on the way to Egypt by persons unknown.)

Why would a queen of Egypt, the most influential and affluent country in the region, send such a message to a foreign king nearly 1,000 miles away? The answer is that Ankhesenamun was exercising her right under an ancient custom—also recorded in the Old Testament (Genesis 38:7)—by which a widow could demand that an unmarried brother of her deceased husband, if one existed, be provided as a replacement husband. The only restrictions were that the widow could not have offered herself to anyone else and had to have no living sons—exactly the questions that Suppiluliumas asked. The odds of this being a coincidence are beyond calculation. Therefore, Ankhesenamun made her request to Suppiluliumas because he was her father-in-law!

The ancient Egyptians believed that a person’s name was a special representation of its owner. In the 3,000-year history of ancient Egypt, the three hieroglyphs that transliterate into T-U-T appear only in Tutankhamun’s name. However, no fewer than four Hittite kings, including Suppiluliumas’s own father, were named Tudhaliyas. It is not inconceivable that the first syllable in the name Tutankhamun was an Egyptianized version of the Hittite Tud.

Throughout the long span of ancient Egyptian history, a cobra uraeus was used to designate royalty. Kings and queens were depicted wearing this symbol of their ranks attached to the fronts of their headdresses. Tutankhamun, however, was entombed with his royalty indicated by both a cobra and a vulture! Modern-day Egyptologists have not as yet provided an answer as to why this king was so uniquely adorned. A reasonable person, however, might conclude that these two uraeuses were meant to signify that Tutankhamun had been a member of two royal families, not just one.

Richard H. Newmark W’54 Fort Lauderdale, FL

More Consolations for Limitations

As a contemporary, as well as a fraternity brother, of the writer Nick Lyons, this fellow septuagenarian can attest to the frailties and diminishments that occur as we age [“Alumni Voices,” Jan/Feb]. Don’t we all wish we had the vigor and stamina of our youth, the ability to play hoops, run the bases, and chase our grandchildren, among other things? And do we remember not needing hearing facilitators at the movies, enjoying keener eyesight, and possessing bones that did not creak and ache at the slightest jostle? Ah, but how true is the old saw, “It’s better than the alternative.” We can still enjoy the games as spectators, whether the players are major leaguers or little leaguers. And the trout streams are not age-discriminatory.

Bruce L. Mayers W’52 Manhasset, NY

Don’t Return to Failed Welfare Policies

What’s Behind a New Wave of Crime?” [“Gazetteer,” Jan/Feb] quotes a couple of sociologists advancing the proposition that, because Philadelphia’s welfare benefits are less generous than those of other cities, latchkey children are being “raised by the streets” as their mothers are off at work.

This argument is flawed for two reasons. First, Philadelphia’s crime problem is not unique. In 2005 and 2006, the majority of big cities experienced similar increases. Thus, Philadelphia’s uniquely restrictive welfare rules were probably not a major cause of its homicides. Second, and more important, even a cursory look at America’s past shows that bribing people not to work does not prevent crime.

During the 1960s and 1970s, a wide variety of social programs bribed welfare mothers to stay at home with the children—and crime exploded, despite the economic boom of the 1960s and early 1970s. The national homicide rate increased every single year between 1963 and 1976, and increased by 150 percent between 1957 and 1980 (from 4 per 100,000 to 10.2 per 100,000). But the Gazette only quotes scholars who want to go back to the failed policies of the past.

Michael Lewyn L’86 Jacksonville, FL

Better Off Without Saddam?

I read the letters in the Jan|Feb issue responding to Dr. Ian Lustick’s thoughts on the Iraq war [“Lowering the Temperature,” Nov/Dec] with great interest. I find that when defenders of the war run out of arguments to support the effort they always fall back on the argument that the United States is better off with Saddam out of power (see especially the letter from Bill Rautenberg). I have always felt that this defense of the war was nonsense. I agree that Saddam was an odious dictator. But, let’s face it, the United States deals and negotiates with many odious dictators around the world, either directly or through the UN or NATO. North Korea, Iran, and Syria spring rapidly to mind, among many others.

After Operation Desert Storm in 1991 Saddam was a secular Arab ruler who was decidedly unfriendly to fundamentalist Islamic terrorists; he was also contained by “no-fly zones,” American military outposts in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and an aggressive UN inspection team. He was no threat to other Arab countries or Israel. Now what do we have in Iraq? An unstable, hell-hole of Islamic terror that threatens all our friends in the region, not to mention Pakistan and Afghanistan. Without a stable Iraq, we have emboldened Iran, which has led to the increased threat to Israel and Lebanon from Hezbollah. Because we are stuck in the mire of Iraq, the Taliban is regrouping and poses a growing threat to the elected government of Afghanistan. Because we lied our way into this war we are isolated in the world community.

Now, you tell me whether or not we are better off without Saddam.

Irving Shapiro C’64 Rockville, MD

When in Doubt, Attack

Ian Lustick is one of the few remaining sources of (and forces for) reason in an unreasonable rush to revenge. Muslims happen to be the flavor of the month, to some degree; it seems we as a nation need our villains to make ourselves feel good (and provide fodder for jingoistic country music).

Unfortunately, some Muslims and their attitudes add fuel to the fire. What is at least as troubling however, is the attitudes of people such as the letter-writers in the Jan/Feb Gazette who routinely pillory the entire religion of Islam for the deeds of some of its fringe.

For example, I find myself agreeing with David Bolger that Islamic thought needs to make room for a reformation. Believe me, many moderate Muslims are ready for a change, which fits their reality and their faith. However, his presentation of one out-of-context paragraph from the Umdat al-Salikhardly amounts to an Islamic ban on music. The Umdat al-Salik is a guide mostly for the Shafii (a group of Sunni) Muslims. In its significance to Muslims as a whole, it holds no comparison to the Qur’an, for example. While it is impressive that Mr. Bolger has such an eclectic range of literary interests, it is worth noting that virtually every faith will have an obscure religious tract where one can dig up phrases, quotations, and edicts which may offend modern sensibilities. Highlighting just one doesn’t make people like Mr. Bolger better informed; it makes us as a society less tolerant.

War truly has brought out the worst in us. When in doubt, attack—even if, as one letter-writer suggests, one attacks reason and logic themselves. May reasonable individuals like Professor Lustick continue to generate light rather than heat from the conflict.

Omar A. Khan C’94 G’94 Shelburne, VT

Turn the Flame Way Up

While he mentions many of the events and players in the war on terror, Ian Lustick’s focus on America’s handling of the terror threat leaves me with a feeling that he’s missing the much bigger picture. While our enemies in the war on terror are indeed far weaker than was the Soviet Union in the Cold war, I do not agree that they constitute a less awesome threat. The article implies that war on terror is primarily a domestic safety and security issue. This is far from being the case.

We are engaged in a holy war (jihad) being waged by extremist Islam against the West, and the U.S. in particular, in which the enemy seeks to subjugate or destroy us. The terror they employ is only one of many tools. They are not “tiny bands of Muslim fanatics” any more than Imperial Japan was a tiny band of generals surrounding Emperor Hirohito. Entire Islamic nations are part of this battle, as are great numbers of rank-and-file Muslim citizens within many other nations. It is a worldwide battle of propaganda, demographics, politics, and, of course, violence.

To win in the fight against jihad, the West ought not to “lower the flame.” The flame was low enough when the planes came crashing into the Twin Towers. To win, we will have to turn the flame way up. The destruction of Saddam’s regime (by all accounts a terror-supporting state) and the Taliban were Western victories against Jihad, as was the recent rout of the Islamist insurgency in Somalia. Other victories against Jihad would be the destruction (not curbing) of Iran’s nuclear capability, the exposure of supposed mainstream U.S. Islamic organizations as the fronts for terror that they are, and the refusal of universities to accept gifts from terror-complicit oil regimes. Potential terrorists must be made to understand that the West is not a push-over, and if they join the Jihad they are in grave danger. This is not the message that emanates from Dr. Lustick’s proposed policies.

If there is truly “nothing to fear but fear itself,” as Dr. Lustick quotes, than we need not attempt to win over the enemy or refrain from attacking terror states for fear of reprisal. American thinkers must work towards bringing the clearest and uncensored picture of the threat to the public in the West, along with suggestions for concrete measures that can be taken to win this war.

Jonathan Lipsky EE’84 Bet-Shemesh, Israel

Rx for Fixing Another War?

I was pleased to read the excellent excerpt from Trapped in the War on Terror by Dr. Lustick. It made me think that some of the sound and convincing arguments behind his conclusions could be applied to the war against drugs. More rational and effective policies should be adopted to fight this up-to-now unbeatable force that has within itself, economic, social, and political strong drivers. The disturbing and painful effects of this unsuccessful war are being suffered more intensively by people that live out of the U.S. borders.

Alfredo Carvajal W’59 Cali Bogota, Colombia

Missed Trolley

The Jan/Feb issue of the Gazette is excellent, covering a myriad of Penn topics from Kahn to Tut, alumni news, and much more. However, I was disappointed and upset that there was no mention of the Class of 1956 gift to the University: a life-size replica of a trolley car that covers the subway entrance at 37th and Spruce streets across from the dormitories. There was a well-attended ceremony on a rainy Saturday morning when it was dedicated last fall. The Penn marching band added to the celebration. The Class of 1956 was delighted that their addition to the campus was at last realized.

I hope that a picture of the ’56 trolley and an explanation of it will be in a future issue of the Gazette.

S. Hamill Horne C’56 Gladwyne, PA

Darfur Divestment Was Right—and Required

I write in response to James E. Bachman’s letter in the Nov/Dec Gazettepertaining to the University’s divestment of securities of companies doing business in the Sudan, reported in the Sept/Oct issue. Mr. Bachman asserts that it would be more effective to pressure Western oil companies to invest in the Sudan. He should be aware that President Clinton issued an executive order, renewed by President Bush, prohibiting U.S. companies from investing in the Sudan. I understand that Mr. Bachman may believe that these orders were ill-advised; however, they do mean that pressuring Western companies as he recommends is not an option for the University.

Under University policy concerning endowment securities, “when the Trustees determine that corporate policies or practices cause substantial social injury … they, as responsible and ethical investors, shall give independent weight to this factor in their investment policies.”

There is little doubt that the oil companies doing business in Sudan commit grave social injury by providing significant net revenue to those committing genocide. These revenues fund the provision of the instrumentalities that are used to commit genocide.

As a result the University, consistent with the investment policy, acted to exclude from its direct investments any investment that it may currently have in oil companies operating in Sudan as well as in the general obligations of the Sudanese government.

Mr. Bachman asserts, in conclusion, that the “actions taken by Penn will prove to be totally ineffective.” We have heard such claims before, most recently with respect to the anti-apartheid actions taken by the University. Penn’s actions, by themselves, will not stop the genocide in Darfur; however many, many small actions contribute to a massive action that can stop the genocide. One thing we do know is that if we do nothing the genocide will continue. We cannot and should not remain passive while our fellow human beings are being indiscriminately slaughtered.

Gerald J. Porter, emeritus faculty Ardmore, PA

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