Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Gloria Yousha
Scene Around 

Scene Around

 

Moe Berg

Who knew?...

Last month I heard about the Monuments Men (and women) of World War II for the very first time. That was completely news to me and I suspect, to many of you as well. (Check out the movie to learn even more.)

The other day I received a few emails about a Jewish major league baseball player, Morris "Moe" Berg, who was also involved in World War II. Another surprise to me... really! Read on:

Moe Berg was born in New York City on March 2, 1902. It is known that his affinity for baseball as a youth baffled his Russian immigrant family. Despite the objections of a stern father who regarded baseball as a useless American frivolity and never saw his son play, Moe pursued a career as a ballplayer.

After graduating from high school with honors, Moe was accepted at Princeton University, an extraordinary achievement at that time for a poor Jewish boy.

Moe became a distinguished scholar whose intellectual capacity was truly boundless. He was a linguistic prodigy, studying seven languages at Princeton, including Sanskrit. He also excelled athletically and was the star shortstop of the school's baseball team, which won 18 consecutive games in his senior year.

Upon graduating from Princeton, Moe joined the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) as a backup catcher in 1923, and his baseball salary allowed him to continue pursuing his education at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he studied linguistics, and later at Columbia University, where he earned a law degree.

Moe played for a succession of major league teams during the next 14 seasons, including the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and Boston Red Sox. Although he was a strong defensive catcher, Berg was slow of foot and a mediocre hitter, with a .243 lifetime batting average and only six career home runs. In fact, the stock phrase used to describe his playing ability was that "he could speak a dozen languages but couldn't hit in any of them." But his vast knowledge of scholarly subjects ranging from medieval literature to experimental phonetics made him a favorite of sportswriters.

Another fellow genius, Casey Stengel, called Moe Berg "as smart a ballplayer that ever came along. It was amazing how he got all that knowledge and used them penetrating words, but he never put on too strong. They all thought he was like me, you know, a bit eccentric."

Moe's keen understanding of the game was evidenced with the publication of his essay "Pitchers and Catchers" in 1941 in Atlantic Monthly. This lengthy piece on the intricacies and strategies of baseball is still considered a classic of its genre.

In 1934, Moe, perhaps incongruously, was named to an American League all-star team that toured Japan and featured such greats as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx. Moe Berg was idolized by the Japanese because of his mastery of their language and broad understanding of their culture. Unbeknownst to his hosts, however, he was secretly filming Tokyo's shipyards, industrial complexes, and military installations from the rooftop of a hospital building. The oft-repeated claim that these images were later used in planning General Jimmy Doolittle's 1942 raids on the Japanese mainland has never been confirmed. In any event, Berg's daring stunt tested and demonstrated his capacity for invention and steady nerves, which would serve him well when, after leaving baseball, he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which preceded the CIA as America's first national intelligence agency.

Moe would become a highly successful spy during World War II. Among his many missions on behalf of the OSS was to learn all he could about Adolf Hitler's atomic bomb project.

In December of 1944, Moe, posing as a Swiss physics student, attended a lecture in Zurich by Germany's foremost atomic physicist, Werner Heisenberg. Carrying a pistol and a lethal cyanide tablet, Moe was ordered to assassinate Heisenberg on the spot (and then swallow the cyanide) if the scientist suggested a Nazi atomic bomb was imminent.

Fortunately, the talk focused on basic physics and at a post-lecture dinner party, Berg, whose fluent German covered his identity as an American agent, engaged Heisenberg in an apparently casual conversation. The physicist intimated that Germany's nuclear effort was lagging behind that of the Allies. Moe immediately cabled Heisenberg's remarks to OSS headquarters in Washington. President Roosevelt was then briefed on Berg's report by one of his generals. "Let's pray Heisenberg is right," Roosevelt responded. "And, General, give my regards to the catcher."

Moe Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom for his espionage work, but rejected the award "with due respect for the spirit with which it was offered."

After the war and for the rest of his life, Moe remained an elusive figure. By his own description, he became a "vagabond," living off the generosity of friends. But he always remained faithful to baseball and regularly attended games. A nurse at the Newark, New Jersey hospital where he died on May 29, 1972 recalled his final words as, "How did the Mets do today?" He left no estate of any kind and his ashes are buried somewhere on Mount Scopus outside of Jerusalem, but the exact site has been forgotten.

In his biography of Berg, "The Catcher Was a Spy," Nicholas Dawidoff wrote that "the final mystery of Moe Berg's inscrutable life is that nobody knows where he is." (The book is available online at Amazon.com among other places. As far as a movie, I don't think one was made because of all the secrecy involved. If I'm wrong, please inform me.)

More about Jews of Russian heritage...

Irving Berlin was born in Russia, George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn (same house I was born in years later at 242 Snediker Avenue) but his parents were Russian. And there are so many more famous Jewish artists... so very many.

Did anyone see the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics from Sochi Russia? With great pride, Russian history and all their great artists, writers, composers, etc., were lauded, among them Marc Chagall, a Jew, Joseph Brodsky, a Jew... talk about pride!

Of course, because of mistreatment, pogroms, etc., many Jews fled from Russia. A lot of Jewish families came to the U.S. and (as my ancestors did) Canada.

(As I write far in advance, I don't know the outcome, if any, of the upset in Ukraine. Hopefully it will be solved for the better.)

Beware those scams...

Minutes ago I received a phone call from a lady who could hardly speak English. She said she was phoning me on behalf of the United States Government Grants Office to tell me that I won thousands of dollars. When I questioned her lack of command of our language and asked "how much money must I send you to receive my winnings?" she promptly hung up.

(A scam for sure!)

Our own BILL KAHN, is warning us of another scam, one we should certainly be aware of. I pass his email on to you:

"In the Medicare and Insurance world a hospital bill is not really a hospital bill. Let me explain. Normally, the hospital presents you with a bill that is sent to Medicare. Medicare reviews the bill, disapprove part of the bill, telling the hospital they agreed to accept a lower amount rather than the one submitted for this particular procedure, rehab, medicine... For example, the hospital sends you and Medicare a bill for $1,000. Medicare tells the hospital they have agreed to perform the function for $600 and pays them 80% of the $600 or $480. This leaves the patient owing the hospital $120 ($600-$480) to either pay or use secondary insurance to cover the remainder. The hospital now eats the $400 that Medicare didn't cover ($1,000-the original bill less the $600 the hospital agreed to accept.) But what happens if Medicare tells you the procedure, rehab, medicine is not covered by Medicare. Then you are left to pay the full $1,000 and the hospital doesn't have to eat anything. This is where the scam comes in. It's in the hospitals best interest to try and set up a situation where Medicare will deny coverage and you must pay the full bill.

Let's look at an example. You go into the emergency room of a hospital for a chest pain. They want to check you out and so they admit you as "Observation Status" not unusual for a quick check. They find you are okay or need some medication and you're on your way that day or the next. No problem there. But let's carry that a little further, they find you need surgery and rehab. The hospital might still keep you under "Observation Status," performs the operation and starts you on a rehab program. The clever hospital knows Medicare rules state that Medicare doesn't pay for rehab under "Observation Status," So guess who gets the bill, you. Understand, the term "Observation Status," is a financial decision and not a medical decision at this point. You are the one stuck with the bill. You can't pay it, not their problem!

What to do? Make sure that if there is going to be rehab or for that matter anything requiring a hospital stay, if you're under "Observation Status," make them change it, insist they change it to "In Patient" status where you really would be covered." (Thanks, Bill. Good information!)

On a much lighter "note"...

I heard from our own ALAN ROCK, emcee at the Altamonte Chapel. He writes: "BILL ALLRED will be swinging for you on Sunday, March 30.

Bill sent me an email which read, 'Just to let everyone know that I will be playing with a real swinging quintet. We have me on trombone, JOHN DEPAOLA on trumpet, PAUL SCAVARDA on guitar, CHARLIE SILVA bass, and special guest THERESA SCAVARDA vocals. I would advise anyone who is negatively affected by intense swing music, should avoid that concert.' So start telling your friends about this great concert. And remember it now starts at 12:30 p.m."

The Altamonte Chapel is located at 825 E. S.R.436, Altamonte Springs, The phone number is 407-339-5208.

(Okay... you've been told!)

One for the road...

Moishe was sitting at the breakfast table one morning reading the newspaper. He just finished an article about a beautiful film star who married a football player who was famous not only for his aggression on the field, but for his lack of IQ and common sense.

He turned to his wife and said, "I'll never understand why the biggest idiots get the most attractive wives."

His wife replied, "Why thank you, darling!"

(I love this joke and found it worth repeating.)

 

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