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W. Michael Blumenthal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

W. Michael Blumenthal
Portrait of W. Michael Blumenthal.jpg
64th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
January 23, 1977 – August 4, 1979
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byWilliam E. Simon
Succeeded byWilliam Miller
Personal details
Werner Michael Blumenthal

(1926-01-03) January 3, 1926 (age 93)
Oranienburg, Brandenburg, Germany
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Margaret Polley (1951–1977)
Barbara Bennett
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA)
Princeton University (MA, PhD)

Werner Michael Blumenthal (born January 3, 1926) is a German-born American business leader, economist and political adviser who served as United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1979.

At age thirteen, Blumenthal barely escaped Nazi Germany with his Jewish family in 1939, and was forced to spend World War II living in the ghetto of Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China, until 1947. He then made his way to San Francisco and began doing odd jobs to work his way through school. He enrolled in college, eventually graduating from U.C. Berkeley and Princeton University with degrees in international economics. During his career, he became active in both business and public service.

Before being appointed to a cabinet position with newly elected President Jimmy Carter, Blumenthal had become a successful business leader and had already held administrative positions under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. As a member of the Carter administration, he helped guide economic policy and took part in reestablishing ties with China. After he resigned, he became chairman and CEO of Burroughs Corporation and Unisys, followed by seventeen years as director of the restored Jewish Museum in Berlin. He is the author of The Invisible Wall (1998, Counterpoint Press) and From Exile to Washington: A Memoir of Leadership in the Twentieth Century (2013, The Overlook Press).

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ The Shanghai Jews. Michael Blumenthal, Rachel DeWoskin, and Civitas Ensemble
  • ✪ [ARTE] Architectures Series - Episode 12: Daniel Libeskind - Jewish Museum Berlin
  • ✪ Max Blumenthal, "The 51 Day War"


RACHEL DEWOSKIN: I'm Rachel DeWoskin. I'm a poet and a novelist. I teach [INAUDIBLE] creative writing here at UChicago. Thank you guys so much for coming tonight. It gives me inexpressible joy that we're hosting this keynote and concert, The Shanghai Jews-- Risk and Resilience in a Refugee Community. Please feel free to join us tomorrow for our daylong symposium at the Franke Institute. We'll start at 9 on the first floor and then move up to the third floor exhibit and then go back to the Franke Institute. Michael Blumenthal will be presenting at 10:00. And he will do a long Q&A since we're not going to manage audience questions during the program tonight. You can come and ask your questions tomorrow at Franke. I also want to thank those who made this event series possible, the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies, the Franke Institute, the Center for East Asian Studies, the departments of Anthropology, East Asian languages and Civilizations, our Program of Creative Writing, and Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the US Department of Education. I would also like to thank Dr. [INAUDIBLE],, Nancy [? Hardy, ?] Abbey Newman, and Kira [INAUDIBLE] for their support, energy, and brilliance. Tonight's program will be an hour and a half long, 45 minutes with our keynote speaker, W. Michael Blumenthal, followed by a 45-minute musical program by Civitas Ensemble. Then we hope you'll join us in the foyer for a reception. We will not take a break in between the keynote conversation and concert. So I'll say a few words now about Civitas Ensemble. And then I'll introduce Michael Blumenthal and we'll be underway. Civitas Ensemble will join us onstage to play what I know will be a [? sonic ?] program. It is a chamber music group that presents inimitable live performances of new and traditional works. One of their missions is to inspire a young generation of classical musicians. Another is to bring the healing power of music to those with limited access to live performances. They are the most generous, civic-minded, and uniquely literary ensemble I've ever encountered, not to mention the most joyful and lively. Civitas performs classical music of the highest quality in hospitals, retirement living facilities, and in Chicago schools. Their repertoire spans four centuries and numerous genres and styles. They have been named Artists in Residence for the Chinese Fine Arts Society and performed with Yo-yo Ma at the Chicago Humanities Festival. We are honored and lucky to have Civitas here with us tonight. During their concert, violinist Yuan-Qing Yu will introduce and talk a little bit about each of tonight's composer's and pieces. Thank you guys for being here. Michael Blumenthal-- in his far reaching and beautifully rendered memoir From Exile to Washington, Michael Blumenthal writes, "History is made by people, and it is always subject to the vagaries of circumstance and chance, depending on who has their hands on the levers of power at critical turning points, which choices they make, and what their relationships are to one another." This is, of course, deeply true. And it's also modest given the impact Blumenthal himself has had on the lives of so many people. His books are like his life-- their range vast, their scope almost uncontainable except for an anchoring ethical compass and the permeating thoughtfulness about the world. I first spoke with Michael Blumenthal three years ago while I was researching my new novel and wanted to know what it had felt and looked like to be a refugee and a child in Japanese-occupied wartime Shanghai. Born in Germany, Blumenthal had escaped with his family in 1939 for what some writers have called the port of last resort, the only place in the world still allowing Jewish refugees to land-- Shanghai. I learned from our conversations not just invaluable aspects of the history of the Shanghai Jews, but also lessons more intangible and equally meaningful about chance and certainty, about the legacy of the resilience that had inspired me to write the novel in the first place, about how human beings hold onto hope, even when we're in context that guarantee the constant pulse of its twin force, dread. Michael began his life as a German and has been an American for over 60 years. There were years in which he had no passport at all and those during which multiple countries wished to issue him theirs. He spent years as a prisoner of the Japanese and still others representing America's president abroad, coming to serve as Secretary of the Treasury for President Jimmy Carter. Only parts of such a life and such lessons can be attributed to fate, to the strange chances of history. Much of it, the artful report, the meaning, the civil service and social justice are outcomes less of chance than of Blumenthal's willingness to engage intellectually and emotionally with the material of his own lived experience and the larger forces that shaped it. His writing and political work propel us forward as much as they require us to look back by asking what happened, why did it happen, and what does it mean for our futures. In his book The Invisible Wall-- Germans and Jews, Blumenthal traces his own ancestors stories toward understanding the German Jewish relationship over 300 years. In all of his writing, he gestures toward hope while also signaling our responsibility as human beings to acknowledge the years running underneath those were living and to direct what history we are making now away from its worst possible outcomes. Our conversations gave me a view of China and humanity both profound and intricately detailed. He remembered the boys he grew up with walking in circles around the neighborhood Hongkou like teenage boys anywhere, hoping for the notice of their crushes. And he described his childhood understanding that some adults rally while others disintegrate and his curiosity about the powerful people he met while working in the White House. How would each one do in 1940s Shanghai dressed in a flour sack? His wonder informed and continues to inform mine. I'm not the only one to have been inspired by Michael Blumenthal. He has won too many awards to list. But among them are the International Center in New York's Award of Excellence, Princeton University's Madison Medal for Outstanding Public Service, the Horatio Alger Award and the Leo Baeck Medal for Humanitarian Work Promoting Tolerance and Social Justice. He holds numerous honorary degrees from major US universities, was elected an honorary citizen of Berlin in 2015, and awarded the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. I'm going to end on one final note of Blumenthal's own. "The most valuable lesson was that when things go wrong, it is not titles or possessions that count, but the inner strength on which we must draw and the courage to carry on when the odds against us are great. Those strengths are sometimes far greater than we ourselves suspect. It was this that my mother taught me above all." Needless to say, it's an honor to have W. Michael Blumenthal with us at the University of Chicago tonight. Please join me in welcoming him. [APPLAUSE] W. MICHAEL BLUMENTHAL: Well, thank you very much, Rachel, for this wonderful, enthusiastic, and exuberant introduction. I'm grateful to you. But I think it's a bit unfair for all of you to hear all this stuff about me and for me to know so little about you. So if you will permit me, let me take the liberty of asking you a few questions so that I know my audience just as my audience has the privilege of knowing me. How many of you were either fellow Shanghai refugees with me or had parents who were Shanghai refugees? Wow. Well, we'll consider you all honorary Shanghailanders. How many of you have visited Shanghai and seen the Jewish Museum there? Wow, a lot of you. I lived around the corner from that museum where there was supposed to be a synagogue. And I must make a confession. The entire time I lived there, I never knew there was a synagogue there. [LAUGHTER] Finally, how many of you-- you'll pardon my asking that-- have been to the Jewish Museum in Berlin? Wow, that makes me smile. Obviously, that's-- I'm still associated with it. And that's a very-- an institution very close to my heart. So I can see we're really one big, large family here, aren't we? We all have connections in one way or another. Our paths have crossed in one way or another. So I will feel very much at home. And again, thank you to Rachel and the organizers for this set of meetings and for inviting me to speak to you tonight because it's exactly 80 years ago that my parents, my sister, and I, a boy of 13 at the time, arrived in Shanghai from Germany. We came to Shanghai, which was a Chinese city run by foreign colonials and cut off from the hinterland by the Sino-Japanese War, which had raged there for several years. Shanghai, when we came there, had the reputation of being an unhealthy, wild and lawless subtropical city with no jobs and no prospects for putting down new roots. So we went there was no illusions. We knew what we were getting into. And we only went there because we had no other choice. After the November programs in Germany, my parents had been deprived of their livelihood and all of their possessions. My father had barely escaped with his life after several months in the Buchenwald concentration camp. And to save our lives and to flee, we had to go. And no country would take us in. So Shanghai was our last and only option. As I say, we went there with no illusions. But we had the hope that mercifully, our stay in this very unhappy city would be short and that sooner rather than later, some other country would have pity on US, grant us asylum, and let us come there to live there. Nor did we come alone. Between late 1938 and 1941, we were part of about 18,000 central European Jewish refugees who crowded into the Shanghai, into the city, for the same reasons as we did. And as it turned out, hardly any one of us, none of-- virtually none of us were able to get out very quickly, because the Pacific War soon cut us off from the outside. And early in 1943, the Japanese put us into what they called the Hong-Kyu designated area, which really was a ghetto by another name. That ghetto existed only for a little more than two years, from May of 1943 till August of 1945, to [INAUDIBLE] day, the end of August. Three years later-- and it took two more years, first of all, for us, my sister and I and my family, to leave Shanghai and emigrate to the United States. And another three years later, by about 1950, virtually all of the refugees-- I say virtually. A few odd cases stayed behind. But almost all the refugees were gone. So it was a relatively brief episode in an awful period during the 20th century. It hadn't been a lot of fun for us, those eight years that we were there. But it really hadn't been all that bad either. We ended the war a bit undernourished, but really not the worst for wear. And compared to the greatest suffering, the much greater suffering, of so many victims of war and persecution in Europe and elsewhere, we really had been quite lucky. Moving on to a better life in America or Israel or Australia, wherever we went after the war, we who had survived Shanghai, we thought that would be an episode that would soon be forgotten and that, after all, we were really an unimportant footnote in the history of that period and of the war. Well, well, look around you here. Now I see that we were mistaken. We were not forgotten. Even 80 years later, 80 years later, we are the subject surprisingly of an unending fascination in our little community. And we have spawned an ever-growing literature of books, memoirs, documentaries, too many PhD theses for me to count even, all of which try to describe, dissect, analyze, and plumb the meaning of our Shanghai experience. Even as we speak, I can tell you that PBS is in the process of preparing yet another documentary, two-hour long documentary, to be aired some time at the end of this year. And I can also tell you that hardly a month or two goes by, that I, as one of the last standing adult survivors of that period, am not called upon and asked for you to sit for yet another interview, give yet another talk, answer yet another set of questions, about this period in Shanghai. Well, I must tell you that, for a long time, I was both amused and bemused by all this attention. I just couldn't believe it. And I must also confess to you that I considered it a bit silly, a bit over the top. I just couldn't understand why people were all that interested to spend so much time rehashing what happened to all our little group, which, after all, had survived the war pretty well, and all that many years ago. I guess what happens when you get old, you have time to reflect. And you begin to see your life, and you begin to see your experience in a different context, from a different perspective. And that's what happened to me. And so I must confess to you that in more recent years, I have come to the conclusion that maybe there is something. There is a reason or two why so many of you-- not just you, but people generally-- all these books have been written, and all this interest in the Shanghai experience has occurred. And as I reflected on it, I would like to suggest to you this evening two particular aspects of this Shanghai story of ours, which I think, upon reflection, do merit some attention and are relevant to our situation in this world today. One of them has to do with the stated objective of the set of discussions, we will be having here over the next two days, namely the life of the community of Hong-Kyu as a community; how we coped or didn't with our life there; how we survived; what was the nature of the resilience, such as it was. And Rachel's novel, of course, is focused on a story which tries to illustrate that extremely well. But we'll talk more about that, and I'll have something to say about that. But what I would like to do above all tonight, first of all, is to suggest to you another aspect of the Shanghai story, one which, to my knowledge, has not heretofore been thought about or discussed, but which-- for me, reflecting on it, loomed as perhaps the most significant lesson of the Shanghai experience of all. So let me begin with that, first of all, and present it to you. Perhaps we can discuss it in the course of the next two days. As I thought about the Shanghai experiences, it occurred to me that it was worthwhile to think about the state of the world in the end of war years that became the cause and the context for our Shanghai purgatory, the reason, the underlying reason, for our transformation from settled European citizens into stateless outcasts at the end of the world and in an unfriendly, unfamiliar city far away in Asia. The bulk of the refugees, that is, the generation of our parents, of my parents, was born around the turn of the century into a world used to decades of relative peace and progress. Jews and non-Jews alike in Europe had been accustomed to a stable and predictable life and a gradually rising standard of living and optimism about the future. World War I then became the cataclysmic event which changed all that, followed by deeply unsettling years after the war, when life unmoored from its past anchors of stability became unpredictable and hard in the '20s and in the '30s. Nothing was as before. Hyperinflation in Germany wiped out the middle class. World depression broad mass unemployment. Parliaments came and went. Partisan squabbling politicians failed to get anything done, and they lost the confidence of the voters. And democratic governance was in poor repute. It is this, this set of circumstances after the stability of an earlier period, which made a good many voters in Europe susceptible to nativist demagogues, who seize the moment in many countries across Europe with offers of a new political leadership, promising, as we would say today, to drain the swamp, to give a new kind of government with a strong hand. In giant political rallies, with their loyal followers lined up in these rallies, they stoked the fears and aroused and manipulated them as nationalist slogans. And they cast blame for the troubles of the period. And they said, if things go wrong, there surely were villains responsible for this. And the Nazis, simply weaponizing old prejudices which had existed in Germany and in Europe anyway, above all picked the Jews and some other minorities deemed insufficiently German. Their slogan was Deutschland [GERMAN],, which means wake up, Germany. Let's drive out these un-Germans, they said, and return Germany to its past glory. Today, we would say, or make Germany great again, to use a familiar contemporary slogan. Some democracies during this period died when dictators seized power by force. Italy and Spain come to mind in this regard. But in Germany and elsewhere, actually, that happened peacefully and quite legally, at least nominally legally, because vociferous aroused minority helped to vote the Nazis in. They cast votes in favor of them, made them the strongest party. And too many of the German elite either look away, failed to fight back, or cynically hoped to use the Nazis in power for their own perceived political or personal financial advantage, until it was too late. So today, we know the disastrous consequences for the world and particularly, for Europe's Jewish community, with the millions of lives that were lost, and only a few lucky ones like us who managed to escape. I guess you know that all this sounds rather familiar for us here today. Times of rapid societal change with new winners and losers can be deeply unsettling for specific blocs of voters. When the political system fails to respond and remains paralyzed and in disarray, such voters become receptive to demagogues preaching a populist nativist nationalism. They offer an authoritarian strong arm to shake up the establishment as the way back to an idealized past. And they stoke fears and cast blame on defenseless racial, religious, or ethnic minorities they brand as alien job stealers and antithetic to law and order. Democracy is put at risk. And in a climate of low tolerance and little compassion, vulnerable minorities are victimized and hurt. The world is living again in such a period, which explains today's rise of populist authoritarian governments in a number of countries, and yes, the election of Donald Trump in our own country. In the [? Indo war ?] years, the cause was political and economic disruption from a ruinous war and a mismanaged peace. These days, it is due to the unsettling domestic and global impact of the electronic and information revolution and information age on everyday lives. Then, it was the Jews, we, who suffered the ultimate deadly consequences and which brought us to wartime Shanghai. Today, innocent refugees from the Middle East, from Mideast turmoil, and African or Central American violence and economic hardship are its victims-- other minorities. And yes, there are lessons, therefore, to be learned from this past about what brought us there to Shanghai and what is causing such deep suffering for these new groups of minorities. The rise of authoritarian dictatorships in Germany and elsewhere in Europe was not preordained or inevitable. It didn't have to happen. It happened only because democratic governments there were too disunited to band together in opposition, and because politicians failed to stand up in time, and failed to cast partisanship aside for the greater good-- looked at the narrow political advantage and forgot about their greater good. And because too many citizens looked away and failed to understand that prejudice and injustice visited upon innocent victims and minorities, failing to grant them asylum, failing to understand their need and to be there for them in their moment of need, was a moral and ultimately, harmful to the majority and to the victims alike. So these are mistakes which were made in the '20s and '30s, which brought us to our situation in Shanghai, and which I hope we will not repeat. Unfortunately, I would say there are signs that some of these lessons of history are better understood today than they were then. Our political system in this country certainly is much better equipped to fight back, and is fighting back. Individual citizens are more inclined to speak out. And in our democracy, they do. So there is reason for hope. But I would like to make this suggestion to you, to you Shanghai Lenders, to those of you who have studied the history of the Shanghai refugees. We and you-- we the survivors and you who know this story-- it seems to me, have a particular responsibility to speak up today for today's victims of prejudice and for the refugees and for the asylum seekers, who depend on our help. I learned at first firsthand how it feels to be rejected and forgotten and to be turned away. Heeding the lessons of history, I would suggest that all of us who understand and have studied this history must be in the forefront of those fighting to help with these new minorities, who are facing particular problems in this day and age. And that is the first lesson, an important lesson, of the Shanghai experience of relevance today, which I think should give us all food for thought. Let me then turn briefly to our little Shanghai community, to the second aspect. Who were we? And what was our life there like? Thrown together in the Hong-Kyu ghetto-- I say Hong-Kyu. It's [INAUDIBLE] today, but we called it Hong-Kyu in those days. We came from a highly diverse social, religious, and cultural background. Most of us were from Germany or Austria. We had a few people who came from Czechoslovakia and Hungary. And there was a Yiddish-speaking group of Hasidim from Lithuania [INAUDIBLE]. But they were in the ghetto. But they kept to themselves. They really weren't part of our community. Our [? lingua ?] [? Franca, ?] the language we spoke was German. So we youngsters who had gone to school in Shanghai and been locally schooled had really begun to converse in English. So we were perhaps the speakers of the first-- the first speakers of something in Germany is called [? Genglish, ?] which is a kind of a combination of German and English, with a little Pidgin English mixed in. All of us were Jewish or at least of Jewish origin. There was a small number of former Jews who had been baptized in earlier times in Europe. Education and occupational background ran the gamut from working class to business and the professions. In Hong-Kyu, [? erstwhile, ?] laborers, waiters, tailors, and petty tradesmen would live in close proximity and rub shoulders for the first time in their lives with former shopkeepers, teachers, lawyers, academics, and intellectuals-- a very mixed group of people. And there were also, believe it or not, considerable differences in financial circumstance. About half the refugees had stepped ashore without any money at all. Remember, you could only take 10 marks a person out of Germany. So they had no money at all. And these people had been moved directly from the dock, from the ship, into a Hong-Kyu [INAUDIBLE],, which is a German word for shelter, into a [INAUDIBLE],, where they were rather primitively housed and fed from community kitchens. They had no money. They would suddenly arrive off the ship in this tropical place, and there they were. A number of them were really overwhelmed by the misery and the sudden transformation. And they gave up, let themselves go, and stayed there permanently for the entire length of their Shanghai stay. A good many others, I should add, however, took charge of their lives rather quickly, moved on and out, and went on to do other things. [? Lucky ?] our refugees, the Blumenthals amongst them, could draw on some minimal resources sent by family or friends from abroad. That made a huge difference. Relatives of ours already in Brazil, emigrated to Brazil, had scraped together-- I believe it was about 100 English pounds, which they sent us. And that went a long way in Shanghai, where you could live on about $5 or $6 American a month. It allowed us to stay out of the grim Hong-Kyu environment after arrival and to rent a single furnished room in a better part-- in a better area in the French part of town. It was good for our morale and for the opportunity to find some means of eking out at least some minimal living after we got there. Of course, once we had all been forced to move into the ghetto in the mid-1943, those differences disappeared. But some modest financial stratification remained, even in the ghetto. If one had at least a few dollars left, one could afford a private room in Hong-Kyu and not have to go to [? a haim, ?] away from the distressing atmosphere of [? the haim, ?] perhaps have somewhat better food, or to finance some moneymaking activity, however modest. Finally, in the last year, however, between '44 and '45, the last year of our confinement, the larger number of us were all about equally poor. And public aid money from abroad was really what we all relied on. And that only came in sporadically, because it was very difficult to get it in through some neutral country during the war. On some days of that last year, if I recall correctly, I-- I was then about 18 years old-- I lived on one warm meal a day from the community kitchen, plus a ration of a half a loaf of not very good bread. I had, however, wrangled a job of delivering these daily bread rations to the neighbors in our area, for which I was paid an extra half loaf. And that half loaf, I could trade for a couple of slices of not very good salami, or perhaps some other luxury, like a piece of chocolate or some cigarettes. I should add, in the later years, that I always thought that all of this hardship and deprivation was very good lesson in preparation for a future secretary of the treasury or a CEO of a major company. And I used these lessons often in discussing it in the halls-- the halls of power in Washington. But we did have some help from the outside. And there were essentially three sources of money that kept us going. When the first refugees arrived, it was the Shanghai-- the rich Jews of Shanghai-- the [INAUDIBLE],, the [INAUDIBLE],, the [INAUDIBLE],, and others, the British nationals of Iraqi descent, who stepped up and immediately helped us with financial aid and with shelter in Hong-Kyu. Later, when the flood of new arrivals threatened to overwhelm these people, the American [INAUDIBLE] and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee took over the main load and helped us. And during the war, when the rich benefactors had all been locked up or repatriated themselves, the entire load was on the shoulders of [INAUDIBLE] and the Joint. And as I said, they had considerable difficulty getting it in. But the trickle of it came in, and that's what kept us going. A third source, small but significant, was our own self-help, the poor among us helping the even poorer ones. And together with the pittance of local earnings from whatever sources, that is what financed the ghetto and made the money go around and kept us going. And in our forced isolated togetherness, we functioned really much like any other small town. Leadership emerged, partly chosen by our benefactors, partly elected, partly self-appointed, using the elbows, and beset with the usual politics and power plays by the ambitious and the public service dedication of the selfless. We, their constituents, lived in an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear of what lay ahead, but mixed in with the need to take care of ourselves, which kept us pretty busy, and to make do, and yes, to have some fun, as well. Optimism and pessimism in Hong-Kyu rose and fell, depending on rumors-- we called them [? bonkas. ?] It must be a Yiddish word-- on rumors and on the war news. The war news, we could get from Soviet TV or Soviet radio. The Soviets were not yet at war with the Japanese. So those who could hear-- understand Russian would listen. There were always special broadcasts from the Russians called [RUSSIAN].. I remember, in the ghetto, people saying, what's the [RUSSIAN] today? And that was generally, well, how many Nazis had been killed? Which we, of course-- we welcomed as news. And then waiting for another rumor, when they were forced back, we were sad. When there was another [RUSSIAN],, we were happy. And that's how it went, like in any small town, only more so. The entire range of human frailties and strengths was on display in Shanghai, in the ghetto. There were jealousies. There was meanness and selfishness. There were scandals, extra-marital hanky-panky, which was all there. Under pressure, some marriages tanked, that of my parents included. And we lived in extraordinarily close quarters. How much [INAUDIBLE] ask is, how much you have been, walked down [INAUDIBLE] Road, and seen that house where I lived, where they put a plaque up? Some of you seen that? A few of you have seen it. The Chinese actually put a plaque up at that house where we [? lived. ?] Well, that house on 59 Road, which commemorates my erstwhile residence, if I may call it that, is a perfect illustration of the close quarters in which we lived. There were a dozen or more families crammed into its eight or nine rooms. There are two kitchens in the house, several stories, two kitchens, and luxury of luxuries, I believe two WCs. That was very rare in the district. My father, sister, and I-- my parents were divorced, so my sister and I lived with my father. My father, sister, and I shared a flimsy outhouse-like wooden structure stuck on the outer wall in back of the house. We shared a kitchen with two other families. And it drove my mother, who came there to cook from around the corner, crazy, drove her crazy, that a particularly unsympathetic and nosy neighbor would surreptitiously lift the lid off her cooking pot to see what she was cooking for the family and to see whether maybe she had an extra piece of meat that the other [INAUDIBLE] didn't. What I learned from there was that when the stakes are low, emotions can run very high. But fortunately, there was another brighter side of Hong-Kyu life, which made our existence there more positive and worthwhile. Some succumbed to the pressures and let themselves go. Yet, the far greater number of us rolled up their sleeves and made the best of a difficult situation. Entrepreneurship flourished. Little shops and cafes sprang up. And with remarkable ingenuity, every conceivable service, from mending clothes and repairing shoes, to fixing typewriters and teaching languages, was on offer. You can have it all in Hong-Kyu. Religious life was strong and active. Bar mitzvahs were celebrated. People got married. Lending libraries did a brisk business. Schools and our hospitals were run by people who got paid very little for what they did there. Amateurs and a smattering of professionals put on concerts and plays. [INAUDIBLE] operettas were the rage. I could sing all the songs of every-- The Merry Widow, and all that. That's what we did. The soccer league was the talk of the ghetto. There were activities for the kids. There was courting. There was flirting. If you were young, actually, occasionally, you could have a pretty good time there. And we did. And I remember those aspects of my life and growing up in Hong-Kyu, as well. In fact, cultural life was probably richer and more active than in a similar-sized town anywhere else, perhaps because we had lots of free time on our hands, but also because we had a strong will to live, and partly also because of the relatively high level of education and professional background of the people in our little group. And perhaps it was also a kind of psychological pushback, trying to ignore the ever-present dangers and the temptation to give in and to give up, whatever the reason. There was indeed lots of resilience in the way people learned to cope. And that is one of the phenomenons which I'm sure you will be discussing here today and tomorrow. What it shows, I think, is that, when faced with uncommon and unexpected adversity, many of us are able to marshal inner resources that we may not have known even that we had, and which only the exigencies of the situation bring out. This is what happened to us in Shanghai. Past status, position, titles, wealth, no longer counted, only the will to live and to dig deep by marshaling one's hidden energies and ingenuities to forge ahead. I saw that in Shanghai. And let me tell you, I've remembered it many times at every stage of my long and checkered career ever since. Well, let me conclude then by the question of, what the lessons are for us today and if there is a common thread through what I have presented to you here of the way we lived and of the reason we got, that brought us to Shanghai, in the first place. And for that, if you will forgive me, I have a quote from the Exile to Washington, my own personal history of the 20th century, where I wrote in the beginning, and I quote, "Throughout recorded human history, mankind has always been at war with itself and a conflict between two sets of antipodal elements of the human spirit-- on the one hand, cognitive brilliance, inventiveness, cultural accomplishment, courage, and concern for the individual and the common good; on the other, cruelty, cowardice, indifference to human life, greed, and the lust for power." I would suggest, first of all, that the contest then, as today, between democracy and authoritarianism, go-it-alone nationalism and global cooperation, tolerance versus prejudice, open doors versus exclusionary walls, help the refugees versus excluding them, is an illustration of this antipodal contradiction. That is why I see lessons from our Shanghai story, which are relevant to our present times to wit. It was authoritarian nationalism, cruelty, prejudice, and indifference to us as victims which cost the lives of millions and put our lives at risk in Shanghai. That was the dark side of humanity in full display. Yet, it was also the kindness, generosity, and caring of our benefactors in Shanghai and in the United States, as well as our own inner resources and will to overcome, which enabled us to survive. That was the brighter side, and often, it's that which made the difference and which saved our lives. Also, we learned that when people are poor, suffer discrimination and hardship, community action is vital. When people take their fate into their own hands and organize, good things can happen and do happen for the greater good of all. our commitment to the common good can prevail over selfishness and greed. And the capacity for ingenuity and inventiveness is a wonderful resource that resides within us all. If people work together, much as possible. And for that, there is more potential within us than a pessimistic view of human nature would concede. That, too, is illuminated very well in our own experience and in Rachel [INAUDIBLE] story of [INAUDIBLE] life in Shanghai. Here's my final thought. There are those who look at our current problems and near despair. I am not one of them. In a way, Shanghai has taught me that, in the end, people are better than they think. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] RACHEL DEWOSKIN: So I think we'll just talk while the musicians set up behind us. Thank you. That was fantastic. I wonder about the legacy of America. And I've been thinking about the moments after the war in your book, when you tried to go to Canada, and also, how long it took for America to welcome you. And I'm curious about the moments when we got it right at crucial moments and the moments when we got it wrong, and on balance, what that legacy looks like. W. MICHAEL BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think the-- I referred to the First World War as a cataclysmic event which changed everything that my parents and grandparents had been used to. But the Second World War, of course, was an even more cataclysmic event. And for many countries, not for just for the United States, it led to a serious soul searching and self-examination, when it came to how to deal with minorities, and that we all lived in a world, which-- and which was interconnected, and in which we had to care about the fate of other people, -- not only the United States, which had a discriminatory, restrictive immigration policy. Just think of this one statistic. Out of the 530,000 Jews who lived in Germany when Hitler came to power, roughly 140,000 did not get out and died. Roughly, the rest-- the German Jews were more fortunate than Polish Jews. That's why a majority did not survive. Most of the German Jews were able to get out. But 150,000 or so did die. Under the American immigration laws of that period, there was a German quota system, which allowed something like 27,000 people born in Germany to emigrate to the United States. But there was so much anti-Semitism in the State Department and in the Congress in the key committees of the Congress, that that quota was never filled. And if you add up the number of quota spots that were not given out in visas in the period '33 to '39, it happens to be exactly 150,000. So you can argue that if-- it still didn't mean that everybody would have emigrated. But you can argue that that 150,000 which the Americans did not give out equals-- could have saved the lives of all the people who perished in [? the East. ?] But at the same time, it's a long answer, I would say. In Australia, in Canada, which is another example, the immigration rules were just as restrictive. Australians did not admit any Asians, for example. Well, if you look at Australia today, it's a very different country. They've changed their policy very much. Canada, which basically said to me, oh, you're not born in England. You're a stateless refugee. We don't want you. Never mind how qualified you are. Never mind how well-educated you are, [INAUDIBLE] you are. We don't want you, because you're a Jewish refugee. That isn't true anymore. When you go to any part of Canada today, you see it's a very mixed society. So in the post-war period, all countries [? learned. ?] And it took time. And even in the State Department, where I served for a number of years, the attitudes changed, not from one day to the next-- I still saw vestiges of it when I came there in 1961-- but [INAUDIBLE] change in today, of course, are totally different. So it's been a process of change. These things take time. And what we learned from that is that we just have to keep fighting, and you have to keep pushing. And sooner or later, there will be progress. There may be setbacks occasionally, but there will be progress. And I'm an optimist enough to believe that if you keep fighting, good things can and sometimes do happen. RACHEL DEWOSKIN: We have to let in our future cabinet secretaries at the borders. And I think our musicians are ready. Are the musicians waiting politely in the wings? Do you guys want to come in? All right, are we ready? This is [INAUDIBLE] Ensemble. Please give them a warm welcome. [APPLAUSE] YUAN-QING YU: I am so deeply humbled and moved by the talks that just took place. And I am [INAUDIBLE] from [INAUDIBLE] Ensemble and also Chicago Symphony. I was born in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. So I understand a little bit of what music serves for people in suffering any time of difficulty. And with this project, I feel it brought me closer to my hometown than ever it has been. Because I left Shanghai 30 years ago, almost 30 years ago. And this brought me back to Shanghai, of course, 30 years before I was born. But I found this project very touching and very moving. And I always wondered, as I was growing up, playing violin, where my musical DNA came from. Because I'd feel the presence of the previous generations of musicians that [INAUDIBLE] one that trained me. And my teacher, [? who is ?] himself a very accomplished violinist, was trained in Shanghai, of course, by a Russian Jewish professor, and later by the Helsinki as a foreign student. So I delved into research and read many articles and documentaries, watched many things. Decided to present in this program in basically three sections that represented six different composers, two Chinese and four Jewish musicians, and to represent their different styles and also their different life experiences during that period. We will start with Alexander Tcherepnin, three pieces by this wonderful composer, [INAUDIBLE] and very prolific. And he wrote many, many pieces, many of which were lost and in closed stacks in the library, and not performed very often. So I'm happy to present three pieces. He came from Russia, a Russian Jew, born 1899, to a very musical family. His father was a composer and conductor, was a conductor, actually, for ballet [INAUDIBLE].. He [INAUDIBLE] his students, [? conducted ?] [? his ?] students while he was teaching it. So [? here ?] [INAUDIBLE] was serving [INAUDIBLE].. And Alexander Tcherepnin himself remembered that [INAUDIBLE] came to their house for lessons many times. And he played some of his new compositions [? for ?] [? young ?] [INAUDIBLE]. When Alexander Tcherepnin was 15, he already had composed several symphonies and several piano etudes and German musics. So he's very accomplished, even though his father dissuaded him from becoming a musician. And they moved to Paris after World War I. And later, because of a concert tour that took him to [INAUDIBLE] and Japan and China, , in particular, he resided in Shanghai during a period of two years, and traveled between Shanghai and Japan between 1934 and 1937. And in Japan, he supported a lot of the composition students and used his own money to publish many of their works. So a lot of the accomplished Japanese composers at that time saw him as a father of Japanese classical music. And during that time [INAUDIBLE],, in '34 and 1937, he found this lovely young pianist from Shanghai. And later, she became his wife. So today, I'm presenting three pieces. The first one you would hear is a selection of his Chinese piano etudes. I should mention that he, actually, as a composer, [? went ?] from many different styles of composing, depending on where he was. And he searched, in the late 1800 influence of the Paris school of Impressionism and then later, at the Russian school. And then when he went to China, of course, a lot of the folk music was incorporated into his music. So you will hear that. And the second piece is Ode [INAUDIBLE] for Cello and Piano. The third is Sonata in One Movement for Clarinet and Piano. And then, after that, I'll introduce the next [INAUDIBLE].. [APPLAUSE] PRESENTER 2: So as Yuan-Qing said, I'll be playing a selection of etudes. It will be actually Etude Number 2 and 3 [INAUDIBLE].. Number two has a subtitle-- The Lute. And number three, the subtitle is "Homage to China." [MUSIC - ALEXANDER TCHEREPNIN, "OP. 52 FIVE CONCERT ETUDES, NO. 2 THE LUTE"] [MUSIC - ALEXANDER TCHEREPNIN, "Op. 52 FIVE CONCERT ETUDES NO. 2 HOMAGE TO CHINA"] [APPLAUSE] [PIANO AND CELLO TUNING UP] [MUSIC - ALEXANDER TCHEREPNIN, "ODE FOR CELLO AND PIANO"] [APPLAUSE] [CLARINET AND PIANO TUNING] [MUSIC - ALEXANDER TCHEREPNIN, "OP. POSTH. SONATA IN ONE MOVEMENT FOR CLARINET AND PIANO"] [APPLAUSE] YUAN-QING YU: In the middle set, there are two pieces by [INAUDIBLE] and Jacob Avshalomov. These two composers both spent quite a lot of time in Shanghai. [INAUDIBLE] I would have really loved to meet him. Because from what I read, he integrated into the Shanghai community deeply, especially in the music world. He played in the Shanghai Municipal Symphony Orchestra, which was the predecessor of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. And he taught in the conservatory. He also had a music store, where he would prepare the violins and also provide music, sheet music, for the musicians who are looking-- who were looking for music. At that time, music, sheet music was very [INAUDIBLE] to get. And so the music store, it is across the street from this [INAUDIBLE] Theater, which I didn't know. I grew up-- my grandparents had a house really right around the corner of that theater. And I performed in there many times. So when I read that, it felt very close to home. Even in the memoir of some Chinese violinist in the 1980s, he noted that, at some point, he wanted to play the chamber music. And he didn't have the piece, the music, in hand. And right now, there's a collection of Brahms, Mozart, Haydn quartets, and they were all obtained through [INAUDIBLE]. And Jacob Avshalomov actually is the son of Aaron Avshalomov, who was very influential in the Shanghai community, in the music community. He was assistant conductor for the Shanghai Municipal Symphony Orchestra. And also, because the way he was born, in the town that's on the border of China and Russia, and the town actually was ceded from the Chinese empire to the tsar during the middle of the 1800s. And there were a lot of Chinese people still living there. And his babysitter or somebody who took care of him, was actually Chinese. So he grew up without a lot of musical influence and culturally, Chinese culture, deeply seeded in his own style of composition. So when he was in China, spending many years there during the 1930s and '40s, he composed many great pieces, including opera and symphony. They were performed later in China, but actually premiered sometimes in the States first. He orchestrated also a simple song by Chinese composer [INAUDIBLE]. And that orchestration later became Chinese anthem. So we picked Jacob Avshalomov piece, because Aaron himself did not compose any chamber music. So Jacob Avshalomov was born in Shanghai. And in the 19-- actually 1985, there was a huge celebration of Aaron Avshalomov's, Avshalomov's 90th birthday. And Jacob was invited back to Shanghai to be part of that celebration and conducted the concert. I hope you enjoy these two pieces. [INAUDIBLE] [APPLAUSE] [PLAYING PIANO] [APPLAUSE] [INAUDIBLE] PRESENTER 3: Don't worry, [? Yuan-Qing ?] is going to play. [LAUGHTER] [PIANO AND CLARINET MUSIC] [APPLAUSE] YUAN-QING YU: [? Wolfgang ?] [INAUDIBLE] [? Franco ?] was one of Schoenberg's students. And he went to Shanghai with another fellow student that studied with Schoenberg, whose name is Julius Schloss. They were the two that brought the Second Viennese School to Shanghai. They educated, they performed, and integrated into the musical world. [? Franco ?] was a conductor of the Shanghai Municipal Symphony Orchestra, as well. He taught, also, composition at the conservatory. He had tremendous memory. It was said that [? at ?] one time, he constructed the whole set of orchestral score and parts from memory, because they didn't have the parts, and they [? programmed ?] Mozart's third [INAUDIBLE].. Shows incredible ability. And he was prolific as a teacher, taught many students. The reason I put the last set with a piece by [? Franco ?] and two Chinese composers was because the two Chinese composers both studied with him. And in 1990, one of them-- [INAUDIBLE], you see his name-- he wrote in the conservatory's journal, called The Art of Music, an article titled, "Remembering My Teachers [? Wolfgang ?] [? Franco ?] and Julius Schloss," in which he praised their teaching styles and their selfless dedication. I wanted to end with this set to show that music gives hope. And even though those musicians were stranded in Shanghai, under very stressful circumstances, and they endured a lot, but they left a legacy that continues to have huge impact on the musical life in Shanghai. And speaking of hope, I want to bring up a documentary, if you wish to watch. It's called "The Violins of Hope." I don't know if any of you have seen it. It's by PBS, available online-- you can even Google it-- in which that it shows a [INAUDIBLE] from Tel Aviv, who tirelessly restored 59 of the instruments [INAUDIBLE] the Holocaust. And it's a traveling exhibit, so it's also in the States right now. I mention that, because the last piece of the piano trio, I will be playing on that piece. And I'm using a bow, which is not known who made it and where it came from. But it was given to me for this particular occasion by a violin maker in Chicago. The bow came in the case with another violin that the [INAUDIBLE] did not know this about [? the-- ?] [? anything. ?] It was particularly curious. He saw the violin. And later, he found a star of David stamped on the bow. So the bow is in his possession, and he's going to contact a [INAUDIBLE] from Tel Aviv. Perhaps it will go into the collection of Violins of Hope. W. MICHAEL BLUMENTHAL: Wow. [APPLAUSE] [PLAYING PIANO] [APPLAUSE] [PLAYING PIANO] [CELLO AND PIANO MUSIC] [APPLAUSE] [PIANO, VIOLIN, AND CELLO TUNING] [PIANO MUSIC] [VIOLIN AND PIANO PLAYING] [CELLO, VIOLIN, AND PIANO PLAYING] [APPLAUSE]


Early life

Blumenthal was born in Oranienburg, Weimar Republic (present-day Oranienburg, Germany), the son of Rose Valerie (née Markt) and Ewald Blumenthal. His family was of modest means as owners of a dress shop.[1][2] His forebears had lived in Oranienburg since the 16th century.[3] As a result of the Nazi party's Nuremberg Laws, which took effect in 1935, his family began to fear for their lives and realized they had to escape from Germany.[2] Blumenthal recalled Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against Jews and their property which began throughout Germany on November 9, 1938.[2]

I clearly remember ... when they came and smashed all the Jewish stores. I remember seeing the largest synagogue in Berlin burn, and I remember being beaten up by kids in uniform.[3]

Nazi Gestapo men forced their way into his home early one morning in 1938 and arrested his father for no stated reason. His father was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the largest forced labor camps in Germany, where an estimated 56,000 people, mostly Jews, were eventually killed. His mother hastily sold all their household possessions and managed to win her husband's release. They had no choice but to sell their long-established dress store to their managing saleswoman for "practically nothing," says his older sister Stefanie. She recalls, "My mother wept—not so much out of the loss, but out of a sense of the unfairness of it, that someone we'd trained could turn on us, could get something we had worked so hard for, for nothing."[4]

Shanghai ghetto in 1943
Shanghai ghetto in 1943

With their little remaining money, his mother bought tickets for them to go to Shanghai, China, an open port city which didn't require a visa. They fled Germany shortly before war broke out in 1939 on a passenger-carrying freighter.[2] They took only minimal possessions; they were not allowed to take any money.[2] He remembers the voyage: "From Naples via Port Said, Suez, Aden, Bombay, Colombo, Singapore, and Hong Kong; each one of those ports of call was part of the British Empire, and none would admit Jewish refugees."[2]

Upon arriving, they expected to remain only briefly, assuming they could then travel on to a safer country. However, with the outbreak of World War II, Japan had occupied Shanghai, and the Blumenthals were confined to the Shanghai Ghetto along with 20,000 other Jewish refugees for the next eight years.[3]

The tough refugee war years were precious lessons for the future ... In Shanghai I learned what it means to be hungry, poor, and forgotten for no fault of one's own, and what people will do when their backs are up against the wall. I saw that life can be unfair, that titles, possessions, and all the trappings of position and status are transitory, that they are not as important as one's own inner resources in the face of hard times, personal setbacks and defeats.

—Michael Blumenthal[2]

Blumenthal witnessed severe poverty and starvation throughout the ghetto, sometimes seeing corpses lying in the streets. "It was a cesspool," he said.[3] He was able to find a cleaning job at a chemical factory and earned $1 a week, which was used to feed his family:[2]

I was confined to a faraway corner of Asia, so destitute that newspapers were stuffed into my shoes to cover up the holes ... I had no passport at all [and] for two and a half years I was a prisoner of the Japanese, and later not even the most junior American consular official would have given me the time of day.[5][page needed]

His schooling was haphazard, and the stress of survival caused his parents to divorce.[3] Nevertheless, he was able to learn English during a brief period attending a British school, and learned to speak some Chinese, French and Portuguese during other periods there.[6]:25

When the war in the Pacific ended in the summer of 1945, American troops entered Shanghai. He found a job as a warehouse helper with the U.S. Air Force, which benefited from his linguistic skills.[2] By 1947 he and his sister, after much effort and being refused visas to Canada, received visas to the U.S.

They made their way to San Francisco, where they knew no one, and with only $200 between them.[7] With limited education, and now a stateless refugee, he did his best to make something of himself:

I came to this country feeling that I had capabilities and talents. I read a lot. I talked to people. I wanted to do things. I found out that I can cope reasonably well.[3]


Blumenthal found his first full-time job earning $40 per week as a billing clerk for the National Biscuit Company. He later enrolled at San Francisco City College and supported himself doing part-time work, including truck driver, night elevator operator, busboy and movie theater ticket-taker. He also worked as an armored guard and at a wax factory, where he filled "little paper cups with wax" from midnight until 8 a.m.[3]

He was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1951 with a B.S. degree in international economics.[2] It was also where he met and married Margaret Eileen Polley in 1951.[3] In 1952 Blumenthal became a naturalized U.S. citizen.[6]:25

He was offered a scholarship to attend the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, in New Jersey. From there, he earned a Master of Arts and Master of Public Affairs in 1953, followed by a Ph.D. in economics in 1956.[7] For income, his wife worked as a secretary and he taught economics at Princeton from 1954 to 1957.[2] He also worked as a labor arbitrator for the state of New Jersey from 1955 to 1957.[6]:26


He left Princeton University and joined Crown Cork International Corporation in 1957, a manufacturer of bottle caps, where he remained until 1961, and rose to become its vice president and director.[2][3]

In 1961, having by then been a registered Democrat, he went to Washington, D.C. following President Kennedy's inauguration, where he was offered a position by diplomat, George Ball, to serve as Kennedy's deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs.[6]:26 He accepted the position and served in the State Department from 1961 until 1967 as an adviser on trade to Kennedy and, after Kennedy's assassination, as adviser to Lyndon B. Johnson.

Johnson made him U.S. Ambassador to act as the chief U. S. negotiator at the Kennedy Round General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks (GATT) in Geneva, considered to be the world's most significant multilateral trade negotiation. Canada's Minister of Trade and Commerce described Blumenthal as a tough negotiator,[3][2] which Blumenthal feels is ironic: "If they'd let me into the country in 1945, I might have been working on their side."[2]

In 1967 Blumenthal left government to join Bendix International, a manufacturing and engineering company specializing in auto parts, electronics and aerospace. After five years he was appointed as its chairman and CEO, and remained with the company for ten more years. When he first took over to head Bendix, the company was regarded by Wall Street as a faltering company. After five years as its chairman, the company nearly doubled its sales to just under $3 billion, and by 1976 Duns Review rated Bendix as "one of the five best-managed companies in the U.S."[3][6]:27

President Carter (far right) meeting with (l to r) Charles Schultze, Michael Blumenthal, Hamilton Jordan and James Schlesinger in the oval office, 1978

While Blumenthal headed Bendix, newly elected President Carter nominated him to become his Secretary of the Treasury, a position he served from January 23, 1977 to August 4, 1979.[2] Cyrus Vance had originally wanted him to be his deputy when he became Carter's Secretary of State, but Carter decided he would be better placed as Secretary of the Treasury.[8][page needed] His nomination was unanimously confirmed.[6]:27 That June, he traveled to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Paris headquarters for its annual conference, with its main agenda concerned with how Western powers would manage the sluggish recovery after the deep recession of 1974-75.[9]

Blumenthal first met Carter in 1975 at a meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Japan.[10] Carter subsequently invited him to his home knowing his talents as a successful business manager and negotiator, and knew Blumenthal would offer him sound economic advice.[10] Blumenthal recalls at the time, "The list of top Democratic businessmen isn't very long."[3] In accepting the position, his income went from $473,000 per year to $66,000.[3] He was also amused at the irony of reading a German newspaper headline, "A Berliner is to Become Carter's New Minister of Finance."[3]

As Secretary of the Treasury, however, he was never made a member of Carter's "inner circle," and his responsibilities were never clearly defined, writes historian Burton Ira Kaufman.[10] Although he was made chair of Carter's Economic Policy Group (EPG), and was Carter's chief economic policy official, he was still unable to chart economic policy or be recognized as the administration's chief economic spokesman. He instead had to share the role with those closer to the president, which caused confusion among outsiders and weakened Blumenthal's effectiveness.[3]

Blumenthal took an active role in fighting inflation, which had increased from 7 percent at the beginning of 1978 to 11 percent by the fall.[10]:49 By the summer of 1979 inflation had reached 14 percent, with unemployment in some cities running close to 25 percent.[10]:50 Much of the increase had to do with OPEC raising oil prices.[10]:50 During this period, the U.S. dollar was also a target of one of the largest currency speculations in history[9] by countries including Germany and Japan, whose currencies were rapidly appreciating against the dollar.[10]:49

In February 1979, Blumenthal represented the U.S. in its first visit to China by an American Cabinet officer following America's official recognition of their Communist government, which China had proclaimed in 1949. Until that time, most American China scholars had never been to China, and the event was so newsworthy that twenty journalists traveled with Blumenthal and his staff.[5][page needed] His experience living in Shanghai is considered to have been an important factor in Chinese leaders inviting him, instead of a State Department official.[6]:28 His trip was a great success, notes biographer Bernard Katz.[6]:28 Blumenthal also went back the following month for the opening of the U.S. Embassy. He explains:

Our visit was an opening move in the slow, carefully managed, renewed coming together of China and the United States, haltingly begun with many fits and starts in the early seventies, and culminating nine years later with the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations (in which I would be destined to play an official role.)[5][page needed]

He used part of his speech, much of which he gave speaking in Chinese, to convey to Chinese leaders America's serious concern with China's invasion of Vietnam a week earlier. Henry Kissinger described the multipronged invasion which may have included up to 400,000 Chinese soldiers.[11][page needed] Blumenthal asked them to withdraw their troops "as quickly as possible," since it carried the "risk of wider wars."[11][page needed][12] The Chinese were particularly impressed by Blumenthal's speech, adds Katz. And although the effect of his speech is not known, the Chinese army did withdraw a few weeks after his visit.

In July 1979, Carter outlined his measures for dealing with the nation's economic and energy crisis, and at the same time asked five members of his cabinet, including Blumenthal, to resign.[10]:51 Twenty-three other senior staff members were also let go.[13][page needed]

After resigning he returned to the business sector and joined Burroughs Corporation in 1980 as vice chairman, then chairman of the board a year later. After merging the company with Sperry Corporation, it became Unisys Corporation in 1986, with Blumenthal its chairman and chief executive officer (CEO). He remained with Unisys until 1990 when he stepped down after several years of losses to become a limited partner at Lazard Freres & Company, an investment bank located in New York. Having more free time, he taught economics courses at Princeton.[6]:29[14]

In April 2016, he was one of eight former Treasury secretaries who called on the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union ahead of the June 2016 Referendum.[15]

Jewish Museum of Berlin

In 1997, Blumenthal became the founding director of the Jewish Museum Berlin in Germany's then-new capital of the Federal Republic. His work began in December of that year, when he accepted an invitation from the city of Berlin to become president and chief executive of the Berlin Jewish Museum. The first Jewish Museum in Berlin was founded in 1933, but was closed in 1938 by the Nazi regime. The re-imagined museum includes displays documenting 2,000 years of the often-tragic chapters in German-Jewish history, including The Holocaust, and is the largest Jewish museum in Europe.[5][page needed] Blumenthal remained the museum's director from 1997 until 2014,[2] with the completion and opening of the Museum in 2001 being credited to his direction.[16] The project has attracted considerable attention within and outside of Germany. In 1999 and 2006, Blumenthal was awarded Germany's Senior Medals of Merit for his services to the Federal Republic of Germany, in recognition of his work in Berlin.

Personal life

From his former marriage, Blumenthal had three daughters: Ann, Jill, and Jane, and has many grandchildren.

Currently he resides in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife Barbara, with whom he has one son, Michael.

In 2008, he was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and pledged to back President Barack Obama.

Awards and honors

See also


  1. ^ [1]Current Biography Yearbook
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Michael Blumenthal's Search for Answers Takes Him Full Circle Back to Berlin". Princeton Magazine. Kingston, New Jersey. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Clare, Crawford (29 August 1977). "From Nazi Refugee to Treasury Chief: Mike Blumenthal's Next Step May Be Closer to Carter". People Magazine. United States. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  4. ^ Chesnoff, Richard Z. Pack of Thieves, Anchor Books (1999) p. 20
  5. ^ a b c d Blumenthal, Michael. From Exile to Washington, The Overlook Press (2015) ISBN 146831100X
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Katz, Bernard S., and Vencill, Daniel. Biographical Dictionary of the United States Secretaries of the Treasury, Greenwood Publishing (1996)
  7. ^ a b Kaufman, Diane, and Kaufman, Scott. Historical Dictionary of the Carter Era, Scarecrow Press (2013) p. 42
  8. ^ Biven, W. Carl. Jimmy Carter's Economy: Policy in an Age of Limits, Univ. of North Carolina Press (2002) e-book
  9. ^ a b Moffit, Michael. World's Money, Simon and Schuster (1983) p. 133
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Kaufman, Burton Ira. The Carter Years, Infobase Publishing (2006) p. 47
  11. ^ a b Kissinger, Henry. On China, Penguin (2011) e-book
  12. ^ Fox Butterfield (February 26, 1979). "Peking Rules Out A Drive For Hanoi". The New York Times. p. 1.
  13. ^ Hayward, Steven. The Real Jimmy Carter, Regnery Publishing (2004) e-book
  14. ^ [2][permanent dead link] Biography of W. Michael Blumenthal, Jewish Museum Berlin
  15. ^ "Staying in EU 'best hope' for UK's future say ex-US Treasury secretaries". BBC News. April 20, 2016.
  16. ^ Steven Erlanger, A Memory-Strewn Celebration of Germany's Jews. New York Times, September 20, 2001. Retrieved 2017-09-27.
  17. ^ Member Profile, Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans
Political offices
Preceded by
William E. Simon
United States Secretary of the Treasury
Succeeded by
William Miller
This page was last edited on 29 September 2019, at 05:36
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