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Jewish contribution

Despite the prejudice that existed against the Jewish people which lasted well into the 20th century and beyond their contribution to all aspects of life has been remarkable. Always driven by the desire to excel and inspire, both intellectually and academically, the Jewish people have felt motivated to make their mark from the lasting legacy of music and painting to pioneering breakthroughs in science and medicine and cutting-edge technology to improve people’s lives. The prejudice and hostility faced by Jews over the years, however, has often been incorporated into the emotion of their work, whether a painting, a novel, or the desire to negotiate a more tolerant and peaceful world.



From pianist to poet and author to artist, Jews have enriched the world through their passion for music, painting, literature, and design. A combination of drive and imagination, bravado and brilliance have kept them at the forefront of everything that is exciting in the arts. It was immigrants to the US who, almost single-handedly, set up the early studios in Hollywood including Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 20th Century Fox, and Warner Brothers.


Marc Chagall (1887–1985) was born into a devoutly Jewish family in Russia, where he was first exposed to anti-Semitism. In 1910, he moved to Paris, France, to further his career as an artist, but left for the US following German occupation. His life in Russia, together with the experiences of World War II and the revelation of the death camps, had a profound impact on his work.


Arne Jacobsen (1902–71), a Danish architect, achieved fame in 1958 with his modern SAS Hotel in Copenhagen, constructed using tinted glass. This revolutionary design influenced architects the world over. During World War II, however, Jacobsen had to leave Denmark for Sweden, but returned after the war. His 1950s and 1960s furniture designs, such as the egg chair, are still selling today.


One of the greatest violin virtuosos, Yehudi Menuhin (1916–99) impressed audiences from the age of seven, when he performed with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He was world-famous for his technical ability and sensitive interpretation.


Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) studied medicine in Austria, and went on to develop a new science of the mind psychoanalysis. He popularized his ideas in books such as The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud left Austria for England in 1938 to escape the Nazi occupation.


After success with films such as Jaws and ET, director Steven Spielberg gave millions of people their first insight into the Holocaust with Schindler’s List. As part of the filmmaking process, Spielberg recorded the memories of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors.



A history of a people in turmoil, together with the Jewish teaching that demands concern for less fortunate people, has led many Jews to become involved in politics. The ideal of a tolerant people living in a peaceful world continues to be a driving force at both local and national levels.


Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) was a refugee from Nazi Germany who went on to teach at Harvard University. He later became US Secretary of State. In 1972, he organized President Nixon’s historic visits to Russia and China. The following year Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


After heading the armed forces in the Six-Day War, Yitzhak Rabin (1922–95) became Ambassador to the US. In 1992, as Prime Minister of Israel, he put the Israeli-Arab peace process on his political agenda and, in 1995, won the Nobel Peace Prize. However, some people opposed his ideas, and he was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Israel.


The pioneers

Everything from the clothes we wear to the way we travel has been influenced by Jewish pioneers. Often facing prejudice in established industries, Jews preferred to work in new fields, where they could use their talent to the full. They have been at the forefront of developing the technologies that have improved the lives of millions of people.


Emile Berliner (1851–1929) was the grandson of a rabbi who emigrated from Germany to the US. A prolific inventor and experimenter, in 1919 he developed a prototype helicopter.


The blue jeans worn everywhere today were invented by Levi Strauss (1829–1902). Born in Germany, Strauss moved to California, where gold had been discovered. While selling tent canvas to miners, he heard them complain that their trousers wore out too quickly. He made them blue jeans with rivets on the pockets and the hard-wearing item became a global success.


Helena Rubenstein (1870–1965) revolutionized the beauty industry with her waterproof mascara and medicated face creams. Born in Poland in 1871, she built up a beauty empire in Australia, Europe, and the US. In 1953, she created the Helena Rubenstein Foundation, which cared for needy women and children.


Italian activist Adriano Olivetti (1901–60) built his father’s typewriter company into the largest manufacturer of business machines in Europe. Wanted by the Gestapo during World War II, Adriano and his father went into hiding, while their factory became headquarters for the resistance movement.


The son of a gem merchant from Poland, French industrialist André Citroën (1878–1935) was a marketing man who understood his public. He designed a range of affordable cars for the French working man. Citroën even had his name in lights on the Eiffel Tower to promote his cars.


Science and medicine

The Jewish contribution to the understanding of science and to breakthroughs in medical care has been monumental. Without the dedication of physicists and chemists, much of our knowledge of the world might still be a mystery. In medicine, Jews have been responsible for discovering vaccines to combat many killer diseases, including cholera, bubonic plague, typhoid fever, and polio.


One of the world‘s greatest scientists, Albert Einstein (1879–1955) formulated the theory of relativity, which changed the way people viewed the world. In 1921, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Born in Germany, Einstein moved to Switzerland as a young man. He taught in Europe, but when the Nazis came to power, he settled in the US. Einstein‘s insights into the nature of matter made the atomic bomb a reality something he always regretted.


Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915) was born in Germany. He developed the idea of the “magic bullet” a drug that would only attack the diseased parts of the body without damaging healthy cells and tissues. This work earned him the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1908.


The first polio vaccine to fight the disease that killed thousands was developed by US virologist Jonas Salk (1914–45). His vaccine was administered by injection. However, it was Polish American Albert Sabin (1906–93) who developed the oral vaccine that was approved for worldwide use. Sabin’s objective, to wipe out the disease by the year 2000, was eventually achieved.