Society

Famous World War II Photo Depicts Sexual Assault, French Feminists Say

| by Jared Keever

French feminists are demanding that a statue, depicting a famous photograph taken after the announcement of the end of World War II, be removed from Normandy, France, because it depicts sexual assault. 

The National Review reports the French feminist group Osez Le Feminisme claims the statue — nicknamed “The Kiss” — portrays the assault of a woman who did not consent verbally before being kissed by a U.S. sailor. 

The statue, created by sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr., is actually titled “Unconditional Surrender.” It is currently on loan to the Caen Memorial Museum and standing near Pegasus Bridge in Normandy. 

“We cannot accept that the Caen Memorial erected a sexual assault as a symbol of peace,” a spokesman for the group is quoted as saying in the Daily Mail. “We therefore request the removal of this sculpture as soon as possible.”

The statue is based on the iconic photo taken in New York City’s Times Square on V-J Day, the day the U.S. declared victory over Japan, effectively ending World War II. 

The sailor kissing the woman in the photo was long ago identified as George Mendonsa, though the identity of the woman has been disputed. 

The photo originally ran in Life magazine and was reportedly snapped as Mendonsa, elated by news of the war’s end, haphazardly kissed women in the square after the announcement.

“The sailor could have laughed with these women, hugged them, asked them if he could kiss them with joy,” the group said. “No, he chose to grab them with a firm hand to kiss them. It was an assault.”

A petition from the group to remove the statue has attracted about 700 signatures. 

The museum director Stephane Grimaldi said the woman in the picture is a nurse, named Edith Shain, who has stated that she doesn’t feel she was assaulted.

The spokesman from Osez Le Feminisme said the woman is actually an Austrian nurse named Greta Zimmer Friedman.

“I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me,” Friedman was quoted as saying years ago. 

But, after bloggers picked up on that quote in 2012, she roundly rejected allegations that Mendonsa assaulted her in any way.

“I can’t think of anybody who considered that as an assault,” Friedman later said in a Navy Times article cited by the National Review. 

She said she and Mendonsa did not know each other at the time the photo was taken but the two stayed in touch over the years. 

“It was a happy event,” she said. 

Sources: National Review, Daily Mail

Photo Source: Blogs.ArtInfo.comNational Review