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Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Wonderful Evening with Dr. Seymour Schwartz

Last night, Arader Galleries hosted a book signing event honoring Dr. Seymour Schwartz - a true living legend. Known as both a distinguished Alumni Professor of Surgery and a renowned scholar on American maps and the history of cartography, Dr. Schwartz signed copies of his new book, Holyistic Medicine, in addition to his other publications: The Mapping of America, This Land is Your Land, Putting America on the Map, and The French and Indian War.

After the event, a group of us had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Schwartz. Over the course of the dinner we not only learned about his passion for maps and medicine but also about events and people from his past. He namely spoke about his father, which he has never done in public before. 
 
To escape religious persecution, his father fled Russia and came to New York City where he, like most other Jewish immigrants, lived in the Lower East Side in a crowded tenement. As Dr. Schwartz explained, his father did not go to college; however, back then you did not need an undergraduate daegree to attend medical school. He enrolled at Fordham University, a Jesuit institution, and graduated in the last class of its medical school. Due to the rampant anti-Semitism in New York City at that time, however, he was not permitted to become a surgeon, his profession of choice. Dr. Schwartz Jr. commented that in his mind, anti-Semitism really came to an end in the city in the mid 1960s and of course today, the medical profession is extremely diverse. 

Upon his graduation his father started a medical practice but was never very successful – the family was always quite poor. He was, however, an excellent teacher and he lectured at one of the oldest medical schools in the country. Despite the fact that he was a doctor, Dr. Schwartz Sr. was, according to his son, the most un-athletic man he ever knew. By the time the war broke out he wanted to enlist but he was overweight. His desire to serve prompted him to go on a crash diet for 3 months and he lost 38 pounds which enabled him to go to war. Hoping to be sent to Europe he instead found himself on the seas of the Pacific.  Some time into the fighting, his ship got hit by a Kamikaze. As it was going down, his father went to the lowest level and hid in a bathroom – Dr. Schwartz Jr. recalls his father telling him the stories and hearing his father admit to being scared.  The papers back home got wind of the events overseas and published a missing person’s report that circulated for five days; one name listed was Dr. Seymour Schwartz.  After several days went by his family received a telegram and he was alive and well and would be returning to New York. Back home, Dr. Schwartz Sr. reignited his medical practice doing mostly insurance physicals. Despite its mediocrity he did have some rather well known patients, namely Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. 

Dr. Schwartz Jr. remembers that his father was a voracious reader. He would never read a book without a very large dictionary right next to him - a habit he has also adopted - and he always finished whatever he started. His childhood was not full of love or emotion, but rather, his father stressed education above all else. Dr. Schwartz Jr. reflected that despite its hardships, he respects how he was raised, and commented that his father is probably the one man he most admires.

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