WINNIPEG — A letter from former U.S. president Harry Truman declining a invitation to speak in Winnipeg has been added to an exhibit highlighting the city’s Jewish connection with the struggle to create a Jewish state
On Sept. 30, the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada and B’nai Birth Canada, Midwest region, hosted a joint evening in honour of the late American president. The occasion was the presentation to the Jewish Heritage Centre by former Winnipegger Leonard Stone, currently living in Dallas, and his sister Anne Stone Weisler of Edmonton of a letter to Stone from Truman written in 1963 declining an invitation to speak in Winnipeg at a major event put on by B’nai Brith.
The story of the letter began, Stone said, when community leader Laurie Mainster approached him and asked him if he could contact Truman and extend the invitation.
“I don’t know why he asked me, but I said yes,” Stone recalled.
He didn’t have any idea how to reach Truman, but figured he would try the Truman Library as a first step.
He got the number and phoned, and Truman himself answered. Stone said they had a pleasant 15-minute chat, after which the former president asked Stone – who was still living in Winnipeg at the time – to put the invitation in a letter to Truman’s home address.
Upon receiving the letter, Truman responded that, regretfully, he couldn’t make it due to previous commitments.
Stone had the letter and envelope framed, and the document has been hanging on his living room wall ever since.
Stone’s career has been in the world of music. In a career spanning almost 50 years, he has been executive director of symphony orchestras in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Syracuse, N.Y., Dallas and Florida. In 2006, he was recognized by the American Symphony Orchestra League for being the first person to serve for 40 years as a symphony orchestra executive director.
Music has been his career, but learning all he could about Truman became his passion. He was very happy to share what he learned with his Winnipeg audience.
Truman was no angel, Stone said. The future president once briefly took out membership in the Ku Klux Klan for political purposes and was known to use racial and ethnic slurs common to his era.
As well, his wife, Bess, was known to be an out and out anti-Semite, Stone added.
He recounted a story about the journalist David Susskind interviewing Truman for Suskind’s TV news show in the early 1960s. For several days, Susskind would meet Truman on the latter’s porch and go for a walk while Susskind did the interview.
One day, Susskind asked Truman why he never invited his interviewer into the house. Truman’s response was that Bess would never allow a Jew in her house.
Truman did have Jewish connections, though, including his next-door neighbours as a kid, as well as fellow soldier and short-lived business partner, Eddie Jacobson, who remained a lifelong friend.
Jacobson was also instrumental in helping persuade Truman to recognize Israel, along with two White House aides, Sam Rosenman, who was former president Franklin Roosevelt’s speechwriter and served Truman for a time in the same capacity, and David Niles, who was of much greater importance.
Niles served both Roosevelt and Truman as an adviser and troubleshooter. Stone spoke at length about Niles and the important role he played both in rounding up the UN votes for Israel and for keeping Truman focused and on track.
Stone described Niles as a man who always chose to remain in the background and left little or no trace of his time in the White House.
When Truman died in December 1972, Stone said he made a point of going to Kansas City for his funeral.