Nov 21, 2007

On Paratroopers, Normandy, and Leon Trotsky

I am in the process of preparing for my doctoral exams next spring, and the Russia Revolution will likely be a topic upon which I will be tested. I am reading a book by Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik revolutionary, one-time leader of the Red Army in the civil war that followed the October Revolution, and Marxist theoretician who was murdered by operatives of Stalin in 1940.

When I first opened the book, I noticed a sticker on the inside front cover indicating that the Carl Joseph Memorial Library Fund paid for the book. The inscription indicated that Joseph was a paratrooper who was killed in action during the 1944 Normandy invasion.

Joseph grew up in an area of North Toledo once known as Little Syria, though the area today might be better known as "Crackville." Among the famous Toledoans who grew up in that area were entertainers Jamie Farr and Danny Thomas, and it is possible that Thomas and Joseph bumped elbows a few times in Little Syria, being only one year apart in age.

Joseph also worked at the Spicer Manufacturing plant on Bennett Road in Toledo until some time before his deployment overseas. The sticker also notes that he was a member of the UAW-CIO and the NAACP, and at some point attended the University of Toledo.

Yet beyond these few facts I have been able to learn little about Carl Joseph and the family members who likely started the Carl Joseph Memorial Library Fund. It is a testament to the legacy of Joseph that books were viewed as one of the best ways to remember this patriotic 29-year-old man cut down just as he was entering the best years of his life.

Yet I am also curious about the choice of books that the fund selected. While Trotsky's observations about the Russian Revolution are important to the study of history, I am almost surprised to see that the administrators of this fund had the willingness to purchase texts written by (GASP!) known Communists. This was the era before such technological innovations as fiber cable and the Internet, when books and newspapers were the primary sources of information.

And after all, this was a period of time in which communism was viewed as some sort of dangerous philosophy, and by the end of the Second World War, Harry S. Truman commenced the newest wave of Red-baiting that culminated in the phenomena known as McCarthyism. I keep drifting back to the front cover of the text instead of dissecting Trotskyist political philosophy, because the mystery of Carl Joseph is much more interesting to me tonight than Trotsky's revolutionary analysis and doctrinaire dictums.

A belated thanks for the book, though, to Mr. Carl Joseph, a man I never met and know only through the sticker I chanced upon today in a dusty library book.


Wade said...

The Canaday Center actually has quite a file on him... letters from his family, his widow, and UT administrators regarding him. We've used these papers in an Honors Seminar to introduce students to constructing history using primary sources (they had to read portions of the file and then write a biography of Carl Joseph). So, stop by the 5th Floor sometime and ask for his file.

LTLOP said...

If he grew up in the north end, he is more than likley related to the Josephs, ala market on Talmadge. Also, there was a Joseph's supermarket on Lagrange and Huron(?).

historymike said...

Thanks for the tip about the Canaday Center, Ward - this is a local history gem.

historymike said...


I wondered about that myself. The Josephs made their money in the grocery business, and then sold their small corner stores at the right time to larger competitors.

In addition to their state liquor outlet on Talmadge, they have a pretty thriving real estate business, and one of the sons of the Joseph brothers is a commercial mortgage broker.

Anonymous said...

Do you still want information on Carl Joseph? I can have his brother or nephew contact you. Let me know. My email address is Thank you.

R. Joseph said...

Carl Joseph was my father's eldest brother. I was up early on this memorial day weekend, I googled Uncle Carl and found your site. Thank you for taking such an interest in and writing about him.

Danny Thomas and my father "adopted" each other (as Danny had lost his kid brother and dad had lost his big brother)as they joined together to found St. Jude Children's Research hospital, located in Memphis, TN. While they didn't know each other as kids, I believe my dad played marbles in the street with Danny's younger brothers.

My father passed away just a month or so ago. He was the last living founder of St. Jude. We will be having a memorial for him there, in the Pavilion chapel (where Danny and his wife Rosemarie are buried) at the end of June. I had the honor of serving on the board of St. Jude for 8 years, as one of the many devoted "second generationers" which included Danny's own children (starting with Terre, then followed by Tony and Marlo once Danny passed away).

My Dad, and ad man and later a publisher, moved to Chicago in his 40's and was very successful. He was a complicated man, but was known as a tremendous philanthropist, historian, a reader and a writer. I believe the trajectory of my fathers life changed dramatically when Carl died.

He started the Carl Joseph Library, and chose that it would concentrate on topic that Carl, an avid reader, was interested in. I believe they also have some books Carl brought back that he found in Europe during his service. I understand he thought it would be really helpful for our youth to be exposed to all kinds of propaganda/literature--- I'm pretty sure his intentions were that we understand how we got where we all were in those times, with the hope that those who read opinions on all sides might become wise enough to avoid the pitfalls and problems, and move toward a more fair and just world. I often wonder if he'd lived what great things he'd have done.

I accompanied my father and mother on the one and only pilgrimage they made to Carl's grave in the national cemetary in Normandy.

I'd be interested to hear from you.