Adolph Marix, Hedy Lamarr, Sydney Weinstein and Mark Polansky.
American Jews have, over the nearly two and a half centuries of United States history, contributed to the success of our armed forces far beyond our numbers. Their stories are not often told by American historians or known to American Jews. These men and women should be role models for the Jewish community as well as for the rest of the country. Their stories and sacrifices help us respond to the anti-Semitic trope that our community has “split” loyalties. This article covers three men and one woman whose accomplishments are significant and relatively unknown.
Adolph Marix – A man with three premieres
Adolph Marix’s parents immigrated to the United States in 1848. His father, Dr. Henry Marix was a language teacher in his native Saxony and during the American Civil War translated European newspapers and documents for the departments of State and Treasury, often meeting Lincoln. Through the president, Adolph Marix secured an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, and in 1864 he became the institution’s first Jewish midshipman.
His early assignments as a junior officer included a polar expedition as well as a tour of duty with the US Navy’s Asiatic Squadron before being brought back to serve in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office. This was followed by a period of service at the Navy Hydrographic Office where he helped standardize the way nautical charts are organized and formatted.
Before the Spanish-American War broke out, he was the executive officer of the USS Maine. He left this cantonment a few weeks before the ship exploded in Havana. During the war, Marix distinguished himself as commander of the USS Scorpion during the second and third battles of Manzanillo (a port on the southwest side of Cuba).
Marix was made a JAG officer in the investigation of the loss of the USS Maine. As a council member, he used his knowledge of the ship to guide the council to ultimately determine that the explosion was caused by coal dust and not a mine. This led to the decision by the United States Navy’s Bureau of Ships to switch from coal to oil to power ships.
Prior to retiring as Vice Admiral, Marix was on the board that purchased and evaluated the first submarines purchased by the US Navy. Marix served in the United States Navy for 42 years, 24 of them at sea, and was the first Jewish American and naval officer to become an admiral and the first to achieve three-star rank.
Hedy Lamarr, actress, spy and inventor
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna on November 9e, 1914 when the First World War was just over three months old. Her father was from Lvov in Ukraine and her mother was Hungarian from Budapest. By age 18, Hedy was playing lead roles in films produced in Germany.
She married Freidrich Mandl, a wealthy Austrian arms dealer whose father was Jewish. Mandl treated her like a trophy wife, and her close ties to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini made marriage impractical.
In 1937, Hedy fled to Paris and then to London where she met Louis Meyer, boss of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer who brought her to Hollywood in 1938 where she adopted the stage name of Hedy Lamarr. She starred with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert and Spencer Tracy in booming city, with Gable back in Comrade X and with Jimmy Stewart in Come live with me. Considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, Lamarr was now a star in every way.
Lamarr believed she owed the United States and wanted to help fight the Germans and Italians. At the start of World War II, she invented and patented a tissue dispenser and an automated traffic light.
After the merchant ship City of Benares was torpedoed by a submarine and 83 German Jewish immigrant children were lost, Hedy and his friend George Antheil, avant-garde musician and composer, began to analyze the sinking.
From conversations she had had with Mandl and his subordinates, she understood the difficulties of finding and sinking German submarines. She and Antheil believed that radio guidance would make anti-submarine torpedoes more accurate but also prone to jamming.
Between 1940 and 1942, the duo worked on a solution that allowed radios to quickly change or “hop” between 88 frequencies within a certain band and make the signal unjammed. Their patent application described how a torpedo (or any other weapon) could receive constant radio guidance that changed frequency every few milliseconds. This made the weapon more accurate as the radio signal would be impossible to jam.
August 11e, 1942, Lamarr and Antheil received U.S. patent number 2,292,387 for a “secret communication system”. The government classified their work as Top Secret and seized the patent in late 1942 accusing him of having “contact with contradictory power” and threatened to expel Anthiel and Lamrr. In order to protect Lamarr from deportation as a foreigner, MGM leaked some of his ideas to the media in order to promote his films and his patriotism.
Nothing happened with Lamarr’s patent until the United States got embroiled in the Cold War and feared the Soviets were jamming the signals between the sonobuoys and the plane that dropped them. In 1955, the navy authorized certain companies to access the patent. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1956, sonobuoys with frequency hopping capabilities were used. In the mid-1970s, the Lamarr/Anteheil patent became the basis for encrypted frequency-hopping radios used by the United States and its allies with GPS signals from satellites.
In 2017, the market value of equipment based on the Lamarr patent was valued at around $30 billion. Saddest is that Lamarr, who died in 2000 and raised millions on war bond tours, never received a penny in royalties on the patent.
Sydney Weinstein – Father of modern intelligence gathering
Few men have changed the American military intelligence community as much as Sydney Weinstein. He was a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam. It’s easy to list all the cantonments in which Weinstein served, but it’s more interesting to look at what he accomplished during his four years of service when he was commander of the US intelligence center and deputy head of the information.
First, he forced the Army’s intelligence bureaucracy to allow him to consolidate scattered commands in the Army and Department of Defense. Second, it changed the way commands gathered and evaluated intelligence to make their “products” more usable by those whose lives depended on its accuracy.
When he was director of the National Security Agency, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander said, “General Weinstein laid out the military’s blueprint for intelligence and that set a course for the military to have the best intelligence corps for the next decade or two. It was a huge leap forward.”
Those words say more than any historian about Sydney Weinstein who served this country for 33 years and was elected to the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. Weinstein died of cancer in 2007.
Mark Polansky – Astronaut
As of July 2019, only 566 humans have flown into space aboard US or Soviet spacecraft. Fourteen – 12 Americans, 1 Israeli and 1 Russian – are Jewish. Boris Volynov was the first Jew in space when he piloted a Soyuz space vehicle in January 1969. An American – Judith Resnik died on Challenger when it exploded right after launch and an Israeli – Ilan Ramon was killed when Discovery collapsed in the fall.
Mark Polansky was commissioned in 1978 and entered Air Force flight training and received the Distinguished Graduate as the top student in his class. After his first squadron tour at Langley AFB flying the F-15, his skills as a pilot were recognized and he was selected to become an aggressor pilot flying the F-5E. Aggressor pilots simulate enemy tactics and aircraft during exercises. He flew from Clark AFB in the Philippines and Nellis AFB. At the end of his tour, Polansky applied for test pilot school and after graduation he was posted to Edwards AFB. Again, Polansky was the top student.
By the time he decided to leave the Air Force for NASA, Mark had accumulated 5,000 hours in a variety of tactical fighters. It took two years of training, before being selected as a pilot for the space shuttle mission STS-98 on Atlantis in 2001 which provided material to build the International Space Station (ISS).
Its next space shuttle mission was on Discovery (STS-116) which delivered more structures to the ISS. To honor his father and his legacy on this mission, he carried a teddy bear that he purchased from the US Holocaust Museum. When he lands after his third mission on board Effort (STS-126), Mark had accumulated over 309 hours in space.
After its last space shuttle mission on Effort, Polansky was the CAPCON, which is the primary communicator between the Space Shuttle and NASA. He also served as chief astronaut instructor before retiring in 2012.
In their own way, these four individuals have made significant contributions to the United States Armed Forces. However, there are many, many more like Vietnam War ace Jeff Feinstein. Or, Sidney Shachnow, one of the most revered and decorated early Green Berets. Or, Tibor Rubin who managed to survive the Mauthausen death camp and made it to the United States and volunteered to serve in the US Army. Captured at the start of the Korean War, Rubin spent 30 months in a North Korean POW camp where he used the skills learned at Mauthausen to help keep his fellow POWs alive.
American Jews began contributing to the US military during the American Revolution and have continued to do so throughout our history. These men and women must be commemorated and honored. For without their efforts on our behalf, the United States would not be the great nation it is today.