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Tragedy At Graignes

Tragedy At Graignes

by Margaret R. And Dennis S. O'Leary

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Tragedy at Graignes tells the story of Captain Bud Sophian, the only US Army officer who did not flee Graignes, France, as the Waffen SS overran the American positions and stormed the village. Sophian was a surgeon, and he refused to abandon the fourteen wounded paratroopers in his care. He surrendered by waving a white flag at the door of the badly shelled


Tragedy at Graignes tells the story of Captain Bud Sophian, the only US Army officer who did not flee Graignes, France, as the Waffen SS overran the American positions and stormed the village. Sophian was a surgeon, and he refused to abandon the fourteen wounded paratroopers in his care. He surrendered by waving a white flag at the door of the badly shelled Norman church where his aid station was located. He hoped for fair prisoner treatment in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 1929. The German troops instead committed unspeakable atrocities, leaving many of the American prisoners mutilated in grotesque heaps. All of the American prisoners, including Sophian, were killed.

Captain Sophian's judgment and actions in the US Army were the culmination of the rich and challenging life he led prior to the Second World War. Bud's correspondence with his sister and other Sophian archival materials tell the story of this compelling life. These letters are reproduced verbatim in Tragedy at Graignes: The Bud Sophian Story so that Bud and other authors may speak directly to you and to the historical record.

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The Bud Sophian Story
By Margaret R. O'Leary Dennis S. O'Leary

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Margaret R. O'Leary and Dennis S. O'Leary
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-8329-8

Chapter One

Family Heritage

* * *

Most people knew Abraham Sophian, Jr. as "Buddy" or "Bud," and he preferred these monikers to the more austere "Abraham," which was also his father's name. For example, one of his army physician colleagues wrote to his parents:

It was with the greatest surprise that I learned of the great loss of your son, Captain Abraham Sophian Jr. in the 7 April [1945] issue of the Jackson County [Missouri] Medical Society Weekly Bulletin. Please accept my sympathy at this time. Personally, I always remember him by the name of "Bud." He was always a cheerful and courteous fellow.

To distinguish between the two Abraham Sophians in this book, we refer to the son as Bud Sophian, Dr. Bud Sophian, Captain Sophian, or Captain Bud Sophian, and to his father as Abraham Sophian, Dr. Abraham Sophian, or Dr. Sophian. Dr. Abraham Sophian did not serve in the military, so there is only one historical Captain Sophian, i.e., Captain Bud Sophian (or Captain Abraham Sophian, Jr., as the US Army knew him).

Bud's parents were Estelle Felix (1886–1970) and Dr. Abraham Sophian (1884–1957). Estelle and Abraham came from two large Jewish families that immigrated to New York City in the late nineteenth century from Prussia (Germany) and Russia, respectively. The Felix family, which emigrated in at least two stages between 1883 and 1890, was of Greek Jewish heritage, according to Estelle Felix. The Sophian family emigrated from Kiev in southwestern Russia in 1890 and was of Armenian Jewish heritage, according to Dr. Abraham Sophian. The Sophian family fled Russia because of repressive, reactionary, and anti-Semitic policies emplaced by Tsar Alexander III (who reigned from 1881 to 1894) and his ministers and confidants, especially Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev (1827–1907), Procurator of the Holy Synod, lawyer, and one of the most chilling and self-righteous anti-Semitic officials ever produced by Russia.

The anti-Semitic policies implemented by Tsar Alexander III further restricted (some restrictions were already in place) where Jews could live in the so-called Pale of Settlement and the occupations that Jews could pursue. The Pale of Settlement refers to the region of Imperial Russia along its western border in which tsarist Russia permitted Jews to reside. It extended from the pale or demarcation line inside of Russia to her borders with Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Sophian family likely witnessed the first of three waves of violent anti-Jewish pogroms that swept through Imperial Russia between 1881 and 1884, but escaped the second and third waves (1903–1906 and 1919–1921), because it had moved to America to dwell in safety.

Bud's mother, Estelle Felix, was born September 8, 1886, in New York City as the youngest of eight children. Her father was prosperous manufacturer, merchant, and salesman Arthur A. Felix who was born January 20, 1855, in Russia (according to his petition for naturalization filed in the US District Court, New York, New York, on May 31, 1900). Estelle's mother was Emily (Tillie), who married Arthur in 1874. Arthur first came to the United States on August 8, 1883, on the SS Canada (according to its passenger list submitted to the District of the City of New York, Port of New York on August 8, 1883), put down roots, and then returned to Russia to retrieve his four older children. He arrived back in New York City with his brood on December 23, 1890, aboard the SS Servia. His four oldest children were Sara (born 1875), Pauline (Polly, 1877), Eva (1879), and Josef (Joseph, 1881). He and Emily produced four more children in New York City: Louis E. (1883), Jane (1884), Flora (Floey, 1885), and Estelle (Bud's mother, 1886).

Arthur A. Felix prospered in New York City as he had done in Russia and qualified to become a naturalized citizen of the United States on May 31, 1900, after living at 457 Pleasant Avenue in Ward 12 (located above 86th Street) in Manhattan for the previous ten years. About eight hundred thousand people lived in Manhattan's nine-square-mile Ward 12 in 1910, which calculates to a population density of eighty-eight thousand people per square mile. The Felix family was able to avoid the difficult life facing Russian Jewish immigrants then crowding into the tenements of Manhattan's Lower East Side (according to the 1900 US Census, Manhattan Borough, June 26, 1900).

The Sophian family was economically less fortunate than the Felix family. Dr. Abraham Sophian (Bud's father) was born on January 1, 1884. His parents were lumber merchant Morris Sophian (born 1849) and Dora (born 1855). Both parents were natives of Kiev, Russia, as were their five oldest children: Meyer (Michael, "Mike", 1873, who became a physician), Jennie (1877), Rose (1880), Harry (1883), and Abraham (1884). A sixth child named Gussie (Golda) joined the family in New York City in 1893. Gussie Sophian resided in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum for a time. There, in June 1902, she won a silver watch as a prize for a contest she had entered, as reported in the New York Times.

In 1890, the impoverished Sophian family lived in the tenement at 250-252 Henry Street in Ward 7 on Manhattan's Lower East Side. This densely populated area in 1910 contained some one hundred thousand people who lived in an area less than one-third of a square mile—an astounding population density of about 325,000 people per square mile. By comparison, the population density of Manhattan in the year 2008 was around sixty-seven thousand people per square mile—the highest of any county or borough in the United States.

The tenement occupied by the Sophian family was near the famed Henry Street Settlement at 265 Henry Street. The American nurse, social worker, and Jewish feminist Lillian D. Wald (1867–1940) founded the Henry Street Settlement in 1893 to improve the plight of Lower East Side tenement dwellers. German Jewish banker and philanthropist Jacob Schiff (1847–1920) supported Russian Jews who had suffered in tsarist Russia. In 1895, he purchased and donated the building at 265 Henry Street to the Henry Street Settlement.

The two youngest Sophian brothers, Harry and Abraham, married two of the youngest Felix sisters, Jane and Estelle, respectively. Harry and Jane Sophian and Abraham and Estelle Sophian, with their children in tow, moved from New York City to Kansas City in 1916 and 1917, respectively. The Felix and Sophian siblings and their children remained close throughout their lives.

Bud's father, Abraham Sophian, won a full state scholarship to Cornell University on June 7, 1902 by scoring very high marks on a competitive examination conducted by the State of New York's Department of Public Instruction (Charles R. Skinner, superintendent). Students at the time typically proceeded directly from high school to medical college if they wanted and qualified to become a physician. Cornell University trustees established the Cornell University Medical College on April 14, 1898, as described in A History of Cornell by Morris Bishop (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1962, p. 320.). Eighteen-year-old Abraham thus applied his state scholarship toward financing his medical school education at Cornell University Medical College in New York City, rather than pursuing undergraduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

After completing medical school in 1906, Dr. Abraham Sophian won through yet another tough competitive examination a coveted place at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City to pursue his two-year postgraduate medical study (1906–1908). There he trained with physicians who comprise a who's who of early twentieth-century medicine, as described in This House of Noble Deeds: The Mount Sinai Hospital, 1852–2002 by Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. and Barbara J. Niss (New York, New York: New York University Press, 2002). For example, one of his favorite teachers and mentors was master diagnostician Nathan E. Brill, MD (1860–1925). Dr. Brill first described endemic typhus (Brill's disease) and learned his clinical medicine from another famous clinician Edward G. Janeway, MD (1841–1911). Dr. Brill's quietude, humility, and scrupulous honesty resonated with young Dr. Abraham Sophian.

After his hospital residency at Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr. Abraham Sophian joined the Research Laboratory staff in the New York City Health Department and later affiliated with New York University, where he developed immune sera for the treatment of infectious diseases such as epidemic cerebral meningitis. Prior to the 1940s, no antibiotics existed to treat infectious diseases. In the absence of antibiotics, some physicians prepared and administered immune sera, which contained antibodies to infectious agents that the physicians were trying to contain. Dr. Abraham Sophian manufactured his immune sera by inoculating horses with diseased material. He later collected the horse's blood serum, which now contained antibodies to the diseased material under consideration. He then injected the serum into humans suffering from the disease. The immunotherapy helped more times than not, according to data he carefully collected on the efficacy of the treatment.

Dr. Abraham Sophian's research and clinical expertise in infectious diseases earned him acclaim and a brisk demand for services outside the boundaries of New York State. For example, he first visited Kansas City in 1910 to help local authorities contain a meningitis outbreak. In the latter part of 1911, a serious meningitis epidemic erupted in Dallas County, Texas. Senior research physicians at the Rockefeller Institute of New York City dispatched Dr. Sophian to Dallas to work with local physicians to contain the epidemic. In January 1912, the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners granted Dr. Abraham Sophian a medical license. He proceeded to fix up an old hospital to which he insisted that local physicians admit their most serious cases.

During this time, Dr. Abraham Sophian worked almost twenty hours a day caring for the extremely ill patients in the old hospital. His efforts were successful in reducing the death rate through early recognition of the disease and injection of immune serum that he had manufactured and transported from New York. In addition to caring directly for patients, he held daily clinics for physicians from the surrounding towns to instruct them in the diagnosis of the disease and in the use of the serum. The epidemic lasted about two months. A few days before his departure, grateful Dallas citizens presented him with a silver loving cup, and his new Texas physician colleagues gave him a lovely silver tea service. New Yorkers cheered his successes, as reported by the New York Times. After his return to New York, Dr. Abraham Sophian wrote the classic book Epidemic Cerebral Meningitis (1913), which remains today an important reference in the recognition and treatment of the disease.

During this very active period of Dr. Abraham Sophian's life, he managed to court Estelle Felix, who was working as a schoolteacher in the New York City public school system. They married on April 26, 1911, and moved into a large, beautiful home that they shared with relatives in the planned enclave of Long Beach, Long Island, where few Jews lived at the time.

In 1917, Dr. Abraham Sophian moved his family to Kansas City, where he served as the first director of the original laboratory of Research Hospital (also known as German Hospital and German-American Hospital). He also opened a medical practice in 1917 to care for Kansas City residents from every walk of life, including Irish and Russian Jewish immigrants crowded into damp and rat-infested hovels in McClure Flats, and wealthy and powerful men, such as lumber magnate Robert Alexander Long (1850–1934) and Democratic machine boss Tom Pendergast (1873–1945).

Harry Joseph Sophian (Bud's uncle and Abraham's older brother) first worked in New York City with realty executive Ringland Fisher "Rex" Kilpatrick (1882–1955) before moving to Kansas City in 1916. There he purchased parcels of strategically located land and eventually built two historic Kansas City luxury apartment buildings: Georgian Court Apartments (400 East Armour Boulevard) and Sophian Plaza (4618 Warwick Boulevard, National Register of Historic Places, 1982). The Kansas City architectural firm of Shepard and Wiser designed the buildings. Harry Sophian built a third luxury apartment building also named Sophian Plaza in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1500 South Frisco Avenue).

From 1917 to 1930, the Abraham Sophian family lived in one of the original twenty-four Georgian Court apartments, which then boasted between six and nine rooms each. From 1930 to 1933, the Abraham Sophian family moved to Sophian Plaza, located about a mile south of Georgian Court. In 1933, the family moved into a custom-built mansion on a towering limestone bluff overlooking Brush Creek in what was then unincorporated Kansas City, Kansas, and what is today Mission Hills, Kansas.

Estelle and Abraham Sophian were forward thinking about their identity as Jewish-Americans. They believed with other Reform Jews that Jewish assimilation into American society was appropriate and desirable. Furthermore, they and other Reform Jews believed that intermarriage between Jews and people of other faiths was an acceptable way of achieving that assimilation. Orthodox Jews, by contrast, believed that God had irrevocably separated Jews from all other peoples on earth and to even consider assimilation through intermarriage was an unforgivable act of disobedience (to God).

Estelle and Abraham followed other Reform Judaism practices, such as using English instead of Hebrew at services and discontinuing special diets and rituals such as the bris (the covenant of circumcision). They believed that these customs only served to further distinguish and distance Jews from other peoples. The Zionism movement, which promoted the return to Israel of Diaspora Jews of the Hebrew nation, also did not resonate with them. Reform Judaism historian Michael A. Meyer described the Reform Judaism movement as the "branch of Judaism which has been most hospitable to the modern critical temper while still endeavoring to maintain continuity of faith and practice with Jewish religious tradition."

Monotheism is the central tenet of Judaism; that is, there is one God, not many gods. To the Abraham Sophian family, belief in God, Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the existence of the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost) seemed to imply three gods, or polytheism. The argument that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three aspects of a single divine unity did not make sense to them.

Chapter Two

Early Years, 1915–1929

* * *

Both Bud (April 28, 1915) and Emily (September 28, 1913) Sophian were born in one of the earliest community hospitals in Manhattan and from there were taken to their parents' Long Beach, Long Island, home. Both were healthy at birth.

Bud was one of the "prettiest babies" relatives had ever seen: "He was really beautiful," noted Emily. However, shortly after Bud learned to walk, he developed into a "regular little family nuisance," she added. "He has always taken the greatest delight in pestering both Mother and me – (Even Dad sometimes) – and, were it not for his charming disposition, I doubt very much if any nurse would have stayed with him over a week," Emily averred. She continued:

As a child he was very much afraid of the water and much preferred playing in the sand to jumping in the pool or lake. In fact, it was not until just about a couple of years ago [when Bud was ten] that he overcame his fears and became a good swimmer. He now loves all water sports. However, he is a trouble-maker in the water as well as on land, for ducking people is one of his greatest sources of pleasure. I am almost certain that that is the reason mother cares so little for swimming. From a beautiful, tho annoying child, Bud has grown into a handsome and still more annoying boy of twelve. He is extremely intelligent, although he does not work unless he has to, and is an excellent athlete, playing a very good game of tennis, golf and especially football. He should excel at the latter, however, for he practices his tackles on me at every available opportunity. Now, in spite of his many attributes, especially his looks about which everyone comments, our "trouble-maker" remains naïve and not conceited. I think the world of him – (tho he does not seem to think I do) – and do not know how I'd ever get along without him.


Excerpted from TRAGEDY at GRAIGNES by Margaret R. O'Leary Dennis S. O'Leary Copyright © 2011 by Margaret R. O'Leary and Dennis S. O'Leary. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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