Sunday, October 21, 2007

Who's Who Of Knickerbocker Village: Heinz Norden


The Heinz Norden who was mentioned as a friend of the Knickerbocker Village suicide victim, Ruth Rundt was quite a guy. Amongst other things he was an author of many of the Little Blue Books from the Heinz Norden. "KTVA Background Story," 194l. Box I, Folder l9, at NYU:
Heinz Norden was born in London, England on December 18, 1905, the son of German parents, Julius and Hermine. The family returned to Germany where Norden received a classical education at a gymnasium. Norden emigrated to the United States in 1924 during the economic depression in Germany. He attended the University of Chicago in 1926 and the New School for Social Research, 1949-50. Norden was married three times: to Helen Ovenden, divorcing in 1926; to Helen Strough Brown, later better known as Helen Lawrenson, social critic and magazine writer, divorcing in 193l. (In 1939 she married Jack Lawrenson, co-founder of the National Maritime Union.) His marriage to violinist Clair Harper in 1944 produced a child, Barbara (b. 1947) who lives in London.
Norden had several careers; he was an editor, a translator from the German, a writer, an administrator for the New York City Housing Authority, and an advertising executive. He was an author for the "Little Blue Books" a series dedicated to workers education on a mass scale, published by Haldeman-Julius in the late 1920s. Between 1935 and 1975 he translated over fifty volumes from the German including important works on current history, politics, and art history. Often his sister Ruth Norden (1906-77) was a co-translator. For his translation of Max Friedlander's fourteen volume work, Early Netherlandish Painting, Norden received the insignia of Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopold ll, conferred by Badouin King of the Belgians on December 1977. A full list of his writings and translations are published in Contemporary Authors, Volume 53-56.
His work organizing grass-roots movements in which, with others, he tried to educate, agitate, and mobilize a community to understand its problems and power was entirely voluntary. Norden described himself as an "unlabeled radical." Claire Norden characterized him as a "Jeffersonian Democrat." Others who knew him or his work describe him as quick, dynamic, a good and efficient organizer involved in a number of liberal and left causes, a man with political savvy, somewhat of a raconteur.
Norden first became active for tenant's rights when he moved into the newly completed middle-income apartment complex Knickerbocker Village in 1934. Because of poor management from the start, the Knickerbocker tenants were motivated to call a rent strike. It was successful and a settlement was reached in favor of the tenants. They formed the Knickerbocker Village Tenant's Association (KVTA) with Norden as President. The KVTA, one of the first tenant's unions, published a newsletter which lasted into the early 1940s and organized discussion groups and various clubs for the tenants. Of this experience Norden wrote: "Residents who had never had opportunity for self-expression through community activity felt their lives infinitely enriched."
At this time only a handful of isolated tenants groups existed in New York and there was clearly a need to unite all tenants to fight against discrimination in housing, unfair eviction, lack of repairs and direct maintenance, poor heat and water supply, fire-trap housing, and for rent control, government sponsored slum clearance and low-cost housing. Later they had to include a fight against paternalistic management in government housing projects.
With his KVTA experience Norden became one of the founders and leaders in 1936 of the Citywide Tenants Council (CWTC), New York's first permanent coalition of neighborhood tenant's groups (1936-1943). Norden was the executive secretary and later chairperson of the CWTC. He also wrote the column "On the Housing Front" which appeared in tenant and trade union publications. Joseph Spencer wrote of CWTC: "With limited resources and personnel, they succeeded in establishing a stable movement capable of assisting individual families at the grass-roots level and presenting a tenant perspective on long-standing problems and remedies such as public housing and urban redevelopment." Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt lent their names as honorary sponsors.
Norden was involved with other organizations too which promoted the cause of tenants. He was vice-president of the Committee to Aid Tenants' Organizations. Its motto was "Help the Slum Dwellers to Help Themselves," and was formed to find funding for CWTC and its affiliates. It also organized a study group for applicants taking the Civil Service examinations for the recently formed Housing Authority.
Norden also belonged to the Citizen's Housing Council, where he presented tenants views to housing experts, architects, social workers, and real-estate people. The CWTC was the forerunner of the present day Metropolitan Council on Housing with many of the same activists from the earlier group working in it. Between the two groups there was almost a decade without tenant organizing because of McCarthyite attacks on the tenant's movement. Norden left the CWTC in 194l when he received the highest grade on the Civil Service housing examination and was appointed second-in-charge of the Application Office of the New York Housing Authority. The post precluded work in grass-roots tenants groups.
Norden served in the United States Army for seven years, 194l-47 and rose from the ranks to the rank of major. He was in G2 Army Intelligence in Germany after World War II, editing the official U.S. German language magazine Heute in Munich. At this time his previous work with tenant organizing resulted in his being persecuted as a `red' and he was dismissed from Heute. He successfully contested his treatment in the federal courts. After this experience he wrote the unpublished manuscript, "How I Overthrew the Government of the United States, or The F.B. & I" in 1950.
Norden entered into advertising and editorial work which took him to Europe. He settled in London in 196l. There, in 1968 he helped found "Group 68, Americans in Britain for United States Withdrawal from Southeast Asia,"(1968-74). It was the off-shoot of a committee formed to support the election of Senator Eugene McCarthy for President. Norden was chairperson from 1968-73. "Group 68" staged many demonstrations, distributed leaflets, held film showings, organized meetings with distinguished speakers, and disseminated information against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. "Group 68" supported draft and war resisters, including two American servicemen; one was courtmarshalled for participating in an Anti-War protest (197l) and the other for refusing to obey a direct order to fly a B-52 bombing mission over Hanoi (1973). It also had a liason relationship with other peace organizations, draft-resister organizations and civil-liberties groups. In 1972-73 they sponsored, along with l50 other groups, the "Vietnam Vigil to End the War," a year-long, daily, noon hour protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in London.
"Group 68" changed its name to "Concerned Americans Abroad," (1974-78) after the Vietnam War to work on other issues of concern. It campaigned for the complete withdrawal of U.S. arms and personnel supporting the regimes of Thieu and Lon Nol, for release of 200,000 political prisoners in Saigon jails, universal, unconditional amnesty for American war resisters, for abolition of the CIA and the impeachment of Richard Nixon. It placed an ad in the International New York Herald Tribune in 1974, asking Americans to write to the House Judiciary Committee in favor of impeachment. It was against the Criminal Justice Reform Bill S.l, and the deportation of Philip Agee, former officer of the C.I.A., and Marc Hosenball, American investigative reporter. "Group 68" and "Concerned Americans Abroad" (CAA) cooperated with other committees: "Democrats Abroad (UK) provided information to Americans abroad who were disfranchised because of absentee ballot red tape. A CAA member and draft resister ran for election as a delegate to the 1976 Democratic Convention.
In later life, Heinz and Claire ran a small business dealing in pharmaceutical antiques. Heinz Norden was killed in a traffic accident while crossing a London street in 1978.

3 comments:

Adrien Van der Donck said...

Heinz Norden was fluent in Dutch and German and conversant in French. He was a true intellectual, so I'm not quite sure why the "Pseudo" prefix. Any idea as to the location of his unpublished manuscript? I would find it of great interest.

H Harper said...

My uncle Heinz also wrote a book, Einstein on Peace. He had access to some of Einstein's personal papers.
H Harper

Jimmie Reese said...

Nothing pseudo about Heinz. I'd love to have a pic of Heinz