If you were anywhere near Times Square on 14 August 1945 when the World found out Japan had surrendered - you would have most probably flowed out into the streets along with thousands of other ecstatic people. George Mendosa and Greta Zimmer Friedman were but two of many who celebrated that afternoon. Fortunately Alfred Eisenstaedt was also there - and captured this moment in what has since become one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th Century.
The photo has come to be known as the "V-J Day in Times Square" - yet many simply call it, "The Kiss."
Most don't know that Mr. Mendosa never had met Ms. Zimmer Friedman before this moment. Many assume the two were husband and wife or sweethearts. Mendosa was so disinhibited and filled with joy that he spontaneously kissed Friedman. In fact, Mendosa was at that same time on a date with Ms. Rita Petry - a woman he later would marry. Ms. Petry (who appears to be smiling) can be partially seen just in back of Mendosa's right upper arm.
In 2005, as part of the Veterans History Project, Ms. Friedman when on record saying, "It wasn't that much of a kiss," and "It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn't a romantic event."
What does this moment say from a body language perspective? What should jump out first is the configuration of Mr. Mendosa's left hand - note it's significantly clenched. Moreover his wrist is extended dramatically. If his level of affection was high (or even moderate), his fingers and particularly his palm would have been in contact with Ms. Friedman.
Notice also that Ms. Friedman's right hand is clutching what appears to be a purse. Here her arm acts as a barrier of protection and is a strong signal for a lack of affection. Friedman's left arm is in motion - and is impossible to tell from a still photo her intended action.
The orientation of their torsos' at approximately 90 degrees to each other is consistent with the act of bending a person backwards while standing. Yet with higher levels of affection we would expect their entire bodies to be directly facing each other.
While in retrospect we know that this was a spontaneous moment of celebration, the nonverbal signs displayed in the Times Square V-J Day Kiss photo indeed completely corroborate with Ms. Friedman's recounting of the event.
As a 15 year old, Friedman escaped from Nazi occupied Austria (in 1939) but she tragically lost both of her parents in the Holocaust. Greta Zimmer Friedman past away last Thursday. She will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, next to her late husband, Dr. Misha Friedman. May they rest in peace.
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