NEW YORK — The woman in an iconic photo shown kissing an ecstatic sailor in Times Square celebrating the end of World War II has died. Greta Zimmer Friedman was 92.
Friedman, who fled Austria during the war as a 15-year-old, died Thursday at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, from complications of old age, according to her son, Joshua Friedman.
Greta Friedman was a 21-year-old dental assistant in a nurse’s uniform when she became part of one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century.
On Aug. 14, 1945, known as V-J Day, the day Japan surrendered to the United States, people spilled into the New York City streets from restaurants, bars and movie theaters, celebrating the news.
That’s when George Mendonsa spotted Friedman, spun her around and planted a kiss. The two had never met. In fact, Mendonsa was on a date with an actual nurse, Rita Petry, who would later become his wife.
The photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt is called “V-J Day in Times Square,” but is known to most simply as “The Kiss.” Mendonsa said that in some photos of the scene, Petry could be seen smiling in the background.
The photo was first published in Life magazine, buried deep within its pages. Over the years, the photo gained recognition, and several people claimed to be the kissing couple. In an August 1980 issue of Life, 11 men and three women said they were the subjects. It was years before Mendonsa and Friedman were confirmed to be the couple.
Joshua Friedman said his mother recalled the events happening in an instant.
“It wasn’t that much of a kiss,” Friedman said in an interview with the Veterans History Project in 2005. “It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.”
Both of Friedman’s parents died in the Holocaust, according to Lawrence Verria, co-author of “The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo that Ended World War II.”
Friedman will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her late husband, Dr. Misha Friedman.