September/October 2005 Vol 5, No. 7
David Weiss, 1911 or 1912 — 2005
By Vivian Gilbert-Strell
David Weiss would have insisted—“Don’t leave out the ‘Loeb’; I’m David Loeb Weiss—died peacefully and painlessly at home Thursday, August 11 at 11:12 A.M. Just stopped breathing as I held his hand, hospice nurses around us.
He had been dying for weeks perhaps, still joking, not eating, stopped drinking, accepting only a small ice cube in his mouth, not talking the last two days, a big change for such a voluble man. It is not his death I wish to speak of, rather his life, which I shared for the last eight years.
He was an imperfect man fighting a very imperfect, cruel society. Frequently polemical, domineeringly outspoken, and angry at the dehumanization of the class war against all of us. He inherited his struggle from birth, remembering his mother climbing six flights of tenement stairs after work to sell the Daily Worker.
When he and his brother Murray split from the Communist Party, they would answer their parents‚ objections to talking politics at the dinner table, with their ditty, “Mama don’ want no politicking around‚ here.”
He left public school early, without graduating from anything, but finished and earned his B.A. at NYU and M.A. in Political Science at the New School for Social Research. (Credited to the G.I. Bill that paid for veterans to go back to school after World War II.)
He worked and did almost everything; dishwasher, hobo riding the freights across country, busboy, waiter, organizer during the hotel and restaurant workers strike in New York, organizer at the Dura-Steel strike in Los Angeles, radar technician in the U.S. Army, assistant electrician as a merchant seaman, proofreader at the New York Times for eighteen years, documentary filmmaker and teacher.
He was proudest of his films, echoing Muhammed Ali’s words when Ali refused to be drafted for the Vietnam war, “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger.” Again in “Profile of a Peace Parade” he raised the bar in talking of struggles against imperialist wars.
Proving his adaptability, he wrote, directed, and produced a technical film, “Farewell, Etaoin Shrudlu,” for the New York Times when they changed over from the old linotype printing to the new technology. He later said some fourteen hundred printers might have been laid off, but the newspaper fired no one. He was a proofreader, and the newspaper gave him carte blanche to go through the plant, talk, film, and produce a prize-winning documentary. David loved displaying all his awards and was not modest about them.
He was feisty, contentious, loud, insistent on being heard, intolerant of opposing views, and he was frequently correct. As he grew older, his last illness, dementia, set in. He’d ask about a pair of twelve-year olds, “What are their politics?” We’d laugh, because David could not understand he was talking to them in a foreign tongue. He had been weaned on Joe Hill and the Comintern. And like Joe Hill will live “where workers strike and organize.” He’ll be there still.