Rebecca Lesses

Associate Professor and Jewish Studies Coordinator, Philosophy and Religion
School: School of Humanities and Sciences


My father's and mother's sides of my family both have had interesting intersections with world history. On my father's side, my grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses, corresponded with relatives who still lived in Europe before the Second World War. My great-grandfather, Jacob Morris Falcon, emigrated from Russia in 1893 to the United States, settling in the Boston area. He left behind two siblings - Mordechai Falkon, who ended up in Libau (now Liepaja, Latvia), and Gittel Falkon Kagan, who ended up in Moscow. Jacob Morris Falcon died in 1912, and even before then contact seems to have been lost between him and his siblings left behind in Russia. In the 1930s both Mordechai and Gittel began corresponding with my grandfather, in addition to a cousin of Mordechai's, Sima Shlosberg, who lived in Jelgava, Latvia with her parents and sister. As the 1930s wore on, both Mordechai and Sima wrote to my grandfather that they wanted to receive affidavits from him so that they could emigrate to the United States. As can be seen from their letters, Sima seemed to have a much clearer idea of what might lay ahead than Mordechai. I have transcribed Mordechai's, Gittel's, and Sima's letters, and they appear under the heading "Letters from the Past."

My other grandfather, Richard Lawson Wilson, was a newspaperman who wrote for the Des Moines Register and Tribune for many years, both as a reporter and as a columnist, until his retirement in 1976. He received his B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1926, and then went to work as a reporter for the Des Moines Register in 1926. He became the Washington bureau chief in 1933, remaining in that position until 1970, when he became the chief correspondent and wrote a syndicated column as well. He covered the Democratic and Republican party conventions from 1932 to 1976, and traveled with Nixon to China in 1972. During World War II, he reported from Britain and North Africa. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for reporting, "For his exclusive publication of the FBI Report to the White House in the Harry Dexter White case before it was laid before the Senate by J. Edgar Hoover." Most of his papers are now at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, but my aunt, Susan Seymour, retained some of them. After her death in December, 2003, at my request, I received some of the papers that she had kept. These include some longer essays that he wrote, including commencement addresses at several colleges, and copies of articles and columns he wrote in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He attended the sessions of the U.N. General Assembly in June that grappled with the results of the war and wrote several interesting columns on it, reflecting mainly on how the session revealed the way in which the Middle East conflict was part of the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. I have reproduced the most interesting material as "Richard Wilson Column 1," etc.

My grandfather, Richard Wilson