This week in Jewish history: March 7-13
March 12: More than 200 surviving Viennese Jews were burned to death after a year of persecution, forced conversion, expulsion, imprisonment in their synagogue and mass suicide. Contemporary reports described the Jews as singing songs and dancing before the pyres. All relics of Jewish life in Austria were destroyed, and Jewish families did not return until the 16th century.
March 9: Ruth Handler’s Barbie doll was introduced to society at the International American Toy Fair in New York. Handler’s creation represented a quantum leap in the understanding of doll play among preadolescent girls, who, judging from the sales figures, were less interested in “mothering” their dolls than in projecting their sexual and social aspirations onto them. The Mattel toy company, founded by Handler and her husband, Elliot, in their Southern California garage in the late 1940s, reported $6.5 billion in net sales last year. Handler died in 2002.
March 12: Bernard Madoff was handcuffed and remanded to prison after pleading guilty to his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Among the heaviest losers in his large network of Jewish investors were Yeshiva University, $110 million; Hadassah, $90 million; the Shapiro Family Foundation of Boston, $145 million; American Technion, $72 million; Chais Family Foundation, $178 million; and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, $15 million. On June 29, 2009, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison.