Drawing physicians out of the clinic and into the political fray “was a really signal event,” said Dr. Robert Gould, a pathologist in San Francisco and president of the Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
In an email for this obituary sent in 2012, Dr. Geiger said he was driven in part by an outrage over injustice.
“I’ve been angry,” he wrote, “seeing terribly burned children in Iraq after the first Gulf war, or interviewing torture victims in the West Bank, or listening to Newt Gingrich say ghetto kids should learn to be part-time janitors and clean toilets (in another country, they called that Bantu Education). So anger doesn’t vanish, but is replaced by a determination to do something.”
Home Was a Way Station
Herman J. Geiger was born on Nov. 11, 1925, in Manhattan. (It was unclear what the J. stood for, but he was mostly called Jack throughout his life.) His father, Jacob, born in Vienna, was a physician; his mother, Virginia (Loewenstein) Geiger, who came from a village in central Germany, was a microbiologist. Both parents, who were Jewish, had emigrated to the United States as children. Mr. Geiger grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and their home was often a way station for relatives fleeing the Nazis.
“The last to appear were some cousins from my mother’s birthplace, Kirtorf,” Dr. Geiger said in the email. “When they got their visas to come to the U.S., they said, the Nazi authorities were furious. On the night before their departure, the authorities ordered all their neighbors to go out at twilight and stone their house. The neighbors all dutifully gathered — and threw loaves of bread instead.”
That story, Dr. Geiger said, taught him not to stereotype.
He skipped so many grades in the city’s public schools that he graduated from Townsend Harris High School (then in Manhattan, now in Queens) at 14. Too young to start college, he learned typing and shorthand and went to work as a copy boy for The New York Times. He also began hanging out at jazz joints, listening to Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and Fats Waller. His parents were often beside themselves, waiting up for him and sometimes even calling the bars to ask if “Jackie” was there.
Jack soon ran away from home and turned up, suitcase in hand, in Harlem’s Sugar Hill section on the doorstep of Canada Lee, a Black actor whom he had seen on Broadway and had gotten to know after talking his way backstage. Mr. Lee, once a teenage runaway himself, let young Jack sleep on the couch — after consulting with his parents — and though Jack sometimes returned home, he spent most of the next year in Harlem.