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Timeline of Charles Bliss' Life


A timeline of Charles’ life. This has been created through Charles’ writings. In some cases there are date contradictions in the different documents. I have tried to use those that made the most sense in terms of the chronology.


Documents referenced:

  • Semantography Series 103: Text of the First Lecture on Semantography 1943
  • Semantography Series 104: Newspaper Articles and Notes 1943-1946 following the First Lectures on Semantography
  • Semantography Series 205: My First 23 Years
  • Semantography Series 206: My Life in China and Afterwards
  • Semantography Series 210: In Memory of Claire
  • Semantography Series 220: From the Cradle to the Concentration Camp
  • Semantography (Blissymbolics)
  • Personal correspondence and conversation

Early Years

Year Date Event Notes
1896 Parents marry Michael Antchel Blitz and Jeanette Jochewed Seidmann. Michael Blitz is a journeyman optician working for the firm of Dornbaum. After marriage sets up his own shop but does not get the customer traffic as Dornbaum. He perseveres and is just able to support his family (see note in 1933-1937).
1897 September 5 Birth of Charles Kaisel Blitz Location: Czernowitz, capital of eastern-most province Bukowina of the Austro_Hungarian Empire (now part of Ukraine). Ultimately a family of 6 (other siblings: Isidore or Isiu (who is referred to as crippled but no other details provided, other than he had bone disease and sought treatment in Italy for his leg), Henry and sister Sidonie.
1901 Begins Hebrew school While Charles’ parents speak Yiddish to each other they speak only German to their children, hence German is his first language. Charles rebels against Hebrew. So begins Charles’ lifelong defiance of authority. Charles refers to this time as his first confrontation with the Babel of languages.
1902 April 21 Birth of Heinrich (Henry) Blitz Charles' younger brother.
1904 Enrolled in primary school
1905 Learns to play mandolin Charles’ father purchases a mandolin and arranges music lessons.
1908 Attends lecture of Payer, who was part of the Austrian North Pole expedition. A formative event for Charles: people leaving the security of their lives to pursue an ideal and knowledge in life-threatening conditions.
1908 Enrolled in high school
1914 July 28 World War I begins for Austria-Hungary Austria-Hungary invades Serbia. Czernowitz is threatened with Russian invasion. Czernowitz changes hands three times in the course of the war.
1914 Attempts to enlist in the army Turned away as being too young. Enlists with a Red Cross field ambulance. Assigned to remove dead and injured from battlefields. His first experience of the horrors of war.
1915 Graduates from high school.
1915 Enlists in the army.
1918 Father dies.
1917 End of World War I and demobilization.
1918 - 1919 Attends University of Czernowitz Studies chemistry and physics but left as Czernowitz came under Roumanian rule.

Vienna

Year Date Event Notes
1919 - 1922 Enrolls in university in Vienna Studies and graduates from the Technical University of Vienna as a chemical engineer. Finished 4 year course in 3 years. Supports himself by tutoring his fellow students and by becoming a music teacher.
1920 First meeting with Clair Adler Clair is 15 years his senior and married.
1922 First job after university Hired by the firm of Johann Kremenezky as a chemist.
1925 First marriage Marries Rosika Kottler (from his home town of Czernowitz)
1926(?) Second job after university Hired by Austrian Westinghouse Company for research into electric lamps.
1926 Spirals into depression Becomes depressed over his failing marriage. Seriously plans his suicide. Unable to work and subsequently laid off
1926 June Rehired by Kzemenezky
1926 Death of Claire’s husband
1927 Divorce
1931 Promotion Promoted to patent office. Travels around Europe defending patents. First experience (in legal sphere) of semantics.
1933 - 1937 Promoted to Director of Johann Kremenezky patent office
1933 - 1937 Charles and Clair now living together
1933 - 1937 Charles purchases firm of Dornbaum Dornbaum firm runs into financial difficulties and is put up for sale. Charles takes a loan and buys it. There are now two prominent optician shops in Czernowitz which now bear the name of Blitz.
1936 Buys first movie camera 8mm black and white
1936 Public showing of a film by Charles Called “Longing for the South” it is shown publically by Vienna Urania. The International Amateur Film Competition announces that the next competition will be held in Vienna in 1938.
1938 Works on his film for the competition. Film is to be called “Unfinished Symphony”

Hell

Year Date Event Notes
1938 March 12 Anschluss
1938 March 18 Arrested Arrives at work to find offices occupied by Nazis. Is handed over to storm troopers by fellow employee Slavik and taken to a police prison.
1938 March 28 Transfers to police central prison. The Hahngasse
This is meant to be a timeline but I cannot let this opportunity pass to describe some of the things Claire and Charles’ family did to find out what had happened and to effect his release:
  • At this time Claire is 56 and not married to Charles. In an effort to avoid arrest herself she claims she is Charles’ landlady and that Charles has no family in Vienna to look out for him.
  • Claire visits the factory, the police and everyone who she thinks can help – to no avail everyone is either too frightened or a Nazi.
  • The day after transfer to police central Claire gets a clothing parcel through to Charles.
  • Family did not want Charles’ mother to know he was in prison. Charles always wrote letters by typewriter, so Charles’ brother-in-law types letters to Charles’ mother and forges Charles’ signature.
  • Claire starts the process of trying to get, for Charles, an entry visa to a foreign country.
Coping while in the Hahngasse:
  • Arranges chess tournaments. An inmate makes chessmen from kneaded bread and they assemble boards from scraps of paper and stubs of pencils. Up to 10 games are played at a time, a winner announced, and a new tournament would begin.
  • For some reason only one inmate still had a watch. The other inmates drove him nuts asking the time. Charles secures a piece of cardboard and fashions a big clockface. The watch owner had the task of adjusting the hands of the clock every 5 minutes.
  • Charles would give lectures on geography, physics, chemistry, astronomy and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
  • Had variety shows in the evening.
1938 June 15 Shipped to Dachau Transport by train.
1938 June 16 Enters Dachau
1938 July Prisoners discover musical instruments Instruments include a mandolin
1938 September 23 Departs Dachau for Buchenwald Arrives Buchenwald
1938 Charles gets mandolin and guitar from Claire Somehow Charles manages to get the message to Claire to ship him his mandolin and guitar. Initially, Buchenwald prisoners are allowed to mail one letter every two weeks, however, this eventually stops. Saturday evenings he was the Master of Ceremonies in prisoner variety shows – playing mandolin, singing songs, telling jokes. He wears a white shirt and black tie – made from cardboard.
More strategies:
  • When letters out are forbidden Charles uses his last letter to advise Claire to continue sending mail but include in it complete series of Rumanian stamps. The ruse works. The mail sorters keep the stamps but pass along the letters (in the hopes that more stamps are forthcoming).
  • Post cards are sent by Charles. They refer to his brother Henry, for example that Henry should visit friends in the UK. In actuality when he refers to Henry he is referring to himself.
  • Claire writes under the pseudonym Luschi. Luschi is the nickname of Willy Dym, a member of the Viennese Mandolin Orchestra and the person who introduced Charles to film making.
A throw of the dice for freedom:
  • Two Dutch men, Van Baren and Gildemeester (non-Jewish) are actively working to free prisoners from concentration camps. They are headquarted in Vienna.
  • Through his correspondence with Claire Van Buren has arranged an exit visa to the UK for Charles – but only Charles.
  • Twice a week a notary comes to Buchenwald to arrange the “sale” of Jewish property. For example a three-story house is sold for a price of 100 marks.
  • An SS guard likes the music of Charles.
  • When that guard is scheduled for duty with the Notary Charles asks the guard if the guard would leave the room while Charles discusses a private matter. The guard ushers him into the office and leaves.
  • Charles pleads with the notary to contact Van Buren, who has all of Charles’ exit documents. Charles places 20 marks on the table and says it is his first payment of fees.
  • Notary takes the money and says he will contact Van Buren.
1939 Receives notice of release.
1939 February 2 First release cancelled After donning their civilian clothes prisoners are told to put their prison garb on as there is a typhoid epidemic.
1939 April 13 Second release cancelled
1939 April 14 Released Travels by railway to Vienna met by Luschi’s people and is briefly reunited with Claire.

Struggle for Reunion

Year Date Event Notes
1939 April 30 Arrives in London Starts frantic work to get Claire to England.
1939 Name change Although not official, Charles becomes known as Bliss instead of Blitz.
1939 Secures employment Employed by a previous manager (from Vienna) in a firm making tungsten wires for electric lamps. But company is in financial difficulties.
1939 Residing and working in Welwyn Garden City. The time to get Claire out of Romania has run out.
1939 September 1 World War II begins
1939 Hired by another company Becomes factory manager. Also run by a Viennese ex-patriot. Commutes to London while trying to find an apartment
1940 February Secures work permit Attempts to save Claire continue.
1940 Manages to get Claire to Greece An old friend, Simon Klein, agrees to take Claire even though he is in desperate straits.
1940 May 10 Germany invades France
1940 Resolves to head for International Settlement of Shanghai Plans to go with colleague, Dr. Robert Lang, via Canada to Shanghai. Desperate search for money and solutions for Claire. Decides Claire should travel across Russia and Manchuria to Shanghai.
1940 Charles Lindsay Charles Lindsay writes a personal cheque to Charles for £115. No receipt requested. After the war Charles repays with interest and sends over 100 food parcels to Great Britain.
1940 June 23 Travel to Liverpool Sets sail on the Empress of Canada
1940 ~June 28 Arrives in Halifax Russia occupies Czernowitz and the family shops are seized.
1940 In Montreal Tries to find a method to stay in Canada, but he is only allowed to stay in Montreal 3 days. He needs to stay longer in Canada to get his case recognized by the federal government.
1940 Medicine Hat Charles concocts a story that he is nauseous from the rocking of the train. The effect is that he misses his ship to Shanghai and has to wait 4 weeks for the next one – giving him time to apply to Ottawa.
1940 August 13 Sails for Shanghai All attempts to stay in Canada are denied, despite Charles' and Robert Lang’s obvious skills that would be advantageous to the war effort. To deal with his frustration with the Canadian government, he applies new words to the song “in münchen steht ein hofbräuhaus”. The new lyrics specifically target a bureaucrat by the name of “O’Merra” (unclear as to spelling).
1940 Yokohama Aboard the Empress of Asia. Ship stops for 6 hours and Charles hires a guide to tour the city.
1940 Nagasaki Ship docks for 24 hours. Charles tours the city and goes to a Japanese cinema.
1940 October 28 Italy invades Greece
1940 Arrives Shanghai Claire still safe but time is of essence. Pays for her travel ticket: Greece to Istanbul, Odessa, Moscow, across Siberia to Manchuria, from Port Arthur across the Yellow Sea to Shanghai.
1940 Establishes business With his two cameras that he has brought with him from England, Charles sets up a photography and movie making business called Bliss Film Service.
1940 December 24 Reunited Charles considers this reunification with Claire to be his greatest achievement.

Shanghai

Year Date Event Notes
1940 April 30 Claire has breakdown After years of struggle Claire collapses from fatigue and stress. Charles nurses her back to health.
1941 January 25 Marriage Charles and Claire are married as Mr. and Mrs. Bliss.
1941 June 22 Claire breaks her arm Claire is thrown in a rickshaw accident. She is placed in a cast that covers her entire arm and extends over her chest and back.
1941 June 22 Germany invades the Soviet Union
1941 December 7 Japan attacks the USA and Great Britain Japanese occupy all of the city of Shanghai. The International Settlement of Shanghai is disbanded.
1942 Business dries up Most of Charles’ customers were British or American, who now faced internment. With partners he turns to buying and selling cameras from people who are attempting to turn assets into cash.
1942 Summer Claire contracts typhoid fever Charles refuses to admit Claire to the hospital (due to the high mortality rate at those hospitals), choosing to tend her at their apartment.
1941-1942 Charles lectures and writes articles Throughout this time, apart from helping Claire and running a business, Charles is giving lectures to the Jewish Club as well as writing articles for the Jewish Weekly “Our Life”
1941-1942 Fascination with Chinese writing Hires a teacher to instruct him in how to read the characters.
1942 September Starts work on a symbol writing The idea: A modern symbol writing which could be understood in all languages. Specifically: a scientifically constructed and specially simplified writing which is based on the principles of Chinese writing. It would have to be typable on a typewriter of ordinary size. He works every evening on the project.
1942 December German defeats at El Alamein and Stalingrad This is the start of a time Charles calls “Three months of hope”.
1942 New World Writing is copyrighted
1943 January 29 First published article on “A New World Writing” Published in the periodical “Our Life”.
1943 February 23 First public lecture on “A New World Writing” To an audience of European and Chinese students at the Shanghai Jewish Club.
1943 Hires a journalist to find problems with his system. Charles hires Mr. Kars, a journalist from Vienna, who wishes to open a school in Shanghai for teaching Basic English. Mr. Kars is generally opposed to Charles’ idea and criticizes Charles work. Mr. Kars had Charles produce, in symbols, impossible words and sentences. This goes on 5 nights a week for almost two years. Primary reason for this is that, after a day of cycling through the heat of Shanghai (buying and selling cameras) Charles is dead tired and needs someone to keep him awake. He also needs someone to criticize his invention in a controlled environment where he can make the necessary modifications to his system.
Basic English:
An invention of Charles Ogden. It is a simplified version of English, uses 18 verbs and has a vocabulary of 850 words. It was first presented to the public in 1930. The system allows basic English communication, but forces people to say things like “I have knowledge” rather than “I know.”
1943 Developing the symbols for Basic English Mr. Kars and Charles set about matching the New World Writing Symbols and the words of Basic English. Eventually the arrangement breaks down as Mr. Kars wants Charles to adapt his New World Writing to fit Basic English. Charles refuses to do so.
1943 February All Jews are to be forced into a ghetto (Hongkew) Japanese occupiers announce that all Jews are to be moved into a ghetto. Businesses and apartments seized.
Forced into the Hongkew ghetto:
“For me, however, a new difficulty brought out in me again the old warrior who fought difficulties all the time, in the factory in Vienna, in the patent courts in Europe, in Dachau, in Buchenwald, then in London, in Canada and now Shanghai.”
1943 May 17 Move into Hongkew ghetto Creates a sauce called (in translation) Tasty Sauce using soy sauce and other ingredients to mimic a sauce from Europe called Maggi Wuerze. Sells it to other European refugees. Refugees are allowed some flexibility to move in and out of ghetto, so Charles restarts his camera selling business. A friend offers him the use of a studio outside the ghetto; he hires a girl to stay in the office while Charles races around town buying and selling cameras. He uses a second hand bicycle. Gets his Roumanian citizenship back.
1943 Lecture to the Hongkew Medical Society Hongkew Medical Society is composed of Doctors from Europe. His New World Writing is enthusiastically received.
1944 Hongkew bombed Charles had built a home air raid shelter, much to the derision of his neighbours. Now most of neighbourhood is in the shelter.
1945 May 8 VE Day
1945 August 15 VJ Day
1945 Buys camera shop American PX camera shop concession. Business named Bliss Camera Shop
1945 Isiu dies Isiu, one of Charles’ two brothers.
1946 May Speeches on One World Writing Speeches to US Army officers and later to the Rotary Club of Shanghai. Audiences are enthusiastic and encourage him to publish.
1946 Chinese nationalist forces expropriate foreign assets. This starts with the Japanese and Germans. International Settlement is again disbanded. Despite loving Shanghai, Charles decides to emigrate to Australia. The process takes 4 months.

Australia

Year Date Event Notes
1946 July 1 Board ship for Australia Arrive in Sydney after a 14 day voyage. Upon arrival a number of reporters interview Charles about New World Writing.
1946 Invests in property Purchases several “cottages” with long term mortgages, anticipating inflation in the post-war period. This happens. He uses the profits to help support himself and Claire for three years while writing his large books on Semantography.
1946 Works 2 hours/day at a ceramics factory This allows him time to contact his family in Europe.
1946 Legally changes his name to Bliss Sometime in this year Charles and Claire officially change their name to Bliss.
1947 March 8 Charles’ mother dies Charles had secured his mother’s entry visa for Australia. She had it under her pillow when she passed away.
1947 November Henry, his wife and the widow of his brother Isiu arrive in Australia Charles had worked doggedly to get the necessary entry visas to get the rest of his family out of Roumania.
1946 - 1949 Writes Semantography Changes the name from New World Writing to Semantography. Types onto wax stencils the books that now make up the book “Semantography (Blissymbolics)”. He has almost finished the third book when re runs out of money and has to find employment.
1949 Works afternoon shift at a ceramics factory This gives him time to work on Semantography in the morning.
1949 Quits ceramics factory to work at General Motors Holden Factory is across the street from his home.
1949 Copyright under the Berne Convention
1949 -- Disappointment The long process of getting Semantography recognized is met with failure, leading to despair. Despite meetings with and support from the likes of Bertrand Russell and Julian Huxley, Semantography is not accepted.
1951 Laid off Laid off from General Motors.
1951 Financial woes continue Charles has overextended himself in printing brochures and other materials about Semantography.
1951 Buys dry cleaning shop Bliss Dry Cleaner and Stocking Centre.
1954 October 2 Claire suffers first of a series of heart attacks.
1954 Meets Dr. Douglas Everingham Dr. Everingham becomes an advocate for Charles’ work.
1954 March 1 Moves to 2 Vicar Street Coogee Sells dry cleaning business.
1957 Establishes Bliss Private Hotel Primarily so he can work and assist Claire in the same location.
1961 August 9 Claire dies After prolonged illness, including multiple heart attacks. Charles sinks into a deep depression. Part of his coping strategy is to write lengthy biographical documents (see Semantography Series).

After Claire

Year Date Event Notes
A timeline of Charles’ life: from Claire’s death to Charles’ death. This timeline has been much more difficult to compile, as after his biographical series (after Claire’s death) Charles did not write any more biographical documents.
1965 2nd Edition of “Semantography (Blissymbolics)”
1969 January 1 Nomination for Nobel Peace Prize Spearheaded by Dr. Douglas Everingham.
1970 Publication of “Invention and Discovery that will change our lives.”
1971 October 25 Date of letter from Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre Ordering Charles book “Semantography (Blissymbolics)” and advising that they are using Semantography with children with communication problems.
1971 - 1985 Acrimonious dispute between Charles and various incarnations of the Blissymbolics Communication Foundation Impossible for an outsider to give a clear summary of the problems contributing to this long-festering conflict. Best I can do is:
  • Blissymbolics Communication Foundation (BCF): adapting Blissymbols for use by communication impaired individuals
  • Charles: BCF is destroying the logic and structure of Blissymbols by introducing new symbols, altering meanings and altering the way symbols are drawn. Charles fears a new “Babel of Symbols”.
1974 Release of the film “Mr. Symbol Man” Joint production of Film Australia and the National Film Board of Canada.
1975 Publication of the “Book to the Film Mr. Symbol Man”
1976 June 12 Receives Order of Australia For services to the community, particularly to handicapped children.
1977 October Article in Readers Digest
1977 Incorporates the Charles Bliss Symbol School and Publishing House Foundation
1978 February Begins distributing a “Blissymbol Correspondence Course” Funded by a grant from the Australian Federal Schools Commission. This is Charles’ second correspondence course, the first being written in 1951.
1978 3rd Edition of “Semantography (Blissymbolics)”
1982 Out-of-court settlement Charles uses the proceeds to print his final publication “The Blissymbols Picture Book”
1984 Publication of “The Blissymbols Picture Book”
1985 March 27 Receives award for Special Community Services From Municipality of Randwick
1985 July 13 Death of Charles K. Bliss
1985 Ashes of Charles and Claire are spread in Coogee bay by the Coogee Surf club
1992 Charles Bliss Symbol School and Publishing House Foundation dissolved