Brooklyn florist, 81, mourns the loss of his favourite pen-pal, Muammar Gaddafi

Libyan dictator sent letters, photographs and Christmas cards to shopkeeper for 40 years

Los Angeles

When he wasn't cutting deals with terrorists, torturing dissidents, or adding to his vast collection of tents and military uniforms, Muammar Gaddafi liked nothing more than to sit down with a few sheets of watermarked notepaper and bash out rambling letters to his American pen-pal.

So says Louis Schlamowitz, an 81-year-old Jewish florist from Brooklyn, who spent several years of his adult life exchanging notes, signed photographs and Christmas cards with the late Libyan dictator. Like any loyal friend, he was surprised and upset at the violent manner in which Gaddafi was removed from office.

"I felt bad about the way he was killed," the elderly New Yorker told reporters, showing off a scrapbook of their correspondence. "He should have stepped down like the president of Egypt... It's about power and money, and when they lose it, they go down and the people who are their advisers go down with them."

Mr Schlamowitz began sending unsolicited letters to Gaddafi in the late 1960s, shortly after he had seized power, congratulating him on his elevation to high office. To his surprise, the Libyan leader swiftly wrote back. "He was a good pen-pal," said the Canarsie resident. "I felt it was very nice of him to take the time to write back to me, because I'm nobody special."

Over the years, their relationship evolved into a level of familiarity which allowed for frank exchanges of political views: "We kept corresponding with each other. I'd send Christmas cards and letters to him about my different viewpoints about the United States and Israel," the florist recalled.

In one note, sent in 1981, Mr Schlamowitz argued that "the state of Israel would never be split because it's the homeland of the Jewish people". Gaddafi rose to the bait, responding in a two-page note that "America practices terrorism against the Palestinian people through providing Israel with the planes and weapons for attacking the Palestinian camps". Despite his pen-pal's surname, Gaddafi seemed not to realise that the man he was corresponding with was Jewish. And Mr Schlamowitz didn't mind his anti-Israeli rhetoric. "I wish people well, but I don't have to agree with them," he said. "I'm not in politics. I do it as a hobby."

Other letters he received contained a selection of signed photographs, showing the Libyan leader in eccentric outfits. A Christmas card written around 2000, and signed by Gaddafi, thanks Mr Schlamowitz for his "friendship through the years".

The Colonel's letters and cards are included in a selection of scrapbooks detailing written exchanges between Mr Schlamowitz and a wide cross-section of world leaders and celebrities, ranging from Richard Nixon and Harry Truman to Marilyn Monroe and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

At one point, Mr Schlamowitz was visited by FBI and CIA agents, who wanted to know why he was exchanging familiar letters with hostile foreigners. So he showed them his scrapbooks. "I said I collected them as a hobby, and they were amazed," he told the New York Times.

Not every long-distance relationship ends happily, though. Upon reading that the Arab Spring had spread to Libya, Mr Schlamowitz sent his old pen-pal a final letter, urging him to cut a deal with the rebels. But it was returned unopened. "I felt bad about how he was slaughtered. They really gave him the one-two-three," he recalled. "But that's politics."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee