Jewish Heritage Collection: Oral history interview with Mortimer Bernanke

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Jewish Heritage Collection: Oral history interview with Mortimer Bernanke
Doberne-Schor, Leah (interviewer)
Bernanke, Mortimer, 1928- (interviewee)
Mortimer Bernanke, the youngest of three sons of Pauline and Jonas Bernanke, recounts the history of his family in Dillon, South Carolina. Jonas was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I when he was captured by the Russians and sent to Siberia. Mortimer describes his father's escape through China, whereupon he returned to Austria in 1920 and married Pauline, who had trained as a doctor at the University of Vienna. The couple immigrated to New York City and Jonas earned his pharmacy degree at Fordham University. The Bernankes moved to Dillon in 1941, when Mortimer was thirteen years old. Pauline, who had practiced medicine in New York for two decades, found her career as a physician cut short when she was refused a license by South Carolina. Instead, she assisted Jonas in his pharmacy, Jay Bee Drugs, in Dillon. Mortimer joined his father in the drugstore after studying pharmacy at the University of South Carolina. He describes how his brother Philip joined him in the business, the changes they made during their time as partners, and their decision to sell to a large corporation in the 1990s. Mortimer married Rita Lee Strobing of New Jersey in the mid-1950s and they raised two children in Dillon. They were members of that town's Ohav Shalom Synagogue. Mortimer was among the men who conducted lay services for a congregation of about twenty-five families, a number that fell to three or four by the 1990s. He discusses how the Ohav Shalom members that remained decided to sell the building and divide the proceeds. The interviewee talks about his love of theater; he and another New York transplant, Tom Fletcher, started a theater group in Dillon and, over the course of four years, put on over a dozen plays in a tobacco warehouse. One of their productions was written and performed in celebration of Ohav Shalom's fiftieth anniversary in 1961. Among the topics discussed: the attention Mortimer and Dillon have received thanks to nephew Ben Bernanke's renown as chair of the Federal Reserve; the reorganization of a B'nai B'rith chapter in the Florence area, spurred by Latta resident and businessman Moses Kornblut; and Beth Israel Congregation, Florence, where the interviewee has been a member since the 1990s. Mortimer was joined in this interview by long-time friend Patricia "Pat" Siegel; the interviewer was Beth Israel Congregation's part-time leader, Rabbi Leah Doberne-Schor.
Jewish Heritage Collection Oral Histories
Contributing Institution:
College of Charleston Libraries
Media Type:
Oral Histories
Personal or Corporate Subject:
B'nai B'rith, Ohav Shalom (Dillon, S.C.), Beth Israel (Florence, S.C.)
Topical Subject:
Jews--South Carolina--Dillon--Interviews, Jews--South Carolina--Dillon--Social life and customs, Jewish businesspeople--South Carolina--Dillon--History, Community theater--South Carolina--Dillon--History
Shelving Locator:
Mss 1035-416
S.C. County:
Dillon County (S.C.), Florence County (S.C.)
Internet Media Type:
Digitization Specifications:
Mp3 derivative audio created with Audacity software. Archival masters are wav files.
Preferred Citation:
Mortimer Bernanke, audio interview by Leah Doberne-Schor, 20 March 2015, Mss 1035-416, Special Collections, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.
Copyright Status Statement:
Copyright © College of Charleston Libraries.
Access Information:
For more information contact Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424.