Klyde Robinson, son of Eva Dora Karesh and Mitchel Robinson, describes his family history, including the possibility that William Robinson, the first of his father’s side of the family to come to America, may have been a Christian. Klyde’s grandfather Rudolph Robinson died a young man and his wife, Nettie Meyer, subsequently married Harry Goldberg of Charleston, South Carolina. Although Rudolph and Nettie had attended Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), Charleston’s Reform synagogue, Nettie joined Harry at the Orthodox synagogue, Brith Sholom, once they married. She kept a strictly kosher home and observed all the Jewish holidays. Klyde’s mother, who was born in Elloree, South Carolina, died when Klyde and his two older brothers, Rudolph and Irving, were very young. Anticipating her death, she asked Mitchel to marry her niece, also named Eva Dora Karesh, after she passed away. Mitchel complied and, later, the second Eva Dora gave birth to his fourth son, Melvin. Klyde discusses the loss of the Hanover Street Cemetery, where several members of the Robinson family were buried, to foreclosure in the 1930s. He recalls the social distance between members of KKBE and Orthodox Jews, and between members of the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, during his childhood. He explains why, after raising his children in the Reform synagogue, he returned to the Orthodox tradition of his youth, and notes a trend in Charleston where some Jews, who were raised in KKBE, are switching to Orthodoxy. Note: see transcript for corrections made by interviewee during proofing. See Mss. 1035-166 for a follow-up interview on September 5, 1997. See the Klyde Robinson Collection, Mss. 1024, in Special Collections at the College of Charleston Library, for related material.
Helen Greher Kahn grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, two blocks from House of Peace, the Orthodox synagogue on Park Street. Her mother, Rebecca Cohen, a Polish immigrant, followed her sister to Wilmington, North Carolina. Helen’s father, Isaac Greher (Kerschbaum), came south after arriving in the United States from Austria-Hungary, and made a living by peddling between Charleston and Columbia. While in the capital city, he stayed with the Karesh family, headed by Rabbi David Karesh. The rabbi, who had served the Wilmington congregation before moving to Columbia, introduced Rebecca and Isaac. Helen recalls visiting the Kareshes regularly as a child, and notes that they were an important influence in her life. Karesh served as cantor for the House of Peace congregation, prepared the boys for their bar mitzvahs, visited the sick in the local hospitals, and slaughtered chickens at his work table in the Dent’s grocery store. Helen admired Helen Kohn Hennig, who ran the Sunday school classes at Tree of Life, the Reform synagogue. The Grehers were members of House of Peace, but because it lacked a Sunday school, Helen and her sister attended Mrs. Hennig’s classes. The interviewee touches on a number of subjects including Columbia’s Jewish families, the Columbia Jewish boys’ social organization, the Yudedum Club, and attending dances in Charleston and Folly Beach. Helen married Saul Kahn, also of Columbia, the son of Meyer B. Kahn, an immigrant whose car broke down in Columbia on his way from Florida to Ohio. He decided to stay, and he became successful in commercial construction. Helen contrasts the Orthodox traditions of her youth with those of the contemporary community, especially Beth Shalom’s (formerly House of Peace) Conservative congregation.
Everett Ness and his wife, Shirley Gergel Ness, discuss his family history. Everett recalls accompanying his mother, Esther Berger, a Polish immigrant, on a visit to see her parents, Fishel and Molly Nachman Berger, in Poland in 1931, when he was four years old. Esther helped several of her siblings to emigrate; most of them, unable to enter the United States because of quota restrictions, settled in Argentina. Everett's paternal grandfather, Yehuda Seiden, changed his surname to Ness (Nass), his mother's maiden name, to avoid conscription in Poland, and immigrated to New York, where Everett's father, Benjamin grew up. Benjamin joined his brother Morris in his dry goods store in Manning, South Carolina, before opening his own ladies ready-to-wear business in nearby Sumter. He met Esther in Charleston, South Carolina, while attending High Holy Day services. They raised Everett and his sister, also named Shirley, in Manning, and attended Temple Sinai in Sumter. Everett and Shirley Gergel married in 1949 and lived for seventeen years in Charleston before moving to Columbia, South Carolina. They were initially members of the Reform synagogue in Charleston, but switched to the Conservative congregation, Emanu-El. Everett, who began studying Hebrew as an adult, notes that "as we became more aware of our Jewishness, the Reform Movement did not meet our needs, did not meet my needs." The Nesses talk about their relationship with Sam and Sophie Solomon of Charleston and describe Sam's funeral in 1954. Everett discusses his mother's philanthropic work for the March of Dimes and his involvement with Chabad and the chevra kadisha in Columbia.
Joseph J. Lipton discusses growing up in Beaufort, South Carolina, the eldest of three sons of Helen Stern and Samuel Lipton (Lipsitz). Samuel emigrated from Lithuania as a teen in the early 1900s, arriving first in New York. He followed a relative to Dale, South Carolina, not far from Beaufort, and worked in his store for a time before opening his own business in a small crossroads nearby called Grays Hill. He met Helen while on a visit to Charleston, South Carolina, where she lived with her brother, Gabe Stern, and worked in Kerrison's Department Store. They married in 1922 and moved to Beaufort. After graduating from Clemson College, the interviewee earned his law degree from Mercer University, a Baptist-affiliated institution in Macon, Georgia, where he was the only Jewish student. He describes how, fresh out of law school, he assisted a lawyer whose case regarding asbestos and interstate commerce advanced to the United States Supreme Court. He took a job with the South Carolina Legislative Council, where he was employed for thirty years. Lipton remembers visiting his cousins, the Sterns, in Columbia as a teen, and participating in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) activities. He comments on Congregation Beth Israel in Beaufort and recalls singing Kol Nidre in the synagogue during the High Holidays.
Rudolf "Rudy" Herz shares his story of survival with students at the College of Charleston in a presentation for Professor Theodore Rosengarten's class, "History of the Holocaust." Growing up in Germany, Herz remembers being made to feel different from German Christians because he was Jewish. Just eight years old when Hitler came to power in 1933, Rudy found Nazi propaganda confusing. He notes that German society made "a totally seamless transition from religious hatred of the Jews to a racial hatred of the Jews." He describes the harassment and persecution Jews experienced at the hands of the storm troopers and the increasingly harsh restrictions placed on them, leading to loss of their rights as citizens, loss of jobs, and exclusion from society. His family was living in Cologne at the time of Kristallnacht in 1938. Rudy recounts the events of that night, the family's unsuccessful attempts to flee Germany, their transport in 1942 to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, and subsequent transfer to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Rudy was selected to work in Schwarzheide, Germany, rebuilding a factory that was routinely bombed by Allied Forces, and was later transferred to a labor camp in Lieberose, Germany, then to Sachsenhausen on the outskirts of Berlin, and finally, in February 1945, to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria. Besides describing the details of what he and his fellow prisoners endured, he explains why Hitler's platform appealed to the German people and answers questions about his loss of faith in God and his sense of Jewish identity. He relates how he immigrated to the United States, where he found his brother, and recalls his post-war visits to Germany. For related information, see the Rudolf Herz papers (Mss 1065-050), Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Rosa From Poliakoff was born in Union, South Carolina, in 1914, to Israel and Bertha From, who emigrated from Ponevezys, Lithuania, around the turn of the twentieth century. The Froms settled in Union in 1905 and, two years later, Israel, who initially was a peddler, opened I. From Dry Goods & Notions. Rosa reports that they were the only Jewish family in Union. The Froms acquired a Torah and hosted services in their home for Jews who lived in nearby towns. Eventually, they joined Spartanburg’s B’nai Israel and donated their Torah to that congregation. Rosa notes that her mother was very observant and both parents stressed the importance of education and their Jewish identity. Rosa graduated from Agnes Scott College in Atlanta and taught in that city for three years before marrying Myer Poliakoff. She recalls how she met her future husband at a Yudedum Club dance in Columbia. They raised their three children in Abbeville, South Carolina, where they ran the D. Poliakoff Department Store, established in 1900 by Myer’s father, David. Rosa describes a From family car trip to Worcester, Massachusetts, to visit Israel’s family, the effects of the Great Depression on local Jewish merchants, and how the Poliakoffs came to settle in Abbeville. The transcript includes comments inserted by the interviewee during proofreading.
Libby Friedman Levinson, the youngest of seven children of Betty Alpern and Isadore Friedman, was born in Grajewo, Poland, in 1909. Isadore immigrated to the United States a month before Germany declared war on Russia in 1914. He settled in Charleston, South Carolina, home to a number of Betty’s relatives and landsmen from Trestina (Trzcianne), including the Karesh, Pearlstine, and Jacobs families. Betty and the children intended to follow as soon as they could sell their house and furniture, but World War I prevented their emigration until just after the fighting ended. Libby describes how her mother and siblings survived the war and their trip from Poland to Charleston afterward. She discusses family members, in particular, her sister Annie, who married Louis Lourie of St. George, and her sister Minnie, who married Jake Kalinsky of Holly Hill. Libby married Charles Levinson of Bishopville; after living briefly in Branchville and North, South Carolina, they moved to Barnwell, where they raised two children. The transcript includes comments inserted by the interviewee during proofreading.