David Alexander Cohen, Jr., born and raised in Darlington, South Carolina, recalls stories of the Hennig and Witcover families while sorting through documents, among them, mortgages, deeds, and bonds acquired by his grandfather, Henry Hennig, a lien merchant. Henry, a German immigrant, operated a general merchandise store in Darlington, and boarded at the home of Dora and Wolf Witcover before marrying their daughter Lena. David’s father, who was in the wholesale grocery and fertilizer business in Darlington, offered his African-American customers credit, and acted as a protector of sorts for those who needed help with personal matters. His great-uncle Hyman Witcover was a respected architect who designed the former Park Hotel in Darlington and numerous buildings in Savannah, Georgia, including city hall. David remembers going to the Florence train station with his father to pick up Rabbi Raisin of Charleston’s Beth Elohim, who conducted services one weekend a month for the Florence and Darlington congregations. In later years Darlington Jews hired rabbis from Sumter and Florence to lead services. David married Kathleen Hyman and they raised four children in Darlington. He describes his and other family members’ involvement in the Darlington Hebrew Congregation and Beth Israel Congregation of Florence. Note: Corrections and additions made during proofing by the interviewee’s wife and son are in brackets with their initials. Mr. Cohen provided interviews on three separate days. The July 12, 1995, and October 26, 1995, interviews were recorded on Tape 1. The October 27, 1995, interview was recorded on Tape 2. Mr. Cohen donated his papers, the subject of most of Tape 1 and all of Tape 2, to Special Collections, College of Charleston. See the David A. Cohen, Jr. collection, Mss. 1021.
Leonard Cohen grew up in Latta, South Carolina, the son of dry goods merchants, Isadore and Hannah Horowitz Cohen. Isadore emigrated circa 1910 from Lithuania and, after working briefly in Baltimore, followed his brother Harry’s advice and came south. His train ticket got him as far as Dillon, South Carolina. He peddled first, and then worked for Mr. Blum in his Latta store. Baltimore Bargain House extended credit to Isadore to start his own business, which prospered, enabling him to expand his store and, eventually, buy his own building. Two other Jewish families lived in Latta at that time, the Blums and the Kornbluts, and Leonard recalls being the only Jewish child in his classes at school. The Cohens attended services in Dillon, with Rabbi Jacob Raisin of Charleston officiating. Leonard remembers the Fass family, prominent members of the Dillon congregation. At Camp Osceola in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Leonard studied Hebrew with Rabbi Solomon and prepared for his bar mitzvah. He attended The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, from 1941 until 1943, when he was drafted into the army. He describes his experiences in the military, particularly the action he saw in Europe as a soldier serving in the 102nd Division. After the war, on a visit to Baltimore, he met Mildred Friedman, daughter of emigrants from Poland. Leonard and Mildred married in 1948 and settled in Latta, where he had already joined his father in business. They raised three children in Latta and were members of Temple Beth Israel in Florence, South Carolina. Faced with competition from discount chains, the Cohens closed their store in 1987. Other topics mentioned in the interview include: Baltimore Bargain House and changes in the wholesale industry, Charleston Jews Leonard met while attending The Citadel, Mildred’s mikvah experience before her wedding, and the first bat mitzvahs at Temple Beth Israel.
Lawrence and Sylvia Polan Weintraub provide background about their parents and grandparents, primarily their activities after they arrived in the United States from Eastern Europe. Sylvia was born and raised in Mullins, South Carolina. Her father had moved to Mullins from Baltimore to manage a store. Her mother, a Levin of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, joined him after they married. Sylvia describes how the family kept kosher in a small southern town, where she and her sister endured antisemitic taunts from schoolmates. Her family traveled to Dillon, South Carolina, for services and Sunday school lessons. Larry was born and raised in Brooklyn where his father and uncle manufactured ladies’ blouses. After serving in the army during World War II, Larry moved to Walterboro to join his maternal uncle, Harry Zahl, who ran a wholesale business. Larry worked for Harry as a traveling salesman, and it was on his route through Mullins that he met Sylvia, working in her father’s store. The couple married in 1947 and lived briefly in Petersburg, Virginia, before returning to South Carolina. They raised their two children in Timmonsville and were members of Temple Beth Israel in Florence.
Raymond Stern grew up in Andrews, South Carolina, where his father, the son of emigrants from Eastern Europe, established Stern’s Dry Goods in 1932. Raymond recalls Melvin Hornik, a Charleston wholesaler, and discusses his childhood friends and Jewish merchants in Andrews, Lane, and Kingstree, including his uncle Charlie Tucker, who was from Baltimore. Tucker was one of the first Jewish merchants to come to this rural region between the midlands and the coast. The Sterns were members of Congregation Beth Elohim in Georgetown and, later, Raymond’s parents also attended services at Kingstree’s Temple Beth Or. After he graduated from the University of South Carolina and served four years in the air force, Raymond returned home and joined his father in the family business. He assumed control of the store around 1965. At the time of this interview, it was still open. Raymond married Florence Harris, a school teacher, and they raised four children in Andrews, Georgetown, and Charleston. Note: audio quality is poor.