Lilly Stern Filler was born in Munich, Germany, in 1947 to Holocaust survivors Jadzia Szklarz and Ben Stern. The Sterns immigrated two years later to Columbia, South Carolina, where Gabriel Stern, Ben’s uncle and immigration sponsor, lived. This interview opens with Lilly describing a Stern (Szterenzys) family photo taken, presumably, in Poland when Ben was a little boy. Ben met Jadzia after the war through Jadzia’s brother Ben Szklarz, who was his bunkmate in the concentration camps. Lilly recounts how her parents were reunited with their siblings after the war and talks about her aunts, uncle, and cousins. The oldest of four, she shares memories of and thoughts about growing up as a daughter of survivors. After encountering antisemitism when trying to join a high school social club, Lilly’s involvement with Jewish youth groups intensified. She elaborates on what Judaism means to her, and what it means to have a Jewish home. The interviewee recalls meeting her husband, Bruce Filler, a Rhode Island native, at Rusk Institute in New York City, where both were working as physical therapists. They married in 1972, moved to Massachusetts, earned graduate degrees, and in 1975 welcomed daughter Rachel before deciding to relocate to Columbia, where they opened their own practice, Columbia Rehabilitation Clinic. Sons Alex and Michael were born in 1978 and 1980. Four years later, Lilly, pursuing a long-held dream, started medical school at the University of South Carolina. She relates some of the issues she faced going to medical school and starting a new career as a woman in her thirties and forties, and as the mother of young children. She describes partnering with Richland Memorial Hospital to open Women Physicians Associates, an all-female OB-GYN practice. In 2000 Lilly followed up on an initiative her parents had started years before to erect a Holocaust Memorial in Columbia. She discusses how the project grew to include various members of the Columbia community, Jewish and non-Jewish. The monument, located in Memorial Park, was dedicated in 2001. The Columbia Holocaust Education Commission was established with surplus from the memorial fund and shared the same goals: “remember the six million . . . honor the survivors and the liberators . . . and educate South Carolinians about the Holocaust.”
Conie Spigel Ferguson was born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the daughter of Geneva Fulk and Julian Spigel. She talks about her great-uncle Joel Spigel and her grandfather David Manuel Spigel of Prussia, who immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. The brothers, who were jewelers, lived for a time in the Newberry-Columbia area, where David met and married Theresa “Daisy” Mittle. The Spigels, Joel included, moved to Spartanburg in 1903, where they opened a jewelry store. Conie’s father, Julian Spigel, was pushed to go to medical school by his parents. He met Geneva at a hospital in North Carolina where she was working as a nurse. Geneva came from a family of Moravians and was expected to leave school before completing her education to work on the family farm. However, she left home, took a job and a room with another family, graduated from high school, and earned a nursing degree. She married Julian in 1941, and they moved to Texas where Julian, an M.D., worked at a hospital before being called home to Spartanburg by his father in 1947, shortly after Conie’s brother, Joel David, was born. Julian helped out with the family jewelry business and took over after David Spigel’s death in 1949. He did not work again in medicine. Although Geneva did not convert to Judaism, she raised Joel and Conie in a Jewish household, insofar as they observed all the holidays. The children attended Sunday school, and Geneva was active in the B’nai Israel Sisterhood and B’nai B’rith. As the daughter of a gentile mother, Conie discusses how she was received by the rabbi and members of the temple. She recalls Rabbi Max Stauber who was hired in 1955 and served the congregation for nearly 30 years, noting that he was “like a second father” to her. The interviewee describes her devotion to Jewish religious observance and what she values in a rabbi. She relates incidences of antisemitism she experienced while in secondary school and at Spartanburg Junior College (now Spartanburg Methodist College). Conie responds to questions about race relations in Spartanburg, and reports that she never witnessed any conflicts between black and white students in her high school.
Isidore Denemark was born in 1910 in Mayesville, South Carolina, the son of Eastern European immigrants Sara Lee “Lizzie” Siegel and Jacob Denemark. Jacob arrived in New York and, at some point, moved to Georgetown, South Carolina, where he worked for the Fogel Brothers in their general merchandise store. Isidore doesn’t know when or where his parents married. He describes a number of moves the family made after Jacob left Georgetown. They ran stores in Mayesville, South Carolina, Sumter, South Carolina, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They returned to Sumter around 1935 where Jacob went into business with Sara’s brother Harry Siegel on Main Street and Sara opened the Smart Shop, which sold dresses. Isidore recalls his father packing up his merchandise and following the tobacco workers around during harvest season in the Carolinas and Tennessee. The interviewee talks about his family’s religious observances as Orthodox Jews when he was growing up and his practices as an adult. He and interviewer Robert Moses are members of Sumter’s Temple Sinai, a small Reform congregation. Both men express frustration and concern about the lack of attendance at Sabbath services by members of the younger generations. They contemplate the reasons for the low levels of participation and compare the Jewish community of Sumter to the large and vibrant one in Charleston, South Carolina. Isidore earned an accounting degree at New York University and returned to Sumter in 1936 to work for Boyle Construction Company as a CPA. He was joined by his first wife, Gladys “Jimmy” Goldsmith, and they raised two children, Bennett and Adele. He talks about how he met Jimmy, who died in 1966. He married Rae Nussbaum Addlestone, originally from Charleston, who was present at this interview. Isidore was one of six or so people who put up money for a new summer camp for Jewish children. They bought more than two hundred acres in Cleveland, GA, and named it Camp Coleman, for the man who made the largest donation. Isidore and Robert discuss the absence of antisemitism in Sumter and how Jewish residents have been prominent in every part of Sumter life. Isidore addresses the issue of the Confederate flag flying on the South Carolina statehouse grounds.
Joan Weisblum Steinberg Loeb, born in 1918 in Brooklyn, New York, married Matthew Steinberg and moved to his native city of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1936. Joan, a daughter of Elsie Aleskowitz and Philip Weisblum, recounts some of her family history, and describes how she met Matthew, who earned his M.D. from the Medical College of South Carolina, and their wedding in the Weisblum’s Brooklyn home. Her mother-in-law, Anna Bell Kaminski Steinberg, taught her how to keep a kosher home. The interviewee, who had no formal religious upbringing, recalls attending High Holy Day services at her husband’s Orthodox congregation, Brith Sholom. She notes that Matthew served as mohel for the congregation following Reverend Feinberg, who was also the cantor and the shochet. Interviewer Sandra Rosenblum reports that her husband, Raymond Rosenblum, a urologist, later assumed the role. In 1947, Joan and Matthew left Brith Sholom and joined roughly seventy families in becoming founding members of the Conservative Synagogue Emanu-El. Joan points to the leadership of Charleston native, Macey Kronsberg, the congregation’s first president, as pivotal in organizing the faction that was dissatisfied with Orthodox practices. Joan notes the source of discontent: “It was the fact that the women were not part of the service at all, and the families did not sit together. This didn’t satisfy this generation. They wanted the children to be part of it and to learn and to have an interest, and not to have to just be banged over the head in Hebrew school to learn enough for a bar mitzvah, and goodbye Charlie.” Joan and Matthew donated the first sanctuary, an army chapel, for Emanu-El’s Gordon Street property. Joan lists many of the names and professions of the charter members. She discusses the differences among Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, and some of the changes that have taken place in her lifetime. Participants recall the mid-twentieth century practices and attitudes of Charleston’s Reform congregants (Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim) and the two Orthodox congregations, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and they examine their own, and others’, experiences of keeping kosher—or not. Joan briefly mentions the three women’s organizations she joined in Charleston: the National Council of Jewish Women, the Daughters of Israel, and the Happy Workers. She goes into some detail about why her father thought U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the “biggest hypocrite and enemy of the Jews.” Matthew Steinberg died in 1968. Three years later, Joan married B. Frank Loeb of Montgomery, Alabama, where she was living at the time of the interview. She provides a brief history of Montgomery’s Reform congregation, Temple Beth Or.
Sidney Rittenberg, born in 1921, talks about growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. He relates memories of his parents, Muriel Sluth (Slutsky) and Sidney Rittenberg, Sr., and his older sister, Elinor, who married Art Weinberger, also of Charleston. The interviewee’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Oscar Rittenberg (1867–1932) emigrated from Lithuania and, after living in New York for a time, ended up in Charleston working in real estate with Triest & Israel. Samuel served as president of Brith Sholom Synagogue and was a South Carolina state legislator. Sidney Sr. was a reporter for the News and Courier before becoming a self-taught attorney, partnering with Louis Shimel in the law firm Shimel & Rittenberg. He was a Charleston City Councilman, active in local civic clubs, and associated with many prominent Charlestonians of his day. Although his parents often attended Shabbat services at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Charleston’s Reform synagogue, the interviewee notes that they didn’t observe the High Holidays. Growing up, Sidney had Jewish and non-Jewish friends. He says, “I didn’t really like being Jewish because it separated me from the other kids. . . . I thought, ‘I’m an American. Why should I be anything else?’” Sidney noticed tension between the Reform Jews and the Orthodox Jews. “People looked down on each other because they weren’t strict enough or they were too strict.” He describes instances of antisemtism; portrays an African-American man who made baskets and wove figures like dolls and ships; and recalls enjoying children’s programs offered by The Charleston Museum. The interviewee discusses an incident that deeply affected him as a fourteen-year-old; he witnessed the unjust treatment of a black man by the police and was powerless to stop it. See also Sidney’s second interview with Dale Rosengarten on June 19, 2013, and his two interviews with cousin Deborah Lipman Cochelin on July 27, 2013, and October 27, 2013.
Faye Goldberg Miller, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1938, talks about growing up on St. Philip Street, one of three children of Polish immigrants Jeanette Altman and George Goldberg. She explains why her father changed his name to Goldberg from Geldbart after arriving in the United States. George followed his brother Israel to Charleston and opened a men’s clothing shop on King Street. The family observed the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays and Jeanette kept a kosher kitchen. Despite encountering antisemitism from a few neighborhood children, Faye says she “had a wonderful childhood in Charleston.” Faye married Ivan Miller and they raised three children, Shira, Robert, and Bruce, in Columbia, South Carolina. She discusses the family business, Groucho’s Delicatessen, purchased in the early 1940s from the Rivkins by Ivan’s father, Harold Miller, with the help of Harold’s brother-in-law John Gottlieb.
Beryle Stern Jaffe, born in 1945, talks about growing up in Columbia, South Carolina. She is the eldest daughter of Sarah Kramer and Henry Stern. After Henry was discharged from the military, the Sterns settled in Henry’s home city of Columbia, where he joined his father, Gabe Stern, in his dry goods business, at that time located in nearby Lexington. Beryle recalls segregation and how prejudice against African Americans manifested in public, as well as in her own home with regard to their hired help. The interviewee married Pierre Jaffe in 1967. Pierre, a native of Paris, France, immigrated as a child to the United States with his mother, who had married an American soldier. Pierre and Beryle raised two children, Jason and Erin, in Columbia. Interviewer Lilly Stern Filler’s parents, Ben and Jadzia Stern, were Holocaust survivors who settled in Columbia after World War II. Beryle and Lilly describe the degree to which Lilly’s parents, particularly her father, adjusted to life in a new country.
Carolee Rosen Fox, born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, relates some of her Charleston family history. Her maternal great-grandparents, Caroline Goldstein and Isaac Belitzer, lived at 344 East Bay Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Carolee describes the home, known as the John Falls Walker House. It was passed down in the family to her great-aunt Gertrude Belitzer who, in turn, left it to the interviewee’s mother, Selina Leidloff, daughter of Blanche Belitzer and photographer Herman Leidloff. The house, featured in the Historic American Building Survey collection in the Library of Congress, was torn down in 1961. Carolee briefly discusses how her mother, Selina, met her father, Abe Rosen, a New York dress manufacturer.
Sidney Rittenberg, in this follow up to his interview on June 17, 2013, recalls his initial encounters with the idea of Communism. While attending Porter Military Academy, the school chaplain, Reverend William W. Lumpkin, got Sidney’s attention when he stated, “There are people working in little Communist cells around the South, secretly, for equality and justice that are Communists and they don’t consider themselves Christians, but the lives they lead are like Christian lives.” As a teen Sidney was exposed to “socialists, communists, anarchists, everything imaginable liberal,” when he spent a summer at the New Jersey resort run by his maternal grandparents, Martin and Sadie Sluth (Slutsky). “I was struck by the fact that the one who was a Communist, who was a lawyer, was very reasonable and seemed to make a lot of sense to me.” While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rittenberg volunteered to teach local mill workers how to read and write, and he began working with unions in Durham, North Carolina. Sidney also joined the American Student Union, eventually becoming president of the left-wing campus organization. In 1940, Sidney left school. By that time he had joined the Communist Party [CP] in defiance of a federal investigation of the college’s president, Dr. Frank Porter Graham, “on charges of Communist sympathy.” Sidney traveled to New York and to his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, to collect CP dues and renew contact with members. The interviewee describes his experiences as a trade union organizer in High Point and Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and his work on behalf of the Alabama Sharecroppers Union [SCU] in the early 1940s. Rittenberg and interviewer Dale Rosengarten share stories about union organizer Clyde Johnson and labor organizer Claude Williams. Dale’s fieldwork for her undergraduate thesis on the SCU led her husband, Theodore Rosengarten, to record the story of a black tenant farmer named Ned Cobb, and produce a book called All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw, which won the National Book Award in 1974. Sidney describes how his union organizing for R. J. Reynolds workers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, led to him being drafted into the army shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, despite being rejected earlier because of poor eyesight. Rittenberg outlines his service in the U.S. Army, particularly while stationed in China, beginning around the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945. Serving as a claims investigator for the army and, later, after his discharge in January 1946, serving as a famine relief observer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration [UNRRA], he witnessed the inner workings of Chinese society. “These people were not only in the grip of a terrible backward oppressive system . . . they accepted it as fate, as proper. . . . That’s the great thing that Mao and the Chinese Communists did; they broke up that concept of fate, that you can’t do anything about it, and they made people feel that they could do something.” Sidney joined the CP in China and contributed by supplying books, helping people who were in danger leave the area, and providing whatever assistance was needed. He notes the difference between the CP in the U.S. and the CP in China. After leaving UNRRA, Sidney, intending to head home to the U.S., instead met CP leader Zhou Enlai and General Nie Rongzhen, who offered Sidney a job helping the CP reach out to the American people. Sidney touches on how he coped with being imprisoned in China for more than a dozen years. Imprisonment and solitary confinement “didn’t change me . . . because I believed in the principles. I believed we were working for a better world and there was nothing better to do than that.” He comments on the positive reception he received when he returned to the U.S. in 1980, and notes that “I didn’t really turn from Marxism/Leninism until about a year after I got out of prison the second time. Then I began reexamining basic premises.” In 1993, he co-authored with Amanda Bennett the story of his life in China, The Man Who Stayed Behind. See also two more interviews with Sidney Rittenberg, conducted by his cousin Deborah Lipman Cochelin on July 27, 2013, and October 27, 2013.
Sidney Rittenberg talks a second time with cousin Deborah Lipman Cochelin in follow-up to their recording session on July 27, 2013. Some of the interview covers the same ground as Sidney’s June 17 and June 19, 2013, interviews with Dale Rosengarten, including stories about his family; the unjust treatment of an African American by Charleston, South Carolina, policemen in the mid-1930s; and Rittenberg’s experiences living and working in China. Sidney attended Sunday school at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), the Reform synagogue in Charleston, South Carolina, and relates his memories of KKBE’s Rabbi Jacob Raisin. When he was about fourteen years old, Sidney met Joseph Nelson Mease, a College of Charleston freshman from Canton, North Carolina. Mease introduced Sidney to topics in natural science and historic figures like Charles Darwin. “The main effect that Joe Mease had on me was that I immediately declared myself an atheist.” Sidney describes his after-school activities, family vacations, and how he befriended medical school students and helped them with their studies while he was still in high school. He discusses why he chose to pursue his college degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, instead of taking advantage of a full scholarship to Princeton. For graduate studies, he was sent to Stanford University by the U.S. Army to study Chinese language, politics, culture, history, and anthropology. In September 1945, Rittenberg was assigned to the army’s claims department in the judge advocate’s office in Kunming, China. While in China, he observed that the foreigners who were allowed into the country between 1946 and 1966 came from all over the world and the vast majority were Jewish. “Why? Because, like me, they grew up with, first of all, a natural affinity for oppressed people.”