Morris Rosen is joined by his cousin Dorothy “Dutch” Idalin Gelson Cohen and her husband, Mordecai “Mortie” Cohen, in this interview. Morris’s son Robert is also present as interviewer and videographer. Morris, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1919, was one of four children of Annie Blatt and Sol Rosen. Sol and his siblings, including Dutch’s parents, Zelda Rosen and Louis Gelson, emigrated from Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century, following their older sister Ida and her husband, David Goldberg, to Poughkeepsie, New York, where Dutch was born in 1919. The cousins talk about the Rosen (Rachelkin) and Gelson (Getchen) families of Poughkeepsie and their ancestors in Russia. Morris briefly mentions his maternal grandparents, Mamie Wildman and Morris Blatt, who ran a bakery in Columbia, South Carolina, before moving to Charleston. Morris and Dutch describe how the Rosens wound up in Charleston. Their uncle Sam Rosen moved to the area from Poughkeepsie for reasons unknown and opened a store in Awendaw, a small settlement about twenty-five miles north of Charleston. In about 1919, Sol Rosen and Zelda and Louis Gelson followed and bought an established country store from a member of the Geraty family in Yonges Island, nearly twenty miles south of Charleston. Louis died within a year, and Sol sold his interest in the store to Zelda, who moved the business and her three children to Meeting Street in Charleston after a few years. Sol was in the grocery business and later opened liquor stores. Morris traces his father’s moves from Yonges Island to King and Romney streets in Charleston, to the town of Meggett, and back to Charleston at King and Race streets. Morris and Dutch discuss growing up in Charleston in an area of the city where there were no other Jewish families. They did not experience antisemitism and Morris blended easily with the Catholic teens who lived nearby. The cousins did connect with other Jewish children when they frequented the neighborhoods around the synagogues and while attending religious school. They didn’t notice any friction between Charleston’s Reform and Orthodox Jews and played with children from both groups. Dutch was confirmed and Morris became a bar mitzvah at Brith Sholom on St. Philip Street. The two consider the degree to which their parents were observant Jews and speculate as to why their parents and others of their generation did or did not adhere to certain Jewish traditions. Mordecai “Mortie” Cohen was born in 1916 in St. Matthews, South Carolina, where his father, Isaac, ran a dry goods store and two farms. All the general merchandisers in St. Matthews while Mortie and his two brothers were growing up were Jewish. They met for High Holiday services in the town’s Masonic temple and were joined by families from Orangeburg, Ehrhardt, and Elloree. Most of Mortie’s friends were Christians; he doesn’t remember experiencing any antisemitism in St. Matthews. Mortie recalls how he came to know the Rosens, and he and Morris describe the role of the drummers, or sales reps, who visited retail storeowners when their fathers were in business. Morris talks about how he met his wife, Ida Tanenbaum. Her brother Lou Tanenbaum came to Charleston and opened a clothing store with his brother-in-law Louis Lesser. Morris, an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, was assigned to a LST (Landing Ship, Tank) in the Pacific. The group discusses what they and other American Jews knew about what was happening to Jews in Europe under Hitler.
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.”
Ira Rosenberg was born in New York City in 1937, eight years after his brother, Monte, to Bessie Lipschutz and Alan Rosenberg. The family moved to Richmond, Virginia, in the early 1940s, where Ira grew up in the midst of a sizable Jewish community. The Rosenbergs were Orthodox but Ira says his parents “were not very active” in the local synagogue. However, Alan insisted Ira go to shul every Saturday morning and attend Hebrew school in preparation for his bar mitzvah. Ira is joined in this interview by his wife, Anita Moise Rosefield Rosenberg, originally of Sumter, South Carolina. They married in 1963 while Ira was serving in the United States Air Force. Ultimately, they moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where they raised their children, David, Virginia, and Mindelle. Ira describes his career as a pharmacist after he was discharged from the military in 1966. In the 1980s he changed professions and opened his own business as a realtor and real estate appraiser, Rosenberg & Associates. Ira and Anita discuss changes in Reform Judaism and in their synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. They talk about Rabbi Stephanie Alexander, KKBE’s first female rabbi, and the degree of acceptance extended to lesbian and gay members by the rabbi and the congregation. Anita recalls being on the national commission of a program begun in the 1970s by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, a former president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The program, called Outreach, was designed to encourage acceptance and inclusion of intermarried couples and their families. See also a follow-up interview (Mss. 1035-461) with the Rosenbergs, conducted on November 4, 2016.
Sidney Rittenberg, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1921, is interviewed by Deborah Lipman Cochelin, whose great-grandmother Rachel Rittenberg Sanders was a sister of Sidney’s grandfather Samuel Oscar Rittenberg. Sidney tells stories about his parents, Muriel Sluth (Slutsky) and Sidney Rittenberg, Sr., and his sister Elinor Rittenberg Weinberger. He talks about growing up in Charleston, including the schools he attended and the friends he made. A good bit of the narrative is similar in content to his June 17, 2013 interview with Dale Rosengarten. The cousins recall several members of their extended family and Sidney describes time spent as a child on Sullivan’s Island. See also Sidney Rittenberg’s other interviews on June 19, 2013 and October 27, 2013.
Selden K. Smith, a South Carolina native who taught history for nearly four decades at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, talks about his role in the development of Holocaust education courses. He describes meeting local survivors and says of interviewer Lilly Stern Filler’s mother, “The most compelling person of all—it was all compelling—was Jadzia [Stern].” What started as an experimental course featuring presentations by survivors grew into a standard offering at Columbia College. Dr. Smith notes he was not involved in or even aware of the effort to create legislation that established the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust (SCCH) in 1989. However, he was appointed to SCCH in 1990. He credits Margaret Walden, who then worked for the South Carolina Department of Education, for much of the progress made with Holocaust education in the state. Among SCCH’s projects was a joint effort with South Carolina Educational Television to interview survivors and liberators, resulting in the publication of the teaching guide South Carolina Voices. The interviewee discusses the status of Holocaust education in South Carolina and suggests that the challenge is how to make it “relevant to one’s day and time.”
Rosemary Smith and Keller Barron share their memories of South Carolina Democratic Senator Hyman Rubin (1913–2005), who was elected in 1966 and served for eighteen years. Rosemary, who grew up in Nazi Germany, was the administrative assistant to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee that Rubin chaired. Keller was the research director for the Joint Legislative Committee on Aging, also headed by Rubin. Both women describe Rubin’s attributes and tell stories about his contributions to the city of Columbia and the state. He was a founding member of the Columbia Luncheon Club and the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, both organized in the early 1960s to facilitate racial integration. The interviewees note that although the senator did not “wear” his Jewishness “on his sleeve,” he did decline invitations to attend functions at Forest Lake Club in Columbia, where Jews were not accepted as members. For related materials, see Hyman Rubin’s May 24, 1995, interview, Mss 1035-024, and Rose Rudnick Rubin’s May 5, 1996, interview, Mss. 1035-072.
Roselen Morris Rivkin, born in 1926 in Romania, immigrated with her family to the United States in 1932. They lived first in Elkhart, Indiana, then South Bend, Indiana. She met her husband, Arnold Rivkin, of Columbia, South Carolina, while he was stationed at Notre Dame during World War II. They married in South Bend in August 1946 and moved about three months later to Columbia to operate Edward’s Men’s Shop at the corner of Washington and Assembly streets. After twenty years, the store relocated to 1625 Main Street and reopened as Marks’ Men’s Wear. Roselen talks briefly about Arnold’s parents, Rachel and Raphael Rivkin, and recalls the Jewish merchants she knew on Assembly Street and Main Street. She found Columbia’s Jewish community to be small, close-knit, and welcoming. Roselen and Arnold raised three children, Mark, Allen, and Lynda, in the capital city. For a related interview, see Caba Rivkin, Mss. 1035-017.
In this follow-up to their June 23, 2016, interview (Mss. 1035-452), Ira and Anita Rosenberg talk about their children and grandchildren and how they observed Judaism as a family when the children were growing up. Ira notes that he was a co-founder of Dragon Boat Charleston, served on the boards of Charleston Jewish Community Center and Charleston Jewish Federation, and is a past president of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. He discusses the benefits of Jewish community centers, his thoughts on the recent transition of the local center to one without walls, and his feelings about the presence of Chabad in the area.
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.”