Albert Jacob Ullman, born in New York in 1923, discusses his family background. His father, Samuel Ullman, emigrated from Russia around 1912 and worked for a time in New York, before following landsmen, men from the same town in Europe, to Savannah, Georgia, where he met and married Freda Wolson in 1922. He brought his bride to New York, but they returned to Savannah about seven years later. Samuel soon took over a cousin’s Bluffton, South Carolina, business, Planter’s Mercantile Company, known locally as the Jew Store. Albert describes the store and growing up in Bluffton, where, in 1932, his father was elected mayor. The family moved to Ridgeland, South Carolina, in 1938, after Freda opened a second, more successful store in that town. In 1941 Albert attended The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He recalls the local families who hosted Jewish cadets on Shabbat, and the appeal of the St. Philip Street neighborhood’s Yiddishkeit. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941, Albert volunteered for the army and served as a paratrooper and medic in the Pacific theater. When he returned from three years of active duty, he joined his parents in the Ridgeland store, and he met Harriet Birnbaum of Savannah, Georgia. Harriet had emigrated from Kobrin, Poland, in 1937, at the age of ten. Her mother, Chamke Birnbaum, widowed when Harriet was nine months old, agreed to marry Samuel Tenenbaum, who came from her hometown of Kolonie, Poland. Sam, himself a widower, had immigrated to Savannah with his family and established a scrap metal business. When he received word from a visiting landsman that Chamke had lost her husband, he returned to Poland, married her, and brought her and her two children to the United States. Harriet describes growing up in Kobrin and Savannah. The Tenenbaums were members of Agudath Achim, the Conservative synagogue in Savannah, co-founded by Samuel. Albert and Harriet married in 1947 and ran Ullman’s Department Store in Ridgeland, where they raised four boys, started a private kindergarten, and Albert served as mayor. Fifteen years later they moved to Savannah and, soon after, Harriet gave birth to a daughter. Among other topics discussed are Agudath Achim Congregation’s controversial vote to increase women’s direct involvement in the synagogue, and Albert’s experiences with the Ku Klux Klan and his work for the Anti-Defamation League.
Irving “Itchy” Sonenshine (Zonenschein), son of Polish immigrants, talks about growing up in the St. Philip Street neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, and recalls many of the Jewish families that operated stores on King Street. He discusses the two Orthodox synagogues, Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, his experiences in Hebrew school and at AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) functions, his service as a navigator on bombers in the Pacific theatre during World War II, his partnership with Arthur Kahn in the electronics business, and his wife, Mildred “Mickey” Breibart Sonenshine, also a native of Charleston. Sonenshine also mentions the synagogue his son Stanley attends, B’nai Torah, a “Conservadox” congregation in Atlanta. Note: a videotape of this interview is available for viewing in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Sam Siegel, born in Anderson, South Carolina, in 1915, describes the hometown of his boyhood as “a very hard town . . . mean, nasty, completely controlled by the Klan.” Sam’s parents, Bess Silverman and Max Siegel (Shul) emigrated from Latvia in the early 1900s and settled in Anderson where Max worked as a peddler before going into livestock sales and slaughtering. The family did not keep kosher, and the Siegel children had little Jewish education. Sam’s playmates were Christian. “I had my friends, but it wasn’t comfortable.” Sam talks about his seven siblings, in particular, his brother Reuben, known as “Jew Boy Siegel,” a star boxer and football player for Clemson. As the number of Jewish residents in Anderson increased in the early 1900s, they began to meet in a large hall over a store for High Holy Day services. Sam remembers teaching Sunday school there as well. He mentions some of the Jewish residents of the 1930s and ’40s, who pooled their resources to build a temple for the growing community. Sam describes helping to place nearly a dozen Jewish refugees in Anderson, including one young man, Kurt Sax, whom he helped get his start in his own small business. Sam married Leona Novit of Walterboro, South Carolina. When he visited Walterboro, he “fell in love” with the town, which was a popular stopping point for travelers driving between New York and Florida. Walterboro, Sam says, “has always been a very liberal town. It’s made up of people from up north and out west.” Sam and Leona moved from Anderson to Walterboro, where they raised their four children and Sam ran a dry goods store. He discusses a number of other topics including intermarriage, Camp Blue Star, the journal in which he has made daily entries since 1932, and the Walterboro congregation and how it acquired a Jewish section in the local cemetery. He also describes his service in the army during World War II and his role in the Battle of the Bulge, in which he lost a leg in an attempt to rescue two American soldiers. Note: the transcript contains corrections made by Sam’s daughter Gale Messerman.
George Chaplin, in follow-up to his September 27, 1995, interview (Mss. 1035-040), recalls some of the other Jewish families that lived in his native city, Columbia, South Carolina, in particular his relatives, the Berkovitzes. He remembers sensing a separation between Columbia's German Jews and the more recent Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland. He describes incidences of antisemitism he experienced in school, noting he was "made to feel something of an outsider." When Chaplin was in high school, his family moved to Greenville, where his father opened Piedmont Pawnshop across the street from Zaglin's kosher meat market. The interviewee attended Clemson Agricultural College, at that time a military academy, and was responsible for ending compulsory church attendance each Sunday for the cadets. Chaplin, who comments on the necessary functions of newspapers and their editors, discusses his long career in newspaper journalism. First he worked for the conservative Greenville Piedmont in Greenville, South Carolina, right out of Clemson (he took a leave of absence from the Greenville Piedmont to accept the year-long Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, where he studied race relations and formed a discussion group consisting of Nieman fellows and black graduate students); then the Stars and Stripes Pacific during World War II; David Stern's Camden, New Jersey, papers, prior to and during a strike in 1947; the liberal San Diego Journal in the late 1940s, when the paper won a national award for investigative reporting; David Stern's "crusading paper," the New Orleans Item, which ultimately was sold to its competitor, the Times-Picayune; and finally the Honolulu Advertiser, from 1958 to retirement, during which time the paper won sixty national awards. Chaplin talks about his younger sister, Kay, and her family; his perception of race relations in Charleston in the late 1940s; his religious practices, and why he and his wife, Esta Solomon Chaplin, who both came from strict Orthodox families, chose to raise their two children in the Reform tradition. He is joined briefly during the interview by Esta. His daughter, Jerri, provided comments and corrections to the transcript during proofing.