Connie Karesh Franzblau was born in Brooklyn, New York, where her father, Leroy Karesh, ran a shooting gallery in Coney Island until he was drafted at the outbreak of World War II. His wife, Frances Frankel, and their four children moved to Eutwaville, South Carolina, where Leroy’s parents, Abram and Katie Cohen Karesh, and a number of Katie’s relatives lived. Leroy was excused from military duty when Frances became ill, and the family moved to Charleston where he took a job at the shipyard. Although they lived only briefly in Eutawville, Connie recalls fond memories of the town where she spent her summers and extended family gathered for holidays. Connie’s family was Orthodox and kept kosher, but the Orthodoxy was “southern style.” “You do what you can, and then after a while you do what’s easy, and then after a while you do what you can get away with . . . .” When they moved to Charleston, they attended the Conservative synagogue, Emanu-El, because it was in their neighborhood and, therefore, convenient. Connie discusses her family history, how she met Arnold, and Camp Baker when it was located in Isle of Palms. Arnold, the son of Nathan and Nettie Franzblau, was born and spent his early childhood in New York City. When he was seven years old, the family moved to Aiken, South Carolina, where they hoped Nathan, who had a lung condition, would enjoy better health. The Franzblaus joined a small, close-knit community of immigrant Jewish families who, generally, did not socialize with the town’s gentiles. Arnold recalls attending Sunday school and holiday parties at the synagogue, Adath Yeshurun, and identifies some of the Jewish families in town. He moved to Charleston to attend The Citadel and the Medical College of South Carolina. He met Connie while working as a urology resident at Roper Hospital and the two married in 1953. They lived in a number of locations across the United States, and raised their two children in New Mexico. Arnold describes his family background and the antisemitism he encountered in Aiken and among medical school fraternities. Both interviewees discuss intermarriage and assimilation, and recall the discrimination blacks faced in the South before the civil rights era.
Norman Baum was born in 1921 in Camden, South Carolina, the elder of two sons (the younger was Bernard Jr.) of Bernard Baum and his second wife, Minnie Tewel. Minnie was a private-duty nurse from New Jersey who accompanied a patient to Camden and ended up staying to work in the local hospital. When she was introduced to Bernard, he was a widower with two sons, Williams and Herman. Norman discusses Baum family members of note, including a relative named Eltenbaum who fought in the American Revolution and three of his nephews who settled in Camden and fought in the Civil War. Marcus Baum died in the war. His brothers, Herman and Mannes, survived and returned to their dry goods store. The Baums were lien merchants and became landowners, acquiring acreage through foreclosures. Norman recalls three plantations the family owned in the Camden area: Lockhart, Vinegar Hill, and Lugoff. His father was a planter, a merchant, the supervisor of a cannery, and the first bottler of Coca-Cola in Camden. Norman describes how his mother used her business acumen to supplement the family’s income. The family lived in a home known as the Greenleaf Villa on Broad Street in Camden. He talks about his brothers and tells stories about members of the extended family, including the Baruchs, also of Camden. The Baums attended Temple Beth El, a small Reform congregation in Camden. The interviewee remembers attending Sunday school at the larger Temple Sinai in Sumter and notes that as a child he was unfamiliar with many Jewish religious traditions and did not receive instruction in Hebrew. Norman and his nephew Garry Baum, who participated in the interview, recount instances of antisemitism, although Norman adds that that he never experienced antisemitism while working in the movie or clothing industries. One of his jobs was working in 20th Century-Fox’s costume division on the movie set for Cleopatra; he was responsible for Elizabeth Taylor’s costume, which required frequent altering during filming. For related collections, see the Minnie Tewel Baum papers, the Williams Baum papers, and the Baum family papers in Special Collections, College of Charleston.
Meri Friedman Gergel and her sister Rae Friedman Berry discuss growing up with their two sisters, Ann and Rose, in Kingstree, South Carolina, where the Friedmans were one of just a few Jewish families. Their parents, Sam Friedman and Rebecca Dreiszek, immigrated to the United States from Poland as teens and met in Charleston, South Carolina, home to Rebecca’s sister, Jenny Cohen. In the mid-1920s Sam and Rebecca moved from Charleston to Eutawville, South Carolina, and then Kingstree, opening Friedman’s Department Store. Meri describes the layout of the store and its clientele. Both sisters recall a generally happy childhood, overshadowed, however, by Rose’s chronic health problems, later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. The family moved to Columbia in 1947, to access better medical care for Rose, but she died the same year. Meri talks about the antisemitism she experienced growing up in Kingstree. Both sisters discuss their sense of Jewish identity; the foods their mother served; the family’s religious practices; and their college years and their children.
Selma Blick Dickman of Columbia, South Carolina, is joined by her daughter Janis Dickman in this interview, which focuses on social issues dating to the late 1940s. Selma, a New York transplant, describes how she feels about living in the South. After moving to Sumter, South Carolina, in 1949, her tendency to talk about New York was greeted with advice from the Jewish natives: talk less about New York and more about her new home. Selma discusses her past perceptions of Jewish-Christian relations and notes how they have changed over time. She and Janis respond to questions about antisemitism and Janis recalls that as a child growing up in Columbia, "I always remember feeling different." Both describe their reactions to learning of the Holocaust and Selma remembers the arrival in Columbia of survivors Jadzia Sklar and Ben Stern, the interviewer's parents. Selma considers how her views of African-Americans have changed during her lifetime; both interviewees talk about racism, segregation, and present-day race relations, including the controversy surrounding the presence of the Confederate flag on the South Carolina State House grounds. Selma's husband, Max Dickman, who died thirty years before this interview, co-founded the scrap metal business, Columbia Steel and Metal. The Dickmans raised three daughters in Columbia. In a postscript to the interview, Janis describes the Dickman family's relationship with Florida Boyd, an African-American woman who worked in their home for forty-three years. The transcript also includes comments and corrections made by Janis during proofing and additional background information she provided upon request.
George Chaplin talks about growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, the son of Netty Brown (Bojarski) and Morris Chaplin (Tschaplinsky). Morris emigrated from Bialystok to the United States around 1906 and worked in shoe factories in Massachusetts. He followed his friend and landsman, Max Citron, to Columbia, South Carolina, where he peddled before running a retail, and later, a wholesale shoe business with his brother. Netty came to the United States from Lithuania, and worked in New York and then Boston, where she met Morris. The two were married in Columbia by Rabbi David Karesh. George names a number of Jewish residents who lived in Columbia during his childhood, and recalls that there wasn't much "mingling" between the Orthodox and the Reform Jews. When he was a sophomore in high school, the Chaplin family moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where Morris opened a pawnshop. George briefly outlines his career as a journalist, which included working alongside Charlestonian Earl Mazo in Greenville. He reflects on differences between American-born fathers and fathers like his, who were born in Europe, and he makes note of antisemitism he experienced in the South. About being Jewish, he says, "In the South, in those days, you were not permitted to forget it." George's wife, Esta Solomon Chaplin, a Charleston, South Carolina, native, joins him for a short time during the interview. They married in 1937 and raised two children. See Mss 1035-041 for a follow-up interview on October 3, 1995.
Mordecai "Mortie" Cohen, born in 1916, the middle of three sons of Raye Needle and Isaac Cohen, was raised in St. Matthews, South Carolina. The Cohens had settled in the small town about forty miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, around 1912, and opened a general merchandise store. Isaac also owned two farms, raising corn, cotton, cows, and hogs. About St. Matthews, Mortie says, "It was a good life for a kid, growing up." He recalls five other Jewish families who lived in the town at one point: the Savitzes, Pearlstines, Bergers, Yelmans, and Goldiners. They held High Holiday services in the Masonic Hall over a store in St. Matthews and were joined by families who lived in neighboring towns. "My mother kept halfway [kosher] because you couldn't keep kosher in a small town." He and his brothers, Harold and Leroy, didn't have a Jewish education. "My parents were involved in the Christian community a good deal." Isaac played poker every Sunday in the back of his store with the prominent men in town, including the mayor. Growing up, Mortie socialized mostly with Christians and even attended church with them. "Never in all my growing up did I ever feel like I was different, that I was not wanted." Mortie, a pharmacist, describes how he met his wife, Dorothy "Dutch" Idalin Gelson, who joins him in this interview shortly after it starts. Dutch and Mortie settled in Walterboro, South Carolina, in 1941, after living briefly in St. George, South Carolina. Mortie, who ran one of seven drug stores in Walterboro, notes that they "were very active in the Christian and Jewish community there and I never felt out of place." He relates a story about his working relationship and friendship with a black doctor who settled in Walterboro in the mid-1940s. Mortie and Dutch traveled to Brith Sholom in Charleston to attend services until Walterboro's small Jewish community organized Temple Mt. Sinai in the late 1940s. In 1954, the couple moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where Dutch had grown up. Mortie opened South Windermere Drugs in South Windermere Shopping Center, part of a new suburban residential and commercial development across the Ashley River from the Charleston peninsula. Dutch remembers feeling happy about the move to Charleston because of the larger Jewish population: "I was happy to come back to a Jewish environment." Mortie and Dutch made connections with prominent Charlestonians?Mortie was on a bank board and a member of the Country Club of Charleston?and they were invited to high-profile social events, but they declined because they wanted to reserve time for involvement in Jewish organizations and activities. The interviewees discuss the effects of intermarriage on Jewish identity, citing examples in their family and others of "the vanishing American Jew," a reference to The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century, a book written by their son-in-law, Alan Dershowitz, and published in 1997. Mortie recounts an instance of antisemitism at the Country Club of Charleston when a Jewish person applying for membership was blackballed, but when the vote was re-cast openly at the insistence of Mortie's non-Jewish friend, the negative vote disappeared. When asked about "the relationship between the white community and the African-American community in St. Matthews," Mortie tells the story of a black man, a plumber, who was beaten and run out of town by white men for being "arrogant." The Cohens, who have two children, Marvin and Carolyn, talk briefly about daughter and son, Joyce and Stephen, they lost to illness while living in Walterboro.
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.
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.