Rose Surasky Seldin, born in 1917, and her sister-in-law Evelyn Goodman Surasky Caplan, born in 1918, describe growing up in Aiken, South Carolina. Rose’s parents, Annie Sarah Rudnick and Solomon Surasky, emigrated from Knyszyn, Poland, joining his brothers and brother-in-law H. L Polier in Aiken. The interviewees recall the family businesses, including Augusta Polier’s lingerie shop and millinery. Augusta was married to Morris Polier, Evelyn’s grandfather. When Augusta died, Evelyn’s mother, Rebecca Polier Goodman, took over the store. Rose and Evelyn discuss several family members, in particular, Rose’s first cousin, Mina Surasky Tropp. Among the topics covered: prejudice; keeping kosher; the Jewish farming community called “Happyville,” established in 1905 by its promoters in nearby Montmorenci; and how locals responded to and were affected by the building of the Savannah River Plant in the early 1950s.
Mordecai “Mort” Persky, born in 1931, was raised in Aiken, South Carolina, where his maternal grandfather, Hiram Charles “H. C.” Surasky, and his brothers, natives of Knyszyn, Poland, had settled in the late 1800s. The interviewee recalls Surasky family members and their stores, and discusses the murder of Abraham Surasky, H. C.’s brother. When H. C. died, Mort’s father, Nathan Persky, took over his business. Nathan emigrated from Volozhin, Belorus, in 1909. A graduate of the Volozhiner Yeshiva, he served as lay leader of Adath Yeshurun Synagogue in Aiken. He was also active in local civic organizations and “held in high esteem” by his fellow citizens. Mort reports that his “childhood was shadowed by the Holocaust,” which “took place with the counterpoint of Aiken antisemitism.” He credits Yiddish newspapers such as the Forward, read by his father and grandmother, for the family’s awareness of Hitler’s activities in Europe. Other topics covered by Mort include: keeping kosher, his bar mitzvah, his aunt Mina Surasky Tropp, his visit to Knyszyn, and his career in journalism. The transcript includes comments inserted by the interviewee during proofreading.
Henry Windmuller, born in 1924, in Andernach, Germany, describes the town’s small Jewish congregation and his family’s religious practices, as well as the schooling he received as a boy. He was boarding at a teacher’s college in Wurzburch when the anti-Jewish violence of Kristallnacht broke out in November 1938. He recalls how he and a friend escaped the perpetrators and arrived safely home. His father, Max, was arrested and held at a camp in Dachau for about a month and then released. Stepmother Rosa arranged for Henry and his sister, Ilse, who was a year younger, to leave Cologne for England a week later on the Kindertransport. They were placed with separate families in Edinburgh, Scotland. With the help of his brother, who sent money from South Africa, Max escaped Germany a week before the start of World War II. The family was unable to secure the money needed to get Rosa to safety and they never saw her again. In the spring of 1940, with the Nazis moving into Western Europe, Henry and his father were among the foreign nationals living in Great Britain who were detained by the British. Max was sent to the Isle of Man and Henry was placed in an internment camp in Lingfield, England. Henry recounts his experiences at Lingfield, then on board the Duchess of York en route to Canada, and, finally, in a camp in Red Rock, Ontario. In all three locations German prisoners of war—airmen, submariners, naval officers, merchant marines—made up the vast majority of prisoners detained alongside Henry and his fellow Jews. “It was like being back in Germany,” he notes. A Jewish doctor, who was tending to the Red Rock prisoners, discovered that Jewish inmates were being forced to live with Nazis. He and his Montreal congregation successfully lobbied for the relocation of the Jews, who were then transferred to Sherbrooke in southeastern Quebec. Henry was allowed to return to Scotland in 1942, where Ilse still lived with her foster family. By that time Max had immigrated to Hartford, Connecticut. In 1943 Henry joined his father in the United States. He traveled alone, however; Ilse had died of diphtheria in Scotland. The transcript includes comments inserted by the interviewee during proofreading.