Anne Stern Solomon is joined in this interview by her nieces Marcie Stern Baker and Beryle Stern Jaffe. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1921, Anne grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, one of five children of Rose Sribnick and Gabriel Stern. The Sterns ran a number of stores in Columbia and tried their luck for a time in Charleston before opening a dry goods store in Lexington, on the outskirts of Columbia, in the early 1930s. In 1938, they moved the business to 1424 Assembly Street in Columbia. Anne relates childhood memories of Stern's, which catered mostly to black clientele. She believes her parents were the first store owners in the city to hire a black man to wait on customers. The three interviewees discuss relations between their family and local African Americans; the Sterns were "taught that everybody was the same." Anne talks about how she met Ted Solomon; they married in 1945 and raised four children in Columbia. Ted and Anne's brother, Henry Stern (Beryle and Marcie's father), took over the store upon returning from service in World War II. After a fire in 1957, they reopened as a discount shoe store in the same location. Marcie and Beryle describe their mother, Sarah Kramer Stern; her family in Summerville, South Carolina, where she grew up; and how she met their father. See also Anne Solomon's interviews on August 31, 2015 (Mss. 1035-485), and September 8, 2015 (Mss. 1035-486).
Anne Stern Solomon sits down for a third interview in 2015 (see also Mss. 1035-484 and -485) and adds details about her life, especially in the years before, during, and after World War II. She worked at Fort Jackson in her hometown of Columbia, SC, following her graduation from Winthrop College in 1940. About three years later, she left the fort to help her father, Gabriel Stern, in his dry goods store on Assembly Street. She describes what information they were getting about events in Europe during the war years; they were aware that people were trying to leave, but they did not know specifics about the treatment of Jews. Shortly after her fiance, Ted Solomon, returned from overseas duty in 1945, they were married by Rabbi David Karesh in House of Peace Synagogue on Marion Street. Ted and Anne's brother, Henry, also newly returned from service in World War II, took over Gabriel's store. Anne discusses race relations in Columbia in the 1960s and says of her family: "We were all taught not to be prejudiced because we knew that, especially in Europe, how bad it was when it came to antisemitism." She cites a few examples of antisemitism that she and her sister experienced, but notes that it generally was not an issue in Columbia. Anne recalls the arrival, in 1949, of Holocaust survivors Ben and Jadzia Stern, with their daughter, Lilly, the interviewer; they were sponsored by Anne's father, who was an uncle. Anne talks about her children, Bonnie, Teri, Charlene, and Joel, and about a program she started at the Jewish Community Center, called Stems, which engaged girls, ages ten through thirteen, in activities for enrichment, fund-raising, and recreation. Anne was active in local civic organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, and went to work for realtor Tillie Lewenthal after her children were grown. When Tillie retired, Anne took over the business. The interviewee describes her involvement in Hadassah, her feelings about the State of Israel, and her Jewish identity.
Anne Stern Solomon, in this follow-up to a June 26, 2015, interview with her nieces (see Mss. 1035-484), covers the same topics as before, including her family history, living in Lexington and Columbia, South Carolina, as a child, her father's stores, and growing up with her four siblings. Her sister Sylvia opened a dance studio as a teen and was involved in choreographing the dance known as the Big Apple. See also Anne's Solomon's third interview, Mss. 1035-486.
John Baker, born in 1955 in Columbia, South Carolina, recounts the history of Baker & Baker, the law practice turned real estate development firm established by his father, David Baker, and his father's first cousin, Lee Baker, after World War II. David married JoAnn Schreiber of Brunswick, Georgia, and they raised five children in Columbia. Growing up Jewish, John remarks that although the Bakers were not very observant, they were intensely proud of their heritage. He and his twin brother, Frank, became bar mitzvahs in a double ceremony at Tree of Life Synagogue, attended by prominent South Carolina politicians, including Strom Thurmond, who knew David Baker through his civic engagement. John notes his admiration for his paternal grandmother, Clara Kligman (Kligerman) Baker, a Polish immigrant who ran a grocery store in Columbia. After earning his business degree from the University of South Carolina, the interviewee worked for real estate developer Walter Keenan. In 1979 John joined his father and Lee Baker in their firm as a property manager. Twelve years later he married Marcie Stern of Columbia; they have a daughter, Gabrielle. In the mid-1990s John and Lee Baker's son-in-law, Steven Anastasion, took over daily operations at Baker & Baker. John discusses his support of Israel and describes his involvement in the local community. The transcript contains corrections made by the interviewee during proofing.
Richard Gergel, born in 1954 in Columbia, South Carolina, is joined in this interview by his wife, Belinda Friedman Gergel. He is the youngest of three children of Meri Friedman and Melvin Gergel, who owned a number of stores in the capital city. Richard provides background on his immigrant grandparents and how they came to the United States. His paternal grandfather, Joseph Gergel, was from Ukraine; he married Jean Fingerhut of Toronto, Canada. Before running Gergel?s Men?s Shop on Main Street in Columbia, Joseph peddled and operated a store on Assembly Street. The interviewee explains how his maternal grandparents, Rebecca Dreiziak/Dreiszek and Sam Friedman, ended up in his hometown after raising Meri and her sisters in Kingstree, South Carolina. Richard describes growing up in Columbia and talks about the merchants who lined Main Street, most of them Jewish and many related to the Friedmans. He attended Keenan High School and served as the student body president in 1970?71, the year the school transitioned from a junior high to a high school and became fully integrated. ?I was very committed to this issue of making school desegregation work.? Regarding antisemitism in Columbia, Richard remembers ?isolated episodes in my childhood, but they were so unusual that they actually stood out because that was not the norm. Jews were generally very accepted.? However, he does cite instances of antisemitism in earlier decades reported to him by his father. Richard notes ?there was no institution more important to my family than the Tree of Life Congregation,? and recalls studying with Rabbi Gruber in preparation for his bar mitzvah at the Reform synagogue. He discusses his family?s involvement on the boards of the congregation and the Columbia Hebrew Benevolent Society. After earning his law degree at Duke University, Richard returned to Columbia to work in private practice; in 2009 he was nominated to the United States District Court for South Carolina by the Obama administration. The interviewee recounts how, about a decade ago, he learned of Gergel relatives living in Russia. When his grandfather Joseph and Joseph?s three brothers, Isidore, Max, and Gustave, came to Columbia, they left behind four brothers and a sister in Ukraine. The separated branches of the family confirmed their connection when both were able to produce the same family photo, taken on the occasion of Isidore Gergel?s visit home after immigrating to America. Note: see also interviews with Melvin Gergel?s sister, Shirley Gergel Ness, January 21, 2016, Mss. 1035-449 and Meri Friedman Gergel and her sister Rae Friedman Berry, July 17, 1997, Mss. 1035-154.
Emma Bogen Lavisky Bukatman and Belle Lavisky Jewler, audio interview by Dale Rosengarten and Michael Samuel Grossman, 4 March 1997, Mss 1035-135, Special Collections, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.;Emma Bogen Lavisky Bukatman, interviewed with her daughter, Belle Lavisky Jewler, discusses the Katzenelenbogen family history, a name they attribute to a city in Poland, although their genealogy traces the family to Bialsytok, Russia, and long before that, Italy. Emma’s parents, Bella Weinberg and Joseph Bogen (Katzenelenbogen) were first cousins who met and married in New York City. Emma, born in 1906 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children, notes that their family moved frequently, and in each location her father opened a general merchandise store. She remembers living in New York City before moving to Denmark, South Carolina, when she was eight years old. Emma recalls that they “felt a lot of antisemitism growing up” in the small town where the Bogens were the only Jewish residents until the Ness family settled there and opened a dry goods store. When she was sixteen, the family moved about fifty miles north to Columbia. She met her first husband, Michael Lavisky at Chaplin’s wholesale shoe business where she was employed as a bookkeeper and he was a shipping clerk. They married in 1926 in House of Peace Synagogue on Park Street. Belle, who was born in Columbia in 1936, offers some background on her father’s family, the Laviskys, who emigrated from Russia to Columbia in 1912. Emma describes her siblings, the Bogen family’s religious practices, and her memories of Rabbi David Karesh of Columbia. She recounts how the women of House of Peace Congregation transitioned from sitting in the balcony in the Park Street building to sitting downstairs, separated from the men, in the new sanctuary on Marion Street. Other topics include Columbia merchants, in particular, the Rivkins; Belle’s brother, Saul Lavisky; letters Emma’s mother wrote to her sister in Yiddish that have been translated into English (copies are available in Jewish Heritage Collection vertical files, Special Collections, College of Charleston); and how Beth Shalom (formerly House of Peace) evolved from an Orthodox to a Conservative congregation, a development in which women’s roles in services were at the heart of the issue.
Ben Stern, audio interview by Dale Rosengarten and Michael Samuel Grossman, 4 March 1997, Mss 1035-137, Special Collections, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.;Ben Stern, the youngest of Chaim and Hadassah Stern’s four children, was born in Kielce, Poland, in 1924. For a decade beginning in 1930, the family lived in Lodz where, Ben recalls, antisemitism was rampant. The Sterns returned to Kielce in 1940, hoping conditions created in the wake of the German occupation of Poland the year before, would not be felt as harshly in a smaller community. For a time, that was true. Ben comments on Hitler’s strategy and the Germans’ willingness to take part in his plan. His sister Faye and their parents were transported to Treblinka in 1942; he never saw them again. Ben was put to work by the Germans in a number of jobs that required intense physical labor, before being sent to Auschwitz in 1944. He describes how he got to the concentration camp, what happened when he arrived, and the effects the dehumanizing conditions had on the behavior of the inmates. He was transferred to a number of different camps before being liberated by Americans. He was reunited with his sister Sophie after the war. She had been sent to the same camp in Pionki as their brother, Joel, who died in a death march the day before they were liberated. After the war Ben lived in an apartment in Munich, Germany, where he met and married his wife, Jadzia Szklarz, also a survivor. The couple, with their daughter Lilly, immigrated to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1949, sponsored by Ben’s uncle Gabriel Stern, who had left Lodz many years before to escape antisemitism. Ben talks about his first jobs in Columbia, his four children, and how his belief in God changed.
Bernard "Nard" Fleischman was born in 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina, to Marian Daniel and Bernard S. Fleischman. Marian's family, mostly from southern Georgia, has been traced back to 1750 in North America. Her mother was Jewish, her father was Christian, and they raised the children as Jews. On his father's side, Bernard notes that stories from his great-grandmother and Columbia native Rosa David Berman have been passed down to his generation. He relates one of her tales about the invasion of the capital city by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops in 1865. Rosa's husband, Barnett Berman, a Polish immigrant, was president of the Columbia Hebrew Benevolent Society from 1888 to 1914, a long period of leadership that set a precedent for Bernard's father, who served the Society for decades as secretary-treasurer, and Bernard, who took over the role in 2003. The interviewee talks about his paternal grandparents, Tillie Berman Fleischman and Sol Fleischman. After Sol died in 1936, Tillie bought a house on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, and Bernard and his family spent their summers there. The family included Bernard, his older sister Lynn, and younger sister Marianne. The interviewee describes his parents' religious observances and their experiences as members of the Reform synagogue in Columbia, Tree of Life. He recalls Jewish merchants, the neighborhoods where he grew up, and childhood friends. He was the only Jewish person in his junior high school and admits he tried to hide that he was Jewish: "I didn't want to stand out." Nevertheless, he experienced no "blatant" antisemitism growing up. "Columbia was a very accepting town, it really was, at least from my perspective." Bernard lists the civic organizations he has been active in, emphasizing his significant involvement in the Jewish organizations. "We think that's something that is important to us, to keep Jewish tradition here in Columbia alive." He sees his family's legacy as one of "service to not only the Jewish community, but we're also very involved in the non-Jewish."
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.
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.