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.
Henry Miller, accompanied by his wife, Minda Miller, describes growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, in the 1950s and 1960s. His parents, Cela Tyczgarten and David Miller were survivors of the Holocaust; their move to Columbia in 1949 was sponsored by the city and Beth Shalom Synagogue. The Millers summarize David and Cela’s experiences during World War II, in particular, David’s participation in the ghetto uprising in his native city of Warsaw, Poland. David and Cela met and married in Landsberg, Germany, where they were living in a displaced persons camp. Henry observes how his parents’ status as Holocaust survivors and refugees affected their outlook on life, as well as how it affected him and his sister as children. He discusses his parents’ liquor store business, the neighborhoods where they lived, and his memories of downtown Columbia on Saturdays. He also reflects on school desegregation, antisemitism, and the effects of prejudice on blacks and Jews. Henry met Minda in Memphis, Tennessee, where he attended optometry school; they married in 1978. They have a daughter, Dawn, and a son, Bret. Henry practiced optometry for thirty-seven years in Columbia.