From Poland to the Lower East Side/Interviews

Interviews with the Kirschenbaum family who came from Poland to the Lower East Side of NYC in the early part of the 20th century.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Interview with Henry Kirschenbaum Part 1


“Reminiscences #1” -- Henry Kirschenbaum
[interruption] indicates a short bit of a blank tape during which there may have been some discussion.

... indicates a memory lapse, the hesitation in speech for an unfinished thought.

Occasionally incidents are repeated, often in different versions. Henry recalls the family’s point of departure from Europe as Hamburg. Frances says it was Bremen.

Family legends are incidents told over the years but never taped.

Brief comments in brackets, [ ], indicate a few words slipped in during an explanation or a question.

Interview transcribed by Dorothy McCurry


Memories are unruly. After a lifetime of living and loving, retrieving them is literally swimming in the stream of consciousness. One word, one glimpse into the past opens vistas long quiescent and brings to life a vanished world. An incident may be recalled, then recalled later with differences. For example, Henry who was 12 when the family left Poland said they sailed aboard the Patricia from the port of Hamburg. His sister Frances, who was 4 at the time, recalled or was told, that they left from Bremen. The ship's manifest gives Hamburg as the port of departure; no stop at Bremen appears in the manifest.
Most of this is verbatim. When questions had to be included they are often condensed to keep the focus where it belongs.---Dorothy McCurry

Tape 1 side 1
John: Tell me about the Jews.
Henry: Well, they...came over here. My father came over here, not as a... He was very much involved in getting the Jews in Poland, I'm talking now in Poland, in getting Jewish young men for not going into the army to be drafted. Now in order get a young man away from the army...
J: Tell me about the ethnic culture, the Litvaks and the Polish Jews.
H: The Polish Jews. Well the Litvaks were a much more ambitious group than the Galician Jews. You see, the word Galicia is Spanish because Francis[sic] Joseph named that part of Poland a Spanish name, you see. That's how, that's why he called it Galicia, because he was involved with Spanish... kingdom at that time. Now in order to get a young man from going into the army was to buy off the people who controlled that. Doctors...and politicians, [professional men] and so on. Well they, they, they... It was a matter of graft, you see. If a young man had to go become a soldier it was a terrible thing for very many reasons. First of all he couldn't ...he couldn't go to a Hebrew school, you see. He had to eat what everybody else ate, which was a matter of very[sic] importance to the Jews. The question of kosher stuff against non-kosher stuff. Well my father was a go-between. If you had a son who was ready to get into the army and you didn't want him to go into the army, all you have to do is go to my father and shell out a certain amount of money. And he paid off the doctors, he paid off the...officers who controlled this draft business. And he was let free. The doctors found him... [unfit] unfit, you see. [laugh] Now I remember distinctly, there's a doctor there who was a friend of my father's. And he gave them...he gave them a bottle of some sort of liquid, you see. And when you put that liquid onto your legs, you got sores all over your... See? And he went in and they looked at that and said, out. See? And then they had something other that took all that away, you see. And then...and of course he was very well-to-do, my father. They had a house, wonderful furniture, books. My father was quite a scholar in Hebrew and in Polish. And he was looked upon as a life-saver. If a young man had to be drafted and he went to the rabbi. So the rabbi got in touch with my father and he said, fix him up. See? And so it went. Until he was caught, my father, see. But not only was he caught but a lot of the officers and the doctors, you see. And fortunately my father was able to get out of the country. And his first stop was London. And he was in London for about a year. And then he came to New York. And after a year, he sent for the family. [dog barking, interruption] He came here, what could he do? [un huh] He didn't have a profession, you know. So he had to go and look for a job. And there were already Jews who came here before. We came here in 1900, you see. Well, finally he got a job. Then there was a friend who came from a nearby town...and I remember him so well. He was a short man, very thin, a red beard, red hair, you know. And he got a...a ship to take his wife, my mother, and the children, 5 children, you see. And he got paid weekly, you see. And he paid part of it to the shipping and part of it into his pocket, you see. Well, we came here. I remember very distinctly what happened at Ellis Island. There were hundreds and hundreds of them, children all over the place. father was there. I was the oldest and as we were standing there we all hollered out, father, father, daddy. daddy, daddy, daddy, you know. And they ran to my father. And the man who was supposed to take down all this information, he said, go ahead, go ahead. You see? Because he knew this family already. I mean it wasn't a payoff then. But he saw these children, and my father standing there, and they rushing to my father. And...I had a violin. And we all came out from Ellis Island. Well in[and?] Ellis Island... [pause]
J: Go ahead.
H: There was this red-headed Jew. [clatter] And he told us how to get to Manhattan. So we were put on a boat and we got off the Battery. And there we took an Elevated. And we came to a place where we got out. And we were taken to an apartment. Now we were 5 children, my father and mother, 7 people, see. And it was a very small apartment. [cough] And we stayed there only a couple of months because there wasn't enough room there. And from there we went a few blocks up to a street named...was it Norfolk Street or Suffolk Street? Let's see. We came to Norfolk Street. And a strange thing, all...the entire area was named after the English. Norfolk Street, Norfolk, Suffolk...Delancy... Well it'll come to me. But I'm just giving you a... Well we moved into Norfolk Street; it was a little larger apartment. And during that year that my father was here, he peddled with a pushcart, as hundreds of them did, you see. And I remember him telling us that he had of these... You rented it by the day. And he had thousands of...of...thousands of stockings, men's stockings.
J: Like a pushcart.
H: A pushcart, yes. Men's stockings. And he sold them for 10¢ a pair because they were... It was a fall-off from something that happened b the manufacturer that it had no... [interruption] Now these stockings, they had no heels, you see. So what difference did it make? You pull 'em up[?]. So he sold them for 5¢ a pair. Well, now that area...the Litvaks, the Lithuanians and the Galicians did not mingle. The Lithuanians lived up further, where East Broadway is, you see, over Hester Street, in that area, you see. And we lived, the Polish or Austrian Jews, lived there, you see. They had their own synagogues and so on and so forth. [pause] Well...but the...they couldn't go, only up to Second Avenue. From Second Avenue was all German, see. And of course they wouldn't have the Jews there. Now, she has here about this terrible tragedy. Did you read that? [yes] This terrible tragedy with hundreds of children who went down in the East River on a boat, you see. Well, little by little the Germans got out of there. And we moved from Norfolk Street to Suffolk Street. It was just one block different. Suffolk Street was more... advanced...[chuckle] because while the toilet was in the hall, you see. But inside we had a sink, a running sink, which we didn't have in Norfolk Street. So in order to get water we had to go down into the yard where there was a sink and a faucet, and you get water and brought it up. Well, wouldn't go into details, not just now. My father got, finally got a job somewhere. I don't remember what it was. But he earned a few dollars a week, see. My mother was a very wonderful cook. She started a little restaurant, but that didn't go[?]. Now my father' of my father's brothers lived in the same house on Norfolk Street. And he played a lottery, and he won. So he and his wife and one or two children they had then, moved of all places to New Rochelle, you see. [chuckle] And in New Rochelle, he got a wagon and a horse and he bought all kinds of stuff and all kinds of things. And he peddled around from house to house, and whatever they wanted he could sell 'em. And he made a lot of money. So much so that eventually they went into the storage business. And they were one of the largest storage houses in the country. They became very wealthy, extremely wealthy. They had a lot of real estate, they had all kinds of things. They had a lot of money. I don't know whether any of them are still alive. But they had that where they moved entire families. And...he was only known as Charlie. Nobody knew his name. Charlie. Charlie was the man with the wagon, you see. And he was the kind of a man who came to sell something to a woman, maybe a pot, maybe something else, and other things that he carried. And if she didn't have any money he gave it to her, see. So he became famous. [pause] Now, we come back to New York. My father got a job, as I said before. And we were sent to school. There was a school, 160, which was on the corner of Suffolk Street and Rivington Street. Now at a certain part of this entire section, which took in all the way from Allen Street where the Elevator[sic] ran, down towards the river. These were Polish Jews. From there on came the Russian Jews. And they had their own businesses there and so on and so forth. And immediately of course, they had to have a synagogue. So they built synagogues. And they build an organization that had many many branches throughout the entire area. And that was only among the Polish Jews. I can't remember...I'll remember it but I can't remember it just now...what the name of that was. It's still in existence. And they did a lot of charitable work. If a man couldn't get a job right away or something, they helped him along. When a member of the family passed away, the remaining head of the family got a certain amount of money to tide them over. And that took money. Now the Lithuanian Jews, or the Litvaks as they were called, they lived past Allen Street. See, there was Delancy Street, there was Orchard Street, Ludlow Street. But beyond that was East Broadway, Grand Street and so on. They settled there. And the place was called...I can't remember the name of it...but anyway... [pause] We were sent to school at number 160. And most of them were Jewish children. It was on the block away from us, from Suffolk Street to Clinton Street, there were some Polish people. And they came over to our street and started killing people, Jews. Oh yes. It was a terrible battle. Now there was a firm, still in existence...I can't remember the name of it...but they had a big, a tremendous ...plant where they produced printing presses for newspapers and so on. And I remember that very distinctly. There was a rabbi there who was considered a saint among the Jews, of the Polish Jews I'm talking now. And at that time there weren't any automobiles or carriages. These poor people, they couldn't hire them. And they had to take them over to Brooklyn and across the...bridge to Brooklyn. And that place, they had to cross the...they had to cross the bridge, the old bridge. And at that time the people who worked in that plant were let loose. And as the hearse went up the bridge, they started chasing the Jews, throwing rocks at them, hitting them with sticks and all sorts of things. Several, a good number of them were...were hurt, you know. And that was done against the Jews. You wouldn't believe that, but that's a fact. And I remember that very distinctly. [pause] Well father couldn't work any more in those places. He wasn't made that way, you know. So we got a pushcart. We lived on Suffolk Street then. Suffolk Street off Stanton, Stanton Street...around that area. He got a pushcart, and it was standing in front of the house, day and night. And my father went to Orchard Street and he got some stuff from people there and he put it on his pushcart and he tried to sell 'em that stuff. He also got...we weren't allowed to keep pushcart open on Sunday. So Saturday of course we didn't do anything with the pushcart. And Sunday we weren't allowed to do anything with the pushcart. But on Sundays, we went over, in another part of the city a place where Smith was born and lived, who was...became governor of New York.
J: Alfred E. Smith?
H: Yeah. And there he had a lot of...pieces of merchandise, of...of something that you can make a shirt of or a...or a...cap or anything at all, you know, that people could sew up. So they made a few dollars that way. So one day I had an argument with my father. I was the oldest [chuckle]. So I had an argument. I said, why...why do you buy from these people in Orchard Street? Why don't you buy these things from where they get it? See? So he didn't know where they got it. So I went to Orchard Street and the whole street was covered with pushcarts, with everything under the sun. And there I noticed, on one piece...I don't remember what it was...was a tag attached to it. So when the man wasn't looking I took the tag and put it in my pocket. And I came home. And I said, now here, this where they get it. So you go ahead and get it yourself from there. Now that was in Lafayette Street...well Lafayette Street. They were just a few blocks from us. And they had auctions there. And I got the address from that tag. So my father went, and I went with my father, and he bought the stuff there. He had to bid, you know. But he got some things, and he came back and he put it on the pushcart. And he made more money this way than buying it in Orchard Street...until he became very well known there. And among the things that he got were books. And they were English and my father couldn't read English, my mother couldn't read English, but I could read English. So we started selling books. [interruption] Now speaking about books...
J: You said you started selling books.
H: But before we started selling books we had this pushcart. And it was there day and night. At night we covered it, you know. And there were so many things, whatever my father could get, people bought for very little. Until he came to be known as Siegal Cooper. Now you know what Siegal Cooper is? [no] Siegal Cooper were two people who started a business on Grand Street. And eventually they moved from Grand Street to Sixth Avenue where the Elevator ran. And they opened during the ...1890 or something...the Chicago...some sort of...celebration of some sort. And that was very famous at the time because it had a fountain going. Well Siegal and Cooper were two Jews, as I said, who started business on Grand Street and moved to Sixth Avenue and started an apartment[sic] store there, one of the first in the city. And they gave it the name of Siegal Cooper. And all the people who came to buy from my father from all over, they called my father Siegal Cooper, you see. Cause he sold everything. By then eventually this sort of petered out, and we had a great many books that we bought at auction. So we got a... another pushcart, and my mother took care of the pushcart on Suffolk Street. And the pushcart stood right in front of the stoop where we lived. father took a pushcart, or I took a pushcart with my father. We found a place on Delancy Street. There were a lot of pushcarts there along all Delancy. And we filled up a pushcart with books...and people came and bought books. Well eventually we gave up the pushcart and we took a place on East Broadway. Now East Broadway was the... [pause] It was the place, first of all, where all the Jews, and the mixture between the Polish Jews and the Lithuanian Jews became a little closer. And East Broadway was the...the great place, something like, you might say...
J: Like a meeting place?
H: No, no. It was...the Jewish newspapers were published on East Broadway, the German Jews built a...a building there for all kinds of...of...interesting things, for people to come and hear lectures and so on and so forth. That was over there. So I told my father that he should get a place, instead of standing on the street with a pushcart. to go to East Broadway because that was the elite. And fill it with books and sell it there. So we got a place on East Broadway. We put in books and started selling books. And one day, my Uncle Charlie from...what was the name? I mentioned it before.
J: You mean the suburb where he moved to? [the what?] He lived in the suburbs?
H: Yeah. In New Rochelle. [yeah] So he...he came over from New Rochelle. And he said, there's a man has a store full of books, and he is going out of business. And he doesn't want to have the books. So my uncle in New Rochelle cleaned out all the books from that store. Heaven knows what wonderful books there were. We didn't know. And he put them all on a boat and brought it to New York for my father, see. And this is how we started in the book business. And from East Broadway, we moved to Second Avenue. By then the Germans were all out. After that tragedy with the...with the boat going down in the East River where hundreds of children were drowned, the Germans moved out of there. Now Second Avenue was all German. And during the Easter holiday and the Christmas holiday, we children used to go to... Second Avenue and buy little cookies and stuff like that. But that was all German. And after that tragedy, the Germans moved out. And the Jews walked in. So my father had that bookstore on Second Avenue. It was in the building of a court but down... downstairs were stores. Well Second Avenue sort of petered out. And I knew...I was always crazy about books. So I...I saw these bookstores on Fourth Avenue. Originally all of these book men who had stores of books were on 125th Street before the colored people came over. And they all moved down to Fourth Avenue. Why to Fourth Avenue? I don't know. Maybe it was because near Peter Cooper, you know, and other institutions there. So eventually I persuaded my father to give up the Second Avenue store and take a store on Fourth Avenue. And that is where he eventually took a store. And in fact we had two stores there. And we sold books all over the country, old books, you know, but books that people wanted, naturally, you know. And he did very well. And my two brothers came into the business. I didn't come into the business because I...I wanted to be a writer, you see. But I was in the business too, you know. And I read all the books. And from there, eventually they gave up the Fourth Avenue shops and we moved to 59th Street. And my brother is still on 59th Street. See, they call it Carnegie Book Shop. Because when we moved from Fourth Avenue, we moved to...we moved to Carnegie Hall on...on... You know Carnegie Hall. [57th, yes] 57th Street. We got a shop there. And it was called the Carnegie Book Shop, you see. And we did very well there. But then it got to be too...too much. Carnegie Hall and all these people and...and 57th Street and 59th Street and so on...they didn't buy so many books. There was the elite over there but they didn't buy so many books. So we got a shop on 59th Street, right? [yeah] Now if I want to stop in...I wasn't in it, this one, you see. And my brother is still on 59th Street. But he hasn't a shop. He has a loft, you know. [interruption] Some of them of course became very famous, very wealthy, some of them didn't. And that was how it happened in my family. But there was always a...a hatred against the Jews. Of started [overlap] way back 2,000 years ago, you know. [oh yeah] But they haven't given up. The Jews are still persecuted, still hated. And the whole thing is...not too good. Because the Church, whether it is the Catholic Church or the Protestant Churches, they still hate the Jews and will continue to hate the Jews until some catastrophe happens. During the war ...the first war between Israel and the...and the Arabs...which is known as the Six Day War, goes way back. Edith belonged to a church here, you see. And she received a weekly little pamphlet from the headquarters of the Protestant Jews[sic], the...this is a...Protestant organization. And one day when the war was over, soon after the war was over, maybe a week after, must be a week after...she received a pamphlet which was issued I think monthly or weekly. You know, it was sent out to the people who belonged to these churches, and in it was an editorial. I very seldom read it, you know, and even Edith seldom read it because it wasn't of great interest. But this one, I picked it up and I looked at it. And an editorial said the following. I wanted to keep it but Edith tore it up. And it said, it is too bad, or something to that effect I mean, that the Jews are still alive.

Tape 1 side 2
H: ...little magazine. That came from somewhere in the west, you know, where the headquarters are. And I told them what I thought about them. In the 20th Century, nearing the end of the 20th Century, 2,000 years since Christ, and yet you allow one of your editors to write an editorial that every Jew in Israel and every Jew elsewhere, should be destroyed. [interruption] And I wrote them a letter...telling them about that editorial. I said, you're...doing the most shameful thing that ever happened. You're crucifying Christ again. You see. Or something to that effect. Anyway...but these are the words, some of the words that I used. Well I got a letter from the chief editor saying that the man who wrote this editorial was fired. He will write no more. So imagine...imagine that. [interruption] We lived on Suffolk Street, as I told you, you know. Had a pushcart there and so on and so forth. On one side of the stoop was a butcher, see. On the other side was a plumber, and in the basement was a baker, you see. [dog barking] And they...they owned the house. [interruption] ...were on very friendly terms with this family, you know, who owned the bakery. Well you know this...couple who did a great deal of dances and have dancing schools all over the country? They were on television for years.
J: I'd probably know it if I heard it.
H: You know? I can't remember...I can't remember the name. But one of their sons, they had two sons and two daughters. One of their sons became this great dancer. And they opened dancing schools all over the country. You must have heard of him because they were famous. For years they were on television. They had a play...they had a program on television, he and his wife, you see. And I didn't know him...I mean I knew the boy because we were children together, we went to school together. When my brother was sick at the hospital some time ago, before he passed away, I went to see him...see my brother. He's gone now. And there I met one of the daughters of that family. And she recognized me. And I asked her innocently, how is your brother of the brothers, I forget his name, what is your brother doing? She said, you don't know what he's doing? I said, no I don't know what he's doing. Well, she said, you're an ignoramus, she said, smiling, you know. You're an ignoramus, you don't know anything. My brother, did you ever hear of this dancing partnership? They have, not only all over New York City, places where they teach dancing, but all over the country.
J: You must mean Arthur Murray. [huh?} Arthur Murray?
H: Yeah, Arthur Murray. That's it, Arthur Murray. She says, you never heard of Arthur Murray? I said, why should I have ever heard of Arthur Murray? [chuckle] And she says, well that's Arthur Murray and his wife. And he was working in the... in the basement bakery. [laugh] [interruption]
Dorothy: Talking about the battle of Suffolk Street. When the Poles came over, you said the police, there were no police around, nobody called the police. There was no...the police didn't break it up. [no] And the Poles got beaten. [interruption] You said the Poles got beaten [yes] at the battle of Suffolk Street. So who beat them? I mean, did they just go 'way [what?] Did they just go away? Go back to...
H: They didn't go away, they ran away.
D: Well they ran away? [yes] Okay but I mean did they come back [no] try again? [no] What set it off? [what?] What started it?
H: I don't know what started it. But simply to introduce a pogrom perhaps, you know. Just hatred to the Jews that's all.
D: Something must have started it, must have set it off.
H: There was no need because wherever there are Jews...
D: Well why didn't they do it the day before? What started it that particular...
H: Well they must have prepared for it, they must have held their gang, you know. And...and they decided that on a certain day they're going to...attack the Jews. And they came to attack the Jews. But they got off with a bad defeat.
D: That was just about the time when the motion picture business was starting. Were you aware of that? 1900... [no] Yes, they had motion picture parlors on Broadway in the 1890s already.
H: Well we didn't know anything about it.
D: Didn't know anything about the motion... Did anybody that you knew from those days get into the motion picture business? I know everybody says that they did. [what?] Did any of the people that you knew back then make it big in the motion picture business? Any people that you knew personally?
H: No, no, I don't know any. I played in a motion picture house. [where?] On the East Side there, I don't remember where ...where...there was a little...little theatre that showed pictures, you know. And silent pictures of course.
D: This was around 1910?
H: Must have been around then. Just... I played the violin while the picture was going.
D: Do you remember what picture it was? [no...] Was it a western or...
H: Some picture. I have no recollection of what the picture was. But that lasted for quite a while until they shut down. They went out of business or something.
D: So you were aware of motion pictures.
H: Yeah. I had to prepare music to... What they did was run off the picture and I watched.
D: And then you decided what you were going to play?
H: Then I decided what I would play at certain parts.
D: Was it an action picture like a western or a Douglas Fairbanks picture? No, he wasn't around then.
H: It was earlier than that.
D: Or was it some of the early domestic comedies?
H: The earliest picture that I ever saw...was...I don't recall what the picture was, but my uncle who, incidentally, lived on...
D: Suffolk Street? [huh?] Suffolk Street?
H: No, not Suffolk Street, the other... [Norfolk?] No, the other...the other way. We just took about...where the boys[?] came from that attack... [Clinton?] Clinton Street.
D: How come he lived on Clinton Street if the Poles lived there? [what?] If the Poles lived on Clinton Street, how come he lived on Clinton Street? You said that every nationality stuck to themselves.
H: Well the Poles lived there before the Jews got here. you see. And my uncle was a tailor. But he didn't have a tailor shop. He was...he worked at home...preparing for the manufacturers cause he was an artist in that.
D: He made patterns?
H: He made patterns. he sewed up the whole business.
D: Made a sample? [yes] Did He do it by hand or by machine?
H: Both. Well he...
D: Was he the one that won the lottery or was he another one?
H: That's another one, that's another one. He never won anything. His daughter was married...married a man and she went to live in New Rochelle. [also?] But that's beside the point. He...came over one time to us and he...he was really a very fine character, a very fine person. And he said, you come with me. So he took me to 14th Street. [oh yeah] Now 14th Street at that time...
D: Was all the way uptown.
H: Was pretty much all the way uptown, but aside from that, 14th Street also had a...a sort of...circus like but it was people instead of animals.
D: What living pictures? [no pictures] I mean living statues sort of thing?
H: No. They were people, all sorts of curiosities. [a freak show?] A freak show. That was on 14th Street.
D: Near the Academy of Music? The Academy of Music is still there.
H: And I played in there, with that, on 14th Street.
D: That must've been weird.
H: But he came over and he took me to a place on 14th Street which was in a narrow room...maybe as far as these two rooms, you see. And there were seats like in a train, you know what I mean?
D: Yeah, on both...each side of the...with a central aisle.
H: It looked like a train, it looked like going into a train. And he took me to that.
D: Was that where the freak show was?
H: No. No, what was another place. And the thing that was built like a train kept going on, on, on like that, you know. Like a train moving, you see.
D: Like a conveyor belt or a treadmill?
H: Yeah, something like that. And we went in there and he paid something. I don't remember how much, maybe 5¢, 10¢, I don't know. But certainly I don't think it was more than that. And we found two seats together. And on the screen were motion pictures of railroads, of wagons, of all sorts of things, came along. That was the picture that we saw.
D: And you were moving too? [what?] You were on a moving thing too?
H: Yeah, we were on a moving thing too?
D: You don't know the name of that place? [the what?] Do you remember the name of that place?
H: The name of the place? [yeah] No.
D: Do you remember where it was [on 14th Street] Where?
H: Oh, between...must've been...between, let's see...14th Street runs what?
D: Well 14th Street runs from river to river. [what?] Runs from river to river. 14th Street runs all the way across the island.
H: The river isn't on 14th Street.
D: 14th Street runs completely across the island. [yeah] So where was it? On East 14th Street?
H: East 14th Street, yes.
D: Was it east of the Academy of Music, east of the Academy of Music? You know where the Academy of Music is on 14th Street? [yeah] Was it east of that?
H: No, it was a little lower down.
D: Toward the East River?
H: No away...away from the river.
D: Oh, west of that then?
H: Yes. So we sat there and watched the pictures of trains and wagons, all moving on the screen, see. And this thing where we sat kept going like a train.
D: Did you get seasick? Well if somebody wanted to get started in the motion picture business in those days, how would they go about it? I guess they would rent a store and show pictures. [yeah] Is that how they got started, rented a store and showed pictures?
H In a store? Yeah, sure.
D: That's what they did. I know because...
H: Well the place where I played for the pictures, that used to be a store, sure.
D: It wasn't a theatre, it was a store?
H: It wasn't a theatre, it was a store, yes.
D: Those were pictures projected on a screen, not where you look in the little machine?
H: No, the pictures were on the screen.
D: And they put in chairs?
H: Chairs, benches.
D: But you never knew anybody who made it big at that time or who later made it big?
H: No, no, no.
D: When you got sick, when anybody got sick, the doctor came to them? You didn't go to the doctor?
H: The doctor came home, sure.
D: What about hospitals? [hospitals?] Were there hospitals there or... There must've been.
H: Oh there were hospitals, certainly.
D: There was Bellevue.
H: There were hospitals. Of course Bellevue, but there were other hospitals but...
D: You had to be really...really really sick.
H: The only time, the only time that...
D: Did women have their babies in hospitals yet? [babies?] Did they have them in the hospitals or were they delivered at home? Were they delivered...
H: ...delivered them at home.
D: Were they delivered by a midwife or by a doctor?
H: By midwife. [they had midwives?] Sure. Because I remember very distinctly when Minnie was born. Minnie was born ...the only...the only one in the family who was born in the United States was Minnie, you see. And I remem...I may sound very funny. But there was a bedroom where my mother was. And Louis and I were in the kitchen. I think it was in the kitchen. And we were sleeping on the floor, you see.
D: Did you always sleep on the floor? [no but...] Just for that...
H: Just for that occasion. Keep out of the room. [out of the way] And this woman came, and after a little while there was a little baby.
D: You must've known your mother was pregnant? [hm?] You must have known... [who?] your mother was pregnant.
H: meant very little to us.
D: What kind of diseases did people get. I know they got the usual colds and things.
H: What kind, what?
D: Well did the...did kids get diphtheria? [diphtheria?] And stuff like that. Was there a lot of that around? Because you get the impression that there must have been.
H: Well there must have been, yes sure. People got sick.
D: They got sick. But everybody was pretty much inoculated against smallpox though. Not smallpox? [smallpox] They got smallpox? [what?] There was not much smallpox around, was there? Wasn't almost every...
H: Smallpox, no. [diphtheria?] Oh I wouldn't know what they were then but...
D: A lot of TB I suppose?
H: Yes. But the doctor came to the house.
D: He didn't have...the doctor didn't have office hours? [have what?] Have office hours?
H: I wouldn't know that. I suppose they did have office hours. I imagine so.
D: But if you needed a doctor he came to you?
H: The doctor...the doctor came... In a little carriage, you know, with a horse. He came to the house and he examined anybody who was sick. But as I recall very distinctly, the only person...the only person who got sick was my mother. That I told you about.
D: The doctors, were they Americans or what? [Americans?] Or were they from Europe or... I mean the doctors, were they American doctors, European doctors, or what?
H: Well...that I wouldn't know. They spoke English and they spoke Yiddish.
D: Did the immigration officials speak English...speak Yiddish? [at the depot?] At Ellis Island.
H: I wouldn't know that.
D: Well, so how did they ask questions of all these people in all these... They had interpreters?
H: I imagine...I imagine they had some Jews.
D: Interpreters I suppose,
H: Interpreters, yes.
D: Oh, when a guy got a pushcart, did he have to pay for a space to park it? [he what?] When a man had a pushcart [yes?] did he have to pay for a space to... [no] The space was free?
H: The space was free. All they had to pay was...for the pushcart.
D: Well you rented the pushcart from somebody?
H: Rented the pushcart.
D: Who did you rent it from? Where did they keep 'em? They must have taken up a lot of space.
H: Oh sure, there were big spaces where they had...I don't know, maybe 50, 60, maybe 100 pushcarts, and they rented them out by the day.
D: Like garages? [what?] They must have kept them in buidings kind of like garages.
H: Yeah that's right.
D: Were there edible things sold off pushcarts. I don't mean food you had to take home and cook but I mean ready to eat like hot dogs and things? [no, no] What about hot corn and chestnuts and pretzels?
H: No. Later on, later on there were... A man used to come through the streets and...he put a sort know what a pushcart is? [yeah] You've seen pushcarts? [yeah] Well these were not pushcarts in the sense of the... [ordinary pushcart?] ordinary pushcart, but they were a little smaller. And the man pushed it and he kept on shouting, heisse bubbas, heisse bubbas, heisse bubbas. beans now[?], you see. [beans?] Peas. D: Peas? Oh chickpeas?
H: Chuckpeas. Heisse bubbas, heisse bubbas. He'd go around and...for a couple of pennies you got a bag, you see.
D: Were there chestnuts, pretzels?
H: Not so much chestnuts. They had...metal...metal...what shall I call them? [what were they?] Big this but twice as wide and just about the same height. It was made of metal, and underneath there was a fire burning, wood, you see? And above it they sold all kinds of things, hot corn...
D: It's almost like now they have pushcarts that sell hot dogs. But of course they have charcoal to keep them hot. And they's like a big thing like that[?] only it has wheels on it.
H: No but... They sold boiled... [hot corn] Hot corn.
D: You didn't have Indian corn before you came to this country, did you? Corn? [corn] You didn't have it before you came to this country?
H: No. I suppose we did have corn.
D: Europeans don't eat corn much, I found. Not on the cob.
H: Well corn flour and stuff like that. [but not...] And they were standing...they were moving this thing. It wasn't like a pushcart, it was plates[?], you see. And you went over and you got got a corn, a hot corn, boiled, you know. Took it out from the water and... And also sold a lot of things like that.
D: What about icecream and things like that in the summer.
H: Well icecream they had but they were sold in stores.
D: They didn't have icecream trucks, Good Humor carts that go around?
H: No, you got it in a candy store, you see, you got it in a candy store. For a penny you got a sandwich.
D: What about tomatoes? Did you use tomatoes?
H: Tomatoes, tomatoes were not very popular [but all the...] Until much later.
D: All the other things were. You had all the other regular vegetables, cabbage and carrots and onions and celery.
H: Cabbage, carrots, yes. [onions?] And...potatoes.
D: Now you said that Polish tailor stayed with you. Remember the Polish tailor. [yes] Well where did he sleep if you were all that crowded?
H: Well he slept on a cot in the kitchen.
D: How long did he stay?
H: Well that's a very strange thing about that. He lived with us and he paid for it, you see. And he ate what my mother cooked. And then a cousin of his or some relative of his came from Europe. And he came to live with us too, you see.
D: Wow! Did he pay?
H: He paid, sure. And then, one day they said they're going to go out, move out.
D: I suppose they got their own place.
H: No. The reason they walked out was because Passover came, you see.
D: Oh yeah, yeah. And they were afraid.
H: And they were afraid. [wonderful] That's a fact, that's an honest... What?
D: And these were grown men. These were grown men I assume.
H: They were grown men. Certainly, they were 25, 20 years old or...or more than that. And they got out.
D: Just in time. [laugh] Oh boy!
H: Just before Passover, you see.
D: Well now your father was a Polish patriot you say. You say he was a patriot.
H: My father, yeah sure.
D: Well, how did he feel when the Poles came over from Clinton Street and began beating up?
H: He beat them too.
D: Didn't he feel kind of disappointed? Or did he just accept it?
H: It wasn't disappointment to Jews to be attacked by...
D: Well then why...why was he such a Polish patriot? [what?] Why did he feel so warm towards Poland and Polish culture?
H: Well you see my father came to this country, not because he wanted to come but because he had to come.
D: He could've stayed in England?
H: He was in England for a short time. But he came here. But he was...
D: What town did you come from? What was the name of the town you came from?
H: Tarnow. [Tarnow?] Twelve miles from... [Cracow?] Cracow. Now, my father...became involved...
D: I think that's on here already. [what?] I think that's on here already, with the draft evasion stuff. [yes] That's on here.
H: Well all right. You know. [yeah] Then when they discovered, he had to run away. Otherwise he would've been... [imprisoned] imprisoned and probably killed, you know. So he had to get out and get out in a hurry.
D: Did anybody else ever stay with you besides the Poles? Did you ever have people coming over that needed a...
H: No, no. Nobody. [never?] Never. You mean did we have a boarder?
D: Yeah. Or a guest, let's say...a guest who would stay till they found their own place?
H: No. There was...,no.
D: Did you ever get to any of the uptown museums like the Metropolitan or Natural History or... [no, no] Did you know about them? Did...were... [until much later] Were school kids taken to places like that? [no, no] What about citizenship papers? How did...everybody seemed to be very interested in getting citizenship papers.
H: Well it was a simple thing to get citizenship papers.
D: Didn't you have to stay here seven years or something? [hm?] Didn't you have to stay seven years or something like that? [no, no, no] What did you have to do?
H: Two years I think. [two years?] Something like that. And you went to a place...I don't remember what the place was.
D: A courthouse, I suppose. Federal court or something. {court and...] Didn't you have to take some kind of examination?
H: ...examination. They asked his name and so on and he got his citizenship papers. That's all.
D: Were people proud to get citizenship papers? [did they what?] Were they proud of it?
H: They were very proud, yes. Oh yes, yes.
D: What about voting? [voting?] Voting, in the local elections like for... And Federal elections. Did anybody...
H: I remember that we all had to register. [to vote] Not to vote.
D: You had to register for what?
H: Register for the...for some war.
D: It wouldn't have been the Spanish American.
H: It couldn't couldn't be couldn't be the first World War, it was long before that.
D: It couldn't have been the Spanish American cause that was in 98.
H: Maybe that was it.
D: But that was in 1898. [yeah] But you said you came in 1900. It was over by 1900.
H: Oh well then it was a little bit later. I know where we lived ...we had to go a place practically opposite to where we lived. And we had to... We had to go to a place practically opposite from where we lived, and to register for service. [hm, yeah?] And we did.
D: But how old were you? [never happened...]Nothing ever came...
H: It was simply one of those things that never came off, you know. But I suppose they had to be prepared.
D: How old were you? How old were you?
H: Well I must've been about...16 or 17 years old or thereabouts. And my father and...myself and Louis. That's about all. The others were too young. We had to go in and we went and we registered.
D: What about voting in elections? [voting?] Were there ...was there a lot of excitement about elections? Were people interested in any elections?
H: Not that I remember.
D: Were the local political parties active in the neighborhoods? Like the Tammany clubs and stuff?
H: Tammany I suppose was busy then but we weren't politically...
D: Well didn't they try to get out the vote. Weren't there district captains trying to get out the vote every time there was an election? [sure] But I... Was there enough voting population there?
H: I was...I was...a watcher in the...
D: A poll watcher. They still have them.
H: Yeah. For the Socialist party.
D: Was that the prominent party there or was it the Democratic party? [what?] Was that the biggest party down there or was the Democratic party very big?
H: The Socialist party was a very...very...large party. Oh yes.
D: They had a lot of big...big voter turnout? [big voters?] Did the nominees or the candidates for office come and make speeches down there or anything? [yes, sure] Who?
H: I don't remember who it was but...
D: For the mayor or for the governor?
H: For mayor, for mayor, more than anything else. For mayor. [sure] You see the governor doesn't mean...didn't mean a thing.
D: The governor wasn't that much into...he had the whole state to get votes from.
H: Yes. But we were mainly interested in getting a Socialist mayor.
D: Did you ever? [no] But they came and made speeches?
H: Oh yes, sure.
D: Well I know in the Irish districts Tammany would send out baskets of food to the voters and all that. Did they do that?
H: No, no the Socialists didn't do that.
D: Did Tammany do it?
H: Tammany, no. No. But the Socialists were a very large party there. And whatever his name was, I can't think of it now, was very nearly elected.
D: This would've been around 1910, 1912?
H: I imagine so. A little bit later.
D: I'll look up the mayoralty... Now the Café Royale where all the stage people, Yiddish theatre people gathered, that didn't come along till later cause that was on Second Avenue.
H: Second Avenue, yes.
D: That was after this period? Or was it? [after what?] After this early period?
H: Oh yes. Well no, maybe not, I don't know. But later on I was there very much in that...
D: But say before 1910 or thereabouts...
H: Oh well I don't know whether they were there...
D: Was there any place where the act... Was there much Yiddish theatre in New York then? There must have been.
H: There were several theatres in New York, Jewish theatres.
D: Where did the people hang out? Was there a kind of a counterpart of the Café Royale? [no] There must have been...or a counterpart of Sardi's?
H: No. They used to hang out in the Café Royale. [later?], even then. I don't remember when that came into... into... [pause]
D: A lot of the large theatres on Second Avenue...
H: There was no large theatres on Second Avenue. I'm trying to tell you.
D: Wait a minute. Weren't they originally German theatres?
H: The German theatre was on 14th Street.
D: But who built those large theatres that are on Second Avenue now, that are now used for off Broadway or dirty movies?
H: Well, the...there were Jewish theatres on the Bowery too. I told you that before.
D: Well there was...that was also a highly German area. There were things like the Germania Savings Bank and all that. Which is a landmark now.
H: And then Maurice Schwartz had...played in Madison Square Garden. They had a...they had a theatre there, and he played there in Jewish plays.
D: In Madison Square Garden. On Madison Square.
H: Yeah the old...yeah. You see? And then they built the [a?] theatre on Second Avenue.
D: Was this in the teens or the 20s?
H: Yeah, along there. And...and then they built...Adler, I think I told you that before, built a theatre on Grand Street.
D: That's... Al Smith was running for governor, no, he didn't run for governor till... [who?] Al Smith. {Al Smith?] Was he active in politics then? [after what?] Was he active in politics then? Was he...
H: Al Smith? Yes I'm sure he was.
D: Did you ever see him or hear of him or anything? Did he make speeches or anything?
H: No. I don't recall. I don't recall Al Smith making speeches. But I remember very distinctly when he was nominated at Madison Square Garden.
D: That was for the presidency, wasn't it?
H: It was for governor. [for governor?] Or was it for the presidency?
D: Well that was a lot later. That would've been...
H: A lot later. I think it was for the governorship, something like that. Anyway they had a...they had a convention and it lasted so long that people just walked the streets. They didn't have any money to buy food, they didn't have any place to sleep...
D: Was this the depression of the 1930s or was that before?
H: That was before. [another depression?] Yes, sure.
D: You said they built synagogues but did they really just ...really build the buildings or did they buy or rent buildings?
H: No, they built synagogues, yes.
D: That took a lot of money.
H: Sure, it took a lot of money but they built them. There was a synagogue right...
D: Was it a built one or did they take a building that was already there? Did they use a building that was already there or did they build a brand new building?
H: Well I don't...I don't know...but I doubt very much whether they took just any building.
D: No, not just any building.
H: There were a lot of small synagogues.
D: A small synagogue could be put into a house.
H: But...the...I believe that they build these synagogues. Because...there was no other way to have prayers and...
D: I know there are several synagogues around our way that are in...