This interview is being conducted by Carol Folkerth as part of the Oral
History Project of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Mr. Robins, can you remember your address in childhood? At what
Robins: Was Washington Avenue….and maybe, I think it was 403 S. Washington,
but it was close to Fulton Street.
Interviewer: And what was your mother’s name?
Interviewer: OK, And your dad’s name?
Interviewer: And where were you born?
Robins: In Zhitomir. And that’s in Ukrania.
Interviewer: In Ukrania. I think I’ve heard of that town. I think someone
else I had was born there. I don’t remember who it was, near there, they
mentioned that town. Now were you an only child?
Robins: Uhuh, there are three of us. Three children.
Interviewer: How many boys and girls?
Robins: Two boys and one girl.
Interviewer: Ok and when did you come to America?
Robins: August of ’20, 1920.
Interviewer: Ok and what school did you attend? Public School?
Robins: Fulton Street
Interviewer: Fulton St. Ok. A lot of people from there. And how old were you
when you started?
Robins: 10 or 10 and a half.
Interviewer: You were about ten, ten and a half? Now when were you born?
Interviewer: In 1910 then?
Robins: August of 1908.
Interviewer: OK. So what grade did they start you in? Did they put you in
with the little ones do you remember?
Robins: No, around the third or fourth grade.
Interviewer: Did they?
Robins: I forget that grade because I did have some training before that.
Interviewer: What kind of training did you have before?
Robins: They, pretty close to, comparable to this.
Interviewer: In a Jewish school or…?
Robins: No, it was a regular public school. I wasn’t too…
Interviewer: Were you then, when they put you into third of fourth grade,
were you in any special English classes that you remember?
Robins: I doubt it. I don’t think so.
Interviewer: Ok. Where did you learn English?
Robins: (Chuckles) Off the street.
Interviewer: Off the street. Ok. Did they ever work on your accent at school?
Did they ever ask you to pronounce a word one way or the other or try to work on
your speech any way you remember?
Robins: I don’t think so. Uh uh. I don’t remember that.
Interviewer: Ok. Now, at school, everybody spoke English. Is that correct?
Robins: Yes. Yes.
Interviewer: The kids spoke English to each other?
Robins: Oh definitely.
Interviewer: Ok. And what language did you speak at home?
Robins: We started to speak English. Pretty close.
Interviewer: Did you?
Robins: Yes. My dad insisted. He was here before.
Interviewer: I see. When did he come?
Robins: He came here about five, six years before we came. And then after the
war he went back. (To someone in the background: Ok. I want to talk to you about
that title thing, you know the one that yesterday …It couldn’t be cleared
up.) Then when he went back to Russia and (city name?) about; well it was right
after the first world war.
Interviewer: So he already knew some English from being here.
Robins: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: Did your mom speak English?
Robins: No. No.
Interviewer: She spoke what? Yiddish?
Interviewer: Yiddish. Did you try to teach her English? Did the kids try to
teach her English? Or was
Robins: I don’t think so.
Robins: I don’t think so.
Interviewer: How much formal education did your parents have? Do you know
about your dad?
Robins: I wouldn’t know. Not too much, maybe grade school or something like
Interviewer: Did he read and write?
Robins: Oh definitely.
Interviewer: Hebrew? Yiddish?
Robins: And Jewish. English.
Interviewer: And English?
Robins: Oh sure. My mother reads English. Self taught. She’s self taught.
Interviewer: Now do you ever remember any conflicts between you and your
parents over what you learned at school and what they wanted you to be learning?
Robins: Not at all. They always said do what you want.
Interviewer: Right, did, they were very supportive of whatever the school
Robins: Oh definitely, yes.
Interviewer: Now, were you frequently absent from school?(conversation is
interrupted by a phone call)
Interviewer: How about on Jewish holidays, were you absent from school?
Robins: Oh yes. We observed.
Interviewer: On all of them?
Robins: Yes, we always observed, yes.
Interviewer: Were you ever penalized by the school for being absent?
Robins: No, no, it’s just that Fulton Street school in those days had a lot
of Jewish students. It was black and Jewish. We lived next door to each other.
So that was no problem. They knew. We made it up and stuff. It was no problem.
Interviewer: Did you work before or after school hours?
Robins: Not too much.
Interviewer: How about your brothers or sisters?
Robins: Well, I’m the oldest.
Robins: And so my sister went to work when she was quite young, maybe about
14 or 15. But I had maybe little odd jobs, newspaper and stuff like that.
Interviewer: But she went to work so she basically quit school…
Robins: Yes, much younger than we did.
Interviewer: …in order…then the boys went on…
Interviewer: Do you think that it was because she was a girl and they maybe
felt education wasn’t quite as important then…
Robins: No, I don’t think she wanted…I think she just wanted to go in
business sooner than, well, she was limited in her monies and she probably
wanted to be on her own to buy things for herself. That’s the only way she got
Interviewer: Now, when you were little, do you remember, did you WANT to go
to public school? Was that important to you?
Robins: Education was an important factor in my life. I always wanted an
Interviewer: Now, your brothers, too?
Robins: Not as much. He was the one…I have only one brother and then I have
a sister that was born here in the states.
Interviewer: Do you?
Interviewer: So basically, for you, it seemed a little more important than
for your brother and sister.
Robins: I tried.
Interviewer: How bout your friends, did they kind of hung around with at
Robins: Most of them didn’t go through higher maybe than high school.
Interviewer: I see. Did they, do you remember them complaining about having
to go to public school or…?
Robins: Not too much. At Fulton St. School is sort of a real fine, good
staff. And there were no problems at all. Not Fulton, Mound Street the same.
Then we had South High, which was real nice.
Interviewer: You went to South High? You graduated from South High?
Interviewer: And you went to Mound Street Junior?
Interviewer: Did you ever feel any different from any of the more American or
Americanized kids in your class? Or maybe the American born kids?
Robins: Not to my knowledge. I usually tried to compete on the same level. I
picked up the work much, about the same as the others. I don’t think I was
sitting in the back of the room any time. In fact, in those days, we had summer
school sessions that you could attend to accelerate your work. And I remember
going almost every summer to summer school. When I finished school, I finished
about the same as the average child.
Interviewer: Do you ever remember trying to imitate the dress of some of the
other kids in the school?
Robins: No, we were pretty well dressed alike. My mother probably supervised
our clothes. And I think we were treated normal. We never were oddballs or
whatever you may call it.
Interviewer: If you had to pick one public school experience that you
remember the most, could you tell me what that would be?
Robins: (chuckles) I don’t know. We had an elocution teacher that was
quite, well, impressive on my mind because she used, we used to repeat, in those
days, certain poems, certain speeches like The Gettysburg Address, for instance.
We had to say it, deliver it and also with gusto and elocution and all that and
she used to insist on all that. So, I remember her quite a bit. And then we used
to have a teacher that a, a penmanship type of a teacher that was quite
impressive. That’s about all I can…
Interviewer: Elocution, penmanship…what was your least favorite subject,
would you say?
Robins: I doubt if any, I enjoyed them all I think. I don’t think I, I don’t
think there was anything that was a burden or a hardship.
Interviewer: Did any of the teachers in particular, encourage you to go on in
Robins: Not too much. No, I don’t think we had such thing as a teacher that
would be interested or active in asking you or directing you.
Interviewer: How were your grades? Generally average, above average?
Robins: ‘Bout average. I don’t think, I was never too smart. (laughing..Interviewer:
Oh no) I think it was just average.
Interviewer: How did your parents feel about America? Did they look at it as
a new homeland or just as a temporary place?
Robins: No, a new homeland. No, new.
Interviewer: How ’bout you when you were little?
Robins: Oh, well, when we came here, we came right after World War I. And of
course, it was just an escape. And I don’t think we regret it, to be frank
with you, that we came. So I don’t think we ever looked back. We looked
Interviewer: How did your parents feel about public school education for you?
Robins: I don’t think that they would, I think they just took that as part
of life. I don’t think they, you mean by feeling they wanted more or they…?
Interviewer: Did they, were they willing to sacrifice? In other words, to
keep you in school…
Robins: Oh, I would say so, definitely. Definitely.
Interviewer: They felt, in other words, that education in general was
important, or that public school was a stepping stone to that?
Robins: Oh that’s, that’s always, that’s one of the factors in Jewish
life. I mean, my dad was real poor and well, and sick at the same time. Yet I
don’t think he ever would have felt that I should go to work to help. I did.
And I supported the family quite a bit. But I don’t think he would have said,
“Don’t go to school and work.”
Interviewer: Did your parents come to school very often? Would they come…
Robins: No, we didn’t have PTA’s then…(chuckle)
Interviewer: (laughing) No PTA’s…Did a teacher ever come to your house to
visit? To talk about you kids or anything that you remember?
Robins: Not that I, I don’t remember. I doubt it. I doubt it.
Interviewer: Did you participate in the Christmas plays?
Robins: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: Did your parents have any, I don’t know, doubts about that or…?
Robins: No. Ours was sort of a…My dad was Orthodox but he never really was
a good server of the religion. He did it because it was part of his life but to
say to me “Don’t do this or don’t do that,” No. No.
Interviewer: Anything, basically, that was at school was ok?
Robins: Part of life. That’s right. In fact, when we had some shows,
Christmas shows, I participated and I was part of them. Yeah.
Interviewer: How bout, did they have a prayer at school? To begin the day? Do
Robins: We had allegiance to the flag.
Interviewer: You had The Pledge of Allegiance…
Robins: I don’t think we had prayers. I’ll try to remember. We always had
allegiance to the flag.
Interviewer: You always had allegiance to the flag?
Robins: Oh definitely.
Interviewer: Flag raising ceremonies…
Interviewer: …Patriotic ceremonies?
Robins: Yes. I used to raise it once in awhile.
Interviewer: (laughing) Did you? How did you feel about that?
Robins: Oh, it was impressive. It was quite impressive because our city, in
particular, was bombed once or twice during the war and there was a lot of
suffering I remember. That’s what, 50 or 60 years ago. And I think I was
impressed. I strived for it I think.
Interviewer: Did a teacher or anyone at school ever suggest that you change
your name? Had your name been changed?
Robins: No, our name was changed originally. We became citizens through my
father. So he had, probably he changed it. I don’t know.
Interviewer: You didn’t really know?
Robins: No, because we were citizens when we came here already as a
derivative from a parent.
Interviewer: And he had changed it earlier? And you went by that?
Robins: I surmise that.
Interviewer: Did you take any foreign language at school?
Robins: A little Spanish. I was never too good on languages. And we had some
Latin. We had to have some Latin.
Interviewer: You had to have Latin, too?
Robins: Yes, we had to. Especially if you wanted to go to college. They
Interviewer: Do you remember anything like civics courses or problems on
democracy? Anything like that?
Robins: There wasn’t no special courses on that nature. No. We didn’t
have anything special.
Interviewer: Did you ever take any music or art classes at school? At public
Robins: I doubt it. My main interest was to get courses that would qualify me
Interviewer: That was your goal…
Robins: …yes, so I don’t think we got these side issues.
Interviewer: Any manual training?
Robins: Yes, we had to have it.
Interviewer: You did have that.
Robins: At Mound Street.
Interviewer: What did you take do you know?
Robins: We had projects to make, like little tables or lamps and things of
that nature. Yeah, we did that at Mound St. School.
Interviewer: Did you go to another building for that, do you remember?
Robins: No, Mound St. had that within the same area. I think it was in the
Interviewer: They had the program there.
Robins: Right there.
Interviewer: Did the teacher ever lecture you or the class on cleanliness,
Robins: Yes. When we were at Fulton St. School, MY mother used to send us in
school probably starched shirts and all that. And I’ll never forget, for some
reason or other, the teacher pointed out a little black boy that came real nice
and clean and myself as the two students that always looked immaculate. I’ll
never forget that.
Interviewer: She pointed you out as examples. Did you receive any Jewish
education in this country?
Robins: Yes, we had Hebrew school on Rich St. in those days.
Interviewer: But that was after school hours?
Robins: Uh huh, short hours.
Interviewer: Anything else can you remember, that you can remember about
public school experience that I haven’t touched on? Any teachers that
particularly helped you?
Robins: I was sort of a pet to one teacher. We had a Mrs. Edwards. She was
principal or vice, no she was principal at Mound Junior High. And was my job to
do her chores. One or two in particular, seeing the weather outside. Anytime it
rained or something like that where she needs her galoshes, I had to go to her
home, it was some place on Ohio Ave. I had to go there, bring her galoshes back
Interviewer: (laughing) That was an honorary though…
Robins: And then she became principal, vice principal and principal, I
believe in the end, at South High. And we kept close together.
Interviewer: Did you? You kept in contact with her?
Robins: Yes. Several of the teachers. In fact, I did some work with several
of the teachers afterwards.
Interviewer: That’s so interesting to me. So many other people have said
they did the same thing.
Robins: Mrs. Edwards, I remember. And then we had a Miss Dawson that used to
come in to our office and I think she’s gone now. But then we had one or two
English teachers that I was in contact with.
Interviewer: Really. Did you ever have any Jewish teachers? Were any of your
Robins: No. Never. Not to my, no, I don’t think we did.
Interviewer: Did you ever have any unhappy experience regarding your being
Jewish, with the teachers or with the other students?
Robins: No. I never did. No, I never did.
Interviewer: Well, let’s see, that’s about it. Anything else you can
think about that I haven’t touched on? (laughing)
Robins: I don’t know. If you have some questions, I’ll try to answer
them. I don’t know.
Interviewer: I think that’s really about it.
Robins: That’s ok.
Interviewer: Thank you, Abe, for sharing your personal life experiences with
the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project..
TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: This ends Part One of the interview with Abe Robins by