My name is Polly Callif and I am doing an interview with Frances T. Benis for
the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. The date is May 5, 1997, and Frances,
would you tell us your whole name please.
Benis: My name is Frances T. Benis.
Interviewer: What’s the T. stand for Frances?
Interviewer: And that’s your maiden name?
Interviewer: Right. And is there anyone that you were named after?
Benis: I don’t know.
Interviewer: They just picked Frances because it’s a pretty name. Right?
Interviewer: All right. And where were you born Frances?
Benis: I was born in Circleville, Ohio, November 7, 1904.
Interviewer: 1904. Do you remember how long you lived in Circleville?
Benis: I lived in Circleville until 1922.
Interviewer: 1922. Well the reason why I’m asking is that I, too, was born
in Circleville, Ohio, and we have been trying to get together, the two of us,
because I think we have some things in common and I would like to know what you
know about my town, Circleville, and some members of my family. Do you know how
long you lived in Circleville, how many years? Let’s see, 1904 to 1922: 18
Benis: Eighteen years.
Interviewer: Eighteen years. Right. Do you remember why they settled in
Circleville, why your family settled in Circleville?
Benis: Well, they had a great uncle there by the name of Sowalsky. I don’t
remember ever seeing him; I don’t know what he looks like. And I think that
was one reason that we came there. There were quite a few Jewish people . . . .
Interviewer: What business was he in? Did he have a business there?
Benis: I don’t know a thing about him.
Interviewer: At one point when you were given a form, you said something
about the fur business, hide and fur business. Who was that?
Benis: That was my father.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Benis: Isaac Topolosky.
Interviewer: Okay. And your mother’s name?
Interviewer: And what was her occupation?
Interviewer: She was a housewife. How long was your father in the hide and
Benis: Well for many years, many years. He also sold fruits in the country. .
Benis: to the farmers and I remember riding the wagon and horse with him and
stopping at the farm homes.
Interviewer: How wonderful. How wonderful. I have another question. Did you
go to high school in Circleville?
Benis: I certainly did.
Interviewer: And you graduated from Circleville High School?
Interviewer: And I graduated from Circleville High School also.
Interviewer: What did you do? Did you have a higher education other than high
Benis: I went to business school for two years.
Benis: In Columbus, Ohio.
Interviewer: Where? What school? Was that Bliss?
Benis: No, the other one.
Interviewer: Columbus Business School? Okay. Which became something else but
. . . .
Benis: It was sold and . . . .
Voice: Became Central.
Benis: No, I don’t know. I don’t think so. The people across the street,
parents, owned that business.
Interviewer: Okay. And after you went to business school, did you have a job?
Did you work?
Benis: Yes, I worked for six months in an auto parts department. I did the
Benis: And from there, I went to the clothing store for many years. I was in
the credit department.
Interviewer: Where was that?
Benis: That was Katz-Breis on High Street.
Benis: Gay and High.
Interviewer: Gay and High. You also had office work, you said “credit
department of men’s clothing store”.
Benis: That’s right. It was for the Catholic churches. It was all imported
clothes that they came from England.
Interviewer: Okay. And you have “auto parts store”.
Benis: I don’t remember where that is.
Interviewer: Don’t remember that? Okay. Well I’m going to go back just a
little bit if you don’t mind because I’m selfish.
Interviewer: Do you remember growing up if there were many Jewish families in
Benis: There were more Jewish families in Circleville than in Columbus.
Interviewer: That’s very interesting.
Benis: They had the mikvah or, what they call the bath house.
Interviewer: Where was, do you remember where that was? I don’t remember
that at all but I’m glad you do remember.
Benis: Just a few years ago it was closed.
Interviewer: Was there a congregation? Did the Jews meet to worship?
Benis: Yeah, we met to worship at the different homes and then we had a room
in a library.
Interviewer: A library, right.
Benis: For many, many years.
Interviewer: Well I don’t think my family did much worshipping. (Laughter)
But I’m glad yours did. I also would like to know if you could remember who
the Jewish families were. I remember a few of them but I’m sure you remember
Benis: I can’t remember.
Interviewer: Do you remember the Rothmans?
Benis: The Rothmans and . . . .
Interviewer: The Gordons?
Benis: the Gordons and the Dulskys.
Interviewer: And how about the Steinhausers?
Benis: Steinhausers. And there were several that had clothing stores.
Interviewer: Polsters and Block who had the shoe store?
Interviewer: Can you remember my family, the Friedmans?
Benis: Oh very much.
Interviewer: Can you tell me anything about them?
Benis: Well they were a wonderful family. One of my sisters worked in their
Interviewer: You said just the right thing. Let’s talk about Mary for a
while, your sister.
Benis: My sister Mary worked for the Friedmans.
Benis: And . . . .
Interviewer: Do you remember how long she worked for them?
Benis: Well, I think it was all through high school she helped . . . .
Interviewer: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about that store? It was
called I know Friedman’s Bazaar and they handled womens’ clothes, is that
Benis: That’s correct.
Interviewer: Okay. Can you tell me anything about it?
Benis: All I know, it was a busy store.
Interviewer: Well . . . .
Benis: It was there many, many years.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you remember my grandmother or grandfather?
Benis: Yes, I remember both of them. They were just wonderful, beautiful
Interviewer: Did I pay her well? Thank you Frances.
Benis: And I also knew the uncle.
Interviewer: My great uncle Simon Frank who came from Germany?
Benis: He and his wife.
Benis: And . . . . a son that they had.
Interviewer: And he was killed.
Benis: Yes, he was killed. A bicycle.
Interviewer: A bicycle. And they are all buried in Circleville.
Benis: Yes. They own a plot there.
Interviewer: Right. Now can you remember my father Max Friedman?
Benis: Yes, very much. He was a quiet man. Very sweet person.
Interviewer: Okay. And he had four brothers. Do you remember any of them?
Interviewer: Do you remember Edgar Friedman?
Benis: Well I remember the boys.
Interviewer: Or Theodore Friedman?
Interviewer: Who became Ted Lewis?
Benis: Uh hum.
Interviewer: Do you remember Milton Friedman or Leon Friedman?
Benis: There were five boys.
Interviewer: There were five, oh, Frances, your memory is so wonderful.
Benis: I remember the girl that took care of you.
Interviewer: The woman who raised me whose name was . . . .
Benis: Reef Warhauser.
Interviewer: That is correct. What I am interested in knowing is why you and
your family left Circleville.
Benis: Well, my father had a hard time making a living so he’d go back and
forth . . . . I attended the first and second grades here. I have no memory of
that school. I don’t remember anything until I came to Circleville and started
in the third grade and I went through the seventh grade. They were building a
new high school in Circleville and they selected the top students and we missed
the eighth grade and went right into high school.
Interviewer: Okay. Now when you moved from Circleville to Columbus, all
members of your family. Is that correct?
Benis: Not at that time.
Interviewer: Not at that time. You moved and who came with you?
Benis: I went to live with an aunt and an uncle.
Interviewer: Just you left Circleville?
Benis: Yes. Went to business school.
Interviewer: The name of your aunt and uncle in Columbus?
Benis: Benjamin and Esther Levison.
Benis: He was an attorney.
Interviewer: Right, right.
Benis: And I helped them raise four children.
Interviewer: Do you remember their names?
Benis: Inez, Phyllis, Miriam and the boy, Morrie.
Interviewer: All right. They certainly were well known in the city. Can you
tell me what your earliest recollection or memory of Central Ohio or Columbus
is? When you came here, what did you see that maybe made you think, “Oh,
this is a big, big city”?
Benis: Well I was so busy helping . . . .
Interviewer: You were working hard.
Benis: There were eight children in our family and being the oldest, there
was always plenty to do and I remember how we used to keep the home very clean.
My mother was very clean and orderly. I remember when the gas lights were put
in, the electric lights. I remember the coal stove with the side part that had a
lot of hot water. The bathtub was in the summer kitchen. You had to bring water
in, of course, from the outdoors. And we had our own garden out there. Raised
your own chickens. We had a cow about a mile away. Gave that up finally. And my
greatest scare was leading the horse to the watering trough about a half a mile
from the house. I think the cord was longer than a mile.
Interviewer: Oh Frances, that sounds very exciting. And long, long ago. But
can you remember where you shopped? Can you remember any of the stores in
Benis: Yes, we went to Katz’s that was on Fifth Street and we used to bring
live chickens in to have the shocket kill them there and we’d clean the
feathers ourselves and do all that work.
Interviewer: Did your family belong to a congregation? A Jewish congregation?
Benis: Yes, Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: Agudas Achim. Where was that located then?
Benis: On Donaldson.
Interviewer: Okay. Did you or any members of your family belong to any social
or charity groups?
Benis: Well we belonged to that, I can’t think what that charity group is,
they . . . . I think it’s still in existence where they helped them out with
money and food and small loans. I think the organization is still on the hand.
Benis: They had their own name but I can’t remember what that is. It’s
still running as far as I know.
Interviewer: Frances, do you have any memory of your parents and your
grandparents or your great grandparents? Any wonderful memories?
Benis: Oh yes. My grandparents, they were a wonderful couple. They had eight
boys and one girl in their family.
Interviewer: And what was their names? Do you remember their names?
Interviewer: Okay. Well we’re just thinking for a minute. This goes back
quite a ways so it will take us just a few seconds. All right, we’ll get on to
something else and tell me about your brothers or sisters. How many did you have
and their names please?
Benis: Well I had eight, my brothers and sisters. Well there were three
girls, myself . . . .
Interviewer: What were the girls’ names?
Benis: Mary and Inez and then there were five boys. Started out with Al. . .
Interviewer: How about Harry?
Benis: Myron, let’s see, Maurice and Joseph.
Interviewer: It’s a big family.
Benis: Yeah. Is that five boys?
Interviewer: I’m not real sure.
Voice: Al, Myron, Maurice, Harry and Joe.
Benis: Five boys.
Interviewer: Frances, do you remember the Great Depression, the Depression
when times were so tough and money so scarce?
Benis: Well . . . .
Interviewer: Do you have any memory of that?
Benis: We always had enough to eat. Because we always kept kosher and my
father would come to Columbus to have chickens killed and we bought our meat at
Sol Katz’s on Fifth Street.
Benis: And we used to bake our own bread and . . . .
Interviewer: It was not an easy life.
Benis: No, it wasn’t an easy life but we didn’t know anything else.
Everybody else had the same circumstances.
Interviewer: Right. Now I have a question that I want you to think about and
I know you know the answer. Where did you meet your husband? Cy?
Benis: Well, at the Center when it was on Rich Street.
Interviewer: Oh Schonthal Center?
Benis: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Did you have a long courtship?
Benis: Yes, a few years.
Interviewer: A couple years?
Benis: I waited until he graduated college.
Interviewer: Okay. What college did he go to?
Benis: Ohio State.
Benis: I went with his friend . . . . a friend and he was from Canton. And .
. . .
Voice: Mr. Forman, Jess Forman.
Interviewer: But you picked the good one. Right?
Benis: I hope so.
Interviewer: Okay. Okay. Can you tell me any of your husband’s friends,
Benis: Oh . . . .
Interviewer: Who introduced you?
Benis: Why, Jess Forman.
Interviewer: Jess Forman. Right. Any other good friends?
Benis: Well everybody was friends there because we all stayed together. We
were all strangers at one time, I mean . . . .
Interviewer: How long did your husband work? I know he sold insurance for . .
Benis: Fifty years.
Interviewer: we bought insurance from him.
Benis: Fifty years he was with the insurance company.
Interviewer: Okay. Did you work outside the home? Did you do anything outside
the home after you got married?
Benis: Well I spent a few years and then I . . . .
Interviewer: What did you do?
Benis: I worked at the credit department at this clothing store.
Benis: And then when the children went to school, I would go to the office
and I took care of the books for him.
Interviewer: Tell me about your children. Name your children. There’s one
sitting here. What’s her name?
Voice: It’s really Sandra Alice.
Benis: Sandra Alice but we always called her Alice.
Interviewer: All right. So tell me about Sandra Alice. And her last name
Interviewer: All right.
Benis: And my sons, Stuart Benis, he’s an attorney.
Benis: He was also in the insurance business. And then he went back to school
and became an attorney.
Interviewer: All right. And tell me a little bit more about Alice because
Alice is sitting here and we want to know a little bit more about her. Number
one: does Alice have any children?
Interviewer: What are their names?
Benis: Julie and David.
Interviewer: All right, do they have children?
Benis: Yes, they do.
Interviewer: Tell me about them.
Benis: Well Julie’s going to have her second child in about a week or ten
Interviewer: Where does she live?
Benis: Traverse City, Michigan.
Interviewer: Ah hah!
Voice: She has one daughter.
Interviewer: And what’s her name?
Interviewer: Talia. Pretty name.
Benis: Talia Rose.
Interviewer: Go ahead.
Benis: And a son that’s here in Columbus. He’s an attorney.
Interviewer: All right. I know him.
Benis: David Stein. He has a son.
Interviewer: Good lookin’ man. Very nice man too.
Benis: Thank you.
Voice: He has a little boy named Avie – Avrom. . . . And David has a son.
Interviewer: And David has a son. And what is his name again?
Benis: Avrom, Avrom.
Interviewer: And who is he married to?
Voice: Deedie Pavlofsky.
Interviewer: Deedie Pavlofsky? All right.
Voice: From Dayton.
Interviewer: From Dayton? All right. I know there was lots of things that I
forgot. But there’s, I’m going to have to ask you something that I forgot to
ask before when I asked you about Circleville. Stuart, where’s Stuart now?
Benis: Here in Columbus.
Interviewer: Stuart’s in Columbus; I think she said that.
Voice: And he’s married and has a fifth child.
Interviewer: Ah hah! Well good for him.
Voice: Fourth child. (Laughter and indistinct conversation.)
Interviewer: Let’s go over Stuart’s name again please.
Benis: Stuart A. Benis and he’s an attorney. Was in the insurance business
and he also CLU insurance. It’s a degree like an attorney degree.
Voice: No it isn’t a degree Mother. It’s an associates degree. It’s
like an underwriter.
Interviewer: Frances I also forgot to ask you, how old were you when you got
Benis: Twenty – I think it was twenty-five.
Interviewer: Did you always live in Columbus after you got married?
Interviewer: How many homes have you lived in?
Benis: Let’s see. Three or four rental homes and Oakwood, Wilson and Drexel
and this home.
Interviewer: Okay. Well, that’s not too many.
Benis: . . . . forty years in this place.
Interviewer: Forty years here?
Interviewer: At 99 S. Chesterfield. Well evidently, it’s been a good home
Benis: Thank you.
Interviewer: When you got married, can you remember anything about your
wedding, about the wedding ceremony, anything . . . .
Benis: We walked to the Agudas Achim which is about three doors from my home.
Interviewer: Where did you live then? Do you remember the address?
Benis: Donaldson near Washington.
Interviewer: Okay. And then when you got to Agudas Achim, do you remember who
the Rabbi was?
Voice: Don’t look at me.
Interviewer: You weren’t there Alice? Well we can always find that. Do you
remember how long the ceremony took?
Benis: Very short service.
Interviewer: Did you go on a honeymoon?
Benis: Yes, went to Canada.
Interviewer: Canada! How did you get there?
Benis: We drove in an old car.
Interviewer: How wonderful. How long did you stay on your honeymoon?
Benis: Oh we were gone about two weeks.
Interviewer: Hah! That’s a long time.
Benis: That’s a long trip in an old car.
Interviewer: Did you travel much during your marriage?
Benis: Yes we did.
Interviewer: Where did you travel to?
Benis: Well we went to Israel. And we were in France, Switzerland, England
Interviewer: You are well-traveled my dear. Wonderful. Wonderful.
Benis: We were in Israel on the 18th birthday. But the big gates were not
open. We couldn’t see part of it.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Anything else about your marriage that you think might
be unusual that other people might want to hear about or know about?
Benis: Well, you both have to be very helpful to one another and that’s
about the only thing I know. We worked together and always did things together.
Interviewer: I’m going to put you on national TV, honey. That’s pretty
good advice. One thing that I’d like to know about because I have ten
grandchildren and eleven on the way and I’d like to know what you think about
today’s parents and their child-raising techniques.
Benis: Well, I don’t know what today, but I know all my grandchildren never
missed, those who live out of town, never missed calling me every week.
Interviewer: You’re a lucky lady, my dear. You’re a very lucky lady.
Voice: The one here calls her three times a day.
Interviewer: All right, anything else about discipline of children today and
when you raised your children?
Alice: My mother is pretty lenient. I’m telling you the truth. She was very
lenient about things. I mean, we never had curfews. We didn’t have curfews but
we always came home early. (Laughter) ‘Cause we didn’t have curfews; we didn’t
have to worry about being home and Mother was a pretty, she . . . . Dad was
tougher than Mom. She always let us do what we wanted to do ’cause she trusted
Benis: Yes, I did. They were good children, very good.
Alice: And she was very reasonable in letting us do things so we never took,
I don’t think we took advantage of it. I think if you’re the other way
around where you’re more strict . . . .
Benis: We were very friendly with all the neighbors.
Alice: I remember getting little potches on the rear end from my
father, when we talked back or something but I think it was that she would
listen to what we had to say and she . . . .
Benis: Listening is very important.
Interviewer: We’re going to stop a minute. . . . We’re back on.
Alice: She also always helped us with our homework if we needed it. She was
always good in math. Fantastic.
Interviewer: Frances, I’m going to send my grandchildren over and you can
help them with math.
Alice: She could add rows, columns, at one time. I mean, but she never
trusted my father’s computer, calculator, excuse me. She had to do it by hand.
I mean she never trusted . . . . He was usually wrong and she was right, that’s
the funny part.
Interviewer: Frances can you tell me or think back a minute, what was the
happiest event in your life and the most pleasant memory? Is there one big
event, one moment in history that makes you say, “Oh, that was the
Benis: Well, they’re all good. I just can’t, I don’t know. I was very
pleased with everything. I didn’t expect too much . . . .
Interviewer: Oh my, how wonderful.
Benis: And we always worked together. I don’t know anything else.
Interviewer: Well, I’m glad I know you. All right. What is important to
you, your family, your job, your politics, your religion, your friends?
Benis: My family comes first.
Interviewer: Family comes first. Do you have any advice that you can give to
your grand- children as of today, May 5, 1997?
Benis: Yes, listen to your parents. They will tell you the right thing. And
try to follow as closely as you can. You’ll never go wrong.
Interviewer: That’s pretty good advice. Frances, I’m going to say that I’ve
just about finished what I want to ask you. The one other thing that I want to
ask you; we’re going to go back to Circleville and I forgot to ask this
question. Why did so many people emigrate, or not emigrate, why did they come to
Circleville instead of going to Columbus?
Benis: Well, I think it was a smaller town and there was, they were treated
Interviewer: Did you know any anti-Semitism? Did you ever feel it?
Benis: No, no. Our neighbors were all very good. We used to have somebody
come every Friday or holidays to light the stove and we lit our candles, we had
our services, and they all knew it and we never hid anything and everything was
Interviewer: Well I never felt anti-Semitism in Circleville either. I can’t
say that I feel that way today but when growing up there, living there, I felt
Benis: I didn’t feel any . . . .
Interviewer: And that’s a wonderful way to feel.
Benis: Well, I tell you, when my father went to the country and stopped at
the farmer’s home, he always brought his own hard-boiled eggs and he always
brought his tallis which is the scarf that they wore around them . . . .
And they gave him a space in the kitchen where he could say his prayers and
where he could eat and it was a thing that they treated him beautifully. Because
I saw it with my own eyes.
Alice: . . . . with respect.
Interviewer: With respect?
Benis: Very nice.
Interviewer: Now were there any other cities that you associated with while
you lived in Circleville? Lancaster, Chillicothe? I’m just throwing out . . .
. Ashville? I’m throwing a couple out.
Benis: Ashville. Yes.
Interviewer: Okay. Frances, it’s such a joy just to be here and talk to you
and look at your gorgeous face and I think maybe these other ladies want their
chance to ask you some questions and I can only say thank you from my heart.
Benis: Thank you.
Interviewer: We’re back again. Some of the ladies here have asked me a
question Frances . . . . . . . other things. Number one, we did discuss the
Depression. Can you remember any memories of presidents; any of the presidents
come to mind? Who was the first president you remember?
Interviewer: Roosevelt? Which Roosevelt was that?
Benis: He and his wife.
Alice: Franklin and Eleanor?
Interviewer: Do you remember anything about any political rallies?
Benis: Well there were rallies and all, but I doubt very much we attended
any. We always was conscious of what was going on ’cause we read the newspaper
and television, radio.
Interviewer: What about the national disorders here, I’m reading this?
Could that be disasters? I’m trying to figure out what this is. What about the
local events when you came to Columbus and lived here for a few years? Is there
anything that stands out in your mind as something very important that happened
Benis: No, it’s just . . . .
Benis: Day . . . . everything went along as we tried to make it.
Interviewer: All right. What about changes in society? Can you think anything
that’s going on today that is a big change to you that you see?
Benis: Well I know the young children are more active in the synagogue. They
take part in it and I think that’s great because we always stressed that. And
always happy to hear the good things that the children do and . . . .
Interviewer: What about changes in technology? Now I’m looking around your
home and I’m seeing some wonderful changes that I know have occurred in the
last years. Like for instance what do we sit and watch every day? What do you
Benis: Well, I watch the news.
Interviewer: You watch the news. On what? On the television?
Benis: Television and radio.
Interviewer: What about this little television you carry around with you?
This little telephone?
Benis: Well it makes it easier to hear the phone.
Interviewer: Yes, it apparently does. Can you think of anything else that’s
made life easier for you?
Benis: Well, electric machines that we have, washing machines and dryers. I
remember my first washing machine. I think that I spent $5 for an all-copper
Interviewer: Do you remember the first telephone you had?
Benis: Yes, it was a big one, a big box on the wall. Then gradually I rememer
the first gas lights and all.
Interviewer: Right, right, right. Well I, Frances, you’re just a joy but I’m
going to go back again to Circleville, which I do all the time. You remember my
uncle Ted Lewis?
Benis: Yes, I do.
Interviewer: Can you tell me anything about him?
Benis: Well he was always happy. And had a lot of music in him. And he wanted
to get to the big town and make a name for himself.
Interviewer: And he did.
Benis: And he did. I think he had a very happy life and gave a lot of
enjoyment to people.
Interviewer: Right. And he did a lot for Circleville.
Benis: Oh yes he did. He never forgot his home.
Interviewer: Pardon? And do you remember when he ended his act, what he said:
“Is everybody happy?” Right. Well Frances, I think you again and some of these
other ladies are just dying to get to talk to you and I thank you.
Benis: Well, thank you very much. Good to talk to another Circlevillian.
We’re back on. This is Naomi Schottenstein with the Columbus Jewish
Historical Society and I’m talking to Alice, Frances Benis’ daughter, and we’re just kind of
reminiscing a little further. Alice has some more information that I think will be helpful in this
interview. First of all, I think we kind of forgot to ask Frances about Stuart’s family, his wife’s name
and his children. Um, I’m going to let you fill us in on that.
Alice: Okay. Stuart’s wife’s name was Loretta and they have three
children. The first one is Kathy Mendel who is married to a Columbus boy,
Robert, and they live in Coral Springs, Florida, and they have two children,
Daniel and Allison. And Bruce Benis is my brother’s second child and he lives
in Tamarack, Florida, and he’s a chef with the Boca Raton Resort Hotel. He’s
not married. And his third child is Karen Benis. She’s married to an Israeli
named Natalia. Her last name is Yair – Y-A-I-R. And they live in Atlanta,
Florida, and they have one child named Jordana and a second one on the way, due
in July. And my brother remarried and has a fourth child named Ariana and she’s
a little bit over two years old. And my brother’s wife’s name is Yass. They
live here in Columbus, Ohio, where my brother practices law. And that’s it.
Interviewer: Okay. Great. Thank you. Let’s go back to, I remember you
talking about the fact that your mother had four uncles who were in the service
in World War II.
Alice: There was really – there was eight boys and one girl. And I guess
there was four of them in the . . . . you remember which ones, Mother?
Benis: Joe . . . .
Alice: Joe Topolosky.
Benis: William, my brother-in-law Bill.
Alice: No, no. I’m not talking about Bill. I’m talking about your uncles.
Benis: I had two uncles.
Alice: Oh, I thought you said you had four uncles in the War.
Benis: Two, two in the service.
Alice: Just Joe and who else?
Alice: Okay. And she had four brothers in the war. They had, she had . . . .
Interviewer: Which were?
Alice: In World War II. She had Myron, Mike, known as Mike, who now lives in
Texas; she had Joe who is, lives in Boston. He was in the Coast Guard and he
lied about his age to get in because he was only 17 when he went in. And Harry
who was a prisoner of war for 18 months. And then there was, I can’t, Maurice,
Uncle Maurice, and he was killed in England during World War II. They blew, he
was an officer in the Army and they blew his jeep up. He is now buried in Wales
because they didn’t bring him out. Yeah. And he never married. He graduated,
when he graduated from Ohio State Law School, he was too young to practice law.
He couldn’t take the bar ’cause he was under 21 when he graduated from Ohio
State. He was a very bright young man and I was very young so I don’t remember
really a lot about him except the family talking about him. But he was a very
nice man and he never married but he was . . . . when he was young, when he
left. . . . And then my Aunt Inez’, my mother’s younger sister’s husband,
was in the war, William Berman also, who was at the Battle of the Bulge.
Interviewer: Can you, maybe between you and your mother, you can tell us a
little bit about family get-togethers? Did you ever, I am sure there were many
times during the years that you got together as a large family?
Interviewer: Was it just for special occasions, holidays, or did you . . . .
Alice: Well a lot of times people came in from out-of-town or there was times
we got together. We had a large back yard when we lived on Drexel and we’d
have a lot of picnics and get-togethers there. My father’s family lived in
Canton, Ohio, and also Detroit, Michigan, so they would come in for the
holidays. But we usually had the holidays at my mother’s house once my Bubbe
Rosie was too old to have it. Then we always had it at my mother’s house. She
always had the whole family over for all the High Holydays and Pesach and
whatever else there was in between. She would have the family over. I remember
when we lived on Drexel, we had lots of fruit trees in our back yard and a grape
arbor and my bubbe would come in from Detroit, my Aunt Ruth would come in
from Detroit, and they would sit around for weeks making jelly and apple butter
and whatever else they did and their hands would turn purple from the grapes,
you know, from cutting them up, but they would just make jars and jars and jars
of jelly which they’d share with everybody they could.
Interviewer: Do we have an address for where you lived on Drexel?
Alice: 303 S. Drexel.
Interviewer: Okay. Now that house I’m sure is still there?
Alice: It’s still there. It’s for sale right now. I’d like to go buy
Interviewer: Do you have memories of your grandparents?
Alice: Uh huh. Yeah.
Interviewer: From your mother’s side only? Or from both sides?
Alice: Both sides.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Can you give us some fill-in on your grandparents?
Alice: Well, my bubbe was always in the kitchen, my mother was always
in the kitchen cooking, always. Can’t remember outside the kitchen. She was
always cooking. Because I guess she had so many kids, she was always cooking,
even after they left home. I was, there was a joke in the family where she took
this toy pistol away from my brother and hid it from him in the oven and then
she went and baked a pie and it baked right into the pie. (Laughter) That was
the end of that. Anyway, she was a very loving person and she was really very
caring and she loved her children very much. She was very close to my Aunt Mary
who never married. She lived with her a long, long time, and my Aunt Mary was a
buyer in a department store here in Columbus: Morehouse Fashion. First it was
Morehouse Martens and then it was Morehouse Fashion and she was way ahead of
herself because she was a career woman, you know. They didn’t have very many
back then, especially Jewish women, and she would travel. We always thought it
was so neat. She used to travel to New York City once a month on the train.
There were compartments on the train, she would leave at night, Sunday night,
and get there Monday morning and spend a week in New York and then come home.
Interviewer: Today that would be first class on the airplane?
Alice: Right. That’s right. And she was a dress buyer and the bridal buyer
at these stores until she retired.
Interviewer: What about your grandfather on your mother’s side?
Alice: My grandfather, he was a sweetheart, he just was a really nice man.
Interviewer: Is this the one that told you the joke that you just . . . .
Interviewer: Why don’t you share that comment with us.
Alice: When we’d go, we’d kind of play along with him every time we went
to Circleville to visit. We had to go to see the old house every so often, we
had to drive down there. My father would take us all down for a drive Sunday
afternoon and we’d always pass this huge cemetery on the way in and there was
a big statue there and my grandfather used to joke, “How many people are
dead in the cemetery, how many people do you think are dead in the
cemetery?” And we would go, “We don’t know. How many?” And he
would say, “Everyone,” and it was a big joke and we would all laugh.
We had to play along with him or he’d…
Interviewer: Well at least he had a sense of humor.
Alice: Yeah, he had a very good sense of humor. He worked very hard. He was a
very observant Jew. I remember walking to synagogue with him on Saturday
mornings to Agudas Achim from his house on Champion. My brother and I would walk
over to his house on Wilson and walk with him to shul and I always, and
at that time Agudas Achim had the women upstairs and the men downstairs. But I
was young, very young. I used to sneak in and sit with my grandfather because I
was young enough to do that. And I always thought that was real neat ’cause I
would make faces at the women upstairs. (Laughter)
Interviewer: That was pretty cool.
Alice: Yeah, it was pretty cool. ‘Cause I got to sit with the men. But it
was, we went practically every Saturday. Then we’d come back to the house and
during World War II, my grandfather would find every soldier he could in the shul
and bring them home for lunch. My bubbe always had enough food for
everybody. I don’t know how she did it but she never knew how many he was
going to bring home but since Fort Hayes was here and there was always a lot,
there was always soldiers that would show up at shul and he would have
everybody come, whoever he could find, ’cause the boys were in the service and
he had to make sure they were being fed and they would just really enjoy my
bubbe’s, you know, kugels and whatever else she made, you know, chicken
soup and chopped liver and the whole works, and it was very nice. It was very
nice that he did that.
Interviewer: It’s interesting that you say that there was always enough,
and that magic number, it was expandable. There was no end to what . . . .
Alice: I don’t know what she did; she must have put more water in the . . .
Interviewer: You didn’t go out to eat so they always had plenty of food at
Alice: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true.
Interviewer: Now we go to our refrigerators and they’re practically empty.
Alice: I remember we would have Havdalah services. We would have Havdalah
at my Zayde’s house after shul Saturdays. We’d all go over
there; all the family would come over or I know my brother and I and my parents
would always go over on Saturday night.
Interviewer: Those were fond memories.
Alice: We would have Havdalah with the candle and the . . . . Instead
of wine, my grandfather always drank milk, I think, or something. I can’t
remember what it was.
Interviewer: But it worked?
Alice: Yeah, whatever it was. I still remember that. They had like a back
porch area that was made into like a dinette, and it was, that’s where we’d
have that and it was sort of fun. And I remember my grandparents, would be so
many people around their dining room table. I don’t know how they ever got so
many people around their dining room table. Because I remember Passover, they
would go on forever. (Laughs) Especially when everybody was there ’cause it
was just . . . .
Interviewer: And she did all the cooking?
Alice: She did all the cooking, yeah. And I don’t understand, they got
everybody around the table and I don’t know how she did it. Her table, the
room wasn’t that big. But everybody was there, you know there was eight kids
and their families and . . . . .
Interviewer: It’s interesting how that expands. What about your
grandparents on your dads’ side?
Alice: Well, they lived in Canton, Ohio, and my grandfather was a tinner or
roof–, he did the tinning on houses, homes . . . .
Interviewer: They used tin a lot more on . . . .
Alice: Yeah. And he also, he was a farmer in the beginning when they first
came over from Russia. My grandfather went AWOL from the Russian army and came
to the United States and then sent for my grandmother and my father and they
came over, the Nursteins. They had to take the train and get off the train and
walk across the border but they made it over and they settled near Canton, Ohio.
They settled on a farm. My father went to a one-room school there for many years
until they moved into Canton. And they were very poor. They raised I guess there
was cows and sheep, and one time he came home and he said he was going to buy
some pigs or hogs, or whatever, because that was the only way to make money and
my grandmother said, “No, they’re all . . . . I hope they all die.”
And they did. He had them and they all died. They got some disease and every one
of them died. And he lost all this money on them.
Interviewer: Do you suppose because they were trafe?
Alice: That’s why, definitely, she did not want them near the house.
Interviewer: She put the kabosh on them, huh?
Alice: She sure did. She put the evil eye there. Then my father, they moved
in town and my father graduated from Canton McKinley High School. And he went on
to Ohio State where his sister, his brother . . . . He has a younger brother who
wasn’t really a good student. He didn’t really like school but he ended up
playing on the Canton Bulldogs pro football team. He’s in the Football Hall of
Fame because he’s on the original team.
Interviewer: That was unusual for a Jewish person.
Alice: Yeah. He was very large; my father was not as, I mean as big as my
uncle. My uncle was really a large person.
Interviewer: Alice, let’s just hold on a second. This is the end of Tape 1.
I’m going to turn this off and we’ll go to the other side. Okay, now we’re
on side B of this tape and this is still Naomi and I’m still interviewing
Alice. I’m going to take the liberty at this point like Polly did at the
beginning. Polly was talking to Frances Benis about Circleville and that’s
where she was from. And I’m talking, we’re talking about Canton now. That’s
where I’m from. And I remember Alice’s grandmother played cards with my
mother. They played poker and there was a big group. As a matter of fact, your
Aunt Mildred’s mother, Mrs. Ruben, was also in that group.
Alice: Yeah, my parents used to go up to Canton. We used to go up once a
month, I remember as a child going up once a month, driving up there. It was a
long trip because the cars were not as great as they are now.
Interviewer: And no freeways.
Alice: I remember the curving roads and . . . . Anyway, my grandfather was a
very hard worker but he didn’t know how to collect money from the people when
they owed him. And he never sent out bills and my parents used to have to go up
there once a month and do the books. And my father and mother would have to go
to the drawer and collect the money for him. ‘Cause . . . .
Interviewer: For what, for what?
Alice: For my grandfather doing the tinning business.
Interviewer: Oh the tinning business.
Alice: Yeah, he was in the tinning business.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Alice: So he would do the work but he never went and collected the money.
Interviewer: Well he didn’t go to business school.
Alice: No, no. He was a very shy man. He really was and I remember my bubbe,
she was always reading the Forward. Always reading the Forward. I
mean she would . . . .
Interviewer: What is the Forward?
Alice: That was the Jewish, the Yiddish newspaper. And she read it all the
time. She was always, I never saw her without a Forward in her hand, I
mean when she was in the house. She would always be sitting there reading the Forward.
Interviewer: She also didn’t watch television.
Alice: They didn’t have television back then. But she was a very
hard-working woman also and . . . .
Interviewer: Did you spend time when you went to Canton. Did you stay
Alice: Oh yeah. We always stayed overnight. And I remember she had these huge
pillows. My brother and I loved to have pillow fights with them. They were the
biggest pillows I’ve ever seen.
Interviewer: They probably were down filled.
Alice: They were down filled.
Interviewer: And she probably brought them from Europe, shlepped them
on the boat.
Alice: Probably. Yeah. My uncle and aunt, my father’s brother and sister
lived in Detroit and that’s where they more or less settled, and then my
grandparents when they retired from the work, they went to Detroit and settled.
But my grandparents would come to us for the Jewish holidays, always came to my
parents’ house for all the Jewish holidays.
Interviewer: Okay. I think we talked with great relish about how families
spent a lot of time together and you didn’t do it because you had to; you did
it because you wanted to and there was no question about it.
Alice: An interesting story is that we talked about Mrs. Ruben, Mildred
Topolosky’s parents. The Rubens and my grandparents were very good friends and
my brother and I would go up there. And at this time, my Uncle Harry was a
prisoner of war and we said to Mildred, who lived a few doors away, I guess, not
too far away from where my grandparents lived. We said, “Why don’t you
write to our uncle? You know. He’s a prisoner of war.” So they started
writing and my brother and I, we were the match-makers.
Interviewer: You were the shiddachs?
Alice: Yeah, we matched them up. Yeah, I remember I was very, very young. I
must have been like five or six years old. I mean, I was really young and my
brother was four years older than I am, so . . . . I remember Mildred and Harry
telling this, down through the years. So . . . .
Interviewer: Yeah. Alice, I’ve enjoyed talking to you too and I know that
you and your mother I’m sure have talked about many things through the years.
Is there anything anybody else wants to add at this point?
We have Joyce Block sitting here at the table and she’s I think, enjoying
all this reminiscing. You probably have heard some of this before.
Block: I lived on Wilson.
Alice: She lived right down the street from us. We grew up together. We . . .
Interviewer: I think at this point, we’re going to wrap up this interview
and I’m going to thank Frances T. Benis and Alice Slonim for cooperating and
Polly Callif and this has all been very interesting. Polly’s looking at some
wonderful photos and maybe we can get copies of them eventually. And we’re
signing off at this point. Thank you.
Alice: You’re welcome.