Interview with Herbert H. Schiff on January 3, 1999 by Peggy Kaplan. This interview is taking place in the home of Mr. Schiff at 510 Harbor Cay Lane, Longboat Key, Florida as part of the Oral History program of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Herb, would you please state your full name?
Schiff: I will not! (laughter) My full name is Herbert H. Schiff.
Interviewer: Can you tell me what the H stands for?
Interviewer: Your date of birth?
Schiff: October 6, 1916.
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Schiff: Columbus, Ohio.
Interviewer: What were your parents names?
Schiff: Rebecca Lurie Schiff and Robert William Schiff.
Interviewer: And your grandparents; their names?
Schiff: My grandparents were dead by the time I was born. I was named after my grandfather, Chaim Zev Schiff.
Interviewer: Your mother’s parents – name’s?
Schiff: My mother’s was Lurie out of Cincinnati, Ohio. She died by the time she was forty of breast cancer. If we were as advanced in those days as we are now, she’d probably be alive.
Interviewer: So both sets of grandparents were deceased when you were born?
Schiff: Both were deceased. I think maybe one or two of them died in Cincinnati, Ohio. I think the rest died in Lyzevo, Lithuania.
Interviewer: So your father’s parents came from where?
Schiff: This is peculiar. Both my mother’s and my father’s parents came from Lyzevo, Lithuania in spite of the fact that they met in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Interviewer: Do you know how your grandparents came to the United States?
Schiff: My grandparents didn’t come to the United States.
Interviewer: They did not leave Lithuania?
Schiff: They remained in Lithuania. How they died, under what circumstances, I have no idea. And I don’t know if they started before the oppression came on afterwards but they didn’t come to this country. What they did, they read the handwriting on the wall and they did everything possible to send their children to the United States. The oldest son, Zelfroim, got to the United States first and they kept transporting his father’s family into the United States. By the time the pogrom started, the majority of them were out.
Interviewer: How many brothers and sisters did your father have?
Schiff: I haven’t the slightest idea. All I can tell you is, in those days, the idea was to propagate, to keep the woman pregnant.
Interviewer: Can you tell me the names of any of your uncles and aunts?
Schiff: I knew my Uncle Zelfroim because he was in Cincinnati. My Uncle Marcus was also in Cincinnati. On my mother’s side, there was Dr. Lurie. His stock is still alive. My mother was a Lurie. She had two brothers whose names fail me right now.
Interviewer: Your mother’ maiden name was Lurie. Would she be related to the Luries that live in Columbus now?
Schiff: I doubt it. They could be distant relations because you don’t know how families develop. But I kind of think the Luries of Columbus came out of Germany or someplace like that.
Interviewer: Now your parents both came from Europe and they met in Cincinnati. How did they meet? Do you know?
Schiff: All I was informed about this was that they spent their pre-marital time on the benches in downtown Cincinnati. It was about the only place they could find space together. How they met, I don’t know.
Interviewer: Were they going to school at that time?
Schiff: I doubt it. At that particular time, the condition of the existing overseas was such that when the man had a proper education, prior to entering the army, they found a way to get these men out of Europe and into the United States. Cincinnati was one of those spots. I think Boston was one of those spots, too.
Interviewer: So in those days, the men were educated and the women were not?
Schiff: Well, the men were sent to Yeshiva. Yeshiva was free. How the women got their education, I don’t know. Whatever I would tell you, would be wrong. Somebody could find holes in it.
Interviewer: Did your mother ever go to any educational institute in this country?
Schiff: You’ve got to remember that I was born in 1916 and I didn’t get to know my mother well. So I know little about her background and education. I know my father’s education because boys had to have a knowledge. Maybe she went to local school there. At a certain age, these boys went to the Yeshiva at the country next door, and they sent these boys to Yeshiva. They were all taught to be rabbis.
Interviewer: Did your father think that he was going to become a rabbi?
Schiff: My father was known as a great rebel. He was shipped out before they hung him. Literally shipped out of the country to Cincinnati under the care of his oldest brother. His oldest brother gave him a pushcart and put him to work. He was so good at it, they sent him down to Texas. What town in Texas, I don’t know.
Interviewer: What was he selling from the pushcart?
Schiff: Whatever they sold in those days in a pushcart. He had the same as his competitors. He pushed it out onto the street and sold his wares.
Interviewer: Clothing items? Household items?
Schiff: I really don’t know. I never questioned him about that. He went to Texas and got a case of appendicitis. Whether they operated on him in Cincinnati or in Texas, I don’t know but he came back and went to work in Cincinnati. I guess he was a couple steps higher now because he was a big shot.
Interviewer: Who did he go to work for?
Schiff: I don’t know what my uncle put him to work for. On the other hand, I do know that he developed himself. The first knowledge I have of what my father did was after marriage when he and my mother worked in Dayton and it was a question of what he wanted to do. He wanted to be in department stores and he wanted to be in the shoe department. He spent a lot of time in Dayton, Ohio. This was after he married my mother. I don’t know what he did before. After he married my mother, the old Dayton Dry Goods, not the present one, he decided shoes was his forte and by the time he got his knowledge and I believe my mother worked at the same time, he decided to move to Columbus and go into the retail footwear business in Columbus.
Interviewer: What reason do you think he had to move to Columbus?
Schiff: Columbus was the capital. It was the largest city. I don’t think he made a connection with the Jewish population. No particular reason. It wasn’t religion. My father was a very brilliant man and he didn’t take people at their word. So he was a rebel and that’s the reason he was kicked out of the old country. He didn’t want to be hung.
Interviewer: Do you know for what reason?
Schiff: Well, he was too smart. When you’re too smart, even I, in my business, kicked him out. So they moved him and put him in charge of the business, pushcart. It was the low end business that they were in. He moved to Dayton but he met my mother in Cincinnati and the courtship took place on a downtown bench. Which is a very interesting thing.
Interviewer: Tell me about it.
Schiff: I wasn’t even born then. I will say this, courtship was courtship and marriage was marriage. Not necessarily in the way I said it but necessary for them to get married and get the hell out. So he went down to Dayton Dry Goods and somehow or other, they put him in the shoe department.
Interviewer: Was that a relative or did he just go to Dayton?
Schiff: I don’t know how they went to Dayton but I do know that he was put in the shoe department and he became manager of the shoe department. They wanted him to take over another department but he was in love with shoes so he wouldn’t take the other deal. As a result, sometime in the area of before 1920, he and my mother moved to Columbus and he developed the Schiff Company.
Interviewer: He started it then?
Schiff: He started it then and as the company prospered, he owed a favor of his life because they had taken care of him when he wasn’t so brilliant. So he kept bringing his nephews into the business and he evolved into big business. The thing that I believe busted the company – he had a beautiful company – the start of its break was jealousy. And this is eighteen or twenty years later and little Herbie was ready to walk out of the business. They all walked out.
Interviewer: Tell me the names of the nephews that came into the business.
Schiff: Jack Schiff, Saul Schiff. Among the others, Max Schiff and a few others. None of the Lurie family came in because to work in the retail business with such learned people. And I think it was better that they weren’t in there. They developed a company together. I think by 1928 (somewhere around there – I’m not certain of my dates). My father found himself with a growing company and he had his nephews in the business and my mother worked in the business and he developed a very prosperous business and he was one of the first few in the so-called chain store business.
Interviewer: How did his business start? Did he start with a store in Columbus?
Schiff: I’m not sure whether it was a store in Columbus or whether it was a store somewhere in a southwestern city in Ohio. It wasn’t in Cincinnati but they moved to the closest spot which was Columbus where there was a controlled state and they were away from Cincinnati. Don’t forget my father married a foreigner because she wasn’t an Orthodox Jew.
Interviewer: Was your father Orthodox?
Schiff: Yes, and he developed the company.
Interviewer: When he very first developed the company and he was in love with shoes, where did he get his inventory?
Schiff: Well, he borrowed the money in those days.
Interviewer: Where were the shoes made? in this country?
Schiff: In this country.
Interviewer: So there was someone manufacturing shoes?
Schiff: Yes, there was a big footwear industry. The majority of the manufacturers were in Massachusetts and the surrounding states.
Interviewer: And he bought from them to open his little store?
Schiff: And he had experience prior to that. He even had partners prior to that. He was a dreamer whose dreams came true. And my mother stood side-by-side with him.
Interviewer: That’s true. Let’s go back a little bit. Tell me about the rest of your family; Your siblings.
Schiff: My sisters?
Interviewer: Yes, your sisters.
Interviewer: Saralynn was the oldest sister. Then there was Florence who liked to be called Freddie. She still likes to be called Freddie now-a-days. That’s another story – I don’t think it’s for this text. Then there was Mildred and myself.
Interviewer: No brothers. Three sisters and you. Are you the youngest, Herb?
Schiff: No, my sister, Mildred is the youngest.
Interviewer: Is everyone still living?
Schiff: Saralynn is dead a long time. She was the one, when you have children, there is a certain amount of weakness and a certain amount of strengths and the weakness was in her. Freddie is still alive. She’s living in her own world and G-d damn it, the Lord is good. Her mind is of such a nature that she doesn’t know where she’s living and she doesn’t know how wealthy she is but she is living well. I was able, this year, to make her (her children were living in poverty) give. I was taught to give, she wasn’t. I demanded that she make sure those children were well off. She acquiesced. She’ll probably out-live me. One of those kids keeps calling me, saying, “God Bless you, Uncle Herb.”
Interviewer: That’s wonderful.
Schiff: She had to sign away a portion of her funds and she never realized she was a multi-millionaire. How she obtained her funds, that’s a horse of a different color, I don’t know. But I got a call over the High Holidays, thanking me very much for what I’ve done for them. All I said was, Hey, you’ve got the money, kid, don’t tell me you don’t.
Interviewer: Tell me about Mildred. Is she still alive? Is she Mildred or Millie?
Schiff: She’s Mickey. No, I don’t think Mickey is still alive.
Interviewer: So Freddie is your only sibling who is still alive?
Schiff: It may be that I got more of my mother’s milk, it may be my background because I was sent away to school where they gave us good solid food. Saralynn is dead, Freddie is alive. She is going through Alzheimer’s.
Interviewer: How many children does she have?
Schiff: Two children. Well, we’ve gotten Freddie well taken care of, we’ve got her children well taken care of and they’re all happy and where the family was disbursed, we’ve got the family back together again.
Interviewer: So are there anymore cousins from your other sisters?
Schiff: There are a lot of cousins. I don’t know any of them. If you want a guesstimate on the Lurie side and the Schiff side, we can be talking about 60 first cousins.
Interviewer: Was Schiff the original name in Europe? Or was it changed?
Schiff: As far as I’m concerned – we’ll go back to Europe again – the history of these boys who were sent to Yeshiva in Lyzevo, Lithuania. I had the pleasure of being there.
Interviewer: You went there?
Schiff: Two years ago. Remember?
Interviewer: I do remember.
Schiff: Well, they were sent away to school and they got the education. The girls were kept at home. So I don’t know if many of my father’s sisters or brothers made it to this country.
Interviewer: But was Schiff the original name?
Schiff: Schiff was a very, very famous name. It probably goes back fifty or seventy-five years and, as I said, these boys were educated at the Yeshiva University on the coast. They weren’t at home.
Interviewer: So they left home for their education.
Schiff: They were sent. It was deliberate. This was all free education. You suckers in the United States were paying the bill.
Interviewer: When you went back to Lithuania two or three years ago, did you locate . . . .
Schiff: Here is the heartbreaking thing. The whole trip was made around going to Lithuania. We couldn’t get any kind of transportation in a forty-eight hour period to make a four hundred mile round trip. The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), in which I’ve been active all my life and I still do a little work for them, sent their man from Paris to Lithuania and their agent they had in the area was a Lithuanian, with me. But we couldn’t, in a day’s time, drive a car down to the South to this little town of Lyzeno, Lithuania and come back. I know of no family there and I was unable to do the thing I wanted to do which was to go over and see their birth place because they were both born in the same town. Not the same people. Any of the present residents in northern Europe that are Jewish, after you leave France, are transports. Because these people were wiped out.
Interviewer: So your trip was disappointing. You didn’t accomplish what you wanted.
Schiff: No, I’ll tell you what the Joint did for me because I’m very, very high on the JDC. They brought their representatives in. They made the local people work with us and they took us to that which they could show us. We had twenty-four hours with them and we met the people and they opened up and we opened up because I’m the guy who’s always got the bottle of wine in my hand. We learned a good deal. They’re a highly educated country. I would say just this, we Americans should go over there and take a look at ourselves twenty or twenty-five years ago.
Interviewer: Where we came from?
Schiff: The countries we came from. We have education and opportunities that they don’t have.
Interviewer: You mentioned something a minute ago that you were taught to give and your sisters were not. Do you want to tell me about that?
Schiff: Yes. I made it my business to put my nose into everything. My sisters didn’t. So my family, both from my mother’s side and my father’s side, gave money. Now I go back to 1916 – eighty-three years ago – I go back to 1935-1936, when I was growing up. My father took me to Columbus “Chader” (school). My mother was already dead. My father took me to dinner. It was a fund raiser. I didn’t know it was a fund raiser. It was his way of exposing me to my obligations. They were raising funds for a new “Chader” and my father stood up first and said, I will give $20,000. I looked at him very surprised.
Interviewer: That was a lot of money then.
Schiff: He didn’t come into the money, he was giving the money. And the new “Chader”’ was built and everything was built around it since.
Interviewer: What city was this?
Schiff: In Columbus, Ohio. This is prior to being sent away so I’m talking awhile back – 1928-1929, somewhere around there.
Interviewer: So you were about 10? 12? 13?
Schiff: I was Bar Mitzvah and then sent away to school.
Interviewer: You were Bar Mitzvah in Columbus?
Schiff: No, I was Bar Mitzvah on the road, come to think about it.
Interviewer: Really? What synagogue did your parents belong to in Columbus?
Schiff: I’m not sure. I think they belonged to Beth Jacob then moved over to Agudas Achim. However, you have an interesting situation in the city of Columbus. They were the first to leave the Orthodox religion.
Interviewer: They were the first couple?
Schiff: First to leave the Orthodox religion. My mother wanted to make sure that because she was bringing her family into the modern generation, that we wouldn’t get swallowed into the old generation. This wasn’t prejudice, this was pride. What she did was force my father to get a group of people together and that’s why you have the Broad Street Temple.
Interviewer: The Broad Street Temple is Tifereth Israel and isn’t that Conservative?
Schiff: Right. My mother moved my father from his old life to his new life. You can understand, a lot of people who were successful, remained Orthodox Jews but the question was, Don’t think as an Orthodox Jew, think as an American citizen.
Interviewer: So your family went from the Orthodox Beth Jacob or Agudas Achim to Tifereth Israel?
Schiff: All the major shuls in Columbus came out of Orthodoxy.
Interviewer: And then they moved from Tifereth Israel to Bryden Road, Temple Israel?
Schiff: They never gave up their membership.
Interviewer: But they became members of all of them?
Schiff: They became members of all of them.
Interviewer: When the holidays came, where did you, as a family go?
Schiff: I think we went to Tifereth Israel.
Interviewer: Tifereth Israel, in the beginning, was founded by Hungarian Jews.
Schiff: All of them were Hungarians.
Interviewer: So your mother was part of that?
Schiff: My mother also was Lithuanian but she was of a different class. My grandfather had a distillery business in Lithuania. When he exited, he was sent to Cincinnati because he would have been executed. He never, in his life, thought that the road ran straight.
Interviewer: Did your father become an officer of Temple Israel? Was he active?
Schiff: No, he belonged to five, six or seven synagogues. He was always on the outside. He was active in the way you won’t believe. He was “Mr. First Giver.”
Interviewer: That’s good. That’s a good role model for the rest of the community.
Schiff: He belonged to four to seven of them. Tifereth Israel was the old Hungarian shul and was down on Parsons Avenue. Agudas Achim was southwest on Donaldson.
Interviewer: Beth Jacob was also on Donaldson?
Schiff: No, I don’t think so. Beth Jacob was on Washington Avenue. My mother didn’t think in those days that we should remain Orthodox Jews. My father loved my mother and he went that way because he was flexible. He certainly could not have developed the business he developed without that flexibility of thinking.
Interviewer: Herb, did you have a good relationship with your father?
Schiff: Originally, I didn’t. You’ve got to remember that I came out of a broken family and my father had this big business he was developing. He had three girls and a boy and he found out at the end of a year that he couldn’t keep the three girls and the boy together. He found out there was a word called sex. So in 1928, he sent me away to prep school and summer camp.
Interviewer: And you were how old?
Schiff: My mother died in 1928 so I would say I was in my early teens.
Interviewer: About 13? 14? So you were about Bar Mitzvah age when he sent you to . . . ?
Schiff: I was Bar Mitzvah . . . . where? I don’t know because it was a strange community. As we were moving up stream and my father was growing, Columbus was a base but as I recall it, on the way to prep school the first year, I was Bar Mitzvah in New York City at one of the small shuls with strangers.
Interviewer: So Bar Mitzvah in those days was a little different than Bar Mitzvah that we know today. Bar Mitzvah was being called to the Torah without the parties and gifts that we know today.
Schiff: That’s all Bar Mitzvah is. Whatever we have added to it is for our own selfish convenience. Bar Mitzvah is being called to the Torah to congratulate you on your 13th birthday that you are a member of your community. Lest we forget, it’s a short fifty years ago where you were Bar Mitzvah and you went out in the world and went to work.
Interviewer: That’s true.
Schiff: It was your entrance into manhood.
Interviewer: That’s right. It was, definitely. So you were on your way to a boarding school? And the name was?
Schiff: It was a preparatory school. A boarding school was a horse of a different color.
Interviewer: So this was a preparatory school. Where did you live?
Schiff: At that time, the school was in Hightstown, New Jersey. I lived in the dormitory.
Interviewer: And the name of the school was?
Schiff: The Peddie School. My father had accepted that I was going to be given a Christian religion education in order to go into that school. I had four years of Christian education.
Interviewer: How did you feel, Herb, about having to go away to school and your sisters stayed home?
Schiff: Well, it was kind of like when they went to camp and going away to school was a method of separation and I would say I didn’t feel too good about it. I never made the top group of leaders in the school. My thinking was radical and different. Today I still support that school.
Interviewer: As a youngster, did you feel deprived?
Schiff: I don’t think I felt deprived. I think I felt bewildered.
Interviewer: Bewildered. Did you make friends easily when you went away to school?
Schiff: No. I still don’t.
Interviewer: When you were growing up in Columbus, did you have friends from school?
Schiff: I had acquaintances. I didn’t have friends in Columbus, when I left Columbus, I had friends. Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone who will talk and the relationship will come back. I still support the religious organizations in Columbus.
Interviewer: Before your mother became ill . . . .
Schiff: Let’s go back to that. As far as I’m concerned, my mother was ill all my life.
Interviewer: All your life. Well before she passed away . . . .
Schiff: Before she passed away, I felt an isolation even from my sisters. For this reason, I was the favorite.
Interviewer: You were the favorite? By both your parents?
Interviewer: You were the boy.
Schiff: I was the only boy. There were three girls. As I was growing up, even before my early teens, my mother was dying. So you can put that scene together and you know what happens.
Interviewer: Tell me a little about your home life. Your mother wasn’t well most of the time that you can remember. You had three sisters. So what was your home life like? There was no television. What did you do as a family?
Schiff: As a family? There wasn’t time.
Interviewer: Because both your parents worked?
Schiff: Because both my parents worked, there wasn’t time. As a young child, this was before puberty that all this took place. By the time puberty came, I was away at prep school.
Interviewer: Before you went away, you went to school everyday and you came home.
Schiff: We had a housekeeper. My father came from the office late.
Interviewer: Who cooked the meals?
Schiff: We always had hired help.
Interviewer: So someone else cooked the meals. Did you sit down at the table as a family for dinner?
Schiff: At times, yes. At times, no. Because my father was going out and making a living.
Interviewer: Did you have Shabbat meal together?
Schiff: As far as I’m concerned, after my mother died . . . .
Interviewer: Now I’m talking about before your mother died.
Schiff: My mother insisted upon it.
Interviewer: So you always had a Shabbat meal.
Schiff: Any Jewish salesman that was in town on Shabbat, selling to our Company, was invited to our home for Shabbat dinner. My mother cooked.
Interviewer: You mother cooked. Then what happened on Saturday? Did your father go to work?
Schiff: Once in a while, but you’re making me pull on my memory and I can’t pull.
Interviewer: Did you have friends over for dinner?
Interviewer: Do you remember any names of friends back then?
Schiff: No, my life was a lonesome one.
Interviewer: And then you went away to school and it continued to be lonesome?
Schiff: Actually, what the normal person would think of a childhood – and childhood changes – didn’t occur with me because there were these tremendous conflicts. My mother took four years to die of cancer of the breast and there was no way the pain could be eliminated outside of a shot in the arm. This was what was taking place in our home.
Interviewer: What about neighbors? Do you remember neighbors?
Interviewer: What’s your earliest recollection of your first home? Where you lived? Where was that?
Schiff: Our first home that I remember (there were several before) was on Kimball Place. The heart of that Jewish neighborhood. Every once in a while, I’ll run into one or two of these guys that were around – the Rubin boys.
Interviewer: Like Alvin?
Schiff: There were two families. One lived on Bedford and the other one was near Kimball Place.
Interviewer: The Rubin boys would have been which boys?
Schiff: Both families.
Interviewer: That would have been Alvin, Bunnie, Bernard. So you had both families with Alvins and Bernard’s? Were they your friends?
Schiff: The ones that lived on the other street were my friends. Then we had Hebrew tutors.
Interviewer: Did the tutors come to your house?
Schiff: You’re getting into my youth. My youth was a complicated thing and as a result, I was a roving wooly. By the time I got to the age of reasoning, which was when I got to preparatory school, I couldn’t even find myself then.
Interviewer: So you were taken out of a . . . .
Schiff: It wasn’t a home atmosphere but I didn’t run around with bums.
Interviewer: You were then removed from your Orthodox household environment.
Schiff: I wouldn’t say it was Orthodox. You weren’t alive yet in those days, Peggy. You were or you weren’t. My friends actually were Orthodox. Most of them I don’t remember. Bunny Rubin who is still in Columbus – he remembers me but it was his brother I ran around with.
Interviewer: So then you went to the Peddie School and this was a Christian environment.
Schiff: More than that. During the week, we had services in the chapel before we went to classes and it was all the Christian religion. On Sundays, there was a Catholic church and two other churches but we had to go to church on Sunday. Had there been a Jewish shul there, I could have gone there on Saturday.
Interviewer: So you could have had a choice but it just wasn’t . . . .
Schiff: That’s right but it was a flip of a coin but you had to go there. Peggy, if I had a son and we were faced with the same problem, I would prefer him to get a religious education whether it be Jewish or not. I believe there is only one person you are responsible to and that’s the boy upstairs.
Interviewer: So you feel that those four years were really beneficial in shaping your future life?
Schiff: Where you’ve got a mish mosh, how does the future life develop? With me, I think it was what was in my guts. I am my brother’s keeper. I owe my brother something.
Interviewer: When you left the Peddie School, did you come back to Columbus?
Schiff: No, my father’s home was in Columbus and I was at my sisters and father’s during the summer but I was at prep school.
Interviewer: When did your father re-marry?
Schiff: That was the most positive thing that ever happened to him. I would say the mid or late 40’s.
Interviewer: How long was he a widower?
Schiff: I’d say ten or twelve years.
Interviewer: So it was a long time.
Schiff: It was enough time that Saul Schiff:, my cousin – I had several cousins – stepped into the picture and he was from Molly’s family.
Interviewer: Molly’s family? That would be Saul’s wife, Molly?
Schiff: Through her family’s side, he met Ann and in those days, she was what you would call, not a street walker, but a free thinker and she led a free life. They got married and they had a married life. The tragedy of that marriage was one thing. She was a very beautiful woman.
Interviewer: That was a tragedy?
Schiff: Well, a very beautiful woman is a very beautiful woman and she and I became very close. My father felt that she loved me more than she loved him. She was a remarkable woman. She insisted, like my mother insisted, on education. The first three years they were married, I didn’t live in the home. I practically left that home in 1932 or 1933 and went on to school and graduated in 1938. I got married three days later.
Schiff: I believe I am my brother’s keeper and I would dread the day my brother would have to take care of me. But I have no brothers so I have to worry about somebody else I’d call a brother. No blood brothers, let’s put it that way. Therefore, my obligation in life – I think this is what makes me a charitable person – some people take charity to buy leadership. I believe I was brought into this world with a golden spoon in my mouth even though I know it wasn’t there when I was born and I believe I have an obligation to my brother. Every once in a while, nowadays, I’ll find people that try to take advantage of that. So what I do, when I believe in something – a charity – I take care of it. I don’t ask them to do it my way and I don’t demand a report and I feel maybe a few of them aren’t taking care of money properly but I feel I still owe my brother that and I can’t get away from it. It isn’t a question of being a sucker because I know they’d spend a portion of funds themselves. You’ve been in the game too long. So we can drop it right there.
Interviewer: Ok. Let’s come back to your stepmother, Ann. What was her name?
Schiff: I think her family name was Rose.
Interviewer: Ann Rose?
Schiff: Ann Rose Schiff:, she went by. She had been married and had a daughter by the name of Margie. I don’t know whether you ever met Margie. I haven’t seen her in years. Ann died early and I found myself in charge of her estate.
Interviewer: Did she die before your father?
Schiff: Yes. My father lived to a good, healthy age. They never knew their age in Europe. I’d say he was in his late 80’s or early 90’s when he died.
Interviewer: Great genes.
Schiff: No, he died a miserable way and I don’t know if it’s going to happen to me or not. He died where he had nobody to take care of him except professionals. He and I, who had been apart for years, grew back together again. I remember he called me in one day and said, Son, are you going to do it my way after I’m dead? And I looked at him and said, H— No, and he said, Thank you son. I thought you were going to say that.
Interviewer: So you grew apart during your growing up years but you . . .
Schiff: He had this young kid with three daughters. It was very difficult to keep them apart without sex coming into play. As a result, he had to separate them. Separate three or separate one. So I was the one who was sent away to school. I think God works in strange ways because I got a Christian education as well as a Jewish education.
Interviewer: So perhaps it made you a better person?
Schiff: I think it made me a better person.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to your stepmother, Ann.
Schiff: Ann was a very, very beautiful woman. She was the second wife of Robert and Robert was her second husband.
Interviewer: But you never lived in the home during that time. They had no children together?
Schiff: What do you do with a woman in her late forties? You knock her up?
Interviewer: Not in those days!
Schiff: In those days, they did. And it’s no good. She took my father from his roots and brought him into another world. He enjoyed the world because the world was of his compatriots. But he had the old fashioned thing that the only reason you had a woman was to propagate children. She taught him the word LOVE. She taught me the word LOVE and I think she had a good deal to do with my character. I remember the greatest thing she said because my mouth was filthy in those days. She said, Herbert, you don’t talk about any woman that way. Someday she may become your wife.
Interviewer: Good advice.
Schiff: She had an influence in my life. My father had an influence in my life.
Interviewer: How did your father and Ann meet?
Schiff: Believe it or not, did you know Saul and Molly Schiff:’s nephew?
Interviewer: No, I don’t think so.
Schiff: She was a distant relative of Molly Schiff: and she was a widow. They met and . . . she made him a wonderful wife and she made my life. She had more influence on my life than I think he did.
Interviewer: Even though you didn’t spend that much time together?
Schiff: To begin with, I hated her. She was something I didn’t know I was looking for. Then we became great friends to the point that my father thought we were falling in love with each other.
Interviewer: How old were you when he married Ann?
Schiff: Well, I was going away to prep school. I would say I was maybe 13 or 14. I had been Bar Mitzvah already. They had a very lovely life.
Interviewer: Was she from Columbus?
Schiff: No, she was from a town in northeast Ohio. Canton.
Interviewer: Do you know how they met? Business, Friends?
Schiff: I would say Molly and Saul Schiff arranged it.
Interviewer: Like a blind date?
Schiff: Yes. My mother was an old fashioned Yiddisha mama. This was a modern Jewish gal who had a tragic life prior to her marriage to my father.
Interviewer: And they had a good life together?
Schiff: Once I stopped playing the revolutionist against her, yes.
Interviewer: So you made it very difficult for her in the beginning.
Schiff: I don’t like to say it but that’s true.
Interviewer: And then you learned that she was a nice person?
Schiff: She was a beautiful lady. An expression I use often, A lady is a lady is a lady; a tramp is a tramp is a tramp.
Interviewer: And your father was very happily married to her?
Schiff: It was a beautiful marriage. I wish he’d had it all his life. I wish he didn’t go through the pain and agony of all that cancer. He didn’t have cancer, it was my mother.
Interviewer: It is very difficult. Were they married in Columbus or Canton?
Schiff: I’m not certain where they were married.
Interviewer: So you didn’t go to the wedding?
Schiff: No, I wasn’t invited and I don’t think I should have been invited.
Interviewer: When they were married, they were members of Temple Israel?
Schiff: I’ll take you a little further, kid. No, they weren’t at time. But my mother belonged to the shul on Broad Street.
Interviewer: Tifereth Israel?
Schiff: Tifereth Israel. My mother and father founded that shul.
Interviewer: But as a married couple, Ann and your father, where did they go?
Schiff: As a married couple, they did everything that was modern. They even sailed out on the sea in a boat. They started to travel.
Interviewer: Your father and Ann started to travel?
Schiff: I think they had a beautiful life and I think she was sincerely and deeply in love with him. She and I developed a very close relationship. My father was jealous of me and my relationship with her. He wasn’t certain whether sex had raised its head. She was not a mother. She was a companion. She was a shoulder to lean on.
Interviewer: So she helped you develop your life through college?
Schiff: She forced me into developing my life there.
Interviewer: She made you a better person?
Schiff: I would say, yes. I was a bum when she married my father. I had no roots. Don’t forget, here’s a kid whose mother died when he was eleven years old, his Bar Mitzvah was in a foreign city, not Columbus, he was sent away to school for four years. I was trying to find myself.
Interviewer: You were trying to find your roots. Did you develop a family life once Ann came into the family?
Schiff: I was never in my father’s home.
Interviewer: So you were still away.
Schiff: I was away at school or during the summer, I did something else. I spent little time in the home. But I was . . . let’s put it this way, I was a mongrel among three girls. How do you keep a kid from raping your sisters? (laughter)
Interviewer: Ok, we talked about that. Let’s go back to something else in your early, young adult life. You had a difficult family life but were there times when your family got together and told stories about their parents?
Schiff: Let’s say it wasn’t a difficult family life. It was a fact of fate and certain things that spread the family apart rather than brought the family together. I’m not close to my family but I can tell you, I can change them fast. I’ve got one surviving sister, a multi-billionaire who wouldn’t take care of her children when they were living in poverty. I forced the issue.
Interviewer: Do you remember any stories that your parents would tell you about their parents and the old country?
Interviewer: They never talked about it?
Schiff: I think you’re talking about something, if it happened to you, you’d want to forget it. With a man, they had to get him out of the country before he had to go into the military.
Interviewer: That’s a good story to tell. Would you say that you were a mischief maker, growing up?
Schiff: I don’t think I was a mischief maker as much as I didn’t run in the path.
Interviewer: If you were sitting here today and interviewing your grandparents, Herb, what would you ask them?
Schiff: I don’t recall my grandparents.
Interviewer: But I am making a hypothetical scene.
Schiff: The communication would be very difficult because my knowledge of people and Yiddish are all gone.
Interviewer: What language did your father speak when he came to this country?
Schiff: Whatever language he was taught in Lithuania. Most of it, I imagine was Hebrew and maybe his mother taught him Lithuanian. I’m not certain what the mother tongue was. My grandfather was a distiller. He had five or six sons he sent away – in Lithuania, there were no Yeshivas – to a Yeshiva to get an education. My father was drinking and smoking at the age of eleven.
Interviewer: But, again, you didn’t know your grandparents.
Schiff: I didn’t know them at all.
Interviewer: If you were sitting here, like I’m sitting here, across from them, what would you want to know from them?
Schiff: Nothing. I would be their judge without them knowing I was their judge. I would be defining their level of intellect, their level of education, their level of being a Jew.
Interviewer: That’s important to you?
Schiff: That’s important to me . . . to see what they do. I was brought up where my father and mother were king and queen. Of course the queen died very early – in 1928 – the business hadn’t reached its zenith yet at that time. They were the hangers on. They had pride. The only thing I would try to do now, if he were alive, is renew a friendship with Jack Schiff.
Interviewer: Jack Schiff would have been your uncle?
Schiff: Cousin. Jack and Saul Schiff were Robert’s nephews and favorites and played a great portion of his life on them and them on me. As a result, they wanted me to be successful. But as a result of me, I think I was the break of the company. Because I wouldn’t take the old taboos, this is the way we always did things. I was a rebel.
Interviewer: Well, it’s ok. The rebel did ok.
Schiff: You know, it’s a horrible world, Peggy. You’ve seen my home in Columbus, you see my home here. You know that I’ve traveled the world, you know that I spend money freely, that I give money freely. That wasn’t those people.
Interviewer: Right. We’ve evolved. I want to go back just a little bit more and then we’ll call it quits for today. I would like to know, in your family, early, did your parents speak their native tongue or did they learn English very quickly? Did you hear a foreign language in your home?
Schiff: I want to give you an answer with an explanation. They were clickish as all people were but on the other hand, they wouldn’t have gotten where they were in the world unless they were looking at the future – downstream. As a result, English was only spoken in our home, and I wasn’t taught Yiddish. I was exposed to six or seven years of Hebrew School, I was exposed to the Christian religion for five or six years. It didn’t click.
Interviewer: It didn’t sink in? So you do not understand Yiddish?
Schiff: A bissel. Peggy, this is unusual. I don’t know about you but I read people’s eyes. I can read more in people’s eyes than I can listen to from their mouths. Certain things within the Jewish people, I wish would be eliminated. Take that chip off your shoulder where you won’t come outright and say, I don’t like a goy. Do you hate him, or are you jealous of him?
Interviewer: That’s a good question.
Schiff: Are you jealous that he’s a majority and you’re a minority? These are types of questions and people don’t think in that manner. People don’t know they’re being developed in that manner. See, this is the way my father taught me to think.
Interviewer: He was a wise man. Do you read Hebrew today?
Schiff: No. There’s a lot of stuff about the Jewish religion over there as well as other things but, no, I have this, Peggy. Take time today before you leave, to look at these things here.
Interviewer: I will because we’ll want to talk about these things. We’re going to get to all this as we go down the road.
Schiff: Your question is what do I believe? I believe people are better off than when they entered the world. I believe in people doing things for the world. I believe in people having a good time, their way. But these things didn’t first develop. I was pushed into them and I came out on top of them.
Interviewer: Yesterday we discussed your early childhood, Herb, and today we’re going to move on to your young adult age. We know that you went to the Peddie School, the preparatory school. My first question is, what did you do for fun during that time?
Schiff: I couldn’t tell you.
Interviewer: Did you go to movies while you were living away from home?
Schiff: When I went to preparatory school? When I lived away from home, we didn’t go to the movies or anything like that.
Interviewer: You didn’t go to movies?
Schiff: My G-d, we had to work during the day. We had classes and the afternoons were set up for sporting activities to keep the body in shape. At night, we had to get all our homework done so we didn’t have time to run around and socialize.
Interviewer: What kinds of sporting activities did you participate in?
Schiff: Very few. I’m not an athlete by birth. I’m not an athlete now and I never will be an athlete. Whatever was required – and it was a good requirement because you’ve got to keep the body healthy to keep the mind healthy and you’ve got to make that blood drain because you’re studying very hard.
Interviewer: Did you play basketball?
Schiff: No, I played whatever sport they wanted me to do. I am not an athlete by nature and I cannot coordinate my body to a little ball or to a little swimming pool or a little of this or a little of that. I can, when it comes to work and I think I’ve proven it by my record.
Interviewer: Absolutely. Well, let’s see, you must have had some time where you weren’t studying and you weren’t involved in physical activities. Did you read additional reading?
Schiff: Well, we had to study, too. What we were actually doing was, we might have a game of football, basketball, baseball, a swim in the swimming pool. We had to take athletic sports.
Interviewer: So you did this because it was required and you had no liking for swimming or any kind of athletic . . . .
Schiff: I think you’ve got to go back in history and figure out what led up to me being sent to preparatory school. My father found out that if he continued a household with one boy and three girls . . . .
Interviewer: Not a good situation.
Schiff: Not a good or healthy situation. So he broke the total household and he sent me away to school and he sent my sisters to another school. From that time on, until I graduated from college and got married, there was no such thing as home for me.
Interviewer: When you were away at school, did you listen to the radio?
Schiff: I did whatever was required of me. The radio, yes, we did listen a little bit.
Interviewer: Did you have any favorite programs?
Schiff: To me, these were the most unpleasant days of my life. I would not take a child of mine – and I didn’t – and break him and send him away from a home. I think that is a miserable excuse for being a parent. A child needs a home.
Interviewer: That’s very true. So you didn’t have a home life and you were in school away from home during your young adult life.
Schiff: Not only that, I went to college . . . .
Interviewer: When you went to college, was this a college of your choice or did your father select it?
Schiff: That, he had no choice in. I determined I wanted to go to the University of Pennsylvania. I went there, I spent four years there, I met Betty and we got married right after I finished school.
Interviewer: When you were in college, did you participate in any Jewish activities?
Schiff: I was in a Jewish fraternity, ZBT. On campus, if they had services or activities, I was more of a spectator than a participant.
Interviewer: You went out of a sense of duty to your father? Or because you felt it was the place to be?
Schiff: I had to do something because it was part of the graduation process.
Interviewer: Meaning, it was part of . . . .
Schiff: Part of the requirement. If you were in the fraternity house, they assumed you were Jewish and you were learning the habits of Jewish people somewhere. Also we had to do those things they wanted us to do.
Interviewer: Did you become a member of the fraternity in your freshman year?
Schiff: University of Pennsylvania was strange. They had a ruling that no fraternity could start looking for new members until spring. And the Jewish fraternities felt that was wrong so they started choosing their new brothers in the fall period. So actually, I was a member of ZBT where all the hazing and what little boys do for all four years.
Interviewer: All four years? Did you live in the fraternity house? Or in a dorm?
Schiff: The first year, we were required to live in a dorm. After that, I lived in the fraternity house. We were considered the royal kingdom of the Jewish fraternities. There were eleven Jewish fraternities.
Schiff: There were five top fraternities and being a ZBT, you were in the five top fraternities accordingly. You were introduced to snobbery.
Interviewer: Were you invited by other Jewish fraternities to join?
Schiff: I didn’t want to join any other one. Peggy, do you remember Joe Blatt?
Interviewer: No, I don’t.
Schiff: Joe Blatt married my sister, Sara Lynn. In the period of time that I went to the University of Pennsylvania, he was a ZBT and to me, I wanted to be a ZBT, I became a ZBT and I stayed with them for four years.
Interviewer: So he was older than you?
Schiff: About three or four years older. I think Joe had an effect on my life.
Interviewer: So he was like a role model to you in college?
Schiff: No, he wasn’t a role model. Well, first, Joe was in Columbus, courting my sister, Sara. I would say he helped me understand things but on the other hand, I considered him an equal, even at that time.
Interviewer: When you got to college, you set your sights on ZBT immediately?
Schiff: Immediately, hell! They practically greeted my train when I came in.
Interviewer: So they knew about you before you arrived.
Schiff: It was a foregone conclusion.
Interviewer: And that was through Joe Blatt?
Schiff: That was through Joe Blatt who became my brother-in-law.
Interviewer: When you lived in the fraternity house, did they cook traditional Jewish foods?
Schiff: You’ve got to remember, kid, you come from a Kosher background and I came from a kosher background but I was a goy from the time I went to preparatory school and ZBT was a non-sectarian. It wasn’t sectarian and as a result, we had caterers that came in and catered our food but I wouldn’t say it was Jewish food.
Interviewer: So they didn’t have special Friday night dinners or things like that? Basically, during your childhood, you were deprived of Jewish types of traditional foods.
Schiff: You must remember that we had a situation in our family where my father had to make a decision and he felt it was better not to have three knocked up daughters.
Interviewer: At the ZBT house, did you celebrate Jewish holidays?
Schiff: We were always away. I don’t even recall prayers in the Jewish house. But you’ve got to remember that there are three sects of Judaism.
Interviewer: That’s true.
Schiff: And ours was a non-sectarian sect. Religion was a secondary thing. We did have two or three or four Jewish affairs but nothing like you would call davening (praying) in the morning and davening in the evening.
Interviewer: I was thinking, maybe, of matzah ball soup.
Schiff: You forget that you come here now removed of a generation of your birth.
Interviewer: That’s true
Schiff: Households now are rare that have Kosher food.
Interviewer: Very true.
Schiff: I was in a generation where kosher food was a requirement but I was in one of the five top fraternities at the University of Pennsylvania and ZBT threw religion out a long time ago.
Interviewer: During your college years, were sports played at the University of Pennsylvania? Did you go to watch games?
Schiff: There was football, baseball, basketball, swimming, wrestling . . . . I took wrestling and fencing.
Interviewer: Fencing? I’ll bet you were very good at that.
Schiff: No, I wasn’t too good at it but that was where I could get back at the boys.
Interviewer: During that time, do you recall any fraternity brothers who were your good friends?
Schiff: I think, Peggy, my friendships were non-existent, the same as they are today. I actually made one close friend – I can’t even remember his name now. I made two close friends because one friend graduated ahead of me. To me, going away to school was a prison sentence.
Interviewer: So you did not maintain any college friendships through your lifetime?
Schiff: Over my lifetime, when certain people would come into Columbus, Ohio and . . . . the way they looked at me at school and the way they look at me now are two different roles. They respect me for what I’ve accomplished. I was not, actually, what you’d call “one of the boys.” To me, the fraternity was a place to eat, sleep, keep my car parked on the lot and court Betty for four years.
Interviewer: So you had a car when you were in college?
Schiff: Of course. I was a spoiled brat. I went to a spoiled fraternity.
Interviewer: Did most of the brothers have cars?
Schiff: Thirty-eight cars out of fifty members.
Interviewer: That’s incredible.
Schiff: That’s money.
Interviewer: We’re talking about the 30’s – around 1935?
Schiff: I graduated in 1938 so you’re talking a period of time from 1934-1938.
Interviewer: What kind of car did you drive? Was it a convertible?
Schiff: No, it was a sedan. I don’t think, in those days, there were convertibles.
Interviewer: Do you remember how much gasoline cost when you were in college?
Schiff: To me, Peggy, you came out of a different atmosphere than I did. Money was an immaterial thing. It was an avenue to purchase and I probably had one of the highest allowances of all those kids.
Interviewer: So you just filled up the car and it made no difference?
Schiff: Filled up the car, bought booze, bought all that was available to me.
Interviewer: So when you say, bought booze, when was prohibition?
Schiff: This was right after prohibition. I graduated in 1938 so that took me in there the fall of 1934.
Interviewer: So you were able to freely buy . . . .
Schiff: Freely buy . . . . Well, I was driving a beautiful new car and I was courting Betty in Wilmington, Delaware. So on weekends, when the boys were really making hay, I was down in Wilmington, Delaware, courting Betty and staying with a relative.
Interviewer: As long as we’re going to talk about Betty, tell me how you met her.
Schiff: I got a call one day, for a Mr. so & so, a cousin, three times away from me, he said “I’d like you to come down and have dinner with us in Wilmington, Delaware.”
Interviewer: How far away was Wilmington, Delaware?
Schiff: Wilmington, Delaware was about sixty miles. I broke in three cars while I was in college.
Interviewer: That’s a long way in those days.
Schiff: The way that Herb Schiff drove in those days, it was a forty minute drive.
Interviewer: I see. What was the speed limit in those days?
Schiff: Same as it is today.
Interviewer: Was there a speed limit?
Schiff: There was a speed limit but nobody paid attention to it. I got picked up once, that’s all.
Interviewer: You were the son of a father who had dollars to spend so you did not work at all while you were in college?
Schiff: Let’s put it this way, Peggy, I didn’t know the meaning of work. But don’t forget, I was also the son of a broken family.
Interviewer: Did other brothers in the fraternity work?
Schiff: Our fraternity was an unusual fraternity. We had forty members and we had thirty-eight cars.
Interviewer: So nobody worked. Everybody had allowances. Would you say it was a fun time?
Schiff: It was a very fun time but I spent all my time in Wilmington, Delaware.
Interviewer: What year of college did you make this first trip?
Schiff: I entered in 1934, I left in 1938 and I got married three days later.
Interviewer: Was it your freshman year that you met Betty?
Schiff: Actually it was my freshman year but I met her in the winter.
Interviewer: Would you say she was your first girlfriend?
Schiff: I’ll put it another way, she was my only girlfriend.
Interviewer: That’s a very good answer. Would you say it was “love at first sight” when you met her?
Schiff: I don’t think Betty or Betty’s mother thought of marriage. In those days, it was companionship.
Interviewer: Did Betty come from a wealthy family?
Schiff: Betty came from a family that was wealthy but had gone broke during the Depression. Whether he went bankrupt or not, I don’t know. I’ve got to explain something to you, kid. Take the Schiff family. My father had a brother, Albert and he had six other brothers and he had three sisters. So when each child moved away from the home, they went to their friends in the community – I’m talking about my father’s family – found out who they had there and they put them on you. So if you had a home life, you had a Jewish home life.
Interviewer: They still do that today.
Schiff: So that’s a way. It’s how I met Ephraim Frankel. He picked me out. He was Al Schiff’s relative.
Interviewer: Ephraim Frankel was Albert Schiff’s . . . .
Schiff: First cousin.
Interviewer: And Albert Schiff was your uncle?
Schiff: Albert Schiff was my uncle so therefore, the first week I was there, I met Ephraim and his wife and those four years and by the time I started running around with Betty, I would say for three and a half years. We got married three days after I graduated.
Interviewer: Now when you got married, did you have any idea how you were going to support your wife?
Schiff: Let me say this to you, I don’t think any person ever had the experience I had. I went from a rich man’s son to a guy who was cut off from his father’s income.
Interviewer: Why was that?
Schiff: Robert paid for college. Robert did this and that. Robert’s belief was with training, go out in the world and see the world.
Interviewer: So, in other words, the day you graduated, your allowance stopped.
Schiff: Damn right. From heaven back down to the common place of mankind.
Interviewer: When you asked Betty to marry you, how did you think you were going to support her?
Schiff: I never worried about money.
Interviewer: But your source ended.
Schiff: The realities of life and the kind of person I am today are because I try to educate people. I didn’t even know I was going through it. All I knew was, I went from a guy who could do anything he wanted to a guy who couldn’t do anything. And then I started fighting my way to the top.
Interviewer: What did you do first? Did you and Betty have a honeymoon? Did you go away?
Schiff: The whole world went blank. I was down to $12 or $13 a week on which I had to support a wife. My father said, now you learn the hard way. And, that went on for eight years.
Interviewer: Do you remember your wedding?
Schiff: No. I’m not a sentimental person. As a result, a wedding was a wedding – it was another party.
Interviewer: Was it a big party?
Schiff: I would say, yes, it was a big party.
Interviewer: So, you had a wedding, you got married . . . .
Schiff: Wait a minute. Let me take you back. Ephraim Frankel was a cousin of Ethel Schiff:, Albert Schiff:’s wife. Within two weeks after I got to college, the introduction was made. Betty was running around with this one and that one and I stepped in. When I stepped in, I was one of the few people who had a car, every Friday afternoon, I drove down to Wilmington and I came back on Sunday afternoon and that went on for four years.
Interviewer: You got married. Did you stay in Wilmington to work?
Schiff: No. The whole world of being a wealthy man’s son, stopped the day I got married.
Interviewer: What did you and Betty do?
Schiff: We lived on $15 to $18 a week.
Interviewer: And how did you earn that?
Schiff: Selling shoes on the floor of a store, sixty to seventy hours a week.
Interviewer: What store was that?
Schiff: One of our operations in Detroit. I think we were there six years.
Interviewer: So you went to work in Detroit as a clerk in a Schiff: shoe store?
Schiff: The boys hated me so much that I left the shoe business because of them.
Interviewer: They hated you because you were the boss’s son?
Schiff: I was the boss’s son so I got every dirty, stinking job to do. I learned the business from bottom to top and in an eight to ten year period, I rose right up to the top.
Interviewer: Did you choose to go to Detroit or did your father send you there?
Schiff: No, I think a guy by the name of Saul Schiff did that.
Interviewer: An uncle?
Schiff: A cousin. In our family, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers – it didn’t make any difference. This was the way it was. You weren’t given a text book. You learned it the hard way. You learned by making mistakes and then facing them. Saul Schiff said, I want you, Herb, to go to Detroit So seven years later, I was brought back to Columbus.
Interviewer: So you were in Detroit for seven years?
Schiff: Seven stinking years! I had two kids.
Interviewer: Sounds like you didn’t like Detroit very much.
Schiff: How would you like to get up at 6:30 in the morning and return home at 9:30 at night?
Interviewer: It’s a very long day. How much did you make in those beginning years?
Schiff: I think they paid me $12 a week my actual pay. Enough to live off of – didn’t start until I got into management.
Interviewer: So you went to school to study management?
Schiff: No, I went to a top business school in college
Interviewer: But you were interested in management?
Schiff: I don’t know whether I was interested in anything. But I do know what my nose was headed for and once I smelled the scent of the trail . . . .
Interviewer: You were right there.
Schiff: I stayed there and got to the top.
Interviewer: How did you overcome being the boss’s son in Detroit? And getting all the nasty jobs?
Schiff: Very simple. Do a better job than the other guy.
Interviewer: Do a better job. Who was your superior in Detroit?
Schiff: I can’t tell you who my superior was, but do you know a guy in Columbus by the name of Sam Kotzer?
Interviewer: Sam Kotzer? No.
Schiff: Well, Sam Kotzer was the second man in command of all shoe operations in Detroit.
Interviewer: Is he still alive?
Schiff: Sam lives in Columbus. That’s the reason I asked you that question.
Interviewer: No, I don’t know him.
Schiff: Maybe someday you’ll meet him. I was assigned to Saul Schiff’s brother-in-law’s store.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Schiff: I went from department to department at Federal Department Stores in Detroit. The Davison family owns them. I worked there and went from shoe clerk up to assistant manager and we were there seven years. I don’t think I earned more than $50 a week
Interviewer: As a manager?
Schiff: As a manager. When we left there, I was assigned as district manager. But I worked hard. I was in the store early in the morning and got home 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Betty and I actually didn’t know each other until we moved to Columbus.
Interviewer: While you were in Detroit, two of your daughters were born?
Schiff: Two of my daughters were born. The two oldest daughters, then when we came to Columbus, Jane was born.
Interviewer: The first daughter is?
Schiff: Susan. Then Patricia. We call her Patty.
Interviewer: So Susan was born first, then Patty was born. Both in Detroit.
Schiff: They were born close together. Then the third one was born three years later – Jane.
Interviewer: Jane is your third daughter. You stayed seven years in Detroit. What brought you back to Columbus?
Schiff: There was no question in anybody’s mind that we’d played a little game of leap frog.
Interviewer: We? Meaning?
Schiff: The people in the business. And the longer my cousins could keep me away, the better it was for them. Then the leap frog game began. A lot of them left and I took over for Robert W. Schiff:. Then I ran the business and it needed a lot of surgery and I learned how to do surgery with clean or dirty hands and we rebuilt the business. I don’t recall the reason why we closed the business but I think it was healthy for everybody.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to Detroit for just a little bit. You worked very long hours, Monday through Friday?
Schiff: No, that’s a mistake. Monday through Saturday and I went in on Sunday mornings.
Interviewer: So you didn’t have much of a home life with Betty and the girls?
Schiff: Betty lived with that. She understood it. I think of all the women you’ll ever meet, Betty’s the most independent cuss you’ll ever see.
Interviewer: So Betty, basically, was raising the two daughters by herself?
Schiff: The two daughters and Jane was born in Columbus. But Betty’s home life was not . . . her home life, she had to make for herself.
Interviewer: Did you have a relationship with your daughters at a young age?
Schiff: No, I really didn’t. A relationship with my daughters arrived after we moved to Columbus and as I moved up the ladder. Don’t forget, it took me eight years to move to the top of the ladder.
Interviewer: By then your daughters were already teenagers.
Schiff: Or older.
Interviewer: Lets go back a little bit because I want to save the business for a special time – maybe tomorrow – because I’d like to know some other things. What were your experiences during the Great Depression?
Schiff: I never knew anything.
Interviewer: It didn’t affect you?
Schiff: Well, as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t getting enough money and as far as the rest of the world was concerned, I was a wealthy man. Because on thirty-two dollars a week (I think finally when I left school, it was up to $32 a week), I could live like a king. I always had a car – a new car – I was the boss’ son. Unfortunately, I had to live like the laborer’s son. An interesting story: One summer, for one unknown reason or another, we spent a weeks vacation in Columbus – I only got a weeks vacation – and I drove up there. I was never ashamed of what I wore but I didn’t earn more than $45 a week while I was there. I came into my father’s office and he looked at me and said, Get out of here. I said, What did you say?
He said, Nobody comes in here wearing those clothes, I said, Pop, these are my only clothes. He looked at me. Somehow or other, when we returned to Detroit, the pay started to rise up to where it was equaling the other guys pay. He sent me to learn and the way to learn is to point someone’s nose in the mud and for them to get up and finally strike you. Seven years later, I moved to Columbus and three years later, I was sitting in the top job.
Interviewer: So, do you think your father had the right idea of training you for business?
Schiff: No, I wouldn’t train anybody that way, but don’t forget, my father was a European.
Interviewer: Do you think that he made it too difficult for you?
Schiff: No. That’s the way it was with him when he was a kid.
Interviewer: Would you do the same type of thing if you had a son?
Schiff: If I had a son . . . I can’t answer you because I don’t know what’s true.
Interviewer: Again, let’s go back just a little bit. How about World War II? Did that affect you at all?
Schiff: Apparently World War II broke out while I was still in Detroit. I was a married man, I had two or three daughters at that time – Jane was born in Columbus. She was born April 1st, by the way. I don’t think I would do it. It’s not the modern way to do it but it was the right way to do it because it made me hard.
Interviewer: To do what?
Schiff: To answer your question, I resented every minute of it.
Interviewer: We were talking about World War II. How did that affect you?
Schiff: I was a married man.
Interviewer: So you didn’t have to . . . . ?
Schiff: If the war had lasted another six months, I probably would have been drafted, if they gave me a physical and I passed it. When I came to Columbus, I weighed forty pounds less than I do today.
Interviewer: How did World War II affect the business?
Schiff: The business was good.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to Detroit.
Schiff: One thing I haven’t told you is, I was the boss’ son and these people were the working people and here was the boss’ son and they were given orders, Be rough and tough on him. I went through a hazing that nobody ever will go through again and as a result, I got all the dirty jobs. I got everything that nobody else would do and I learned (from bottom to top). As a result, when I got up to the peak, I didn’t take that out on them but I made sure to them that nobody was going to hand them anything. Now we were a tough, tight organization.
Interviewer: So when you got to the top, you were as tough on them as they were on you?
Schiff: No, I was tough on them differently. I wouldn’t take the loafing or handing blame to anybody else. Either they did or they didn’t. Either they reached the extra top of their ability or they were out.
Interviewer: That sounds fair.
Schiff: We had some very prosperous years. But the ground rules were set by them, not by me. Because I had to do everything nobody else could do.
Interviewer: As a college boy, you were accustomed to having a new car all the time. What happened in Detroit?
Schiff: Herb Schiff was on Herb Schiff’s pay.
Interviewer: So what did you do about a car?
Schiff: I had a car and I ran it and ran it and ran it. What else would you do?
Interviewer: What happened when it died?
Schiff: My car didn’t die. It lived seven years.
Interviewer: So that was an awakening for you?
Schiff: It was the greatest thing in the world that could happen to me. They made the restrictions tough for me when I came in and I made the restrictions tough for them when I became boss.
Interviewer: So you drove your car to work every day?
Schiff: Every day.
Interviewer: What did Betty do at home with two daughters?
Schiff: Actually, put her on the mike and ask her what she did.
Interviewer: That’s Ok. I’m going to interview Betty tomorrow so I can ask her these questions.
Interviewer: Did you resent this time in your life? Day to day to day . . .?
Schiff: I didn’t like it but the miracle was Betty. How she took it , how she took being alone and how she made friends, how she looked to the future. Actually she had one true friend. Those people were moved to Columbus later, after I came in. Not by my doing but by someone else’s doing. We always had to work our way up.
Interviewer: Did you know there was a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere?
Schiff: I didn’t have time to worry about a light at the end of the tunnel. I was sent there to learn. I was sent there to be trained to be head of the firm and I did it in seven years.
Interviewer: Seven years is a long time.
Schiff: Seven years is a very short time from being a stock boy.
Interviewer: But if you feel like you’re being beaten down every day . . . .
Schiff: You don’t. You fight it. I wouldn’t want anyone working for me that didn’t fight his way, all the way to the top.
Interviewer: So you knew there was something better for you in the future.
Schiff: I didn’t even worry about that. I was sent to learn and I was sent to do and I had to do it. These people needed to be pushed aside and then they needed to be cleaned out, washed out, retired, etc., whatever you do and they had to go or that business wouldn’t have existed as long as it did.
Interviewer: Did you have any friends in Detroit?
Schiff: Mildred and Richard Kotzer.
Interviewer: Mildred and Richard Kotzer. Is Richard Kotzer a relative of Sam Kotzer?
Schiff: No, Richard made it from the bottom to the top. The hard way.
Interviewer: Was he an officer in the company?
Schiff: Richard never rose to the top. He was moved to Columbus and then he retired.
Interviewer: He was a salesperson in Detroit?
Schiff: No, he was the second manager of the store. I was sent there and I worked under a manager named Bill Shapiro who was a brother-in-law of Saul Schiff, indirectly. He actually was not a brilliant man and he wanted to hold me down and I ended up being his boss.
Interviewer: During those early years, Herb, there was a lot of change. We saw a lot of new things happening. Technological things, we saw cars, we saw airplanes, we saw tractors, we saw all kinds of things coming in.
Schiff: During that period of time, on the wages I was getting and the hours I was working, seven days a week, it was hard to take a look at what was happening in the world.
Interviewer: So you didn’t read the newspapers? You didn’t keep in touch with what was happening around you?
Schiff: I didn’t keep in touch. I didn’t belong to any outside organizations. Everything of that nature that’s in me today came to me during the period that I was moving to the top in Columbus.
Interviewer: During the seven years, did you and Betty do anything for fun?
Schiff: We had Saturday night after 10:00 o’clock and we had all day Sunday. What do you do for fun when you’re making $14, $15 or $16 a week? Finally, I was making $32 and in the meantime, we developed three kids. What do you do for fun?
Interviewer: I don’t know. What did you do?
Schiff: Nothing. We did make a few friends. Sam Kotzer and his wife, Mildred, were good friends. Sam was my mentor.
Interviewer: Richard Kotzer?
Schiff: The man adopted the name Richard.
Interviewer: So this is the same man!! I see.
Schiff: Samuel Richard Kotzer.
Interviewer: So Sam Kotzer is Richard Kotzer. Then I do know Richard Kotzer.
Schiff: And Sam was my third boss. And he was awful rough.
Interviewer: Did you and Betty go to movies?
Schiff: Maybe once a week. Social life was what you could find.
Interviewer: Did you have friends to play cards with?
Schiff: Yes, I played cards. We had a poker group after work.
Interviewer: The men?
Schiff: The men, yes. I was never separate from the organization. We were friends with Mildred and Richard and they brought us in on it. But social life – those seven years – I don’t know how Betty survived.
Schiff: Of course, she couldn’t go home because her family had nothing. If we’d had a divorce, she would have gotten zip, minus zip.
Interviewer: I’ll discuss that with Betty. So the world was going on around you and you were
basically . . . .
Schiff: It was a blessing because we had World War II and the worst that happened to me was that they asked me to come up to be reviewed by the draft board. When they got to my medical condition, they fluffed it off. It would have been hard to send a man with a wife and two children at the time. Jane came in Columbus so it wasn’t three, just two. Earning that kind of money, it would have been pretty hard to send me away when the troops were winning. Which was when I became eligible. By the time I came to Columbus, World War II. It was a foregone conclusion.
Interviewer: It was coming close to an end. When you were living in Detroit, where did you live? In an apartment? In a house?
Schiff: First we had a little hovel, then we had a little better hovel, then a little better hovel. I don’t recall whether those were apartments or houses. Apartments, mostly. I think I earned fifty dollars a week. I went from my beautiful life of luxury to a life of no luxury.
Interviewer: You should have stayed in school. Were most other people living the same way? Same kind of salary?
Schiff: I was on the same rate but I have to be honest. I think a five or ten dollar bill was given to me on the side.
Interviewer: But most of your acquaintances were living in the same fashion?
Schiff: I was working eleven or twelve hours a day. How can you make friends?
Interviewer: You can’t. That’s true. Do you recall the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948?
Schiff: I didn’t have time to worry about that.
Interviewer: So you were not concerned about Israel?
Schiff: The only thing I was concerned about was whether or not I’d have to go away and I was called by the draft board for an examination. They examined me and an hour later, a guy said to me, What are you doing here? You were passed over after the first exam.
Interviewer: So you didn’t need the medical exam. What was your opinion of the United States Presidents?
Schiff: There was only one president I had an opinion of and everyday the opinion grows less. The man is President of the United States, is incapable of handling his job and unfortunately, he is not a big enough man to step aside. I’m certain he could make a good deal if he stepped aside.
Interviewer: You’re speaking of the present president. What about in your earlier life? Roosevelt? Truman?
Schiff: Let me put it to you this way, if you worked from 9:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night, what kind of opinion can you develop?
Interviewer: Did you have an opinion before you started to work? When you were in school?
Schiff: When I was in school, we studied politics as a game or a method of life to be prepared for. I was neither Democrat or Republican.
Interviewer: And you didn’t have any convictions about a man being good or bad for the country?
Interviewer: I was referring more to past years of the country, the politics.
Schiff: I cannot see how a man can be president of the United States without being a millionaire.
Interviewer: Now we’re talking about awhile ago, the 30’s and 40’s.
Schiff: To be President of the United States, to be a good president and what he had to do as president, his income was insufficient to take care of his living expenses. I even question myself today, whether I have sufficient funds to take care of my living expenses. And I live like a king.
Interviewer: So you’re saying that the Kennedy philosophy is better for potential presidential candidates.
Schiff: I don’t go into politics. I refuse to answer the question.
Interviewer: Very good. You’re like me. I don’t like to discuss politics. Ok, so you’re in Detroit and you’re having a tough time but you’re going to get through.
Schiff: You know, I don’t think it was tough.
Interviewer: Looking back, you didn’t think it was tough? Did you feel you were a victim of circumstances?
Schiff: Let’s go back to the history of Herb Schiff:. Prior to going to school, I had a mother and I was a spoiled kid. I was her favorite. In 1928-29, my father remarried and I left home. I went into another world.
Interviewer: Would you say your life was considerably different than other . . . .
Schiff: Peggy, the man that I am today and the boy that I was, are two different worlds. I wouldn’t bring up a child that way.
Interviewer: It sounds as though in your early childhood, you were living in a family that had money, that had resources.
Schiff: I was living in a family that had money and resources and I was sent away within a year after my mother died.
Interviewer: But most people in those days did not have the money to have hired help, a cook and someone to come to the house.
Schiff: This was Robert W. Schiff. Robert finally got to that point where he had the kind of funds that he wanted to have and he could live like he wanted to live and she died of breast cancer which took three years to kill her.
Interviewer: It sounds as though your father was able to acquire money rather quickly in his business life.
Schiff: Robert and Rebecca Schiff were a team and as a team, they did things together. I think that my mother was more ambitious than my father.
Interviewer: Do you think your mother was pushing your father to succeed?
Schiff: I believe no, but he was a god damn good leader. As you know, I recognize weaknesses in people very early. Robert built the business but Rebecca Lurie Schiff was his partner. She was his partner but she was hell to live with.
Interviewer: And they were only married for sixteen years so they accomplished quite a bit.
Schiff: Robert Schiff was a family man.
Interviewer: He was a family man?
Schiff: I would say, to his own family, he wasn’t a family man but to his father’s family, he was family. He built his business on family and he built his business with my mother, Rebecca. Rebecca was as smart as the day was long but how would you like to be a woman that had breast cancer at a time when they didn’t recognize breast cancer? And he had to live through that hell. I remember one day, I talked to him about a certain person that I . . . . (for this purpose, will remain nameless) and my father said, You’ll never know what it was like to have hell with a woman. That’s all he ever said. And I saw my mother and how she could endure that pain of cancer and there was nothing like the medicines of today.
Interviewer: They didn’t have the medicines then that we have today to relieve the pain. So your mother died in Columbus, Ohio and she’s buried in Columbus. Where is she buried?
Schiff: The old cemetery.
Interviewer: Agudas Achim?
Schiff: Agudas Achim. My father is buried in the other one. Ann Rose Schiff is buried there in the new one.
Interviewer: So your father’s and Ann’s graves are in the new Agudas Achim cemetery.
Schiff: Where would you put a man who lost a wife and he’s got a new wife? Would you put him beside the first wife or would you put him in another plot?
Interviewer: I don’t know. Did your father have a request before he passed away?
Schiff: No. I made the decision. I didn’t realize with my father, what he was doing to me. And I hated every minute of the hazing.
Interviewer: So you disliked your father during those times?
Schiff: Yes, my father was training me to be rough, to be tough and to have a heart of gold.
Interviewer: Well, I would say that he did a fine job. You might not have liked the way he did it . . .
Schiff: If I had to go through it again, I would but it made me a deep stone.
Interviewer: So, after those formative years, you and your father came back together again.
Schiff: My father and I became so close, as he was dying and he made a request, I could use the proverbial language of the gutter when he was out of line.
Interviewer: What did your father die of?
Schiff: I really don’t know. I’ll put it this way, Robert died of old age.
Interviewer: Would you say that he had a good life?
Schiff: I don’t know if he had a good life. I don’t know whether he was happy. He lived with my mother for a lot of years and he found no peace and contentment. I don’t think she could give him peace and contentment because of the cancer.
Interviewer: But he was happy with his second wife?
Schiff: I think he was extremely happy with his second wife. But he didn’t know he was happy. I think with his second wife, he was even jealous of her. I have to bring myself into this picture. I didn’t understand what was happening. She became my mother. She, I loved and she and I were close.
Interviewer: How could you form a close relationship with your stepmother if you were mostly living away at school?
Schiff: By the time Robert married Ann, I’d already moved up the ladder. I’d already had seven years of hazing. And I moved up rapidly. Also, there was a man by the name of Saul Schiff and a man by the name of Jack Schiff who I pushed aside and jumped on top.
Interviewer: Jack was an uncle or a cousin?
Schiff: Both Saul and Jack were brothers and cousins.
Interviewer: And Jack would be the father or grandfather of whom in Columbus?
Schiff: You’ve got me on that one today. I could tell you but it won’t come to the back of my head.
Interviewer: There’s a Bob Schiff, a Leonard Schiff . . . who do they belong to?
Schiff: I get them all mixed up. Bob and Leonard Schiff are brothers and Jack was their father.
Interviewer: When you came back to Columbus as a married man with two daughters, that’s when the close relationship with your stepmother developed?
Schiff: No. He didn’t marry my stepmother until after I was back in Columbus. There was a guy by the name of Saul Schiff and Saul was put in charge of me here in Columbus. And Saul led me to the top of the ladder in no time until it was my duty. Saul had gone to A.S. Beck, never to return to Columbus and it was my duty to clean out all these people.
Interviewer: When you came back, your father was still the president?
Schiff: My father was a top dog and I came back as a loose pawn and I took every dirty, filthy job that had to be done and I did it.
Interviewer: But I want to go back to your relationship with your father.
Schiff: My relationship with my father didn’t start because he didn’t recognize that he was a father in name only. He couldn’t be a father because he was either on top or on the bottom. He pushed me hard enough so he went this-away.
Schiff: I went to the top and he retired.
Interviewer: I see. So he retired and he allowed you . . .
Schiff: To run the show.
Interviewer: Did he come into the office every day or did he stop coming?
Schiff: No one occupied that office until the day he died.
Interviewer: Did he allow you to run it the way you wanted to run it?
Schiff: After three or four years, I was completely running the show and after five or six years, I was running the show.
Interviewer: Did he ever disagree with some of your decisions?
Schiff: If he did, he never let me know.
Interviewer: So in other words, he came in the office but he was quiet.
Schiff: One day, one guy was called into Robert Schiff’s office and Robert asked him questions and the guy answered them to the best of his ability and he came back to my office and told me and I said, Why did you do it? and he said, He asked the questions I said, Aren’t I president of the company? When he said, Yes, I said, You haven’t lost it.
Interviewer: But basically, he allowed you to run the company without his interference.
Schiff: Without his interference. I worked hard in the stores from 9:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night, sometimes until 11:00 or 12:00 midnight. There I worked from 6:00 in the morning until 1:00 the following morning. I had to learn. When I didn’t think I could make it, I broke the company – I sold the company.
Interviewer: So your father was very good to you. When he stepped down . . . .
Schiff: Going back and going through the feelings I went through, I didn’t realize the feelings. I didn’t realize what he was doing for me. He toughened me. He challenged me enough until I pushed him out.
Interviewer: How old was he when that occurred?
Schiff: When that occurred, Robert was seventy plus, going on eighty.
Interviewer: Then he lived another six or seven years. And he went to the office everyday until then?
Schiff: His office was maintained. Nobody could walk in that office. You don’t understand me. He was Robert W. Schiff, the founder of the company, the guy who ran it. If he wanted to come down, this was his office, his space. He couldn’t give an order. Every time he gave an order, they came in my office and said, What should we do? and I’d say, Did you walk in his office or were you called in? Oh, no, we went in and told the story. And he told you to do it this way? Yes, and I’d say, Then go do it his way. When they looked at me, I’d say, You walked in there, he thinks he’s running the show, he told you how to do it, do it. But it’s wrong, Herb. I don’t care whether it’s wrong or right. I don’t care if it breaks the company.
Interviewer: So you developed a mutual respect for each other.
Schiff: We had a fine respect. We had a fine relationship. One day he said, Are you going to do it my way? and I said, F—- you, pop. Just like that.
Interviewer: Did your father ever tell you that he loved you?
Schiff: Robert couldn’t speak the word LOVE. In a way, I think I’m with Betty that way. I don’t think I’ve told Betty in the last few years that I love her. It’s wrong. There wasn’t time in our family for love.
Interviewer: Did you ever tell your father you loved him?
Schiff: No. For that, I’m sorry. The truth is the truth. We didn’t have time.
Interviewer: You were very business minded, business oriented.
Schiff: That was the way he brought me up. When I was with him, he wanted information. He wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to know why. I had to work with him in a manner whereby he knew what was going on but he couldn’t give an order. But when a man walked in my father’s office because he was called in and the man said, We should do it this way and my father ordered him to do it, the man would come back to me and tell me Robert ordered him to do it and I’d tell him to do it.
Interviewer: Let’s side step a little bit. When you came back to Columbus with Betty and your two daughters, did you join the country club right away?
Schiff: I couldn’t. How do you do it on $45 a week? That’s what I was making when I left Detroit.
Interviewer: So you’re saying that when you left Detroit, you came to Columbus and you worked many hours in Detroit but when you came to Columbus, you worked more hours?
Schiff: No, not as many hours. But my work was more probing than learning. What I did was travel.
Interviewer: Travel? To where?
Schiff: To whatever operation we had.
Interviewer: Where were they?
Schiff: All over the country.
Interviewer: Were they known as Schiff Shoes?
Schiff: We were 50% retail shoe stores and we were 50% licensees in _______ Department Stores.
Interviewer: Again, when you came to Columbus, you didn’t have time to develop a social life?
Schiff: I had a little bit more time. When you have no authority, you don’t work as hard as when you have authority.
Interviewer: That’s very true. So who were the people that you and Betty met as a young couple?
Schiff: I think you’d have to question her on that because even there, I was working late hours and Betty made the friends.
Interviewer: Your daughters would be seven, eight or nine when you came back to Columbus. Where did you live?
Schiff: I couldn’t live and afford much better. I don’t recall those places but don’t forget, when I left Detroit, I had already gone from the $16 a week and at the end of seven years, to $45 a week.
Interviewer: So you had an apartment in Columbus?
Schiff: We had apartments in Columbus.
Interviewer: Do you remember where?
Schiff: Ask Betty those questions. All I can tell you, Peggy, is I went from one class of living to another class of living in less than four years.
Interviewer: That’s very good. In those days, I don’t think many people were able to accomplish what you accomplished.
Schiff: Let me say this, those people on top of me were lazy. I rose up to the top on their weaknesses.
Interviewer: You saw the opportunity and you took it.
Schiff: I didn’t even know I had the opportunity. There wasn’t time enough to look for it.
Interviewer: When you asked Betty to marry you, did you ask anybody’s permission?
Schiff: I should ask somebody’s permission to get married?
Interviewer: Did you ask Betty’s parents?
Schiff: No, it didn’t go that way. I didn’t ask, I told. I had to overcome a lot of fear to ask Betty to marry me. But I was deeply in love with her. A young kid doesn’t know anything. I can’t give you the statements.
Interviewer: So you didn’t have to go to her parents. Did you take Betty home to meet your father first?
Schiff: He had met her before.
Interviewer: She had been to Columbus or they had come to Wilmington, Delaware?
Schiff: I believe they came to school. And that’s how they met.
Interviewer: We were talking about Betty and Betty meeting your family and your asking permission to marry her.
Schiff: I didn’t ask permission. I was not that type of person. When my mother died, my father separated us. He sent me away to school and I never came back. The most difficult thing I had, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, was to go home and not ask permission but to tell them I was going to get married.
Interviewer: Were they happy for you?
Schiff: Hell, they knew it all the time.
Interviewer: They knew it was going to happen?
Schiff: You don’t go around with a girl for four years. I never touched Betty until after we were married.
Interviewer: Very good. When did you become a member of the country club?
Schiff: I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938. We moved back to Columbus in 1945. I never got more than $35 a week in Detroit. When we came back to Columbus, all of a sudden, I got $75 a week.
Interviewer: That’s a big jump.
Schiff: A big jump after living with that kind of money for seven years. The idiosyncrasy of the whole thing is the whole time I was going to school, I lived in luxury. I had two or three new cars while I went to school. I was sent to Detroit to go to work at $13 a week.
Interviewer: Did you anticipate this, Herb? Did you know it was going to come out like that?
Schiff: I didn’t even know I was being hazed.
Interviewer: Did you know at the end of school that your allowance was going to be cut off and you were going to have to make your own way?
Schiff: My answer to you, kid, I was so stupid in those days, I didn’t even think about anything like that.
Interviewer: What about Betty? Betty saw you as a person with lots of money and cars.
Schiff: You’re going to interview Betty afterward, I understand. Betty’s family . . . what they had was not what they had at their peak. They lost it all.
Interviewer: What were your feelings? When you asked Betty to marry you and all of a sudden. . . .
Schiff: When I look back on it today, I don’t know how the hell I pulled it off but I did know the consequences. Betty’s family had lost it all in 1928 so she went from one poverty to another poverty. But we had a new car and we loved each other. And we were paying rent we couldn’t afford.
Interviewer: Did Betty work?
Schiff: No, Betty didn’t work. I went from a life of being able to do any damn thing I wished to a life that I couldn’t afford. So on $18 a week, how much can you get when you finally get up? You leave Detroit seven years later, you’re making $48 a week. How do you support a wife and a couple of kids on that?
Interviewer: It’s very difficult.
Schiff: The only thing I did get was a new car. Don’t ask me how because I don’t know how. It was like night and day. I moved back to Columbus and they took me from a salary of $40 a week to a huge salary of $75 a week.
Interviewer: You must have felt like a king.
Schiff: I felt like a king. All of a sudden, there was a new car instead of an old car. And we drove the new car for a period of time.
Interviewer: So in the beginning, you rented apartments. When did you buy your first house?
Schiff: Why don’t you ask Betty that question? Anything that comes with the house, ask her.
Interviewer: Did your father or family ever live in the Royal York?
Schiff: My father built the Royal York.
Interviewer: He built it? But he wasn’t a builder.
Schiff: No, he called in my brother-in-law, Ephraim Frankel, to build it for him.
Interviewer: I see. So Frankel built the Royal York. What was his first name?
Interviewer: Ephraim Frankel. We talked about him yesterday.
Schiff: Let me explain this to you. Ephraim Frankel was Ethel Schiff’s cousin. Ethel was my aunt.
Interviewer: So your father built the Royal York because he wanted a place to live?
Schiff: Oh, Christ. From 1916 until 1940, he was building the business. By 1940, Robert Schiff had wealth and he lived up to that wealth. He gave to charity and he still accumulated. He never accumulated the kind of money people thought he had but he still accumulated wealth. He lived to the most because Robert enjoyed life. Robert, from an Orthodox Jew, became one great lord as a Reform Jew.
Interviewer: So he lived in the Royal York?
Schiff: He built the Royal York.
Interviewer: Did he have a place there?
Schiff: He had a penthouse there. He was with his second wife. My mother was his partner. Ann Schiff was his wife and she taught Robert how to live.
Interviewer: So they lived in the penthouse of the Royal York. That was a place where many Jewish people lived then.
Schiff: He built the Royal York. Ephraim Frankel actually built it.
Interviewer: He owned the building.
Schiff: He owned the land and the building. He built it and enjoyed it. He had one of the first air conditioned apartments in the country.
Interviewer: Really! So that was quite the place to live in those days.
Schiff: I would think a family could go from that to that . . . .
Interviewer: It happens.
Schiff: Most of them you hear about go from that to that . . . .
Interviewer: This family went from that to that . . . . Your father has a great success story.
Schiff: A great success story. He took care of his family, even one or two generations removed. He built a business and he broke a business. He was quite a man. I can discuss Robert Schiff today with you, if you wish.
Interviewer: Let’s go.
Schiff: My father was a person who was very difficult to get under his icy form. When he developed the company, that was he and my mother and she worked as hard as he did to begin with. When he went into management, he started studying business. How did I find this out? Very simple. He made a mistake and left the books in the library and I read the books. These were his text books. He was a self-taught man. His family recognized him as a peer. When I say his family, I’m not talking about my sisters and myself, I’m talking about brothers, nephews, nieces, cousins . . . and he was a dictator. Unfortunately, Robert W. Schiff could only be conquered by the whip and he wanted me to take his place and he knew that he was slipping. That’s one thing I never kidded myself about. I retired myself, nobody else did. I busted the business, nobody else did.
Interviewer: So you reacted similar to what your father did.
Schiff: As my father did, to the point until I was tough enough because I was afraid of my father.
Interviewer: You were frightened of your father?
Schiff: I was scared of my father. I didn’t know it at the time and until I got to the point that I could tell him it was no longer his baby to play around with because even after he retired, I always let him feel like he was the boss.
Interviewer: You allowed him that privilege.
Schiff: But nobody listened to him.
Interviewer: From your instructions to the other people?
Schiff: No. What my associates would do was try to play to the favorite game. Robert was always president. And they would go in his office and talk to him tell him what they were doing, which was what I wanted them to do. Then he would start giving them instructions. They would tell me and say, this is wrong, Herb. What should we do? And I’d say, Do as he told you. And they would say, why? Because you went to him and you asked questions. Now if I’m the boss, I’m the boss and as the boss, I’m telling you to do it the wrong way. They stopped going to him.
Interviewer: They came to you first.
Schiff: I did mind them being open with him, but I would never let him know that he wasn’t the boss. Robert and I became close, as close as you can come to a monarch. After I’d been running the business for ten or twelve years, he’d tell me to do something and I’d say I’d think about it. Prior to that, when he’d send me off to do a job, whoever went with me – I never went by myself – Robert always had two.
Interviewer: He always traveled with two people?
Schiff: You had to be able to talk your thoughts out. No business, where you’re dealing with outsiders, could you make a decision unless you talked your thoughts out with somebody else before you made a decision. You had to have a second person with you who you trusted. So those things took place with Robert. Anything anyone asked him, he’d answer and tell them what to do. So when my wise boys tested me on my presidency, I’d tell them to do it his way even if it busted the company. There is only one boss in an organization. Long live the king.
Interviewer: So your father always had someone he could discuss his decisions with. Who did you use? Who were your close people that you discussed . . . .?
Schiff: I had a lot of people I discussed things with but I never let anybody get that close to me that I would let them make my decisions for me.
Interviewer: Not to make the decisions but to discuss the decisions.
Schiff: All those were number one under me.
Interviewer: So your father had one or two confidante people that he would discuss decisions with but you did not develop yourself that way.
Schiff: When I came into the picture, Saul Schiff had already been moved to New York to A. S. Beck. Robert wanted . . . .
Interviewer: A.S. Beck was part of the company?
Schiff: I believe it was owned by the Schiff Company. We didn’t have any stock in it. Robert let it run as two separate entities. You get caught up in the world of business and you forget that business changes around you. As far as Robert was concerned, when he sent Saul to New York, Saul was developing a second business.
Interviewer: We have a few more minutes on the tape and I’d like to ask you another question. This is different. This has to do with the Holocaust. How did the Holocaust affect you and your family?
Schiff: No way. I was a married man with three children.
Interviewer: Did you have any family that was involved in Europe during the Holocaust?
Schiff: None of our top employees were called by the military and fortunately, what had taken place was, I was of the only generation that could have been drafted. Uncle Sam drafted me a little too late.
Interviewer: Did you lose any members of your family in the Holocaust?
Schiff: Not to my knowledge.
Interviewer: No one was left living in Europe?
Schiff: By the time the Holocaust came about, all of the older generation had moved to the United States so there was no loss there. There was no loss in my mother’s family. My father’s family, I don’t know of a loss but maybe there could have been.
Interviewer: Your family was very lucky to escape that. Do you think that Israel became a state as a product of the Holocaust?
Schiff: No, I think it became a state at the time it was able to stand on its own two feet and say, We want to manage.
Interviewer: What about the liberation in Europe? When World War II was over and the Jews were liberated from the concentration camps, they had no place to go.
Schiff: At that particular time, I wasn’t very close to that period of my life. My nose was in the business, working eighty hours a week. I only had sisters and to my knowledge, I don’t know what happened to my cousins. I didn’t have time to worry about them. The Schiff family, as the legend goes in the city of Columbus, actually was separated into sections. Either they divorced themselves from me or I divorced myself from them. That divorce still lasts. As a result, I don’t know what happened to any of them. But I think, as a whole, we’re a very lucky family.
Interviewer: I would say so. Do you think, today, that Holocaust education is important?
Schiff: Now you’re getting into religious issues. Jewish issues.
Interviewer: This is not necessarily a religious issue but an issue of educating the students.
Schiff: Let me put it to you this way, Peggy. What’s going to take place between now and December 31st – a year from now? We don’t know.
Interviewer: That’s true.
Schiff: Also, I’ve gotten into the habit where that information would be leaking out. I don’t read those papers. I read the local papers. I read the comics first and put the paper aside. But if I were in New York, I’d read the New York Times. If I were in Philadelphia, I’d read the Philadelphia Enquirer or Washington Post. Then I’d be able to answer those questions. I really don’t know if World War III is coming.
Interviewer: There’s a famous Spanish philosopher whose last name is Santayana and he made a statement that, Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. And I refer to that when I speak about the Holocaust and Holocaust education. I think that’s why I asked the question . . . what your opinion is.
Schiff: As I sit here, I can’t tell you whether it’s the Holocaust or it’s this or that, it doesn’t make any difference, whether we’re building for World War III is what you’re aiming at and whether a Jew will have to take most of the lumps. I don’t know. I don’t think any government we’ve got has got the guts to repeat what we had during World War II.
Interviewer: Let’s ‘hope not.
Schiff: Wait a minute. We’re getting into politics. Here’s the bottom, here’s the top. It’s very simple to go this way.
Interviewer: To go in reverse, in other words?
Schiff: And we go for another period but we have time to think and we have time to demand that people live like Herb Schiff lived. And will boys be drafted? Will some of the young kids will be killed? I don’t know. Is this country united? I don’ know. It depends upon our presidency.
We’ve had some stupid presidents. We’ve had some smart presidents. And we depend upon who’s there. The crazy thing is that the stupid president can make a better decision than the well-educated president. My guess is based upon history. We shall survive and we shall be the conqueror. But if it isn’t, it’s going to be a completely new world.
Interviewer: Do you think that history repeats itself?
Schiff: I believe that we rotate like a wheel. I believe if we have a strong president, we shall remain on top. We may waver this way, we may waver the other way but we’ll remain on top. If we have a very weak president and we have a bad congress and our armed forces aren’t trained properly, then we have a possibility of losing. If we continue as we are now, we don’t have a war, yet our forces are trained in warfare (and I don’t mean trained by the trainers but trained by what is happening in the other countries), I think we will survive.
Interviewer: Do you think Judaism will survive?
Schiff: That depends upon us as Jews and who our leaders are. Fortunately, we have strong Jewish leaders. I think if necessary, they’d even put a war horse in, like me. In order to become strong and put the proper people in. Not that I would seek it. It would be given to me because that legacy is there and I think we would survive because the Jews have survived over centuries. I’m happy to hear you talk about it. It bothered me to this day because I didn’t think our people were strong enough to see there would be a future war and the Jews could be wiped out.
Interviewer: Herb, I’m going to call a close to this tape today. I look forward to continuing tomorrow.
Interviewer: This is day number three and tape number three. The date is January 5, 1999 and we will continue to interview Herbert H. Schiff. Today we will focus on the business lives of Robert and Herbert Schiff.
Schiff: A little further back than that. I think we’ve got to give my late mother, Rebecca Lurie Schiff:, credit because they were a team and they worked together.
Interviewer: They met in Cincinnati? They married . . . .
Schiff: They met in Cincinnati and married. They met on the benches downtown in Cincinnati and married. I’m not certain but they could have moved to Dayton before they came to Columbus. I know that my father worked in a department store. I think it was a Dayton department store.
Interviewer: Do you remember the name of the department store in Dayton?
Schiff: I think the name was Dayton Department Store. I’m not certain of the name but I do know he worked there and I do know he went to work first in the shoe department then they put him in the rest of the store then back in the shoe department. He wanted to stay with shoes.
Interviewer: He liked shoes.
Schiff: He liked shoes so he did that and then decided to start his own business. I don’t know what year. History can tell you that. He and my mother worked hard together to develop the company.
Interviewer: So he worked in Dayton in a department store and he was put in the shoe department as a temporary.
Schiff: When they wanted him to go back to the other department, he wouldn’t go back to it.
Interviewer: How long do you think he worked in the department store before . . . .?
Schiff: I am not certain. It could have been five years, four years, it could have been ten years. Don’t forget, when you’re a refugee, which these people were because they were fleeing from a country they didn’t like to live in, and you come to the United States, you take what comes to you. The fact that he could go to work in the department store and go to work in the shoe department and when they transferred him to another department he decided to quit and they let him go back to the shoe department because he loved shoes. And then the time came when he married my mother in Cincinnati so how he got to Dayton from Cincinnati, I don’t know, but I presume he was working for that company and he proposed marriage to my mother and he knew he wanted to be in the shoe business.
Interviewer: How do you suppose he started his very first store?
Schiff: I really don’t know. I think he was a dreamer and he dreamt that what he was doing was getting him an education in what he wanted to do. After he got a full education on the floor at Dayton Dry Goods, he decided to become a store merchant himself.
Interviewer: That was Dayton Dry Goods?
Schiff: Yes. He and my mother were a team. How much influence she may have had on him, I don’t know. But unfortunately, your generation never met Rebecca Lurie Schiff. She died in 1928 of a severe case of cancer. At that time, the doctor kept her alive, not because he felt it was best but because he felt something would be developed in medicine that would someday do . . . and look what happened to cancer today.
Interviewer: That’s right. We’ve come a long way today. Where do you think your father – a refugee who hadn’t been in this country very long – how was he able to accumulate enough money to buy an inventory?
Schiff: That’s very simple. I don’t think that you give the Jewish man credit. We don’t think that we run from A to B. We may go back to home plate, go to third, then go to second. But we don’t think in a straight line. He was looking for a job and he got this job at Dayton Dry Goods and they started him in one department, the shoe department needed somebody. He decided he wanted to be in the shoe business for years. So once he got into that shoe department, they couldn’t throw him back in the store. He conceived, in his mind, this growth. The beautiful part about it, was, as he was starting to develop into a shoe man, he discovered that the world was going to change and was changing and individual shoe stores could survive. It was easy for an immigrant with little or no money to get into the shoe business.
Interviewer: So he must have developed the shoe department in that Dayton store. In other words, he probably built it up.
Schiff: He was in charge of the shoe department and he knew all he could. You’ve got to give the mind credit for growing to the walls that surround you.
Interviewer: He learned where the suppliers were, who they were . . . .
Schiff: He learned everything. See, you’re not hungry today. Maybe I’m hungry but I reached my peak. But we’re not hungry today and as a result, we don’t know the hunger of those people. Here he was, his brother was his boss.
Interviewer: His brother was his boss? Where?
Schiff: In Cincinnati.
Interviewer: Ok, right. When he first came to this country.
Schiff: So when they got married, they moved to Dayton or close to it and he went from a shoe clerk to manager of the department and then he went into business for himself.
Interviewer: So he built up the department . . . .
Schiff: No, you’ve got to take a look at it this way. They were a team of two.
Interviewer: So your mother worked with him in the dry goods store?
Schiff: My mother worked with him, actively, in the business until such time that cancer developed in her body and she died in 1928. She was a great influence on him. A man hates for a woman to . . . to admit that a woman can lead. And I think my father was the same way. But a woman can lead. A woman can do a good job. Look at me. I’m here today, I’ve been gone from my office for three months and they’re paying all the bills and taking care of everything. Sue Norris, my associate, is going to make her first trip this year, here, to give me a report in the next week or so. She takes care of everything. She runs an office of two, she could steal me blind, if she wished. She could take all my money by writing a check and I’ve got a beautiful woman working for me. But in those days, a woman was secondary. She was an animal. The idea was that she propagated children.
Interviewer: I’m glad we changed.
Schiff: I’ glad we changed, too, because we have a wonderful world today. We’ve got a lot of wonderful women in leadership . . . .
Interviewer: Did your father ever talk to you about or tell you . . . or did you ever see pictures of the first store that he opened?
Schiff: No. My father never talked about his humble past. My father always talked about the present and the future.
Interviewer: Was the first store in Dayton?
Schiff: No. You don’t understand Robert W. Schiff:. Robert was a genius in his own day. To succeed, like all the young Jewish men coming in, he determined for himself that he wanted to be in the shoe business. He found out from his brothers that you can use your family to develop business people. And that is what he built for us. He had a fantastic mind. He didn’t think the way I thought and I didn’t think the way he thought. We could talk on a level as high as he wanted to go.
Interviewer: So when he started the business, he brought family in . . ..
Schiff: Let’s talk about what he actually created. Everybody knows the business that Robert created but he created Jewish philanthropy in Columbus. I could tell you a story about that.
Interviewer: We’re going to get into that at another time. I am interested in how Schiff Shoes began.
Schiff: My father was a department store clerk. He rose to the level of a manager. These things still go on today. He saw that this was not a future for him. In fact, they wanted to transfer him to another department but he didn’t want to go. So he decided to go into the shoe business. He finagled around and he developed his shoe store. And from there, the chain rose. But he was also married to a very brilliant woman.
Interviewer: Was the first store in Dayton, Columbus or another city?
Schiff: I’m not certain where the first store was. That part of his history, I don’t know. I do know him as a successful business man that overstayed his time in his own business. He had brought in his total family – relatives, first cousins, second cousins and I had the pleasure of kicking them all out of the business.
Interviewer: So it sounds like he opened the first store and very quickly opened the second, the third.
Schiff: He was able to attract money and he was able to learn the American game . . . do it on borrowed bucks because he never had the money to begin with. He built and built. He was one of the few in those days that developed the theory of chain stores. Several units. They never were in the best locations but they had all these people and he developed the thought that the way to keep good management was to pay them and to challenge them. He challenged them with additional pay out of the profits of the unit.
Interviewer: When he brought family members into the business, did they contribute money? Or were they just given jobs?
Schiff: You people, you modern Americans! There was no such thing as money in those days in anybody’s pocket. It was all borrowed. It was the only way you could do it. How could this little merchant from one little store develop a major chain and do it on the money in his own pocket? All he had to do was have good credit for borrowing – borrow, pay his interest ahead of time, go to the second bank to pay the first bank and they developed that way.
Interviewer: And as they developed, he brought more family members in?
Schiff: He kept bringing them in and when I came into the picture, I saw that they were obsolete and I kicked them out. O-U-T!
Interviewer: We’ll get to that. We’ve got to get the beginning first.
Schiff: The beginning was Robert and Rebecca Schiff as a team.
Interviewer: When the store opens, there has to be merchandise. Was it . . . .
Schiff: Look, kid, let me explain something. How is a baby . . . a third child going to know these things? By the time I came into the picture, there was a very successful business. I can only surmise on his past.
Interviewer: So you and he never really talked about how it started?
Schiff: Oh, no. We were talking about the future. Until the day that Robert Schiff died, he asked the question, was I going to do the job his way? And I’ve got a favorite statement on that, F____ you, pop.
Interviewer: When he was doing business and you came into the picture, how many stores were there?
Schiff: I really don’t remember. I know that it had reached probably the peak of it’s growth by the time I came into the picture.
Interviewer: And would that have been all over the country?
Schiff: All over the country. It was a fully-formed business that had gone through its experiences of trying to get into the department store field and not knowing the answers. That was where the big profits were a major shoe chain in Ohio. It was built on the theory of using your family to develop, the absentee management through using relatives to handle units in its growth.
Interviewer: Were the stores know as Schiff Shoes located only in Ohio?
Schiff: No, again, you couldn’t be big and only be in one state.
Interviewer: Were they known as Schiff Shoes in other states?
Schiff: When you’re only making one or two percent on your money, you couldn’t grow to where you wanted to grow unless you could create volume. He went from one spot to another to another. Also, in those days, there was a big influence on the way you purchased through shoe salesmen and factories.
Interviewer: Would that be domestic made? Or European made?
Schiff: Domestic made. I believe they financed, factored footwear. But they paid for it a couple months after they bought it. When it was already sold.
Interviewer: So there were Schiff Shoe Stores and then there were leased shoe departments in department stores.
Schiff: In the basements.
Interviewer: Would that mean low end priced shoes?
Schiff: No. Low end is a horrible word. They were priced for the popular priced person or the poor person could come in and buy a pair of shoes. They weren’t priced so high that they couldn’t do it.
Interviewer: So what’s a proper terminology? How would you describe . . . ?
Schiff: We used the words, “popular price.”
Interviewer: Popular price. Did the Schiff Shoe Company ever get into manufacturing shoes?
Schiff: It desired to do it but outside of probing, I don’t believe we went into shoe factories. It was a next step up but when you figure you were growing – this business got into 1,000 stores and leased departments – you’re using all your financing there. If you can buy your footwear, what you’re trying to do is buy sufficient footwear so you can take in enough money to pay for them and put a profit in your pocket. Then you build a new one on credit, you go out and make your profit and get yourself solid. He also had an advantage that other people didn’t have. He had a family and family were bought cheaper than outsiders.
Interviewer: Where were most of the shoes manufactured? What part of the country?
Schiff: Let me put it this way, he probably was buying them from wholesalers. And the wholesalers were giving him credit. And when he got smart enough and had enough money in the bank, he was buying on his own credit.
Interviewer: Without the wholesalers?
Schiff: Without the wholesalers. Then as he had successful units, he expanded close-by and then eventually he expanded all over the country. He even had a dream to go into the department store business but it didn’t work out.
Interviewer: Was most of the manufacturing of shoes done basically on the East coast? Or the southern states?
Schiff: There are certain industries where water is more important than the raw goods. At that particular time, the water in New England was excellent.
Interviewer: Is that for the tanning of the leather? The processing?
Schiff: When you figure you don’t have to pay much dollars to get it from a tannery into your place, so wherever these good tanneries were, this is where the industry migrated to. So most of that, in those days, was in New England. Pennsylvania.
Interviewer: In those days, were shoes always made of leather? When did synthetics come in?
Schiff: I believe footwear was developed by the manufacturer in order to get a spot for distribution of his product. So here is your manufacturer, you’ve got a surplus thing, you can get a local boy to do it. So where was most footwear at that time made? I would say over 90% was made in New England. I feel, today, outside of Pennsylvania and a couple other states having shoe factories, shoes are still made heavily in New England. We’ve got big business in California. Why would someone want to put up a shoe factory in California to make shoes when you’ve got these guys up north that can manufacture cheaper than it would cost for you to go into business?
Interviewer: Your father obviously became a very large purchaser of shoes. Did he get into any design work? Or did he just take what they made?
Schiff: He couldn’t be all things to all people. I think, if our company had continued – and I can’t tell you why the company didn’t make it or the company decided to go out of business. First of all, this was a family business. You could get your supplies wherever you depended upon leather and leather depended upon water. And then to manufacture footwear, you had to have power to operate the machines. So wherever there was low priced power, wherever there were tanneries, where the shoe manufacturers came from and you could go buy the shoes. That is why New England was so big in shoe manufacturing at one time.
Interviewer: So your father never got into the designing area of the look of the shoes.
Schiff: I think the only design a man could make in those days, if he was a retailer, was what a good looking woman looked like.
Interviewer: So he was selling men’s and women’s shoes?
Schiff: No. He was in the family shoe business.
Interviewer: In children’s shoes as well. It’s a very interesting business.
Schiff: You’re talking nickel and dime business. You’re talking penny business. It’s not like the automobile.
Interviewer: What department stores were your biggest accounts?
Schiff: I can’t give you a history of Shoe Corporation, the old Schiff Company, because by the time I got in it, I think the eventual decision to go out of business was made.
Interviewer: In Columbus, there was Schiff Shoes and there was also Gilbert Shoes. Were they competitors?
Schiff: Two different operations, but two yehudim.
Interviewer: That’s true. How were they different?
Schiff: Harry Gilbert was in the better grade shoe business, for example, one step above. Harry Gilbert didn’t aspire to conquer the world. He aspired to conquer the city of Columbus and then he did it through cast-offs.
Interviewer: Cast-offs? Meaning?
Schiff: He bought better grade shoes when they went out of style so he was able to sell good shoes at a lower price and Harry Gilbert was successful in his own way. You create your own success. Why are you with the job you are with? You created your desire to be at the job you are with, created a desire to operate the way you want to operate and write these stories. Well, it’s the same way with footwear. In the footwear business, you’re talking a minimum of four or five different paths of footwear business.
Interviewer: Were Robert and Harry Gilbert friends?
Schiff: They were good acquaintances. You didn’t have time to make friends in those days. In those days, you worked around the clock. If you got sand in your two feet for two days, you were dead.
Interviewer: That’s what it took in those days. Can you think of any interesting things about the shoe business that made it important for you to go into that business?
Schiff: I know nothing about what was important in the shoe business. The reason I went into shoes was because it offered me an opportunity to grow. It was my father’s business. He was my hero, my mother was dead – it initially was my mother and father’s business – and he had a desire to make me his replacement.
Interviewer: And that was a known fact to you? That he wanted you to be in the business?
Schiff: It was a known fact to everybody. Otherwise, maybe the Schiff Company would still be in operation because all the fellows were aware of the fact that one day they would have Robert’s job and only one of them would succeed in getting the portion of it and that was Saul Schiff. He was sent to New York to develop our business there in the A.S. Beck. A.S. Beck has its own history.
Interviewer: Do you want to tell me about A.S. Beck?
Schiff: A.S. Beck was popular priced, better grade footwear in major metropolitan areas.
Interviewer: Was A.S. Beck a department store?
Interviewer: It was a shoe store?
Schiff: Your problem is this. You take a look at Columbus, you take a look at New York, they’re two different markets.
Interviewer: Just trying to determine what type of store A.S. Beck was.
Schiff: It was a better grade store, a level or two above what we were presenting.
Interviewer: So it was an independent shoe store. Not a department store.
Schiff: Independent shoe store chain. They operated one grade above popular price. We operated at popular price. At one time, we operated at bargain price.
Interviewer: So we have bargain price, popular price and a step above.
Schiff: We still have it today.
Interviewer: Of course. Absolutely.
Schiff: What you don’t have today is the old shoe peddler. You don’t have people going out in the street peddling. Peggy, you have to go back into history. The history of anything that is developed in this country is because you had poor, highly intelligent people. You had families that were willing to sacrifice and live on no income for obtaining that gorgeous little star up there. So as a result, you take the history of the footwear industry or any industry, you’ll find that you had to be someplace near water. You had to be someplace near power and you had to have people that would work at a very, very low level salary and work long, hard, tedious hours. And you also had to have the ability to get your basic, fundamental materials from a close nearby market.
Now let’s take a look at the footwear industry in the state of Ohio or next to us, Pennsylvania, etc. We had good water, we had enough power to develop it, we had the farms, we had the tanneries, we were near to our raw materials and we were able to buy daily so we didn’t have to have a big supply on hand. We had to anticipate what we needed. And then you had to be near good transportation so your product could go in and out. Then you had to have the ability to get into a market. Travel wasn’t like it is today where you can go fast by airplane. If I want to, today, I can make a telephone call, get an air ticket, go from here, in New York and be in London tomorrow or Paris tomorrow. Well, this was the same idea on their ability. So therefore, if you create a product and you can have your selling market near it, you reduce the amount of the cost of your transportation. If you could get enough credit so by the time you needed additional raw materials, the goods that you had produced were already selling to give you the cash to buy it. And you had an idea that you could do it in more than one place. The only taxation you were doing was on your body.
Interviewer: The early days, how . . . .
Schiff: In the early days, they had to go by rail. Some of them went by horse and buggy. Take a look at the expansion of space. Air wasn’t there so it could only expand in the local states and become strong. Then you had to develop a mind and you had to develop people who were willing to work long, tedious hours for very low pay. Low pay is a misconception in this country. Low pay is a result of, this is all the money that you can pay in order to get a job done. Not to take it out of the other guy’s pocket. The guy who comes to work for you says, I need to work and therefore, I’m going to take this lower pay in order to work. If you look at it, we were developing a scum or dredge business, etc. – it wasn’t true. We had to sell a product at cheaper prices than the competition so therefore, we were forced to look at low labor. Now the moment we developed a man good enough, our competition came out of ourselves and we created a good guy who went out on his own. We couldn’t make enough money in one store to survive. So we borrowed money to go into a second store. We became very successful that way.
Interviewer: So the theory was on volume.
Schiff: We operated on the borrowed buck. But when you operate on the borrowed buck, you’ve got to pay it back.
Interviewer: Of course.
Schiff: We had to sell a lot of merchandise.
Interviewer: Did you warehouse your merchandise someplace? Or did it get delivered to the individual stores?
Schiff: Let’s skip from the early stages. We had our own warehouses.
Interviewer: In various states?
Schiff: No, in Columbus, Ohio. We had cheap transportation to our nearby states and we were able to supply our stores. We had our own buyer – that meant that the boss traveled – he bought the shoes, he sold the shoes, he marketed the product. He went in the stores on Saturday and Friday. His wife worked beside him. Maybe the kids were taken into the store and they managed the kids. I wouldn’t want to go through a thing like that.
Interviewer: No, that’s not very good. So, it was approximately 1945 when you, Betty and your two daughters came to Columbus from Detroit.
Schiff: Let me give it to you this way, what I think is interesting to have in this story. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938. Two months before graduation, the entire senior class was called into a room – I graduated from Wharton School of Finance and Commerce – they called us in and said, You Jewish boys, we want you to know that there are no jobs available for you in this market, at all. We hope that you have your parents’ businesses to go into. Point blank. The rest of you, the class two years ahead of you is still not fully employed in the market in the United States. We’re going through very tough times. That was the way they threw it on top of the table and this was the top business school for undergraduates in the United States. Talking to us potential graduates. We can’t help you. We hope you have your parents’ businesses to go into because otherwise, your futures are going to be delayed.
Interviewer: You had a large class. How many were Jewish? A lot?
Schiff: I can’t give you that percentage. On the University of Pennsylvania campus, there were thirteen Jewish fraternities.
Interviewer: Thirteen Jewish fraternities. There must have been a large number of Jewish students in your graduating class.
Schiff: Well, when you take a look at the nearby population, New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, where they can pull students from and I came out of Ohio. There were a lot of wealthy people in those days.
Interviewer: Did most of them have family businesses to go into?
Schiff: I don’t know whether they had family businesses – they had all sorts of businesses.
Interviewer: So they were not worried.
Schiff: The students I was with weren’t worried. I think most of them had good parents where scholarships where highly concerned. What percentage were scholarships at that time, I don’t know. But I can tell you that I’ll bet that over fifty percent of children that go to school are on scholarships.
Interviewer: Are you speaking of today? Or then?
Interviewer: Yes. But not so much then?
Schiff: I went to one of the finest schools in the country, University of Pennsylvania. Tuition wasn’t cheap and I belonged to a fraternity house and there were fifty of us and we had forty-eight cars.
Interviewer: That speaks for itself, that’s for sure. Ok. Let’s go to 1945 when you and Betty and your two daughters came to Columbus from Detroit. You had worked seven years in Detroit.
Schiff: I worked seven years in Detroit, I rose from the beautiful position of stock boy into a shoe clerk into a manager of a unit for the company and I was taught, believe it or not, my finest teacher was a guy by the name of Saul R. Kotzer.
Interviewer: And we know him today as Richard Kotzer.
Schiff: We know him as Richard Kotzer and we had a friendship. He was a smart guy.
Interviewer: He taught you well.
Schiff: I learned more than footwear. I learned that you had to fight and scrap to get where you wanted to go. I think you saw that. You had your way to the top, you had to fight and fight hard. The other guy worked ten hours a day, I worked eleven hours.
Interviewer: So when you came to Columbus with Betty and your two daughters .
Schiff: I was taken from a shoe clerk position into a young man learning management.
Interviewer: Now you’re back in Columbus – learning management.
Schiff: And learning what it was all about. In less than five years, I was managing my own superiors.
Interviewer: When you first came to Columbus, what position did you assume in the company? What position did your father put you in?
Schiff: I got no position at all. Here’s my son. Break him in. Teach him. These are the boys that didn’t have anything before the Depression and they came out of the Depression and they had a lot of money in their pockets. This is ten years later.
Interviewer: So he told you to go into the stores and learn?
Schiff: I was so damn inquisitive, they couldn’t hold me down. If the other guy quit work at four or five o’clock, I was there until six or seven or eight o’clock.
Interviewer: What did you actually do?
Schiff: I worked at every damn thing I knew. It was a matter of learning. I’m known as a rough, tough person but that was the times. They were in charge, they had worked hard for him and here’s this young “pisher” coming in and within three years, I’m the boss. Because I did every dirty job there was to be done. There wasn’t an angle of the business I didn’t know in those days.
Interviewer: That’s how you got to know the business by working and starting at the very bottom.
Schiff: Then I got into financing and then other things. Peggy, there are so many opportunities in life today – it’s no different now than it was then. And there are so many people that just let things take care of themselves. Then there are a cadre of people – maybe four or five percent – that want to really go at it, rough and tough. When you do, you get to the top.
Interviewer: Those are the people who will succeed.
Schiff: Those are the people who are in a position to control and then the money flows with it and all of a sudden, you’re way up on top and somebody says, I knew him when he was a nothing.
Interviewer: When you came to Columbus in 1945, the business was large and successful.
Schiff: It was always successful but I would say from 1945-50, it reached its zenith.
Interviewer: And it continued to grow?
Schiff: No, the growth was restricted. The reason it was restricted was because money was too easy and they were all too wealthy. They weren’t working hard.
Interviewer: Meaning the people in key positions?
Schiff: We bought A.S. Beck and sent Robert Schiff’s key right arm, Saul Schiff, to manage and direct it. Robert felt that Jack was capable of directing the business. I was coming off the ladder, I was the student and he was the boss.
Interviewer: Jack was your cousin?
Schiff: My first cousin. Robert built a business on top of these boys, so it was easy to learn. All you had to do was work hard. I think when you interview Betty, you’ll find out that she didn’t like it because I worked night and day. I scrapped my way to the top. I wasn’t doing a good job because I was the boss’ son.
Interviewer: Basically, your father was able to manage all the businesses around the country because he had family members in key positions.
Schiff: He had family members in key positions that were hungry. If you can keep the people working with you hungry and anxious to get your job, you’ve got a good working crew.
Interviewer: In order to keep people hungry was that meaning that you . . . . .
Schiff:` If you were this good at this job here, then you were eligible for one job above.
Interviewer: So there was constant moving upward.
Schiff: In a growing business, chain store business, a growing business in those days – you went from a clerk to an assistant manager to a manager to a district manager and eventually you went to a supervisor.
Interviewer: And who reviewed those evaluations? Was it your father?
Schiff: Now you’re talking an interesting question. Osmosis.
Interviewer: It just happened?
Schiff: Osmosis is a blank opportunity out in front and there’s nobody in there and how do you run into it? They grew by osmosis. The ones that wanted to succeed, succeeded. Those that didn’t want to succeed, didn’t succeed. It was just a question of who was willing to do the dirty work and I learned that trick before I went in there and I volunteered to do the dirty work.
Interviewer: Who did the actual promotions? Your father? Moving a person from a clerk to a manager?
Schiff: Robert had a business that was based upon the fact that you had to go through the various departments. You had managers, assistant managers clerks. So you moved from position of clerkship to assistant manager and then to manager. If you were good enough, you became a district manager and eventually, you had your own private group of stores which you operated for the company.
Interviewer: So if you moved from clerk to assistant manager to manager, somebody had to move out.
Schiff: I moved from a manager’s job into purchasing for the company. I had the good luck and my Uncle Al was the guy that moved out.
Interviewer: Your Uncle Albert?
Schiff: He was so ill that I moved up in less than two and a half years. From a clerk’s job that I worked at for seven years. All you have to do . . . you don’t even know you’re doing it.
Interviewer: You’re just acquiring more knowledge and working harder?
Schiff: The opportunity is out there because nobody sees it. So you don’t know you’re doing it. And you grab that responsibility and all of a sudden, people depend on you for little things and then they come to you and are talking about big problems. All of a sudden, you tell them one day, move over.
Interviewer: What year did your father retire and you took over the reins?
Schiff: Now you’re talking about years.
Interviewer: Would it be in the 50’s maybe?
Schiff: No. There’s no such thing as retirement.
Interviewer: When did he turn the business over to you?
Schiff: He never turned it over. I took it from him.
Interviewer: What year, approximately, was that?
Schiff: You’re talking now . . . I was born in 1916, I got married in 1938 and you’re talking now about 1948, ‘49, ‘50, ‘51. I took over very fast. Don’t forget, in those days, in a family business, you can move fast within the family and if you weren’t a member of the family, God help you, go out and get your own business.
Interviewer: When you took over the business, what goals did you set for yourself? And for the company?
Schiff: The answer to you is you’re too busy to set goals. You’re too busy to know you’re ambitious. You see something, you do it, whether it’s your responsibility or not. The next thing you know, you’re doing it.
Interviewer: Did you have a vision, maybe, of doubling the number of stores?
Schiff: No. I don’t believe in those fables.
Interviewer: So, you didn’t have a particular vision in mind?
Schiff: I had one goal – to be in charge of the business.
Interviewer: That was your goal? To be the head of the company?
Schiff: To be the head of the company because I saw the decadence. People don’t seem to understand that once you’re successful, you become very weak.
Interviewer: Can you explain that?
Schiff: You’re working hard at the scribe job but the next job up is to be the boss, right?
Schiff: So if you work hard and you do a good job, they bring you more than your share of responsibility. Jack asked me to do something one day and I said, but that’s not in my area of responsibility.
Interviewer: So you didn’t actually sit down and say . . . . this is a vision that I have for this company with me at the head.
Schiff: I understand that your question is, when you move from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior and practically the master, the principal, then the head. It doesn’t happen that way.
Interviewer: In other words, you didn’t have a vision of what you wanted . . . your father accomplished . . .
Schiff: I don’t believe in this vision stuff. You have a self-ambition that you don’t even know you have. Something drives you to do something and that’s what happened to me. These people had built a business, very successfully, into one of the largest in the United States and they became lazy. The opportunity was out there to grow and I grew very fast, to the point that a certain amount of hate was developed because I was pushing and I was grabbing. Then they used the story, the boss’ son. Bullshit.
Interviewer: So you don’t think that was true?
Schiff: The company would have gone under way before I closed it out.
Interviewer: So you consider that you, following in your father’s footsteps, continued to be successful.
Schiff: At the time that these things happen to you, you don’t have time to think. You’re so busy doing what you’re doing and one day somebody comes to you and says I want you to go to Weehawkin, New Jersey.
Interviewer: What is significant about this community?
Schiff: Nothing. It’s a small community. I just use it as an example of the word – Weehawkin to Jersey City to Newark then to New York.
Interviewer: When did the Schiff Shoe Company become Shoe Corporation of America?
Schiff: I can’t give you an exact date on that. I think it became Shoe Corp of America before I went into a management position. So I’d have to say it would probably be in the early 40s.
Interviewer: Did it become a public company then?
Schiff: Yes. Shoe Corp of America was a public company.
Interviewer: So stock was sold and it was traded.
Schiff: Schiff Company was a public company and it changed its name to Shoe Corp of America. Actually, it was headed for a goal that it didn’t reach.
Interviewer: In other words, people purchased stock that was sold publically.
Schiff: The idea of changing the name from The Schiff Company to SCOA Industries wasn’t a question of personalities or this or that. It was a question that the company had grown and how far could it grow. There was an ambition in those days to get into the department store business and never did. Peggy, you’ve got to understand that you don’t know that these things are happening to you and someplace along the line, there’s trouble. The boss can’t go out and solve the trouble so he sends a troubleshooter. This is what happened to me. Any dirty, filthy job that had to be done, I did it. If a store manager had to leave a store, I had to go. All of a sudden, I had to go as a district manager and go around the stores. That’s the way it happened. I was the boss’ son I got the opportunities before anybody else.
Interviewer: There came a time when you became unhappy with how things were being run and you did a clean sweep or a clean house.
Schiff: Yes, I made my own way. Success is a horrible thing. It’s a beautiful thing but it’s a horrible thing. When you’re a success, you’re no longer hungry.
Interviewer: So why did you see the need to clean house?
Schiff: I didn’t even know I was doing it.
Interviewer: It wasn’t pre-determined? It just happened?
Schiff: The opportunity was there. Here was a very, very successful company where everybody got wealthy and lazy. It was easy because they let you do it, they ask you to do it and you didn’t take any premium. The next thing you know, they weren’t there and you were there.
Interviewer: You’re one man and you had a lot of stores. Did you train people. . . . ?
Schiff: No, no. This is the advantage of being the boss’ son. It is a known fact that someday you’re going to head the business and it’s a known fact that they send you out to do the drudgery work and they push the dirt in your face. When they push the dirt in your face, you learn. Those good businesses were successful where the boss’ son come in at the top and he didn’t go through an experience like that. He wasn’t such a good man., he was eventually bought out. But every stinking, dirty job. The more successful you are, the better a job you’re going to do. Do you want to move up in your job? There’s opportunity. If somebody comes in and offers you a job better than what you’ve got, are you going to take it?
Schiff: Or are you going to be satisfied? It’s as simple as everything in life.
Interviewer: You’re at the top. You’ve reached the top. You’re the head man. There are people, family members out there that . . . .
Schiff: They were finally pushed out, out of jealousy. They wanted to move into that, they said, He’s got it, he’s the boss’ son, why shouldn’t I get it and they were asked, why didn’t you do these things? It’s automatic and you don’t know it. But the osmosis is push. Push them out and bring new people in.
Interviewer: So you pushed out and you had new people that were being trained to come in. They were hungry and they …
Schiff: Wait, Peggy. I’ll have to take you back in history. I graduated from University of Pennsylvania in 1938, from Wharton School which is a business school. When I went to the business school, I went to learn about management that I was able to put into play without even knowing I was doing it. Management is you getting things done through people.
Interviewer: Through good people.
Schiff: And then you judge the people that are most capable of doing it. This is what I was learning but before I could push a person into a job, I had to know the job. Because if I was his boss I had to be able to spot his weaknesses as well as his strengths.
Interviewer: That’s true.
Schiff: So that’s the way it happened. You might say, why did this guy rise and the other guy didn’t rise? He was through if he played around and didn’t do his job.
Interviewer: Did you actually go out and look and recruit people to come to work for you?
Schiff: No, I didn’t have to recruit people to come to work. They were there. We had good people. Our problem was, our success was too great. It’s a horrible statement to make that you can be too successful. The history is, you recognize a success and you go ahead.
Interviewer: So some people worked and worked and they realized they couldn’t go any further. So they left?
Schiff: You can work hard and hard and not get anywhere. I’ll tell you a little story. We had this beautiful party a week ago – New Year’s Day. The gals in the kitchen – we had all these people. We had professionals there, working, taking care of everything. All of a sudden, it was time to go home. People know Herb Schiff: – if you’re invited from two to five, you get out between a quarter of five and five o’clock. All of a sudden, a man shows up and he starts cleaning the floors and the dishes and this and that. He’s a little gal’s husband. He cleaned up the living room, the porch out there, he cleaned up the dining room, etc. and within an hour and a half, the house was spotless. He was an expert at that. And that happened to us that day. So imagine all this pre-planning and everybody being here and within an hour, he cleaned the whole house.
Interviewer: That’s beautiful
Schiff: That’s trained help.
Interviewer: That’s right. That’s what it’s all about. So you were pleased with the way things were going in your business?
Schiff: No. I didn’t know I was displeased.
Interviewer: You didn’t know you were displeased? Meaning?
Schiff: Honey, when you fall in love with a man, you marry the man. Then all of a sudden, you find his strengths and his weaknesses. That’s the same thing.
Interviewer: So you discovered the strengths and weaknesses of the business.
Schiff: I didn’t know I was discovering them. I didn’t know I was seeing them but I know that they say, hey, Herb, do you want to go here and I’d say, sure. My major problem was, I didn’t maintain a wife. I was not home long enough. The children are her children, not my children. They come to her with their problems. They don’t come to me with their problems. I would say the only one that actually – she doesn’t come to me with her problems – Patty – she’s the closest to me. I spend more time with her than I spent the with rest. She came down here to be with us. I didn’t want them here. I treated them like dirt for three or four years. Greatest thing that ever happened to me. So you know what I’m doing with Patty today? I decided I didn’t want anybody else to have my business after I die.
Interviewer: So you want Patty to have it?
Schiff: No. I talked to Patty and said, Why don’t you come into Columbus once a month? And sit down and kibbitz with us Four months ago, we had a meeting. Patty arranged the local here, our secretary and brought an outsider in and we had a discussion. Now in another three or four months, we’ll have another discussion. By the time – God’s going to determine this – by the time I’m ready to die, she’ll be able to take over the backbone management of the business. In the meantime, those people that she’s working with know that they will have an opportunity to succeed. And there’s nothing to say – she’s not even on the payroll right now. We have these conferences and we talk about the problems and we talk about what we should do. And I got no present business – I’m a lucky bastard.
Interviewer: Let’s back up a minute because it’s a point of importance. Shoe Corp of America was the company, it was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Did you buy it back?
Schiff: No, I left it.
Interviewer: You left it?
Schiff: Shoe Corp of America had to fold. It was old fashioned.
Interviewer: So it folded.
Schiff: I folded it.
Interviewer: Ok. So you didn’t sell it.
Schiff: I liquidated it.
Interviewer: How did Hills Department Store get into the picture?
Schiff: Now we get back to Robert W. Schiff. He was a visionary. Robert felt you could not continue to make a living in shoe chain stores and make a successful living. They were a part of a larger world and he felt that we had to go into the department store business. And he felt that the way to do it was to go into the new modern thing which was the discount department stores. As a result, he went out and talked to people and he developed it. My father and I were not close until about the last five years before he died. And one of the questions he asked me was whether I was going to run things the way he had run them and you can’t put this down but I said, F____ you, pop. And he said, I thought you’d say that and I’m very happy. The fact is the chain store business was dying.
Interviewer: And he saw that happening?
Schiff: No. If we’d gone into department stores as a division of them twenty or twenty-five years before, we would still be operating.
Interviewer: So Hills Department Store didn’t buy the company.
Schiff: Hills Department Store didn’t buy the company. Hills Department Store was owned by others, not by the management. I decided I didn’t want to run this empire. I wasn’t strong enough to control these strong bodies and I decided to liquidate the business.
Interviewer: Liquidate. About what year was that? 1985? Something like that?
Schiff: Somewhere around there.
Interviewer: Ten or fifteen years ago?
Schiff: What year is this?
Interviewer: We’re in 1999.
Schiff: It was 1985 or 1990.
Interviewer: So you liquidated the company. Did you retain the assets from it?
Schiff: How can you retain the assets? You’re over the New York Stock Exchange. You divide everything with the shareholders.
Interviewer: So everybody got a piece of the profits. Then you formed the Schiff Company again?
Schiff: No. The Schiff Company is a moniker that had been cast aside. So I decided that even though I wasn’t operating the business, to start my own little office under the name of The Schiff Company. So we operate as The Schiff Company. If Patty succeeds me, which I want her to do and she wants to develop, that name is out there, owned. It’s a sweet name.
Interviewer: So the company as it is today, the Schiff Company . . . .
Schiff: Is owned by me and is actually a moniker.
Interviewer: And the company is your source of charitable . . . . ?
Schiff: No, my source of charitable is in my pocket book.
Interviewer: The Schiff Company manages what?
Schiff: Nothing. The Schiff Company is for my convenience.
Interviewer: It gives you a place to be?
Schiff: It gave me a place to hang my hat. I don’t want to work anymore. Peggy, I don’t even know how much money I’ve got.
Interviewer: It’s ok. Tell me some of the names of people you’ve worked with. There’s a few names that came to my mind, such as, Abe Jacobson that worked with you?
Schiff: Yes. All these names that you’re going to tell me, like Abe Jacobson, are all products of people that my father developed.
Interviewer: Was he family?
Schiff: No. Robert made the business family and they were part of what was called the adopted family or the family that attached itself.
Interviewer: Did he rise up?
Schiff: Abe Jacobson went to work . . . he was a shoe salesman and Robert said, Abe, why don’t you come to the other side of the fence? And Abe came and he made his job. Robert had a key organization that he developed but he couldn’t put it down on a piece of paper to give you a plot.
Interviewer: What about Eddie Grayson?
Schiff: Let me answer you this, don’t ever use the word Eddie Grayson or a member of his family when you’re talking about me. All you do is create problems – not necessary problems. You don’t want to open wounds. Robert believed in giving the family the opportunity to develop. We’ve gotten into the younger generation now. As we’re coming down the hill, these people like Eddie Grayson and others (there were quite a few of them who were ambitious, too). They saw that I was ambitious to get to be kingpin, so they grudgingly left the company. Whether it could have been a multi-billion dollar company, I don’t know. They went elsewhere and they were good people.
Interviewer: Who were some of the people that you worked with that were your favorite people to work with?
Schiff: That’s an unfair question. I was a lone wolf.
Interviewer: You were a lone wolf but a person has to have some people around him.
Schiff: What happened was, I kept shrinking the company.
Interviewer: Shrinking the company? On purpose?
Schiff: On purpose. Until there was no company.
Interviewer: And you did that because . . . .?
Schiff: I felt our method of operation needed a helluva lot of modernization and I felt that I was either too lazy or really did not want to take on that type of work. Actually, during a period like that, you don’t think. I read all these stories; I thought this, I thought that. A good deal was osmosis.
Interviewer: Looking back, with what you did with the company, would you do it the same way if you were to do it over again?
Schiff: In all probability, under the same circumstances, I’d do it. Major surgery only leads to cancer and cancer leads to death and I didn’t want to be in charge of death.
Interviewer: So you’re happy with the way it worked out and you would have done it again.
Schiff: I’m very satisfied. I was born in 1916 and I felt I had come to where I didn’t want to work that hard and I didn’t need that much money. I think I’ve had a good life. I think my wife has had a good life. We’ve got a home down here we’ve got a home in Columbus. We take long two or three week vacations overseas in the summer. I’m sure she’s got one in the back of her mind.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about the company again. Is there anything that you’d like to t ell me that I haven’t asked you about your company?
Schiff: The story of success of a company was the fact that good people were brought together and given the opportunity to grow and some of them have even gone further in life and are happy in what they are doing. People didn’t even know that they were being given an opportunity. You used the word, Eddie Grayson. There is a great mind. But there were a lot of other people who were in the firm. Nobody knows their names.
Interviewer: So you didn’t have any favorites?
Schiff: Nobody ever liked Herby Schiff. It was a great part of doing my job.
Interviewer: Unless there is something else you’d like to tell me about the business, I think we will end this session for today.
Schiff: No. I think the baby was great in its day. I think it did a lot for the world. I think it helped this country of ours move forward and today it is a method of doing business – a helluva different method. You’ve got the day and age of computers running businesses from a computer run company. It did its share but the greatest share it did was develop good leadership for this country.
Interviewer: That’s very important. One more question. Do you have pictures or scrapbooks or memorabilia from the company?
Schiff: Nothing. I think you can talk about another thing before you cut the tape. Take a look around this room . . .
Interviewer: I have that written down as another session. I want to look around and talk about it.
Schiff: I was given the opportunity to enjoy the privilege of working for other people. These are memorandums and memorabilia from that world.
Interviewer: And we’re going to get into that, perhaps we’ll do that tomorrow, Herb. We’ll talk about your philanthropy, the part of your charitable self.
Interviewer: This is Wednesday, January 6, 1999 and this is Tape Number 4 of the continued oral history interview with Herbert H. Schiff. Today we will discuss Herb’s commitment to philanthropy and charitable organizations. Herb, you have a favorite expression . .
Schiff: I am my brother’ keeper and I hope my brother will never keep me.
Interviewer: Has that been your motto that you’ve gone by all these years?
Schiff: Yes, it is. It’s a good one.
Interviewer: Who taught you about the mitzvah of helping others?
Schiff: I really don’t know. I think it was born in me because it was a trade of my father and mother’s. Both sides. It became easy. I have never missed a dollar I have given away. Life has been good to me so I owe life something. I found out in my lifetime, you can’t thank a person because it’s an awful embarrassing position to be in. I don’t know whether you know that.
Interviewer: Tell me about that. You can’t thank a person?
Schiff: When you thank a person for what they’ve done, you make the person feel good and the whole public in front of you feels good. But actually, if a person has done or could have done a better job, it’s sitting inside of him. So if I thank you, it’s after a person knows he has done a good job. A lot of people want it for just one reason. They like to be lauded in front of a group of people. I think a simple little thank you is sufficient.
Interviewer: That’s good. Do you think some people do good deeds or help other people – charitable things for their . . . what they’re going to receive?
Schiff: Ego. They’re egomaniacs. You do charity because you want to do charity, not because you want to get an award. The award comes in doing the charity.
Interviewer: So it’s a self-reward that you . . . .
Schiff: It’s a self-reward. My motto is, if I help this world one little eighth of a thousandths of an inch, it’s better because I lived in it.
Interviewer: That’s a very good motto. So your father was a charitable person?
Schiff: Both my father and mother were charitable people.
Interviewer: What was you mother’s favorite way or charitable organization?
Schiff: You’ll probably get a different answer than you’ll anticipate getting. And the reason you’ll get it is that I didn’t know my mother that well. I saw it in my mother but I didn’t know my mother that well. I was too young to discuss charity with her. As I grew older, I developed need in charity. I was not forced – I was maybe forced by example – but I was not forced. You don’t want a reward. You have an inner feeling of goodness in you as you are doing those things without knowing that you’ve got that feeling. The only time you really know you’ve got that feeling is when those that don’t give, criticize you.
Interviewer: When those that don’t give, criticize you?
Schiff: That’s the only time that you really know.
Interviewer: So your father was a charitable man?
Schiff: My father was a charitable man. My mother was a charitable person.
Interviewer: Did your father have any favorite charities or favorite way of . . . .
Schiff: There are no favorites when you’re giving charity. Charity is for those who can’t help themselves and therefore, you’re helping them. You don’t seek to give charity. Some people, after they have made their wealth, will take and give a hundred thousand, a hundred million dollars to a charity. Their salving their own wounds. That’s not the time to give charity. Charity is when a little kid takes his father’s hand and says, I’m going to buy you a lollipop. That’s charity.
Interviewer: That’s very good. Do you remember any particular areas or institutions or organizations that your father supported?
Schiff: No, I don’t. My first introduction into charity was when my father took me to a Hebrew school meeting where he went to discuss enlarging the Hebrew school. He got up and he said, to start this, I’m going to give $16,000. In those days, $16,000 was like a billion dollars to me today. That was my first exposure to charity.
Interviewer: That was the Hebrew school. Would that have been the Columbus Torah Academy?
Schiff: The Torah Academy was not in existence at the time. But when you give to a charity and another charity is offended, I beg your pardon is all I can say to them.
Interviewer: Would this have been Columbus Hebrew School?
Schiff: I was a little pisher. What else could it have been?
Interviewer: Ok. Columbus Hebrew School.
Schiff: What I’m saying to you is charity is innate in you. I give charity to things that don’t think they need charity. I give charity to charitable organizations. You give charity because somebody isn’t as well off as you. And we give back the my brother’s keeper formula. And that is I want to be my brother’s keeper. I never want my brother to keep me.
Interviewer: Did your father have a particular fondness for Jewish education?
Schiff: No. Let me put it this way to you. Both my father and my mother were charitable. As I told you, you wouldn’t have Tifereth Israel today if it wasn’t for my mother and that is a very interesting story in itself. I’m not going to talk about the Tifereth Israel story. But you wouldn’t have it, if it hadn’t been for those two people. Charity is what you want to do. Sometimes charity is going over and patting someone on the back.
Interviewer: For the record then, I’m just going to say that the Columbus Hebrew School is now known as the Kol Ami. The Columbus Hebrew School was the predecessor to what we have today. So your father supported all causes. He didn’t have a . . .
Schiff: My father and mother both did. The unfortunate part was my mother died in 1928. I hadn’t even reached puberty. But the example was always in the house. In our home, on a Friday night, there had to be a stranger.
Interviewer: So your mother was always kind and invited strangers in who needed a meal.
Schiff: There had to be. The Jewish law says it.
Interviewer: So your first involvement was when you went with your father . . .
Schiff: To a Hebrew School fund raiser for a new building and Robert Schiff: stood up and said I’m going to give $16,000. $16,000 put into modern language would be maybe half a million dollars. I was surprised that we had $16,000.
Interviewer: That possibly Herb, could be the beginning of the Columbus Torah Academy’s building.
Schiff: It could be but I’m taking you back into the late 1920’s.
Interviewer: Do you recall the Schonthal Center?
Schiff: Yes, I do.
Interviewer: Did you go there?
Interviewer: What do you remember about it?
Schiff: For me, if somebody comes in and they sit down and they talk and you know they’re trying to get you for their own glory, you know when they’re doing it for something else. And at that point, that’s where your charitable things go. You see something, you swore to yourself you’re not going to give the bum a buck and he ends up walking out with your pocketbook.
Interviewer: What are your memories of the Schonthal Center?
Interviewer: I believe across the street, there was a Jewish Infants’ Home.
Schiff: I don’t know.
Interviewer: Do you think your father might have supported those agencies?
Schiff: They supported everything. You’re taking me back to a very, very young age. As I said to you, my first exposure into charity . . . .
Interviewer: What did you think about when your father stood up and gave $16,000?
Schiff: I thought that was a large, large sum of money. I didn’t realize it was peanuts.
Interviewer: Did you ask you father about it afterwards?
Interviewer: Like, how are you going to pay for that, Pop?
Schiff: No. I was just surprised to see the great Robert W. Schiff stand up and give $16,000, like me giving two million dollars today.
Interviewer: What was the first time you stood up and gave?
Schiff: I don’t recall. I gave lollipops that was my first charity. Charity, you give to others from yourself but that does not necessarily mean money.
Interviewer: Someone once said something, referring to you, that your charitable giving is motivated by the heart, not by the tax deduction.
Schiff: If it were motivated by the brain, I wouldn’t give a buck.
Interviewer: So it is from your heart.
Schiff: It’s from the heart.
Interviewer: You have a very large heart.
Schiff: Yes, I do.
Interviewer: What are some of your favorite institutions that you support?
Schiff: I prefer to not talk about any because this may go into print.
Interviewer: So I can’t ask you about any . . . .
Schiff: You can ask me about any charities you want to.
Interviewer: One that I’m interested in is the Yeshiva University.
Schiff: The Yeshiva University came to me as a surprise. I didn’t seek them out, they sought me out. But you have to go further. I developed a friendship with a fellow by the name of David Zysman. And David, among other things in his life – and this was as he was getting past 50 and 60 years old – was motivated to be working for charities. David brought me into that. The more I got into it, eventually, I ended up chairing, not the Hebrew University but doing the job for the, I forget the name of the organization in New York. For four or five years, I ran one full department for them.
Interviewer: How did you meet David Zysman?
Interviewer: Was he in school with you?
Schiff: He came in and asked for money.
Interviewer: He just came to you?
Schiff: He came and asked for money and that’s how we became friends.
Interviewer: And he was asking for money for Yeshiva University?
Schiff: Not necessarily. I don’t even recall what it was for. David was a paid professional. He made a living of fund raising and investing his money wisely.
Interviewer: And you support the school that you graduated from? Wharton School?
Schiff: A bit. I can’t tell you who I supported. I support a variety of organizations. People come in and talk over problems. I support non Jewish as well as Jewish.
Interviewer: Do you feel an obligation to support the school you graduated from?
Schiff: Not necessarily. I support the University of Pennsylvania. I take out more money than I have.
Interviewer: What about the Wurtzweiler School?
Schiff: Wurtzweiler School is a part of the University of Pennsylvania. It’s actually a school whose education was for the business organizations . Wait. You’re talking Jewish now. I have to modify that. Wurtzweiler, I supported because I headed it.
Interviewer: You headed it?
Schiff: Yes. A dear rabbi and I had many discussions.
Interviewer: Which rabbi?
Schiff: The rabbi in charge of the school. His name slips me right now. I was a lay leader. I was brought in to redevelop their board and to feed them into money. I was sought out by David Zysman. That’s how our friendship started. The rabbi knew that he was with an Orthodox organization and he knew he was meeting with a Jew who was as close to Christianity as he was to Judaism. He said he wanted me to revive the school and I said it’s got to be hands off. Religion has to play a second part. That’s my first two things. I’ve got to do my job my way and I guarantee you’ll get good results. Well, you see what Wurtzweiler is today. He accepted that and it was hands off. And when I thought he should be brought in to talk about what we were doing, he never disagreed.
Interviewer: He obviously saw that you were doing a good job.
Schiff: That’s why he went out to get me. I’m sorry that I’m patting myself on the back.
Interviewer: That’s ok. That’s what we’re talking about today. You also became active in the Federation and the UJA, the local Columbus Federation and the national UJA.
Schiff: That was following in the footsteps of my father.
Interviewer: What role did he play before you?
Schiff: The same role I played. Only I had a theory. I wanted to do better than he did and honest-to-G-d, he wanted me to do better. And one day, he asked me whether I’d do things his way and quote, I’ll never do things your f______ way, Pop.
Interviewer: So he was the president of the Columbus Federation?
Schiff: Robert went through all the jobs in the Federation. The Federation wasn’t a Federation in his day. There was this one and that one and they were stepping on each other’s toes. Robert was a very philanthropic man and he believed as I believe that I am my brother’s keeper and I don’t want the day to come when my brother is going to keep me.
Interviewer: How did he react when Israel became a state?
Schiff: That was part of his doing. He was part of the conspiracy.
Interviewer: The conspiracy? Tell me about it.
Schiff: Robert W. Schiff worked more on overseas works than he did on domestic. Your poor little boy that walked down the street, they’d pull you into the door and they’d talk to you and the next thing you knew, he’s opening his pocket, loaded with change and gives him the pennies, or the nickels or dimes. He used to put the money in his hand like this, they’d put their hand out and he’d go like this and close it. That’s the way he gave the beggars money.
Interviewer: What role did he play in the establishment of the State of Israel?
Schiff: I can’t tell you but, I can tell you I was never welcomed by anybody as the way they welcomed him.
Schiff: You see the city of Columbus did not understand what we were doing worldwide. And I don’t think it was anybody’s damn business. I’ve got one theory, the world has got to be at least one ounce better when we leave it than before we came into it.
Interviewer: Did you ever hear your father say that?
Schiff: No, I said it.
Interviewer: Do you believe that’s what your father felt?
Schiff: My father practiced it and I practice it. I’m giving you an interview today because I hope somebody is going to take heed because of what I’m saying.
Interviewer: Exactly, that’s why we’re doing this.
Schiff: We never had too many awards here. This is a small amount of them. I’ve got a small amount someplace here . . . but when they send you the Torah . .
Interviewer: In Columbus, Herb, you played a very active role in the Federation. Were you president of the Federation at any time?
Schiff: Yes. Years 1962-64.
Interviewer: Were you campaign director?
Schiff: No. Let me put it to you this way. If you recall, I moved back to Columbus from Detroit and I became part of the community.
Interviewer: In 1945.
Schiff: To be president of an organization is a great honor. But on the other hand, you’ve got to work for it and when you leave it, you’ve got to get into something else. I did it a different way. I worked behind the scenes. I taught theory and practical theory to people and then they could put it into practice. I did not want to be the leader. It would have been a great honor to be the leader but then you get into the nitty gritty and I will not lower my dignity and get into the nitty gritty.
Interviewer: So you would rather play the role behind the scenes, make the plans and let somebody else expedite them.
Schiff: No, not make the plans. Discuss them and then take credit for the plans.
Interviewer: That’s very good. Who were some of the people that you worked with in Columbus?
Schiff: Unfortunately, the only name I can remember right now is Ben Mandelkorn as a professional. The other people were as the problems came up. Whoever the leaders were. Herman Lukoff for example. That guy was a leader – a helluva leader.
Interviewer: Herman Lukoff?
Schiff: He was a leader in the nitty gritty.
Interviewer: Like you? Behind the scenes?
Schiff: No, up front. He was a tremendous man. You need all sorts of people in fund raising. And all sorts of people give money in fund raising for different reasons.
Interviewer: Was Seymour Lukoff his son?
Schiff: I never knew any of his children.
Interviewer: Did you work with Jack Resler?
Schiff: Yes. Jack was a character. I’d like to tell you something about charity. Most people consider charity the giving of money. Some people consider charity the giving of self. Charity is not. Charity . . . the one thing it taught me, I am my brother’s keeper. You give the rich charity. You give the poor charity. A little child comes up to you and gives you his lollipop to suck and you suck that lollipop, that’s charity. You made that kid feel good inside. That’s a helluva difference – just because you’re fund raising, that’s blood . . . you need blood. Actually charity is the work that you’re doing. Charity is all around this world. Somebody comes to you crying. You pat him on the back and he smiles. That’s charity. We look at charity as dollars and cents. Somebody comes along and sees there’s no education in the neighborhood and they have millions of dollars in their pocket and they go out and build a school and give the school funds to operate. That’s charity. There’s so many different ways that charity can be. You see a judge giving a bad decision – you know it’s going to be a bad decision. You walk into his office, you confidentially have a talk with him. Two or three days later, things are coming out at his trial that people didn’t believe. They didn’t believe a judge could have a mind like that. That’s charity. But most people look at charity as pennies, dollars, nickels and dimes. That’s a show. The type of charity that I was in, had show but you also had to work behind the scenes.
Interviewer: So in other words, you did it both ways.
Schiff: You have to if you’re going to be a leader. Ninety percent of the work you do, nobody knows anything about. You’re not going to get patted on the back and you don’t have time to take the pat on the back. That’s a lot different than the way people look at it.
Interviewer: That’s a different philosophy than people think about for the most part.
Schiff: People envy me because of the money I’ve given away. But work that I do behind the scene’s, I don’t want anybody to know. If you have to do it for acknowledgment, that’s not charity, it’s self-ego.
Interviewer: We were going to talk about Jack Resler. You were going to tell me that he was an interesting person.
Schiff: Jack Resler was quite an unusual man. He was a hard man. He was a boisterous man. He had to have ego and self to keep him going. That was the motivating force. But Jack did so much for people quietly, nobody will ever know. And he didn’t want it broadcast.
Interviewer: So in other words, he received satisfaction both ways. Ego, by giving publicly and . . .
Schiff: Wait a minute . . . let me tell you. When you’re working for charity, if you’re doing that for satisfaction, it doesn’t work. You’re working for charity in order to produce a historical position of the city of Columbus.
Interviewer: That’s correct.
Schiff: That’s the motivating formula or you wouldn’t be down here today. That’s charity. Charity is not dollars and cents. Dollars and cents is part of charity.
Interviewer: Did you have any relationship with Leo Yassenoff?
Schiff: No. Don’t forget I married Betty in 1938 when I came out of school. We immediately got married and we were away from Columbus and from the University for 20 odd years, before we returned to Columbus. My charity motivations were not strong at that particular time, although they may have been hidden. When I came to Columbus, I became involved in it. It wasn’t a question that I wanted to build an empire or that I was Mr. It or Mr. That. When I got into charity, there was void and vacuum.
Interviewer: Did you work with Sam Melton at all, in charity?
Schiff: The greatest man that God ever created and there was another fellow, I’m trying to think of this name because his wife married Sam Melton.
Interviewer: Aaron Zacks
Schiff: Her husband and I were close together as a team.
Interviewer: Her husband, Aaron?
Schiff: Aaron died early. He died 60 years to the day, the minute that he was born. I got that from her, when I was in her home within an hour after his death.
Interviewer: Florence said that?
Schiff: He and I were a team.
Interviewer: What did you do together?
Schiff: I can’t tell you. We did whatever was necessary. We worked behind the scenes, we raised money. We got the town motivated. We did things together. He was up in the front of the fund raising and I was in the back working with him.
Interviewer: Did you have conversations where you planned things together?
Schiff: Everything we did, we did as a team. When you have team work, you’ve gotta plan together, you can’t surprise a person. I’m the greatest person to not want surprises.
Interviewer: Did you work with Florence on community projects?
Schiff: No. I never worked with Florence. Florence was a different school than I was. When you’re working charity, going out and raising the funds is a minutia that you have to do. But when you’re truly working with charity, you’re developing thoughts and ideas. You’re giving of yourself, not only you of your person but of your pocketbook. That’s true charity.
Interviewer: Did you work with Sam Melton?
Schiff: No, I never worked with Sam Melton.
Schiff: Very close. Melton and I – he was like a father to me. Melton was a fantastic man but he was like a father. Aaron was a companion. We worked things together. Aaron would be given assignments and he’d get on the telephone and call me and we’d get together and we’d plan it out together. Or I’d be given an assignment and I’d call him. Aaron was a great man. Sam was a great man. I can tell you their faults, I can tell you their good points. All I can tell you, he was a great man. To be a man, you have to have fallacies.
Interviewer: How about Abe Wolman? Did you work with him?
Schiff: No. Wolman was before my time. You’re confusing charity with fundraising. Fundraising is only a part of charity.
Interviewer: That’s right. But these people have done their share.
Schiff: They’ve done their share but for people to go out and ask for the money, these are not the ones who are doing the planning.
Interviewer: What about Harry Gilbert? Did you . . . .
Schiff: Gilbert was before my time. I had a period of about 20 years in it. That was enough for me.
Interviewer: Tell me about your relationship with Chuck Lazarus.
Schiff: We are from two different schools. Chuck and I worked together when we had to. Chuck is of the doing end of it. That’s not charity. That’s raising funds.
Interviewer: You’ve held some national titles, Herb. You were with the JDC (Joint Distribution Committee.
Schiff: A national organization out of New York.
Interviewer: Was that the JDC?
Schiff: No it wasn’t. I’ll probably remember the names when you leave here today.
Interviewer: Did you play a role in the Federation’s large city budget planning (LCBC)?
Schiff: Budget planning, I didn’t. Raising of funds, I did. I never worried about a budget. A budget is . . . you put in a budget and say, this is what I want to do. Then you take a look at it and you can’t get those kinds of funds. So you figure out how you can nickel and dime the damn thing. That’s a budget. Actually, going out and asking for money – I would never ask for money against a budget. The average person does not like to give.
Interviewer: How about ORT? Do you have an interest in ORT?
Schiff: I prefer that I don’t go in print.
Interviewer: Tell me about the park in Jerusalem. The Betty and Herbert Schiff Park.
Schiff: I have never seen the park. I forget the name of the organization that came to me. Oh, yes, I have seen the park on a couple of occasions. They came to me and wanted a park for the children.
Interviewer: Who came to you?
Schiff: I forget right now but they came in and talked and I decided that I would go for the park and then I saw it as raw material and then I saw it as it developed, etc. And I think today . . . Any gift that I have ever given has gotten a better return than the park.
Interviewer: Do children play there?
Schiff: You see that’s what we all saw the park as. People go there to meditate. People go there to think. Do you remember that murder in South America? Just a couple years ago?
Schiff: It was a helluva disaster, wasn’t it? Well, it was a personal disaster for me because one of my best friend’s son was a Jewish leader from overseas. I went with that man and worked with that man for many years and did many things. The toughest thing I had to do with him was try to bring him back to the leader he was because he couldn’t get over mourning for his son.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Schiff: He’s dead. I’m trying to remember his name. If I remember his name, you’ll get it.
Interviewer: So he was a friend. His son was killed in South America.
Schiff: He was not only a friend. He was part of this professional, charitable people. He’s still alive but he sat Shiva for 30 days in my park. What else my park has done for people, that is an example.
Interviewer: So when it was dedicated . . .
Schiff: I wasn’t even at the dedication.
Interviewer: Teddy Kolick was there?
Schiff: Teddy was in everything.
Interviewer: Was he a personal friend?
Schiff: I would say he was a co-worker. Teddy was Teddy. He was the lord, the master, etc. but he was a very fine man. When you do these things, you’re motivated and you don’t even know you’re motivated. When you sit down with Teddy, you’re doing charitable business with Teddy. And I’m not talking dollars and cents but you also do dollars and cents with him. But you’re motivated to get something done. I’ve got an investment in Israel and I’m proud of it. But I’ve only seen it once or twice. I don’t know how many homes are there or . . . .
Interviewer: It’s a beautiful place.
Schiff: It’s a beautiful place. I’m not only talking about the park, there are other things. When you work for charity, if you’re working it to be Mr. Big, which a lot of people are, that’s one thing. But when you work a charity to get something done, is the world better because you had your hands on it?
Interviewer: That’s your motto.
Schiff: That’s my motto. I want it to be one little piece of dirt better, that’s all. When people come back and tell me about my park, it sets my heart up. You see so many awards around here. All these things . . . I’ve forgotten about them but it was part of my life.
Interviewer: Why don’t we discuss a couple of those, Herb?
Schiff: See if you can jog my memory. UJA you know very well.
Interviewer: This is the Columbus Jewish Foundation, Herb Schiff:, outgoing chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Schiff: I helped develop that. It had to be done.
Interviewer: So you helped found it in the beginning? With Ben Mandelkorn?
Schiff: That’s another interesting topic. Ben Mandelkorn.
Interviewer: Was he involved with the founding of the Foundation?
Schiff: I don’t think that there was anything done during his term of office in the city of Columbus, that Ben wasn’t in there and may have been the primary motivating force.
Interviewer: This is, United Jewish Appeal honors Herbert H. Schiff for distinguished service on the Board of Trustees, 1983-88. That is the National United Jewish Appeal.
Schiff: I worked for them. I worked for so many different people.
Interviewer: Here’s one to Herbert H. Schiff for Advancing, Understanding Among All People, presented by the American Jewish Committee. That was here in Sarasota. So you’ve been active here in Sarasota, as well.
Schiff: Yes. Here in Sarasota. I mostly tried to play the role behind the scenes. I’m no longer active in any charity.
Interviewer: Here’s one presented by the American Techneon Society. Here’s another one, the Prime Minister’s Club. That’s also UJA. Development of Israel through Israel Bonds. So you were involved with Israel Bonds.
Schiff: I tried, in my time, to be my brother’s keeper.
Interviewer: Here’s another one. Trees for Israel. That would be the gardens that you planted with the Jewish National Fund in Israel.
Schiff: Other people go to that.
Interviewer: Here’s the Yeshiva University and its Wurtzweiler School of Social Work.
Schiff: I was only head of that.
Interviewer: They gave you a citation of leadership. Here again is the Prime Minister’s Club, Israel Bond Program. This is the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.
Schiff: Why not? That’s a very interesting discussion. Many people believe because they are a Jew, that their responsibility is only to Jewish causes. Many forget their responsibility to the total community they live in . . . the state, the city, to the country, and to the world as a whole. You’ve got to open your life and you’ve got to work with people on that basis.
Interviewer: You should not be narrow in . . .
Schiff: The biggest bigots are Jews.
Interviewer: Sometimes very true. This is a photograph of someone graduating. Would this be your granddaughter graduating?
Schiff: That’s my granddaughter. That’s the brilliant one.
Interviewer: Where did she graduate from?
Schiff: That’s when she got her doctor’s degree. She is a doctor.
Interviewer: She is? Excellent. Behind here, we have the Declaration of Independence and it’s in Hebrew. Would that be the Declaration of Independence for the State of Israel?
Schiff: That’s right.
Interviewer: And this is an original copy that was presented to you by whom?
Schiff: This is in memory of what I accomplished. I’m not in any of that work anymore.
Interviewer: There’s some other things over here that I can’t quite reach. International Fund. Here’s something that was presented to Robert W. Schiff as a charter board member of the Columbus Jewish Welfare Foundation.
Schiff: You finally found it. Yes, that’s life.
Interviewer: The Columbus Jewish Welfare Foundation was the predecessor to the Columbus Jewish Foundation. So your father was also involved in the founding of that.
Schiff: Let me put it to you this way. I think that Robert W. Schiff was responsible for the modern organizing of Columbus Jewish charities. My father was mostly in Jewish charities. I would say 99% of the time. But I have been on all types of charities. Again, you’ve got to come back to my basic formula, I am my brother’s keeper and I don’t want ever to be kept by my brother.
Interviewer: I see there’s another very lovely award here, presented to Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Schiff for the generous support in the rededication of Beth Jacob Synagogue.
Schiff: That’s the proudest thing in my life.
Interviewer: Tell me about that.
Schiff: I don’t know whether people just want to look at Beth Jacob as an Orthodox Shul or if they want to take it from what it was to what it is today. I’m very proud. Rabbi Stavsky is my best friend. Because what they have done with people there – talk to Betty. We were at Beth Jacob affair and they got their hands into her. I think they sold her on being a Jew, finally.
Interviewer: Rabbi Stavsky, you say, is your best friend?
Schiff: Yes. I can talk to him frankly and know that the conversation is between us. I highly respect him as a man and as a Rabbi.
Interviewer: We were talking about Rabbi Stavsky being your best friend and being proud of the award you received from Beth Jacob. Yet, you don’t go to that synagogue on a regular basis.
Schiff: Don’t forget that Betty comes from a mixture of semi-Christians to a Jewish background of a Reform Jew. And I came from an Orthodox Jew into a Reform Jew and I don’t forget I’m Orthodox because I have the one basic theory, I am my brother’s keeper and I don’t want my brother keeping me.
Interviewer: You do support a number of Orthodox organizations.
Schiff: I support even Christian organizations. If you are your brother’s keeper, your brother must have a different theory than you. So you do what you can for people.
Interviewer: Who are some of the other people that you worked with throughout your life in charity, both locally and nationally?
Schiff: I’m trying to think of the name of a guy who was closest to me. If I can think of it, I’ll give it to you, because he played a big portion in my life. His name is David Zysman, he and I were as close as two brothers could be.
Interviewer: He’s not the person who lost his son in South America?
Schiff: Yes, he’s the one that lost his son. He’s crude, he’s rough and tough, he’s an egomaniac but what he’s done for the Jewish world, nationally and internationally. He’s been offered jobs that he wouldn’t take.
Interviewer: Is he still alive?
Schiff: David is still alive. He’s on retirement and I haven’t seen him in better than a year.
Interviewer: But his son was killed in South America?
Schiff: South America. David’s got an appearance of being a rough and tough man but take a look at what he’s accomplished.
Interviewer: Do you still communicate with him?
Schiff: Once in a while. In fact, when I get home, I probably will call him. I haven’t heard from him in a long time. He was a married man. He won’t talk about it but he must have had some severe tragedy in his life. He won’t talk about his son and I believe he’s still got a son. David devoted his life to people. He is one of the fortunate few that, in social work and other things, he made a fortune.
Interviewer: That’s hard to do.
Schiff: When he retired from the Yeshiva University, they went out and sought him. David is not an Orthodox Jew. No more than me being an Orthodox Jew. They don’t come to me for advice and counsel. But David sought me out and gave me this job. I ran the school and I ran it my way. I fought with the head and I always got my way. I reinstituted the school of teaching.
Interviewer: With Temple Israel, did you play an active role? Were you on the board? Were you ever president?
Schiff: No. You’re talking about the reform temple, now.
Interviewer: Bryden Road.
Schiff: I was never invited . . . I was active with Chuck Lazarus for a while.
Interviewer: Chuck Lazarus?
Schiff: Chuck Lazarus. But with Temple Israel, it’s more for Betty today. As far as I’m concerned, they don’t do enough to be Jewish and I’m not talking about following dietary laws or things like that. The old way of doing things is wrong, we’ll do it our way. But on the other hand, what they’ve been doing, if they weren’t there, look how many Jews wouldn’t have . . .
Interviewer: That’s right. They play a role for people.
Schiff: That’s the best way I can put it to you.
Interviewer: So you’ve never really been active in that particular temple?
Schiff: Behind the scenes, yes. You could not have a friendship with Chuck Lazarus years ago and not be drawn into the cause. If you’re going to print this, I’d like to say one thing because they don’t want to see it in print. They don’t want the world to know the goodness that they’re still doing.
Interviewer: Chuck Lazarus?
Schiff: I’m talking about the Lazarus family. They are modest people (I guess that’s the best word that I can use) but behind the scenes, they have a heart of gold.
Interviewer: What are some of your disappointments in your life of caring for others?
Schiff: Let me ask you this. Who remembers hurt?
Interviewer: No one wants to. Tell me your fondest memory.
Schiff: I don’t live in the past. I’ve got a letter here from one of my kids, I’ve got to explain that to them. The past is what brought you to the present.
Interviewer: That’s right.
Schiff: Once in a while you go back to it. If I go back to what I did ten or fifteen years ago . . .
Interviewer: You’ve given a lot of money over your lifetime, Herb and you’ve taken care of a lot of people. Has there been any outstanding event that you really, truly felt good about? That you were able to do this?
Schiff: You see, that’s a . . . I don’t want to say, dirty word. But when you’re doing something and you’re satisfied and happy, when you leave it, it’s still in you but you don’t remember because you’ve gone on to do something else good. So I don’t live in the past.
Interviewer: So there’s never been any particular act where you’ve said to yourself, thank G-d I’m in the position to be able to do that.
Schiff: You don’t have time to worry about that. When you’re doing something, you’re concerned that you may have missed something. You might not have done it. Anything that I’ve done . . . in fact, one of my friends accused me of abdicating. But when you’ve accomplished sufficient, you get out of the picture, it should be good enough for somebody else to carry it on. If it isn’t good enough for them, then you did it too good.
Interviewer: So you think that you have established a role model in yourself for others to follow?
Schiff: I would hope that others would follow it but a lot of people go into it for a personal amount of glory. If that’s what it is, the self-satisfaction that you have when you’re doing those things and you know that you have done them.
Interviewer: You and Betty have been extremely charitable. Are your children following in those footsteps?
Schiff: In their own manner, yes. If Patty was here, you would see what I’m talking about. Susie, in her own manner but she doesn’t talk about what she does. And they’re wealthy people. But in her own manner. And Jane, I don’t know what Jane is doing. But I do know that she knows she is her brother’s keeper. That’s all that matters.
Interviewer: They’ve learned that lesson well.
Schiff: By example. Even Betty, whose family at the price of leadership was I am. The price of leadership was never I am but What did I accomplish?
Interviewer: Who are some of the other people that you worked with over the years that you enjoyed? David Zysman was your favorite?
Schiff: I can’t remember names. It’s unfortunate. I’ve been with national leaders and international leaders all my life.
Interviewer: You’ve done some wonderful things for the Chabad House in Columbus, working with Rabbi Kaltman.
Schiff: Yes, in Columbus, as well as nationally and internationally. We’ve developed these things but I can’t remember names. If I meet somebody, I’d remember their faces and we’d talk about old times. I went from one thing to another. I’ve rehabilitated several organizations.
Interviewer: Do you have a strong feeling for Jewish education?
Schiff: Yes, I do but there’s a difference. When I was younger, I was motivated to help them improve. Today I do not do that work that way, by osmosis.
Interviewer: How about providing opportunities for young people to learn how to be Jewish?
Schiff: I will help people who are doing it with funds and with advice and counsel. I don’t get into the active part of developing anymore.
Interviewer: Do you feel it’s important that there be funds provided for Jewish education?
Schiff: I think it’s more important that we work from a basic aspect. I may be my brother’s keeper and I don’t want my brother to keep me. So if you’re working from that aspect, you want to provide opportunity for development. Now does opportunity for development mean giving them money? Does it mean giving of self? Does it mean introducing people to each other so something can be accomplished? That’s where I work now.
Interviewer: Providing programs?
Schiff: No. You see you come from a different school than I do. I’m coming from a fact, how can I be principal of a school?
Interviewer: What’s your opinion, Herb, of the demographic studies that have proved that, of Jewish marriages, over fifty percent are mixed marriages?
Schiff: That’s today. What’s tomorrow?
Interviewer: What’s happening with the children of these mixed marriages?
Schiff: Unfortunately, the fault lies with the parents. The parents weren’t Jewish but nobody watched. A child imitates what it sees, good and bad.
Interviewer: So the fault is there. Can we help it? Can we correct it?
Schiff: You can’t correct it. You can improve it. You can work hard on how to eliminate it but you can’t do anything else. As a person lives their life, whoever has life, might find being exposed to all religions, to all people.
Interviewer: Gave you a better understanding.
Schiff: I don’t defend Judaism. I tell people about it. I try to get them to understand it and like it. But I don’t defend it. The average Jewish person says look at that goy but he’s worse than that goy when he says that. But he doesn’t know it because you’re living in his world and if his world fails, what kind of world are you going to have to live in? That’s why I’m active behind the scenes in community work and things like that. And we don’t understand it. If you were in Israel, they are the most boring people in the world. I am the Lord, thy G-d, I brought you out of bondage, etc, etc. But actually, are they really that? Or is it our American dollar that’s keeping them?
Interviewer: That’s a good question.
Schiff: And that’s the way I look at it. I worked with them, too.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to the way the world is, today. Where there are so many mixed marriages and of the mixed marriages, many of the children of these marriages are not receiving Jewish education. Is there anything we can do to help that mixed marriage couple?
Schiff: I wish everybody worked with their children the way I worked with my daughters. And that is, you can’t lead them, you can’t tell them and you can’t demand but as you live, so shall they follow.
Interviewer: So you feel that the example of the parent is the most important.
Schiff: I feel it very closely because my three daughters are very actively working in Jewish operations in the community services.
Interviewer: So let’s say that the parents failed in their obligation.
Schiff: Let me look at it this way. We’re living in a country of prosperity. People who developed this country of prosperity are no longer alive. So they took it into that prosperity above where it had been and they developed all these beautiful things. Now here are the children of them. The one thing that they didn’t do was aspire their children about their activities. My children tried to emulate me. So if I did anything good, I created these children to go out in their generation and make Jewish life better.
Interviewer: Which is wonderful and that’s the way it should be.
Schiff: And that goes for the Christian world, too.
Interviewer: But some people have failed in their obligation and now we have a product of mixed marriages and children growing up without Jewish education. Should we, as a community, do something?
Schiff: I can tell you that developed from the fact that they want you to live as their grandparents lived instead of saying look at where you’re living and how well you are living and what can you do to make the rest of the world complete? Someday I’m going to take you to lunch and I’m going to show you a chair and I want you to read what is on the back of that chair. And then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
Interviewer: Where is this chair?
Schiff: In the building where I work, the Huntington Center, in the restaurant, the Capital Club, where I eat lunch, breakfast and sometimes dinner. This is Herb Schiff’s domain. It was put on the back of the chair by the president of its Huntington Bank located in the building.
Interviewer: Huntington Bank?
Schiff: Frank Wobst. He personally put it on there.
Interviewer: He did? Why?
Schiff: Because that was a thank you, Herb for being part of our world.
Interviewer: Frank Wobst has just done something very interesting. He was a major player in raising money to rebuild the synagogue in Dresden, Germany.
Schiff: He’s of German descent.
Interviewer: He was born in Dresden.
Schiff: Please drop me a note, make sure it’s sitting on my desk when I get back to Columbus. I want to call Frank. I want to buy him lunch and I want to thank him.
Interviewer: I’ll do that. I’d like to continue with our discussion because this is a national problem that there are so many children being born to mixed married couples and they are being raised without Jewish education. How can we, this community of Columbus, this country of the United States, help see that these children receive a Jewish education?
Schiff: Let me ask this. Where did it fail? Did it fail in our generation? Or did it fail in the generation before us?
Interviewer: It failed in the generation before us. Now we have to do something.
Schiff: You have to do more of the same with developing Jews.
Interviewer: So do you think that programs for these young people who are of mixed marriages . .
Schiff: No. I would say that you would go to these people and say that these children have got two types of blood in them. And it’s not up to us to decide what they’re going to be. Not you, but them and we’d like to expose them to their heritage.
Interviewer: And how do we do that?
Schiff: You go into the homes. You go into the churches. Don’t you people understand that I don’t only give to Jewish charities?
Interviewer: That’s why I’m asking your opinion.
Schiff: They look at me and accept me because I am Jewish but I am my brother’s keeper. What we have to do is in our children, say G-d, this is fine. However, you have this blood and we apologize to you that we haven’t taught you your blood. This is in your blood. And let them be proud that, they’re of Jewish heritage. Give them a background and give them things that they can show to their friends but don’t give it to them so they can show it to their friends but in the hope that they will show it to their friends.
Interviewer: In other words, provide situations for these children so they can be exposed . . .
Schiff: Why can’t they be called in by the Shul or this or that and say we want a meeting of Christians and Jews. That is one of the things that the Reform Jews do that the Conservative and Orthodox don’t do.
Interviewer: Maybe we should start doing that.
Schiff: Damn right. Ask your children to bring a group of people to Shul. Especially during the High Holidays, where there is dancing and things like that.
Interviewer: I agree with you, Herb, because I’ve been very active in the youth group at Agudas Achim By exposing . . . .
Schiff: By exposure, invite the Christian children in and let them go home singing Ain Kelohanu. But don’t try to teach them Ain Kalohanu. Expose them to it. Don’t force.
Interviewer: You’re not going to force but you encourage.
Schiff: Why do the goyim come to me?
Schiff: Because I have apathy for them. And this is what your children can do.
Interviewer: It’s important that we keep Jews. We can’t lose them.
Schiff: You keep Jews by example. You pick up a newspaper article and you say, Ain’t that a shame that a Jew wasn’t part of this.
Interviewer: Maybe they didn’t reach out to the Jewish people.
Schiff: The Jewish people didn’t expose themselves so they could reach out to them. I put the blame on the Jew. What are we doing for them? Why would Frank Wobst, head of the bank, come into my office and talk to me? I’m a Jewish boy. But he admires my brain power and he feels I have something to give to him and he feels that I don’t want anything for it. What do we do? We walk around saying, G-d damn, goy. We’ve got to start taking a look. Why don’t you bring them to some affairs?
Interviewer: Expose them. Let them see.
Schiff: I think we’re doing a bit of it in Temple Israel. We’re inviting the goyim. I know they’ve come a long way. That is what brings it about. When the gentiles have an affair, why not send them money?
Interviewer: You’ve made Talmuds available to many, many people and organizations.
Schiff: Hoping at least one will read one paragraph.
Interviewer: So your father was an Orthodox Jew and he truly taught you the meaning of tzdakah.
Schiff: That’s right. But if we want to get along better with the goyim, stop looking at the fact that they’re better than we are and we want what they’ve got. Stop looking at the fact that we want satisfaction from them and we want them to help us solve our problems. Lets’ look at what we can do for them.
Interviewer: Maybe they look at us in the same way.
Schiff: They are. I’m not a goy.
Interviewer: Maybe they look at Jewish people as having all the money, owning all the big stores.
Schiff: Do you know the story of my Talmuds?
Interviewer: No, tell me.
Schiff: Two years ago, a guy came into my office, I think he was brought in by other people and he admitted he was making Talmuds. This was his business, making Talmuds. And I bought them, I’ll show you one or two. And every time anybody comes into my office – I don’t care who they are – I give them a copy of these newly printed Talmuds. There might be eleven or twelve books. I give it to them. I’ve got it in most of the synagogues, in the city. I give it to them here.
Interviewer: Here in Sarasota?
Schiff: Yes, the reform temple. And all of a sudden, they come to me and I said, look, forget me, and they said, why? I said, you’ve forgotten my Talmuds. They said, Your Talmuds? We never saw your Talmuds. I said, well, I’ll show you letters from your rabbis, thanking me for sending them. Now they have exposed the congregations of the Talmud and the Talmuds are an interpretation of the Talmud and they get it in sixteen or eighteen languages.
Interviewer: It’s printed in that many languages?
Schiff: Yes. I’ve given away at least a hundred of them.
Schiff: Sets. That’s the way you do it. Your kid’s going to school and he tells you about this Christian thing. Ask him if they would like my Talmud. I’ll show it to you.
Interviewer: So you have them in the schools, as well?
Schiff: Schools, homes, libraries. Wherever somebody . . . .
Interviewer: Synagogue libraries? Public libraries?
Schiff: Public libraries.
Interviewer: That’s amazing. That’s wonderful.
Schiff: But I don’t want to give them down here. Nobody is going to read them. I don’t know why we don’t have these pictures up.
Interviewer: Your walls are pretty full, Herb. You have to rotate like they do in the galleries.
Schiff: You see Jewish all over here. When somebody walks in this home, it’s a Jewish home. Not only that but it rubs off on them when they go up and look at them.
Interviewer: That’s very true. When people set examples . . . many times when publicity is done .
Schiff: But we don’t expose our children to them.
Interviewer: That’s our mistake.
Schiff: If our children can’t say, My parents have the new Talmuds in, would you like to come over and take a look at them? That’s where it begins, with the children. The best you can do is help them inform a few people but you can teach people to be things.
Interviewer: How have your religious views changed over the years? From when you were a young man in 1945 to today?
Schiff: You’ve got to remember my background. I came out of an Orthodox Jewish family who had gone into Conservative Judaism and were on their way to Reform. When my mother died in 1928, within two years, I was sent away to a Christian school and I never realized I was a Jew until a fellow came up to me one day in school and said, Shut up, you god damn Jew. It turned out he was Jewish.
Interviewer: Why did he do that?
Schiff: Because he was ashamed he was a Jew. He was ashamed of his background. It started with his parents. It all starts in the home. Betty wouldn’t be as Jewish as she is if it wasn’t for my influence on her. An yet, she’s going to have a meeting here and a meeting there, a Lion of Judah here and a Lion of Judah there, this and that, and I sit here and I laugh. She doesn’t realize that the goyish Jew she was when I married her, she’s now a Jewess.
Interviewer: So you’ve been a good example for your wife. How about your children? Do they . . .
Schiff: You’re asking the wrong person. Why don’t you ask them what they’re doing in their communities? And ask them one question. Did your father or mother tell you to do this?
Interviewer: I think I know the answers to those questions.
Schiff: The answer is no.
Interviewer: And I believe they’re probably very much involved.
Schiff: So if you want to teach children to be Jewish . . . even their goyish Jewish friends, you’ve got to expose them to this. And I’ve yet to find one who hasn’t come into the fold. Their way.
Interviewer: Do you think that we’re doing a good job of keeping Jews?
Schiff: Just by what you’re doing.
Interviewer: That’s very important so that in future years, people can connect and identify.
Schiff: I hope every person who is a non-believer will have somebody say, shut-up, you G-d damn Jew.
Interviewer: What did that do for you, Herb?
Schiff: Irritated me.
Interviewer: What did you say to him?
Schiff: I didn’t say a word to him. But look at my record.
Interviewer: Did that make you try harder?
Interviewer: Did you have any other experiences with anti-Semitic feelings doing business?
Schiff: Very few because I say, Ich bin a Yid.
Interviewer: What does that mean?
Schiff: I am a Jew. That’s the way I talk to them. I throw it out. You don’t want to do business with me, I’m a Jew, G-d damn you. I don’t hesitate to do it.
Interviewer: So you think we’re doing a fairly decent job today?
Schiff: No. I’ll tell you what’s being done. We have a certain amount of Jewish people that were brought up with the theory that they should be ashamed of being Jewish. And they’re demanding and asking and it’s happening in Temple Israel where there are mixed services.
Interviewer: Mixed services?
Schiff: Where the gentiles have been invited in. But if we really want to succeed, we can turn around to our children and say, what can we do for your friends who are not Jewish? How can we show them? We have a Chanukah affair that is beautiful in Judaism. We can expose them to that. All they read are the bad things in the press.
Interviewer: True. And the television.
Schiff: Have Jewish programs on television.
Interviewer: That’s important. So people who are out there working for Jewish education and to help people identify with Judaism, you have a fondness for helping them.
Schiff: You’ve got to expose them to what you are. My friends admire and respect me and that includes my personal friends because of what I do. And those that dislike me, dislike me because of what I’m doing. Because I’m shaking up their world.
Interviewer: Do you think it’s important to have programs, along with Jewish education to learn how to be a Jew? Do you think it’s important to have programs on Holocaust education?
Schiff: Yes, because that will remain. But give it both the positive and negative. Don’t show them all the positive. That’s wrong. Jews are as bad as Christians. Worse than Christians.
Interviewer: I guess we’re all human beings, right?
Schiff: That’s right.
Interviewer: So do you feel that Holocaust education is important for Jews as well as non-Jews?
Schiff: If you start when they get that bottle of milk in their mouth with a little label, they can start at that point. That’s where the future is.
Interviewer: That’s very true. Is there anything else, Herb, that you would like to talk about as far as religion goes? Or charity? Your commitment to helping others.
Schiff: You have to have it in you at an early age, that I am my brother’s keeper and God forbid the day that my brother keeps me.
Interviewer: You’re very proud of what you’ve been able to do to help others.
Schiff: People do not come to me and say, Herb, why the differences? They come to me and say, Herb, can you explain the differences?
Interviewer: You feel that people not only come to you for money, but they also come to you for advice.
Schiff: Advice and counsel. Have you ever been to my office?
Schiff: Have you ever seen me open the window and take a look at the westside of the city? And I say, that’s what we’ve got to do.
Interviewer: I’ve never seen you do that.
Schiff: The next time you’re there, let me show you the west side of the city.
Interviewer: What should be done with the west side?
Schiff: What am I doing? Every time a politician or anybody comes into my office about the community, etc, I take them to my window and I say, repair that. I show them the West side of the city and I say, why should the east side of the city look better than the west side of the city? What can we do for the west side? And it’s going to fall on somebody’s ears that’s going to do something someday.
Interviewer: What do you think they should do?
Schiff: It’s got to be as nice living as the eastside of the city. Convince some of us people on the eastside of the city to bring our friends and live on the west side of the city.
Interviewer: Why do you suppose the west side of the city didn’t develop like the eastside?
Schiff: I think the city developed because of a phenomenon. The last flood destroyed a good portion of the west side and it was never rebuilt. The people that sit on the west side are not the ones that can make the community. They can break the community, can’t make the community. And we’ve done nothing to put community funds into redeveloping the west side and putting up projects there. Let’s take some of our schools and some of our other things to build them in there and let these people have at least 50% occupancy.
Interviewer: When you look at our city, most of the wealthy people do live on the eastside and now the northeast side of the area. Why do they choose east and not west?
Schiff: It was a phenomenon.
Interviewer: The flood? Why did the Jews go east and not west to settle?
Schiff: Who wants to live that way?
Interviewer: This goes back to say, 1840, when the first Jews came to Columbus. Why did they choose east and not west?
Schiff: Osmosis. That area was flooded all the time up until about 35 or 40 years ago. Every time heavy rain came, rain went over the wall to the west side of the city and went down in the lowlands.
Interviewer: So that’s the lowlands of the area?
Schiff: Not only that, where did we put the penitentiary?
Interviewer: On the west side.
Schiff: Who wants their children next to criminals?
Interviewer: Ok, that’s very good. So the eastside developed back in those days because it was higher ground.
Schiff: Higher ground. We had floods. In your time and my time, we haven’t had floods in Columbus. But until they built those walls up, nobody wanted to bring anybody in to look at the west side. You know what I’ve done? I’ve got a protégée. His ambition is to go very high in government. He says, How can I do it? And I say, Get yourself a cause and he says, What do you mean? I take him – I’ve done this four or five times – I show him the west side of the city and say, Are you proud of that? When you start doing something for the west side of the city, you’ll become the most unpopular cus in the world but someday you’ll be of great honors. When you can improve the west side. Do you want to do it as a politician?
Interviewer: Do you want to share your protégée’s name?
Schiff: I’ll have to give it to you in Columbus.
Interviewer: What’s his reaction to that suggestion?
Schiff: So far, nothing.
Interviewer: Do you think it’s doable?
Schiff: Over a fifty year period. But why would you want to live in the low land? But there’s high ground on the other side of the west side. But we don’t put any of our buildings there, we have none of the things that should be there.
Interviewer: Close to the west side is the new COSI.
Schiff: Maybe that’ll have some influence.
Interviewer: Maybe that will help to start to bring people.
Interviewer: So you think the west side has potential for Columbus?
Schiff: I think it’s the greatest place to bring somebody up but somebody’s got to get involved in the real estate business to develop it there.
Interviewer: And the schools have to be improved.
Schiff: You’ve got to build that land up.
Interviewer: What do you think of Morrie Portman as a politician, a city councilman for Columbus?
Schiff: I think Morrie was good. I don’t know how far Morrie wanted to go, whether Morrie believed in the principal Ich bin a Yid. He did do well for the community. I don’t think he moved a step further in the Jewish – Christian relationship.
Interviewer: So you feel we have more work to do in that area in our city?
Schiff: You have to do some of the things that Temple Israel was doing. Bring the Christians into Jewish organizations. Don’t worry about the other thing. Have mixed affairs at your temple, your homes. You weren’t here when we threw our party.
Schiff: All I can tell you, we didn’t have a permit to throw that party. We do it every year on New Year’s Day and we have people out there parking cars all over. There wasn’t a neighbor who objected to the cars parking in front of their homes. Now what does that tell you?
Interviewer: You must have invited all the neighbors.
Schiff: They were all invited. Some of them came.
Interviewer: And they were a Jewish – Christian mixture?
Schiff: Yep. Not too many Christians.
Interviewer: Do you think this is a role for the Federation to be concerned about?
Schiff: Why am I giving the Federation money? Why should their problems just be limited to the problems that they look at? Why don’t they want to make the Jews’ lives better? And the Jews be accepted as an equal in the city of Columbus? Why do they shy away from that? Are they ashamed of being a Jew? That’s my answer to you.
Interviewer: Fair enough. Very good. What more do you want to do?
Schiff: I lost all that spirit.
Interviewer: You’ve lost the conquering spirit. But what more . . . what help do you want to do?
Schiff: My office door is open to anybody on any topic . . . what help do you want?
Interviewer: How about religion wise?
Schiff: How would I get into religious work? I believe in my youth, I proved what I could do. At this particular point, I don’t want somebody to call me a silly old man.
Interviewer: Did you ever think about having a second Bar Mitzvah?
Schiff: To me, that’s just a show. The important thing is, when somebody comes into my office and we give them a copy of the Talmud.
Interviewer: You have a good philosophy, Herb. Last night, I was thinking over, as we discussed yesterday, some of the names that were affiliated with the Schiff: Shoes and the Shoe Corporation and a name came to my mind that I would like to ask you about. His name is Alex Strugevsky.
Schiff: You’re hitting a bell. I think I can put something together with it. Alex wasn’t a big man, he was a small man. The way Alex walked around, if I’m thinking of the proper person, he didn’t impress you. I get a few of them coming in my office all the time. They’re not asking for money. They’re asking for recognition or something indirectly, they don’t even know they’re asking. They come in my office. I think it’s a tragedy because something didn’t happen in his home when he was a kid.
Interviewer: Going back to Alex, I have heard – I don’t know if this is true – Alex was supposed to be a very brilliant man. So brilliant that he had a breakdown and had difficulty keeping a job and he worked in the warehouse for Shoe Corporation.
Schiff: That was the spot where he’d get the greatest hazing because that was all his mind could conquer when actually his body and his personal feelings – he could be a big man – and it was just a tragedy and thank God that these types of people are a very small percentage of our population. I think this responsibility belongs to the health organizations and the Jewish organizations concerned about people.
Interviewer: Did you provide menial types of jobs for people . . . .
Schiff: Today I couldn’t . . .
Interviewer: Before . . .
Interviewer: Would you find a spot for someone like that?
Schiff: We had a lot of them working for us. But what could they throw? Cases of shoes around, that’s all.
Interviewer: There was another name that came to my mind from my younger days – Saul Komersar.
Schiff: Saul was a different type of person. He was my protégée. Saul left us for greater fields. Saul came from a Jewish family that had little or nothing. Saul and I parted a long time ago, over what, I don’t know.
Interviewer: He was your protégée. Were you training him to . . .
Schiff: When I call him a protégée, he wasn’t in training. A protégée, to me, is a guy you pick out of the pack and have high hopes for. But I don’t know what he’s doing. I assume he’s successful.
Interviewer: So he elected to leave and go elsewhere.
Schiff: Well, you’ve got to have a percentage that do that.
Interviewer: Of course. They learn and go elsewhere.
Schiff: Their ambition is greater than what you feel.
Interviewer: And that’s ok.
Schiff: I’m not worried about that. I’m not worried about the man that has succeeded in what he is doing.
Interviewer: It means you did a good job.
Schiff: That’s right. Their importance to themselves may be greater than you feel it is. I only hope he says good things about me because I try to say good things about him.
Interviewer: I haven’t seen the family for years and years.
Schiff: I haven’t either.
Interviewer: Herb, do you have anything else to say about your religion or your tzdakah?
Schiff: My tzdakah is because my heart tells me so. My religion, I think that we made a mistake and we’ve got to take a look as Jews where our weakness comes. Why we don’t attract more. What are we failing in that. It’s a subject that has to be studied thoroughly. You just can’t have affairs that you have Christian people at but don’t forget you’re living in a Christian world. You can only hope in that Christian world, that they have prosperity for the rest of their lives and that ain’t going to take place.
Interviewer: It is January 7, 1999 and this is tape number 5 of the oral history of Herbert H. Schiff. Today we will revisit some thoughts related to the Schiff Company. We will also discuss travels of Betty and Herb and review some of the highlights of places they have visited around the world. Then we will discuss Herb’s retirement which brings us to this current date.
Interviewer: We discussed, yesterday, the charitable aspect of your life. Is there anything you would like to add to that today?
Interviewer: Then we’re going to revisit the Schiff Shoe Company. Yesterday, you said that the company was built by and upon, Robert W. Schiff.
Schiff: That’s correct.
Interviewer: And you said that jealousy came into play along the way.
Schiff: Let me explain this to you. It’s a horrible thing but it’s the true nature of mankind. Once you get into a situation whereby you are extremely successful and a group of people develop with you, they all feel that you’re equal or you’re superior. When they don’t move, they have problems and when the boss decided that his son was going to run the business one day, that’s when the jealousy really started. These were my teachers and this will happen anyplace you go where you have a family business. They feel their future has been cut off. They don’t feel it up here. It permeates the entire system and it becomes a very difficult thing. As you flub on a job and somebody else comes on and does it right, you don’t like it.
Interviewer: So that’s when things sort of started to go downhill?
Schiff: That and the fact that they had been so successful. And they had money in their pockets after they went to work, not before they went to work.
Interviewer: You said then the company became obsolete. Were you meaning with the new technological inventions?
Schiff: No. Obsolete with people.
Interviewer: Meaning that people weren’t . . . .
Schiff: History will show that when you have great success, there is great failure that follows. You get weak upstairs, which made you and the money start playing funny tricks.
Interviewer: You aren’t hungry anymore?
Schiff: I feel that if you have somebody who’s hungry, they’re going to do a better job than somebody that’s already got it or a refugee from his retirement. It just doesn’t work. You’ve got to be hungry. You’ve got to want to succeed. You’ve got to be a lion, you’ve got to be a bear, you’ve got to be a killer.
Interviewer: So it wasn’t the coming of the computer and the new way of doing business?
Schiff: No. It was the people. The company was built upon Robert’s relatives and the success of the company was their success, which is true but on the other hand, they didn’t understand that they had become obsolete. And it was a very difficult thing. It brings tears to my eyes when we talk about it. These men, in their own day, were good. They were hard workers -they worked that damn clock around plus. They didn’t work five days a week, they worked seven days a week. And the reward was, a young guy came in, the boss’ son, took over the business. Where were the opportunities for their children? All of these things were in their minds, not consciously but subconsciously. Hell, we could do it better. What the hell is he finding out our mistakes for? They didn’t realize they had become obsolete. Success had gone to their heads. It’s as simple as that. It happens everywhere. That’s why people say they don’t want relatives in the business.
Interviewer: When did you begin to see this happening?
Schiff: I didn’t see that happening per se. I’m giving you an observation of a man that’s been away from it 25 or 30 years. I didn’t understand it in those days.
Interviewer: You didn’t understand . . . .?
Schiff: That there was obsolescence and that there was this heavy competition. I didn’t have time. I was working too hard.
Interviewer: When did you decide to dissolve the company? What made you make the decision?
Schiff: Because we had become obsolete to our own ego.
Interviewer: So then you did eventually realize that there were problems?
Schiff: The rebuilding process wouldn’t offset the other person going into the proposition. They will go through the same obsolescence. Where are the great companies of yesterday? They’re all gone.
Interviewer: Same reason?
Schiff: Same reason. It’s inevitable.
Interviewer: Yesterday, you mentioned Denny Tishkoff.
Schiff: He’s my protégée. He’s running his own business, his own way, in the old shell.
Schiff: He’s got the old buildings, he’s got some of the people and he’s doing it his way. And when Denny Tishkoff reaches his peak, he should sell his business.
Interviewer: Do I understand that as you were dissolving the company, Denny purchased it?
Schiff: No. He didn’t purchase the company, it was dissolved. Whatever he’s got, it’s his own creation.
Interviewer: So when you dissolved the company, the buildings became for sale.
Schiff: We didn’t own any property. There was no real estate involved. It was an easy liquidation. It wasn’t a planned liquidation but it was an easy one.
Interviewer: What exactly did Denny Tishkoff pick up?
Schiff: Denny became a man of his own. His ambition as a shoe operation was in front of him. He wanted it and he wanted it developed. The business he developed is not the old Schiff Company. The business that he’s developed is as he sees it. It’s not built on the ashes of the old Schiff Company. Schiff Company was gone.
Interviewer: Did he work for you?
Schiff: Denny was my protégée. He first took over the warehouse, etc, etc. and he built a national business. My understanding with him was whenever he wanted advice and counsel, he’d come in and ask for it. This was very rare. He doesn’t come in and cry about his problems. He solves his problems.
Interviewer: How long did he work with you?
Schiff: I can’t tell you how long from the time he got out of high school and worked and he may have worked in the warehouse. But this was what he wanted.
Interviewer: Is there anything else about the shoe company that you’d like to talk about?
Schiff: The Schiff Company was a family business. As long as family was happy to be family, fine, until jealousy or weakness comes in. I think the greatest distruction is money. Can you imagine people having nothing and then all of a sudden, having something? And they say, look how big it is. I’m unable to do this and he’s got the job. I got the job for only one reason, I was Robert Schiff’s son and they were lazy.
Interviewer: Was Denny Tishkoff a relative?
Schiff: No. Denny was a new breed of pup.
Interviewer: Did you pick him out as a protégée?
Schiff: No, he picked me.
Interviewer: He picked you? And you worked well together?
Schiff: Yes. Denny was not a top executive when I was around. Denny was coming up the ladder. He picked the shoe business because he wanted the shoe business. Whatever he’s got, he developed on his own. I admire and respect him.
Interviewer: Is he still in the shoe business today?
Schiff: Yes, he is. Used to be, when he had a problem, he came to papa. Now he solves his own problems his own way.
Interviewer: That is probably what you would like for him to do.
Schiff: That’s what has to be done and he’s going to face that someday. He’s going to have to make decisions. And I’ll bet someplace along the line, he sells that business.
Interviewer: Possibly. Let’s move on, Herb. You and Betty have traveled to many places around the world.
Schiff: I had a father who I wouldn’t say had an inferiority complex. But I think he had a security complex and he was a foreigner who came over and developed his own way. He left a world that I don’t think he was proud of. As a result, he did go away with Ann a few times but I don’t think he felt comfortable and I don’t think he wanted to go back. Therefore, when I had the freedom, I wanted to move and I wanted to see. And I did. As I explained to you the other day about not being able to get to where they were born. You see, I’m a phenomenon. Both my mother and father were born in the same community. My mother’s father was a top distiller in Lithuania and they closed down the shop three times. Three times they went to get into the boat and three times, they left the shop open. They moved here and apparently, a lot of foreigners have it. Sometimes I have apathy for them, not empathy but apathy. I define empathy as being sorrowful, apathy is understanding in spite of the fact that they’re in trouble or maybe against any of my principles. But they came over here and this was the land of milk and honey. My mother was born here. Her parents were over here longer.
Interviewer: In other words, her parents left Lithuania and came to Cincinnati and she was born .
Schiff: An American citizen.
Interviewer: Rebecca Lurie was born an American citizen. Now your father’s parents . . . .?
Schiff: My father’s parents . . . well, my father was an extremely brilliant man and perhaps too smart for his own environment. He was an ambitious man and if he hadn’t been sent to the United States – pushed out of the country – I think he would have ended up in prison.
Interviewer: I know that you tried to get back to the community where your parents came from but you were unsuccessful.
Schiff: That was only the first attempt.
Interviewer: So you’re going to try it again?
Schiff: I’ll try again and pre-plan it.
Interviewer: Let’s go back a little way. You were a hard-working, young man. You went away to school and now I’d like to discuss your travels around the world. Do you remember the first trip that you took away from home, not counting going away to school? The first planned trip, vacation?
Schiff: Unfortunately, I can’t.
Interviewer: Do you remember your honeymoon?
Schiff: I can’t. But what I do, in the back of my mind, I buried today and tomorrow because you can’t live in the past. That’s what destroyed the Schiff Company.
Interviewer: You’ve seen many wonderful sights around the world.
Schiff: I’ve seen the beauty of the world. I’ve helped the beauties of the world develop. I’ve actively worked at them.
Interviewer: What was your favorite trip? Your favorite country?
Schiff: None. To me, to be with other people and to have your brain tested and knowledge tested, just as you’re doing to me right now. To me, that is a very big challenge.
Interviewer: Have you been to Australia?
Schiff: Unfortunately not. I’ve been to the far West. I’ve been all around the world but Australia is one country I haven’t been to.
Interviewer: Do you have a desire to go there?
Schiff: No. Practically every country I went to, I had a reason to go.
Interviewer: Was that based on business?
Schiff: Based upon my desire, and my charitable desires.
Interviewer: Let’s just pick a country, let’s say, Greece.
Schiff: No, let’s approach it from another angle, why. And the why is, I am my brother’s keeper and I’ve got to see my brother and understand my brother. And that’s the why. I’m not there for any average reason. If I’d go to another country, I’d try to find my people.
Interviewer: You’d seek out the synagogues . . . .?
Schiff: Yes, but the last few years Betty and I have traveled, I haven’t done that.
Interviewer: Do you plan to take more trips? Do you have places you still want to go?
Schiff: Well, there are two questions. I have no reason to doubt how healthy I am. Secondly, I have a wife who can’t get into the nitty gritty so when we go to those countries, we meet with people, pre-planned. We talk to them for a while, we break bread with them and we find out where we differ and we find out where we’re the same. And that’s what we do in those countries. We don’t go there to help people. We go there to see, to find out but not act. We don’t go with any reason that we have to go. I don’t need the income tax deduction.
Interviewer: Do you think you’ll go back to Israel? Would you like to return there?
Schiff: I don’t know whether I would or I wouldn’t. I would like to return to Israel 200 years from now.
Interviewer: To see how it’s progressed?
Schiff: It will be a different country because they’re average people. They’re not refined like us people and they can’t be refined like us people because they’re trying to prove to the world that they are the greatest. And now they are prosperous and prosperity brings hate, anger, fear, jealousy, heavy competition and then that world levels off just as we have. And if you can tell me that we don’t have anyone of those little things I outlined to you in this country, today, you’re crazy. And that’s what’s going to happen there. I don’t know how far they are to that level of finding themselves and for their own sake, I hope that they never reach it. If history is true, they’re pretty damn close to it now.
Interviewer: Do you think the country will survive?
Schiff: I definitely believe the country will survive and I think it will follow the pattern of the United States. But the United States you and I see, today, is not the United States of the early days. It’s not even the United States when I went to preparatory school. We were still fighting for survival to be the tops. But that’s not the case today. Today we’re fat headed. Prosperity makes you fat headed, unfortunately.
Interviewer: Did you and Betty take family trips with your children?
Schiff: No, we haven’t. I think it’s a thing she would love to do. But each one of my children has a different approach to life. The closest thing I can answer to what I think you’re probing for . . . do we get together with our children?
Interviewer: When they were younger. Did you travel with them when they were younger?
Schiff: No. They had the same impression of me that I had of my father. We were growing too fast and therefore, in their minds, I didn’t have enough time for them. The opposite side of that is what’s happened down here. The opposite side is Patty and Richard were told by me that I didn’t want them in any of my possessions. They decided to come down here on their own and we were vacationing down here. Little by little, the beautiful friendship that we have today, developed. It didn’t develop because I wanted it, it developed because Betty wanted it and Patty and Richard wanted it. And it’s a beautiful relationship. He doesn’t call me dad, he calls me Herb.
Interviewer: That’s a wonderful thing that you’ve been able to do that.
Schiff: The years down here have been a pleasure. It’s a pleasure to be with Patty. You can put this in there. I brought Patty into my office. She comes in once every few months and she sits down and she works with me and she works with our people. We’ve had one particular meeting down here for two or three days. We’re coming in with year-end results. When? Next week, Patty will be around. Something happens to me and they will take her management. But it’s a slow, tedious process. This is the third year.
Interviewer: But she’s a very good learner and she wants to learn.
Schiff: Yes. And they depend upon her. What’s Patty going to do when she has to find their successors? Interesting question, isn’t it?
Interviewer: What do you think?
Schiff: Well, she’s going to have to meet but first she has to prove to us that she can conquer it and manage it.
Interviewer: I’m sure she’s very capable.
Schiff: You know, you can be an extremely capable person but just like when they threw me into managing things, I didn’t know anything about it. You make a multitude of mistakes and you don’t even know you’re making them and you don’t even know that those people who should be helping you, are your worst enemies.
Interviewer: Everybody makes mistakes. That’s how we learn.
Schiff: And everybody’s got worst enemies and everybody’s got good friends. There’s a question in my mind, when you bring this up, how long can you keep your management position? You’re not sending anybody else out on the road.
Interviewer: That’s true.
Schiff: So I’ll work with Patty. I believe this is her challenge. I believe she can conquer it. My people are with her and they know what I’m doing. But I’m trying to provide a reason for it to continue because the only reason I have it now is because it supports me.
Interviewer: So you want to make sure it continues?
Schiff: No, I don’t want to rule the future.
Interviewer: You just want there to be a future.
Schiff: Not necessarily. If there is a future, it’s going to be their future for their things. Patty is damn interested but she’s learning it from the fundamental background. She sits in on our meetings. The last meeting we had was here. We had two straight days of meetings on . . . this is not a company now. This is my own personal relationships. And she’s learning and learning it and they’re absorbing because they know they have a job after I’m dead.
Interviewer: That’s very good, Herb, because you’re doing, basically, what your father did. You’re training . . . .
Schiff: No, no. My father brought me into a business that was already operating. I’m bringing her into an office that’s going to do nothing but manage my estate.
Interviewer: But you want her to be knowledgeable.
Schiff: I want her to be knowledgeable and I want the people to welcome her because she’s going to have to bring in their successors. Whether she needs all of them or a little of them, I don’t know. But she has the knowledge.
Interviewer: That’s good and it’s good that she has the opportunity to work with you.
Schiff: She even arranges the meetings with them now.
Interviewer: That’s very good. Herb, you must have had some lifetime goals along the way.
Schiff: No, I wanted to beat the old bastard. That was the only goal.
Interviewer: You made a statement the other day, that you would like to know that you have made a slight difference in this world.
Schiff: That’s the way I’ve lived my life. Just be a little pinpoint.
Interviewer: So that would be a lifetime goal of yours?
Schiff: I believe it’s being accomplished.
Interviewer: You believe you are accomplishing that?
Schiff: Well, no. Let me put it to you this way, is the city of Columbus better since I returned?
Interviewer: Absolutely. You’ve made a mark there.
Schiff: Does that answer your question? Socially, with all the problems we had in the community, we became a well-organized community. Everybody thinks that they did their jobs. Everybody’s got a goal that is a much bigger thing than they ever imagined it would be but it isn’t having a little meeting, saying how are we going to get dollars out of somebody? We don’t do that. We meet, we take care of our problems and we say to ourselves, now will the world be better at the end of this year?
Interviewer: That’s definitely a lifetime goal.
Schiff: You and I’ve seen it in Columbus. I’ve been accused of abdicating my responsibilities but how the hell could they become leaders if I was still heading it?
Interviewer: That’s very true. Do you have more that you would like to accomplish?
Schiff: No, I’m satisfied the way it is. We’ve got a home in Columbus, we’ve got a home here, we go away every year except the year we are ending now. We see the world. We meet with people. I couldn’t go back to that.
Interviewer: What advice would you have for young people today?
Schiff: To want, to seek, to be average but above all, to say I am my brother’s keeper and I hope my brother doesn’t keep me.
Interviewer: That’s very good advice.
Schiff: I would want a young person to make it on-their own. Why don’t you ask Patty that question?
Interviewer: I will, when she returns from her trip.
Schiff: You won’t be here.
Interviewer: No, but I can talk to her on the phone.
Schiff: And you can talk to Richard because there is an interesting guy.
Interviewer: What does Richard do?
Schiff: I don’t know. I know he’s got it developed and I know he has a good income. He’s in the camp business. Summer camps.
Interviewer: Up in Maine?
Schiff: He has his own location but today, he goes out and he organizes the ability for people to purchase. Actually, I didn’t stick my nose in it. I told my children, I don’t want to know unless you want me to know and I’m not going to tell you how to run . . . you come to me for advice and counsel, remember, you’re not paying for it.
Interviewer: Herb, your philosophy on life in relationship to family . . . .
Schiff: Family and everything else is different than everybody else’s. I want this world to be a better place than when I came into it. That’s all.
Interviewer: What about your philosophy on politics?
Schiff: I don’t have any. I’ve stayed away from politics as much as I can. It’s a rotten, dirty game and you get nowhere and it makes a lot of adverse and grief. I don’t what to be a part of that filth.
Interviewer: How about religion?
Schiff: Religion, I think is a necessity because we can be as successful as we want to be and we can be reaching for the moon but we’ve got to know that there is something greater than us. But I also think that religion is the greatest hypocrite that God ever created because it is based upon a farce. It’s based upon something that we don’t know but it’s based upon a challenge. Who thinks if they’ve got to go through their whole life trying to please the boy upstairs so they’d be treated better when they’re dead – nobody knows what happens to a dead person, whether personality exists or doesn’t exist. So I have a different philosophy. My philosophy is that when I leave this world, I hope that I left one little piece of sand for the world to be better.
Interviewer: That’s very good. You told me a few minutes ago, your advice to young people. Do you ever talk these things over with your grandchildren?
Schiff: I don’t have the communication with my grandchildren that other people supposedly say they have. My father tried to create a friendship with my children and it all got busted one day when one little child said, Grandpa, let me buy you an ice cream cone. They went into a store, two ice cream cones were ordered, and the grandchild tried to pay for it and my father wouldn’t let him. He didn’t understand charity in its most humble position. And that’s what is wrong with this world.
Interviewer: So there was a relationship that . . .
Schiff: No, what I’m trying to tell you is that you’re trying to find my motives and I know your motives because you want to leave a history in this city of people who have been successful. That’s your motive and you’re working hard at it. But the motive of Robert was, he felt he was doing something for the grandchild but he created the other thing when he said to the grandchild, no, I’ve got to be the giver. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
Interviewer: So, if your grandchildren were sitting here today, what advice would you give them?
Schiff: Live your life your way. Period.
Interviewer: Advice as far as religion?
Schiff: Religion to me is a necessary evil to keep man alive. Actually, religion is for blessing a God that we don’t know even exists.
Interviewer: You followed in your father’s footsteps of his religious beliefs?
Schiff: No, I haven’t divorced religion. My father comes from a religious group. It was the only way he could get an education. It was the only way he could proceed. Then he saw its fallacy. Then my father developed . . . well, the Jews are developing all these things. The best story I can tell you is that after my mother died – I must have been 12 or 13 years old, or younger – that he took me to a fund raiser for the Hebrew School or some organization like that. He got up and gave, I was amazed that he gave – it was my first exposure to helping people. And I do help people – I’ve had a history of raising funds but I’m not there when they collectively get together. I can’t take the hypocrisy.
Interviewer: Do you think your grandchildren have been exposed to . . . . ?
Schiff: I don’t know how much their parents have exposed them to it. My children saw me as an example and each one in their own way is trying to help people but I don’t know whether my grandchildren have had that. It depends on what their parents have exposed them to. I also, If they go to religious school as I believe they have, I hope they learn that they are their brother’s keeper. Now the moment you learn that you are your brother’s keeper, that’s religion.
Interviewer: I think that is probably one of the most important things this recorded interview can pass on to your grandchildren. Your legacy to the future.
Schiff: Well, you have to help the children, you have to help the helpless and you’ve got to help those who have made it. That’s unfortunate. So you are in a position to help them and the only way you can help them is if they come to you and say, help me solve my problem. And it’s got to be done silently and you’ve got to walk away. I have a relationship with Denny Tishkoff. Denny has made it. He was my protégée but he’s made it on his own. And he doesn’t come to papa to ask for advice and counsel.
Interviewer: Did he earlier?
Schiff: In an indirect way. But I asked him questions and the type of questions I asked him are training questions.
Interviewer: Do you think that people are reluctant to ask advice of someone else because if they don’t follow it, the person might lose respect for them?
Schiff: I think the reluctance of asking advice and counsel is a weakness.
Interviewer: Admitting weakness?
Schiff: Admitting weakness. But on the other hand, if you hire a guy to do a job and you pay him to do a job, then you’re training him to do a job.
Interviewer: Wouldn’t it be a credit to a person to ask a person who’s been there? Who’s done it?
Schiff: Let me put it to you this way. In this cruel world – and this world is good, too, but it’s cruel – we’re trying to conquer each other and have success. There’s no formula when you’re being kind to a person. You have to expect that they’re going to go on the other side. Denny doesn’t come to me anymore. Denny and I have lost our friendship. He’s too busy and he’s running his own show, why talk to papa? What does he have in common with papa? Charity, sports and business.
Interviewer: That’s a lot in common.
Schiff: But he’s the boss of his business. He’s got to run his business his way. We don’t talk business when we’re together. He knows it’s there if he wants it. And he doesn’t talk about his brother. I’m surprised his brother is staying with him.
Interviewer: So when people come to you to ask advice, do you consider them weak?
Schiff: Look, I don’t consider myself strong. They come to me because they’ve got a problem they’re trying to resolve and they can’t resolve it. Or they have a problem they think they resolved and they’re coming for a positive vote. But when they come to me, they’ve got to know that I may not agree with them.
Interviewer: Does that create a problem?
Schiff: It hasn’t so far. But it’s created this some of them don’t come back.
Interviewer: Do you think that when two people are having a discussion about a problem, disagreement is healthy?
Schiff: I think disagreement is the only way you’re going to get success. But if a guy does it my way and he’s a failure, what happens to our friendship?
Interviewer: He thinks that you made the wrong choice.
Schiff: Then he doesn’t have time to come to me anymore. He’s too busy solving his own problems. But that doesn’t mean we were friends. I could pick up the phone and call him and he’d be here tomorrow morning.
Interviewer: So with your grandchildren, you don’t have a relationship where they come . . .
Schiff: The answer is, it lies in me and not in them. If I sought them out, I think we would have a good friendship. But I can’t go out to buy them. Betty goes out and buys them. Gotta get them a gift, this, that and the next thing. But I don’t go out and seek them. If I went out and sought them, I would have a friendship with quite a few of them. But I don’t have a problem with them. You must understand, I don’t solve my children’s problems.
Interviewer: That’s ok.
Schiff: I don’t want to because you know who’s the goat when you solve a problem? You.
Interviewer: Exactly. If you could change anything in your life, Herb, what would you change?
Schiff: I’ve asked myself that quite often and I don’t think I could change anything because the rules change every day.
Interviewer: Do you think you’ve made mistakes in your life?
Schiff: If I told you that I never made a mistake that would be a lie. Would I have done it another time, the same way? My answer is probably, yes and I’d fall into the same trap. Doing it the second time, I’d have the experience of the first time. There are certain things you repeat and repeat and repeat. You notice every once in a while, I show up with Betty. It’s a natural thing. She’s got her mind set up through a series of forces that have been around her that this is the way she wants to do something. And I’ve got my mind set up that is not the way to do it and do it another way. That brings conflict but it doesn’t destroy our marriage.
Interviewer: It’s ok to have conflict.
Schiff: Everything arises out of conflict. You wouldn’t have a world today if the Pilgrims who came here didn’t want to not do it the way the country wanted them to do it. That’s good. The mind is working.
Interviewer: You said, a couple days ago, that you thought your father was a visionary. Do you consider yourself a visionary?
Schiff: I consider myself more of a philosopher. I don’t think I’ve ever embarked upon anything that I didn’t know the odds. Therefore, I’ve embarked on very few things. For example, they say, how did you become the head of the business? Because you’re the boss’ son? And the answer is, no. Because there were a bunch of bums who got lazy and they were easy to beat.
Interviewer: Would you say that your father was willing to take more gambles than you were?
Schiff: It wouldn’t have been a business. I wouldn’t have taken some of the risks that he took. We see the success but we don’t see the failures. I can tell you, within three weeks before my father died, he asked me that question, would I do things his way? My answer was, absolutely not. He said, thank you, son, I thought that was what you were going to say.
Interviewer: So you answered him the way he wanted you to answer.
Schiff: That’s quite a relationship, isn’t it?
Interviewer: I would say so. You’ve developed some pretty good friends over the years, Herb. Who are some of your very best friends?
Schiff: That is a failure of my life.
Interviewer: Is that something you would have liked to have changed?
Schiff: I don’t think I have a close, dear friend today. I have had friends – I can’t give you their names – over a period of time and I think we were very close. I had friends in charity, I had friends in the business.
Interviewer: If you were to have a major personal trouble and you wanted to seek advice from friends, who would you call in? Who would you surround yourself with?
Schiff: If I had a difficult personal problem, would I call in my friends and who would I call in? The answer is, I would probably try to resolve it myself because nobody can resolve your problems for you. I could go for advice and counsel, I could try to probe their brain to find out how they would react but I would have to resolve it myself unless I decided their way was the right way in my mind and I’d follow their way.
Interviewer: Who would you go to for advice and counseling?
Schiff: Very few people because I’ve always been on the other side of the question. I would talk to my attorneys, I would talk to my tax people, my office manager, Sue Norris, who is coming down here with my head accountant and she’s going to give me a year-end report and she’s going to give me a . . . . .
Interviewer: Let me ask you a question. If Mel Schottenstein were alive, today, would he be a person that you would ask advice?
Schiff: Mel Schottenstein and I had a very unusual relationship. Mel and I didn’t talk personal problems, we talked about community problems. So if I had a community problem, I’d certainly discuss it with Mel Schottenstein because I respected his judgment. But I’m no longer in touch with community problems.
Interviewer: Speaking of community problems, would you seek advice of Mitch Orlik or Jackie Jacobs?
Schiff: I’ll put it to you in reverse. My office door is open to them if they want to seek advice and counsel. They used to come in and we talked over their problems. Today, they take care of their problems. I’m never going to have community problems anymore because if I want to give, I’m going to give and that’s my relationship with the community.
Interviewer: How about Rabbi Stavsky? He’s a good friend.
Schiff: Rabbi Stavsky, on intimate, close factors, if I needed to, I would go to Rabbi Stavsky. But Rabbi Stavsky and I don’t think along the same lines. Don’t forget, he’s a highly religious man, he’s going to approach it from what the Good Book has to say. If I wanted to talk to him, I could talk to him but I wouldn’t want him to resolve a problem for me. His approach and my approach are two different things and our backgrounds are different.
Interviewer: So now that you’ve been in the company, you’ve been in the business, you’ve been extremely successful, you’ve raised a family and now you’re in the retirement stage of your life.
Schiff: Yes, and I think I’m relaxed and enjoying it. Whatever retirement is, I don’t know because I’m alone more. I’m by myself rather than with other people. People stopped coming into my office for advice and counsel, they’re all grown. They won’t do it on their own but if it’s a serious problem, they walk in.
Interviewer: So today, you read, you keep up with the world . . . .
Schiff: I’ve got an office staff and they’re probably concerned that I shouldn’t be alone and they’re highly concerned, knowing that if I’m alone too much, then they ain’t going to have a job in a few years because when you’re alone, you die. So they’re concerned about it and they make sure people come in and have lunch with me. We discuss certain problems at that particular time. But to resolve my own problems, I have to resolve them myself.
Interviewer: Very good, Herb. We’re getting close to making a conclusion here.
Schiff: Yes, I know, dear. And your eyes have a great big sparkle in them.
Interviewer: Is there anything else that you would like to put on this tape for the world, for the family to know?
Schiff: I don’t believe so. I would hope that my children would keep their independence and learn that they’ve got to rely upon the other person before they make a decision not to make a decision but to give them advice and counsel. They’ve got to make their own decision. I think my children are spoiled because of money and I think because of money, they are better people. I look at my children and I’m very proud of one fact. Each one of them has made, in their own community, an indentation.
Interviewer: And that’s been your lifetime motto.
Schiff: I am my brother’s keeper and I don’t want my brother to keep me. I don’t want my children to come to me with their day-to-day little problems but if they’ve got a major problem and want advice and counsel, then I say to them, advice and counsel are cheap, take it at face value. They know what I’m saying. You ain’t paying me for this, kid, and if you ain’t paying, you got some lousy advice.
Interviewer: That’s what is meant by free advice?
Schiff: That’s what is meant by free advice. You’re here to do a job, to get information for the community. Therefore, you’re paid to do it and you’re going to do a good job. I’m giving you what I think and I can tell you, nine times out of ten, what I think, nobody else is going to follow. But I made an indentation on them because they came to me and they have to think, why did he say what he said and will this apply to me? And when they’re successful, doing it their way, they come in and say, See! When they’re successful doing it my way, well, Herb, I was going to do it that way anyway.
Interviewer: I think this concludes our interview. It’s been a real pleasure . . . .
Schiff: It has been and I sincerely appreciate it. You’re going to write this up?
Interviewer: That’s correct and first of all, I want to thank you very much for giving me the time to be able to talk to you and to record your thoughts and your lifetime happenings. The Columbus Jewish Historical Society appreciates it very much.
Schiff: You’re welcome. Let me say this to you. This doesn’t happen to me very often and this has been a very pleasurable thing for me to do. It spurred me on to live because I haven’t done a damn thing since I left Columbus.
Interviewer: Well, maybe this will encourage you to do some other things.
Schiff: No, we’ve had some conferences here and we’ll have more conferences.
Interviewer: This concludes the interview with Herbert H. Schiff.