It is Monday, September 15, 1997, and this is Carol Shkolnik, a volunteer
from the Columbus Jewish Historical Society for the Oral History Project, and
I’m sitting here at Manny Elman’s home on apartment 107, 509, the Bexley
Market is 508. That’s where I got mixed up. 509 N. Cassady. Okay, we’re
not going to start exactly in chronological order. I think maybe if you’ll
tell us briefly how you got to Columbus, Manny, then maybe we’ll go back.
Elman: Okay, I lived for a number of years, I lived in Canton, Ohio. And I
came to Canton, Ohio in about 1952. And when I first came to America, I lived
in Brooklyn, New York.
Interviewer: And when was that?
Elman: That was in 1946, Summer of ’46. And I had a brother and a sister.
They were older than me. They came to America in 1939 from Danzig. And they
left Danzig just the day before Germany attacked Poland. They had passports to
go to America and they were going through Germany as Jews, traveling through
Germany and they had all kinds of difficulties getting on the train and all
kinds of things but they left Danzig and then from Germany they got into
Holland and from Holland, they were supposed to board a ship to go to United
States but the British were making all kinds of difficulties for them and my
sister insisted and they finally put her on a ship. And my sister, now I remember, my sister didn’t go with my brother at the same time. But they left
Danzig. I don’t remember who came first. I think my sister maybe. And they
arrived in Brooklyn, New York, in 1939 and I, after I left Russia, the Soviet
Union, I ended up in a displaced persons camp in Austria in the American Zone.
I was there for a certain length of time and after being checked out and being
interviewed by the American authorities, I went to Bremerhaven and with a
number of other refugees, boarded a small troop carrier. The name of that ship
was Marine Flasher and we left Bremerhaven, Germany, and arrived in Brooklyn,
New York. And I stayed in New York for four years. And then after that I left
Brooklyn and I ended up in Canton, Ohio, and I was there ’till about 1988
and I came to Columbus, Ohio, because I have a son and a daughter here. And I
was here for a while and then I went to Florida in ’89. Lived in Miami Beach
and then I returned. I returned back to Columbus.
Interviewer: Why did, I just, you went to Brooklyn because your brother and
your sister were there?
Elman: Yes, yes.
Interviewer: Is that where you were married?
Elman: I was married in Canton, Ohio.
Interviewer: Oh I see. How did you happen to go to Canton, Ohio?
Elman: Because when I lived in Brooklyn, there was a young gentleman from
Europe and he had a distant cousin, some kind of a relative, in Canton, Ohio,
and he invited her to come and visit and he introduced us and she invited me
to move to Canton, Ohio, and I was supposed to get a job there for her
relatives that had a big furniture store. And when I got there, they told her
that they couldn’t give me a job because business was not good and so I
ended up getting a job in a manufacturing plant, steel manufacturing plant,
and I lived in Canton for over 30 years.
Interviewer: How did you meet your wife? Or was this the woman who invited
you, that was your wife?
Interviewer: Okay. So were you engaged when you moved to Canton?
Elman: No I was not. I lived for a short while in Canton. Then we got
Interviewer: I see. I see. And so what kind of manufacturing plant did you
Elman: It was steel manufacturing.
Interviewer: Okay. Okay. I hope that what was on the recorder before could
be heard okay since we had the dumpster being emptied outside. Okay so you
went to Canton. You married the woman who was friends of your friend and
couldn’t get a job in the furniture business. Then you went to work in a…
Elman: Manufacturing plant.
Interviewer: And it manufactured steel?
Elman: Steel manufacturing.
Interviewer: And what did you do in this plant?
Elman: I did all kinds of things. I was a welder. I worked in the shipping
department. I worked in the paint department, spray painting. All kinds of
jobs. Whatever they asked me to do.
Interviewer: Now I didn’t ask you before, Manny, when were you born? What
was your date of birth?
Elman: I was born on July 15, 1922.
Interviewer: So when you went to Brooklyn, you were 24?
Interviewer: 24, okay. And so when you got married, you were 28, something
Interviewer: Okay. What was your wife’s name?
Interviewer: Okay. And for the record, could you tell us your childrens’
names and what they do and…
Elman: Oh, my old… I’m bad about it.
Interviewer: Do the best you can, it’s all right.
Elman: The oldest is Marian.
Interviewer: Marian? M-A-R-I-A-N?
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Elman: And then I have a son Victor. And Marian and Victor live in Columbus
and I have a son Jeffrey. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
Interviewer: Uh huh. How old is Marian, about?
Elman: Oh my God. She’s about 40 something or so?
Interviewer: And Victor?
Elman: He’s a little younger.
Interviewer: Okay. And Jeffrey a little…
Elman: Yeah, Jeffrey is 34.
Interviewer: 34, okay. And is Marian married?
Elman: Yes. Marian is married.
Interviewer: What’s her husband’s name?
Elman: Cuenot, C-U-E-N-O-T, Cuenot.
Interviewer: What’s his first name? Her husband’s first name?
Elman: His first name is Randall.
Interviewer: What nationality is that last name?
Elman: That name? That’s a French name.
Interviewer: Is it?
Elman: Yeah, French background.
Interviewer: I see. And Victor? What does Marian do first of all?
Elman: Marian works at the Montessori or something.
Interviewer: A teacher at Montessori?
Elman: She works there. I don’t know what she does.
Interviewer: I see. And Victor?
Elman: Victor works with Ameritech… He got a big, responsible job
but I forgot what he’s doing there.
Interviewer: Is he the one who’s the engineer or is that…
Elman: Yeah he’s a mechanical engineer.
Interviewer:… Okay. And Jeffrey?
Elman: Jeffrey is the Vice President of Smith and Barney. It’s an
Interviewer: Right, I’m familiar with that one. Okay. I’m going to want
to hear some more about your childhood but tell me about your life in Canton,
and mainly your family life. What was your family life like?
Elman: Well I worked very hard and I had good jobs because one of the jobs
was working at the manufacturing plant so I worked shifts. Let’s say I
worked afternoons from 3 to 11 and beside that, I had a sideline. I had a
small upholstering business so that was contract work. Until I had to go to
work in the afternoon, I used to go and see clients to show them materials and
pick up furniture and then I would get at the work. Sometimes by the time I
leave in the morning to see people or go on the road, I would just be back in
time to get ready to go to work in the plant.
Interviewer: Oh my goodness.
Elman: So I worked continuously on two jobs and but still, I tried to be
with my kids as much as I could. It wasn’t easy. I felt bad about that but I
did the best I could And I’m very proud of my kids because they went through
universities and they made progress, they accomplished things.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Okay. So in Canton, Ohio, you had some of your wife’s
family but not your own, is that correct?
Elman: I didn’t have anyone living in Canton except my kids. But my wife’s
family, they were not close. Unfortunately they were the kind of a family that
kept to themselves and I wasn’t used to something like this because I came
from Europe and this was unheard of. We had relatives. We spent an awful lot
of time together, holidays and even on regular days, we were very close.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Did you see your brother and sister very often after
you came to Canton?
Elman: I used to go on a regular basis, I used to go to Brooklyn, New York,
and I was very close to my brother and sister. My sister was 20 years older
than I. She was 20 years old when I was born.
Interviewer: Wow! So you’re both from the same marriage, same mother and
Ellman: Of course, yes. My sister was the oldest. I was the youngest. And I
had three, my sister, had three brothers so we were five kids in the family. I
was the youngest.
Interviewer: And are any of your sisters and brothers still living?
Interviewer: You’re the last one?
Interviewer: Okay. So and how long ago did you lose your wife?
Elman: Well we went separate ways.
Interviewer: I see. And when was that?
Elman: That was in ’89.
Interviewer: Oh I see. I see. When your children were at home, did they go
to, did you go to synagogue often?
Elman: Yeah I made sure I wanted to live not far from the Jewish Center
which was within walking distance, five minutes’ walk. I wanted to be near
the Jewish Center and there were synagogues very, very close. So I was
involved at the Jewish Center there and after when I quit working, I
volunteered at two hospitals with cancer. And I enjoyed going, in my free
time, I enjoyed visiting libraries so I went to Kent State University which
was nearby, a half hour’s ride, and I’d go to the library there. I used to
go to the University of Akron and also participate and go to concerts and go
to libraries. I even went to the College of Wooster where at one time I had
the pleasure of meeting Arthur Goldberg who at one time was Secretary of Labor
and then he ended up being a Supreme Court judge.
Interviewer: Oh that must have been really exciting.
Elman: Yes and he came out to the College of Wooster and he gave a lecture
and then we ended up at the President’s home and we had an informal
get-together and that was quite an experience for me to meet such a
highly important person.
Interrviewer: Uh huh. What would you say, what other highlights might there
be that you’d want to talk about of your years in Canton? What were some of
the most, milestones or the special occasions…
Elman: Well I enjoyed being involved in the community. I used to go to the
Jewish Center a lot. Prior to the fact that the Russian people started coming
into the United States, there was a group of people that went to travel into
Russia. The communists or the Soviet Union. And now young students and then
when they came back, we made phone calls to the people in Moscow and in Leningrad and I was talking to the people on the telephone. We made connections and
I talked to them in Russian and we knew that we were being listened to and me
coming from the former Soviet Union, I knew that we had to be very careful and
from the conversation that they had with me, the people on the line, they also
would not think of saying some, it’s not easy that that’s about all that
we could talk about it.
And then we traveled from Canton, we traveled to
Washington, D.C., when they had the gathering of the Jewish people in the
capital in Russia. Then on behalf of the Soviet Jewry, that was the day before
Gorbachev came to America. We traveled with busses from Canton all night and
it was well organized by the Washington Jewish community. And there was a
gathering and I think there were about 250,000 Jewish people that came from
all parts of the United States. They came by car. They came by bus. As…
by plane and Gorbachev did not show up. We came there, we were there Saturday
and he was supposed to come in. Instead he showed up on Sunday so we would not
Interviewer: I see. Your purpose was to get him to let more of the Jewish
Interviewer: Now when you were calling Russia, was it to find out the
conditions and how people were doing there? What were the phone calls?
Elman: Well the phone, we knew that there was some connections to be made
with the Russian people for them to find out more about America and at the
same time we knew that they are eager to get out of there. But at the Soviet
system, it was not easy to travel to Russia or to have contact with the
Russian people because they’re being watched. The same time, they were
afraid to talk to people. (Phone rings. Okay, excuse me.)
Interviewer: Okay where were we before the phone rang?
Elman: About being in contact with the Russian Jewish people. I even wrote
to the Secretary of State. At that time it was George Schultz who I wrote in a
letter asking him to if he’ll please to help the people go out of Soviet
Russia to go to the United States and got a nice letter from him and he said
they’re trying. They’re doing the best they can. And after a certain
length of time, people started coming out of Russia. Well when they started
coming in here, I started getting involved with them and tried to talk to them
to try to teach them a little English.
Interviewer: Well that was nice. Tell me what your life was like in
Brooklyn. Did you like it and what did you do there?
Elman: I loved it because I was so happy. Look, I’ve been away from my
sister and brother. We came from a very, very close family. We loved one
another. We got along pretty well but me being the youngest in the family and
especially not being with them because they lived in Danzig for many, many
years prior to them coming into the United States.
Interviewer: You mean she was there when she got married?
Interviewer: Did your sister move to Danzig when she got married?
Elman: No, no, no, no, no. They got out. You talking about me?
Interviewer: First I’m talking about your sister. You said that you lived
so far away from her.
Elman: Well I lived in Poland and they lived in Danzig.
Elman: My brother and my sister.
Interviewer: Why did they live in Danzig?
Elman: Because we lived in a little, small town in Poland and Danzig was a
big city and a lot of Jewish immigrants from Poland or from other countries
went to Danzig as it was a large city, port city, and they had better
opportunities as far as work was concerned.
Interviewer: And what is the name of the town in Poland where you’re
Elman: It was a little town called Luniniez.
Interviewer: How do you spell it? Oh L-U-N-I-N-. . . .
Interviewer: Okay. Before we go further, you loved Brooklyn and you said
you spent your life being close to your sister.
Elman: Not close, no.
Interviewer: No but before we go back to Poland, I want you to tell me you
loved Brooklyn. Tell me, say more about that.
Elman: Well when I came to America, of course I was very happy. I was with
my brother and with my sister. It’s like starting a new life. That was the
best thing that had ever happened to me coming out from Europe. And then my
father had two brothers in America and one of them was married so they had a
family there so I had cousins that I was…
Interviewer: They were all in Brooklyn?
Elman: In Brooklyn. I used to go and visit them. And my mother’s sister
lived in the Bronx and the first thing I did was to go to the Bronx and visit
with my aunt and I met all her kids and they were wonderful and I used to go
and visit my aunt and my cousins on a regular basis while I was there.
Interviewer: That’s good, that’s great. What kind of work did you do…
Elman: I started working in an upholstering shop and my brother-in-law
worked in an upholstering shop in different hotels so I got a job at the
Commodore Hotel in Manhattan that was on the corner of 31st Street and
Lexington Avenue, across from the Chrysler Building. It was very exciting. I
used to, during my lunch hour, during my break, I used to go downstairs and
see all the crowds going back and forth and it was a very important building
and I also met some very important sports personalities. I saw the Boston Red
Sox, the entire team. I used to go, in Brooklyn, I used to go swimming to a
club called the St. George’s Hotel and so I met at that time the entire
Brooklyn Dodgers team when they won the pennant.
Interviewer: Uh huh, that’s exciting.
Elman: Of course I liked sports. I saw P. E. Reeves and Don Newcomb. I met
at one time…
Interviewer: You’re going to have to spell those for me ’cause the
person who’s going to type this won’t know. What was the first name?
Elman: P. E. Reeves.
Interviewer: P. E. with initials?
Elman: I don’t know how to spell P. E. Reeves. Yeah he was a well-known
Interviewer: And who was the other player?
Elman: Don Newcomb.
Interviewer: Don Newcomb?
Interviewer: My husband will know how to spell it.
Elman: I lived not far from Ebbets Field, where I lived in Brooklyn. And I
lived not far from Caspar Park and I used to go to the Brooklyn Museum. And I
used to go to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It was a beautiful area. There
used to, Easton Parkway and Plastic Park. Not far from the Dodger’s Stadium.
Interviewer: Did you take your nieces or nephews or cousins to any of those
Elman: No I was different. They were busy working, involved with their
families. They were married. I was single. And then of course I would go
swimming. I would go to a health club. And then I would spend a little time
and money after I finished work, I would go to shows, I go to plays, I go to
Central Park. Walk around on Fifth Avenue. Go out to the Fifth Avenue Library
which was a very, very nice building with a little park next to it. I used to
sit in the park. I used to spend a lot of time in the library.
Interviewer: It’s still in that same location isn’t it?
Elman: Yeah it is.
Interviewer: I was there myself several months ago. It’s quite
Elman: There’s that building, yes. That’s really something.
Interviewer: What was the main part? How did you meet your friends?
Elman: I met my friends, of course, some of them I met in Europe yet before
I came to the United States, where we were in the displaced person’s camp.
And the rest of the time, I met them after I came to America, going to night
classes, learning English. So that’s how I got acquainted with my friends,
Interviewer: And did you go to synagogue in Brooklyn?
Elman: Yeah I used to. There’s a lot of synagogues in the area where I
lived that’s called the Midwood area of Flatbush.
Elman: Midwood, yeah.
Interviewer: I see. The second cousin I spoke to on the phone last night
still lives in Brooklyn..
Elman: Yeah Midwood in Flatbush, that’s Borough Park. My friend lived in
Boro Park. That’s where all the religious people are right now. Orthodox.
And there were shuls there, everyplace you turn around. So between
going to the library and going to, I was interested in New York. I liked New
York. I used to go to Rockefeller Center a lot. I used to go to Radio City. I
used to go to, where Fifth Avenue starts, oh…
Interviewer: Well if you think of it you can…
Interviewer: So did you get tired of New York or was there a chance of a
job in Canton?
Elman: I loved New York. I loved New York. And right now when I think about
it, my friends, I had cousins that came from Europe, a friend of mine, a
doctor and his wife, and they said, “Why are you going to Ohio?”
Well I was in, during the entire war I was without any relatives in Europe and
I was by myself. I had a rough time there. I ended up being arrested, a number
Interviewer: For what?
Elman: For nothing. No reason at all.
Interviewer: Who arrested you?
Elman: The authorities. The first time they arrested me is when I worked on
the railroad. I used to work midnight and I used to take care of trains,
freight trains, to check the equipment. And I remember one time when I worked,
I always worked nights. So we had a lot of transports with freight cars, full
cars that were loaded with sugar beets. And the sugar beets would fall off the
trains on the ground. And one night when I was finished with my shift, there
was a young girl walking on the other side of the train. I was inspecting one
side of the train, she was inspecting the other side of the train. And it was
the end of my shift, it was already daytime. I saw some sugar beets that were
laying on the ground so I got myself a little… sack and I put it in the
sack and I was going to take it back to the dormitory where I lived. So a
soldier approached me and he asked me what I had. I said I just picked up
beets that were laying on the ground and I was going to take it with me. He
did the same thing with the girl. She also had the same thing and he made us
go to the police station and they arrested us. And I spent some time in jail
and then after I had a trial, after I was in jail about six weeks or so, and
then they never let us out outside. I didn’t, all I see is just about the
size of that thing where the air was coming in. That…
Interviewer: That’s the cold air return.
Elman: Yeah, about this size. I could see the sky but they never let us out
of our cell. And then I thought, “Well if I’m there, maybe one of these
days I’ll try to get away.” So one day they were leading a whole group
of prisoners to a public bath and we were walking in the middle of the street,
cobblestone street, about a hundred or a hundred and fifty prisoners, and one
of the prisoners decided to run and he ran over the freight yard, which was
about three feet lower than the street, and he took… and took off and
they chased him. They caught up with that prisoner and when they got ahold of
him they, one of the policeman, put a revolver against his shoulder and he
shot him while he was… So when I saw that, I changed my mind, my idea,
about trying to get out, escape somehow. So after, when we returned back to
our cells in jail about six weeks later there was a trial, a government
person, a judge and another Russian person. I was there and the young lady
that was also arrested, and her mother. And they read us about our crime that
we committed and they told me because I had committed a crime against the
state, that I will be going to the battle ground, to the front line and they
told me to go to the draft board. And they said to go, they told me to go,
instead to go there, I returned back to my job. I never did go to the draft
board and I stayed there in that place. After a certain length of time they
shipped me to another area, they sent me to another area…
Interviewer: Who sent you?
Elman: The authorities. The Russ…
Interviewer: Because you didn’t report to the…
Elman: No, no, no, no, no. They just transferred me to another part of the
Soviet Union. And so they sent me to Dadjistad where before I was in Obekistad.
I was in Samarkand.
Interviewer: Okay, I’m going to need you to spell those towns down ’cause
that’s . . .
Elman: I don’t know.
Interviewer: The first one was…
Elman: The first one, the first place that I was in was Krasnovdsk.
Interviewer: How would you spell that?
Elman: With a K-R-A-S-N-O-V-D-S-K. Krasnovdsk. That was by the Caspian Sea.
I was there on the railroad.
Interviewer: And the other place?
Elman: The other place, the other place they sent me was in the Republic of
Tadzikistan, the Republic of Tadzikistan.
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Elman: Tadzikistan, the Republic of Tadzikistan, which was near the
Interviewer: Okay, now in today’s boundaries, what country would
Elman: That is, this is in Russia.
Interviewer: In Russia. And the first?
Elman: Also Turkestan. Krasnovdsk in the Republic of Turkmania.
Interviewer: And that’s the name of the country today?
Elman: This is the name of the state because Russia has different states
like we have states here.
Interviewer: Okay. Okay.
Elman: They call it republics over there.
Interviewer: Okay, okay.
Elman: So that was in the Republic of Turkmania. The city was Krasnovdsk.
From there they sent me to the Republic of Tadzikistan and that was near the
Afghanistan/Chinese border. I worked there on the railroad. I worked nights
always. In the daytime I would be walking around, just walking around in the
street. One day while I was walking in the town where I was at, out of nowhere
I spotted my mother and my wounded brother which whom I hadn’t seen since
the beginning of the war.
Interviewer: Oh wow. Now what year was this?
Elman: That was about 1942, something like that. I was so surprised because
we lost touch with one another. My mother and my brother. And so I spotted my
mother. She was barefooted. She had a thin little dress on her. Very skinny.
And my brother, he was wounded in his arm. He was wounded by Moscow and he had
his left arm in a sling. So I said, “Mom, where were you?” And she
said, “I was in Siberia.” And I found out that my brother was
wounded by Moscow. And I made arrangements to meet on the following day
because I was supposed to go to work soon. As I said to mother, “We’re
going to meet at this particular spot and we will talk.” And within a
half hour or so a Russian policeman approached me and he told me to follow
him. And I tried to explain that I worked on the railroad. I was a government
worker. I was exempt from the service in the army. I was just like in the army
only I worked in the railroad. Well he said, “You will go with me.”
I said, “No, I have to go, I have to report to work very soon and I will
not go.” He said, “You wouldn’t?” I said, “No, I won’t
go with you.” He said, “You won’t?” I said, “No,” I
said, “just leave me alone.”
So he took the rifle and he beat me. He
beat me with the top of the rifle and he arrested me and he took me to a place
where there were a lot of young Jewish men from Poland and Romania and
Bessarabia and Lithuania, a lot of young men. And they kept us there a couple
of days. We didn’t know what they were going to do with us. And then they
put us on a freight train. We were packed like cattle where we laid on boards
and they had straw there. And we didn’t know where they were taking us. And
after a certain couple days of traveling, we were let out in the Ural region
of Russia which was near Siberia. And they made us work and build the railroad… the snow was about three feet high. We had to get up very early in the
morning. We never had anything to eat before we went to work. We followed one
after another like you saw in the movie “Dr. Zhivago” where it was a
wilderness, emptiness, where we followed one another to our destination where
we had to work. We had very cold toes. We didn’t have any good equipment, we
just had picks and dig hammers and shovels, building the railroad.
After a day’s work, we would have to walk from where we worked at to a wooden barracks where
we stood in line to wait for our ration of bread and we were getting a little
bit of soup. That was thin water in between little bits of cabbage. That’s
what we had after a day’s hard work, a little piece of bread and a little
soup. And then we walked back to our barracks where we stayed out in the open
field. We lived in freight cars and we never had any warm clothing. We never
got paid and they never fed us. And one time after quitting, when we got
finished with our waiting in line outdoors to get our meal and everything, a
little bit of bread and that soup, we were walking back a couple miles to our
place where we stayed in the freight cars. the following morning we found one
of our men frozen to death. He was… he could have been about 40 years
and he was an engineer from Bessarabia.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Elman: I would not remember the name.
Interviewer: Okay. When we’re done with this, I’ll tell you why I
Elman: Because we found him frozen to death. When I saw that, I told my
friends that I will not stay there under conditions like that, that I’m
going to get out of there. And they said, “You know what’s going to
happen to you if you make that move and try to escape.” And I said,
“Well it couldn’t be any worse than the conditions that are right now
where we’re starving and we were freezing.” And so I went to the black
market place and there were a lot of Russian soldiers that they were selling
Interviewer: Like what?
Elman: Anything. They were selling clothing, uniforms. They were selling
shoes. They were selling all kinds of things. And I bought myself a Russian
soldier’s uniform. And I went to the passenger station and I went in the
place and I put on this uniform. When I boarded the train, I had no I.D. with
me and I got on the train and started mixing with the Russian soldiers and
every time the train stopped, I would run out and get boiling water mainly for
the soldiers and they would make tea. And so…
Interviewer: No one ever asked for your identification?
Elman: Well after a couple of days of traveling, the military police
approached, they came in our car and they were asking for I.D. When they
approached me, I said, “I’m not from Russia, I was from Poland, and I
was working and I got sick and they were sending me back.” And I said,
“Between the station where I was standing in line to get water for the
soldiers, for the wounded soldiers, somebody stole my I.D.s from my back
pocket,” which I did not have. But I didn’t know what to say and he
looked at me and he shook his head and he let me go. He could have arrested
me. And so after we continued the journey, he said to go to the town where I
was arrested, to Tadzikistan, I decided to go to a different nearby republic
which was Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan…
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Elman: Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan with a U. And I traveled to that area and I
went to the railroad authorities and asked for a job. And without any
questions I was given a job.
Interviewer: Uh huh. I see. Now there’s a couple of questions I’ve been
holding. You lived in a little town and your sister lived in Danzig?
Interviewer: And where were your parents?
Elman: My parents lived in a little town in Poland near the Russian border
Elman: The whole family lived there. My mother and father and my brother
Phillip and my brother Jacob.
Interviewer: Okay. What was your father’s name?
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Interviewer: Like Ovadia?
Elman: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Okay. I know that’s not the correct, okay. Ovadia. And was
your name originally, what was your original name?
Elman: My original name was Mendel.
Interviewer: Okay. Your first name or your last name?
Elman: My first name.
Interviewer: Okay. Was Elman your original last name?
Interviewer: What was it?
Elman: The original name was Gekelman, G-E-K-E-L-M-A-N.
Interviewer: Okay. What was your mother’s name?
Elman: Manya, Miriam.
Interviewer: What was her maiden name?
Elman: Moskovich. Moskovitch.
Interviewer: Well I know it’s not exact. And what was your father’s
Elman: My father, in Russia my father was very wealthy. In the revolution
he had a luggage…
Interviewer: Okay your father had a leather and luggage factory?
Elmlan: Yeah, luggage made out of leather. All kinds of school supplies and
trunks and everything, in the city of Odessa?
Interviewer: In Odessa?
Elman: In Odessa.
Interviewer: And you say the revolution would be 1917?
Elman: Yeah, prior to that.
Interviewer: What happened after 1917?
Elman: Well we lived in O…my father had a factory in Odessa and he had
stores, he had a store in Odessa and he had a store in Kerch, Kerch, in Kerch.
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Interviewer: And where is Kerch?
Elman: Kerch in the Crimea, Crimean Peninsula. And also in Sinferopol.
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Elman: S-I-N-F-E-R-O-P-O-L. That’s where they had, they had, that was
also the Crimean Peninsula. And my parents were well-to-do. They had an
estate, a dacha. They had vineyards there and my mother said that they
had people taking care of the gardens and everything.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Okay.
Elman: They were very wealthy. My sister was attending medical school there
which wasn’t easy for Jewish people.
Interviewer: Did you go to college or what did you do past secondary
school? How far did you go?
Elman: I didn’t go far. I had just went to public school so then I went
to technical school when the Russians came in.
Interviewer: And what did you study in technical school?
Elman: Studying trade.
Interviewer: Any particular trade?
Elman: Sort of mechanical tools and stuff like that.
Interviewer: Okay. Now when did you leave this town Luniniez?
Elman: Luniniez. As soon as the Russian, the German army started
approaching my town.
Interviewer: What year was that?
Elman: That was in ’41.
Interviewer: ‘4l. And did your parents stay there or did they leave also?
Elman: My father died prior to that in 1940 and the rest of the family, we
lived there ’till ’41 and when the war started, my two brothers ended up
in the Russian Army. My mother, my brother put her on a train, was sending her
to Odessa. But when the German Army was moving very rapidly, they diverted the
trains. Instead to go to Odessa, they sent them somewhere else. Later on I
found out that my mother ended up in Siberia.
Interviewer: I see. And that wasn’t where you saw her?
Elman: No when I saw her, I saw her in the Tadzik Republic.
Interviewer: And how far away was that?
Elman: Thousands of miles away.
Interviewer: Okay. My geography of Russia…
Elman: And I met my mother and my brother by coincidence… But then I
never saw them any more.
Interviewer: That was my next question. That must have been very sad for
Interviewer: And how did you ever find out what happened to them after
that? When did you find out?
Elman: Never heard from them anymore. And so toward the end of the war when
the war was ending, my boss at the railroad was Jewish and I asked him to give
me permission to go to the European parts of Russia, to the area where I came
from. And he tried to talk me out of it. He said the war was still going on
and I insisted ’cause at least you needed permission. You need papers to
return to the area where I came from and he gave me papers and I traveled. I
stopped in my little town where I came from, Luniniez, because my orders were
to go to a different location in the Ukraine near the Polish border. But I
wanted to go (Excuse me, I’ll go and get a handkerchief.)… Yeah I got
permission and I stopped at my little town. That was not my destination
because they were sending me to the western Ukraine to work on the railroad
near the Polish border. But I wanted to stop in my town and find out what
happened to all my relatives. And when I got to my town, there were no Jewish
people left there but I had my Christian neighbors that I knew since I was a
little kid. They told me what happened.
Interviewer: What did they tell you?
Elman: They told me when the Germans came in, they called all the Jewish
people together in the marketplace to report and apparently the people thought
that they were going to go out and so they would send them to work and they
will get their food and things like that. Well when they showed up, the
Germans surrounded them. They had their weapons and they had some of the local
population that was collaborating with the Germans, helping the Germans. And
they took the people out of town, a couple of miles out of town and there was
a grave that was dug there and they told, they made these people undress and
they made them go into the grave and then they shot them with machine gun fire
and then they would bring in another group of people and doing the same thing
to the other people. But some of them was still alive. One of the women that
they forced to disrobe and take her clothing off, she did not want to do it.
They forced her just the same and made her go. And that’s how they
eliminated the entire population of the town.
Interviewer: Which one of your relatives were living in the town at that
time? Had your mother come back?
Elman: My mother went to Russia.
Interviewer: Right. That’s what I’m saying. You went back and your
mother never came back?
Elman: No, I never saw my mother, never saw my brother. My other brother,
he was also in the Russian Army and he ended up in a hospital in Tashkent. And
I found out he died in the hospital.
Interviewer: Did you ever find out what happened to your mother and brother
Interviewer: That must have been very hard.
Interviewer: To never know. Never know. Have you ever thought of trying to
Elman: Well I returned to my community of Luniniez, the town. I found out
that none of my relatives survived. And my uncle was hiding. He was the only
one out of all the relatives managed to hide and so was his daughter. I had
four cousins. They were all beautiful. One of them had a little boy and the
other one was pregnant. They shot them all. And my uncle was hiding under the
floor of the house. Somehow they found him and my cousin that was hiding with
him, they shot him. But my cousin, the German officers were raping her
repeatedly and then they shot her.
Interviewer: So your neighbors knew the details about everybody who had…
Elman: Yeah, we grew up together and we were close. We lived in one another’s
places. When we had a holiday, they would come to our house. We would give
them matzo during Pesach. All kinds of things that my mother took care
and they enjoyed it, they liked it. And then when they had holidays, I was
invited to their house. I used to play with the kids. We grew up together and
so I found out exactly what happened. And I couldn’t stay in my town. I
stayed there for a couple days and then reported to my job in that town near
the Polish border, a Ukranian town, former Poland.
And then I went to my boss
and I asked permission to go to Poland and he tried to talk me out of it and I
said, “I’d like to go,” because I had an aunt in Warsaw that was a
doctor and I wanted to go and check up on her. And my boss gave me permission
and said, “When you get done, please come back. We need you.” And I
went to Warsaw and there was no one left there and so from Warsaw I went to
Lodz and through the Jewish community organization, was very well organized
and they started taking people out of Poland, groups of people. They always
had a young man and a young girl who are taking us from one border to another
and when we got from Poland to Czechoslovakia, the Czech border, there was
another young couple, a young girl and a fellow, waiting for us and we had,
they made us papers like we were Greeks-Jewish, returning back to Greece.
Papers says “Greeks going to the European countries”. We went, from
there we went to Czechoslovakia. We ended up in Brataslava. From Czechoslovakia, we went to Budapest, through the Jewish Underground. They were
waiting for us, meeting us at the borders. And from Brataslava we went to
Budapest. We waited a couple of days ’till we rested. They formed a group.
From Budapest they took us to Vienna. Again with the Jewish Underground
waiting for us. And from there we ended up in…they sent us to Austria and we
ended up in a Displaced Persons Camp in Austria and I was there for a certain
length of time and then I got in touch with my brother and sister Ruthy.
Somehow I remembered that they were in Brooklyn. I got in touch with them and
they started working on my behalf. I got permission, papers to start with,
they sent me to the CIA to check me out in Brenhau which was on the border
between Germany and Austria. And the headquarters of the CIA in Brenhau was in
the house where Hitler was born. And I happened to be in the house but Hitler
was dead. From there, they sent us to Salzberg and I was waiting there in
Salzberg. They had a group of people. From Salzberg they sent us to Munich.
And I’m going to the American Consul in Munich and I was a short time in
Munich and from there they sent us to Bremerhavan. And in the Summer of ’46
I arrived in Brooklyn, New York, where my sister and my brother-in-law were
waiting for me. It was a very touching, emotional reunion. And then of course
I went with them and ended up in Brooklyn. I stayed there where I lived for
Interviewer: What did you feel like, I mean what were you thinking after
you went back to Poland and you hooked up with the Underground and you moved
from one place to the other? What did it feel like? Were you scared?
Elman: I was not scared at all. I was relieved. I was very happy to get out
from Soviet Russia. I knew that eventually, I had a feeling that I was going
to meet my sister and brother in New York.
Interviewer: But was the war still going on in the beginning when you first
started this traveling, or…
Elman: No, the war was over.
Interviewer: Okay, then why the Underground?
Elman: Because they were getting, because at that time there was a turmoil,
there was, people were going all different directions because there were
thousands and thousands of people that were, that came out from different
concentration camps, and all kinds of nationalities from different places and
my aim, my, the only thing is I wanted to get out of Europe. I did not want to
stay an extra day longer than I had to. ‘Cause to me, Europe, it had done
things to me that it is hard to describe how I felt to see, that was the end
of the…I remember they had a big holiday the first of May and there was
a parade in that little town where I worked at and I was watching the little
Russian kids walking there and there was not a single Jewish child. It was
very hard and it was just a few Jewish people that were survivors that were
hiding in the forest. And the rest of the people that I saw while I worked at
the railroad, I saw transports of people that were just leaving for
concentration camps. There’s a whole transport came in in that little town
where I was stationed at, the freight train arrived and it stopped and they
opened the doors in the freight cars and I saw these skinny women with their
heads shaven. They looked like skeletons and I didn’t know what to do.
So I ran to the few remaining Jewish people that were in that community and I told
them there’s a transport just arrived and I need something that I can give
to the people, to the women. And they said, “We don’t know what can we
give. We don’t have anything. All we have is potatoes.” So I said,
“Well perhaps we can give just potatoes.” And they gave me a bucket
of mashed potatoes. I went back to the train and they were sticking out their
skinny arms, you know, one over the other, you know, standing by the doors.
And I gave them all, ’till I used up all the potatoes. And before I knew it,
they locked the doors and they continued on their journey because they were
from Romania and they were from Hungary and Czechoslovakia and they just
released them from a concentration camp, where the Russian army freed them.
They were just, they were just skeletons.
Interviewer: It must have been very painful.
Interviewer: I mean… Where were you and at what point did you
realize the kind of things that were going on in Poland?
Elman: I did not know until the end of the war. I followed, I was very
curious, I followed the government reports, according to what the government
was saying and everything was just what they wanted the people to know. There
was no such a thing as turning on a radio station and listening. All the
bulletins that were coming out were government and I followed it from the
beginning of the war. I followed it pretty much and I knew of the types that
were going on. I was very much interested in it. When I worked on the
railroad, I was watching for every transport. I thought maybe somehow I’ll
spot one of my brothers. Any time I had a free moment, I used to go and hang
around by the railroad station looking for transports. And at one time I met a
fellow, by coincidence, I met a man that was going through the town and he
told me that my brother is in a hospital in Uzbekistan in Tashkent. And I went
to the authorities and asked them for permission to go and visit my brother
and they wouldn’t permit me. They wouldn’t let me.
Interviewer: Is that the brother who died in the hospital?
Interviewer: Now when you first saw these women on this transport, did you
yet know then about concentration camps?
Elman: Yes. Then I knew. Then I knew because I already heard about them.
Because I had a pretty good idea. When I went into my town, I knew what
happened because there wasn’t a single Jewish person in my community. I did
not now also who survived and who is killed. While I was in Russia, I saw two
young fellows from my town that were going to the city of Samarkand where I
was at. Where they were heading I don’t know. I had a job on the railroad
and I worked there ’till they were sending me different places, different
assignments. So I knew of the atrocities that were taking place.
Interviewer: Now when you first contacted your sister and your brother in
Brooklyn, did they talk about what they knew or were they…
Elman: They didn’t know nothing. They never talked about it. They never
talked about it and they…
Interviewer: Did they ask what happened to the rest of the family?
Elman: Well I told them I lost contact. I told them that I saw the mother,
I saw my mother and I saw my wounded brother but then after they arrested me,
I didn’t know nothing.
Interviewer: What did you feel like when you left and knew you were going
to Brooklyn? What were you thinking?
Elman: To go from the displaced persons camp?
Elman: I, I, I felt like then I was starting a new life. A new chapter. A
new beginning. Because all during the war I was alone. I didn’t have any
friend, any relatives. I was by myself. And I didn’t know what was going on.
I didn’t know where anyone was. There was no one from my community. I was by
myself. I was among Uzbecks and all those natives of that area where I was at,
except for a few Jewish people that were there that I met that we were
Interviewer: Now tell me again, and I know in the newspaper article you and
Bill Goldsmith, and I don’t know what his name was before he changed it. I
imagine it was something else. But are you about the same age?
Elman: Yeah, he’s a year older than me.
Interviewer: And you knew each other from school, from living in the same
Elman: I vaguely remember him. Because he lived in a different area. We had
different areas in town. We had different shuls. I went to one shul,
he was in a different part of the town and I was in that circle, my circle of
friends in my area and he knew, he remembered me better than I remembered him.
And when he read about me, that I’m here in Columbus and that I survived, he
got in touch with me and I went to visit him and was very happy to see him
because we hadn’t seen one another for 56 years. And we didn’t know of one
another. He had his experiences in Russia. So did I. And I was very happy to
meet someone from my community, one survivor.
Interviewer: Now refresh my memory and also for the record, what was in the
paper? What kind of article was in the paper about you that Bill read about
and led him to contact you.
Elman: The article, the write-up was about me in the Columbus Dispatch
that I am a survivor from Russia, that I spent my entire war years in
Russia in different areas and then I ended up being arrested and ended up in
slave labor out in the Ural region in Siberia. And I survived and I escaped
and got out of Russia.
Interviewer: And it had the name of your town, correct?
Elman: It had the name of my town.
Interviewer: Did it have your former last name in there or…
Elman: He knew me.
Interviewer: Yes. Well probably he would, anybody, if he saw that town, he
would have called.
Elman: Of course because my dream was if anybody would read about me,
possibly somebody would reply, answer, and I would find out if anybody
Interviewer: Now then you had contacted the newspaper to get that article
Interviewer: And that’s good.
Interviewer: Well but how…
Elman: The first time, because they had me on Channel 6 television here in
Interviewer: Was that because of the Holocaust? We knew…
Elman: Yeah, because of me as a survivor.
Interviewer: Okay. And how did you get involved in that? How did they pick
you for that?
Elman: Well there again, I wanted to find out if there’s anybody here in
Columbus possibly that I would get in contact with.
Interviewer: So you contacted them.
Elman: I contacted them and they sent a reporter and they sent a
photographer and they interviewed me and it was a very nice report. I was on
television. And also the Bexley News wrote about me.
Interviewer: I see. And do you have any extra copies of any of those
Elman: Well I have copies of both stories about me. The first article, by
the way, the first article on the 23rd of January, I was on the front page of
the Dispatch when Madeleine Albright got selected to be Secretary of
State. I was on the front page with her, my story and her story. And I thought
later on I wanted to write her a letter and give her a little bit of my
background because she is also a survivor. I think she should feel that she is
Jewish. Of course she changed her religion. Because her grandparents were
Jewish. But she did not admit about it for a long time until she went to
Interviewer: Okay. Now we’re about at the end of this tape. I have
another tape but I think, is there a lot more about your experience that you
think should be part of this recording.
Elman: Well the biggest part of my life in the former Soviet Union, I
brought it up in this interview, in this conversation.
Interviewer: And I appreciate your sharing all those experiences.
Elmlan: Well I think it’s for a long time, I wasn’t strong enough to
talk about my life because I’m very emotional. And when I watch a movie or I
read about what has happened to our people, I live through that tape. And it’s
not easy for me. But lately I can handle it better. I didn’t feel like I
wanted to talk about it.
Interviewer: Do you talk openly with these kinds of things with your
children and other members of your family?
Elman: Not much.
Interviewer: Not much?
Elman: Not much.
Interviewer: Do you think they’re afraid to ask?
Elman: They don’t ask.
Interviewer: Do you think they want to know but don’t want to upset you?
Interviewer: Uh huh. I hear that a lot about Holocaust survivors and you
weren’t in a concentration camp but you went through…
Elman: I had a different…
Interviewer: A different kind of…
Elman: a different experience. Yeah. I was also, the only difference is
between me and the other people, I was not in the death camp but I was in an
enforced labor. I was a prisoner.
Interviewer: And your children, your children knew that you weren’t in a
Elman: They know.
Interviewer: Yeah. I’m sure it must have been very hard to talk about it.
I mean a lot of people I know can’t.
Elman: I think I’m a very strong person from the experiences that I had
in my life. But I had a very difficult life. I was alone all the time and I
felt it pretty much. I am a real, I feel closed. In what I went through had
left a mark in me but at the same time I feel that I felt stronger for what I
went through. Because I have done certain things. I saved two Jewish people in
Russia. One was a Jewish sailor. Toward the end of the war came up to me and
he asked me to help him get out of Russia. And he had a uniform on him and he
had a weapon with him and I helped him get out of Russia. I got him civilian
clothes. I got rid of his weapon. I got him papers. I paid for the documents.
There was a Jewish lady and knew the authorities and I approached her and I
said, “I got to have papers for a man, Jewish man, likes to get out of
Russia. He wants to go to Poland.” And she said, “That’s going to
cost you money.” I said, “Well don’t worry about that. I’ll pay
you.” She provided documents. She made me documents and I went to the
Jewish people in that community where I lived and I said, “I need
civilian clothes for a young man”. And they gave me a shirt and they gave
me a pair of pants. I went with him to an outhouse and I asked him to start
taking off his beautiful uniform and he took the uniform off. I stuck it in
the toilet. And he put on the divilian clothes and I said, “Give me your
rifle.” He gave me the rifle. I stuck the rifle in in the toilet and he
walked out of there. I gave him the documents. He went to the railroad station
and got on a passenger train and he went into Poland and I never saw him. Then
there was another person that I saved too because when I worked on the railroad, I was in charge of that car. I used to go and get supplies for the
company. So I had the opportunity to do certain things and I was taking
chances. I was taking big chances but I never thought about it, what’s going
to happen to me if I get caught. It never dawned on me. I never thought for a
moment. I felt good if I could save a person. So…
Interviewer: I’m sure those people have never forgotten you.
Elman: Well I don’t know, I don’t know. I know they got out of Russia.
This I knew because I saw when they got on the train. I knew they got out
Russia. Where they went I don’t know. They could be in Israel or they would
have went to other countries. This I don’t know. But I felt good. That was
the best thing that happened to me, that I could save a person.
Interviewer: Well I think that’s very commendable, very commendable.
Elman: So I feel pretty good. I think I’ve accomplished something because
I’m very happy that I’m in this country. I’m free. It’s a wonderful
country and my kids accomplished things, that they got a good education. They’re
doing all right. and I have grandchildren.
Interviewer: How many grandchildren?
Elman: I have four. The youngest is eight and the oldest is 20. She goes to
Ohio University. I’m very proud of her. She’s doing real good. She’s in
the third year. She is a leader and she’s very talented. She, I’m pretty
sure that she will accomplish things when she gets through with her education.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful. That’s really wonderful. Anything else
you’d like to say before I turn the tape off?
Elman: Well, I feel good that I had a chance to share my experiences, my
life, with people that heard of these things that happened but maybe they didn’t
know as much until somebody like me Bill Goldstein come out and tell of our
life. Each one of us had a very difficult, a very hard life. We went through
an awful lot. In the end, we came out all right. ‘Cause where there’s
hope, there’s life. And I was always hoping that some day the war will end
and we will be free again. And the best thing, what makes me very, very happy
as a result, even though it was a very difficult experience, the remnants of
the Jewish people returned to Israel and they built a beautiful country, a
strong country, a country that the whole world has respect for us, for what
they have accomplished. They went into the desert and they made things grow.
Interviewer: Well I thank you very much. The Historical Society thanks you
for sharing. I know there are people who like to hear and eventually they will
transcribe this and be able to hear about it.
Elman: Well I’d like to thank you for coming out and listening to my
Interviewer: My pleasure.
Elman: It’s good when people have a chance to open up a little bit and to
share with their experiences. It is good for the young people to learn what
has happened and hopefully that nothing like this will take care again, will
Interviewer: You’re right. This concludes the interview with Carol
Shkolnik, Carol Shkolnik interviewing Manny Elman.
* * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson