Interviewer: This Interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on August 10, 2009, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project. This interview is being recorded at the Melton Building, the headquarters of the Jewish Historical Society.
I’m Marvin Bonowitz and today I’m honored to be interviewing Marc Polster. Marc, the Polsters are a significant family in Columbus and have been for a long time. The one thing that my family has in common with your family might be that we both, our families came through Circleville when they came to this country. What we’d like to, do you know anything about the migration of your family into this country, why they came and why they came to Circleville if you know?
Polster: Well I have some theories, some based on information I received from my grandfather. The, of course the Jews in eastern Europe where my family came from were, migrated to this country because of economic opportunity, to avoid the draft in Russia and escape pogroms and just the general destitution of the Jewish people there.
Why Circleville? I traveled back to Slovakia where my great-grandfather hailed from, which he used to know as Austria-Hungary back in those days and it’s since then become the country of Slovakia. And it struck me when I was there in his hometown that the topography of that area is very much similar to that of Circleville and the surrounding area, gentle rolling hills and streams and trees and I wonder if maybe that had something to do with why the Jews from that area of eastern Europe migrated to Circleville. But it’s, I also understand from some of my reading of Jewish history that a lot of Jews went to the big cities but many, many went to small towns all over the nation in places that, you know, you wouldn’t ordinarily think of the Jews as going. Of course we all think of them going to Brooklyn and the Bronx and the lower east side of Manhattan but they also went to, you know, the coast of Texas and small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, all over the country.
Part of my family went to York, Pennsylvania which is the original stop when my great-grandfather, before he went to Circleville, he arrived through Baltimore at Locust Point and he traveled to York, Pennsylvania where his sister lived with her family. And then eventually made it to Cleveland where he lived with his half-brother Charles’ family, Charles and Etta Polster in Cleveland.
He went briefly to New York City and worked. I’ve got some old photographs of him with a delivery truck, well at that time it was a horse and carriage was the truck. And then finally he ended up in Circleville where Abraham Polster and I think Moses Polster were already there. And they came because people from their area I think went to Circleville and that’s just sort of why they originally went there I can only assume was there was some opportunity to make a living. Most of them were peddlers, you know, they had a horse and a carriage and they went around the countryside selling needles and buttons and pots and pans and, you know, things to the people.
Interviewer: Was this from Poland or from Russia and do you have the name of the cities that they …
Polster: Sure I do and I’ve actually got information that I can refer to for more detail in my files. But before I move there, I want to say that, before I forget, my great grandfather actually grew up in Tarleton, Ohio which is an even smaller town than Circleville. It’s in the northeast of Circleville on the county line where Harry Polster and grew up.
My great-grandfather, Morris Polster, came to the country when he was 13, all by himself. He peeled potatoes in the kitchen, in the galley of a ship to kind of earn his keep on the ship and was just a young boy when he came over. He finally settled in with Harry Polster and his family in Tarleton and went to school with them. I’ve got some stories about my great-grandfather and Harry pulling the wagon with Harry’s disabled sister to school every day.
Tarleton was an important family place and my grandfather Leo and I made pilgrimages down there occasionally to just see the family homestead. I’ve got photos of where it was. It’s a very nondescript place in the world and you wonder why, you know, how people end up in these places. But that’s just where people end up or just all over the place inhabiting this small planet of ours.
But the town in Eastern Europe, back in the old days when my family came over in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the whole region was called Austria-Hungary and then there was Poland and then there was Russia. Part of my family was in Poland, part of it was in Austria-Hungary and more specifically the country of Slovakia nowadays near the border of Poland. That’s the Polster side of the family. Morris, my great-grandfather, married Lena Niebloom who came through Odessa in Russia and the story there is that her father was escaping conscription in Russia. He could be sent off to war for years, I mean, twenty years sometimes I’m told. And so they escaped that and before that I’m told that they came from Turkey. How they got to Turkey I’m not sure but I suspect like many Jews in that area they started out in Spain before the first and second expulsion in 1391 and 1492.
I’ve got some anecdotal evidence from my great Aunt Edythe that the Polsters were in Spain under the name of Cabazal which was translated into, I think, pillow in Spanish. I’d have to check my references on that but then centuries later, after they migrated through Europe and ended up in Austria-Hungary, they took the name Polster because in German that means pillow.
So that’s sort of a tie-in with my Great Aunt thought significant, and of course the Jews in the late 1700s were instructed to take surnames. Before that, they didn’t have surnames. They were, Moishe ben Aryeh and they didn’t have last names. But my family took that surname, Polster, I think probably because they were in the pillow business or making furniture or whatnot. That’s one of my theories.
So part of my family on my father’s side came from Russia, part of it came from Poland, and part of it came from Slovakia or Austria-Hungary. Kozuchovce was the town that my great-grandfather came from, Morris Polster. He was born in 1878 I think, came to this country in 1891 through Baltimore, as I said. I traveled to Kozuchovce in the mid-90’s and met some townspeople who took me around to various Jewish cemeteries, and when I left, did some research in the Presov Archives and whatnot. Medzilaborce was another family town. Stropkov was more of a Circleville-type town I guess back then whereas Kozuchovce was more of a Tarleton-type town in size.
Presov was another regional capital back then that housed the archives. Buchovce, there’s lots of different towns there that were important to the Polsters. My great-grandfather had four siblings, full siblings, and then some number, I’m thinking 11 perhaps, half-siblings because his father, Leopold Polster, was married twice and his first wife Sarah Rosenbaum I think died of childbirth because one of her children’s’ names was Sarah. And then Leopold married Hannah Gutter–another big Columbus family the Gutters–and then Hannah and Leopold has five kids, my great-grandfather Morris one of them. And then Louis R. Polster, whose family still maintains his Restaurant Supply Company was another. Lena Polster and Pearl Polster, who married I. H. Schlezinger and who was one of the founders of Tifereth Israel along with Louis R. and Morris.
So it was a fairly large extended family back then and they were kind of all over the place, and like many people at that time, they intermarried second-, third-, sometimes first cousins and so it’s kind of a complex family tree. But just to summarize, some came from Poland, some came from Slovakia, and others came from …. Actually the Polsters came from Poland and Slovakia, Austria-Hungary, and the Nieblooms and Bermans came from Russia.
Interviewer: Did they speak about how they happened to get to the ocean or the ships that brought them here?
Polster: Well, I’ve got a story here that was passed down directly from my great-grandfather, Morris, that tells that story. If I can find the place in this transcript of an interview with Morris and I’ll just read it. He says–and I think this was probably back in the 50s or 60s:
“Well, you know the tax collector was in a town about 30 miles away from home. They called him tax collector but he had other official duties too. I ran into him one day and he said, “Hello Moishel. What are you doing over here? Aren’t you Hannah’s boy?” And I said, “Yes,” and I told him I was looking for him though that wasn’t really true. And Morris goes on to say, “I want to go to America,” I told him and I wanted to borrow some money. Joseph Schildkraut, who later became an important movie industry executive in the United States, was standing there. “I won’t give you the money,” the tax collector said, “but Schildkraut, you give it to him”. “I’ll pay you back as soon as I get to America,” I told him, that’s Morris. Schildkraut gave me 11 guilder. “Whom shall I send it to,” I asked the tax collector, “you or Mr. Schildkraut?” “Just send it to your mother,” he answered. “We’ll get ours from her.”
“Someone had already given me a ticket to America which they were not going to use so I needed only money to Bremen and the 11 guilden were enough. When I got on the boat I went down to the galley and asked if I could do any work for them. The cooks all agreed and I peeled apples and potatoes. Well, you know they had good food for the cabin passengers and the cooks were not going to eat anything less than the best. So I ate well all the way to America.”
“We landed at Locust Point, Maryland in August, near Baltimore, about 3 p.m. I walked to the station and took a train to York, Pennsylvania. I talked to the baggage man there. He spoke German. I told him I was looking for a man who was my brother-in-law named Lichtenberg. He said he knows of Lichtenberg but it probably was not the one I wanted. He lives about two miles out into the town. “
“So I walked along to the address he gave me. I arrived just about daybreak and saw a stark man with a beard down the middle of his skirt smoking his pipe in front of the house, in front of his house. “That’s not the man I said to myself.” The man said to me, “Whom are you looking for young man?” And Marvin, this was in York. Pennsylvania at this time. And Morris goes on to say, I told him I was looking for a Herr Lichtenberg but that I didn’t think that he was the right one. He looked at me and said, “I know of another one. I’m not Jewish. You look at me as if you want the Lichtenberg who has a clothing store.”
“So I walked back to the station and told the baggage man I had not found the person I wanted. Then I told him about the clothing store. He knew the place on Market Street and said he’d take me there when he got off work. Then he asked me if I was hungry. I told him, “Yes”. When he urged me to share his food, he gave me a tremendous sandwich on good broad bread all wrapped neatly in paper and he offered me a cup of coffee. I went outside to eat the sandwich and saw it was ham. It looked like good ham. Of course I did not eat it but put it back in my pocket. “
“After a while I went in and he offered me some more food and a cup of coffee but I told him I had had a drink of water and wanted nothing else. He asked me how the sandwich was and I told him it was very good. And then we walked over to Lichtenberg’s store. Lichtenberg was hanging the suits out on the front of the store for display. He was just opening up. “Here is a guest for you,” said the baggage man. Lichtenberg looked at me and he didn’t recognize me. I thanked the baggage man and then I told Lichtenberg who I was. “
“He called upstairs where he lived to my half-sister Gittel. “Gittel,” he called, “I have a guest here for you.” He had to repeat it. Finally she came to the window. She hadn’t seen me for years and didn’t recognize me but she knew I was a relative. “Which one are you?,” she asked. I told her I was Moishe. She cried and she put her arms around me. “
“I stayed there for five weeks but then it was time for me to go to work so I left York and went to Cleveland, Ohio. My half-brother Charlie was in the saloon business there. Soon I found a job in the beer bottling works. One day I was working there and Mr. Spencer came in and said he wanted me to come to the office. He was a “spender,” a man who went from saloon to saloon for the brewers. The breweries in those days bought saloon licenses, furnished equipment and set men up in saloon business. The spenders made the rounds generally to supervise and to spread good will by buying drinks. “
Polster: By the way, Morris at this point was 13 years old so he was basically being set up in the bar business in Cleveland near his half-brother Charlie by this gentleman. “Spencer,” he says, “took me in the office and told the manager that he wanted to set me up in the saloon business.” “But he’s just a child,” protested the manager. But Spencer insisted and he took me away out to Clark Street on the West side in the Hungarian district. He showed me the place and asked me if I thought I could take care of it. I said, “Yes”. “When do you think you can open?” he said. It was on a Monday afternoon. I told him I could get it open by Saturday. “
“On Friday afternoon they unloaded six kegs of beer, whiskey, gin, all the hard liquor supplies, cigars and tobacco and everything I needed to run a saloon. There were two pool tables. When the driver delivered the beer I had to ask him how to tap a keg. He showed me by tapping the first one. In a few minutes the first customers came in. I had an old colored fellow there to help me. He had done the cleaning up and had worked to get the place open. “
“I ran this place all by myself until 12:00 Friday night. I had done a tremendous business and was too tired to take the electric streetcar the hour-and-a-half ride back to Etta’s house, who was Charlie’s wife. I put my coat on a pool table, used my hat for a pillow and went to sleep. I felt I was too tired to walk to a streetcar. “
“The next morning a man came in and asked me if I was a Polster. I told him “Yes” and asked who he was. He said he was a friend of Etta’s and I asked him if he would have a cigar and a drink. Then I told him to tell Etta that I’d been too tired to go home but that I would be home that night and for her not to worry. Well early the next afternoon I tapped the last keg. I ordered six more. They were amazed at the brewery but the six came and pretty nearly got rid of them that day.”
Polster: And that’s the end of that particular interview. After that, at some point, I’m not sure how long my great-grandfather Morris was in the bar business, but I think that experience probably impacted him enough so that later, when he was in Columbus on Fourth Street, he and his brother opened a restaurant supply store, kitchen supply store. And so Morris was already familiar then with stuff that was in a saloon and so I think that impacted him.
Interviewer: And then the restaurant supply company came from there in an indirect way?
Polster: Right. After they left Circleville in the early 1900s, actually 1900 or 1901–I’ve got photos from that era–Morris, my great-grandfather, opened a store on, where was it–Grandpa always told me… It was at Fourth at Main maybe. And they owned that block essentially. My great-grandfather, before he lost everything in the Depression, he owned the land where the Holiday Inn now stands downtown. And so he opened a restaurant supply business and then his brother, Louie R., Louis R. Polster opened one next to him and I think their brother Max also had a store. So here these guys are along Fourth Street with competing restaurant stores. Eventually my great-grandfather moved more into real estate and then later on owned a pharmacy on, what is that street over there, not Long Street, but….
Interviewer: Mt. Vernon Avenue?
Polster: Mt. Vernon Avenue. That’s right. And so he was in the pharmacy business which inspired my grandfather, Leo, to become a pharmacist and study pharmacy at Ohio State. Then, Leo worked in the pharmacy and later went into the steel business, which is the same business that many other Polsters were in. I. H. Schlezinger, who was Pearl Polster’s husband, and the Schlezinger’s of course had a business and ….
Interviewer: They were in steel, scrap.
Polster: I think that came from, these peddlers, they were selling stuff but they also collected stuff in the countryside and then they found that they were able to make a little money by selling scrap and so a lot of Polsters and many other Jews apparently went into the scrap business, scrap steel, which was a booming business, you know, between the wars and leading up to World War II and afterwards. So, in 1901 they came to Columbus. I’m not sure of the exact date, but I know they were in Columbus because this is around the time that they founded ….
Interviewer: Tifereth Israel?
Polster: Yes. They were at the joint celebration of Simchat Torah and the briss of J. Nathan Polster on October 6,1901, when they were kind of insulted by some of the Jews in the …
Interviewer: In the synagogue?
Polster: in that synagogue.
Interviewer: They wanted a little decorum outside.
Polster: Right, right. And they insulted them by calling them “Hunkies”, the story goes. And the guys were a little bit miffed by that. I presume that even before that they had some reason to separate and so they decided to found their own Temple. They started discussing it that October and talking about the first Hungarian-Hebrew Congregation of Columbus which later became Tifereth Israel.[21:11]
Interviewer: Was their first home in the neighborhood of the, what was called “the Big Shul” that’s Agudas Achim and “the Little Shul” Beth Jacob and then they had Tifereth Israel had its roots in that same area at 330 Parsons Avenue?
Interviewer: And I. H. Schlezinger was a pillar of that Congregation. He served as President for many years and he was a great leader in that Congregation and it hasn’t been forgotten.
Polster: He was as were his sons Louis and Edward and my great-grandfather was one of the first Presidents as well and later served during very difficult times. My great-grandfather served as President of the Congregation and was, I’m told, sort of was an important figure in finding the land and purchasing the land that the Temple now resides on. My grandfather always tells me about how dedicated his father, Morris, was to the Temple, so much so that Morris spent most of his time with the Temple and to some extent my grandfather didn’t get to see him that much and his sisters didn’t get to see him that much and he was one of these guys that, when people died, you know, he would stand watch over the Chevra Kadisha … I don’t know if I’m saying that correctly.
Interviewer: Chevra Kadisha.
Interviewer: That’s preparing the body for burial.
Interviewer: Jewish cemetery.
Polster: And grandpa always missed his dad because his father was always at Tifereth Israel.
Interviewer: That’s, it comes from several generations and I guess one of the latest ones was Eugene Polster who unfortunately passed away last year. But he and his sons carried on his leadership to some extent and Jeanette was Leo’s wife, no Jeanette was Eugene’s wife, no, okay.
Polster: Antoinette, who passed away tragically, was Eugene’s wife. Gene’s mother, Jennie Polster, married her cousin, Tobias (Toby) Polster. I remember meeting Jennie at Gene’s house in the 90s, and at that point, she was almost 100. She lived to 100, as many of the folks in the family did, and she was just a beautiful, elegant lady. Even at that age had a brilliant, beautiful smile, and a sense of humor. It was quite an honor to meet her at that time. Gene was a pillar of the community and his sons carry on. Dr. Bob Polster, the Pediatrician, has also been a Past President of Tifereth Israel. Various relatives have been integrally tied up with Tifereth Israel.
My daughter, Leah, was Bat Mitzvah there several years ago and my son, Ethan, is going to be Bar Mitzvah this coming November there. He’ll be among the fifth generation of Polsters to be Bar Mitzvah there and is among the sixth generation of Polsters to belong there. When they enter the synagogue, they see their relatives names and photos all over the walls, including I. H. Schlezinger, L. R. Polster, Morris Polster and others. We’re quite proud of what Tifereth Israel has become.
Interviewer: Marc, while we’re on the subject of historical leadership, you’ve been very helpful in your work with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. How did you become interested in that, when did it take place? Let me start by asking what was the award that you were presented at the Annual Meeting two months ago?
Interviewer: Was it the Balshone Award?
Polster: No it was a special award for service. And I was very honored by that. That was in recognition of my creating and nurturing and maintaining the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Website for many years.
Interviewer: How did that begin, do you remember ….
Interviewer: what inspired you ….
Polster: I’ll start at the beginning. I remember–and I told this story at that meeting–my grandfather and I were pretty close and, towards the end of his life, we would have lunch every Thursday. At that time I worked out on East Broad Street at Bell Laboratories and he lived close by and we would go to lunch every Thursday and we would talk and talk.
I was interested in the family history and, everywhere we went, we would run into people that he would introduce me to as cousins. There were so many of them, I couldn’t put them in perspective and I couldn’t remember them all. Eventually, I decided that I needed to graph this whole thing out. So, I went about creating a picture as a reference for all these people.
Interviewer: Can you give me a year approximately?
Polster: This would have been the early 1990s when I became interested. Luckily there are several people in the family that had already done some great work. Mildred Simpson, who was descended from L. R. Polster–she was one of his daughters and did a great family tree. Charlie and Etta’s family up in Cleveland did a great family tree. So I started mapping out the family tree and then Grandpa told me about the Columbus Jewish Historical Society of which he was a life member I guess at that point.
Interviewer: …. about what year was that or how long ago?
Polster: Maybe ’94 or ’95 …. And then I got connected with them and I met Peggy Kaplan. Peggy and I worked very closely to preserve some of the artifacts that I had come across. Peggy was very interested in technology and at that point they were being computerized in the offices and so they found me to be quite handy when I would come to visit. I helped fix the computers and helped them use the computers and…
Interviewer: You have a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering?
Polster: Right, I’ve been in the computer business for 25 years now. My father was a Musical Professor at Wittenberg University and was one of the first professors there to use computers in the teaching of music. But Peggy was kinda ahead of her time and she encouraged me to pursue this website idea. I was already working with a number of genealogy groups of the “Hungarian Special Interest Group” (H-SIG) within JewishGen.
JewishGen is a famous and tremendous organization that has helped Jewish genealogy researchers all over the world. They had a group called H-SIG. I worked with them, set up a website that still exists today in the form in which I originally created. Then, I created the CJHS web site and have been maintaining it until recently when Michael and the organization decided to move to a different technology platform.
I had been working on it part time all these years and it was a labor of love and all but I always wished I could do it full time. I was always looking for help from some young computer gook as myself to help me further develop the website. I’m very proud of the way the web site is now.
One of the most important things there–besides the oral histories which are of interest to people all over the world and are just a remarkable and valuable resource–are the Ohio Jewish Chronicles that have been digitized and are amazingly searchable in a very nice way. It’s a great resource and it’s only going to get better and better and more easily searchable. So the website is in good hands now and will become bigger and better through the years. The organization honored me with this beautiful award for my contributions to the web site.
Interviewer: Very good. You are valuable and you have a remarkable resemblance to your father, Ian, who I was privileged to hear him conduct orchestras at the University as a music professor. Can you speak about Ian and also how he left town for Xenia.
Polster: Right, right. Well my dad was the oldest child of Leo and Miriam Polster. My grandfather’s first wife was Miriam Berman. There’s a whole other family history of the Berman family that I have done some work on. My grandmother, Miriam, died in 2004, I think.
Interviewer: She was well known as a singer here.
Polster: She had a beautiful angelic voice and she had a grand piano in her apartment at Heritage Village until the day she died in Heritage House. So Leo and Miriam had my father Ian and also L. Ronald. My dad went to Ohio State University. He was always into music in high school, playing trombone and violin and he composed and arranged music. He was in music groups with Mike Cohen and his buddies. I still see photographs from his confirmation class at Tifereth Israel. He went to OSU and by the time he graduated as a music major and an education major he had two small kids, me and my sister Laura, who is 11 months older than me.
The day I was born February 19, 1961, my dad couldn’t be there because he was conducting the Ohio State Orchestra in a composition that he wrote. I have this program in my bedroom framed from that date. It was one of the first pieces that he wrote. After he got done conducting at Mershon Auditorium, he came to visit me in the hospital. He and my mother met through my mother’s brother, Ray LaMacchia, who was in a band with my dad called The Interludes. This was a Four Freshman type group.
Interviewer: What kind of, what did you call it again? What kind of music?
Polster: If you are familiar with the Four Freshman, it was vocals but all the guys played instruments. So it was a cross between jazz and barbershop quartet, very nice, lush vocal harmonies with instruments. At the same time, the guys were playing instruments. They would sing, then my dad would break into a trombone solo, then they’d sing some more and my uncle Ray would go into a piano solo. The closest comparison would be The Four Freshman, who are still around today. They frequently toured with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. I still have some old tapes of The Interludes. It was a great band. Some of my dad’s sweetest trombone playing that I remember is on some of those recordings.
But they’d play around Ohio State and around the entire State of Ohio and Indiana and for weddings and shows. My Uncle Ray introduced my dad to my mother, Arlene. They found themselves together at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 1958 or ‘59. I can’t remember when Ohio State went there. They further interacted there and were married in ’59. As I said, by the time my dad got out of school, they had two small, screaming kids, which is hard for me to imagine knowing how college is, especially for a guy holding two majors. So after that, he got a job in Xenia, Ohio teaching, being the band director at Xenia High School. He taught there, conducting musicals, their bands and marching band and so I started my life in Xenia.
Later on my dad went back to graduate school at Ohio State, so we moved back to Columbus in the late 60’s. He was a student conductor of the Ohio State Marching Band and got his graduate degree in music. During that time, I started Kindergarten at Kingswood Elementary School off of Fifth Avenue or Third Avenue in Grandview near campus. The next year, we moved back to Xenia where Dad became a professor at Central State University. I remember visiting him in his office there.
I remember the day Martin Luther King died, my father was asked by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, in which he performed as Principal Trombone, to write a piece of music called Fragments From Memory that was performed by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra shortly thereafter. I remember my dad marching that day with a big crowd from Wilberforce and Central State, two historically black colleges, one private, one public that dad taught at. Later, I think in ’70 or ’71, Dad got a job at Wittenberg University as a professor of music there. A year or so later, we moved to Springfield where I continued my education.
In Xenia, I went to Tecumseh Elementary for first and second grade. Then I tested into a place called the Xenia Center For Exceptional Programming, one of these new-aged, 60’s schools that used “at your own pace learning.” It was carpeted and had air conditioning, which was unheard of in those days, and I excelled in math and science and really got a head start in math that carried me through college. And I was there for a couple of years and then we moved to Springfield where my dad taught at Wittenberg and I went to their North High School there and Roosevelt Junior High and Simon Kenton Elementary School.
Interviewer: You got an advanced degree. You got a degree in Music as well as Electrical Engineering…
Polster: Well at Wittenberg, I had two majors: music and physics. I was always into music. My dad started teaching me drums when I was a toddler, got me my first drum set when I was three, and I started taking lessons in Dayton with Jimmy Green when I was eight or nine. I was playing with bands professionally since I was a teenager, and one of which I was in cut a record album in 1979 and that had a big impact on me because it introduced me to the recording studio. I became fascinated with the recording studio.
I decided that I wanted to be a recording studio engineer and producer. So, when I found myself at Wittenberg the next years, they didn’t have a recording studio engineering program. Virtually nobody did in the United States at that time except the University of Miami at Coral Gables. So, I majored in the next best thing which is physics and music. Wittenberg didn’t even have an electrical engineering program or engineering of any type.
So, I majored in music and physics mainly because of that experience. My dad was one of my first music professors and I had the honor of being in his classes which was quite an experience. I found that I excelled in it and I was good. I had no music theory training up to that point. I was just a performer.
Interviewer: What instrument?
Drums and percussion. When I was in high school, I auditioned and was accepted into the Springfield Symphony Orchestra which is a professional orchestra in Springfield. It’s still going and was a very innovative orchestra back then. They played a lot of modern, 20th century music. So, I played in the Springfield Symphony, timpani and percussion for many years through college and high school. I studied music theory with my dad, along with composition and arranging and thought I was pretty good at it.
At one point, I was offered a road job with a guy named Johnny Lytle, who was a fairly famous jazz vibraphone player with many records. He was from Springfield and he invited me to go on the road with him when I was a sophomore at Wittenberg. This was kind of a seminal turning point in my life was deciding whether or not I wanted to go on the road to Europe with this jazz musician playing jazz or if I wanted to stay in college and finish my degree and get a real job. So, I decided on the latter.
Interviewer: Marc, then what brought you back to Columbus?
Polster: Well, just finishing up the Wittenberg story, I met my wife, Laura, there and we traveled together and moved to the East coast and married in ’89 after moving back to Columbus in ’87. I had parlayed by physics degree into jobs, finally ending up at Bell Labs. I had always dreamed of working at Bell Labs. They were the Google and Microsoft of their day, in R&D, had numerous Nobel Prize winners among the staff. I was fortunate to get a job there and I stayed with them for 18 years, moving after a couple of years to Columbus.
Then, Laura and I got married and bought a house and had kids and sent those kids to Beth Tikvah and then we moved to eastern part of Columbus, Gahanna, then started going to Tifereth Israel. So, that’s how we got to Columbus. We went from Springfield to Washington, DC to suburban New York to grad school in Philadelphia and then we moved back to Columbus and my wife started her PhD. in Psychology at Ohio State. So, we made our home here in Columbus which is where I was born and had a lot of family including grandpa, grandma, uncles, aunts, cousins. It’s a very comfortable place to live.
Interviewer: You were involved in the Attorney General’s Office?
Polster: Yes, my most recent position.
Interviewer: In what capacity?
Polster: I was on the Attorney General’s executive team and I served as his Chief Information Officer. I was hired by the Marc Dann administration. I didn’t know Marc or anybody in that administration but was brought into the administration by a guy named Tom Winters who was Dann’s top lawyer. He knew me through a friend of his. Anyway I found myself on a transition team because they needed someone who knew computers and was local and so they found me and I started this fascinating saga of working for the AG’s office, helping them through the transition and then interviewing for the job and getting the job as Chief Information Officer.
I worked there and went through a very interesting period, a period that was historic within the Attorney General’s Office. Marc Dann eventually left the office and a special election being held after two years at which point a new Attorney General was elected. When Marc Dann left office, Nancy Rogers, the dean of the Ohio State University College of Law was appointed by the Governor to the office. So, I worked for Nancy Rogers for 9 months or so and then they held an election of November of that year (2008)–two years early–and Richard Cordray was elected. I served one day of the Cordray administration and he brought his own executive team with him from the Treasurer of State’s Office and so I worked in the Attorney General’s Office from March of ’07 through January of this year, 2009. It was a fascinating period. I could write a book about it. I learned a lot. It was the hardest job I’ve ever had and the most satisfying job in many ways.
Interviewer: What are some of the aspects of the book that you would write?
Polster: Oh, just living through the controversy that we found ourselves embroiled in. I was a witness to that and was one of the few remaining people on the executive team that survived into the next administration. I was in a different building but I had meetings all the time and I knew all the people involved and worked closely with them. It was fascinating in many ways. It was my first job in Government. It was quite an education.
Interviewer: Marc, it’s time for me to turn this tape over.
Interviewer: It’s Marvin Bonowitz again and a very interesting interview with Marc Polster. Marc, how would you like to continue your history? This is fascinating so far and I’m sure it goes on.
Polster: Let’s see, where did we leave off. At the Attorney General’s Office?
Polster: You asked me what I’d write about and I told you a few things. I could talk about this forever. It’s still a little bit fresh, I guess.
Interviewer: I’d like to tell the listeners what you are wearing. It was just photographed by Peggy Kaplan. It says “Our Dad” with three fingerprints in different colors and the names Leah, Ethan, and Anna. Talk about the kids.
Polster: Well my wife and kids made this for me for Father’s Day. Laura is my wife and we’ve been together for 26 years now and married for 20 of those. She and the kids made this for me back in 2002. The kids dipped their hands in ink and pressed them against this shirt and the hand prints remain. They are very small. Leah was just a child back then. She’ll be 18 in four days which is a shock to me as I’ve raised an adult now almost. Ethan is going to be 13. His bar mitzvah is in November, thanksgiving weekend. He’s working really hard for that. And Anna is 10 and she was just a little, you know, toddler when her handprint pressed itself on this shirt. The shirt has lived through many many washings and I wear it all the time because it makes me happy.
Interviewer: I don’t blame you.
Polster: I love my wife and my kids.
Interviewer: I can understand that.
Polster: They are the most important thing in my life.
Interviewer: Do you have other hobbies?
Polster: Other hobbies? Music, I play my drums mostly for the entertainment of my children. I’ve had some professional music jobs the past few years but not as many as I used to.
Interviewer: With what kinds of groups and where?
Polster: Musicals and pit orchestras. One was “Bye Bye Birdie” one was and “Cabaret”. I also have played with 7 to 9 piece jazz bands, mostly the professional playing I did was with jazz groups. I also played with “Walt Disney World on Ice”
Interviewer: Did you travel with them?
Polster: No. What they do is they travel around the country and they bring in their own “ringers” basically, not the entire orchestra. They bring a conductor and a piano player but they hire a drummer and brass and saxophones and trombones and so I was hired when they went to Hara Arena in Dayton a couple times when I was in high school and college and played percussion.
Interviewer: Have you met Artie Kane along that way?
Interviewer: Artie Kane used to conduct for various ice shows. He was Aaron Cohen when he was in Columbus an
Polster: I don’t remember the conductors of these groups. I just came in and played the gig and had to read music. Part of the reason I had so many jobs when I was younger is because I was a rare drummer who could read music and play jazz. But that was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had playing for Disney because the percussionist had to play sound effects that went with the action in the ring. I had to watch the conductor. I had to listen like crazy. Music is a hobby. I like to compose at the piano.
My family is my biggest hobby, genealogy and taking care of my kids, being a home owner, taking care of the house. I like to travel and give my kids new experiences. I like to play golf every once in a while and my son likes to play golf. I’ve got a couple sisters. One of my sisters, Laura Jolley, is here in town in Gahanna. She’s got three kids Ryan, Joshua, and Devon. Devon is heading off to the University of Toledo next year. Ryan is one of the youngest elected officials in Ohio when he was elected to the Gahanna Board of Education when he was 18. He later went on to Ohio State and is now in New York in law school and working.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Polster: Ryan Jolley. The middle child, Joshua, lives and works up near Akron and is soon to be married this coming September. Another sister Mara, married Chris Wilson. So Mara Wilson lives up in Chicago and she’s got a couple of kids and she is distinguished because she created a Shakespeare theater group called The Shakespeare Project of Chicago, which has been around for over 15 years.
Mara was a Theater major at Webster College in Missouri and was always interested in theater and musical drama and when she moved to Chicago, she created this Shakespeare group that provided not full blown productions but very scaled down economic readings of Shakespeare for high schools, junior highs, local communities, libraries. It’s a non-profit group. She created it, nurtured it, and it has been around a long time.
Interviewer: Marc the history of the Polsters is remarkable and you have documented your family’s history in various ways and we have some of those things in the library of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. Would you like to just briefly speak about some of the contents of the document that you put together.
Polster: Sure. This is research I’ve done over the years. I gave a presentation in 1997. All this stuff I find fascinating. I don’t know how interesting it’ll be for others, but I was always fascinated by the surnames in the family tree. I have a page filled with, oh gosh, maybe 100 surnames, comprising Polsters of a different name, like Pearl Schlezinger was a Polster, Midred Simpson and Esther Lowry were Polsters. Frankie Schottenstein, Susan Katz, Judith Hoffman, Geri Ellman, Amy Hymen. All these people are Polsters by birth name who married. Geri Ellman was very helpful resource when I was doing my family history and gave me a lot of information about her side of the family.
Interviewer: A great many of the Polsters have remained part of Central Ohio history.
Polster: That’s right, that’s right. The generations live on. A lot of Polsters have scattered to the wind, all over the place. The descendants of Lous and Morris–many of them–are here in Columbus. Lena Polster Heller, my great grandfather’s sister, died early of breast cancer and her family moved to California. I’ve been in touch with those cousins still in California. Of course, the Schlezingers are Polsters. My grandfather’s sister, Pearl, married I. H. Schlezinger.
Their son, Ed Schlezinger, was a fabulous resource for me through the years of my research. My grandfather, Leo, and I ran into Leo’s first cousin Ed many times during our 20 years of Thursday lunches and Sunday dinners together in various of our favorite places around town. I’ve interviewed Ed many times and taken many notes.
You asked before about some of the towns in Eastern Europe and I’ll rattle off a few and will read that and other information into this “record” for future family historians. The Polster ancestral towns/shtetls include: Bardejov, Medzilaborce, Stropkov, Staskovce, Kozuckovce, Pstrina, Certizna, Brestov, Makovce, Kurima, Dukla, Rimanov, Deshno, Komarnik, Poruba, Mrazocve. All these names, by the way, have different pronunciations depending on who’s in charge.
Interviewer: What general area of the country?
Polster: This would be in the northeastern and eastern area near the Polish and the Ukraine border. All those people came to the US because, as they heard from prior emigres, the streets were paved with gold in the US and many of them took full advantage of that and made something of themselves and their families. And their families live on here in Columbus.
Interviewer: They were a significant asset to the Jewish community in Columbus. The Jewish community seems to have been based on migrations of one kind or another.
Polster: Right. Jewish history is all about migrations and I know you know a lot about this, Marvin. In fact, part of my family was part of the German migration in the mid-1800’s. The family of my grandfather’s 2nd wife, Ruth Silberstein, came earlier. The family of my paternal grandmother, Miriam Berman, the Sternbergs and the Schlesingers were reformed Jews from those earlier migrations as I understand it. Most of my family came over in the Eastern European migrations and, even when they got to the US, they migrated all over the place and then when they came to Columbus, they migrated all over the place.
Interviewer: In your grandfather’s generation, there was Charles (Chick) Polster and his sister Hannah. They lived on Bryden Road. Tell us about that. Those were people that I knew.
Polster: Well I don’t know that much Charles and Hannah. I’ve got their family trees and how they are related to everybody, but the larger migration, the Jewish migration to Columbus, as you said was started at one place and moved east, then to Bexley. I was fascinated by that, so I mapped out my Great Grandfather’s migration to Columbus.
Just going back in history a little bit and reading census and phone information into the record, my great-grandfather lived in many places in Columbus. It was interesting how much they moved around. My great grandfather was not the first in the family to go to Circleville. My records say that Moses and Sarah Polster went to Circleville in 1878, followed by Charles Polster in 1886 and Charles’ wife, Etta Polster, in 1888. Both Charles and Etta Polster later moved to Cleveland. Then Louis R. and Anna Hibschman Polster moved to Circleville in 1891, Abe Polster in 1893, my great grandfather, Morris Polster in 1895, Max Polster, Morris’ younger brother in 1899. I.H. Schlezinger came over in 1899 but I.H. Schlezinger didn’t go to Circleville.
I mentioned a little bit about my great grandfather’s journey and life in Tarleton, where Moses and Sarah Polster lived at the Southeast corner of Reading at Elizabeth. They owned land in Circleville on East Franklin. Of the Circleville “ghetto,” my first relative in that place was Moses Polster. There was a congregation B’Nai Israel, an orthodox synagogue, formed by the Hungarian Jews of Circleville. I don’t know if you’ve heard that, Marvin. They maintained a connection with Agudas Achim and I guess that’s how my family was connected with Agudas Achim when they first moved to Columbus. That’s where they went before they founded Tifereth Israel.
In Circleville, there was a Hungarian Jewish ghetto on East Franklin Street in the 1880 and 90’s near where Moses and Sarah Polster lived at 543 Franklin. Abe Polster and Ella Polster were there. S. J. Wasserstrom, a cousin, lived at 343 E. Franklin and then 531 East Franklin. The Rothmans (Etta Rothman Polster’s family) were there, the Bonowitzs were there on Franklin Street. The Friedmans were there as well. A fairly large Jewish community was there in Pickaway County. When they got here, they’d send for others, and those others would come.
When my great grandfather got to Columbus, he first lived at 519 Elmwood Ave in 1903 and 1904. Then he moved to Donaldson, 576 Donaldson, Washington at Donaldson. The South side of Donaldson is where my grandfather, Leo, was born. Then the family moved in 1915. I have a record of them living at 495 Donaldson. Then, sometime later, they moved to 224 18th Street, two-thirds the way to Rich from Bryden and that’s where my great great grandmother, Hannah Gutter Polster, died. Then my great grandfather, Morris Polster, and his family moved to 751 Kimball, where they lived from 1919 to 1924. Then, they moved into Bexley where everyone was migrating to.
The Morris Polsters were living well and things were going great and they had businesses and burgeoning families. They moved to 2548 Sherwood in Bexley from 1925 to 1930. My grandfather, Leo Polster, has lots of memories from that time. The house there is still standing. Then, once the depression hit, they moved to the West side of Gilbert Street, south of Livingston, north of Sycamore from 1937 to 1939. With their kids gone, my great grandparents, Morris and Lena Polster, then moved to 831 Franklin Ave, then to Brunson.
Morris Polster’s last house was at 811 S. Roosevelt between Astor and Mound and my great grandfather, Morris, lived with his wife, Lena, until he died. He had businesses. His first business was at 278 S. Fourth Street, which is the Southeast corner of Town @ Fourth and was Morris’ restaurant supply store, a bakery, and a drug store apparently, all tied up in one. He moved to 166 S. Fourth and had a china store there in 1915 and moved to 170 S. Fourth where he had a chinaware store from 1925 to 1930.
Then, at the Southwest corner of 3rd at State, Morris Polster had a store until 1935 or 1936 according to my grandfather. On the South side of Bryden between Berkeley and Morrison, he had a business in 1930. Actually, I think he owned land there. He also owned a lot at the Northeast corner of 18th Street at Main St. He owned a big piece of land there according to my grandfather, Leo. Morris Polster also owned a store on the North side of Rich Street, south of Bryden.
I have a bunch of these records, from phone records and census records, that show that he moved around starting in downtown then moving east and then further east until he died in Bexley. Other Polsters in my records: Esther and Harold Lowy had a home on the Southeast corner of Mt. Vernon and Astor. Rachel Niebloom, my great grandmother Lena Niebloom Polster’s mother, lived on Mound Street between 6th and 7th. I. H. Schlezinger moved to Bryden and later died there. McAllister and Parson’s Ave, which you mentioned before, is where Tifereth Israel was until 1925. That’s a lot of detail.
I mentioned before the Polster’s involvement with Tifereth Israel. My records show that a Polster was president of Tifereth Israel in 34 of 41 years from 1914 and 1955, 83% of the time. This includes not only my great grandfather, Morris Polster, but also L.R. Polster, president in 1916-17, I. H. Schlezinger in 1917-1918, my great grandfather, Morris Polster, was again president from 1918 to 1925. I. H. Schlezinger was president from 1928 to 1932 and then again from 1935 to 1941. Louis Schlezinger was president from 1945 to 1949. Martin Polster from 1950 to 1952, Louis Schlezinger from 1954 to 1955, Marvin Katz, a cousin, from 1975 to 1977, and Dr. L. Robert Polster, most recently, from 1987 to 1989. So, my great grandfather would be quite proud, were he alive, that his descendants and the descendants of his brothers and sisters were involved with the congregation to which he dedicated much of his life to.
Interviewer: The Polsters are a young nation. They haven’t gone far from Columbus and Gahanna. I want to praise you, again, for your volunteer activities with the Historical Society. Who did the transcriptions of CJHS oral histories before you did? Describe what you do.
Polster: I created the original CJHS website and the website holds information, including oral history transcriptions. I don’t know who transcribed the first oral history, not I. I think you were one of the first transcribers but there were basically a bunch of tapes containing this precious information. When I first created the website, I experimented with RealAudio and had actual audio streaming of a couple oral histories so you could surf over to the web site and actually listen to the voices of these figures that gave testimony. That was not very labor intensive.
Nowadays it very, very easy to record all those oral histories on digital recording and then move those recordings directly to the website and be able to stream the audio and listen to the people directly on the web without having to go through all the labor of transcribing, which is a very complicated business, as you know, Marvin. Not only do you have to understand the words and be able to type them out error free. If you don’t know the languages and the subtleties of the history and the families involved, you might not be able to correct mistakes or even correctly transcribe what’s there. So, once you have the transcription, you have to go back and correct all the errors and it’s very laborious.
In the future, hopefully, we will do it directly in digital audio and put those recordings directly on the web site. The transcriptions are useful in themselves because you can take that text and incorporate it into other research people are doing around the world so the transcriptions are very important too. Right now, I’m aware that there are dozens of oral histories waiting to be transcribed that otherwise could be listened to now were they in digital format.
I think that the future of the CJHS (website) will be in that area and also hopefully we will be moving into ways of generating revenue for the Society to fund some of the research and activities that we do. For example, some of the photographs that we have in our archives might be of interest to people who might pay a few dollars to print the out. That’s something you can experiment with on the web using PayPal or credit cards and I think some people might be eager for the opportunity to purchase historical society books and artifacts and materials and photographs or artifacts.
Right now, we give this stuff away for free, which is the way it should be, but there are some things, especially the Topy photographs, that might be great sellers on the web site. People, as they look through our materials, might be inspired to donate a dollar or two every once in a while, which would be very easy to collect on the web site.
I think the most important recent innovation on the web site has been the Ohio Jewish Chronicle on which researchers can do free text searches through the entire collection and very quickly go to the original OJC articles that mention, perhaps, a member of their family or events. It’s a fantastic resource.
There are a lot of things we can do with the web site that I started back in the 1990s as it moves to the future. New and more modern technology can be incorporated into it, providing easier ways for people other than the webmaster to update content. For example, you or Michael or Peggy or somebody with the keys could make content changes without having to go through the webmaster. That’s another innovation we could do on the web site.
Interviewer: Well, Marc, also known as Moshe Ben Yitzak, for your efforts in the Oral History Project of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society are unique and incomparable. The time you’ve put in and the effort and energy are very much appreciated and on behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project all these years and this concludes our interview on August 10, 2009, Marvin Bonowitz speaking.
Polster: You’re welcome Marvin and I want to thank you for doing this interview and also it’s a great honor to be interviewed by you as your contribution to the Society and community has been great for many years, so thank you very much for interviewing me.
Interviewer: I appreciate that. Thank you very much.