Please Note: Martin Kopp’s post-war oral history is available for viewing during CJHS normal operating hours, 9:30-2:30, Monday through Thursday.
This Oral History interview is being conducted on September 29, 2010 for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. The interview is being conducted by David Graham and is at the residence of Mr. Martin H. Kopp. We’ll be interviewing Martin regarding his lifetime experiences. I’ll spell his name, M-A-R-T-I-N H. K-O-P-P.
Kopp: As in “policeman”.
Interviewer: As in “policeman”. And now we’ll begin. And I can call you Marty? That all right?
Interviewer:Marty, okay. We like to include in our interview background regarding your family history. This will give us some perspective of the times prior to your wartime experience, which is our main focus, your time as a Merchant Marine. But we want to know a little bit about your background and then also, during our discussion, if you can recall during your wartime service, the opportunities you had to practice your religion or observe holy days, that sort of thing. Or how observant was your family and were you able to carry that on, anything that comes to mind would be helpful for the archives. So in mentioning those two aspects, why don’t we begin. You had told me earlier on the phone, looking at my notes, that you began more or less in New York City.
Interviewer:I’d like to know about your heritage to the Old Country which you might remember.
Kopp:I was born in New York City and later on the hospital caught fire and burned down so we wouldn’t make that mistake again. And but actually my father was born in Chicago and my mother was born in Elmira, New York. I do not know how they got together. But my father’s father, my father’s name was Charles Henry Kopp. I’m Martin Henry Kopp. His father, my grandfather, was Henry Kopp. And Henry Kopp came from an area of Europe called Bohemia. My mother, my mother’s father came from the Ukraine in Russia and during his…oh when he was about 12 or 13 years old, the Russian army picked him up as a Jewish recruit but because he was Jewish he got to shine shoes and clean latrines and everything but military.
Interviewer:Because he was Jewish?
Kopp:Yeah, ’cause he was a slave really.
Interviewer:Even in those sort of ancient times to us, which would have been what, 1890?
Kopp:Oh much earlier, even earlier, around the time of the Civil War or a little after, around 1860. It must have been 18–, well my mother was born in ’94.
Kopp:Yes so I would guess that . . . .
Interviewer:Do you remember her maiden name just by chance?
Kopp:Yeah that was my . . . .
Interviewer:M-O-S- . . . .
Kopp:And her father, my grandfather’s name was Solomon Moseson.
Interviewer:Solomon Moseson. And this is the young man who was in the Czar’s army?
Interviewer:And treated . . . .
Kopp:He deserted during the Russian-Turkish War. He deserted to the Turks. And somehow, I never did find out how, he got all the way across Europe into America and up to Elmira, New York.
Interviewer:Oh my word. As a result of that war . . . .
Kopp:But on top of that, his brother and sister also arrived in Elmira and I have no idea how that family ever got together.
Interviewer:Now this was what, passed down as verbal history to you?
Interviewer:From your family?
Interviewer:Did you know your mother?
Kopp:Oh yes, and my grandfather as well. He was a very Orthodox Jewish . . . .
Interviewer:You knew this man?
Kopp:My grandfather. Yeah the one that was a deserter from the Russian army.
Interviewer:You know that’s truly remarkable that you have that and now we have that linkage to what was history.
Kopp:Well he was in Elmira. Now my mother’s mother, that is Grandpa Moseson’s wife, my grandmother, she came from just outside Kiev in Russia.
Interviewer:Uh huh, that’s Ukraine.
Kopp:Yes and I don’t know, apparently they were very well educated and comfortably . . . . but she was coming to America on what was to be a visit. And she had a brother in Liverpool, England. She had a daughter also. The daughter was like six or seven years old. My Aunt Sonia, my mother’s sister. My mother hadn’t been born yet. And so she left her daughter with her brother in Liverpool and the child was like six or seven years old. And my grandmother came to New York and the, her relatives there, cousins, a family named Haft, H-A-F-T, and apparently they were well-to-do. But instead of her going back to Europe, they prevailed upon her to stay in New York and somehow they hooked her up with Grandpa Moseson who was up there in Elmira, New York. And he was a widower and he had a daughter and two sons and I knew all three.
Interviewer:Oh my goodness.
Kopp:As a result of the marriage though, my grandmother brings a daughter into the marriage, he brings a daughter and two sons and then they had a son and daughter mutually which was a pretty good-sized family.
Interviewer:Wow. That would be.
Kopp:Grandpa Moseson was a very, very Orthodox Jewish guy. And Elmira, New York did not have facilities for Jewish cooking or Jewish, so he had a chicken coop, I’ll never forget this, where he did his own slaughtering in accordance with the religious rules. And I used to be parked there. My father died when I was only four years old. He was 30. And so my mother used to bring me up in the summertime to Elmira and park me with my grandfather. And I was four-five-six-seven years old, that age group. And of course I was very impressed with that. Later on I would go to Elmira but I stayed with cousins. And Grandpa was a very tough hombre.
Interviewer:Well he must have had a long life. That would be in the 20s.
Kopp:I have a picture of him.
Kopp:. . . . the hat. And I have a picture of my other grandfather, my paternal grandfather as well.
Interviewer:Well this is terrific.
Kopp:He was quite a guy too.
Interviewer:Well how is it that, you told me on the phone that you sort of wound up in New York City as a homeless waif, so to speak.
Kopp:Well no I wasn’t a waif.
Kopp:I had, the family, my mother remarried when I was about eight years old. So she was a widow for about four years. And she, my uncle, her brother, had bought a house together in New Rochelle, New York. And he lived, he worked in Mamaroneck which was northeast of New Rochelle and she worked in the city, Manhattan. So it was convenient in both directions. I went all the way through school there and when my mother remarried in 1924, what happened was she married a guy who was quite well-to-do, named Lou, Louis Weinstein. And a couple of years later my sister was born and as a result, I was automatically disinherited from the family wealth. So they took me up to White Plains and they filled out some kind of adoption papers which I have somewhere around the house and I now became Martin Weinstein. Now . . . .
Interviewer:Can I ask a question? I don’t understand why does this disinherit you?
Kopp:I don’t either but there was some legal rule so my mother and step-father had to adopt me.
Interviewer:But you are her blood son?
Kopp:Yeah but she was married and now she had a daughter and that daughter was the direct heir of my step-father. So I would have been disinherited, at least that’s the way I . . . .
Interviewer:From his, from his . . . .
Interviewer:. . . . estate?
Kopp:Yeah my mother had nothing and he had, he had a yacht, he had two cars including a Cadillac. (mixed voices) The family, they wanted to, okay. So I went all the way through school there as Martin Weinstein. I graduated and I wound up going to college at City College in New York. And the Depression, I graduated in June of ’33 and . . . .
Kopp:No from high school.
Interviewer:High school, right, okay.
Kopp:And then the Depression took over the family and it broke up and they couldn’t afford for me to go to college and I had qualified for scholarships at the Cornell University, a state scholarship, and City College in New York. For some reason I was eligible there too. And I wound up going at night.
Interviewer:Were you a good student then?
Kopp:Yeah. Well that’s a good question because I’m going to college at night, you take nine credit hours and then graduate with 128, or something like that, 132. But the problem I had was that I got a job with the Cunard Steamship Company in 1936. And my mother and step-father had split by that time. They were not divorced, but maybe they were, I don’t recall that. I was not terribly alert to that. But she got jobs out of town, not only not in New Rochelle but not even in New York where we had an apartment. So when she had to go out of town, of course they moved out of the apartment. And I was going to college for free, well $6 a semester. This is where Felix Frankfurter and Colin Powell graduated. I’m also a . . . . graduate of City College of New York. And so it’s 1936 and my mother’s moving out of town. I don’t have a place to live. I have a job. I’m making like $16 a week.
Interviewer:But you had money?
Kopp:And, yeah you could travel the subway on a nickel and the New York Times was three cents and the Daily News was two cents. But I learned about the 92nd Street YMHA. That’s the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. And it’s something like the JCC here in town but with 270-guys living there in dormitories, and usually two guys to a room. And that was a charge of $5 a week for rent.
Interviewer:Could of been $5 a month.
Kopp:I don’t re–, I’m not too sure . . . .
Interviewer:Would be kind of high in the 20s.
Kopp:No I was $16, $5 would be my rent, yeah . . . .
Interviewer:That include board for you?
Kopp:But they had a kosher cafeteria with both milchik and fleishek . . . .
Interviewer:Well it would be a good point to ask you at this time, had you adopted some of your grandfather’s Orthodoxy or?
Kopp:No I was brought up as a Reform Jew. My step-father was Conservative but the Bar Mitzvah that they arranged for me was at a Reform congregation.
Kopp:Which I know that’s a very interesting connection. When I, after my Bar Mitzvah, the Temple Israel it was called in New Rochelle, grew and got to be larger and the city was growing and the Jewish population grew. And we had a Conservative congregation and we had an Orthodox congregation. And there was a change of rabbis in the Reform congregation and a Rabbi Lux, I think was his name, came from guess where, Columbus, Ohio.
Interviewer:Is that right?
Kopp:And so I was . . . . when I came out because Columbus, Ohio was across the Hudson River someplace towards Mongolia or wherever.
Interviewer:At that time (mixed voices) . . . .
Kopp:. . . . that was away, away.
Interviewer:Did you go to Hebrew School?
Kopp:Yeah, no I had a tutor came to the home.
Interviewer:Why is that?
Kopp:I have no idea.
Kopp:But all I remember was he always wore black clothes and he carried an umbrella. And the umbrella was there and I had to learn, bang, bang.
Interviewer:Was that in Elmira or . . . .
Interviewer:New Rochelle, uh huh.
Kopp:Anyway by 1936 I get the job with Cunard Line and the Social Security Act came into effect. And Cunard being a British company wanted to comply very carefully with American rules and they wanted my birth certificate. So I go down to the, this is in New York, and I go down to the Department of Health and I have no birth certificate. There is no Martin Weinstein. Well is there a Martin Kopp? Yes they find that. Well now I’m 20 years old and I call up, I get a lawyer and I said, “What is my name?” Am I Martin Kopp or Martin Weinstein? And he says you were Martin Kopp as your legal name but you’re entitled to use any alias you want as long as it’s not to escape debtors or creditors or criminal investigation. So you’ve been using the name Martin Weinstein legally but your real name is Martin Kopp. So I’ve got the birth certificate and I had to go and change all my college stuff and my information at Cunard as well. And that was, that’s how I got to be Martin Kopp again.
Interviewer:Several identities even at that time? That’s interesting. Well what, what then brings us maybe into the World War II time period?
Kopp:Well what happened was . . . .
Interviewer:Did you sail on this Cunard line? Did you . . . .
Kopp:No I sailed on other ships.
Interviewer:Before, I mean before the war?
Kopp:No I was supposed to make a trip on one of the Cunard ships.
Interviewer:But you, what did you do for this Cunard . . . .
Kopp:Well I was, I’m at City College in New York and I’d started there in February of ’34. It’s a limited requirement. When you go at night you were allowed to take nine credit hours, three subjects. And in those days the college degree included specialization but also cultural background. So you had to take a number of cultural courses, one of which was a foreign language and I chose French. And . . . .
Interviewer:Any particular reason why you chose French?
Kopp:I can’t remember.
Kopp:But I remember the course. It was French 71. And I flunked it. Now you’re only taking three courses. You have to maintain a C+ average to stay at this $6 a semester level.
Interviewer:Uh huh. (Check and make sure we’re on. Okay.) And you flunked French?
Kopp:I flunked French so that would bring my average down. I was getting Bs in my other, the two other subjects, but that F in French brought my average down to this dangerous C+ area. And I had to take the course over again. I flunked it a second time. And now I’m going to be a limited student, they called it. You couldn’t take three courses, you could take two. But should you, you could only be a limited student for one semester. If you didn’t raise yourself out of the limited category, you were out. And so I passed French this . . . .
Kopp:the third time. But by that time because I was restricted, I had to get out of the restriction. Somebody told me that there was a, they called it a crap course called Accounting, Accounting 101. So I took the course now on the cultural school, not a business school, and I got an A. To me it’s very easy. We start with 30 students, we end up with 18. And I’m a straight A student in this course. So I figured I better take another course to make sure this grade level stays up. And I took a second, got another A. And by this time I’m also getting a job down at the Cunard Steamship Company in ’36, 1936. So I switched to the School of Business down at 23rd and Lexington in New York and I kept getting straight As in Accounting. So I figured I’m not going to be a dentist, that was the original plan. And I went to the Thomas W., well I was a pre-Dental student at the University of Pennsylvania. But that was only one semester and the money ran out. But the resulting career was I was studying Accounting and the job I got in Accounting was the Accounting Office Boy in the Accounting Department of the Cunard Steamship Company. And . . . .
Interviewer:Where were they located?
Kopp:They were located at 25 Broadway (mixed voices) down at the foot of Manhattan Island, almost.
Kopp:And all the steamship companies had offices down there. Cunard had a very elegant set of offices.
Interviewer:Did they have many Jewish employees?
Kopp:Only one other, a gal. I still remember her name, Fanny Besson. And she was . . . .
Kopp:Yeah. And Fanny was the secretary to the Chief Accountant. And the reason I got the job was that the Chief Accountant’s son, they lived up the block from me in New Rochelle, and he and I were best friends . . . .
Interviewer:Oh from your . . . .
Kopp:from grade school.
Interviewer:Oh. (mixed voices)
Kopp:So I was looking for a job. We had a thing called the NRA in those days, the National Recovery Act. And, I’m a little older than most people.
Interviewer:Yeah that one . . . . historic.
Kopp:That had a minimum wage like $15.75 for forty hours. And it had a provision of overtime which was a whole new concept at that time. And so anyway I wound up with the job at Cunard as Office Boy in the Accounting Department because of my connection with Mr. Nichols.
Interviewer:Was Mr. Nichols Jewish?
Kopp:No, no. And I’m now living at the 92nd Street Y and I moved in, oh that was interesting. They moved me in with another guy and I didn’t ever know him. Turned out he was the Night Editor for the Pathe Newsreel Company in New York.
Interviewer:Wow that’s quite a big deal.
Interviewer:Making all those newsreels we saw . . . .
Kopp:Well his goal was to be a cameraman.
Interviewer:in the movies. Do you remember his name?
Kopp:Sure, Murray Alvey. We lived together for many years.
Kopp:Murray, about a month after I moved in with him, was promoted to Day Editor for the Pathe Newsreels.
Interviewer:You know they still exist?
Kopp:Oh I didn’t know that, no.
Interviewer:Well at least in archives, one of my . . . .
Kopp:Well the, what happened, he’s a story by himself. I have some wonderful pictures from those days. But anyway what happened was here’s Murray now a Day Editor and he doesn’t even want that job. He wants the job as a cameraman. He wanted to be a newsreel cameraman. Willie Beoff was the President of the Cameraman’s Union. I remember that name. I don’t remember why. But a guy had to die first to create an opening for membership.
Kopp:Literally. ‘Cause it was a lifetime job. And also very good pay. I mean it was like I’m making $16 a week and I think he was making like $30.
Interviewer:To be a cameraman?
Kopp:Yeah. He would have been, no he would make like $40 or $50 a week as a cameraman. But as Editor it was a desk job and it didn’t have the same glamour or anything like that going with it.
Kopp:So he’s now a Day Editor and he’d been spending years at night staying up all night. So he couldn’t go to sleep early at night. I’d come back from college at night and I went on, because I had this accounting background, I was promoted in the Cunard Steamship Company very quickly to a westbound passage money clark, not clerk but clark.
Kopp:And while I was there I had to learn English. For example, I was there just a couple of weeks and somebody said to me, “The Queen Mary,” which was up at Pier 90 which is around 50th Street, “would sail at noon or close to it”. And because our offices and the Accounting Offices were on the second floor of the building, but it was a huge, the first floor was like three floors high, so the second floor overlooked a lot of tenements and low buildings between the Cunard Line offices and the Hudson River. And somebody wanted to know if the Queen had sailed yet. And I said, “Yes I just saw her go down”, because I could see the stacks. I’m in the office. It got very quiet and I thought I must have said something wrong. And one of the guys says, “Mr. Kopp, a ship does not go down, it goes out”. So I learned to speak more carefully. A couple weeks later, about a month later I guess, again the same question came up. But now I’m so knowledgeable see, so I said, “No the boat just went out”. Another deadly silence. “Mr. Kopp, a boat is part of a ship’s equipment. The ship is what sailed.” (laughter).
Kopp:I was learning English.
Interviewer:Right, I understand.
Kopp:Oh I had another experience many, many years later with English. I was working in Nottingham, England. This was 19–, oh 1984, I guess. Yeah, 1984. I have a reason for remembering it. And I had arrived Sunday night at this job and it was the offices in a six-story building. I was one of our, what we called Installation Chiefs at that time on a productivity job. And again with my English language problem, this guy’s name as Nevill something or other. I’m there the first day, it’s Monday. And he said, “Do you want to go to lunch. We’ll take the elevator down the street.” Narrow, cobblestone street. And we turned left and we go down a couple of doors and there’s a pub there. And in America we weren’t allowed to drink at noontime but in Europe you do. It’s not restricted. So we go into this pub and there’s a bar and a barmaid behind it. And Nevill says, “I’ll have a ham salad and a pint”. So I’m visualizing a ham salad. So I said, “I’ll have the same thing, too. I didn’t know what it was. Turns out it’s a ham sandwich with lettuce on it.
Kopp:And the pint. So she delivers his ham salad and a pint. She delivers my salad and a pint at the bar and spills a little of the beer on my hand. So as she turns away I said, “Miss, Miss”. She says, “Yes”. I said, “I need a napkin”. This guy Nevill is poking me in the ribs. He says, “You need a serviette. A napkin they get at the chemist’s.”.
Interviewer:Oh yeah? (laughter).
Kopp:So that was like . . . .
Interviewer:They had certain names like “nappies” and for babies.
Kopp:Yeah but uh . . . .
Interviewer:Oh you have a great memory of . . . .
Kopp:I have reasons for the various things happening at certain times.
Interviewer:But how does it . . . .
Kopp:But anyway I’m getting way ahead of myself.
Interviewer:Now it does bring to mind that you did do a terrific thing here in creating some of the memoirs. I have not had a chance, “The Recollections From World War II Service”.
Kopp:Oh yeah. And the last page is . . . .
Interviewer:You wouldn’t want to repeat any of this during this interviewer?
Kopp:There’s a . . . .
Interviewer:But maybe . . . .
Kopp:some of those cartoons were taken in Russia at the time of V-E Day.
Kopp:at the time of V-E Day.
Interviewer:Maybe a comment about what caused you to create this one . . . . It’s many pages . . . .
Kopp:Well what happened was I lived at the 92nd Street Y for five years. And in September of ’39 I believe it was, they had the Draft. And so I signed up for it. Turned out that when the Army called me I was ineligible because of bad eyes, flat feet and a lumbar scoliosis of the back. So they turned me down. I was very disappointed. I went to the Navy because I had the Cunard background and, by this time I was in Public Accounting as a CPA, but what happened was I graduated in ’41 and I got married at the end of the year and in ’43, I discovered that because of my three-and-a-half years with the Cunard Line I was eligible for a Purser’s Certificate from the Coast Guard and could become a Merchant Marine officer overnight.
Interviewer:What is a Purser’s Certificate?
Kopp:This is a license to be the bookkeeper, paymaster, the requisition business agent on board a ship.Have you ever taken a cruise?
Interviewer: Well I had many years ago.
Kopp:Well the guy that issues your tickets and all that, but anyway they broke the jobs into two categories. There’s the business agent, who’s the purser and the hotel manager who runs the catering and the food services and the steward’s department. But back in those days it was one job and the problem was you just had to be able to walk up the gangway. So I learned that by accident and I immediately applied to the Coast Guard for a license. And they checked my record and they said, “Well you have to have a year and a half of sea time to be eligible for a Purser’s Certificate. But we can give you credit for 50% of your steamship experience with Cunard. That will give you a little over a year and a half so you will be commissioned an Ensign in the Merchant Marine and a Purser.
Interviewer:And you, had you actually ever sailed?
Kopp:Not until then.
Interviewer:Out of port?
Interviewer:And yet they gave you the . . . .
Kopp:Yeah I was eligible. What happened was I was doing an audit of a brewery called Liebman Rhinegold Beer in Brooklyn, New York, very large brewery. And I had just completed the Annual Review when I got a call, and I’m already married, I got a call about 10:00 in the morning near the end of March of ’44. “Mr. Kopp?” “Yeah.” “Be aboard the S.S. Charles Brantley Aycock before 4:00 this afternoon.” And I think if you have that book . . . .
Interviewer:Right I was just looking here. This is where (break on tape) . . . .
Interviewer:Okay, this completed Side A. Now we’re beginning Side B of our interview. Okay. I’ll take a picture, we’ve mentioned the photograph of your ship and the signboard turned upside down.
Kopp:Yeah the . . . .
Interviewer:The snapshot of that.
Kopp:That’s the only thing I have on that.
Interviewer:From that time period?
Interviewer:Well we were going to back up and get a little description of how it is you met your wife. You were already married at this time of March ’44.
Kopp:Well what happened was . . . .
Interviewer:So we’ve kind of got a gap from 1936 to ’44.
Kopp:Well in that period I lived at the Y until ’41. And I was born in 1916 so I was 20 years old when I moved in the Y and I was going to college at night and I was attending Free, what they called the Free Synagogue in New York. Stephen Wise was the Rabbi there. And it was a Reform congregation I think you would call it. And they had what they called the Junior League. This was for young folk who were in their early 20s so that the guys could meet the gals.
Kopp:And it met every Sunday afternoon around 4:00 or 4:30. And they had music to dance by and sing songs and stuff, activity. And then the group I was mixed up with, we would always negotiate a deal for dinner that night at somebody’s home and considering my lack of income, it was a big help.
Interviewer:Okay, so you had a social network so to speak.
Kopp:Yeah and that’s where I met Roslyn. I’ll show you a picture of her. Move down through these, oh that’s an interesting story by itself.
Interviewer:Okay, so we’re looking at a stack of pictures. I’ll just . . . .
Kopp:There’s another, put us on a pause here.
Interviewer:You say your wife passed away rather suddenly?
Kopp:Yeah she had an aortic aneurysm.
Interviewer:What year was that?
Kopp:1974. It was in August of 1974.
Interviewer:Did you have children?
Kopp:Yeah we had two boys. And I remarried then. My second wife had a daughter and so I have two sons and a daughter.
Interviewer:Oh I see.
Kopp:We never described her as a step-daughter. Fact is the two sons and their two sons . . . .
Interviewer:Okay so you have more family . . . .
Kopp:. . . .
Interviewer: …later then.
Kopp:The one guy with the mustache, well I guess everybody’s got a mustache. (laughter).
Kopp:Let’s see, the guy holding the drink, he’s, lives in Atlanta. The other one lives in Bexley and the two grandsons both live here in Columbus and one of them is a doctor at Children’s Hospital now..
Interviewer:And let’s say the names, sort of, we could fill that all out on the chart..
Kopp:Yeah, going across here. This is Michael..
Interviewer:From left to right in that photo, is Michael..
Kopp:Yeah. Michael Andrew Kopp..
Kopp:This is his son Benjamin T. Kopp, the doctor at Children’s Hospital.
Kopp:This is me right here. This is Josh Kopp.
Interviewer: On your left in the photo.
Kopp:Josh was very, he graduated Bexley High School but he was on the staff at JCC for a long time. And this is his father, the older guy.
Interviewer:Okay well I’ll take the snapshot and include that with the interview tapes so we’ll have something nice. Also to help with the oral part here, we need to have that photo. Okay.
Kopp:Good. And when was this? June of 1978. This is a crowd.
Interviewer:Uh huh, that’s nice.
Kopp:That’s everybody, my second wife, her daughter and the rest of the gang. Oh here’s . . . .
Interviewer:We might be interested Martin in making maybe a more glossy copy of some of these photos from your book. I don’t know, I haven’t looked at the book yet.
Kopp:I don’t know if I have orig–, wait, that’s the Frank Dale. That is a small ship and a lot of stories go with that.
Interviewer:Uh huh. I, here your sister Irene.
Kopp:Oh yeah there’s a . . . .
Interviewer:Nice photo. Okay. Well let’s try to keep this oral part going because people cannot see the photos without looking at some other material.
Kopp:Well let’s see, where are we?
Interviewer:Well we’re filling in that time period from 1936 to ’44 when your book begins.
Interviewer:We talked about you meeting your wife through that social . . . .
Kopp:Junior League they called it.
Interviewer:Junior League. Okay.
Kopp:At Temple Israel.
Interviewer:Do you recall . . . .
Interviewer:the circumstances exactly. I mean was it like, did you meet at some kind of a party or?
Kopp:Yeah this group gathered every Sunday afternoon like a soiree.
Kopp:And the best part was that usually the gals arranged for dinner at their home. There would be ten or fifteen of us who would get together and we were all in our 20s.
Interviewer:And her maiden name was?
Kopp:Her father was the President of the synagogue, very Orthodox synagogue on the lower east side.
Interviewer:President of the synagogue?
Kopp:Yeah. It was Temple Anschei . . . .
Interviewer:Did that kind of put you a little nervous as to . . .
Kopp:Chevrah Poel Zek Anschei Illia was the name of the place.
Interviewer:Is that right?
Kopp:Chevrah, C-H-E-V-R-A-H in English. Poel, P-O-E-L, Z-E-K and that was the name of the place. And Anschei means from, A-N-S-C-H-E-I.
Kopp:Illia, I-L-L-I-A or E-R, depending on who was writing it. It was a place in Poland and they set up a . . . .
Interviewer:This may be a silly question but being the, you know, I was just relating to you sort of dating the reverend’s daughter, in this case it’s not that relationship, but did you feel that you were inadequate in your religious background to be . . . .
Interviewer:. . . .dating?
Kopp:Yeah, yeah. But it was a Jewish girl. I never went out with a Gentile girl.
Kopp:This Chevrah, this congregation, originally was a burial society of these people from Illia in Poland but now in the lower east side of New York. And one of the guys that was Bar Mitzvahed in this congregation was General Sarnoff.
Interviewer:General Sarnoff, now who’s General Sarnoff?
Interviewer:Oh, oh that name.
Kopp:That goes back to when, before NBC.
Interviewer:One of the great names in television.
Kopp:In broad–, in broadcasting, and one of the founding fathers.
Interviewer:Did you ever see him?
Kopp:No I never met him.
Interviewer:Well that’s interesting.
Kopp:But I noticed a sign that said his Bar Mitzvah was there.
Interviewer:So through the Junior League . . . .
Kopp:I met Roz.
Interviewer:You met Roz. What attracted you to Roz, any, you know, love at first sight or did you just get to know each other?
Kopp:I have no memory.
Kopp:Just that we always, we were very proper and this went on for a long time. One incident that I of course don’t say anything about in the book . . . .
Kopp:was we also, she and I belonged to a group called the, it was some kind of a French-speaking organization. Now remember this was when Hitler was invading all the countries in Europe in the 1930s.
Kopp:And so this was a, I can’t remember the name of the group, but we were part of it and they had arranged for a picnic on the Palisades of New Jersey and the point was that I would pick her up Saturday morning at, I used to have Friday night dinner at her, with her folks at their house. And that gave me enough money to take her to the movies.
Kopp:And so her parents knew that I was not well fixed financially, let me put it that way. And one of the things that happened was they were very proper and so were we and except that this one time we’d gone on this picnic up on the Palisades and it would be a hiking and picnic deal for an all-day deal. And I had to be at her house at 8:00 in the morning. Now I lived at the 92nd Street Y, she lived in Washington Heights, which is the northwest part of Manhattan Island.
Kopp:And I’m living over on the east side about mid-Manhattan Island and I used to take this trolley across town and another trolley or subway up to her neighbor- hood, all of which cost a nickel. On her, this one Friday night, now tomorrow we’re going on a picnic and here mother says to me, “Since you have to leave so early would you like to have breakfast here?” And I said, “Yes”. I said, “Shall I come here for breakfast or should I be here?” meaning, you know, I’d be overnight with them. And where would I be sleeping . . . .
Interviewer:Ohhhhhh. Yeah I got it.
Kopp:So I, oh boy her mother jumped on me.
Interviewer:Oh my goodness. Oh yeah?
Kopp:She said, “You come, you’re not going to be here.”
Interviewer:Don’t make that assumption, huh?
Kopp:Yeah but that was . . . .
Interviewer:So you had to come for breakfast?
Kopp:Right but it was a very interesting . . . .
Interviewer:Very, very proper.
Kopp:And I knew a lot of French because I took the same course three times.
Interviewer:Oh my . . . .
Kopp:See? So that…and then there were a number of the refugees from France, boy–, guys that lived at the Y and we had a number, well the one incident that’s very unusual, we had a guy that shows up, delivered by the Jewish Welfare Board. He’s in his 20s and a very good looking guy, tall and a very proper-looking guy except he doesn’t speak a word of English. He speaks Mandarin, Mongolian and he’s a Russian Jew.
And what happened, his parents escaped the Bolsheviks in Russia and wound up in Manchuria. How they got there I don’t know. But he went to college at the University of Harbin and became an Electrical Engineer. And one of his, the last of his assignments in China was near Nanking under Chiang Kai-shek doing the electrical lighting for the renovation of the airport there. And he was in the middle of that when the Japanese invaded China itself and he was sent to Shanghai, picked up by some Jewish organization. They put him in a Chinese ship and they sent him to Seattle. Well he could speak Mandarin. He could speak Russian. But he didn’t speak Yiddish. He didn’t speak any other languages. On the ship he spoke with the Chinese crew so he had no problem. Gets to Seattle and of course, he doesn’t speak a word and the Jewish Welfare Board people who met him put him on a train and then they ship him to the 92nd Street Y in New York. And he comes in and we are introduced to him and of course he, no we can’t talk. Nobody there speaks Russian. And nobody speaks Mandarin either.
So we’re stuck with him and the second day it’s getting kind of difficult, this need to communicate. And about two blocks down Lexington Avenue from where we were there was a Chinese laundry and it was in a V-shaped entrance where the left-hand door was into the laundry and the right-hand door was into a watchmaker-jewelry repair guy. So we take him, about three or four of us go down with him and, you know, we worked with sign language and all that. And we go to this Chinese laundry. And we think, “Ah we got it solved,” you know.
Turns out the Chinese laundryman speaks Cantonese which is a southern-China, totally different language. And Mandarin is very elegant language, a very well-educated, ruling-class language kind of thing. But he knows, this jeweler next to him is a Russian-Jewish guy who, when he was a kid fled from Ukraine through Tibet, across China. On the way, it took him 30 years. He wound up in New York but on the way he was married three times and each time abandoned his wife or whatever she was and so he spoke all these languages. And all of a sudden, Michael Klebinoff was this guy’s name, could now speak to somebody. And it was like opening us.
Interviewer:Through the Russian, using the Russian language?
Kopp:No he spoke, this guy spoke Mandarin.
Kopp:Yeah. But we didn’t learn about the Russian part till later. But what happened was the Draft came along in 1939. And Klebinoff is ahead of Kopp in line, K-L and K-O. And this school teacher was registering us for the Draft and he has this sing-song Chinese tone, you know, in the way he speaks English. He’s now learned English by this time.
Kopp:And so he’s answering questions and finally the teacher says, “And now what is your name?” He says, “Michael Klebinoff”. She looks up, and I’ll never forget it, she says, “Where is the Chinese guy that I’ve just been talking to?” (laughter) It was him. He wound up, because he was an electrical engineer, at Pratt and Whitney in Hartford, Connecticut, now that the war is on. And he invented some kind of switch for the radar installations which Pratt and Whitney patented and when the war was over they assigned the patent to him and overnight he was a millionaire.
Interviewer:Isn’t that something? . . . . absolutely nothing.
Kopp:And he meets a wonderful gal from New Jersey whose father is in the real estate business and his father falls in love with Michael, Michael marries his daughter, takes him into the business and he starts to handle real estate and everything he touches turns to gold. And they built a condominium in Biscayne Bay and one of the, next door to where they’re building was another one in, Richard Nixon lived.
Kopp:So he had a big demand for this condo and sold it. That’s another fortune.
Interviewer:How were you able to follow his . . . .
Kopp:Well we had, we used to have an alumni association.
Interviewer:Alumni at what?
Kopp:Of the 92nd Street Y.
Interviewer:Oh my gosh.
Kopp:And we used to meet every May of every year after the war and that went on for quite a while but then guys were dying and disappearing and finally we got to the point where it was too disheartening, like 25 guys would show up where we used to have 50 or 60 or maybe 100 and . . . .
Interviewer:That is something special.
Kopp:And it got to where we said, “No,” and we just didn’t do it any longer.
Interviewer:Do you remember any other remarkable people, famous names from that association?
Kopp:Oh yeah but they escape me right now.
Interviewer:Okay, you just, right off the top of your head. But that is certainly one of the most unusual stories to come from nothing.
Kopp:What happened was with the war, I got married and so I was married before, we were married on November 23rd of 1941.
Kopp:And we came back from our honeymoon to the tune of Pearl Harbor which was not exactly the best way to start a marriage.
Interviewer:Is that right? Where did you go on your honeymoon?
Kopp:We went down, oh that’s another thing. We went down to Washington and to Virginia. And that year President Roosevelt had moved Thanksgiving up one week by any means. And there was no change, no law or anything. He just, he did that because the war effort required so much attention. But we weren’t in the war yet.
Kopp:This was before Pearl Harbor. So we had a celebration of Thanksgiving before we got married, and the Thursday before. We got married on a Sunday.
Interviewer:Was this 1941 or?
Kopp:And, in November. And then we go down to West, to Virginia, and they didn’t recognize the change. So we had two different Thanksgivings, one on each side of our wedding date.
Interviewer:That is (laughter) . . . .
Kopp:. . . . idea.
Interviewer:You have had some things happen. That is really something there too.
Kopp:Well if you turn around, you see that pillow over there? That’s the whole family.
Interviewer:Oh my . . . .
Kopp:My daughter put that one together.
Interviewer:Well that’s quite a great thing, a group thing.
Kopp:The guy, Lowest guy over on the left is the doctor now at Children’s Hospital.
Interviewer:Hmmm. I’ve never seen a pillow like that with all the family stitched into a pillow.
Interviewer:Well this has turned very interesting here. Your honeymoon, why did you pick West Virginia? Was it . . . .
Kopp:Not West Virginia.
Kopp:Well I was familiar with the, there was a trail, a road, a highway down through the ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Kopp:The Blue Ridge Mountains.
Interviewer:The Blue Ridge Parkway.
Interviewer:What had just been built.
Interviewer:Oh so you heard about that? That was a Public Works type of project.
Kopp:Kopp. Now most people don’t even know about the WPA or the CCC.
Interviewer:I’m sorry, I’m thinking of . . . .
Kopp:How old are you?
Kopp:Well . . . .
Interviewer:. . . .
Kopp:I’m only 94 so (laughter).
Interviewer:Well, my mother was your age so I relate pretty well to your generation but your experiences are quite dramatic and interesting.
Kopp:It’s been a pretty full, I can’t, I haven’t been short changed.
Interviewer:Well I, you know, still have to think – a wedding on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Kopp:That was the honeymoon, the honeymoon, the honeymoon.
Interviewer:The honeymoon, yeah, the honeymoon. They had places to stay?
Kopp:Oh yeah, motels.
Kopp:And we, in fact I had been with my buddies. I have three, four of the guys that I traveled with all the time, all from that Junior League. And it turned out that when I was 21 I said I had never had a birthday party . . . .
Kopp:that I could remember.
Interviewer:Is that right?
Kopp:And so it’s now May, early May, and I want to have a birthday party for me. I’m now going to be 21. It turned out two of the other guys were born in May also and they were also going to be 21.
Kopp:And we had never checked each other’s ages for some reason. We’d been going together for several years and we were all stunned. So I’ll never forget, we went to a night club in New York for our birthdays. And we took, of course, the three gals.
Interviewer:Do you remember the night club by chance? There are a lot of places in New York.
Kopp:Yeah. Barbara Walters’ father was the guy that owned it.
Interviewer:How in the world do you remember?
Kopp:But I can’t remember the name of the night club.
Interviewer:Is that right?
Kopp:Yeah. I remember . . . .
Interviewer:Her father . . . .
Kopp:Barbara Walters, she was a product of . . . .
Interviewer:Now is that her business name, Walters, and she, do you remember?
Kopp:It was her father’s name.
Interviewer:Her father’s, okay.
Kopp:And I can’t figure the name of the place.
Interviewer:Well that’s okay. It was her father’s. And that was where you went for your birthday?
Interviewer:Did Roz go with you? Did you . . . .
Kopp:Oh yeah. The girls all went with. We were three couples. But what was funny was that in those days they had a minimum in these restaurants.
Kopp:And we were not drinkers, you know. If you could drink you’d use the minimum up pretty quick.
Kopp:But for some reason we were not drinkers. I’ll never forget the waiter coming around, said, “You know you have room left on your minimum. Order something else so you, it would be free.”
Interviewer:Get a bottle of champagne or something. It’s going to be on your bill anyway.
Kopp:But I’ll never forget that.
Interviewer:That was your birthday party?
Kopp:Yeah, the Diamond, something Diamond.
Interviewer:Is that right?
Kopp:I can’t remember the name.
Interviewer:That’s terrific to recall that.
Kopp:But . . . .
Interviewer:Okay so . . . .
Kopp:This was on Broadway in the lower 50s.
Interviewer:Uh huh. So talking about your honeymoon brought about a memory of your birthday. How old were you when you got married? Were you shortly after . . . .
Kopp:I was, well it was 1941.
Kopp:I graduated City College in June.
Kopp:I passed the CPA in October and I got married in November.
Interviewer:You passed the CPA exam. Now my father was a CPA so I know a little bit about it and one recollection is there were very few CPAs in the early times, I’d say the 30s and 40s. That was . . . .
Kopp:You know I have a . . . .
Interviewer:You’d be . . . .
Kopp:four digit, know the license number.
Interviewer:You’d be one of the very early . . . .
Interviewer:a four digit license number.
Kopp:Yeah, just about 9,000 something or other.
Interviewer:And it was very special to you, I mean you’re at the lawyer-doctor level almost, to be a CPA. Did you pass it in your first attempt?
Interviewer:Ahhh, that’s quite something.
Kopp:It was interesting. I didn’t think I had because I had lunch with a couple of other guys I knew who took the exam at the same time. And we had different answers. And we all passed.
Interviewer:Well there might have been some . . . .
Kopp:I can’t remember what it was but . . . .
Interviewer:Some accounting interpretations there.
Kopp:Probably, yeah. But I, it was, a lot of stuff has happened.
Interviewer:So that CPA certificate should have given you quite a market of your skills to many major companies.
Kopp:Before that I was with Cunard, the steamship company.
Interviewer:Uh huh, uh huh.
Kopp:The weekend of Labor Day, 1939, I went home on Friday night and I’m due back on Tuesday. On Saturday, Hitler invaded Poland. On Sunday a British, one of our ships, the Athenia, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine.
Interviewer:A Cunard line ship is sunk?
Kopp:And I was supposed to be on that ship.
Interviewer:Why would you, you’d never sailed out have you?
Interviewer:Why would you have been on it?
Kopp:What happened was Cunard used to have what they called a “turnaround schedule”. In other words during the summer the ships would be on a certain schedule going across the Atlantic. But as you got into the winter, they needed to be winterized and to be laid up for like a week or so. And we didn’t have airplanes in those days. But we had 22 ships running across the Atlantic.
Interviewer:The Cunard line, yeah.
Kopp:Yeah, mostly passenger and freight, I mean mostly passengers. The smaller ships carried freight as well. But that was, the Labor Day weekend was the turnaround voyage and what happened was they had what they called a cruise staff. Because you would sail, let’s say the Queen Mary would sail on Friday at noon from New York and I would be at sea Friday is a half a day, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, arrive in South Hampton Tuesday. Now this is…you left on Friday. This is Tuesday. And then they would have a tour through England and over into France, maybe Belgium but mostly I remember England and France. And then you would catch the ship again at Cherbourg but you would have like four days in England and a couple of days in France. And now you’re coming back but your schedule is to arrive in New York on Mondays and leave on Wednesdays instead of on Fridays. So in a two week or a ten-day period, a little over ten, well two weeks, you could book a cruise, a round trip to Europe and have as much as a week in Europe. You follow me?
Kopp:Because you had a five-day, ten days of travel, of the ship traveling and then you’d still have four days of sightseeing and because of the change in schedule you’d have a couple of more days you could spend in France. And we would go as crew-staff and but the deal was that you were crew-staff for the English part of the trip but then you were free for the next couple of days in France and you weren’t working but you could go sightseeing. And for this you paid Cunard, oh no, they paid you fifty bucks.
Kopp:So it was a great deal.
Kopp:And I signed up but I wasn’t senior enough to go on the Athenia. I was scheduled to go in October.
Kopp:Yeah. That was the ship. But I was scheduled to go on the Queen Mary in October. Of course, so I go home Friday night. Hitler invades Poland Saturday. Sunday they sink the Athenia. Monday is Labor Day. And Tuesday I come in to work. But I’m not working for the Cunard Line any more. The British Admiralty had taken over.
Interviewer:They had taken it over?
Kopp:And we had about 2,000 employees in North America, Canada and the United States and Mexico.
Interviewer:And so it was now the Royal . . . .
Kopp:Well now, what they do is they moved everybody out to the British Purchasing Commission. And they kept about 40 or 50 Cunarders back in the office in Broadway and I was one the guys retained because I had this accounting degree. I was taking Accounting and I was flexible. I could do different things, you know, take on different responsibilities. So that was how I finally left Cunard. I got a job with an accounting firm, S. D. Leidensdorf, predecessor of Arthur Young, Ernst and Young.
Interviewer:Oh the great firm Ernst and Young.
Kopp:And so I’m considered to be an alumnus of Ernst and Young.
Interviewer:Wow, from way, way back.
Kopp:But by 1944, then I, when I went to sea I was, I got called in the morning to be aboard the ship that afternoon.
Interviewer:Now you’re talking about 1944?
Interviewer:That was your first time?
Kopp:In March, March.
Interviewer:Your first time to sail?
Kopp:Right. Well I had gotten an assignment about a month earlier, a month-and-a-half earlier, to a ship down at the Battery. You know where the Battery is in New York?
Kopp:And it was a concrete ship. They didn’t have steel, made of concrete. And the longshoremen on the dock said, “If this ship ever sails out it’s going to drop right into the sea,” ’cause it’s not going to float. And I go aboard and it turned out that the purser who was missing had shown up so I never got to sail on it.
Interviewer:Oh so that’s not the . . . .
Kopp:No, I don’t even remember the name of the other one. But I never even got a uniform. I never, they had sent, had me go down there to check it out and that was it. But then the end of March I got this phone call about 10 in the morning to be aboard ship before she sailed that day and I had to go get a uniform. I have a whole story about it in there. In the back of that book, the last pages too are enhancement of that particular period.
Interviewer:Oh I see.
Kopp:Let me see if I . . . .
Interviewer:So up until that point you had been working for this company, the predecessor of Ernst and Young?
Kopp:The S. D. Leidesdorf and Company.
Kopp:They were specialists in bankruptcies . . . . (End of tape.)
Interviewer (I might do that on here to start this.) Okay this is Tape Number 2, the second physical tape here, beginning Side A, the interview with Mr. Martin Kopp. We’ll continue then with our discussion about how did you acquire the letters that are the basis for this book?
Kopp:What happened was that I was writing letters home to my wife while I was at sea. And when the war ended in August of ’45, I was mustered out in September of ’45. What I didn’t know was that my wife had saved all those letters. This is Roz, my first wife. And we moved from Elmhurst, Queens, New York to Fresh Meadows, New York, still in Queens, and then to Westbury, Long Island and then to Columbus, Ohio and then to Wheeling, West Virginia and then back to Columbus, Ohio. And she died here very suddenly in 1974. I remarried a year later and my work would always require me to leave Sunday night and get back Friday night. And Frances, my second wife, one weekend when I came home Friday night, she said, “I found something that I think you have to do something about”. I said, “What’s that?” She said, “I found a carton of letters that you wrote to Roz (the first wife,) during World War II that you have to put together in a book.” And that’s how the book got together.
Interviewer:She had found those?
Kopp:Yeah. Roz had saved them with all these moves.
Kopp:In fact, my first wife Roz, she had a theory that three moves equaled one fire which was all the damage that would be done.
Interviewer:It’s scary that . . . .
Kopp:So that’s what created this book.
Interviewer:The discovery of the letters that you did not know existed?
Kopp:Well now I have something here that, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, did you ever hear the expression: “I signed on for a voyage”?
Interviewer:No I think you mentioned that in your book.
Interviewer:Sort of the protocol of the . . . .
Kopp:Yeah on the signing of the . . . .
Interviewer:But you know what, I’m not sure I got this clear in my mind or on the tape, your entry into the Merchant Marine. Okay, you were working for the, it’s called a CPA firm . . . .
Interviewer:you had volunteered for service and failed the tests . . . .
Interviewer:during some period in there.
Kopp:Yeah, from the time of the Draft in ’39.
Interviewer:From that time. You’d been rejected. How do you make that connection then from your CPA work to the Merchant Marine?
Kopp:Oh, what happened was . . . .
Interviewer:Unless that’s covered in . . . . here.
Kopp:in October of 1943 my wife and I decided over Columbus Day holiday to take a trip on what they called the Hudson River Day Liner, up to Bear Mountain, New York or the New York State Park, ’cause it was a three-day weekend. And we went hiking in the park. It’s now Monday, Labor Day, and we’re on our way back to New York on the Day Liner.
Interviewer:Is that a train or a . . . .
Kopp:It’s a ship.
Kopp:Yeah. And it’s like an excursion ship.
Kopp:And we’re on the afterdeck of the ship and this is fall, the October, Labor Day weekend, and there was a couple there with their son and I looked at this guy and I said, “I know this guy”, and I still remember his name, Bill Gory. He also was a CPA and he took the exam the same time I did. He was one of us when we were checking with each other when we had different answers, and, but he had gone to sea several years earlier as a ship’s purser for the American South African Line and so he was sailing when the war broke out. He was already in the Merchant Marine but on a ship that sailed to South Africa all the time. And they were talking with the son. And 28 guys got in a lifeboat; 14 survived. And he was now, now this is 1943 . . . .
Interviewer:And you meet this man on . . . .
Kopp:He’s on the afterdeck there with his parents. He’s on convalescent leave.
Interviewer:And he has survived . . . .
Kopp:Yes, 14, well they were in the lifeboat for about a month.
Interviewer:That’s an American Merchant Marine ship?
Kopp:Yeah. And the, I don’t remember the name of the ship but the, it was the American South African Steamship Company. And so we got talking. Oh he was a rake, he was a big like a football guard, you know, and here he is now almost a skeleton. And he’s recovering.
Interviewer:Is he Jewish?
Interviewer:. . . . from your CPA exam, okay.
Kopp:He was just another CPA working for the same accounting firm.
Kopp:And so we had gotten to know each other and he, we’re talking, you know, and I said, “Well I had been trying to get this, a job, you know, get into the Merchant Marine, get into the Navy. Everything was blocked.” He said, “Wait a minute. You had three and a half years with the Cunard Line?” I said, “Yeah”. He said, “Well they’re looking for pursers on the ships and you’re eligible. All you have to do is go down to the Coast Guard and as long as you can walk up the gangway there’s no question about your getting the job. You’ll get 50% credit for your sea time. You have to have a year and a half. You’ve had over three years with Cunard.” And so when I got home that weekend, the next week, I went down to the Coast Guard.
Interviewer:Okay. I have to stop and ask a serious question. You are draft-deferred at this point . . . .
Interviewer:and perhaps even through your job. Maybe your job is war-related. Why . . . .
Kopp:I kept getting promoted very rapidly because of the fact that all of the other guys that would have been in my way . . . .
Interviewer:So you’ve got a good job and a career?
Interviewer:Physically you’re not going to carry a gun in combat. Why are you trying to join?
Kopp:‘Cause everybody else was there and I was really…oh and we’re getting the stories now of Hitler and what’s going on in Europe.
Interviewer:You mean regarding Jews?
Interviewer:You heard that?
Kopp:Oh sure, we were getting, we weren’t getting the full story. We had no idea how really bad it was but we did get some of the stories. And it was very interesting, but it was something where you…we had Victory Gardens for vegetables and stuff like that and we had ration cards for meat.
Interviewer:But you could have done your part in accounting and you had a wife?
Kopp:Yeah. Yeah, we both had jobs and our jobs . . . .
Interviewer:And you’re going off and putting . . . .
Kopp:Oh she worked . . . .
Interviewer:. . . .your life at risk now?
Kopp:Yeah, yeah. But it was not a comfortable place to be. I mean you wanted to get into, at least I wanted to get into it.
Interviewer:Did you have a . . . .
Kopp:And I always wanted to go to sea after I’d been with Cunard.
Interviewer:. . . . seafaring part.
Kopp:Oh I had one experience with Cunard I’ll never forget. My job in the Accounting Department was to get what they called the clearance papers. Across this Bowling Green, on the other side, there was what they called the Barge Office. This was run by the United States Government and the tradition in ships is that when a ship leaves a port, it’s, all of its bills are paid. Otherwise it will be blocked or, I can’t remember the word now, but it can’t leave until it gets clearance and proof that all its bills are paid. And that’s done through the, this U. S. Government Barge Office in New York. So my job was to run across the street from the Cunard, get the clearance papers from the Barge Office, and, this is in the Depression, and take a taxi up to 50th Street and Pier 90. I’d go up and I would go to the Purser’s Office, it usually . . . . (Phone rings.) Is that you or me?
Interviewer:That is you. I’ll put a pause.
Kopp:You can bring it over.
Interviewer:Well we’ll just pause this right . . . .
Kopp:. . . . things from Russia.
Interviewer:Well not just back there but I always wanted to go back here and ask about your sister Irene.
Interviewer:She’s a cadet in the Nurse Corps . . . .
Kopp:Graduated at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago.
Interviewer:In Chicago? During the war?
Interviewer:Okay. Did she join before you got in? No it’s like you’re already . . . .
Kopp:No I was, I was, that’s when I was taking my one-month training at the U. S. Marine Hospital in . . . .
Interviewer:Oh we didn’t hear about that training. Okay.
Kopp:It’s in there. That’s the . . . .
Interviewer:Oh it’s in this book?
Kopp:That’s where you saw those guys standing.
Interviewer:Okay. That came after March then?
Kopp:Oh yeah. The first voyage . . . .
Interviewer:All right. About the time that, excuse me. I’ll just, I’ll try to recover where we were at the time of the . . . .
Kopp:The phone call.
Interviewer:the phone call. You had met . . . .
Kopp:It’s on there.
Interviewer:you had met this friend of yours, this acquaintance of yours, on this little cruise ship and he told you how you could become an officer . . . . That’s when I paused and asked you why you would want to get involved in this horrendous conflict.
Kopp:Well everybody was going.
Interviewer:Everybody, did you have particular . . . .
Kopp:I’m Jewish. I couldn’t stand being at home.
Interviewer:You wanted to be a part of it?
Interviewer:Did you have any other family members who had already gone off?
Kopp:Yeah her brother . . . .
Kopp:Yeah he had been drafted.
Interviewer:Oh. What was his name?
Kopp:Yeah. And . . . .
Interviewer:He was drafted?
Kopp:He was drafted and he went with a group of guys, there were about six or seven of them all from the same neighborhood. He was wounded, captured and wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.
Kopp:And this was in December of whatever year . . . .
Kopp:And then . . . .
Interviewer:He was captured?
Kopp:Yeah. And we knew he was wounded and then in April of ’44 I had a ship that I took out of Mobile. We took it out of Baltimore actually, went down to Mobile, loaded cargo and went to Russia. And while I was in Russia I…my mail included a letter from my wife and they had received word that he had died.
Kopp:As a POW.
Interviewer:Oh my goodness.
Kopp:And probably he was, from the Red Cross, the impression was it was starvation, not medical care, lack of medical care, but lack of food. About a month later, that was April of ’45 . . . . yeah, so in May of ’45 I’m in Russia and we get mail and the, what happened was her mother and father had received a post card from her brother . . . .
Interviewer:Post card? It could have been a long time coming though.
Kopp:It had been mailed actually in January.
Kopp:He died in March.
Kopp:This is now May and they get a post card after having found out he died.
Kopp:Buried in Saint Avold in France. I don’t know where that is.
Interviewer:That’s one of our overseas cemeteries.
Interviewer:Oh my word.
Kopp:And I remember the shock there.
Interviewer:Oh my. Uh huh. Yes the procedure with the Germans was to communicate that they were POWs. And they were given through the Red Cross I think, a post card and they could write home telling them . . . .
Kopp:Family . . . .
Interviewer:Yeah they were in a timely manner . . . .
Interviewer:that they were okay and yet he had not survived.
Kopp:She just had the one brother.
Interviewer:Oh the only son. That’s tragic.
Kopp:. . . .
Interviewer:But he was already, he was drafted? Okay.
Interviewer:He was drafted. Well we’ll be able to research his Army unit and date of death through the . . . .
Kopp:I can get you the detail of his death . . . .
Interviewer:. . . .
Kopp:cemetery. I have it in the Bible.
Interviewer:You’ve researched that?
Interviewer:Well so you’re going now to become part of the Merchant Marine and it’s very interesting how that came about with that man on the cruise, on the trip and, I cut you off there. You said the next day, the next opportunity . . . .
Kopp:The next week, yeah. We got home Tuesday, uh Monday night, and I don’t remember what day it was but then I had to get my birth certificate. I had to get a lot of stuff together.
Interviewer:Any problems with that knee in the situation?
Kopp:No, not by then.
Kopp:Back when I wanted to change it back to Kopp, I had to get, my father’s sister was still alive . . . .
Kopp:And my mother’s brother was still alive and they testified in writing that Martin Weinstein was Martin Kopp.
Interviewer:So that had all been taken care or?
Kopp:But, so I just, the only thing I forgot to do was I never changed my high school record.
Kopp:And many years later I was at Stamford, Connecticut, staying overnight with my second wife’s cousin and we got talking. Turned out he graduated from, New Rochelle High School. And not only that but last year they put out a handbook of all the graduates going back into the early 1800s when the school was first created. So Bingo, we take a look. We don’t look for Martin Kopp. There’s no Martin Kopp ’cause I was still Weinstein in the back of the book.
Interviewer:And is that name there?
Kopp:Yeah. But boy what a horrible feeling, you look yourself up and you’re not there.
Interviewer:And you didn’t . . . .
Kopp:And you know all these other kids in the class. There are their names. And you’re not listed. And then it dawned on me I was Martin Weinstein.
Interviewer:At that time.
Kopp:The job I had though later on in life was I had come back after the war to Leidesdorf, the accounting firm.
Kopp:And then I got a chance to become a junior partner in a two-man partnership in CPA. And I took that, left. And, but I was there about five years and then I had a chance to become a Controller of a family conglomerate and I did that for 13 years. And then I got the job here with the bakery.
Interviewer:Well that would all be very interesting. We might consider a second visit to cover that, maybe . . . .
Kopp:Well that was the very most important part of my life outside of the Merchant Marine period.
Interviewer:Be after the, after the war?
Kopp:Since we were, the company I worked for was a specialist in . . . .
Kopp:The efficiency guys would go into a company and like, Briggs, Holland, Booz and Allen. They would go into a company and they’d study the operation, they’d watch you at work, try to figure out how to make you do it faster, better and cheaper. And create all kinds of chaos. And save a nominal amount, maybe a 10% improvement.
Kopp:We would go in after that and we would get like a 50% improvement. And we would do it with almost no visible chaos. So the question was how the hell do we do that and what we did was we would study the, I hire you to work for me, for my company eight hours a day at your skill. And you use that skill for the four hours. Two other hours you use at your, you were working productively but at a much lower skill. And for two hours you’re really wasting time. So what we would do is look at the operation and at the employee who was not working, not who was at work at what he was hired to do but who was at work or not even working at some lower level and figure out why. And the example I use all the time is the high-priced lawyer who goes into, who goes to the copying machine to make a copy of something. There’s no paper in it. And he’s standing around and why isn’t there any paper in it? And whose job is it to make sure the paper’s there? And this is not what these other guys were looking at. They were looking at the guy that’s supposedly going to work faster, better and cheaper and I’m looking at the guy who isn’t working at all.
Kopp:And I find that if I can recover two of the four hours that he’s below his skill level, it’s never his fault. He was there so it’s got to be management’s fault.
Interviewer:That high-priced lawyer trying to get paper . . . .
Kopp:There was no paper in the machine. . . . or a problem with that. And it’s fantastic the results all over the world.
Interviewer:I want to relate that post-war career, is there anything you learned in the Merchant Marine that helped you in the post-war career?
Kopp:Yeah my Navy hospital corps training.
Interviewer:How is that?
Kopp:Well because I was a medical specialist and we were trained to keep our patient alive for ten days.
Interviewer:That was your specialty on the ship?
Kopp:Yeah. I was the Business Agent on the ship as well because there weren’t enough medical-trained guys . . . .
Kopp:. . . .they. . .see what I got, the first voyage I made was, we left at March 31, as you see in the book, and we got back at the end of, in the middle of June but we, before we got back completely we were in Norfolk, Virginia and I can’t remember, oh, yeah, that was an interesting story. I don’t know if I wrote it up in there. When we left for Naples, first we were a troop transport so we carried troops.
Interviewer:You were troop transport?
Interviewer:Now that’s very special.
Kopp:We had 550 troops on board a liberty ship, the Charles Brantley Aycock. And we dropped them in Marseilles Mers el Kabir, a French naval base in North Africa near Oran. And that base by the way was a Vichy French base and what they did is the Royal French had a battleship sitting there, the Cardinal Richelieu. And because they didn’t want the Vichy French to get ahold of it, it was a navy base and nothing else there. It’s on a hillside. It was by a cliff. The French guys opened petcocks in the base, in the hull of the ship, the bottom of it, and sank the ship so that the Vichy French didn’t get hold of it.
Interviewer:The Cardinal Richelieu?
Interviewer:Uh huh, the battleship?
Kopp:It’s now several years later and the Allies have taken over that part of North Africa. And now the Royal French knew what they had opened up, they sent divers down and closed it up, pumped the ship out and I think, didn’t we have a . . . .
Interviewer:And they recovered?
Kopp:Yeah. There was a picture that we were just looking at a few . . . .
Interviewer:. . . . So they recovered the French battleship?
Interviewer:I’ve never heard of that story. That’s . . . .
Kopp:Oh that’s not it. I . . . .
Interviewer:Did you see this ship? Is that . . . .
Interviewer:oh the pictures that you had to gather.
Kopp:Here this is me.
Kopp:But see in the background the fighting top of a battleship.
Interviewer:Okay so you had a photo of you with that French battleship in the background.
Kopp:Yeah that day it was being commissioned.
Interviewer:Oh is that right?
Kopp:We were coming back in the French Navy Base, and that’s a great story by itself. But we had dropped all those troops there.
Interviewer:Five hundred and fifty troops on . . . .
Kopp:On the Liberty Ship.
Interviewer:on your Liberty Ship. How many days would they be on there? What . . . .
Kopp:We sailed, well originally we sailed out of New York. Actually when I got aboard ship, the ship did go into Security at 4:00 and we sailed at 5:00 that afternoon.
Interviewer:The troops were on there then?
Kopp:No. We sailed down past the Statue of Liberty and we started to go around the upper harbor in a huge circle. And I’m on the bridge. I don’t know anything about what I’m going to even be doing ’cause the, you know the story’s in there. So I asked the Chief Mate, I said, “What’s happening,” when we started our second circle of the whole upper bay. He said, “We have three gyrocompasses on board and we’re calibrating them, recalibrating them before we go to sea. And we have sites on land that we take a sight of and we know the exact reading that that should be on our gyrocompasses.
So we recalibrate them and set them . . . ., we have three compasses so we have to take three round trips. And it’s now 6:00 and we sail all the way over to Brooklyn, New York to the Brooklyn Army Base and by 8:00 I’m asking the Captain, “What’s going on?” He said, “Oh, Mr. Kopp. You can go home now”. He said, “But be back aboard ship at 8:00. We’re loading cargo first. And then,” he says, “then we’ll sail”. He said, “But I haven’t got the schedule yet because the cargo, the convoy schedules haven’t been published yet. They’re very secret.” So I went home. I get down on the dock and I get to a phone, you know a pay phone, and called my wife. We’d just said goodbye forever, you know and she couldn’t believe I’m in Brooklyn. And I said, “I’ll be home in 20 minutes”. (laughter)
Interviewer:Wow, in another . . . .
Kopp:. . . . I tell that story.
Interviewer:Uh huh. But the troops then were put on in Brooklyn?
Kopp:No, we didn’t sail. We were there for about three or four days while the cargo, now in the hold of a ship, you have levels and we had like three levels in each of the five hulls. The upper level is where the troops were billeted and below that was cargo, see? So we loaded the cargo in Brooklyn but then we sailed out of Brooklyn down to Norfolk, to Hampton Roads, opposite Norfolk, Virginia. And there we had the, and I think I tell that story in there, we waited to load troops on board. It was a 120-ship convoy and the escorts would be on the outside. But they also would come, DEs would come zipping down the columns and it was a, it took about three weeks. And one of the deals that we got involved in this, before the troops came on board, the Army sent a mess sergeant with a whole staff of like 15 or 20 guys, cooks. And then they stared to bring this food aboard and it was gorgeous, and we were on rations you know as civilians. And here this food is coming on board and of course we don’t know how long the voyage is going to be but they’re bringing enough food for the 550 troops plus the ten, what they call, troop transport command staff. There were ten guys that were assigned to the ship. And so different, they would be the liaison between the Army and the ship’s crew.
Interviewer:Do you know what Army unit this is that’s on your ship?
Kopp:No I don’t remember.
Kopp:We landed them, they were infantry, you know. We landed them in North Africa, sailed out of Mers el Kabir to Algiers and we picked up Army , U. S. Army Air Force. They didn’t have them separately. I remember the group was 550 troops that were going, they were from the Bronx, I remember that.
Interviewer:The soldiers were Bronx boys?
Kopp:Yeah. They were, but they were Air Force.
Kopp:And they had just been in 40 and 8 freight cars where they landed at Casablanca apparently, were taken all the way over to Tunis and Biserty across the deserts of North Africa and then brought all the way back to Algiers. And now they’re put on board this Liberty Ship which you, doesn’t help your seasickness at all. And they were very unhappy Bronx guys. But we sailed out of there. We were going to, we didn’t know it. We thought it was the invasion of Europe. But it turned out that we get up to Sicily and there’s a naval battle off over the horizon and they mated us to a small convoy by this time. And they made us go into Augusta Harbor for safety purposes. Mt. Etna was there erupting at that time and, oh that’s another story. I have a picture here.
Interviewer:Yeah there was a, actually it became a war secret, the eruption of one of those . . . . .
Kopp:Well Vesuvius also erupted.
Interviewer:Yeah that was Vesuvius.
Kopp:But what happened to us was . . . .
Interviewer:‘Cause it damaged airfields.
Interviewer:It had to be a war secret.
Kopp:We had a . . . .
Interviewer:So Etna was also erupting?
Kopp:Yeah and not only was Etna erupting but we came out of there late in the afternoon and now we’re sailing up, we’re going up through the Straits, I forget what they call it between the boot of Italy and Sicily and then we get up into the Mediterranean again on the east side of Italy and it’s about 10:00 at night, Double British Summertime they call it. All of a sudden off, there’s an alert. The convoy goes to General Quarters and there’s this, what apparently a tremendous naval battle taking place just up to the north and east of us. We can see it over the horizon. And after a brief time we get a signal to stand down. And what is it? We’re passing the island of Stromboli and the volcano was erupting there.
Kopp:But since it was over the horizon, we thought it was a naval battle. The next morning or the next day we made it to Naples but the Germans were at Anzio at that time. And that was another story because . . . .
Interviewer:The big campaign at Anzio?
Kopp:they came over and of course bombed and strafed us and . . . .
Interviewer:Well I don’t know how much of this is in the book so I’m kind of, wanted to relate your expertise, you were trained as a medical, like a medic . . . .
Kopp:Navy hospital corps.
Interviewer:to take care of injured . . . .
Kopp:Injured or sickness, whatever?
Kopp:And I was really a VD specialist.
Interviewer:Oh that’s how it turned out huh?
Kopp:But at that time penicillin was a new drug and sulfa was a new drug. And but they were short of medical guys on ships and wherever there was a medical guy when there was an attack there were almost, universally there were no fatalities. But and what really triggered it was an attack in Bari, Italy where apparently there were a number of Navy hospital corpsmen on ships. Wherever they were, there were no fatalities. The other ships that had no medical guys on board ’cause they were short of them, they had fatalities.
Interviewer:What happened in Bari was an explosion of an ammunition.
Kopp:Is that what it was?
Kopp:I don’t remember.
Interviewer:It’s even been, a couple of books written about it.
Interviewer:A very big event.
Kopp:I just knew that it was Bari and I knew that the ships were . . . .
Interviewer:They blew up, yeah.
Kopp:The ones with Navy hospital corpsmen, they didn’t have any fatalities.
Interviewer:And you heard about that?
Kopp:But what had happened was I had gotten malaria in Norfolk, Virginia on the return to, in the middle of June of ’44. I got bitten by a mosquito there, not in North Africa but in . . . . And so I was hospitalized in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Philadelphia, in the U. S. Marine Hospital . . . . (end of side of tape)
Interviewer:. . . . when this runs out, we’ll be done for the day in another . . . . Okay this is the side B of physical tape No. 2 and when this ends this will complete our interview for today. I would note that side A did come to its end and I hadn’t noticed that. However I do have that section of the interview discussion recorded on video tape and it has to do with the eruption of some of those volcanos which might be already discussed in the memoir book that Marty has put together. So we’ll begin this final part of our interview at this time.
Kopp:Well you just mentioned the volcanos. I got one more story for you.
Interviewer:Okay here’s another volcano story.
Kopp:After we landed at Naples, we were on a dock where they were unloading the cargo and the troops were off already. But we have nothing to do. We’re just sitting there while they unload the cargo. And a navy communications officer was one of 44 navy personnel on board the ship. We had 44 in the ship’s crew, 44 in the, what they called the gun crew, and ten in the troop transport command for a total of hundred, 88 and ten, 98 people. Since we had nothing to do, the navy communications officer, an Ensign named Hibler, I don’t remember his first name, he and I decided to go to Pompeii and go to the excavations there.
So we leave and I try to . . . . somehow. I don’t know how we got there but it was morning and we go through the excavations and it was close to noon and we find a vendor selling some food, a little old lady. And we eat lunch and now we go over, we got Mt. Vesuvius right there. So we decided to hike up to Mt. Vesuvius. What we didn’t know was Mt. Vesuvius had erupted in February. This is April and it’s early April and it’s supposed to be fairly cold. And I’m standing on this rocky bed of lava and Ed Hibler is taking a picture of me. And this is the picture he took, see?
Interviewer:Oh my, a colored photo.
Kopp:And probably that picture was . . . .
Interviewer:That’s how it is.
Kopp:that while I’m standing there posing, it’s getting very hot and I, it’s inconsistent with where I ought to be. So I touch the ground and I find out I’m standing on hot lava. And just about that time, you see that ridge in the background there?
Kopp:A whole bunch of shells exploded. And we thought, “Oh my God, the Germans have broken through the Allied lines”.
Interviewer:Okay I’ve just snapped that picture.
Kopp:And we were scared, the two of us, so we were running down the mountainside. We came to a track, a railroad track, and there was a train coming along and it was packed with people. They were on top of the roof of the train, hanging onto the bars underneath the train, the crossing bars, and inside. And these people saw two Allied officers and they welcomed us, they made room for us and we got on that train. We get to Rome, to Naples rather, and everything’s normal, perfectly, it’s wartime normal, you know. The next morning I had to go to the ship’s, the Port Authority, Port Captain’s office. Now this is under British management at the time. And after I finished the ship’s business there, I said, “. . . . yesterday” and I told them what happened. He said, “Where were you?” And I told him. He said, “On hot lava?” “Yeah”. He says, “You’re lucky to be alive”. I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “That’s a U. S. Navy training area for battleships because nobody would be dumb enough to be walking on hot lava.”
Interviewer:So there’d be firing practice?
Kopp:Yeah, they’re doing battle practice. And we’re right there, you know. ‘Cause they figured nobody’s going to be dumb enough to be walking on hot lava. And this is two months after the eruption.
Interviewer:And there you are.
Kopp:So that’s the picture he took.
Interviewer:That is remarkable.
Kopp:But that was, wow!
Interviewer:Well sort of tying things together again here, they trained you to be a medical corpsman or assistant there. In the course of things, they’ve taken you with your physical condition. Were there others on board ship who had medical deferments that joined, or?
Kopp:I don’t know . . . .
Interviewer:Was there any . . . .
Kopp:Everybody in the Merchant Marine was a volunteer.
Interviewer:Yeah . . . . was there any impediment as, I mean, they won’t let you in the Army but you’re going to serve on this other ship which has weapons, I can see a gun, it has weaponry.
Kopp:Oh yeah, we had a lot. In fact on the one that went to Russia, we had a, we were held up by the Turks in Istanbul because they said, “You have eight,” you got four and four, yeah, “you have eight 20mm anti-aircraft guns. You have a 2-3-inch 50 gun,” so there’s a shell there for mortar or 3-inch 50s right up . . . . The, “You have that on board. You have four 3-inch 50s, two in the bow and two in the stern and you have a 6-inch gun. You can’t be considered a peaceful merchant freighter and especially with those guns in the bow, that’s an aggressive front. If you had them on the stern it would be considered defensive. But the guns on the bow, they make you an aggressor.” And they wouldn’t let us go up the Bosporus. We couldn’t go to Russia.
Interviewer:The Turks . . . .
Kopp:We couldn’t get to the Black Sea. The Turks were neutral supposedly, neutral on our side. So we were stuck there for, I think I delineate that story pretty well. But that was another episode.
Interviewer:I think with regard to what we might say the biggest events one might think about in the Merchant Marine, and it sounds like you had some of that, that convoy experience, I don’t know how much again you cover that in your book, but you were involved in a major, over a hundred-ship convoy.
Kopp:The first one, you know, that was 120 ships. And incidentally, when we got to the Straits of Gibraltar, the neutral water in the Straits, it’s only wide enough for two ships abreast. So we had to spend the day before lining up the 120 ships into a, 60 pairs of ships, and go sailing through. Now Spain was supposedly neutral but they were, Franco was the dictator there and he was a good friend of Hitler’s. So they had boats in the Spanish waters on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar. And we could see the Germans taking pictures and looking through their binoculars at our deck cargo and all that. ‘Cause not only do you have stuff below but you had a lot on deck. And so that was a very uncomfortable thing.
Interviewer:Yeah the line of . . . .
Kopp:And then the British, we were turned over to a British Navy escort and instead of going nine knots, we’re doing six. And you can run faster than that. Now the British ships didn’t have oil, they had coal and they couldn’t go as fast as we do, could in our ships.
Kopp:No the cargo ships.
Interviewer:Oh their cargo ships . . . .
Interviewer:ran on coal?
Kopp:Right. So they had, they picked up some of our convoy ’cause the convoy split in different directions after we got in the Mediterranean. And that was another story.
Interviewer:I just want to make sure we’ve adequately covered that transition from civilian into, did you have a swearing-in ceremony?
Interviewer:That sort or thing?
Interviewer:Even though you had no physical?
Kopp:Yeah. Yeah I had a physical but . . . .
Interviewer:You did have?
Kopp:they disregarded the disability part.
Interviewer:Oh okay, so there was a . . . .
Kopp:There was a general waiver on that. But if you could walk up the gangway, that was it.
Interviewer:Were you with a certain group that became part of that crew, or?
Kopp:No I just got the phone call to show up.
Interviewer:Ahhh. Wasn’t any group coming aboard? They were already staffed?
Interviewer:Were you as we would call a replacement?
Kopp:I was the last guy, yeah.
Interviewer:Uh huh. Did the ship . . . .
Kopp:I don’t, the captain told me that I could, while we were in Brooklyn Army Base, I could, in my cabin would be all the records that I needed to know and I would study that and see what I had to do, period.
Interviewer:That was the way you’d begin?
Kopp:Yeah. We had a lot of retired Navy or Merchant Marine officers, guys who were in their 60s . . . .
Interviewer:Who was trained to man the weaponry? You say . . . .
Interviewer:Navy, actual . . . .
Kopp:It was called the Armed Guard.
Interviewer:They were Navy personnel?
Kopp:Yeah, regular Navy, yeah.
Interviewer:They were not civilians?
Kopp:No, no. That was one of the problems we had was in the Mediterranean when we, after we discharged the troops in . . . ., we were now going over, we joined a British convoy to go over to Algiers. And off Cape, a place called Cape Teneres, at night, we’re traveling blacked out, we were attacked by submarines and the Arabs would light bonfires on the North African coast so that the submarines were laying off the coast, would see the silhouette of a convoy and torpedo it. The ship ahead of us got torpedoed and sunk. It was a merchant ship. And they rescued all, I don’t remember any fatalities but I remember that there were a lot of rescues. A Navy gun crew who were rescued and they were taken to a naval operating base, NOB they called it in Algiers, and rehabilitated and flown back to the States. And of course their pay continued because they’re still in the Navy.
Interviewer:Did you see the explosions from the torpedo? (mixed voices)
Kopp:. . . .at night, it was very late at night.
Interviewer:. . . . other location?
Kopp:But all I knew is that there had been a ship there and then suddenly there wasn’t.
Interviewer:Then it wasn’t.
Kopp:But what happened is everybody used to carry their I.D. papers in a special pouch, waterproof pouch that attached to your belt. So the merchant crew gets off, gets rescued also but because of this agreement, the Articles of Indenture, you’re no articled to the ship. The ship has sunk. So your pay stopped. And when they went to get, they were dropped off in Algiers again along with the Navy guys, they were stranded, no pay, no clothes, nothing, just their I.D. papers. The American Red Cross welcomed the officers from the ships. They did not welcome the crew. The crew was a motley group . . . .
Interviewer:Were the officers Navy or . . . .
Kopp:Some were Naval Reserve, but very few. Most of them out of Kings Point. They were the Naval Reserve guys but there were a lot that were career Merchant Marine guys. But they, what was interesting, the Salvation Army from England took care of the merchant crew. And I was pissed off for a long time that the American Red Cross did not take care of the crew. They took care of the officers. Being an officer, I didn’t have any problem. But these other guys did. I mean we had another thing called “convoy fatigue”. That was a very dangerous situation and I had one guy that started, he was on duty at the wheel at about 2:00 in the morning on the flying bridge out in the open, pitch dark, starlight, very peaceful in the evening but we were strained with, oh, in order to keep the convoy assembled properly, the ship, let’s say you’re the ship ahead of me. You would put a wooden T out of wood about this wide and about the length of the table, over behind your ship and it would trail back maybe 500 feet and I would have a Navy on-guard guy on the bow of my ship and he would see the phosphorescent turning of the water and if that T went off that way, he would have a telephone to the bridge. He’d say: “Right, one degree left” or “one degree right” or, “up one turn of the screw” instead of 70, you know, circular, you know, turns, “take it up to 71” . . . .
Interviewer:This is how you navigated?
Kopp:if it was getting a little bit ahead of us or a little bit, that’s how you stayed in position in your convoy in the pitch dark.
Kopp:So, but it was a severe strain ’cause you, you know, you got the German subs out there and you got these damned Arabs lighting these bonfires on the coast so they would silhouette you. And you tried to stay in position and oh. So this one guy, I remember he was a Jewish lawyer from, who had been disbarred from Brooklyn and, I can’t remember his name now, Rappaport, but he’s on, he was an able-bodied seaman and he was qualified at the wheel. So he’s getting these instructions, “turn right”, you know, “go one degree”, and about 2:00 in the morning he just gets fed up and he spins the wheel and, now this can screw up the whole convoy ’cause they’re, the ships behind us are going to be following their T and the guys ahead, you know, well the mate on watch, that’s the second mate’s watch between midnight and 4:00 a.m., suddenly sees the stars starting to move around, you know. And he realizes there’s a problem here. And he goes over to get this guy to straighten it out and the guy’s spinning the wheel. He takes (hits hands together) POW, knocks him cold. And he takes the wheel and the next morning, it was shortly after that that they hit the ship ahead of us.
Interviewer:In that time?
Kopp:And I had to take that guy up to Naval Operating Base under irons.
Interviewer:There you go, you’re a medical guy?
Interviewer:Are you the one medical guy? Did they have more than one?
Kopp:No. I’m the only one.
Interviewer:You’re the only one?
Kopp:Yeah. I had, I write up the story about, a couple of stories about that experience in the story here.
Interviewer:And that was a guy who had combat or convoy fatigue?
Kopp:Yeah. That, we had, mostly convoy fatigue would be the radio operators. In fact we had one guy we had to drop off in Algiers and then we picked up Navy guys in Naples coming back. Coming back, we had an interesting thing. I don’t know if I talked about it there ’cause I didn’t learn until weeks later. But when we left Naples to come back to the States, we had no troops so we were really riding high in the water. And all of a sudden a company of U. S. Marines showed up with 12 prisoners, German prisoners of war. But we’re not allowed to talk to either the Marines or the troops. And these German POWs are being treated with kid gloves. We can’t figure out what’s going on. And if the captain and probably the only one who knew, but we and the gun crew, we didn’t know. We weren’t even allowed to talk to these guys. Twelve. Now they’re taking the space of 550 troops so they’re up on deck and sunning themselves, you know, as we go back to the States. This is late June of ’44. Years later I found out who they were. They were deserters from Germany, scientists, scientific deserters, the Werner Van Braun-type guys.
Interviewer:Uh huh, rocket scientists?
Kopp:Yeah. And they were being, they were deserting the Germans and had turned themselves over to the Allies and now we were taking them back to the States.
Kopp:But I never found any record of that.
Interviewer:That was special cargo there, huh?
Interviewer:To get their expertise on rocket . . . .
Kopp:But we always wondered on the ship, what have we got on board? I mean these are Germans and they’re being treated like high, you know, muckety-mucks.
Interviewer:Yeah, that wouldn’t set well with you . . . .
Kopp:Not with any of us.
Kopp:And the captain had told us, “This is a military secret. We can’t tell you anything more.” And we kept going back to the States.
Interviewer:I’d be interested in knowing just how many trips did you have across.
Kopp:I had the one round trip to Algiers and Naples.
Interviewer:Uh huh. That’s a round trip, was that the way?
Kopp:No then later on we did, a year later, we did a trip to Russia and I was there on VE Day.
Kopp:And the other ship, it was many trips back and forth from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Norfolk, Virginia.
Interviewer:Along the U. S. coast?
Kopp:Down to Cuba. We were the smaller ship that you saw there in the picture. In fact we were so small that in New York Harbor when the Staten Island Ferry went by, the wake, what you saw was a three-island ship, the wake would go right across our well decks
Interviewer:Yeah. Well that wasn’t a very big one.
Kopp:It was, yeah, we called it the S. S. S. Frank Dale, steamship . . . .
Interviewer:The cover in your book, oh really? Sub-surface?
Kopp:No “steamship submarine”. (laughter) We had, I didn’t write this one up I’m sure but one of the problems we had was, we’d get to Havana and one of the Cuban personnel in our steward’s department in the Officer’s Mess as a matter of fact, deserted. So when we left Havana we went to eastern Cuba to pick up sugar or iron ore or chromium ore or nickel ore, we were short-handed. So they picked up a guy, a Cuban, and he was so thrilled to be on a ship and he couldn’t do enough in the Officer’s Mess. He was cleaning. One of the things he decided to clean was the coffee pot. Now this coffee pot had not been cleaned at all since the ship was launched and we had never been chased by a submarine and the theory we all had was as long as that coffee pot is not cleaned, no submarine is going to chase us.
Kopp:So this kid cleans up the coffee pot’s bottom. It’s shiny and clean and he couldn’t understand why everybody’s going down his throat. (laughter) How dare you clean the coffee pot? Where did, who told you to do that? How did you get the . . . . And this poor kid, he didn’t know what was going on.
Interviewer:Almost like a movie. He’s done the horrible . . . .
Interviewer:And just imagine how everybody felt.
Kopp:But it was funny.
Interviewer:After all that time to protect the coffee pot. Oh my gosh. Well let me think here. Two trips over and back keeping up and down the coast.
Kopp:We had one where we carried coal from Newport News to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The tide there is a 40-foot tide. We arrive, I mean the tide is in. And somebody checks on the bridge and finds out that according to the, ’cause the tide’s going out and we’re dropping down below the level of the dock. So one of the guys checks out when the tide is going to turn and we find out it’s a 40-foot tide and we’re constantly relaxing the lines to the dock. And then the big problems start. The deck officers figure it out. We’re going to land on the bottom and we’re going to be in mud. Now the tide’s going to change and go back up again and the ship is going to be stuck in the mud.
Kopp:And at some point it’s going to come loose and when it pops, we could capsize or who knows what. So we better keep the lines tied to the dock and we have to, nobody could sleep. Two o’clock in the morning when the tied changed and at first it didn’t pick the ship up and then all of a sudden it did. But it was a small jerk, you know and oh, everybody was breathing again. We all went to bed.
Interviewer:You didn’t know what was going to happen?
Kopp:But we were satisfied that we were safe because we were floating again. But that was the scariest moment.
Interviewer:I was going to ask what was maybe your most dangerous experience or when you thought this was . . . .
Kopp:I think the Mediterranean almost . . . .
Interviewer:Where the ship was sunk?
Kopp:Yeah because later on, a year later, we’re now going to Russia and they tell us you’re on a Victory Ship, very fast ship, 18 knots now. And you’re sailing alone, no convoy. And the Mediterranean is now an Allied-Lake-Cover, I’ll never forget that expression ’cause we had to pick up charts at Gibraltar. And they didn’t have them of the Black Sea. But I got some from a British Ship that had them. But they were old charts and they, but they were charts, at least we knew what the bottom was going to look like. British charts had, on the edges of them, you know, the contour of the shore as you would look at it over the horizon. So if there was a stack from a powerhouse, that stack would be on the edge of that, of the chart. And if there was a church steeple, it would be there. Well the Germans had wiped everything out so when we got in the Black Sea, there was nothing that was on the charts, just the depth ranges.
Interviewer:Not too helpful.
Kopp:So that was a pretty wild time.
Interviewer:Did you ever have any aircraft give you a scare, anything . . . .
Kopp:Oh yeah. In fact I think I tell the story in there but when we went through the Straits of Gibraltar, we were now going at like six knots and we’re going to go over to Oran. So in a couple of hours we’re still, what, not 20-30 miles away from the Straits and these MEs came over. It was, I’ll never forget, it was around 4:00 in the afternoon, and they start strafing us.
Interviewer:Your ship in particular or?
Kopp:No the whole convoy.
Kopp:Yeah. But they can’t believe we’re going that slow. So the bullets hit maybe ahead of the ship. There was the, they fire the bullets figuring the ship will be there when the bullet arrives, you follow me?
Kopp:But we were going so slow the bullets landed ahead of us and by that time the British Spitfires came out from behind the mountains in North Africa and drove them away. But that was, that was the first airplane experience we had. And then we get to Naples and after the Stromboli event, we’re going to be in Naples and we’re looking forward to being on land and it’s going to be a while to be unloaded. So I, one of the mates washes his uniforms and he gets everything washed and hangs it up next to the lifeboats to dry out overnight. And I’m in the cabin. This is about 10:00 at night and I’m going to shave. And I had, oh during the voyage, I grew a mustache. White, yellow, black, it was the worst-looking thing you ever saw. That was the first time I’d ever grown one. Not one guy ever said a word to me about that mustache. Now I’m at the mirror shaving and the alarms go off and the strafing begins, the bombs are dropping. This was Naples Harbor. And in the excitement I cut off a piece of the mustache. So I said, “The hell with it.” I took the whole thing off. Nobody ever said a word.
Interviewer:They didn’t say . . . .
Kopp:Not even, Ed Whitman with whom I was so close, but nobody, so I never grew one again.
Interviewer:Big change in your appearance and nobody said, this reminds me, I failed to ask you, during this time on your ship voyages, Jewish holidays and your participa-tion in observance . . . .
Kopp:The only one that I remember . . . .
Interviewer:Was there a rabbi, was there any . . . .
Interviewer:. . . .any way of . . . .
Kopp:The only time I had . . . .
Interviewer:. . . .observance?
Kopp:experience with a religious service was we were loading in Mobile for the trip to Russia. We didn’t know we were going to Russia. But we’re loading cargo in Mobile and it got to be Friday night and a couple of days Roosevelt had died, President Roosevelt. This is in ’45.
Interviewer:April of ’45, yeah.
Kopp:And so I went to services at a Reform congregation in Mobile and I remember the rabbi, he was a young rabbi and he gave one of these old philosophical things, never a word about Roosevelt, what he meant to the Jews and what he meant to us in the war effort, not a single word. And I was really angry.
Interviewer:Isn’t that . . . .
Kopp:I mean I wasn’t just disappointed, I was angry. ‘Cause he wanted help, he wanted us, I mean Roosevelt was such a hero at that time. I mean he could do no wrong. I mean, he was really the right guy. And . . . .
Interviewer:So you thought a lot about Roosevelt, a lot of him?
Kopp:A lot of what?
Interviewer:You thought a lot, you held him in high esteem?
Kopp:Oh absolutely, there was no question about it. And one of the problems we had later was in Russia. They had assigned a group of about 60 gals to become escorts for the officers on the Allied ships, British and American. And they all spoke English. The reason that you had to be very careful was they were all secret police. I mean, we knew that because the captain of my ship had been in Murmansk on earlier runs and he knew some of these women. They had been transferred to . . . .
Interviewer:All the way down from the north to the south?
Kopp:But they were to keep us out of trouble.
Interviewer:Keep you out of trouble? They were really . . . .
Kopp:It was at 10:00 . . . .
Interviewer:They were really spies?
Kopp:Well yeah but they were escorts really. So we got talking during the first, the early part of the, we’d arrived in April and we got talking to them and they were very much disturbed about American democracy because Truman was now President and he had followed Roosevelt into office and he had proposed some- thing or Congress had passed some law and he vetoed it. And they couldn’t understand how you could, how that could be because if the Russian Parliament passed a law, it meant that that was the best thing for Russia and if the President or the top guy said, “No,” then he was anti- whatever the country was. And he should be thrown out of office, you know.
Interviewer:Is that right?
Kopp:They had a real problem with that.
Interviewer:Back on religious observations, did you carry with you a Bible, did you pray on board ship . . . .
Kopp:I don’t remember.
Kopp:I don’t remember. I have no memory and that’s interesting. I have no memory at all.
Interviewer:Uh huh. Don’t recall, you were kind of on your own. Were you the only Jew on board or were there . . . .
Kopp:No on almost every voyage there I knew a couple of other pursers who were Jewish. One guy was the controller of Macy’s.
Interviewer:(laughter) On another ship?
Kopp:These, yeah Peter Benjamin. And I just remembered his name. I haven’t thought of it in years. In fact we were at some dock, I forget where, where we were anchored, tied up back-to-back on our ships. And that’s when I got to know him. But he had been in the class that I was in at Navy Hospital Corps School. So that’s how I knew him. But most, I have no memory of any religious services.
Interviewer:I remember particularly, it was a soldier, April lst of ’45 was one of the holy days and they were preparing matzo and this was in the Navy also but . . . .
Kopp:. . . . I just remember being terribly disappointed in this rabbi.
Interviewer:That’s interesting (tape ends)
End of Part 1
Note by M. B.: Barbara Walters’ father was Lou Walters and his club was called “The Latin
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Transcribed by Honey Abramson
Proofread by Marvin Bonowitz
Corrected by Martin Kopp