Interview with Norman Meizlish and Connie Meizlish on October 15, 1992, by Jody Altschule. This interview is part of the Oral History program of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Where and when were you born?
Meizlish: Columbus, Ohio. August 6, 1921.
Interviewer: Tell us something about your childhood. If you can give some
outstanding incidents or anything that comes to mind. Where your family came
Meizlish: You want to go back?
Interviewer: Yes. Let’s start by going back.
Meizlish: My father was born along the Russian-Poland border
and immigrated to this country when he was sixteen years old, about 1912. My
mother was born just outside of Riga, Latvia in 1895. She came to this country
with her parents, possibly about 1900. She was five years old.
Interviewer: What were the circumstances of their travels?
Meizlish: Well, my father came because the Russian army was
forcing many people into the service. To escape the service, he went to Germany
and left from Germany to come to the United States. When he got to the United
States, he was sent back to Germany because of an eye infection. Then he made a
second trip and landed in New York.
My mother came with her parents. The reason why they came, I’m not sure. My
grandfather had traveled through South Africa, worked for awhile there, made a
few trips to the United States prior to bringing over the family. So he was
familiar with it. They came to Columbus and moved to East Mound Street, around
the 700 block and he was the Shamus at Agudas Achim congregation.
Interviewer: Were there any special stories? Did they go through Ellis
Meizlish: Yes. My father, as I said, came to Ellis Island. His first job was
at an Italian grocery store in the lower Eastside. He learned to speak Italian
before he learned to speak English. He came to this country with no knowledge at
all of the English language. He then came to Columbus because there were
relatives of his in Columbus. I think they were cousins on his mother’s side.
I’m not really sure of the relationship. They were in the scrap business so they
offered him a job. And he started peddling with a horse and buggy. That was his
big paying job. He must have been eighteen or nineteen at that time.
Interviewer: So he didn’t have skills?
Meizlish: No. All the skills he acquired were self acquired.
He didn’t attend school in the United States but he did learn to read and write
very well and managed to develop into quite a businessman. My mother came, of
course, with her parents and they settled in Columbus. There were five children
– three sisters and one brother. My father had four sisters and one brother.
Interviewer: Did your parents have any special help from organizations, any
help other than family?
Meizlish: My father had no one other than the cousins that he had in
Columbus. He really had no one when he came to this country. He came here alone.
Subsequently, he brought over his mother and father and his four sisters and
brother, one at a time, until they were all here. As he acquired a little money,
he brought another one over.
Interviewer: What do you remember of your early life in Columbus?
Meizlish: My memory goes back to my grandfather’s house. He died when I was
about ten years old. I remember the streetcars that used to run up and down
Mound Street and Bryden Road. Other than that, the Jewish community was centered
around the Washington-Fulton area. The three Orthodox synagogues were there at
the time. The Broad Street Temple, I think was probably Orthodox at that time.
There was Ahavas Sholom and Agudas Achim
Interviewer: What was the social life of the Jews back then?
Meizlish: The social life was actually – the Jews in Columbus were sort of a
divided group by where they came from. As I recall, there were roughly three
groups – the Russians, the Hungarians, the Germans, and perhaps some small other
splinter groups. The Germans, the later arrivals, the ones who have been here
for thirty or forty years, were almost a completely separate society.
Interviewer: Were all the Jews involved in Jewish community life? Did they
stay in an enclave or did they get out?
Meizlish: Some of them did but they pretty much stayed to themselves and they
were pretty much self-supporting because there weren’t organized charitable
organizations. There were fraternal organizations and there were a lot of
synagogue organizations. As I recall, there wasn’t anything really organized
Interviewer: What was the relationship with the Jews and non Jews?
Meizlish: They were probably not as good as they are now. There was probably
a lot of anti-Semitism. The Gentiles and the Jews really didn’t get along but it
was part of the society and it wasn’t considered so terrible as it might be
today. It was sort of expected.
Interviewer: Do you recall any specific incidents?
Meizlish: Well, there were the usual things. Jews were not welcome in some of
the hotels and of course, very few organizations admitted Jews and I guess those
were the most overt. On a social basis, there was very little of that.
Interviewer: What about education? Your schooling? Your life as a child? Did
you grow up with people of ?
Meizlish: The first school if went to was Livingston Avenue School when I was
six years old. At that time, we were living on Eighteenth Street. Before that,
we lived on Monroe Avenue which is now where Children’s Hospital is parked. I
went to school there until, I believe, only the first grade. Then we moved to
Kimball Place which was considered almost the suburbs because it was that far
East, just South of Main Street between Livingston and Main Streets. I then went
to Main Street School where I went through the sixth grade. Then I went to
Roosevelt Junior High all while living on Kimball Place.
Interviewer: What was the make-up of the student body?
Meizlish: The student body at Livingston Avenue was primarily gentile. There
were not too many Jews although the area we lived in had begun to be populated
by the Jews who had moved from the Parsons Avenue area. We were a small
minority. The make-up at Roosevelt was pretty much the same. When I went to East
High School after Roosevelt, then it was a large minority of blacks at that
time. I only went to East High School for one year, then the family moved to
Middletown, Ohio for a couple of years and I graduated from there
Interviewer: Where is Middletown?
Meizlish: It’s between Dayton and Cincinnati
Interviewer: Was your father still in the scrap business?
Meizlish: Still in the scrap business. He remained in the scrap business all
of his life after he arrived in Columbus. Actually he had made two moves. One of
them, I don’t recall at all. He moved for a couple of years to Greenfield, Ohio.
Probably no more than two years, about 1923 or 1924. Actually it was 1922 to
1923 and then back to Columbus. Then to Middletown in 1935 or 1936 because he
opened up a scrap business there. So we moved. He kept one in Columbus and one
in Middletown. After that, he moved back to Columbus about 1938 or 1939.
Interviewer: Did you have any experiences with the armed forces?
Meizlish: Yes. We both had experiences with the armed forces. I enlisted in
June or July of 1942 and was released October of 1945. My experiences were
mainly in Dayton and Washington, D.C. I never got overseas Just plain lucky.
Interviewer: What was your Jewish education?
Meizlish: It was a typical education at that time. You got a little bit in
Sunday School and a little bit in the Community Hebrew School. Neither of them
was very good at imparting Jewish education. The rest of it was sort of by
Interviewer: Any highlights of your childhood in regards to religious
Meizlish: Nothing earthshattering except it was common at the time where all
the women sat upstairs at Agudas Achim and the men who sat in the front were the
ones who could
Interviewer: Were there any religious leaders at the time?
Meizlish: Not really. Some of the rabbis. I don’t recall any great hero.
Interviewer: What were the important values?
Meizlish: That’s a loaded question.
Interviewer: You can take it however you want.. Does it spark any other kinds
Meizlish: Well, being married to the same woman for almost fifty years –
stability, I guess.
Interviewer: When you were a child, how were you brought up?
Meizlish: My mother was brought up in a very Orthodox home. She kept a kosher
home. My father did not feel that religious about it because he didn’t follow
the rules as well as my mother did.
Interviewer: Did he go to temple?
Meizlish: Well, he went to shul. But we did have a kosher home. We did go to
Agudas Achim where I was Bar Mitzvahed.
Interviewer: Was Zionism or Socialism or any organization like it a part of
your home life?
Meizlish: No. But there was an organization in Columbus called “The
Workman’s Circle.” I don’t think they became real popular. Then there were
organizations made up of people who came from the same areas in Europe.
Interviewer: Were they clubs?
Meizlish: Well, they were more like socials. They just got together. I don’t
think they were clubs although the Excelsior Club, when it was organized, was
primarily Russian and Hungarian and middle eastern Europe.
Interviewer: Where was the original Excelsior Club?
Meizlish: It was on Bryden and Parsons, as I recall. I think there was one
before that but I don’t recall where it was. The one I remember was Bryden …
it was Town and Parsons. There was a social life at Schonthal Center.
Interviewer: Do you want to talk about that?
Meizlish: Yes. Young Judea was there and those organizations. AZA. Some
sports were played. They didn’t have a very good gym, as I recall.
Interviewer: That was located?
Meizlish: That was located on Rich Street. It was right across the street
from the Columbus Hebrew School.
Interviewer: Columbus Hebrew School was part of?
Meizlish: It was independent.
Interviewer: Most of the congregations sent their children there?
Meizlish: Most of them did except the Reform congregation. Ahavas Sholom,
Tifereth Israel. It was the same concept as Kol Ami is today. And Beth Jacob. It
was a community Hebrew School.
Interviewer: Did they have parochial schools?
Meizlish: No, there was no parochial school. There were none until Torah
Academy was established. That was the first parochial school in Columbus.
Interviewer: Were you active in any Jewish youth groups
Meizlish: I was a member of the AZA, Young Judea.
Interviewer: Can we talk a little bit about your activities as an adult in
the Jewish and non-Jewish community?
Meizlish: In the Jewish community? I think you have most of those records
down here already. I was involved with the Federation a long time ago. I
remember collecting door-to-door down on Fulton Street and Parsons Avenue. I was
a kid but I really got involved, it was the early 1960s or late 1950s as a
solicitor then I got involved in some of the positions and campaigned. I was
chairman of Trades & Professions as it was called. I was chairman of
Advanced Gifts, then Campaign Chairman and later on, in 1973, I became President
of the Federation. Later on, chairman of what was then the Endowment Fund of the
Federation and it is now The Foundation.
Interviewer: You were involved with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society?
Meizlish: I was involved in the book that was written by Rabbi Marc Raphael
from the university. He was your uncle and was chairman of the committee. I was
on the boards at different times, of Heritage House, the Jewish Community
Center, Winding Hollow Country Club. In the general community, things like the
Chamber of Commerce.
Interviewer: Were you active in the general community?
Meizlish: No, I wasn’t real active in the general community. I was pretty
much restricted to the Jewish community. I was on the board at Agudas Achim – in
fact, I was on the Building Committee when they built the one on Broad Street.
Interviewer: When was that?
Meizlish: That was built in the 1950s.
Interviewer: What are some of your favorite stories you can tell your
children about your parents, grandparents? What all the kids remember?
Meizlish: Well, they remember my father but he passed away very young so only
the older ones have much of a memory of him. My mother lived later and the older
kids have some memories of her.
Interviewer: About their pioneering, their coming to this country?
Meizlish: Oddly enough, I don’t know whether it was common among all of the
immigrants at that period of time, but they were really not too excited about
relating stories about their life in Europe. They were so glad to get out, they
never wanted to know about it again. In fact, my father used to say, “Why
would I want to talk about something that was so bad?” or “Why would I
ever go to Europe when I tried so hard to get out?” So he had no desire at
all, to go back. In fact, as far as I know, the area he came from was almost
totally destroyed in World War II. The town doesn’t exist anymore.
Interviewer: Was your life and your growing up experiences any different than
your younger brothers?
Meizlish: The only thing, I was involved in World War II and they weren’t
involved in that. They also didn’t go to the earlier schools that I went to.
They did go to Main Street School. My sister went to Main Street School. They
went to high school in Middletown and I think they both finished school in
Middletown. So did my sister. The youngest may have finished up in Columbus.
Probably did. It was not much different.
Interviewer: Do you have any old memorabilia, letters or memories or business
papers you’d like to give to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society that would
be of interest?
Meizlish: I don’t have very much. I might dig around and find something. I
have an aunt, the only aunt in my mother’s family, who is 90 years old now and
is attempting to do an oral history. Her memory is very good and she has a lot
more information about the early years than anyone else living.
Interviewer: Do you think we could have her story for the Columbus Jewish
Meizlish: Last time I talked to her, she was beginning to dictate and she’s
going to send the tapes to me to have them transcribed. She was just a baby when
she came to Columbus and she lived in Columbus until she went to New York. She
lived here the first twenty years of her life.
Interviewer: Also, who in the community are you related to?
Meizlish: Of course, everybody with the name Meizlish is related to me.
Rather closely. Every Meizlish in Columbus started with my father. I don’t know
how many there are.
Interviewer: Are there Meizlishs in every town in Europe
Meizlish: We’ve run across names but it’s sometimes difficult to know whether
they’re related or not. There’s some sort of lost history back there because
Meizlish is not a Russian name. It is essentially a German name. But my father
came over with that name. There is some kind of story that I’ve heard – that
various people took names of dead soldiers so they could escape conscription
laws. We’re not really sure whether that name goes back beyond my grandfather.
At the time, when my grandfather was alive, we never made much of a point of it.
My father brought him over with the rest of his family.
Interviewer: And the other people that you are related to?
Meizlsih: My mother’s mother’s maiden name was Greff and that family includes
Callifs, almost anybody who’s a native of Columbus with the name Rosenthal,
which was my grandfather’s name and through that, there’s the Gilberts. Fanny
Gilbert’s maiden name was Rosenthal. Fannie Gilbert and my mother were first
cousins. You could start putting it together, probably could build quite a
children and grandchildren are my nieces and nephews, spreading out all over the
place. Something happened in your family, I’m sure.
Interviewer: Right. Just for the record, what are the names, starting with
Meizlish: My grandfather on my mother’s side was David Nathan Rosenthal. My
grandmother (who passed away before I was born) only had a Jewish name as far as
I know. It was Manucha Leah Greff. On my father’s side, his father’s name was
…. we’ll come back to that. My parents had four children. Sylvia, Art, Herb
and myself. Do you want to know who they married?
Meizlish: Sylvia married Benjamin Cohen from Columbus and they had four
children; one boy and three girls. Sylvia lived here until a few years ago. She
now lives in Tucson, Arizona. None of her children live in Columbus. One of her
children, Debbie, moved to Israel, lives outside of Jerusalem and had seven
children in twelve years. She married Ezra Shapiro from Pittsburgh, moved to
Israel and had seven children in twelve years. The other children of my sister,
had no children. My brother, Art, has five children – one boy and four girls.
One of the girls married Larry Schottenstein, Bernie Schottenstein’s son and
they have a son. All together, my brother has six grandchildren. My brother,
Herb, has three sons, all who live in Columbus. They all have five
grandchildren. Do you want to know who they all married?
Interviewer: No, no
Meizlish: I never talked about our own children. We have one son and two
daughters. Our son, Jack, lives in Columbus. He married Helissa Crush from Long
Island and they have two children, Alex and Marissa and they live on Cassingham
We have a daughter who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She married Elliot
Silver, who is from Baltimore, Maryland. They have two sons, Sam and Aaron. She
graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, has a master’s in Social Work
and works in a theater now. He is a professor of Philosophy at the University of
Our youngest daughter, Elaine, lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She also has a
masters in Social Work and she’s in private practice. She is a clinical social
Interviewer: I want to ask you how your business evolved into what it is and
what you used to be doing.
Meizlish: As I said, my father was in the scrap business. When I started in
business with him, I went to work and we were in the scrap business.
Interviewer: How long?
Meizlish: There were various segments in the scrap business because scrap is
anything that’s thrown away. Part of what was thrown away was old rags and
stuff. There a business developed – we washed them and sold them as wiping
cloths. When my father passed away in 1953, I took over the business and
gradually converted it from scrap metal into an industrial machinery and tool
business. With my brothers, Herb and Art, as that business developed.
Interviewer: How did that develop?
Meizlish: We changed the complexion of it so our customers became metal
working plants and we got out of the scrap business all together. So it was a
change. I guess you’d call it an evolution because it didn’t happen overnight –
but it was a change and that’s the present business now, where my son, Jack is
the President of it and two nephews, sons of my brother, Herb, are in the
business with him. It’s still going on and they’re involved in the original
business my dad started probably in the early 1920s.
Interviewer: And Columbus was able to handle a lot of families in the scrap
business, however, some of them still remained in that business and others have
Meizlish: Well, there were a lot more people in that business years ago
because most of them were small business men and it was easy to get into. It
didn’t take a large investment although it took a lot more hard work. As time
went on, it became more concentrated and there were larger operations. So there
are some in it but there are many less than there used to be. And that’s how it
evolved and now the third generation is in the business.
Interviewer: And the name of your business?
Meizlish: Now it’s Buckeye Industrial Supply Company.
Interviewer: And you supply?
Meizlish: Metal working tools to make things out of metal.
Interviewer: Did you have more education after high school?
Meizlish: Yes, I went to Ohio State University for two years. I didn’t
graduate. The war was getting ready to begin and my dad was ill at that time so
I quit school and started to work then the war came along and the rest is
history. I went into the army. Got married while in the army. Came out and went
Interviewer: I’ve covered all the questions that are on the suggestion sheet
but I wanted to know if there’s anything else that you felt was important,
especially if we give a copy of this tape to your children. Any other things
that you’d like to add to the tape? Other information that will remain in the
Meizlish: Well, I’m not exactly sure what the purpose is.
Interviewer: I’m just trying to cover every base. We can use it for the
Columbus Jewish Historical Society and also things you don’t want to lose.
Meizlish: We didn’t talk about Connie’s family. She probably could do a
better job of it than I can. She is from a different background.
Connie: I moved to Columbus when I was thirteen years old but my background
is completely different than Norman’s. My grandmother on my father’s side was
born in this country. I have no idea what the date would be because her brother
fought in the Civil War for the South.
Interviewer: Do you know where they lived?
Connie: Originally they lived in Norfolk, Virginia. My grandmother got to New
Interviewer: Do you remember their name?
Connie: Her maiden name was Hirschsprung. My grandfather came from Germany at
about age three. His name was Spaggett and that was my maiden name. They lived
in New York and lived to ripe old ages. My grandparents only had one son who was
my father and three daughters.
My mother’s family was Hungarian. Her maiden name was Kate Farkus. She had
four sisters and two brothers. They were always in the retail business. All the
children were born here except one. I had a grandfather on that side who, every
time he made money, he took the whole family back to Europe.
Interviewer: To see?
Connie: Maybe to show off. The last time they went, was in 1914 and he went
there to retire.
Connie: Outside of Budapest. One sister was married, so she didn’t go. War
broke out. He invested all his money in Hungarian War Bonds. Every time he went
to Europe, he’d go for a vacation, then come back and start all over again. In
those days there weren’t dress manufacturers. They would open up a store and
they had tailors and they would produce their own merchandise.
Interviewer: Everything was handmade?
Connie: No. It was machine made but they weren’t the manufacturers. It wasn’t
mass produced. They came back in 1914 or 1915 and they went into business once
more after that. Then he died but there were always a couple of stores.
Interviewer: He sounded like a real __________.
Connie: His name was Alexander Farkus. One son was drowned in Europe the same
summer. He had graduated from college and met them in Europe. He was swimming
and was pulled under by some logs. It was quite interesting.
Interviewer: How long did you get to Columbus?
Connie: My parents had two stores in New York. Every sister had a store. I
guess it was 1936, right after the Depression and the unions had come in. It
made it very hard with the sales help. If a store had two floors and if the
sales help sold on one floor, they couldn’t sell on another floor according to
the union. They had opened up a dress shop right next to Lazarus. It was called
Gordon’s. There were hats in the front and dresses in the back. And they worked
until 1949. They retired and moved to Miami, Florida. And my mother lived until
she was eighty-four and my father lived until he was ninety.
Interviewer: So did you go back to your cousins in New York?
Connie: I went to camp and would see them. And then, my parents, being in the
dress business, I would go to New York with them on buying trips and I would get
to see my cousins. In fact, I was married and had a double wedding at the St.
Moritz Hotel in 1943 with a cousin that I grew up with because all of the
relatives were in New York.
Interviewer: Tell us more about being in the Civil War and about Norfolk.
Connie: That’s a whole other situation
Interviewer: In the south, they didn’t have a lot of Jews way back.
Connie: I don’t know how they got to the South. In fact, one aunt had sent
me papers. I might still have them.
Interviewer: That would be really interesting.
Connie: One other thing, I graduated from Bexley High School. My children
graduated from Bexley High School, and my grandchildren are going to Bexley High
School. When I graduated, there were ten Jews in the class and it was very anti-Semetic.
Interviewer: Where did you live?
Connie: The first place I lived was on Bexley Park Road. Then we moved to
Cassingham. My parents build a house on Fair Avenue.
Interviewer: Thank you, Norman and Connie Meizlish, for sharing your personal
life experiences with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.