This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project with
Robert L. Mellman is taking place Monday, March 7, 1996, at 2890 East Broad Street,
Columbus, Ohio. The Interviewer is Naomi Schottenstein.
Interviewer: What is your Jewish name?
Interviewer: And you were born where?
Mellman: The city of Bobruisk.
Interviewer: Give us your birthday.
Mellman: March 15, 1900.
Interviewer: Can you tell us anything about your family history?
Mellman: My father was a Malamed . . . a Hebrew teacher in the city of Bobruisk and my
mother used to do a lot of baking and carried it around to stations where soldiers were.
Interviewer: How long have you been in Columbus?
Mellman: Since 1910.
Interviewer: 1910. You were a young man when you came here.
Mellman: Very young, yes.
Interviewer: Did anybody else in your family come with you?
Mellman: My mother. I can’t tell you exactly how many children but Jacob was one
and Samuel was another.
Interviewer: Do you remember the trip over here from Russia?
Mellman: Oh yes.
Interviewer: What do you remember about it?
Mellman: Well, we transferred at Baltimore and we were on a train, looking out, of
course and we saw dark people walking on the sidewalks.
Interviewer: Dark people?
Mellman: Yes, blacks.
Interviewer: And you had never seen them before?
Mellman: We’d never seen them – not in Columbus and my mother remarked, “See
how hard they work in America? They get black working so hard . . .”
Interviewer: Oh, my goodness. That was her interpretation of . . . . Do you know why
your family came to Ohio? To Columbus? Was Columbus the first city you came to?
Mellman: My father had two brothers here. They were in the junk business and my mother
came here to live with them. My father came a few years before – I don’t recall how
Interviewer: Do you remember the reason why he came first?
Mellman: He was attracted to the United States.
Interviewer: But he didn’t come with your mother so he had to come here first and
Mellman: Oh yes.
Interviewer: That wasn’t unusual at that time.
Mellman: That was the regular way of doing it.
Interviewer: He had to save up money and get the rest of the family here? So your
father didn’t come with any of your siblings?
Mellman: No. He came alone. And then the children followed with our mother.
Interviewer: Later, huh? So you were a young man when you came here. You came here in
1910 so you were only about 13 years old, right?
Mellman: Ten years old.
Interviewer: What do you remember about Columbus when you first got here?
Mellman: I remember the street cars and the wires above them. It was a much smaller
community than it is now, of course.
Interviewer: You could get everyplace you needed to by street car or by foot?
Interviewer: Do you remember any places your family shopped when you were a child?
Mellman: Shopped? There were several Jewish stores in the Jewish neighborhoods. My
mother dealt with them.
Interviewer: Do you remember the names of them? Or who the shopkeepers might have been?
Mellman: I can’t recall the names.
Interviewer: There were butcher shops and bakeries and clothing stores?
Mellman: I think so, yes.
Interviewer: Do you remember where most of the shops were located at that time?
Mellman: There were a few – most of the stores were on Nimsky Prospect.
Interviewer: That was in Russia? What about in Columbus? Where did people shop?
Mellman: Well, most of them were on High Street.
Interviewer: What did your father do to make a living when you first came here?
Mellman: He continued with his teaching.
Interviewer: You said he was a Malamed – a teacher. Do you remember a synagogue you
belonged to when you were very young?
Mellman: Agudas Achim. At first it was Beth Yachem. My dad could davin on the Bema.
Interviewer: Do you remember any organizations your family was a part of when you were
Mellman: I got a list of them that I can show you.
Interviewer: You can hold onto them and we’ll talk about that later. Do you have
any memories of your grandparents in Russia? Or any other family members in Russia?
Mellman: My grandparents lived in another area – away from the city where we were.
Interviewer: It wasn’t as easy to travel then? Can you tell me about your
brothers? Do you have sisters?
Mellman: Yes. I have one sister, Frieda and she married a non Jewish boy but he was
very, very good, very nice.
Interviewer: That was unusual a long time ago, wasn’t it?
Interviewer: How about any of your other brothers? Can you tell me who your brothers
Mellman: Samuel was the oldest. Jacob – when he came here, developed into a prize
Interviewer: A prize fighter? Well, that was unusual.
Mellman: He had a pretty good job, too.
Interviewer: Did he travel?
Mellman: I think he traveled some, yes.
Interviewer: Is that how he made a living?
Interviewer: Did you have any other brothers? We have Samuel, Jacob . . . your father
had brothers living here. Who were they?
Mellman: One was Louis Mellman. Another was . . . I cannot recall his name.
Interviewer: What did Louis do for a living?
Mellman: He was a partner with his brother. They were in the junk business. It was
quite a business in those days. It has a different name nowadays.
Interviewer: They don’t call them junk dealers anymore, do they? What other
relatives do you remember in Columbus? You probably had cousins. Who were some of your
Mellman: Abe Mellman. He’s deceased.
Interviewer: Do you have any cousins here in Columbus that are still living?
Mellman: No. One was married to Gray Luper. Luper was a popular Jewish figure in
Columbus on Mound Street near Washington Avenue. Later she moved to California.
Interviewer: There are still some Mellmans in town. Are they related to you?
Interviewer: Dave Mellman?
Mellman: He’s my brother.
Interviewer: Dave is? He’s an accountant, isn’t he?
Mellman: He used to be an accountant by profession but he sold his business to another
party on Broad Street.
Interviewer: Is Dave the only brother you have living now?
Mellman: Yes. Both Jake and the other brother are gone.
Interviewer: They must have died a long time ago, huh?
Mellman: Well, several years ago. His wife still lives here. I forget her name. You
know, at my young age of ninety-seven, it’s very difficult to remember.
Interviewer: Well, I’m a couple years younger and I forget too. It’s ok. Tell
me about your education here in Columbus. Where did you go to school?
Mellman: I went to Commerce High School on sixth and Broad Streets.
Interviewer: It’s on the other side of the Scioto River.
Mellman: Now, it is. In those days, it was on this side on sixth and Broad.
Interviewer: Well, this picture I brought with me is the High School of Commerce
Graduating Class of 1919. We’re going to talk about it a little later. But
that’s where you graduated from high school. What about elementary school?
Mellman: Fulton Street. I still remember the name of the principal – she was interested
in handling the newcomers.
Interviewer: There were a lot of newcomers at that time?
Mellman: Yes. From Russia. Miss Scott was the principal.
Interviewer: Do you remember any classmates from school? Friends of yours? Men you were
Mellman: I can’t remember any names.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything that happened while you were growing up? Any big
Mellman: Not that I’m aware of.
Interviewer: Back to your education. I know that you did go to college.
Mellman: Ohio State University. I ended up in Law School and graduated in the 1920s.
Interviewer: Long time ago, huh? In the 20’s. Did you go to college right after high
Mellman: Yes, but I can’t remember the exact year.
Interviewer: Do you remember how you all helped out at home? Did you all pitch in?
Mellman: I sold newspapers after school. I worked on almost every corner of downtown
that you can name.
Interviewer: Were newspapers delivered at that time?
Mellman: No. Sunday morning, for example, I used to go out with another man and we went
in areas when people were still sleeping. We hustled papers.
Interviewer: Do you remember how much the newspapers sold for?
Mellman: Oh yes. Downtown it was about two cents a copy, I think.
Interviewer: Two cents a copy? Well, that was a pretty good price at that time.
Mellman: I worked on what they said were the best corners. Gay and High Streets, Long
and High, Spring and High, and Broad and High.
Interviewer: What did that money do for you?
Mellman: Helped me get through school.
Interviewer: Through high school?
Mellman: And later, through college.
Interviewer: Selling papers?
Mellman: That’s right.
Interviewer: Well, you were a good hustler, then.
Mellman: Yes, I was.
Interviewer: Let’s jump ahead a little bit. Maybe you’ll remember the Great
Mellman: Yes, during the 30’s I was associated with a man named Schenfarber. He was on
the northwest corner of Fourth and Broad Streets. I was with him for 14 years before he
Interviewer: Was that after you graduated from Law School?
Mellman: Yes, he hired me as a law student to help me get into practice. So I continued
Interviewer: You worked with him during the Depression?
Interviewer: Were you able to make a living?
Mellman: We did because we had a lot of customers from downtown businesses.
Interviewer: You were in a good location?
Mellman: Yes. He was my associate – Schenfarber. He was very popular in all parts of
the city, especially downtown. We represented quite a number of merchants.
Interviewer: You did ok? Got established. We’ll go back a few years. Were you
involved in World War I?
Mellman: No. I was too young. They wouldn’t take me.
Interviewer: Do you remember family members or neighbors going off to World War I?
Mellman: Oh yes.
Interviewer: What was the mood then?
Mellman: It was “serving your country.”
Interviewer: And there was a lot of pride in that, wasn’t there? What made you go
into law? Do you remember what influenced you?
Mellman: I thought I could do some good.
Interviewer: And it turned out good for you?
Mellman: I practiced until 1990.
Interviewer: So you’ve been retired only six years?
Mellman: There’s a plaque.
Interviewer: Yes. The plaque reads sixty-five years of law practice.
Mellman: Since 1920.
Interviewer: That plaque is from Ohio State University?
Mellman: No, it’s from the Ohio State Bar Association.
Interviewer: Are you still working?
Mellman: Taking care of the property we have here.
Interviewer: I see that you have quite a bit of papers here. They look pretty
Mellman: We own the single house here and this four residence in this building and four
in the next building.
Interviewer: And you take care of the management of it yourself?
Mellman: That’s right. One of these days I’m going to have to retire and let
someone else do it.
Interviewer: Someone a couple years younger?
Mellman: That’s right.
Interviewer: Well, no on can take your place but . . . .
Mellman: It’s getting pretty demanding. At my age, it’s entirely too much.
Interviewer: Were you and your wife able to take trips when you were still active?
Mellman: We’re not travelers.
Interviewer: Did you take trips as a family when your kids were small?
Mellman: In that case, we couldn’t get away.
Interviewer: Too busy then?
Mellman: Too busy.
Interviewer: We haven’t talked about your family yet. Tell me who your children
and grandchildren are.
Mellman: Do you know Adelaide Metzer? She’s a daughter of ours.
Interviewer: She’s married to Marvin.
Mellman: That’s right. Eddie is married to Faye and they live on Merkle.
Interviewer: I see they’re building a house on East Broad Street. How many
children do they have?
Mellman: Three children. In fact, one was visiting us here from Baltimore this morning.
He’s a rabbi and has seven children. Nice, lovely children.
Interviewer: Eddie and Faye have another son? And a daughter?
Interviewer: And you have another daughter? She lives close by? And she has a son,
doesn’t she? Let’s talk about your life since you’ve been married. When did
you meet your wife? And where did you meet her?
Mellman: Prior to our marriage, we were members of a club composed of men and women who
had come over from Russia. My wife speaks five different languages. We met at this club.
Interviewer: When were you married?
Mellman: Let’s see. September 20, 1920.
Interviewer: You were married seventy-six years?
Mellman: Has it been seventy-six years? No!!
Interviewer: Do you remember how old you were when you got married? Were you about
Mellman: I think a little older.
Interviewer: Do you remember your wedding? Did you have a big wedding?
Mellman: No. Our friends and relatives.
Interviewer: Were you still in college?
Mellman: No. I was out of college.
Interviewer: Were you able to get a job as soon as you got out of college?
Mellman: Well, I was certified as a lawyer. Incidentally, during my school years, I
used to do some work at the Jewish Center on Rich Street. The manager liked what I was
doing and when I graduated, she recommended me for the job with Mr. Schenfarber.
Interviewer: That was Schoenthal Center, wasn’t it? Do you remember leaving town
at all? Did you ever leave Columbus? Travel?
Mellman: For business. Yes.
Interviewer: Have you been to Israel?
Mellman: Once. In 1970 or thereabouts.
Interviewer: But you did travel to other communities? For business?
Mellman: Occasionally. Not much. We were busy enough with local clients.
Interviewer: Let’s talk a little bit about World War II. Do you remember anything
about that? It was much more recent than World War I. Were you involved in the military
Mellman: No. I was too old then.
Interviewer: Then you were too young for World War I and too old for World War II.
Mellman: That’s right.
Interviewer: Well, maybe you were lucky. You got to skip them both. But I’ll bet
you knew a lot of people who were in the service.
Mellman: Yes, I did.
Interviewer: We’re now looking at this High School of Commerce picture of 1919.
Apparently this is a graduating class.
Mellman: Yes, I think so. It is my graduating class.
Interviewer: Let’s see if there are any names on here that sound familiar. Louis
Brandt? Can you tell me anything about him. Did he marry in Columbus?
Mellman: I believe so but I’m not sure.
Interviewer: Fanny Dworkin?
Mellman: Oh yes. I know her.
Interviewer: Mo Glassman.
Mellman: Yes. He worked as a cab driver for Yellow Cab.
Interviewer: Did he eventually own the cab company?
Mellman: I believe he was something there.
Interviewer: Minnie Kaufman?
Mellman: Yes. I don’t remember who she married. Henry Holman became a Common Pleas
judge. Ann Rosenthal. I remember her – very much.
Interviewer: How about Berdello Roth? Does that name sound familiar?
Mellman: Roth is familiar.
Interviewer: Louella Schaefer?
Mellman: Yes. I remember the name. Sam Schlonsky. I remember.
Interviewer: How about Israel Yaretsky? Do you remember what he did for a livelihood?
What about his family?
Mellman: I remember his family.
Interviewer: How about Bernard Ziskind? Who was he related to? Did he have a brother?
Mellman: He married a local girl.
Interviewer: What was he to Mutke Ziskind?
Mellman: His brother.
Interviewer: Mutke Ziskind was an attorney. Do you know what Bernard did?
Mellman: Bernie became an attorney, also.
Interviewer: How about Esther Zollinger?
Mellman: The name sounds familiar but I don’t know her.
Interviewer: Do you have this picture? Have you ever seen it?
Mellman: No. I don’t remember ever seeing it. This is the first time I’ve
Interviewer: Well, it’s a nice picture because each person is identified. This
High School of Commerce is where the YMCA is today? On Fourth Street?
Mellman: Fourth and Long.
Interviewer: And then it later became Central High School which is located across from
the Scioto River.
Mellman: Yes, that is correct.
Interviewer: You have enjoyed your years as a lawyer?
Mellman: Yes, I have.
Interviewer: You really did not have a choice.
Mellman: No, it was what I wanted to be.
Interviewer: Were there several other Jewish lawyers?
Mellman: Not many – I cannot remember their names. I was one of the very few who stuck
with it for so many years.
Interviewer: This concludes our interview with Robert Mellman.