Interview with Robert Shamansky on April, 1989 by interviewer Anita Eisenstein. This interview is taking place in Columbus, Ohio, as part of the Oral History program of the Columbus JewishHistorical Society.
Interviewer: I’m going to call you Bob because we’re old friends
and we’re here to talk about your experiences and your family’s experiences. What I’d like to talk about first, Bob, is your grandparents and how they came to Columbus.
Shamansky: I don’t remember either grandfather. My maternal grandfather, Samuel Greenberg, came to Columbus, probably in the 1890s, surmising because by 1900, there was a Greenberg store. He started out as a peddler and then he was a pawnbroker and then he had a men’s clothing store. He sold uniforms to the streetcar drivers and that kind of thing. That was at 132-134 East Long Street.
Interviewer: How long did that stay in business?
Shamansky: It probably stayed in business until the early 1950s. It
is one of the few remaining Civil War era buildings in downtown
Interviewer: Has it been named with the historical . . . .?
Shamansky: No, I don’t think it has because it passed out of the
family in the 1950s. It was originally a hospital. The Hamilton family
had it – they were doctors. That was my grandfather Greenberg who came
from . . .
Interviewer: This was your maternal grandfather?
Interviewer: How many children did he have?
Shamansky: He had four children. My Uncle Harry, who is the oldest
and he had Greene’s Store which, if you will remember, was a
clothing store, first in the AIU building.
Interviewer: Your Uncle Harry had . . . .?
Shamansky: Uncle Harry had it at 50 West Broad Street, next to the
Palace Theater. Then they moved onto High Street. That was my mother’s
Interviewer: So that was a men’s clothing store. At that time was
. . . .
Shamansky: It was my uncle’s store. My mother and aunt didn’t
have anything to do with that. There were four kids. My Uncle Harry,
my mother, my Uncle Morris and my Aunt Min. There were four Greenberg
Interviewer: Were all the children active in the business world?
Shamansky: Yes, they grew up in the business and my Uncle Harry went
off on his own and had his own store. But they grew up in the
Interviewer: The others were in Samuel Greenberg’s business?
Shamansky: What continued on as that – they made their living at
Interviewer: Do you remember what city in Russia Samuel Greenberg
Shamansky: It would be somewhere between Berdichev and Zhitomir. You
can see on the map that they’re west and an little bit south of
Interviewer: Did you ever ask your grandfather why he came here?
Shamansky: I never knew my grandfather because he died in 1911 at
the age of forty-four.
Interviewer: Did the family history come down to you as to why he
left . . . ?
Shamansky: The story was that my maternal grandmother’s family
name was Kamineer and I think they were in the forestry business. I
have no other . . . .
Interviewer: Interestingly enough, Kamineer is an odd name and I
knew someone named Kamineer.
Shamansky: That’s the maternal side and they came here by the turn
of the century. My grandfather came first and his oldest son came with
him. Then later on, my grandmother and the younger children came over.
My maternal grandfather must have been something else again because in
buying a piece of property on Parsons Avenue, he came across while
examining the title, something called a mortgage – the owner of the
piece of property had borrowed money from the New York Savings and
Loan. Samuel Greenberg (this was before 1911) was already, at that age
(he died at age forty-four in 1911) in the lending money at the New
York Savings and Loan Company which shows you this was an immigrant
off the boat.
Interviewer: This was a very typical pattern for the enterprising
Shamansky: That’s right. My Aunt Min used to tell me that when
they first came to Columbus, they were so poor that the only place
they could live was on Spring Street, around Third Street, which was
the “red light” district. But that was all they could
afford. They came off the train, off the boat and that was all these
people could afford. They had no cash, they started off as peddlers,
then they became pawnbrokers and then they had a store.
Interviewer Do you remember how old your mother was when she came
Shamansky: I’m guessing. She had no accent. Her older brother
would say, instead of Westerville, Vesterwille. That was the
only accent he had. She had to have been born sometime in the 1890s
and came here as a little girl so she could speak Yiddish but with an
Interviewer: What brought the family to Columbus, Ohio?
Shamansky: I have no way of knowing. It would have to be because of
the “landsmen”, that’s all I can tell you.
Interviewer: Somebody from the village . . . .
Shamansky: But again, picking up the pattern of these Jewish
families, my oldest uncle was a real salesman and he was an avid
businessman. He did not go to college. My mother did not go to
college. She went to high school – she was literate. The younger
children went on to college. My Aunt Min didn’t graduate from
college but she attended college.
Interviewer: That in itself was very unusual – an emphasis on higher
Shamansky: Yes, with that first generation. The younger brother went
to Ohio State University and then he went to Ohio State University Law
School and became a lawyer.
Interviewer: That was very unusual at that time.
Shamansky: Not really. When they came here and could, they got an
Interviewer: Samuel Greenberg must have been doing very well.
Shamansky: Yes, he actually did because . . . please understand,
they bought in 1911, the year he died, a 1911 Cadillac and they bought
245 East Gay Street.
Interviewer: That 1911 Cadillac probably cost $2,000.
Shamansky: Whatever it was, at that time, it was still a good car
and they bought 245 East Gay Street.
Interviewer: When did you come to Columbus?
Shamansky: 1958. That was already gone but then there were big, old
brick houses of these first families.
Interviewer So they went from Spring and Third to . . . .
Shamansky: Then they bought this house at 245 East Gay Street, which
is still in my family. In fact, my brother and I – that’s where my
brother’s office is – on that land. So in 1911, they were able to
afford a big house and my grandfather, back in 1911 . . . if you go to
Agudas Achim Cemetery on Alum Creek Drive and Frebis, there . . . .
Interviewer: How old did you say your grandfather was when he came
Shamansky: I don’t know how old he was but when he died, he was
forty-four in 1911 so he was in his early twenties. When he had his
first son he must have been a teenager when he came because there was
a gap between the oldest child and my mother.
Interviewer He accomplished a great deal in twenty short years.
Shamansky: The biggest tombstone in the old Agudas Achim cemetery
says, Greenberg on it. And it is a big tombstone. I think that’s
interesting and there were six spaces there.
Interviewer: The name Shamansky . . . incidentally, I was in Chicago
and somewhere on a piece of paper, I have written the name of a very
modern and avant garde artist who . . . phonetically, his name sounds
Shamansky: Yes, it is. I’ve been to Poland on two occasions and I’ve
been to Soviet Russia on two occasions. Phonetically, the sound
Shamansky is not that uncommon. I’m not certain it’s always a
Jewish name but it is . . . .
Interviewer: Schaman is . . .
Shamansky: Well, that is a Slavic stem. Shaman means medicine man. I
looked it up in the dictionary and I think the root is Eastern
European – the witch doctor, the medicine man but it has . . ..
Interviewer: So you go back . . . some ancestor might have been
familiar by curing with herbs.
Shamansky: It’s fun to speculate. Where it came from I don’t
know. I’m merely telling you what I know. I was with my cousins in
Washington, D.C. – related to my father’s mother’s family – and
the family name they brought over from Russia was Potts and you say,
why was that? In her family that name, Potts, which they brought with
them is because her grandfather dealt with an English company, Potts.
Jewish families didn’t have last names until they started naming and
then they had to get assigned names.
Interviewer It’s interesting to see how people get along without
Shamansky: It was “the son of . . . “
Interviewer: What do you know about your paternal grandfather?
Shamansky: In 1989 I went to Manchester, England where my maternal
grandfather and grandmother lived (they married in Rega, Latvia) and
where their oldest surviving child, my father, was born in 1895. I
went to the registry there to look up my father’s address and when I
told them my name was Shamansky, right away they said to look in
Cheatham Hill. They knew it was a Jewish name and all the Jews went to
Cheatham Hill. I couldn’t find it under 1895 so I looked after 1895
and I came across my Uncle Julian, the next child.
Interviewer: The name was Shamansky?
Shamansky: Shamansky. I found my uncle was born in 1897 so I knew
the family was there. Then they moved back . . . .
Interviewer: What put you on the trail of England?
Shamansky: I knew my father was born in Manchester, England. But on
the year I thought he was born, it didn’t exist. The birth record
showed my dad was born in 1892. So I found two birth records of
Michael and Rachel Shamansky but every time the name was spelled, the
vowels changed. An “I” on the end or “SHE” –
whatever the Englishmen put down. My grandparents didn’t know
English, if they knew anything, they knew the Hebrew alphabet or the
Cyrilie alphabet. The spelling was changed and when they came here,
they settled on . . . .
Interviewer: But you determined it was your family because there was
only one family . . . .
Shamansky: Yes. Clearly it was Michael and Rachel and Harry on my
dad’s record. And Michael and Rachel had Julius. We called him
Julian and we know that was the family and it was Manchester, England
at the right times. But my grandfather, at one time his occupation was
listed as “slipper maker.” So after I left the registrar, I
went to the Manchester Public Library and they have a historic section
and a Jewish section is part of it. I looked up the map of Manchester
in the 1890s to see what it looked like and to find Cheatham Hill. I
found the significant landmark in the city and I had to laugh because
it was located in back of a railroad station over by the prison. The
reason I’m laughing is because when you think about my maternal
grandparents in the 1890s coming to Columbus and where they first
moved to over by the prison in back of the railroad station. Whether
it was Manchester or Columbus, that’s where these immigrant Jews
went. What is significant is how many Jews could there have been?
Whatever it was, there was a Jewish school and three synagogues shown
on the map.
Interviewer: Can you determine the population for three synagogues?
Shamansky: No, but you can imagine – already they had three shuls
and a Jewish school. They brought that with them even though they were
immigrants. These people already had their schools and their shuls.
Interviewer: So your father was born in Manchester.
Shamansky: Yes, and why they moved to Nelsonville, Ohio, I don’t
Interviewer: You know who comes from Nelsonville? The Luckoffs.
Shamansky: The Yenkins, the Luckoffs, the Benders . . . .
Interviewer: What was there in Nelsonville?
Interviewer: Mr. Luckoff didn’t start in junk. The Altman’s
preceded him and he married an Altman and he opened a retail store.
Shamansky: But again, how do you get to retail? My grandfather was a
Interviewer: And if I remember correctly, Mr. Lukoff did start as a
Shamansky: Michael Shamansky married Rachel Clayman. The Clayman
clan – there were a number of brothers and sisters in that family and
then from Nelsonville, they went to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and
Detroit and Chicago. The Clayman clan went to those other cities and I’m
still in touch with the branch in Washington, D.C. Lois Potts’
mother was Lenore Clayman and her father was a Clayman.
Interviewer: So it’s a cousin by marriage.
Shamansky: No, it’s blood but my cousin in Washington’s
connection was through her mother.
Interviewer: So her name was Potts and she married a Clayman.
Shamansky: That’s right. My cousin, who at birth was named Potts –
her mother’s maiden name was Clayman so it could be my father’s
first cousin through the brothers and sisters, my dad’s mother being
a Clayman. My grandfather was Michael. My dad’s name was Harry.
Interviewer: So Michael married Rachel Clayman. And from that
marriage, Harry Shamansky was born.
Shamansky: That’s correct. How do you explain how these families
Interviewer: So now we have Michael Shamansky living in Nelsonville.
Shamansky: My grandfather, Michael Shamansky, died in about 1928. I
was born in 1927 and within the year, he was dead. My grandmother
lived until about 1944 or 1945. I remember they had a big junkyard,
they had a house and next door was a little store. They had a retail
store and the junkyard in the back.
Interviewer: What did they sell in the retail store? Parts?
Shamansky: No, I’m sure it was groceries. Watkins Street in
Nelsonville in the mid 1930s wasn’t paved and the outhouse was in
the backyard. So my brother and I would visit grandma and stay over
and there was a pump in the kitchen and the hot water was heated and a
great big washtub was filled up with the hot water and that was what
you bathed in and went upstairs to the bedroom and you had chamberpot.
Interviewer: That was different than what you had in your house in
Shamansky: I lived on South Drexel Avenue in Columbus. I wasn’t
used to a chamberpot or . . .
Interviewer: So your grandparents lived in the country . . . .
Shamansky: It was a small town. The transition from Russia to that
wasn’t so great. Other people in Nelsonville lived with outhouses.
That was before plumbing got to houses, city water and that sort of
thing. There was a big flood in 1936 – this whole area in the midwest
was terribly flooded – my grandmother left Nelsonville at that point.
Let me tell you about her six kids. There were three boys – my father
was the oldest, then Uncle Julian and Uncle Isaac. My father was a
physician. Uncle Julian was a physician and Uncle Ike was a dentist.
All of them went to Ohio State University. This is a family that were
junk dealers. The point being that as poor as they were, and they
were, these families did not keep their children home to work to
support them. They worked their way through school but education came
first. They weren’t kept home to support the rest of them. The rest
of them figured out some way to support themselves while these three
boys went to college. That tells you about the value system.
Interviewer: Remarkable. There were other immigrants . . ..
Shamansky: Yes, this is a pattern, a cultural . . . .
Interviewer: There were families who said the children couldn’t go
to school because the family needed hands . . . .
Shamansky: These families sent the kids to school. I don’t mean to
say they paid their way .
Interviewer: They made it clear that was the goal of the children.
Shamansky: The kids went to school, certainly the males. But my
youngest aunt, Aunt Fannie Levi, who lives at Park Tower, she’s the
youngest of those children. You should interview her, too. She studied
pharmacy at Ohio State University.
Interviewer: Now that’s unusual. She probably had medical
aspiration and wanted to be a doctor but in her day, for a woman to be
a doctor .. . .
Shamansky: My Aunt Min on my mother’s side also went to college.
She didn’t finish. These Orthodox families – they all belonged to
Agudas Achim – their value system was, they went to college.
Interviewer: You were very fortunate to come from both maternal and
paternal ideologies such as this.
Shamansky: That is all I know. That was what was.
Interviewer: That was a pattern on both sides of the family. So your
parents were married in what year?
Shamansky: I think in 1921 and my brother was born in 1922.
Interviewer: How many children are there?
Shamansky: Two boys.
Interviewer: And your mother’s name was?
Interviewer: Your father’s name was Harry and he was a doctor.
What kind of a doctor was he?
Shamansky: A general practitioner.
Interviewer: Where was his office?
Shamansky: Monroe and Mt. Vernon Avenue.
Interviewer: He graduated from . . .?
Shamansky: Ohio State University in about 1917, during World War I.
He went down to Cincinnati General Hospital for his internship. Then,
I think he was stationed at Fort Dix someplace in New Jersey during
the balance of World War I.
Interviewer: Had you ever heard, as a young boy, how the flu
epidemic affected your family?
Shamansky: No, I did not.
Interviewer: So you were brought up as sons of a practicing
physician here in Columbus.
Shamansky: In the 1930s, he was poor.
Interviewer: In the 1930s a doctor’s visit was $2.00.
Shamansky: And around Mt. Vernon and Monroe, you couldn’t get
Interviewer: In the middle of the night, you got a call, you went to
their house or if a patient had a degree of temperature, you didn’t
say, “Bundle up and come to the office.” Did your father’s
being a doctor have an affect on you as a family?
Shamansky: I don’t want to say that because my other physician
uncle – neither of his – one was a physician, one was a dentist. None
of our generation – the males – became doctors. The girls married
doctors but we didn’t become doctors. So you can’t just attribut
it to me. That wasn’t my _______.
Interviewer: Did it affect your home life as you recall? Doctors
now-a-days can plan a home life. In those days, they couldn’t.
Shamansky: I don’t want to attribute to something that I don’t
feel was there.
Interviewer: Obviously, it wasn’t there.
Shamansky: No it wasn’t. My parents were living at 245 East Gay
Street – my grandparents’ home which was a big house . . .
Interviewer: They started their married life there?
Shamansky: I’m assuming they did because my brother was born there
in 1922. Then by the time I came along in 1927, they were already on
Drexel Avenue. I knew where I ___________
Interviewer: Where on Drexel Avenue?
Shamansky: 525 South Drexel Avenue.
Interviewer: That was very unusual for a Jewish family, wasn’t it?
Wasn’t that a completely gentile neighborhood? What made your
parents choose that neighborhood? Do you have any recollection?
Shamansky: There was this duplex, we called it.
Interviewer: You still own it, don’t you?
Shamansky: Yes, we still own it. My brother and I own it. It’s
been good to us for sixty years.
Interviewer: I don’t know too much about Columbus history but I do
know that there wasn’t a large Jewish population in Bexley.
Shamansky: Bexley was much smaller. It wasn’t very big.
Interviewer: What school did you go to?
Shamansky: I started out at the old Main Street School where the
Lutheran Seminary has its married housing. There was a public school
on the north side of Main Street and that was the old Main Street
Interviewer: Was Bexley a separate entity? A suburb within the city?
Shamansky: The city grew out to it but Bexley was a little village.
The Village of Bexley.
Interviewer: So actually, you were moving out to the country.
Shamansky: In the sense that the built up area of Columbus stopped
at Remington Road. When I was a kid and you got to Remington Road,
there were fields. You came to James Road and you were starting in
Interviewer: Was your father an entrepreneur in real estate?
Shamansky: No. He had stayed in the Reserves from World War I and
when things got tight in 1940, he was called up so he was actually
called back into the military prior to World War II.
Interviewer: Did he serve in World War II?
Shamansky: Yes, he served in World War II.
Interviewer: Here in the states? How old was he in 1940?
Shamansky: He was forty-six years old. I don’t think he knew that
he was born in 1892. I think he thought he was born in 1895.
Originally he was sent to Puerto Rico and then he was assigned to a
hospital in England and served there.
Interviewer: You were in your early teens at that time. Born in 1927
. . .
Shamansky: Yes, I was a freshman in high school or in junior high
when he came back. At that age, he was already dying. He was in his
late forties, early fifties and he went to work for the Veteran’s
Administration, originally here and he then went to Washington, D.C.
Interviewer: What’s your earliest recollection of growing up on
Shamansky: I should explain that my Uncle Harry and his kids lived
upstairs. We lived downstairs. It was like a big extended family as
far as the kids were concerned.
Interviewer: But you went to a predominantly gentile school?
Shamansky: Yes, it was a gentile school.
Interviewer: And the family was Orthodox? Where was the old Agudas
Shamansky: On Washington Avenue.
Interviewer: What did you do on Saturdays?
Shamansky: Originally, my grandparents always belonged to Agudas
Achim. I still belong to Agudas Achim. In the third grade of Sunday
School, I was enrolled at Temple Israel Sunday School. It was called
the Bryden Road Temple.
Interviewer: So there you could use public transportation. At Agudas
Achim you couldn’t?
Shamansky: I guess you could. I was younger then. I remember I used
to go. My grandmother would come up from Nelsonville for the holidays
and the ladies would sit upstairs and I would go upstairs to visit
Interviewer: But you don’t remember if they took public
transportation? That was quite a walk from Drexel to Washington
Shamansky: No, they drove. They were already driving.
Interviewer: How were you treated as a minority Jewish family living
. . . ?
Shamansky: I personally had very little overt discrimination. I knew
there weren’t any Jews in this club or that one. When I grew up, Ted
Huntington, from Huntington National Bank, was in my class. I lived on
the poor end of South Drexel but the Wolfe kids – I didn’t know how
rich they were – were kids in the neighborhood.
Interviewer: They went to public school?
Shamansky: No, they went to Academy but they were on the rich end
and Drexel is a short street so they were the kids in the
neighborhood. There were enough of the “fancier goyim”, the
old Columbus families who first moved to Bexley. When these gentile
families moved from East Broad Street and East Town Street, they moved
east to the Franklin Park area, then they moved into Bexley. A lot of
them are still here. The Jeffrey family. Even as a kid in junior high
school, the kids would play, or go to sessions, there were Jeffrey
kids. They were kids. I knew they were rich but . . . .
Interviewer: There was not the old country club barrier?
Shamansky: I didn’t even belong to Winding Hollow Country Club so
that wasn’t the issue.
Interviewer: There was no Winding Hollow Country Club.
Shamansky: Yes, there was a Winding Hollow Country Club.
Interviewer: In the 1940s?
Shamansky: In the 1930s.
Interviewer: As a boy growing up, did they come to your house to
Shamansky: We played in the neighborhood. They all had bigger houses
so I went over there, as far as that goes. There was also Troop #3 of
the Boy Scouts and we met at St. Alban’s Church. So there were kids
who were goyim.
Interviewer: In essence, are you trying to say that because there
were so few of you . . .
Shamansky: There certainly were not a lot of Jewish kids in my class
but there were some. In grade school, there were very few Jewish kids
at the Main Street School other than my cousins. There was a girl
named Jean King whose father was Nate King. There were very few Jewish
kids at the old Main Street School. At the junior high school there
were . . . there was the Lurie family in my brother’s class, Harriet
Lurie. There were the Gundersheimers, the Guggenheim family (mostly in
my brother’s class), Allen Gundersheimer.
Interviewer: He lived on Park Drive.
Shamansky: In my class, there was Sanford Stern, Gene Polster.
Interviewer: Did they all live in the Bexley area? So you didn’t
Shamansky: No, I’ve never not been a part of the Jewish community.
That’s a given.
Interviewer: But you did have other . . . .
Shamansky: I felt comfortable going out in the non Jewish community
Interviewer: I’ve been told by others – the Gundersheimers, the
Sterns – from time to time in social gatherings, that because there
was not a preponderance, there was no differentiation.
Shamansky: I think there was very little. Let me tell you another
thing. Back in the 1930s, with Hitler going on, it was “sha, sha
zoy gornisht.” Translation, Sh-h, don’t say anything. You didn’t
want to call attention to your Jewishness.
Interviewer: You didn’t want to flaunt it.
Shamansky: You have to think of the era, the times.
Interviewer: Not only that, you have to think that a great number of
the Jews at that time were non-affiliated with temples.
Shamansky: Of course, in my world, you belonged. Even if my mother
didn’t know the “Deutschen,” she would call the German
Jews, who had already – the Gundersheimers, the Lazaruses. She knew
who they were. She knew all the Jewish families with the different
shuls. I didn’t know them. I used to laugh at her, she used to say .
. . mention someone’s name, so and so and I’d say, “Mom, who
are you talking about?” She’d say, “So and So’s
mother.” She’d give me the maiden name, the unmarried name that
she grew up knowing.
Interviewer: So there were just the two of you at home. Your brother
and yourself. Your father was a doctor, your mother had a large
apartment and two young boys to look after.
Shamansky: There was Bubby Sherman, the little, old Jewish lady who
lived with us and helped take care of the house. And my mother worked
in her family store . . . .
Interviewer: She worked in the Greene . . .
Shamansky: R & H Greenberg.
Interviewer: That was the name of the store?
Shamansky: On Long Street.
Interviewer: They sold uniforms for firemen and streetcar
conductors? So your mother worked in the store. You had a liberal idea’d
mother who worked out of the home?
Shamansky: Yes, my mother was not domestic at all.
Interviewer: She had someone who looked after the household,
prepared the meals? How did you feel about that? They say kids
now-a-days . . .
Shamansky: At Bexley, in those days, the doors weren’t locked, my
cousins were upstairs. You opened up the door in the morning, shooed
the kids out and you didn’t worry about it after that. There was
nothing to worry about.
Interviewer: And there was somebody in your house . . .
Shamansky: But even when the old lady died, we were already old
enough . . . it was not dangerous to be outside.
Interviewer: You say your mother wasn’t a domestic woman. So she
had a business head on her and your father didn’t resent the fact
that . . . .?
Shamansky: Well, they split up as a couple.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Shamansky: They separated and later divorced.
Interviewer: Your father didn’t live at home then?
Interviewer: How old were you then?
Shamansky: About seven years old.
Interviewer: You had a very modern experience.
Shamansky: Yes, modern experience but I hasten to add that (maybe
this is unique) my brother and I were raised by a committee of
Interviewer: What are you talking about?
Shamansky: My mother and her sister moved in. Then my dad’s two
sisters, Aunt Fannie, who didn’t have any children and her sister,
Aunt Sally who never married – those four women were our mothers.
Interviewer: You had a group of surrogate mothers.
Shamansky: That’s right. On both sides of the family.
Interviewer: So you felt enough feminine love and protection.
Shamansky: And my father, too. He wasn’t always there but he was a
Interviewer: That’s interesting.
Shamansky: In terms of anecdote, we went to Camp Wilson which was
the YMCA camp up by Bellefontaine. and there we got . . . I saw for
the first time, kids who were poor. Until 1936, when I went to visit
my grandmother in Nelsonville, the kids across the street didn’t
have shoes. We wore shoes. But to see really poor kids who had only a
little cotton blanket. We weren’t rich but we had more than that.
Interviewer: Well, two incomes.
Shamansky: But they were modest incomes. This was the 1930s.
Interviewer: There were no rich people.
Shamansky: Well, there were in Bexley but not in my family. Being a
doctor then meant a lot less than it would mean today. Or what we used
to think it meant. It was the times. We always had a car. We always
had a telephone when not everyone had a car or a telephone. We went to
school with kids whose families were well-to-do.
Interviewer: There was always an income? Tell me how you became
interested in your career as an attorney?
Shamansky: I was very interested in political science. I graduated
from Bexley in 1944, started Ohio State University in the fall of
1947. I spent my junior year in high school in Tucson, Arizona.
Interviewer: How did that come about?
Shamansky: I was really a little kid. I was the runt. I was a very
small kid and I was always bothered by colds – I had these terrible
colds all winter long. My mother’s sister, Aunt Min, who had
arthritis and stiffening of the spine, moved out to Tucson, Arizona in
1942 or 43. The thought was, in the summer of 1942, I had my tonsils
taken out and they shipped me out to Tucson. I threw my Kleenex away
and was about age fifteen when I asked my dad’s mother,
“Grandma, when am I going to get tall, if I ever am?” She
said, “Don’t worry, when your uncles got to be thirteen, they
grew.” When I got to be fifteen, I had to go to the tailor to
have my pants lengthened. I grew so much in one year, that when I came
home and went into the bathroom, everything seemed to be miniature
because when I left, I was looking sort of up and when I came back, I
was looking down.
Interviewer: So you lived with an unmarried aunt in Tucson?
Shamansky: An unmarried aunt who actually had lived with us at home.
So that was like being at home. At fifteen, I traveled out West by
myself. It was during World War II. After I left, I traveled to
California over New Year’s Eve to see a Rose Bowl game. When I was
sixteen, before coming back to Columbus, I traveled in Mexico for six
weeks by myself. A sixteen year old kid. The reason I mention that is
because at an early age, I didn’t have money for gambling or smoking
or drinking but there was always somehow enough money to travel in my
family, and I liked to travel. And I’ve always been interested in
that and done it all my life. So I got that kind of a confidence of
traveling on my own.
Interviewer: It’s a great gift.
Shamansky: You realize what you can cope with.
Interviewer: To have had a mother who had enough confidence in you .
Shamansky: When I went to Tucson, Arizona in 1942, I was enrolled in
a YMCA camp at Flagstaff, Arizona, or Prescott, in the mountains. So
as a kid, I was already permitted or encouraged to go on my own. And
over the New Year, in 1942-43, I got on a train and went to Los
Angeles by myself – I was fifteen – to see a Rose Bowl game.
Interviewer: You had the example of grandfathers and others coming
across the ocean when they were very young.
Shamansky: What I’m suggesting is that of the value system. There
wasn’t a lot of discretionary money but money for traveling was
okay. That was a positive. I wasn’t a kid looking for trouble and
once you start that, then you have the confidence in your ability to
handle the money and know what to avoid. I wasn’t attracted to that
stuff so it wasn’t a problem.
Interviewer: But you see this is something that a parent would be
hesitant . . . .
Shamansky: I’m not sure I would but you’ve got to try it. It’s
a good testing thing.
Interviewer: So you stayed for one year of high school.
Shamansky: I came back to graduate with my class at Bexley High
School in 1944. Then I went to Ohio State University and join the ZBT
new chapter, Zeta Beta Tau fraternity where all my friends from Bexley
were. Harry Kohn, Jr, Bobby Gundersheimer, Sanford Stern, Eugene
Polster, Arnold Sher, Albert Tyroler – I’m talking about guys who I
know are still around. In 1945, I graduated and I was turned down for
World War II. I weighed 115 pounds and they turned me down. I was too
Interviewer: At 115 pounds, the gun weighed . . ..
Shamansky: But the joke is, five years later, after finishing
Harvard Law School, the Korean War broke out when I was about to take
the Bar Exam . . . In five years, I gained four pounds and they
drafted me. After my dad had paid for my going to Harvard Law School –
there’s an irony here, I hope you understand in that the GI Bill
paid for other guys’ education – my dad paid and I got drafted.
Going to Harvard Law School was a very . . . .
Interviewer: Weren’t those the days when they had a quota system?
Shamansky: No, I don’t think so. Not after World War II. There
were a lot of Jewish guys there. Harvard College had the quota system.
If there was a Jewish quota in my class, it was big.
Shamansky: I was drafted and I had to go through basic training
three times. I was not a natural pupil. I had more basic training than
any other soldier in American history. But I ended up in
Counter-Intelligence School in the United States Army, the CIC. I was
stationed at their school. In other words, I went through the training
and they kept me there. It was better than going to Korea where a war
was going on.
Interviewer: Not too intelligent a war either.
Shamansky: Well, whatever it is, the main thing at that point was to
be able to be stationed in Baltimore. My dad was living in Washington,
D.C. at that time with the Veterans Administration. I could come home
one weekend, I could go to Washington, D.C. one weekend, I could go to
New York where my cousin, Barbara was living. And then Ted Huntington,
my high school classmate from Bexley was stationed nearby and we got
together. That was fun – we were planning all this out. Then Ted – I
had just gotten out of the hospital . . . .
Interviewer: What put you in the hospital?
Shamansky: I had severe bronchitis. That was my second stint in the
hospital. Half the time I was in the military, I was in the hospital.
On the way back, over by Cambridge, Ohio, we had a head-on automobile
accident. We had switched sides, I was driving Ted’s car and that
was in the days before seatbelts. We had a head-on crash, some
soldiers hit us. He died a few hours later. It was questionable
whether I’d survive – it was touch and go. I survived so I spent the
next year of my life in military hospitals because it was a matter of
rule that number one, would I survive and could I walk and all that
kind of stuff. So I’m 50% disabled from the Veteran’s
Administration. My check comes every month. Ted and I had known each
other since the seventh grade.
Interviewer: That must have been a very traumatic . .. .
Shamansky: It was. It was something that sticks in your mind. I can
remember those events as clearly as . . . but I don’t know what I
had for breakfast a couple hours ago. The one reason I mentioned that,
talk about Bexley in the 1930s, I’m trying to convey some idea – the
leavening agent of the democracy of this country. I went to Cassingham
School and Ted Huntington was in the Cassingham School and the kids
were in the Troop Three. He was an Episcopalian at St. Albans, that
was his church. My buddies joined the Boy Scout group so that was the
Boy Scout group I joined and then, Bexley being a small place, you met
this Orthodox background. A kid could meet the gentile families in
terms of education. I never felt disadvantaged. The value system wasn’t
their value system. We were Jewish and there was a big gap there. But
it was still sufficiently democratic, small league society —.
Interviewer: In essence, what you’re saying is the face of
democracy could be defined differently in the suburban setting.
Shamansky: It was not defined, it was practiced by these kids. Our
parents didn’t have anything to do with one another but we grew up .
. . .
Interviewer: Certainly your parents did not expect to be invited . .
Shamansky: No, they were not.
Interviewer: . . . . to the country club where the Huntingtons
belonged. But with the growth of civil rights and the ACLU . . ..
(Shamansky-Interview 1, pg 24)
Shamansky: That was all much later.
Interviewer: Since 1963, we’ve knocked out a lot of civil rights
and antiquated customs.
Shamansky: The way these things begin, you become less strange to .
Interviewer: I’m sure the same thing exists today
Shamansky: But the difference is that if any of the next generation
in my family – my nephews – if any of them marries a Jewish girl, it’ll
be a miracle.
Interviewer: There are very few families that don’t have
Shamansky: That’s the paradox, the price you pay. That would be
the test, whether or not you could maintain a Jewish identity. You
might think it’s important – I think it’s a pretty good value
Interviewer: Certainly maintaining one’s identity.
Shamansky: I think being Jewish is a positive thing.
Interviewer: And being nothing is non-positive.So there you were,
recuperating from a severe auto accident.
Shamansky: I came out of the service on a medical discharge, then I
took another year to learn how to walk again and to get my strength
back. Then I went to work with Troy Feibel.
Interviewer: Tell me a little about Troy. He was one of the first
Jewish attorneys in Columbus, wasn’t he. And he had a firm right
from the beginning?
Shamansky: Well, when I was with him, he was practicing by himself.
I was the other lawyer in the office. But that was when the biggest
law firm in Columbus was Vorys and it had nine lawyers.
Interviewer: I remember when I started to work as a legal secretary
back in the early 60s, the Bar Association book was a quarter of an
inch thick. Now it’s what, divided into two volumes?
Shamansky: Well, there’s pictures and everything’s quite
Interviewer: You went in as a practitioner with Troy Feibel?
Shamansky: Basically, I was associated with him until he passed away
and then with Jim Feibel still. Our offices are adjacent to each
Interviewer: What is the name of your firm?
Shamansky: It’s now called Benescj, Friedlander, Copland, Aronoff.
It’s a large Cleveland firm that we joined here in Columbus. Now
there’s a Cincinnati office also so there are 165 lawyers.
Interviewer: You cover the field pretty good. There’s no branch of
law that you and your firm . . . .
Shamansky: Yes, we cover almost everyone . . .
Interviewer: You, yourself, what kind of law . . ..
Shamansky: Basically, real estate or business. Those are the things
I’m more familiar with. I should also explain to you, for the
record, that when I started practicing, we didn’t have IRA’s and
all these different sheltered incomes so you can retire.
Interviewer: Trusts and guardianships. . . .
Shamansky: I’ve always kept an interest in real estate. My brother
could build the stuff and my job was to . . . .
Interviewer: Let’s talk a minute about your brother. He’s not a
Interviewer: He’s basically a businessman dealing in . . . .
Shamansky: Light construction.
Interviewer: And he married? And has how many children?
Shamansky: Two boys. The older boy will be 29 on May 30 and he
practices law independently. He went to work with a public defender
and now he works principally in the criminal law field. My younger
nephew, Harry, who will be 27 on July 4th, is getting his Ph.D. in
Electromagnetism at Ohio State University.
Interviewer: Have those boys married?
Shamansky: The older one is going to get married.
Interviewer: So the Shamansky name shall continue.
Shamansky: Well, it would be nice. I hope so. There are a lot of
nice women who have no brothers. It shouldn’t be the issue. The
other Shamanskys will not be Jewish. My cousins’ kids married
gentile women and their children, I don’t think, consider themselves
Jewish. As I started to say earlier, there is hardly a family that I
know – as a matter of fact, I was talking with somebody today who has
been an observant Orthodox Jew and they have two sons. One is marrying
a Jewish girl, one is marrying a gentile girl (both boys are getting
married shortly). The mother has said, “There is nothing wrong
with her. She spells her name peculiar and the name of her synagogue
is peculiar. Otherwise she’s a perfectly nice girl.” But it’s
true that .. . .. It’ll be interesting to see what happens . . ..
Interviewer: How about when you were growing up? Did you date
Shamansky: I dated gentile girls, I dated Jewish girls.
Interviewer: How did your mother feel about that? Did she caution
you? Did she say that she had feelings?
Shamansky: I used to joke. I’d say, “Mom, why would a nice
gentile girl want to go out with me?” A gentile girl in the era
in which my mother’s sensibilities, a nice gentile girl didn’t go
out with Jewish boys.
Interviewer: By nice gentile girl, we mean one with a good family
background, a good homemaker. Why would she let down her family’s
wishes to go out with a Jewish boy? And if you’re going out with a
gentile girl who doesn’t have these high ideals . . .
Shamansky: She’s a tramp, right? By definition, she’s a tramp.
What I’m saying is, this is another era. When she was a young girl,
the gentile girls who married Orthodox Jewish boys were hardly from
Park Avenue in New York. It’s like when Ellen Mackay married Irving
Berlin. Her father owned Postal Telegraph or something like that and
she married this Jewish . . . .
Interviewer: Wasn’t she drummed out of her family?
Shamansky: So that’s the era that we’re talking about. The
Interviewer: Let’s talk about probably the most exciting
experience in your life.
Shamansky: You mean being elected to Congress? Yes, that was very
Interviewer: That was a great surprise to many people in the
community. Who was your predecessor?
Shamansky: Samuel Devine.
Interviewer: Who had served a long . . .
Shamansky: Twenty-two years.
Interviewer: Formidable tenure.
Shamansky: He was a very well known leader of the Republican party.
In terms of . . . you asked about a family reunion. Sometime in the
middle thirties, when Buckeye Lake was still a place where you went
to, there was a Shamansky Family Reunion. That is, Shamansky in the
sense of Clayman – all my grandmother’s relatives. There were many
more of my grandmother’s relatives than my grandfather’s relatives
on my father’s side. I can remember this as a young kid. This big
reunion, this true family reunion out at Buckeye Lake. That’s the
only family reunion I remember with all my relatives from everywhere
Interviewer: Do you remember what year that was?
Shamansky: It would be around the early to middle 30s.
Interviewer: So everyone drove out there.
Shamansky: In whatever their cars were. It had to have been before
Interviewer: Did someone in the family own a place out there?
Shamansky: No, it was just a big picnic. It is the sort of memory
that sticks in my mind.
Interviewer: But you still have somewhat of an extended family what
with cousins and . . . .
Shamansky: Yes. Not so many around here now but I have some
Shamansky cousins and I have a couple Greenbergs – they’ve changed
their name to Greene’s Men Store. They dropped the berg and added an
E. I have some first cousins. Jeffrey Shamansky.
Interviewer: Do you still belong to a synagogue?
Shamansky: Plural. I belong to Agudas Achim, to Temple Israel and to
Beth Sholom. I belong to three shuls.
Shamansky: Well, because I’ve always belonged to Agudas Achim for
Yarzeit for my mother and father and my grandparents. I grew up
essentially in Temple Israel and my command of davening (even though I
was Bar Mitzvah, went to Chadar, went to Hebrew School) is poor – non
existent. So I’m more comfortable at Temple Israel. My brother went
over with a number of people to Beth Sholom so then in order to
Interviewer: Who did your brother marry, Bob?
Shamansky: Her name is Gale Gordon and she went to Bexley High
School. Her father came to Columbus, I think he was in engineering at
MIT in Boston. I think he worked with Curtis, Wright and then he went
with Battelle. He died, I think, in the late 50s. I didn’t know him.
I knew her mother. She’s not Jewish. She’s a beautiful girl.
Interviewer: I don’t think I ever met her. Are you active in any
of…I’m sure you’re active in the Federation.
Shamansky: Well, I’ve not gone that route. I make my contributions
but I’ve been active in the Jewish Family Service at one point, I’ve
been on the Temple Israel Foundation Board.
Interviewer: Let’s talk a little about this Congressional
Representative. How did it come about?
Shamansky: Well, I ran in 1966 and got defeated. Then 14 years
later, I felt there was an opportunity and thought he was vulnerable.
I ran and I won.
Interviewer: And there was an exciting…
Shamansky: Yes. That was a very exciting and interesting experience
and I will say that the good part is that I thought there are more
good people than bad people in Congress no matter what you might read
or think. That would be for both Republican and Democrats. There are some bad characters but for the most part,
there are some greatly qualified people there.
Interviewer: Thank you, Bob, for sharing your personal life
experiences with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. This
interview is a part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral
* * *