This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History
Project with Saul Barnett took place on Tuesday, November 2, 1983 at Heritage
House, Columbus, Ohio. The interviewer is Lottie Lieberman. Mr. Barnett, born in
1892 resided in Columbus since 1916 and was interviewed at age 91. He spoke
about early Columbus and his employment with Schiff’s and Lazarus.
Interviewer: This is an interview with Saul Barnett for the
Federation Oral History Project by Lottie Lieberman at the Heritage
House. The date is Tuesday, November 2, 1983.
Interviewer: What is your name?
Barnett: Shaul Barnett.
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Barnett: London, England.
Barnett: September the fourth, 1892.
Interviewer: How long have you been in central Ohio, Columbus?
Barnett: Since 1916
Interviewer: How did you get here?
Barnett: On a train. Ha, ha, ha.
Interviewer: Say it again.
Barnett: On a ship to New York. See, from London, we went to New York
and I arrived in New York in 1896. 1896. I was four years old when I
came here. In New York City until 1916. Things were bad in New York at
that time and I had a sister here in Columbus, so I came here to visit
here. Just supposed to visit here for about a month or so, but I liked
it so well that I decided to stay here. Just to visit a sister of mine
that live here. And she lived up north. And I was very much impressed
with the views. When I came into Columbus, it seemed something
altogether different than what I’d seen when I lived in New York. So
different. When I took a cab from the railroad station to my sister’s
home I got there in the evening. So the next day, it happened to be on a
Saturday – my brother-in-law was a salesman and he happened to be in
town. So they took me around Columbus. Down on High Street. And I was
very much impressed with the lights in Columbus on High Street. They had
these – I don’t know, what do they call it again, right across the
street – the signs – the arch shape right across High Street. Of course,
it was pretty hard for me to decide. I had to think about it.
Interviewer: You’re doing fine. Where did you shop when you were
Barnett: Where I shopped? It was on Sunday. We just went for a ride
down High Street for the views. So when we came back home my sister
asked me, “Well, how did you like Columbus?” I said,
“Well, I’m very much impressed, I like it!” “Well, do
you think you’d like to stay here?” I said, “I don’t know,
I’ll have to think about it.” So she said, “Well, all
right.” Stay at home, where I had a little niece, she was six years
old at that time. We took little walks. We walked around. A couple of
days after I was there, I said to my sister, “Sis, I’m goin’ to
take a walk. I understand the Ohio State University is up around here.
She said, “Yes, It’s only about four blocks from here. Why don’t
you go ahead?” I says, “I will.” So I decided, I did. I
walked down and after I’d been walking about a few minutes, I began to
hear music. I looked around to see what it was, and I couldn’t – It
sounded like a band. I said, “Well, what’s the celebration here,
this time of the year, with a big, with a military band. So I kept going
and finally I found myself up at the university.
And in the distance I saw uniformed men. Young men. Young fellows.
And I found out it was the ROTC band and drill corps, and they were
marching on the field and it was marvelous. Those uniforms that they
wore, those blue uniforms were really out of this world at that time. Of
course, it’s the same way today, but then it looked different, and the
students around watching them looked so different. Not to what I had
been accustomed to and to what you have today.
There the students wore suits and clothing. The girls wore skirts and
blouses and saddle shoes. Not this hippy stuff that they wear today.
Interviewer: Now, can you give me a little bit of your family
background. What congregation you belonged to.
Barnett: The what?
Interviewer: Your family background. One of â€˜em says like they were
one of the earliest Jewish families in Columbus. It says that when you
came here, you’re from London. What did your father do?
Barnett: We came here and we lived in the ghetto in New York, and we
lived in one part of the city, and we went from the ghetto moved a
little further uptown, and finally we lived in sections that were a
little more pleasant. On Delancey Street and those streets that you find
in the ghetto in New York City. Interviewer. Do you belong or did you
belong to any congregation in Columbus?
Barnett: I do belong presently. I did – when I came back from
Service, I joined Tifereth Israel Congregation and belonged to that
quite a while and I still belong. A member doesn’t pay any more dues,
because being up as I am, what they would call an honorable member,
because we at Heritage House have been told that we are honorary members
and do not have to pay dues any more.
Interviewer: You don’t have to, believe me, you are a fine member
of our congregation, Tifereth Israel. Do you belong to any charitable or
Barnett: I belong to the Jewish Federation, I belong to the Jewish
Federation. That is not as a regular member, but I do pay every year – I
subscribe to the Jewish Federation for the – what do you call it again?
Interviewer: Columbus Jewish Federation?
Barnett: Yeah. See, I’m not a member there, but I do every year for
the oh, what do you call it?
Interviewer: For the organization?
Interviewer: So, what was your military service. I mean, what rank
did you have. Did you go overseas?
Barnett: Oh yes. I was drafted in nineteen hundred and eighteen, saw
service as a Private.
Interviewer: As a Private?
Barnett: Yeah. In Camp Sherman. And went overseas in July in 1918.
Saw action in two engagements. And then in the third engagement I was
wounded and I came back to Columbus.
Interviewer: All right, and so your career, your job. What jobs did
you have. How did you get along with your co-workers, did you have any
Barnett: Well, when I was in Columbus…
Interviewer: In other words, where did you work?
Barnett: I’m trying to think. When I was in Columbus about two
weeks my sister brought up the same question, “Well, do you like
Columbus, and do you want to stay here?”
I says, “I think I do, I think I’m going to try and find a
job.” I had been selling shoes, so I went looking in the Sunday
Dispatch and I saw an ad there, “Shoe salesman wanted,” and
the address was at the Boston Store on High Street, and so I decided I
was going to go there and apply. So I went there and at that time the
shoe department- it was the Boston Store, but the shoe department was a
rented department belonging to Robert Schiff, so he and I seemed to get
along pretty well. He asked me questions and finally he decided to hire
So he hired me as a shoe salesman and there was another young man
there and a young lady was cashier in that department. I worked there
until I was called into the service. When I come back, I come down, I
said to Mr. Schiff, “Robert, do I have a job, and he says,
“You sure have. Take your hat and coat off and go to work!”
So then it was just a chain that had two stores at that time. One was
the department in the Boston Store, and the other one was in Marion,
Ohio. Then we finally decided they were going to spread out, so they leased a
department in Piqua, Ohio, and I was sent down there as manager of that
store. I was there for two years, and I was sent to Evansville, Indiana. I was there for a
couple of years and I didn’t like it down there and I came back. The
Schiff Company then was spreading out pretty well, so I came back to
Columbus and I said to Robert, “I don’t like it down there, what
can you do for me?” He said, “Well, I haven’t got a manager
(there) but I can send you to one of the stores as an assistant manager,
under my nephew, Bill Schiff. But I didn’t like that.
Interviewer: From there, where did you go?
Barnett: Well, that severed my connection with the Schiff Company at
that time. So then I worked at Lazarus in the furnishings department and
that, and they kind of liked me down there, and I wound up in the men’s
clothing department and later on in the ladies’ shoe department at
Lazarus. I was there for quite a while, and then the Wise Shoe Company
from New York opened a store here – that was in nineteen hundred and
twenty-eight. Yeah, in 1928.
Interviewer: What were you making at that time, do you remember?
Barnett: What do you mean?
Barnett: Money? Money was no object then. In those days, what you
made, you made. When I went to work at the Schiff Company at the
beginning, I worked for fifteen dollars a week. Then when I was made
manager I made twenty-five and thirty, and I got thirty and thirty-five
dollars a week. And when I worked at Lazarus we were on commission and
we did pretty well. We used to average from thirty-five to fifty dollars
Interviewer: That was pretty good then.
Barnett: Yes, that was pretty good – that was in that town.
Interviewer: When did you go to Gilbert’s?
Barnett: I went to Gilbert’s after I got married in 1929.
Interviewer: And you stayed there until you retired?
Barnett: No, in 1929 I went back to the Schiff Company, and from
there I was sent to Tonawanda, New York, which is up around Buffalo, and
then to St. Louis. I came back to Columbus and I joined Gilbert’s in
1935 and I worked at Gilbert’s from 1935 to 1971.
Interviewer: Well, you did very well. You were never out of a job.
Barnett: I wasn’t out of a job very long.
Interviewer: Tell me, how did you meet your wife?
Barnett: Well that was a question. One day, a young lady that I had
known quite a while called me up, and said, “Saul, how would you
like to go to a dance? Now not with me, because I’ve got my date. It’s
a choice for two girls but there’s a visitor here and then another
one, I think you have met her, Sayd Cohen. Yes, I remember her.
She has a date but there’s a visitor here and she seems to want to
have a date with Sayd’s boyfriend. Would you like to come in and take
Sayd so she can switch with this other girl. I said, it’s all right, a
dance is a dance, so I can always have a good time. So I did. And that
was how I met her and – oh, it’s so hard to remember.
Interviewer: Did you have a large wedding?
Barnett: Well, no. We had planned a wedding, but my sister became
awfully ill, but she said, “I want to see you married.” I
says, “Okay.” And the date was set.
Interviewer: How many children did you have?
Barnett: One son. I’ve got four grandchildren and two
Interviewer: Are they living here?
Barnett: No. My son is in “heaven” – he’s in California.
One of my grandchildren, a granddaughter is up in Maryland, and she has
two children. Those are my great-grandchildren.
Interviewer: Do they come to visit you?
Barnett: Occasionally. They do come occasionally. Then I have a
grandson who has just enlisted in the Marines.
Interviewer: Well, bless his heart. I wish him good luck.
Barnett: He’s down in South Carolina.
Interviewer: Saul, you have had religious upbringing.
Barnett: My parents were Orthodox, but when you get away from home,
you have to sort of get away from that – to get away from kosher foods.
When you’re working and when you’re out you have to go into restaurants and it’s
awfully hard to get to keep up with kosher foods.
Interviewer: You were more Conservative?
Barnett: More Conservative. Yes.
Interviewer: Do you have any vacation periods that you’ve enjoyed?
What are some favorite things you like to eat? First tell me, have you had many vacations in
Barnett: Well, my wife and I first we went to Florida. Spent a
vacation in Florida. We were supposed to be there two weeks, but we were only there one week.
She took ill and we had to come back to Columbus. From then on that illness
kept on for practically twenty years.
Interviewer: When did she pass away?
Barnett: She passed away June 12, 1976. I came here to the Heritage
House in the middle of August, 1976.
Interviewer: Do you have any pleasant events, happy memories in your
lifetime that you’d like to talk about?
Barnett: Not too much. As a person that has a nose to the grindstone
all the time, that has to make a living, they don’t have too much of
Interviewer: I meant to ask you, “How much schooling did you
Barnett: That’s it. My dad passed away. He was only 42 years old
then, and I was just getting ready for Bar Mitzvah – I was just 12 years
old. I had to quit school when I was 12 years old and had to go to work as a newsboy in New York
City selling newspapers. I had a pile of newspapers on the one arm and had a
shoeshine kit on my shoulder.
Interviewer: You had a hard way getting up there, but you did do very
Barnett: I did pretty well. I put my nose to the grindstone. I went
to night school and got my…
Interviewer: High school?
Barnett: No, I didn’t go to high school. No, I got just my…
Barnett: No, I didn’t get my degree. Just the primary degree. I got
through the eighth grade and that was all. I quit when I was in the
fifth grade in school and worked for three years and worked as a newsboy
and so on, went to night school for three years that way, to get my primary education.
Interviewer: I’m going to ask you, being 91, what is your
philosophy of life? What has been the outstanding importance – your
family, job, politics, religion, friends?
Barnett: My family was the most important that I had.
Interviewer: How about your religion?
Barnett: Religion had become secondary, because when you have to
work, or take a streetcar or a bus from where you live to go to Temple,
why, you do not do too much ever, that’s all.
Interviewer: If your grandchildren were here, what advice would you
give to them, in a few words?
Barnett: Well, I’ll tell you – I couldn’t tell them. This one
grandson or mine – he’s twenty-one years old.
Interviewer: Would you say, “Be good Americans, be good Jews,
that sort of thing?”
Barnett: Absolutely! Well, that is something – about being a good
Jew. My granddaughter married a Gentile boy, and God bless him, he’s a wonderful boy. He’s
a wonderful boy. If my son had married and been as happy with his
Jewish wives, as my granddaughter is with her Gentile husband, I think Sayd and I
would never have had the illnesses and troubles that we did have, because she had
well, it’s a hard story to tell.
Interviewer: Well Saul, I know you, I knew your son when he lived
here, and I know you did everything in the world to raise him right.
What happened, they’re of age to do what they want, but it’s wonderful to know that your grandchildren
are getting along well…
Barnett: My grandson is doing well, he’s in the – I wanted him to
be, when he graduated high school, they lived in Parkersburg then, I asked him, “What
are you going to do, Scott,” he said, “Find a job.” I said,
“Want my advice? The best thing today for a young fellow, the way
things are, enter the service, you’re with the army, the navy, the
marines, take what you want.” He says, “Oh, no, I don’t want
any of that stuff.” I said, “All right.” The last year,
he decided that he was going to join the Marines, and so he just went
down there to camp, he just left last week. I haven’t heard from him
yet, but I think he’ll be very happy and become – because he’s going
to do what he can and go there mostly for his education- get four years
of education down there.
Interviewer: Saul, I’m going to ask you a couple things. Who gave
the decisions to your family budget, who disciplined your child, or your son, were there any
grandparents involved, and you can answer that…
Barnett: No. I had no grandparents. You mean, to discipline my
children, or my child, Evan, well we disciplined ourselves. We didn’t
let the grandchildren, the grandparents – and of course, I didn’t have
any grandparents. That is, I come here – I never knew my grandparents.
Interviewer: All right. Were anyone in your family created as a black
sheep, you know, quote unquote- black sheep?
Barnett: Was there what?
Interviewer: Anyone in your family ever thought that either you or
Sadie or Evan, your son, were there any black sheep the rest of the family didn’t care for?
Barnett: No. Okay. We came from a decent family, and we led a decent
Interviewer: Thank you.
Barnett: About my experience here at the Heritage House, I’ll tell
you. I came here as I say, in 1976, it’s been a wonderful experience,
it’s a wonderful place, and I’ve done all that I could and I’ve
been very, very busy, I took a lot of interest in occupational therapy,
I like that, and today, I’m what they call a glorified disk jockey. I
get up in the morning at nine o’clock I’m on the intercom telling
the residents, giving them the date, the weather, and telling them what
the activities are for the day. Also I’m president of the Resident
Council, and am Grandfather of the Year.
Interviewer: That sounds wonderful to me. I think we’ve concluded
everything, Saul. I want to thank you very much.
Barnett: I only wish that could have had more of an idea of what you
wanted, then I could have – possibly could have caught something up a little more
interesting, but going – in order to do things right, to do things for you that I
would like to have done, is made up a sort of resume of what I wanted to tell you, and we
could have gone on from there. When you jump from one subject to another, it
is awfully, awfully hard.
Interviewer: Well, maybe we can do that some day.
Barnett: When my mind isn’t like it used to be fifty years ago.
Interviewer: Maybe someday you can write a resume of what you’d like to- I’ll
come down, we’ll go over it again.
Barnett: I’ll write it up for you. Now can I get you…
Interviewer: At home. Saul, I want to thank you for sharing your story with
Interviewer:This ends the interview of Sol Barnett by Lottie Lieberman for the Columbus
Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project.