This interview with Harold Gitlin and Sharon
Lieberman for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society was recorded July 5, 1996 as part of
the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project recorded by Betty Young.
Interviewer: I’d like the two of you to introduce yourselves and tell us why you
Gitlin: I live in Honolulu, am retired and I came to Columbus for several reasons. It
is my sixty-fifth Bexley High School reunion and to visit some family.
Lieberman: I’m Sharon Lieberman. I currently live in Chicago but I was born and
raised in Bexley. I’m here in Columbus to see my Uncle Harold – this is the place for
a couple of us to meet, look at grave sites and get some family history. Harold Gitlin is
my mother’s brother – that’s our relationship.
We call Uncle Harold, Harold, even though his official name is Harris, his professional
name is Harris and his wife called him Harris. Everyone did except his maternal family.
When I asked him about it, he said it was something that started in his home when he was
growing up. Of course, my mother called him Harold and so did we.
Interviewer: Let’s start at the beginning. Your parents’ names were?
Gitlin: My father was Philip Joseph Gitlin. He was born and raised in Russia. The name
of the town was Borisov which still exists today. He came over to the United States
somewhere around age twenty and settled in Columbus.
Interviewer: Why did he settle in Columbus?
Gitlin: There were people he knew here. There has to be a leader and that’s why
immigrants pick a place. My mother was the youngest child in her family. She was the only
one of her siblings born in this country – all the rest were born in Russia.
Interviewer: What was your mother’s name?
Gitlin: Bessie Martlin. She’s the daughter of Harris Martlin (for whom I’m
named) and Molly Grotsky.
Interviewer: Do you know where your grandfather got the name Harris? That’s kind
of an unusual name for a Jewish person.
Gitlin: I’m not sure where he got the name but I think we ought to take a look at
one memory of my Uncle Sam’s. At the time, when they go through immigration at Ellis
Island, if they don’t understand your name or if it’s too complicated and they
can’t spell it, they give you a name. Maybe Harris was closest to what he told them.
Interviewer: How did your mother get to Columbus?
Gitlin: She was born here. I know when Harris Martlin was killed, she was with him at
Interviewer: How was he killed?
Gitlin: He was killed attempting to stop a team of runaway horses. Today people are
killed by automobiles.
Interviewer: So they lived in Columbus? Where did they live?
Gitlin: They lived on Mohawk Street.
Interviewer: In German Village?
Gitlin: Yes. I’m not sure if the house still exists. Many of them do.
Lieberman: I’d like to interrupt. Her father died at Broad and High Streets. He
was fifty years old.
Interviewer: I’ll bet it was in the paper. What year was it?
Lieberman: 1900. He was born in 1850. (correction by Sharon Lieberman – He was born in 1852.)
Gitlin: I remember my mother telling me she was twelve years old and was walking along
the street with her father. She saw it all happen. (correction by Sharon Lieberman. Bessie was nine years old.)
Interviewer: How did your mother and father meet?
Gitlin: I don’t know. Do you know, Sharon?
Lieberman: Your father was ten years older than your mother. He was a friend of the
family and that’s how they got together.
Interviewer: Sharon, can you tell us a little about your grandfather’s involvement
in the Jewish community? We’re talking about Harris Martlin.
Lieberman: Yes. He was one of the founders of Agudas Achim. He made a living in the
United States as a drayman, driving horses and wagons. His wife, Molly, made excellent
wine which she sold without government intervention.
Interviewer: We’re going to talk about your parents now. What was your
Gitlin: My father was a tailor. In fact, for quite some time, he was a tailor in
Bexley on Drexel Avenue.
Interviewer: Yes, I know exactly where that was. And your mother worked, too?
Gitlin: Yes. After having five children, she helped the family by working in the old
Boston store. Her favorite area was bedding and things like that. Mother liked it and was
very competent. She was older than most clerks and was considered better than the other
Interviewer: Were you living in Columbus or Bexley at that time?
Interviewer: Before we go any further, I’d like to know about your brothers and
Gitlin: The oldest child, my brother, Isadore Joseph, was about two years older than I.
He graduated from Bexley High School, joined the Navy Reserves which was illegal because
he was too young. He started Ohio State University in mechanical engineering in the 1930s.
Then he got into the regular Navy just as World War II was starting. He remained in the
Navy through the Korean War and finally, after twenty years, retired. He died in 1962 or
I’m the second oldest in the family. My sister, Donna, was one and a half years
younger than I. She, too, graduated from Bexley High School. During World War II, she was
in the Red Cross and ended up over in England. She met some people there who later became
friends. Sometime later, the wife of one of these friends died and ultimately, Donna
married him. Her husband has passed away but she lives north of London.
Lieberman: She was, for a very long time, the executive secretary of the Ohio State
University Alumni Association under Jack Fullen, who many people would remember. Aunt
Donna was a single, working woman in Columbus for many years until she met her husband to
whom she was married for almost twenty years.
Interviewer: And who came after that?
Gitlin: Evelyn, who was Sharon’s mother.
Lieberman: She graduated from East High School.
Gitlin: What do you know about your mother?
Lieberman: She worked a couple years in Canada where Uncle Sam lived. Then she worked
in Columbus in a doctor’s office – Cabakoff. Then mother got married. She graduated
from high school at eighteen and was married by twenty-three. She lived with her mother
and then she met my dad, Richard Lieberman, who was also a graduate of East High School
(they knew each other in high school) and then they got married.
Gitlin: Those were the days when I owned a little motorcycle so we lived in East
Interviewer: Who comes next?
Gitlin: After Evelyn came Janice. She’s the youngest and she was the “blue
baby” of the family. They had some difficulties when she was born.
Interviewer: When was she born?
Gitlin: She was born about three years after Evelyn.
Lieberman: About 1920-21.
Interviewer: Where is she?
Lieberman: She’s dead. Three out of five are deceased.
Interviewer: Your mother is still living?
Lieberman: No. She’s also dead.
Interviewer: Do you have relatives still living in Columbus?
Lieberman: Yes, I do. My brothers, Larry and Jeffrey Lieberman still live here. Also,
my aunt on my father’s side, Betty Talis.
Interviewer: Yes, I know Betty.
Lieberman: And her son, Michael Talis is my cousin.
Interviewer: What was it like living in Bexley? Where did you live?
Gitlin: We lived south of Main – near the end of Bexley – Chelsea. It was kind of rural
Interviewer: What was Bexley High School like then? Did everyone get along? No
Gitlin: No. In fact, my brother got on the football team, seldom got to play but hung
in there and was there for every practice. They used to sing a song in the locker room
which went like this: Oy, Oy Oy, mazol tov…
Interviewer: I would imagine there were just a handful of Jewish students in Bexley.
Gitlin: There weren’t many Jewish kids.
Interviewer: Do you remember any of their names.
Gitlin: No. I barely remember your name.
Lieberman: You said that Uncle Izzy taught them that song.
Gitlin: Yes, he did.
Interviewer: Did you receive any formal training? Were you Bar Mitzvah?
Gitlin: I was not Bar Mitzvah. Isadore was Bar Mitzvah and at that time, we lived on
the street that ran into the Bryden Road Temple. We were about half a block away and we
were members. For some reason, my dad pulled out. But Izzy was Bar Mitzvah and I would
have been in the next two years but the incident occurred within that time.
Interviewer: After you graduated from Bexley and you went to Ohio State University.
Were you in a fraternity?
Interviewer: You graduated from Ohio State University?
Gitlin: Yes, I graduated from Bexley in 1931 and from Ohio State University in 1940-41.
Interviewer: You didn’t go to College right after high school?
Lieberman: Yes he did but he worked, went to school, worked, went to school.
Gitlin: I worked on a farm near Pleasant Corners. It’s near the 3-C Highway and
five miles south of Grove City.
Interviewer: Is that how you became interested in agriculture?
Gitlin: I don’t know if that was how or because of that.
Interviewer: And you went into the army after that?
Gitlin: After graduating from Ohio State University in 1941, when I went for my first
job, they asked how I stood with the draft. I called the draft and was told I had about
three months so I told them, “The devil with that. Let’s go now.” So I was
in the draft in April of 1941. I was due to be out around that time in 1942 except
December 7 came and they kept me in for awhile.
Interviewer: Is there anything about your World War II experience you’d like to
share with us?
Gitlin: As a draftee, we wondered how I got into the Medical Corp.
Interviewer: You were in the Medical Corp.?
Gitlin: I took my training at Camp ________, Illinois in the Medical Corp. It seems, at
the time of getting into the army, I told them I just graduated as an agricultural
engineer. Well, what did they do? It happened that my interest lied in drainage, soil and
water. Drainage!! Well, that rang a bell!. The sanitary corp. of the Medical Corp –
drainage, swamps – so I had to get into the Medical Corp.
Lieberman: I thought you were in the Army Corp of Engineers.
Gitlin: I was. I was only in the Medical Corp. Until the war began.
Interviewer: Where were you stationed?
Gitlin: In the Azores on the Island of Terceira. We built Lodges Air Field which is
still a military air field. Then when that was done, I returned to the United States and
Interviewer: Where did you meet your wife?
Gitlin: Well, I had met my wife years before, through mutual friends while in high
school. She was a girlfriend of my boyfriend. We met and had a date or so. Since I was
busy working and going to school, we didn’t have much time. I did have one date with
her while in College but she was about two years ahead of me. Nothing happened because I
was in the army at Fort B_______ in Virginia. This was now during war time. Margaret was a
teacher in northeastern Ohio but had gone to Washington DC because her specialty was
clerical work – typing, shorthand, etc. and she got a job there. Again, through a mutual
friend in Washington, we got together. This friend knew we knew each other so he got us
together. Well, that lasted for as long as I was in the states. We sort of thought
we’d get married but we didn’t because I was about to go. I went overseas and
when I came back, Margaret had gone to Brazil for this government agency. She was a
secretary – they were getting crude rubber out of Brazil. So when I got back, I wired her,
we met in Miami and were married. We had thirty days and that was it. I ended up on
Okinawa but by that time, the bomb had been dropped.
When I got out of the army, I came back to Columbus and got a position in our old
agri-engineering department at Ohio State University for three years. I was sort of an
assistant in teaching and did some research. Then I went to Florida Fort Tractor which at
that time was Duber Motors Corporation. It was, theoretically, a separate corp.
I was in Birmingham for ten years. We live in Pleasant Ridge, a suburb near Birmingham.
I haven’t been back. I resigned from Ford, took some graduate work at Michigan State
University in their agriculture department. I got a master’s degree in 1962 and then,
while I was looking for a job, it happened that one of their graduates was back from
Hawaii and he said, “We’re looking for a man.” My wife needed warm weather,
so I applied for the position and got it. We spent the rest of our lives there.
Interviewer: I understand you’re a world traveler and would like to spend the rest
of the time talking about that.
Gitlin: Well, I’m a half world traveler.
Lieberman: You’re a sailor.
Gitlin: Well, I was. When I arrived in Hawaii, I looked around for recreation. The
island was crowded but the ocean was open. I ended up with a little 20 foot sailboat and I
knew that I wanted to cruise. So a year before I retired, I bought a boat large enough for
cruising anywhere. It was a 32 foot Wassail Cutter Rig. I got it all rigged up and a year
after retiring in 1983, I started my cruising with a crew of two other men. I went from
Honolulu to Tahiti to TaHa, Bora Bora, New Zealand, Rara Tung, Lord Howe Island, Sydney,
Australia and then up the east coast of Australia in behind the Great Barrier Reef up as
far as the W________ then back down and around the Reef to B____- Water.
Interviewer: This was all in one trip?
Gitlin: One trip. It took over a year. From there I sailed home alone. My crew was from
Australia and the two young men had it. We had a rough time getting there. So I sailed
home alone and it took sixty-four days.
Interviewer: How did you like sailing alone for sixty-four days?
Gitlin: It was beautiful – it was worth it. Quiet. I could do a lot of thinking.
Interviewer: How old were you when you did this?
Gitlin: I was seventy years old. I returned to Honolulu. The next cruise was from
Honolulu to Alaska. We sailed the Alaskan waters until it got too cold and too foggy to
see. The next year I brought it down from Alaska to San Francisco. Then the following
year, we really had a dinger. I got the boat ready in April in San Francisco/Oakland inner
Harbor. We went down to Panama Canal, there the Pan Canal up the north end along the
westside of Cuba to Florida where we refurbished the boat to get ready for the trip across
New England. We left Pompano Beach, Florida and the next stop was the Isle of White is
Interviewer: How long did that take?
Gitlin: That took forty days.
Interviewer: You had a crew?
Gitlin: Ohio yes, I had three others.
Interviewer: It sounds as though you had a very sturdy boat to sail the Atlantic.
Gitlin: Yes. It was a sturdy boat. It weighed 20,000 pounds. Most boats that size might
weigh 8,000 pounds.
Interviewer: How many people did it sleep?
Gitlin: Well, it could sleep seven but when someone got up, there was no place to move.
Interviewer: It must have been daunting trip.
Gitlin: Well, it was wonderful. We could see all kinds of animals.
Interviewer: Did you video tape it?
Gitlin: No. My first trip, I started taking pictures but decided, after looking at
them, no one would be interested.
Interviewer: When was the last trip you took? Or are you still sailing?
Gitlin: No, I’m not sailing. Let me go back. My next trip, my wife joined me, was
went to Holland, down the canals of Europe through Holland, Belgian and France to the
Mediterranean. My wife had to leave to come home when we were in France. I got some more
crew members and went on to Gibraltar, the Canaries, St. Bartholomew – that was a skeleton
Interviewer: How did you store food on your boat for sixty days?
Gitlin: Well, you can. There’s such things as rice and beans which are pretty
compact. There’s canned foods and dried milk. Instead of dried milk is “long
term” packaged milk (you can get it in Europe – not too easily here). What it does is
enhance your liquid storage. You have water and if you have powdered stuff, you have to
use your water to use it. Water has to be stored separately.
Interviewer: Were you ever in a storm. Did you ever feel your life was threatened?
Gitlin: Yes, we had storms but I never felt my life was threatened. The worst case was
when a ship almost ran us down on night during a storm. we lying hull, not under sail so
we couldn’t move and the waves were high and he probably couldn’t see us. He
came within thirty feet – it was probably a boat length and my Swedish crew members said
it was about ten meters.
Interviewer: Have you ever written about your experiences?
Gitlin: No. I may someday. Everyone who takes a cruise writes about it.
Lieberman: Well, everybody’s experience is different.
Gitlin: There is a difference that I would write about if I were to write. I would
write about the wonderful people I met. I don’t remember any names but if I cited the
circumstances, I’d remember the people. There were so many people who did so many
wonderful things and that’s what I’d like to write about.
Interviewer: Or just talk into a tape and someone else could type it.
Gitlin: I would.
Interviewer: We’re about finished with this interview. I want to thank you, Harris
Gitlin and Sharon Lieberman for speaking with me today. It’s been a real pleasure.