Interview with Robert Shamansky on April 19, 1993. This interview is taking place in Columbus, Ohio as part of the Oral History program of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.

With respect to my personal history, I was born on April 18, 1927. My parents were living at 525 South Drexel Avenue in Bexley, Ohio. I was the younger son.My brother, Samuel C. Shamansky is 4 1/2 years older than I. My mother’s name was Sarah Greenberg, her father was Samuel Greenberg and her mother was Rebecca Greenberg. They came from Russia somewhere between Zhitomir and Berditchev which is west of Kiev. My mother was born in Russia but my maternal grandfather came to this country in the 1890s and I’m sure he originally came as a peddler. I don’t know whether he had a pushcart but he was a peddler and I was told that they were so poor, of course, that they lived in the “red light district” because that was the only place they could afford. That was Spring Street over by the prison and by the railroad station. They got off the train and found the cheapest place to live.

The interesting parallel to that is, my father was born in Manchester, England. My paternal grandparents were Michael Shamansky and his wife, Rachel whose maiden name had been Clayman. They were married, I believe, in Riga, which was the Russian empire but was in Latvia. They went to Manchester, England first, in 1892 where my father was born. He was the eldest of the surviving children. In 1981, I went to Manchester, England to look up his birth record. I thought he was born in 1895 but in fact, he was born in 1892 and when I went to the registry office in Manchester, I obviously have a Jewish name . . there’s
a Jewish section of the library in Manchester. The public library in Manchester has a Jewish historical section. At the registry, when I gave my name and they looked up my father’s birth record which was 1892, he was listed as being born in Cheatham and that was where the Jewish immigrants were living at the time, having come from Russia. I then went to the Manchester Public Library to look up the history of Cheatham, got a map and . . . lo and behold! of course, it was behind a prison near the railroad station. Whether my paternal grandparents came from Riga to Manchester, that’s where they ended up living, obviously the poorest part of town where immigrants could come. That was my maternal
grandparents experience in Columbus, having come directly from Russia, as far as
I know.

Getting back to my maternal grandparents, Samuel Greenberg died at the age of
44. He was dead by 1911. But he must have been a business dynamo because he had
already founded something called the New York Savings & Loan and my brother
and I own a property on Parsons Avenue which maybe in 1910, he had lent money on
a mortgage. He had this New York Savings & Loan and his company was the
mortgagee and many years later, ironically, my brother and I now own that
property. So he started a store. He went from a peddler, then he had a pawnshop,
then he had R. & H. Greenberg. R stood for Rebecca and H stood for Harry
which was my uncle, the oldest of my mother’s siblings.

They apparently prospered in the teens and in the twenties. My uncle Harry,
my mother’s older brother, was a dynamic man. They had the store at 132-134
East Long Street which was a general store catering to people who worked for the
street car company – they sold them uniforms.

_______________ (could not hear)
cleared out, they were just industrial buildings. They were not warehouses and
stuff but you could see these little, tiny blocks, where these houses were
located. When I flew out of Ireland to come back to the states, I saw the
Victorian era houses of a similar age. You could imagine what the Industrial
Revolution was like and their housing in Manchester, England which was really
the start of the English Industrial Revolution. That was very hard on them. They
had two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs. These were really small places.
So they got out of there and went to Nelsonville, Ohio. Why they went to
Nelsonville, no one will ever know. Someone, a landsman, must have gone there
before. Various relatives of Rachel’s came to Nelsonville first and then went
on to various places like Washington, D.C., Detroit, and other places where her
siblings and their descendent live. My grandfather Shamansky had a little store
next to the house on Watkins Street in Nelsonville. My grandmother lived there
until 1936. It wasn’t paved, coal miners would walk to work. My brother and I
would visit them in the summer. We were city kids and we wore shoes but nobody
else wore shoes. We always felt somewhat inadequate because we couldn’t go
around all day long barefooted as the local kids could.

My grandparents had a junkyard and that was the principal economic activity.
The outhouse was in the backyard. As little kids, my grandmother would bathe my
brother and me in the big washtub, heating the water on the stove. There was a
hand pump in the kitchen. So my memory can actually go back to where people
lived like that in small towns. Obviously they lived like that in parts of
Columbus at one time but that’s more of the rural, small town, village, across
the country. It wasn’t that unusual. It was more often than not. Of course, we
had a

bathroom and we had a telephone and my dad had a car. My father was a doctor.
He had graduated from Nelsonville High School and I think he went one year to
Ohio University and then transferred to Ohio State University where he graduated
from medical school in 1917. He immediately went into the army. He didn’t go
overseas, but was stationed in New Jersey at one of the camps there. He stayed
in the Reserves and was called back in the army at the beginning of World War
II. I think it was 1940, before the war started. He served in England at a
military hospital during World War II.

Then my father returned to this country and was at an age that he was well
into his forties if not fifties. He went to work for the Veterans
Administration, I think, first here and then he went to Washington, D.C. where
he had a position with the Veterans Administration as a doctor in Washington,
D.C. He remained there with the government until his final fatal illness and he
died in 1953 from cancer.

I went to Bexley schools, enrolled in the first grade. I skipped the fifth
grade, continued in Bexley and graduated. In my junior year in Bexley High
School, during World War II, while my father was in the service, I went to visit
my aunt who lived in Tucson, Arizona. I had always been bothered by colds. I was
the littlest and shortest kid ever and I remember asking my grandmother
Shamansky, “Grandma, will I ever grow?” I was concerned that I wouldn’t
grow. She said, “Yes” and when I said, “When?”, she said,
“When you’re fifteen, like your father and uncles.” So I had my
tonsils removed here, went out to Tucson for my junior year in high school and
my grandmother was absolutely right. I started growing so fast, I had to go to
the tailor every other month to get my pants lengthened otherwise he couldn’t
keep up with me.

I returned to Bexley High School, graduated in 1944, went to Ohio State
University and graduated in 1947. I was a member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity
which was a Jewish fraternity and a number of my classmates from Bexley High
School joined there. It never occurred to me that I would go someplace else to
school. My father graduated from Ohio State University, it was during the war
and going away to school never really came up. I graduated Cum Laude with high
honors in Political Science. That’s relevant insofar as I applied to Yale Law
School and Harvard Law School. I was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. I was fortunate
to be admitted to both. They didn’t have the Scholastic Aptitude Test then. I
think if I’d had to do that, I wouldn’t have been admitted. But in those
days, I was admitted and I chose Harvard Law School where I went in 1947 and I
graduated in 1950.

In June of 1950, the Korean War broke out and it broke out on a Sunday, June
25 and on June 27, I took the Bar. I completed the Bar and my graduation present
was enough funds to take a trip to Europe. I left in early August and returned
in November whereupon I was immediately drafted. I think I was drafted November
29, 1950. The only reason I remember that is that the great Michigan University
, Ohio State University football game blizzard was that weekend. I was supposed
to go on Monday but there was so much snow, I couldn’t leave until Thursday so
to that extent, the snow was ok.

While I was at Ohio State University in 1946, when I was nineteen, I was told
by my friend, Dick Oman, who is a lawyer in Columbus, partner at the Vory’s
firm, about a trip to Europe that was available with Sea Going Cowboys. The
United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation was recruiting through Collegiate
YMCA people to take care of the horses that were being donated to European
reconstruction. He told me about it. I always wanted to go, told my brother and
my cousin . . . . everyone wanted to go but I was the only one that went. They
all chickened out. The reason, I think this is significant is because that was
my first trip to Europe by cattle boat, taking care of the horses. I had had no
other contact with horses before or since. It’s just as well . . . they’re
dumb animals and the conditions for the poor animals were terrible. They died
like flies and we had to throw them overboard. When you’re nineteen, that’s
a big adventure, to cross the Atlantic on a freighter.

We went to Gdansk and to where Lech Valeska is from and that part of Poland
had been occupied by the Germans, the Nazis first and then, at the time I got
there, were occupied by the Soviets. They were very rough conditions. I thought
I would jump ship. I had taken $100 in American Express Travelers’ Checks and
I got over there to see what was going on. I didn’t have a passport, I looked
around and said, “Not for me, I’m going home.” This was very, very
rough – any seaport is very rough. The conditions these people lived in were
extremely . . . I took cartons of cigarettes, which I needed to take with me, to
sell them on the black market . . .and for a pack of cigarettes, everyone was
offering their sisters. I say that to give you an idea what values were. A pack
of cigarettes could buy somebody, that’s a vivid gauge as to what those people
were going through and what this place looked like. There were still remains of
the war, I could see all around me.

I had earlier, started to travel when I left Tucson, Arizona. In my junior
year, my family permitted me to travel in Mexico by myself for six weeks. I was
sixteen years old. After I’d gone out to Tucson, when I was fifteen, I
traveled to Los Angeles and other places, for the Rose Bowl. The reason I’m
saying that, this encouragement by my family to travel has played a big part in
my life. You have to understand that to understand my interests.

I remember we had a big bookcase with glass doors (it was a nice piece of
furniture) and it had books from World War I and earlier. I would just pore over
those books, looking at the pictures of the Boxer Rebellion in China and other
places. I remember when my brother was in the third grade, he brought home his
geography book and I can remember as fresh as today, the pictures of the Tigres
and the Euphrates, you went up the Nile and down the Congo. That was the year’s
geography book. The pictures of the round boats with melons piled up in, I
guess, Iraq, stuck in my mind. I couldn’t wait to get to the third grade so I
could use that same geography book. And I’ve been mentally and psychologically
chasing that geography book ever since.

So my independent traveling started in my imagination as a very young kid and
I had a chance to travel around this country during the war, out West and then
to Mexico during the summer of 1943 on my way back to Columbus. Again, by
myself. Would I have ever permitted a kid, sixteen years old, to go to Mexico by
himself? I don’t know, it would depend on the kid. I didn’t get into any
trouble. I think it had certain lessons with the idea that you can do something.
I don’t want to overblow this thing but you get some idea that you can make
arrangements, that you can cope and get home safely, with any luck at all.

Anyway, I was drafted. I had been turned down for World War II. I was
eighteen in 1945 and I think I weighed 115 pounds and they threw me back in the
water. They said I wasn’t mature enough and I wasn’t physically big enough
during World War II. Five years later and four pounds more, they decided I was
draftable. So the guys who had been turned down in World War II, like my Bexley
High School classmate and my fellow Boy Scout of Troop #3 at St. Alban’s
Church on Drexel Avenue, Ted Huntington, had been turned down because of his
eyes, was also drafted for the Korean War.

I started basic training three times because every time I started to go
through basic training . . . first, I tore the ligaments in my leg and foot and
I had to start over again. Then the war was going badly and they decided I’d
start over again. So I went through the gas mask routine three times. I was in
basic training from November, 1950 until June, 1951 and I got so paranoid, when
I was finally leaving, I thought, as I was crossing the threshold of Camp
Breckinridge in Kentucky to leave there, that a big arm would come down from the
sky and pull me back. They would never let me leave basic training. But, in
fact, I did leave and I went to Fort Hollenberg in Baltimore which was a
counter-intelligence corp school and I was trained as a special agent in the
counter-intelligence corps. My training was such that instead of being assigned
to a field, I was assigned to the school itself to work on the staff or the
counter-intelligence school. I remember I had to dump the wastebaskets

at 4:30 every afternoon. The rest of the time, I would read the New York
Times or Time Magazine and the classified intelligence from Washington, D.C.
that came across my desk. I think Washington, D.C. got their information from
the New York Times. It gives you an interesting insight to what’s classified
and where they get their sources. I remained at Fort Holabird.

I mentioned Ted Huntington and he was stationed nearby. In December of 1951,
we got together in Baltimore and we were driving home. I was able to drive back
to Columbus with him, he’d picked me up. I had been in the hospital for severe
bronchitis for about a week before he picked me up. We got as far as Cambridge,
Ohio and we had a head-on automobile accident (this was before seatbelts). Ted
died. I survived with severe multiple fractures. That was of necessity, a big
event in my life. I ended up at Walter Reed Medical Center.

That kind of experience at that age, losing a childhood friend and of having
the experience of long periods of severe physical pain or trauma, certainly had
an affect on my life. I returned to Columbus after various operations, very
fortunate to be able to walk even though I’m classified by the Veteran’s
Administration as 50% disabled. There are many things I can’t do but as a
professional person, it hasn’t prevented my doing this or being able to walk,
principally and lead an active life in that sense.

I was injured in December, 1951 and remember my father coming to my bedside
at Saint Joseph Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio where I was taken. I didn’t know
Ted had died at first, he was alive for the few minutes after the accident. I
remember hearing him. He said, “What happened?” and I said, “We
had an accident” and I think I may have heard him talk in the emergency
room at Saint Joseph Hospital which was run by a friend of my father’s, a
doctor who my father knew. After that, of course, I lost consciousness at
various times. Then I learned that Ted had died.

I mentioned my father and this is important in my life. I’m trying to hit
highlights. I would lose and gain consciousness. My father sat at my bedside for
48 hours and for those moments when I regained consciousness, I would touch him.

Many, many years later, I read in the Atlantic Monthly, an article by a
doctor who had been very ill. He wrote about this phenonomen of a loved one
being by his bedside so that whenever he gained consciousness, this loved one
was there. And that was the comfort he took from that. That he described
incredibly exactly the experience I

had with my father. It is one of those things that is obviously in me and I
can . . . not that I want to eliminate it. I can’t remember what I had for
breakfast but I can remember that – vividly.

The reason I mention this, my friend’s mother, Mrs. Virginia Huntington is
still alive. I’ve not seen her in forty years. She came to Lockbourne Air
Force Base – now Rickenbacker Air Force Base. I used to wake up in the middle of
the night and I would burst into tears and they would rush to tell me that it
wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t, because the people who hit us, while I was
driving Ted’s car, were going east and we were going west and they passed a
truck on a two lane highway which was Route 40 and I couldn’t avoid them. I
was beside the truck. I couldn’t go to the left so I went to the right and the
driver of the other car, instead of staying in my lane, went to his left and so
the only thing I remember of the accident is the nightmare of why do the lights
keep following me. In fact, the lights were following me and it was this
confirmation that . . . the patrolman who interviewed me later on, made me
understand that I did not kill my childhood friend. There was nothing I could
do. I did what I was programmed to do which was pull to the right and as luck
would have it, the other car pulled to his left. The reason I say that, is
because Mrs. Huntington came out to Lockbourne to see me . . . .


These are things that you remember and affect you. Mrs. Huntington came to my
bedside – I was of a mind to say that she could say, “Why did my son die
and you live?” All those questions that people understandably go through.
But she came to my bedside and I burst into tears again. I’m sorry but her son
was simply an outstanding fellow in every way and both of us being in the army,
both taken into the Korean War. He had graduated from Wharton School at
Pennsylvania, I’d gotten out of law school, we’d visited a couple of times
over weekends prior to this and we’d planned to go to Washington, D.C. one
weekend, to New York where his uncle had an apartment – we had all these plans
of two guys really having a lot of fun reminiscing and planning what we were
going to do, going home for the Christmas holiday. Then that ended. But Mrs.
Huntington, in effect, saved my life by saying to me that no one could hurt Ted
anymore and that her job now was to raise her two younger children, Franz and
Linda and to see that I got well. That is a great lady as far as I’m
concerned. That I was then her concern to get well. And that made a big
difference to me as to where I would live my life – back in Columbus. Had she
had any other attitude, I probably would have left Columbus and I didn’t know
exactly how I would handle that, but she gave me an even keel and the confidence
to go ahead. I then took time during 1952, I had surgery to try to regain use of
my foot and leg and all the therapy that was needed to get me

back on my feet. It was a very slow process, orthopedically, getting those
bones to work and the confidence to start to bend my legs so I could fit in the
car. My leg had frozen stretched out.

I was then shipped, through my mother’s efforts, through Senator Bricker
(she went to Senator Bricker’s office and demanded I be sent to Fort Belvoir
Hospital). They were indignant but I said, you didn’t know my mother – I
couldn’t control what she said to Senator Bricker or anyone else. I’m just a
patient. They said they were not influenced by her but two days later, I was
sent over to Walter Reed Hopsital. So apparently, my mother was much more
effective than they figured. The reason I mention this is that my father lived
in Washington, D.C. and it was the election of Eisenhower in 1952. I think I
realized then I was more of a Democrat than a Republican, reading the Washington
Post at the time. I was transferred out of Washington Walter Reed and I was told
I was supposed to return to active duty. I turned to my father and he turned to
his friends in Washington, D.C. and they countered in outrage. I couldn’t even
walk out of the base but the army was going to send me back to active duty. That
was canceled and I was discharged honorably with 50% disability.

My father became ill. In 1952 he was pushing me in a wheelchair and a year
later, in 1953, I was pushing him in a wheelchair. He was fatally ill with
cancer and he died in May, 1953. I still took another year to simply gain the
strength and dexterity and facility to walk, to learn to drive again, to
overcome my fear of that. And to get out of the business of being laid up in bed
for a long time, as many months as it took to orthopedically get over a thing
like that. In the army, if you’re not on active duty, you’re in a hospital.
There are no half-way houses for you.

In 1954, I started an association with Troy Feibel which lasted until his
death a few years ago. I’m still a partner with his son, Jim Feibel. That’s
a very long association. I’m leaving out the time that I was in Congress. We
had a long association. He was very active in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at
Ohio State University – he was the advisor, trustee or whatever the designation.
He was a lovely man. In the 35 or 40 years we were associated, I can honestly
say we never had an argument about anything.

I think, at this point, I should go back and talk about growing up in the
1930s and emphasize what it was like to be Jewish in Columbus at that time. It
was the period and the ascendency of Hitler, anti-Semitism, Father Coughlin in
this country, the German-American Bund. I was an avid reader of Life Magazine,
the pictures of the Italians in Ethiopia, the deprivation and havoc brought by
Hitler spreading all over the world, certainly the

European world. I recently finished ProfessorAlan Dershowitz of Harvard Law
School’s book, “Chutzpah.” I grew up during an age that was “sha,
sha zag gornish” which means “quiet, quiet, don’t say
anything.” You sort of died a little death if your Jewishness was
mentioned. Starting first grade in Bexley and in Boy Scouts, meeting Ted
Huntington, whose family had Huntington National Bank – being raised in Bexley.
We were not rich but my life at that point, just through school and through the
Boy Scouts, I went to Hebrew School and I was Bar Mitzvah at the old Agudas
Achim. In the third grade of Sunday School, I was at Temple Israel and I think
my world of growing up was both in the Jewish community – obviously, I was
Jewish and I couldn’t imagine being anything else nor would society have
permitted me to be anything else – but also to realize that I think I was in
that transition in which I was also active in the general community, the non
Jewish community and to realize that they were perfectly nice people. I didn’t
look upon that as any reason to not do something if I wanted to. The country was
in a transition but certainly during the 1930s, I experienced just naturally the
things described by Alan Dershowitz, who is maybe ten years younger than I. What
he experienced when he left the Jewish world of New York in which he grew up and
he went to Harvard for the first time, to law school. There were these two
worlds, the Jewish world and the world in general. I think I functioned in both
without feeling that my being Jewish was disqualifying, other than some clubs
which obviously I could visit but could not join. I think those barriers are now
down for people younger than myself.

I practiced law with Troy Feibel and later with Jim Feibel in the various
permutations of the firms. I ran for Congress in 1966. My only interest in
politics was being Congressman because I had this interest in Political Science.
I was a Political Science major and my interest in geography and history all
these things tied together. So I ran for the Democratic nomination in 1966 and I
lost. I was defeated by Sam Divine. I ran for Congress 14 years later in 1980
when President Reagan was elected. That was an upset and I beat Sam Divine who
had been there for 22 years. I was defeated in the next election. There was a
redistricting. I always said I would not go into a post mortem about my
election. Someone said, “Why did you get defeated?” and I said,
“The other guy got more votes.” There are lots of reasons. Some of
which I contributed to and some of which you can always say . . . . always made
a point never to comment on my successor except to wish him well and to go on
with my life. Being a Congressman was probably as interesting an experience as
anyone could have, given my background.

I served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the European Middle East sub
Committee and also the Science, Space and Technology Committee. That was sort of
a culmination of a hidden dream. That’s what I mean by being active both in
the Jewish community and in the general community. I think every place is
different but Columbus has all the same problems as every other urban area in
the country but I don’t think quite as

overwhelming. It seems maybe a bit optimistic. The community, overall, has
been a pretty good one economically. My brother, Samuel C. Shamansky, was in
light construction and so he and I, together, my job being a real estate lawyer,
was to locate pieces of property and buy them with him and he would improve
them. We settled, on behalf of my mother and aunt, their mother’s estate with
my uncle and the division, to our ages – I’m 66 as of yesterday, April 18 and
my brother is 70 – so our economic security rests on real estate that we have
developed over the last 30 or 40 years. That is appropriate when you get to this
age – not to be dependent on other people.

With respect to being Jewish, it’s difficult for me to not be Jewish. It’s
a world view. For 30 years, I attended a retreat sponsored by the Episcopal
Diocese of Southern Ohio at Procter Farm. I’m not the only Jew who’s ever
attended but probably the only Jew who’s attended religiously over the years.
I tell people down there that I’m there for comic relief. It is interesting
that the assumptions my Christian friends start off with until I remind them
that not everyone agrees with that. I get a lot out of it, not just because I
learn about Christianity and its various aspects but there have been Muslims and
rabbis and so on and so forth. People say “How come this thing has been
going on for so many years?” And someone says, “It’s called the
booze and Bible weekend.” I happen not to drink but it’s mostly lawyers
and they play cards and drink beer and have a good time. In the meantime, they’re
getting some of the finest theologians in the country as leaders. This happens
every year and it’s an interesting experience for me.

There are many activities available in this city if you have the interest and
if you’re able to afford it. I guess the point I’m making is that there are
always barriers but the community in general has always been fairly open if you
want to do something about it. That involves meeting and working with other

In terms of other organizations that I find myself being interested in is
something called The Council for Ethics and Economics which arose in Columbus
about 1979-81. By that time I was in Congress – The Ross Laboratories had made
Similac and Nestle had been accused of these baby formulas being bad and there
was a big brouhaha about that and Ross Laboratory people came to me and said
“We’re being unfairly treated. The problem is not with our product, the
problem is with the impure water that people in third world countries mix
anything with . . .we’re getting blame for that.” Nestle apparently had
had some really bad advertising. The reason I mention this is the Council for
Ethics & Economics has been in existence since then. I joined in 1982 or
1983, certainly by 1983 when I came back and I’ve been active in it ever
since. I think it is an opportunity to talk about the ethics employed in
business and the approach is to encourage relationships between business people,
religious leaders and educators. They have continued to do that. I’ve been on
the Executive Committee these last few years and I continue to derive
interesting and satisfaction out of that.

I was active in the Ohio State Bar Association and was on their committees,
the ethics committee and professional conduct committee. That started first of
all in the Columbus Bar Association and then went to the state. After a number
of years, I was chairman for a couple of years for that State Bar committee.
When I stopped doing that I was a chairman on the committee for Clients Security
Fund Commission with the State Bar Association which helps people who have been
victimized by the lawyers’ unethical conduct.

I’ve been a member of a lot of civic organizations that have been very
interesting. These last seven years, I have been participating in something
called Renaissance Weekend which gained some publicity this past New Year’s
Eve because Bill and Hillary Clinton attended and, of course, the news media
suddenly focused on it. That is a place where people gather over the New Year
holiday and you wear a name tag where first names are first and big and last
names are small. It’s been an interesting opportunity not just to hear people
talk but afterwards, you can go up and talk with them or have a meal with them.
This event extends over three or four days, depending on the length of the
holiday and the way days of the week fall. Over years, you have a chance of
forming a judgement on somebody. It was through that experience that I met
Justice Harry Blackmun of the United States Supreme Court and in 1989, I
attended an Episcopalian Seminar at the Aspen Institute that he co-moderates on
justice in society. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.
He was a remarkable man. I don’t know what the country would have done without
him. He wrote the opinion of Roe vs Wade. In August, 1989, I went out there and
the Webster vs Reproductive Health Services had just been passed. That decision
looked like it was the forerunner of the repeal of Roe. The only time that
Justice Blackmun ever took the floor to talk by himself was for one and a half
hours after the morning break so at 10:30, he started to run the cases ________
freedom for women, especially. So he described the line of cases that culminated
in Roe and then went up through Webster. He brought it up to date. He was a
quiet spoken man but he listened carefully. There were about 25 of us, we sat in
a circle. That’s where they ran this seminar. When he got done – there was
just this incredible silence while he was talking, but he made freedom for women
tangible, especially as something that war so palpable that you could touch it.
It was that real the way he was talking about it. When he finished, I felt
emotionally involved. The way he was presenting this, I thought there was
something wrong with me but when he finished, almost every person in the room
stood up and applauded. It was obvious that it was not a unique experience to
me. That was the effect that he had on everybody. That was one of the phenomenal

I walked back to my room, it was 12:15 a.m. in Aspen and it was 2:15 a.m. in
Columbus. I called my brother and said, “As you know, I’m a well-known
skinflint.” He said, “Yes, I know you are a cheapskate.” I said,
“I just spent $4,000 on tuition, room and board just to be with __________.
And the thing is only 1/3 over but I want you to know that if I left right now,
I would have gotten my money’s worth with the experience we all just had with
Justice Blackman.” I was so moved by that experience that I established a
Justice Harry A. Blackmun Fund at the Aspen Institute, originated a contribution
and it has been added to since then by others. Because I mention the cost, this
was a low cost experience and the idea was to fund enough to permit those who
were not established lawyers to be able to attend also. I know that pleased
Justice Blackmun because the object is to get those who can’t afford to go on
their own, especially young ones: faculties, judges, partners, lawyers,
facilitators, teachers – if they just had the money, they could go. So the
object of this thing is to permit those who couldn’t otherwise go. It’s been
a good cause, something I’ve gotten some satisfaction out of. Helping set up,
because he’s 84 or 85 years old so I don’t know how much longer he’ll be
doing this. He will be doing it this year for the 15th straight year. The object
is to – it’s an experience like that will affect lawyers who will continue in
this line of seminars and that was an activity which especially given the role
he has played in this country with respect to choice for women, without his
leadership, I don’t know what the country would be going through socially and

I was an avid supporter of Bill Clinton. My friend, Carol Schwartz, whom I
met in law school, accompanies me to the Renaissance Weekend and when Bill first
spoke in 1985, the first year we attended , I turned to her and said, “What
do you think?” And she said, “I think so.” It’s interesting to
see that played out. I served on Al Gore’s sub-committee when I was in the
House for two years, so it was the only time in my life I knew both the
President and the Vice President entirely unrelated to the campaign. I knew them
independently this past year and it was a pleasure for me to support them any
way I could. It will be interesting to see what happens. It’s a tough period
and we’ll see. That’s the way politics is. If you go into public life, you
take your chances. You can win and you can lose. You do the best you can and
with all the variables and all the things you can’t control. You have to have
as much fun, serious fun.

Overall, there are more good people than bad people in Congress, both
Republican and Democrat. It’s easy to make demons. Some of them are cretins,
of course, some are just God-awful, but don’t forget, there are 435 in the
House and 100 in the Senate. So there’s a chance to get good guys as well as
bad guys. The other thing that worries me is people that say, “Well, we don’t
know out here but they know in Washington, D.C.” And also,

guess what. I was there. No, they don’t. Nobody knows. They don’t
necessarily know any more than you and I know should we choose to know it. The
question is precisely how does a hydrogen bomb get triggered? Somebody there
might know. We don’t know. Whether or not we should use the bomb, we have as
much information as they do.

This is a remarkably free country. In spite of all the problems with the role
of wealth and no one should ignore the role of wealth in our society. But that
doesn’t mean that people can’t get together and make a difference in our
society if they choose to do that. My plea at this point is whether we are
Jewish, Republicans or Democrats, men or women, to exercise our citizenship. I
think with respect to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I hope these oral
histories help. It seems to me that the role of the Jews in this country is a
paradox. They’ve had more freedom and they may well lose their identity. Only
time will tell.

You won’t remain Jewish because of the degree of persecution our
grandparents experienced. I thought out loud one time, “My gosh, my
grandparents didn’t know English, they didn’t have any professions, they
didn’t have any money. All they had were kids, they had youth, they came to a
free country. How could they do that?’ And someone reminded me, “You don’t
know what they left.” So we have to remember what they left.

Robert Shamansky has shared his personal life experiences with the Columbus
Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project.