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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Jack Kant
INTERVIEWER: Jean Rubin
DATE: October 6, 1981
R: Could you tell me a little bit about when you were born and where you were
K: I was born September 20, 1886 in a southern town of Russia, Kishinev.
R: Could you tell me something about your early childhood in Kishinev?
K: You want to know about my father and mother?
R: Yes, what were their names?
K: Their name was Kantorowitz.
R: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
K: Yes, I had two brothers and one sister. I was the oldest one. We were
living in the middle of town of Kishinev which had about 60,000 Jews,
very big town. There was nobody but Jews all around me. I remember
I had strict orders to take care of my younger sister, she was only
fifteen months younger than I am. And my mother took care of the
other two. And I could never play with boys on account of her because
at that time the boys played separate and the girls played separate.
Because I had to take care of her and she was always with me, the
boys wouldn't play with her so I couldn't play with the boys so she was
a drag more or less. But otherwise, I don't remember very much for
the first years till I started to go to Hebrew School.
R: You went to school at five-years old, is that when you started Hebrew
K: Yes. Well, I started when I was five-years old. And in the Hebrew
School they teach you how to translate from Hebrew into Jewish. I
don't think they teach you how to write. Maybe they did, I don't
R: Do you remember what the room was like: What the school was like?
K: Oh, the room was a long room, dark and we children had to sit over
there in that one room the whole day.
R: How many hours did you go to school?
K: I don't know. It must have been the whole day. They didn't bring
us home till dark.
R: Did you have lunch there?
K: I suppose we had lunch, I don't remember very much about the school.
I only remember that the teachers were very strict. You had to sit
and keep quiet so many hours. You can imagine how good that was.
Now at the age of seven, my father died and then I went to a Hebrew
School where they taught already the Bible.
R: This was a different school? The first school you went to was
K: Yes. You see, the first school is only where they teach you to
translate from Hebrew into Jewish. At the other school they teach
you to translate the Bible, that's all they teach you to do is
translate the Bible from Hebrew into Jewish.
R: Jack, what language did you talk in Russia at that time?
K: At that time I spoke almost three languages. The Jewish was my
family language, but I also had to be able to translate from
Hebrew into Jewish, so I had to learn Hebrew. Then there were
some Christians around and you had to take a little bit of
Russian, so since childhood I was talking three languages. For
me it was very easy to learn the other languages. When I was
grown up I spoke German, I spoke French. And then I learned
English in America. And I learned Latin, Spanish. I imagine on
account of learning so much when I was five-years old of learning
two languages, at least, Hebrew and Jewish, I could acquire the
R: Jack, tell me about your father? What kind of work did he do? And
do you remember very much about your father?
K: Well, he died from the Cholera -- there was Cholera then in Russia,
so he died when I was seven-years old. When I was seven-years I remem-
ber him pretty well, because he had that big influence on me for those
few years that he lived. Although he was a shoemaker, he was sent to
the Rabbinical seminar in Palestine. He was born in Palestine and
his father tried to teach the three sons which he had, tried to teach
them for the Rabbinate, to be a Rabbi. The other sons became Rabbis,
but he didn't want to become a Rabbi so he used to steal away and
learn shoemaking on the ,side from the Arabs.
R: Was he born in Palestine?
K: Yes, he was born in Palestine. His father was a very religious Jew
and according to the Jewish religion when you are born in Palestine --
when you live in Palestine and die in Palestine then you are ready for
the Messiah. Whenever the Messiah comes then you are right there. So
he brought all his family down there and my father was born in Palestine.
Where the other children were born, I don't know. There were three
brothers and one sister. His father, my father's father, wanted them
to become Rabbis. The other two became Rabbis and the younger one didn't
want to become a Rabbi, why, I don't know. Anyway, he ran away from
Palestine to Turkey, Constantinople. From there he came to Russis. In
Russia he married my other. When we were young, my sister and myself,
I remember him taking us to the Operetta, you know. The Jewish Operetta
at that time was flourishing in Russia. There's where it started in
Roumania, from Roumania it came to southern Russia.
R: Do you remember any of the Operettas?
K: Oh, yes. Yes. I remember seeing the Operettas. I remember myself
standing on the balcony. We couldn't afford the downstairs. From
the balcony I listened to the music. And when I came home I could
sing the Operettas, not only sing, but I used to give -- when I was
only six-years old I used to give concerts for the people living
in the courtyard.
R: Do you remember the names of any of the operettas that you saw?
K: Oh, yes, yes: Shulamis, Barkohba, others. It don't come to my mind
now. But anyway I used to sit through them. I also remember that
my father, you know the Jews are not allowed to work on Saturday, so
in the afternoon they take a nap and the courtyard was a square block
around, so we used to sit on the porches after supper in the afternoon,
and I was singing standing in the middle of the courtyard and singing
for them all the operas.
R: Tell me about Saturday in Kishinev. Was it a day that you went to
K: Oh, yes, yes, yes, absolutely. That's one good thing about the Jewish
religion, you have to stop working one day a week no matter what. You
stop Friday at sundown and you can start to work Saturday also sundown,
yes. So for those hours you don't work, you take a rest. So the Jews
usually when they come home from the shule in the daytime and you have
your supper -- they have their dinner so they go to have a nap and then
after the nap between the lunch and the supper you sit outside and they
talk or they socialize.
R: Jack, tell me, what do you remember about your feeling of the life in
.Russia then? Was it a nice peaceful life or was it a problem?
K: It couldn't be a peaceful life.
R: Why is that?
K: Because the Russian Czar was always after the Jews.. He was afraid that
the Jews are smarter than his peasants so they take advantage of them
and they'll make more money and they'll make a better life, so he kept
them in ghettos.
R: So you lived in a ghetto?
K: Oh, yes. Kishinev was a ghetto town at that time. Maybe now it isn't
I don't know.
R: Did the Russians come into the ghetto?
K: Oh, yes, the Russiansvisited in the ghetto. In our town also there
was 125,000 people in Kishinev, it was the capital of a state. The
Jews lived altogether in the middle of the town and the Russians used
to live all around in the suburbs, a little bit in the suburbs, some-
times a little bit in town. But the Jews lived by themselves, so you
very seldom came in touch with the Russians if you lived in town. After
eight years, then I lived outside of town, and then I came in trouble
with the Russians.
R: Let's talk before you tell me about that, about your early childhood.
K: Yes. So I still want to tell you about -- that was one of the nicest
influences my father had on me. I know I must have been from five to
seven when he took me to those operas, I learned so much operettas that
I even sing them now, while I take a bath, in the bathtub. I call
myself a vanna (bathtub) soloist, I sing solos in the vanna, because
I like them very much. You know when you learn when you're so
young you like it and I still remember a lot of them. But anyway that
was one of the nicest influence I remember from my father. The other
influence which was also good, I remember that he used to take me and
my sister, I was then about -- I must have been about six, maybe a little
over six, and he used to take us for walks outside the town. And the
scenery around Kishinev is very nice, it's the Carpathian Mountains.
So he used to take us for walks and there were hills where we used to
climb up and I had to climb up too, being six years or seven years old --
before seven years -- I couldn't climb up but he took my sister, he must
have carried her up because if it was hard enough for me she surely
couldn't make it. So I remember him standing up there on the hill
and he says, keep on climbing, keep on climbing, keep on climbing, keep
on. He coaxed me so long until I reached the top. So since then I
still remember that whenever any trouble is around, keep on climbing,
keep on climbing. That's the two most influences that I remember from
R: Now, you said that your father died when you were seven?
K: Seven years old, from the cholera. And then my troubles began, because
he was a very good shoemaker, he made a good living for all four of
us -- for five, together with him it was six, six of us, the four kids,
I was the oldest, I was seven, the youngest was one and a half years old.
My mother remained with the four kids and about a couple of hundred dollars.
Now, what could she do?
R: Jack, before you go on about talking about what you did after your father
died, do you remember any of the occupations of some of your neighbors
or relatives in the town?
K: I remember the immediate family, my grandmother lived with us and my
aunt lived with us. They lived with us all the time. My grandmother
was a caretaker in a bathhouse. You heard about a mikva, didn't you?
Every woman had to go once a month to the mikva. Now in order to make
sure that she does the right thing in mikva she has to duck about three
times so there has to be a witness standing outside and hear that all
is kosher, that means she did the right thing. So my grandmother used
to watch the women, she was very religious, very religious. So she
used to watch the women ducking in the pool which was called the mikva.
That was her occupation. My aunt was working as a seamstress. So
when my father died between the three, my grandmother was working,
my aunt was working and my mother used to -- what did she do -- oh,
yeah, my mother had to move out to the outskirts and buy some cows
and from the milk of the cows she sold she made some kind of money.
From all the three that they earned we were living on that earning.
R: Do you remember anything about the house in which you lived?
K: The house was very small. And I remember that the walls were -- I
don't remember what kind of a clay they used over there, but it was
dark, you know, and we couldn't afford more than two rooms. So
you can imagine how it was, seven people had to sleep in one room,
one was a kitchen, the other one was a bedroom. We slept two or
three in a bed and you can imagine. I slept with two women till I
was ten and a half years old; my grandmother and my aunt. My aunt
slept here, my grandmother here and I slept here. That I remember
R: You slept on the end.
K: Because up to ten and half years when I started to work for a tailor --
and even with the tailor I had to sleep with another boy. The rooms
were very small. And working people especially they made very little
so they couldn't afford many rooms.
R: Were there any gardens or anything around the house?
K: Not in the middle of the town. In the outskirts there were gardens
because the Russians like gardens. And they could afford more room
than the Jews could afford.
R: Were the Russians mean or did they do bad things at that time?
K: They were mean. See, they were fed anti-semitism because the Czar
was very much afraid for the Jews. So every paper and every holiday
they were fed hatred against the Jews. There were rules against the
Jews. I'111 tell you later the troubles I had with them about the
Jews. At the time I never had any trouble with the Russians because
we were mostly among Jews.
R: Jack, tell me what happened after your father died, did you continue
K: Oh, yes. Because, you see, we had to pay for the school, but my
grandmother was so religious that she wanted me to become a Rabbi.
So at the age of nine I went to the Rabbinical seminary to take an
exam. For the Rabbinical seminary, only boys of twelve or thirteen
years are supposed to take that exam. I was only nine and very small
and not much developed, because when my father died I'm sure I didn't
eat very much. And the Rabbi that gave that exam had a long beard
almost up to the floor and a big hair and a big eyelashes --
R: Does that mean he never shaved?
K: No shave, you're not allowed. They are not allowed to shave. I'm telling
you it was up to here. I got scared of him. And he was a very strict
Jew, so he flunked me. So when he flunked me I went for the -- they
had a Jewish public school. My mother wanted me to go to the Jewish
public school because in the Jewish public school they only talked
Russian; Russian and Jewish. So when you learn Russian you can become
"a clerk, something else, but when you don't know Russian you must become
"a tailor or a shoemaker. Those things which the Jews were usually
R: Jack, I have looked through your autobiography that you have given me
and I notice that you said "this lack of formal schooling was the bane
of all my life." You want to say something about that?
K: You can't call that formal schooling. The only thing I learned -- at
the age of nine I wnet to the Russian-Jewish public school, there I
learned Russian. And after I was ten and a half years I had to go to
work for a tailor. So I only had one year of schooling. The Jewish
cannot be called schooling at five years because it's nothing but
translation from Hebrew into Jewish, you can't call that anything.
Every year you have to translate the Bible, the five books, one part
of the Bible you have to translate, a week, and when you learned how
to translate, the next week you take another part. But that's all you
do is all week you learn how to translate a part of the Bible. And
the Jewish teachers were so bad, they were so strict that they used
to give corporal punishment to the boys, because the boys got sick
and tired -- when you are young, five years old, it's easier to stay
and sit for ten hours, but when you get older the boys like to run around,
they like to play more. So a lot of them while the teacher was teaching
here and they were further apart, they used to play cards, they used to
play with other things and so they didn't learn very much. So they
used to get a lot of beatings. When I saw the beatings they got, I
said, nothing doing, I'm not going to get any beatings and I never got
a beating. But for the five years when I so applied myself that I
never got a beating. Not only that I used to teach the bigger boys
that couldn't get it so quick, I was through learning the part and
I knew it eventually, so I had to sit with the big boys and teach each
one of them, teach them how to translate the Bible. Years afterwards,
I met a couple boys, they recognized me.
R: Where did you meet them?
K: I met them over there --
R: In Russia?
K: Yeah, in Russia. So they said to me, you remember when you taught me
Hebrew because they weren't interested. I don't blame them but I was
so afraid for the beatings. They used to lay them down on the floor
with their straps, give them a beating on their hindside. I was so
sorry for the boys. I want to mention another thing here, that the
Russian teacher, I'll never forget. He was one of the most marvelous
men, kind, considerate and good natured, that was a pleasure to learn
with him. And the Jewish Rabbis I didn't like anyone of them and I
don't remember them even.
R: Jack, now at the age of ten in your autobiography you say that you went
R: What kind of work did you go to?
K: My aunt married when I was ten aid a half years old, she married a tailor,
so what can be better than to -- and I had to live on my mother's keep
and they couldn't afford so much and besides I didn't go to school because
when I finished the first year of school I was skipped one class and the
teacher in that class was a disciplinarian and in that class I had to buy
my own books already. My mother couldn't afford to buy the books. My
grandmother, because I didn't go for a Rabbi didn't want to buy the books,
so I was without books. For two months I was struggling along without
books and I had to leave school. So I had one year of schooling and when
my aunt married I wasn't going to school already. I helped out, my mother
had a grocery store then, so I helped out in the grocery store but that
was the kind of work was done anyway. So they wanted to get rid of a
mouth to eat, and what could be better than to give away a boy of ten
and a half years to his uncle for a tailor? So I went to him as an
apprentice and an apprentice at that time was fed, clothed and slept
by his boss. So I went and became a tailor and that was my downfall
because I could never get rid of it.
R: How long did you work with your uncle as a tailor?
K: I worked as a tailor up to my 40th year -- yeah, my 40th year.
R: That's when you came toAmerica, but in Russia, you started working when you
were about ten.
K: Ten and half.
R: And if I remember in your autobiography did you work until you were
K: Yes. I can hardly remember anything pleasant or interesting for those four
and a half miserable years. Life at that time seems like a blur for me, a
kind of dark age in my life history. The only outstanding fact of that
period is the change of bosses I made. I changed from my uncle for a
distant relative who was reputed to be a better tailor and better boss and
so he was. Otherwise, the less said about that life of mine at that time
the better. When I see the kind of life of modern youngsters that teen-
agers lead, I feel no compunction for feeling envious of them, the freedom,
the carelessness they enjoy, the good times they have. Oh why was I
compelled to work and slave for sixteen and more hours a day in a dirty
workshop with no relaxation and without recreation. How stultified and
miserable was my life at that time. How I curse an economic and social
system where such conditions prevailed. No wonder that at the age of
fifteen in the year 1901 I became a socialist with a vengeance.
R: Jack, what kind of life began for you now that you were fifteen?
K: I became a socialist. At the end of the 19th Century and the beginning
of the 20th, the life of the workers in Russia was very miserable.
: What do you mean it was very miserable?
K: We worked long hours,,you didn't get much pay for it. So the
socialists had a very nice time to get the workers to become socialists,
we stroke for better conditions. So I became a socialist and I became
an organizer and I joined the tailors, the tailor organization and I
became very active and that gave new life to me.
R: Did many of your'friends go into the socialist party with you?
K: Well, I didn't get many friends then because I could hardly make
any friends, because I was working every day from getting up to going
R: Well, how did you learn about becoming a socialist?
K: The leader of the socialists worked in my shop, he was already a
journeyman. So I asked him. He didn't want to take me in because I
was too young, he said, only fifteen-years old. So I bothered him so
much until he took me to a meeting of the socialists.
R: Where was this meeting, Jack?
K: The meeting was in a private home. They used to get about ten, fifteen
R: When did you decide to go to America and what circumstances led up to
it? Do you remember, Jack, what made you decide to go to America?
K: Oh, yes, I remember it well, too well. It was 1909, about spring, a
year and a half after I had to go to join the Russian army for four
years, and that was something I didn't like to do.' So for a year and
a half I was living on a false passport. But then the police started
to look for the delinquents.
R: Jack, how did you get the false passport?
K: In Russia it was very easy. There you paid -- the Jews used to have
their own passport system and for each town they had a starestor, what
you call an old man.
R: What is that word, the old man?
K: An old man that took care of the business for the Jews, you know.
R: You called him something.
K: Starestar, it means an old man. So for a dollar or two you could do
anything with them. So it was very easy to get a false passport. So
anyway I lived for a year -- more than a year and a half I lived on a
false passport. 1907, I was supposed to go to the army.
R: Where was this, in.Russia:
K: In Kishinev, Russia, yeah. So that was the easy part. Then in 1909,
the spring, the police started to look for delinquents that didn't
report for the army. As.-I was one of the delinquents I had no choice
but to run away:because I didn't like to go for four years to be in
the Russian army. So' I had to run away but I had no money. So my
stepfather gave me 25 rubles, I had a couple of rubles of my own and
I went from Kishinev I went to the border. I went to the border of
Austria and there it was easy to cross the border because there was
special people who used to' smuggle over immigrants. You know, from 1905
after the pogroms, a lot of Jews moved away to America. A lot of them
couldn't get any visas, the government wouldn't give them any, so they
smuggled themselves across the border. It was very easy.
R: They smuggled themselves?
K: Yes. There were people who took care of the smuggling business because
you had to buy the Russian Police and you had to buy up the Russian
border guards and you had to buy up the Austrain border guards and
the smuggler also had to get a profit out of it. So you went to a
small town near the border and the smugglers recognize a stranger so
you made a deal with them and then they took you across. That was
R: Where did you go from Austria then?
K: Then when I was in Austria, I went to Vienna. I didn't want to stay
in Vienna because Vienna had some kind of an agreement with Russia where
they didn't want to keep the immigrants from Russia.
R: How long were you in Vienna?
K: Wait awhile, I didn't come to Vienna yet. So I took a ticket to
Vienna and in Vienna I didn't want to stay because I was afraid they'll
give me back to Russia so I had to go either to Paris or to Zurich. Now
as a tailor I could get work in any of those places but Paris I liked
better than Zurich because I had some kind of a second cousin there.
So I took out as much money as I had from my pocket when I came to the
station and I put it down in front of the man that sells the ticket and
told him, this is as much money as I have, I want to go to Paris. If I
didn't have enough money I'd go to Zurich. He said you have enough for
Paris and just about enough money, he says, to buy a bread. And it takes
to be more or less a man. With a beard I looked more like a man. So
when the man in charge of the third class saw me he thought I was a
Rabbi. I got acquanited with him and the last day of the trip I told
him I was very much satisfied, the food was good, everything was good.
So he said, would you like to write a letter of recommendation of the
ship? I said, sure. So I wrote it in Russian and they translated in
German or in other languages and they put my name down as Rabbi Jacob
Kantowrotz. I didn't care because I was really --, at that time the
the German ships were better than the French and even an English ship.
R: Tell me,,what port did you leave when.you left France?; What was the
name of the port?
K: Le Havre. So that's'about the trip, you know, the trip was very nice.
R: So it was very good for you?
K: Yes. And I even brought along a book of a diary -7 I was then in love
with a girl from Russia. So Lwrote a whole diary of love --
R: How long did it take you? How long was the trip?
K: It took about eight, nine days. At that time the ships didn't go very
quick. And I don't know why, but anyways it took about eight, nine
days, but I didn't mind it.
R: Was the ship crowded?
K: Oh, yes. The third class, I don't know about the second class or the
first class. The third class was always crowded at that time with
immigrants. Everybody went to the United States.
R: Were there a lot of Jews on the boat?
K: Oh, yes, most of them were Jewish. They gave us kosher meals. They
"were very nice the Germans in 1909. Afterwards I'm sorry I didn't take
any other ship because 'I once went back and came to the United States
again on a ship, but it was not a German ship, it was an English ship.
R: We'll talk about that later. Tell me now, did you go to Ellis Island?
K: Everybody had to go through Ellis Island. But you see, some people had
to stay on Ellis Island before their relatives came from other places
or they weren't there yet. I didn't need my relatives, although my
relatives were there, two brothers and one sister, but I didn't need
them because I had $10.00 in my pocket.
R: How did you feel when the boat pulled into Ellis Island?
K: The boat didn't take into Ellis Island, the boat stopped in New Jersey.
A ferry took us to Ellis Island and they lined us up and they told us
to go to the inspector, and the inspector asked the age. And he didn't
ask for any passport. And he asked whether you had any relatives, I said,
two days to go from Vienna to Paris at that time. Passports we didn't
need because at that time you could go from one country to another
without any passports except from Russia. From Russia to go out
you needed a passport. So I told him, give me a ticket to Paris. I
went downstairs, bought a bread and with that bread I lived for two days
until I came to Paris. In Paris I located my distant cousin, and work
was very easy for me to get in Paris because in the first place I
had another distant cousin that was a ladies' tailor. And for me to
change from a men's tailor to a ladies' tailor was very easy. So I
got a job the next day and started to work.. But then I couldn't make
up my mind whether to stay' in Paris or to go to America, because in
America already my two brothers were in America, my sister was in
America, just married and she had a.nice place in New York. Altogether
it was a better town to stay there. It was more'Jewish people and you
could feel better.' And then I also had at that time a desire to write
dramas. And in New York there were theaters, Jewish Theaters, all
kinds of theaters. Altogether itwas more social life in New York
than in Paris.
R: You say more opportunity?
K: So.I said, well, I'm going to stay in Paris until the time when my
sister from New York will send me a ship's ticket, you know, a ticket
for the ship in order to reach America because I didn't have enough
money. And if I wanted to buy a ticket at that time it cost about
$45.00 or so. That would take me a long time, so I wrote to her and
until she sent me the ticket for the ship I was in Paris for about two
months. And from Paris I went to New York.
R: Who did you have to see to book the passage in Paris?
K: I didn't have to book, she sent me a ship ticket("ship's card"). So I
took a ticket from Paris to the ship, it was in the Le Havre -- I think
it was in the Le Havre and from Le Havre I took the ship and they met me
in Ellis Island. So my two brothers, my sister and my brother-in-law
"met met and they were supposed to take me off, but the rule was that
then, if you have $10.00, they let you off without anybody taking you
off. So they were standing outside and I had $10.00 so they let me off.
R: Jack, let's go back a little bit, I want to know a little bit about if
you remember the conditions on the ship, what kind of ship was it?
K: Yes. The conditions -- the ship was a very big ship and it was a German
ship. And the Germans at that time were not the naxis from afterwards.
They were still decent. We had a very nice trip and we had very nice
food. The conditions were very good on the ship. Third class. At
that time I wore a beard.
R: How old were you then, Jack?
K: I was 22 and a half, almost 23-years old. But I wore a big beard because
in Russia I wore a beard because I was taking part in the revolutionary
movement and there I had to lead strikes and do negotiating, so you have
yes, and I mentioned my relatives. And then they asked me If I had any
money and I said, year, and I showed them I had $10.00, so they said, go
R: What impressions did you have from some of the people that were there?
As a writer you probably watched.
K: You are so busy, you're so anxious to get off, you have no idea about
impressions. Nothing impressed me, I was too glad to come out of the
door and see my relatives over there. And being that I had a long beard
and was not so extraordinary dressed, one of my brothers took me to the
barber right away and they took off the beard and the moustache and the
haircut and they made a.new man out of me. And .before he took me to
meet my aunt who was living here, he took me to the shop where you buy
clothes and I got a new suit and I got new shoes. And when I came into
my.aunt, who was living here on the eastside, I Vas like a new man, I
was an American, Everything was new and I was clean shaven and every-
R: Was this a younger brother that was in America?,
K: Yeah, yeah, two younger brothers and one younger sister. And the first
day I had my dinner there or.whatever it was and I met some other --
there were some distant relatives. And it was on the eastside, But my
sister who was married in January that year in 1909, she married a man
who was also a tailor but he was a very good operator so he made a very
good living. So instead of remaining in downtown New York, they took
an apartment all the way uptown on 118 Street.
R: So they were separated from the other relatives?
K: Not only separated but it was about five, six or seven miles away, you
know, on the new section in Harlem. Than Harlem in 1909 was a new
section, They lived in a new home with all the good things which a new
home had, Toilets in the house. Downtown there were no toilets in the
R: How many rooms did they have in that house?
K: Three rooms, The kitchen, of course, was a kitchen, they had the bedroom
and I slept in the front room on a couch.
R: Was it an apartment, did you have to go upstairs to get there? What
type of house was it?
K: I don't think -- it was very nice, a new house, very nice, 118th Street
and 5th Avenue, and everything was new over there,
Re Do you remember the house or the area that your relatives lived in?
K: Oh, yes, I remember it because I was there for a couple of hours. The
toilet was in the middle of, between apartments, was it in the middle,
and they had to use that, Water, I don't know whether they had water
inside, I never looked for that, but the toilet I remember. I had a
bite over there and I stood over there only for about two hours.
R: Did you ever go back to visit them?
K: Oh, yeah.
R: Is that Hester Street? Is that area where Hester Street is?
K: Oh, yeah, yes, but I don't think it was'Hester Street.
R: On the eastside?
K: Hester, Henry, Essex, what other names were there. I don't remember, but
anyway it was on the eastside..
R: What did you think of that area when you first saw it?
K: Well, I was so used to seeing what you call ghettos and slums that that
didn't -- what'impressed me, my sister's house because I never lived in
a place where there was a toilet inside and running water and electric
lights, everything was there.
R: And Jack, how long was it until you started to work?
K: Wait awhile, I didn't finish the day just yet, it was a big day for me.
My sister took me home by the subway because they had no car and the
subway was nothing new for me, because in Paris there was also a subway
at that time, the subway was nothing new. What was new was when I came
to my sister's she had to make supper. It has to take her about a
couple of hours, so I said to myself, being that I have two hours let
me go out and see New York because I always like to walk around, but
downtown there was nothing,uptown it was nice, nice at that time, every-
thing was nice but it wasn't anything extroardinary. Until I walked
from 118th Street to 110th Street, I don't know whether you know New
York. In New York 110th Street and 5th Avenue is Central Park. So I
started to walk in Central Park. I walked in Paris and Zurich and other
places and it was very nice places too, but the part near 110th Street
is very nice, hilly, and there was pools and other things. So I started
to walk being excited with the sight so I kept on walking alongside the
-- there's a walk inside the park along 5th Avenue, but the inside, so
inside you see all the nice sights, so I kept on walking and walking and
walking until I came to the Metropolitan Museum. A saw a lot of Museums
in Paris and Zurich and other places, so being there's a museum you have to
go in and see the museum.
R: This was your first day?
K: The first day, the first couple of hours. So I looked all over the
Metropolitan Museum and then I said, well, it's about time to go back
and I walked back. We had our supper and after supper what can you do?
There's a park over there, a modest part right near 118th Street, so we
have to go out in the park. We were sitting in the park, we met some
of their, I think it was their friends or relatives, anyway we were
sitting there until about 10:00 o'clock, and that first day I'll never
forget when I was in the United States.
R: All the people used to go out after supper, say, and sit in the park?
K: Oh, yeah, because there was no radio, no television,, so they had nothing
to do. You either read a paper or you went out to the park. In the park
you met all the people, you spoke and you had a nice time. So that first
day I arrived in United States I never forget because I had to make Ellis
Island, I had to get redressed of a new.man and I had to see my relatives
from downtown. Then I saw the Central Park from 110th to 86th, 24 blocks
I walked back and forth. I was a good walker at that time. And I saw
the statue from Egypt over there, I don't know whether you know it.
They call it -- what do they call the statues from Eqypt? Well, anyway,
it was a new sight for me because I didn't see it before. And that day
I'll never forget because I enjoyed myself so much. And the next day I
went to work because most of the Jews at that time were tailors because
it's very easy to become a tailor.
R: Now, where did you work?.
K: Wait awhile. You see it was very easy to become a tailor because the
work was divided at that time. A tailor had to only be able to drive
the machine and that's easy too.
R: Is that what they call piece work?
K: No, you could work either piece work or bulk, but you had to make --
instead of making a whole garment, you make only the sleeves or you made
the top or you make the collar or you make a piece of the pants. They
didn't make any women's pants, but men's pants. I was a man's tailor.
In Paris I became a ladies' tailer. The rich ladies in Paris wear men's
jackets and those men's jackets were made just like a man's jacket that
a man makes, and they're very easy work and very nice pay too. The
tailors in Paris give out their work on contracts to people that have
one or two or three tailors, and they do the work. The contractor does
the work too, and they pay good too because the rich people pay good for
their clothes, So I learned how to be a ladies' tailor. When I came to
the United States my uncle was working as a tailor in New York. Before
I went for supper he t6ld me he'll take me up to the job with him. The
next day I went to work, but I was never used to that kind of work.
R: Jack, what was the pay at that time?
K: It was a new kind of work, not only new kind of work, but a new kind of
life because when you work in the tailor business in Europe they haven't
got big shops; just two people, three people, four people because they
work only for customers, you know. In Europe you didn't know mass produc-
tion. They know only if you come into a tailor you tell him you want a
suit, or a shirt, or a skirt. They take the measurements and cut it, and
they sew it together, and you come again for a fitting. It's a whole
business. In America They didn't know that. They make mass production.
So they cut about, maybe, two dozen, and with one cut they cut two jackets.
When you work on the machine, you work on one piece. Let's say, you make
a pocket, that's all you do. You make the pocket, push it out and make
another one. And somebody collects the pockets and gives it to the next
fellow who has to make the roll.
R: How did you fetl about working that way, Jack?
K: I was lucky, that I could-make a whole g'armen,',a woman's garment, so he
took me to a w9man's what they call a cloak maker, You know what a
cloak ,maker is? Cloak makers work already more -than one piece, There
are cutters, there are operators, 'there are 'finishers, there are pressers.
All those bus not as much division as it is, 'The factories,were big,
you know.' The machines were furnished by the people themselves -- the
workers themselves. But the bosses used to give the workers a chance. In
order for them to make more' money than they Would psk for, they gave them
a chance to have two machines and one helper' And the helper didn't get as
much as the worker did get.
R: Would you explain that to me? I don't understand. When you come to work,
you had to have your own machine?
K: The machine was in the factory but you,had your own machine. If you went
from one factory to another you carried the machine with y6u.
R: Did you have a machine?
K: No, because I was only a helper and because I didn't know that kind of
work. A helper used to get 25 percent. -- The real worker used to get
75 percent and I used to get 25 percent of what we made. The first six
months while I was working at that job the pay was very nice but I didn't
like the shop. I'll tell you why. In Europe when you work only with
two or three people, you know, it's not a "Hoo-hah", It's not much noise
from machines. The people are more or less friendly because the boss
himself works. Then there is a journeyman, and there's an apprentice,
and there is one below the apprentice, and each one knows his place, But
when you work on piece work like they worked in that factory, first place
you have to get good bundles -- you call it bundles. A bundle is a coat,
a real top coat, it comes in bundles. First place you have to get nice
bundles because there's all kinds, there's big bundles and there's small
R: What's in the bundles?'
K: The bundle is a coat,
R: One coat or several?
K: No, you can't make several, because a woman's coat takes up a lot of
place, you know. If the coat is cut you get separate sleeves, you get
separate backs, you get separate fronts, you get separate collars and you
as the operator have to put all this together, stitch them together.
Then when they're stitched together they go to the finisher, the finisher
puts in the lining and he has to finish all things which you will have to
open and then they go to a presser and to a button maker and a presser.
R: Jack, what hours did you work?
K: That's a tough one, Worked ten hours a day.
R: Ten hours. What time did you report in the morning?
K: In the morning, I think it was 8:00 o'clock. 8:00 o'clock to 6:00.
R: And how were the conditions in the shop?
K: Oh, now, in the first place when you work in a small shop there's not
much of a noise. The noise was tremendous, because when 100 machines
rdn you can imagine what noise they make. Then the pressers were not
far away, the pressers with their big irons. When they press a coat, a
woman's coat, a man's too, you know, ydu have to press, them so they get
into shape.' The cutting machines too, they had machines for cutting.
R: How many people were in the room, approximately?
K: Oh, there must have been about 100 people in the room. The factory took
up more than one room. In one room there might have been finishers,
where in the other room, cutters might have haa their own room. The
cutters of clothing, The cutters made a noise too.
R: Do you remember, Jack, about how much an hour you made, approximately?
You don't remember at all?
K: Isn't that funny, I worked for six months in that shop till we went down
on strike on New Year's Eve of 1910, but I don't remember. I remember
it was good enough because I could save money. The tailor business was
like this, you work about three, four or five months and then there's a
month slack. There's no work between the two seasons; the summer season,
the spring season, the winter season, the fall season, there's a certain
amount of slack. So all workers tried to save for that month.
R: Was it just your shop that went on strike?
K: Wait a minute, I didn't come to the strike yet. What struck me in the
shop was the character of the workers, you know. When I was a revolution-
ist in Russia I though all the workers are good and only the bosses are
bad. I thought the tailor bosses were not so bad because they were only
workers, they had to work as much as we worked but they made a little bit
more profit from us. But anyway, I considered the workers the good people,
and the big shots, the very rich people, the bad people. Here when I
came and I saw the way the workers had to work. In the shop, you had to
run to get a bundle of work and then there were good bundles and bad
bundles. Some bundles were easier to work and some were harder to work
to the man that gave out the work, some of them used to be "shmeared",
you know, to get a better bundle.
R: What makes a bundle good or bad? Was it the way it was cut?
K: It was small in order of sizes. You get a size of 44 or a size of 16.
It's easier to make the size 16, but they paid according to the piece not
according to the size. And in the six months I learned that the workers
are not so hot. The bosses I never saw, so I couldn't tell about the
bosses. But I learned the workers were not all so good because of the
way they used to work us, to run for a bundle, and the way they used to
talk abodt each other especially in the slack season, In the slack
season they used to stay in the shop atd,wait for a bundle because some-
times you get a bundle and sometimes you don't. 'The idea was to divide
the'wark equally, but they never divided the work.
R: Now, you were 23 at.that time.'.What was the average age of the workers
that you were working with?
K: All kinds. There were workers the-e less than I was and besides there
were a lot of women ovet there. The women used to work as finishers,
you know. There were very few operators. I don't think there were any
in the clothing business, but they used to be the finishers, to put in
the lining. The women used to do the easy wqrk, And they,' of course,
didn't make as much pay as the men used to do. The women used to sew
buttons or make button holes, the easy work.
R: What led up to this strike?
K: Not all factories were as good as this one was. At lots of factories
they worked twelve hours, fourteen hours. A lot of factories the machines
were already owned by the bosses and they paid them by the hour. And then
besides, the conditions in the shop were not very good, because being they
had so many, they didn't care for any sanitation or fresh air or this and
that. The conditions of the shop -- were bad, so they made a strike the
first of the year.
R: Who organized this strike?
K: The organizer was then an organization that called itself I think the
Ladies Garment Workers, I don't remember.
R: Did you have to pay to be a member of this organization?
K: There were no members, it was only a group, it wasn't a union, it was a
group that said they're going to make a union. So they used to prop-
agandize among the people. When they came out of the shop they used to
talk to them. Why don't you make a strike and get better conditions?
R: These people worked in the factory too?
K: Some of them did, some of them didn't. Because some of them were
intellectuals, so-called. They were real idealists and they thought it
was time for the workers to get better conditions. So they used to meet
When they came out of work they used to meet them and go with them to
talk to them, till they came to the subway, or sometimes they had to walk
downtown. This factory I think was on 18th Street or 16th Street. You
had to walk downtown, so they had an hour with them to talk. They did
their work outside the shop. I don't think in the shop you could do it,
not at that time because 1909 the bosses were strictly against a union.
And they knew there was a union, so when it came the first of the year
they had a few meetings with the people and the people were then right
for a union.
R: Where did you meet?
K: There were a lot of halls for entertainment downtown so they used to meet
in those halls.
R: The people were ripe, you said.
K: Oh, yeah, because a lot of them came from Russia and in Russia they were
imbued with that revolutionary spirit. When they came over here they
were only too glad to make a living. I was lucky. I didn't have a wife,
but if you have a wife you have to work hard in order to make a living,
you know. Being that my brothers were still younger than I am and they
were not married, only my sister was married. She was lucky she got a
man that was almost like a foreman and he made a very good living so she
was lucky. There were very few workers who lived uptown, most of the workers
R: So when did the strike take place?
Ki So the strike took place the first of the year, 1910. We went down on
strike. And when we went down on strike the man I worked with said he
don't want to strike. He's going to make a good shop for himself, a
tailor shop for himself. You know, cleaning and sometimes, a customer
would come in and he wants a pair of pants, or a coat, or this or that.
There were a lot of them already. They were real tailors from the old
country but here they became just like me, they became operators. But
when they went out on strike, he didn't want to strike, he wanted to
make his own tailor shop. So he moved out all the way in the Bronx near
Dykeman Street, all the way up there and he made a shop. And he said do
you want to work for me, and being as I as a young tailor, I worked for
him. I went down on strike, but I didn't go back to the shop.
R: Do you know how long the strike lasted?
K: It must have lasted a couple of months. I don't remember exactly whether
they won or not, it didn't interest me because I started to work then for
small shops, for small tailors.
I didn't like the shop, I wasn't used to those kinds of conditions, I was
used to small places. When he made a little shop, I was his only worker
over there. Not much happened because I was running around from one place
R: This is in 1910 and 1911?
K: The first part of 1911. I had a miserable time because the small tailers
can't pay as much as they factories used to pay.
R: Did you have any friends, Jack, as a young man?
K: Oh, yes, I had lots of friends,
R: What kind of work did they do?
K: Some of them came with -- not professions but trades and they worked in
their trades; And some of them didn't have any trades. They had to
learn how to become a tailor, to run a machine, and when you ran the
machine in one hour or two hours you could get paid for it, and you could
live. There were a lot of students that came over here, that raw away
and they also became tailors.
R: Did anything else happen that you could remember in 1911?
K: Up to 1911, I had a miserable time that I remember and I was disgusted
even with the revolutionists because when they came over here they forgot
revolution, and they got married and got children, worked in the shops,
read the papers, played with the children, and they were regular people.
So I got disgusted with the revolutionists, and I was disgusted with the
work, and I was disgusted with American politics, I could read only the
Jewish paper. But in the Jewish paper I saw what the rich people are
doing. So for the year and a half that I didn't work in that big shop
I felt very bad. I was disappointed with America altogether, because in
Russia we had an idea that America is the Golden Medina, means a "golden
land". When I came over here, and I had to work so hard, because in the
small places I worked more than ten hours sometimes, more than twelve
hours and made very little, I had to work all the time and look all the
time for jobs because I had to work. I couldn't save from one job to
another, they didn't'pay enough for that. And then I was disgusted, I
didn't find any Golden Medina. I was disgusted with the capitalist
system, and I was disgusted with my fellow revolutionists. The people
used to divide in the landsmanshaft, that means people from the same
place used to meet together once a year. A couple of years they belonged
to the workmen's circle, or they made other societies. They liked to be
R: What kind of society did you have from Kishinev?
K: They liked to be together, so they used to organize by societies from
the same place. They used to meet every once in a while and they used
to make parties together. They used to like to meet together. I belonged
to the Kishinev Society, and I was also disappointed in the Kishinev
Society. A lot of revolutionists came over here from Kishinev especially
after the pogrom of 1905. A lot of Kishinevs were here. They had, a
couple of societies, and once they made a picnic. They used to meet out
of town. I came to the picnic, and I expected to meet all Kishinev over
there. I came over there and there was a handful of people, and they
just said hello to each other, maybe they gossiped a little bit, and they
went home. So I said, this is the revolutionists? Why they came even
with their children, they were playing with their children, they were
regular people. So I couldn't take it. And then there was the triangle
R: Tell me a little bit about the triangle fire, What happened with the
K: The triangle fire was this. It was a big factory downtown. On Broadway
I think it was, or near Broadway. A lot of people, 100 people or 200
people were working there. I don't know if it was a factory from cloth-
ing or a factory-from hats. I think it was from clothing, I don't
remember .exactly. Anyway, it was a big factory. They had a fire law
that the exits from factories especially on the higher floors, have to
be always open when the factory is working. Whoever has to open the
exits forgot to open'it that day. So when a fire can start in a factory
very easy, you know, it's a lot of material. It must have been a factory
of some kind-- I think it was a shirt factory, There were a couple of
hundred people working in there, mostly women, because shirts are easy
to make. I think even the operators on shirts were a lot of women. But
anyway, when the fire started they all ran for the exits, (and that was
on an upper floor) and the exits were closed so they couldn't go out and
the fire reached them and about a hundred, or more than a hundred people
were burned to death. There were a lot of crippled people. They fell on
R: How did that: affect you?
K: Me, it affected so much that I said to hell with America, I'm going back
to work in Russia for the revolution again. Where I got the money for
the ship ticket -- to buy the ticket to go to Paris I still don't remember.
But I got the money and in two days after the fire I went to Europe.
R: And you landed in Paris?
K: Yeah, I went to Paris and I wanted to go back and work in the revolution.
R: What did you family say about it?
K: My mother was there already, my stepfather and my stepfather's couple of
kids. I never listened to what they said. What do.you mean, I was a man
for myself, This is my only boss.
R:' So you went to Paris then?
K: Yeah, I went to Paris. I wasn't satisfied with the ship. I went to
Le Havre. It was a French ship, and the food was rotten. Everything on
the ship was very bad, because the French don't believe in eating too well,
I suppose. They believe in eating, the first class must have eaten very
well, but I had to buy a third class because I couldn't afford a better one.
The sleeping conditions were not good. There were smells, everything was
bad on this ship. The ship didn't bother me because I was used to bad
R: What happened when you got to shore, when you docked in Paris?
K: I left July the 6th, and I arrived over there July the 14th. You know
what was going on July the 14th. They were dancing, and I was dancing in
the streets when I arrived in Paris.
R: What day was that?
K: July the 14th.
R: Bastille Day.
K: Yeah, Bastille Day. But you see, I was lucky that my cousin was there,
so'I came to him.
R: How did you keep contact with them?
K: By letter. You didn't write telegrams because you couldn't pay for
telegrams. So by letter and I don't think they even knew that I was
coming. I came, and I was there, and they had a room for me. Not
exactly a big room, but a small room. And I stayed with them for the
two months when I went to the United States, and I stayed with them for
the 4 months when I came from the United States, And I also got the
same tailor which I worked for the two months and for the four months I
stayed in France I made a very good living.
R: What did you want to do? You went to France --
K: To France, I was going to get connections to go to Russia, you know, you
have to get connections; where to go, when to go and how to go. You can't
go into Russia without a passport.
R: How do you get these connections? Where did you go?
K: In every big town out of Russia there were people that came from Russia
and stayed there. In Paris especially there were lots of Russians. There
were also a lot of Russian bundists. The first time I was there, there were
lots of them, hundreds of them in 1903. In 1909, when I came, there were
not so many although there were quite a few. In 1911, only a dozen remain-
ed, a dozen bundists. So when I came from United States they asked me to
give a lecture to them about the conditions in Russia. I'll tell you why.
Before 1911, the bund and the revolutionists were still more or less active
in Russia. There were a lot of Jews in the movement, there were a lot of
professionals, doctors, lawyers, other professions, even bankers were there,
because everybody was against the Czar. But once the Czar gave -- in 1905
he gave a constitution -- you heard about it -- at that same day they made
the pogroms, so all the rich people and many students and a lot of liberals
and a lot of professionals went away from there. They got theirs, because
they could select people to the Duma, and the Duma was like the congress
here, but over there in Russia, it was divided in three parts. A very top
part where only the richest people could sit, a lower part where profess-
ionals; doctors, lawyers and other professionals could sit and in the lower
part then the people could sit. And the upper part had more power than the
lower part as usual.
R: So did you still want to go back to Russia?
K: The revolutionist's didn't die out in Russia but the Czar arrested a lot
of them because he was then already in the saddle. So the Czar gave a
constitution in 1905 -- I should have told you that -- is because he lost
the war with Japan. In 1904 he had a war in Japan and he lost the war.
Now, Roosevelt, he had the big stick -- Roosevelt with the big stick
made peace over there between the Russians and Japan and Russia lost a
lot at that time. So the Czar was discredited. He had no money, he
had no army and they did to him more than the revolutionists did to him.
But when the revolutionists saw what happened to the Czar and the rich
people that had to lend him money from London told him, either you make
a constitution or you get no money.
R: Is that when Kerensky was in charge?
K: Oh, no, Kerensky was started in 1917, 1918. This was 1905 -- 1904, 1905.
So the rich people, (the Rothschilds, I think) -- the rich people in
London gave in 1905, they gave him that ultimatum, either you give a
constitution or you get no money.
R: Jack, what was happening in Paris in the year of 1911?
K: There was no more revolutionary movement. There were only about a dozen
revolutionary bundists. There were no more professionals because the
professionals, as soon as they got the constitution, went away from the
revolution. The professionals, the rich people, the liberals, the store-
keepers, all that could make a good living were satisfied with the amount
of freedom they got. But the workers were not satisfied because they
really didn't get much. They could select people to the Duma or whatever
it was called over there, but they didn't have much to say.
R: But you stayed in Paris?
K: When I came over there and they asked me to give them a lecture about the
conditions in Russia, so in order to get acquainted with the conditions
in Russia I had to get acquainted myself because I was living in New York
for two years. So I had to read the revolutionary papers. When I saw in
the papers what was going on while I was preparing myself for the lectures,
what I saw in the paper what was going on among the revolutionists, I said,
my God, is this what I'm going to go back to? They fought among themselves.
They called themselves the worst names you can imagine, traitors. If you
didn't agree with me I'called.you traitor. If you didn't agree with me
then I called you names. Anyway, for two weeks I read the papers and I
got disgusted with the revolutionists. I gave the lecture but I couldn't
take the revolutionists any more but I still didn't want to go back to
United States so I was living in Paris debating with myself what to do,
maybe stay in Paris or maybe this or that,
By the time I was there I got acquainted with the opera and I used to go
about three or four times a week to the opera instead of working for the
revolution which I couldn't do anything I used to go to the opera.
R: What opera house, do you remember?
K: Yeah, the Opera-Comique and the Grand Opera. The Opera-Comique used to
charge twenty cents for an opera and the Grand Opera, Forty cents.
R: Do you remember anything of that?
K: Oh, do I remember? I wrote a diary while I was sitting in the opera
because the opera affected me so much. There were days when I went to
two operas in the same day. I went to the small one in the daytime and
the big one at nighttime, because I used to go standing anyway, but at
that time I could stand for two hours; for two hours to wait for the
opening of the door and it was two hours for the operas.
RI Do you remember any of the performers?
Kt Oh, yes. Sarah Bernhardt I remembered. Who else? There was a couple
of big actors, I forgot already.
R: Which one is your favorite opera?
K: That I don't remember, When I think of it I never expected that question
so I didn't think of it. But anyway, there were days I didn't make much
money and I didn't want to spend twenty cents for the opera but I wanted
to see the opera because I got acquainted with so many of them that I
liked, the good operas, Carmen, Aida, La Traviata and other ones. So
I could go at night also to the Opera-Comique, twenty cents. Usually I
used to spend about a quarter for supper, As much supper as I ate cost me
a quarter. 'And there's small restaurants and the cheapest restaurants.
R:' Were they Kosher, were you Kosher then?
K; No, -. wasn't Kosher. I stopped being Kosher when I was fifteen years
old. So the Kosher business didn't bother me, although the Jewish rest-
aurants were Kosher.
R: Were there a lost of Jews in Paris?
K: Oh, a lot, very much.