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Interview with Robert Hess, February 3, 1965, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Jewish Archives Oral Histories
Wisconsin Historical Society
summary Robert Sherman and Mrs. Joseph Baron interview Robert Hess on February 3, 1965 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mr. Hess discusses members of the Milwaukee Jewish community, early Jewish life in Milwaukee, and Jewish businesspeople. He also talks about his acquaintance with Golda Meir, and his family.
accession number WSA0141
summary Robert Sherman and Mrs. Joseph Baron interview Robert Hess on February 3, 1965 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mr. Hess discusses members of the Milwaukee Jewish community, early Jewish life in Milwaukee, and Jewish businesspeople. He also talks about his acquaintance with Golda Meir, and his family.
created 1965-02-03
Interviewee Robert Hess
Interviewer Robert Sherman,
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SHERMAN: This is Robert W. Sherman, Field Representative for the Wisconsin
Jewish Archives, and Mrs. Joseph Baron interviewing Mr. Robert Hess of Milwaukee
on February 3, 1965 about his anecdotes and--
HESS: Reminiscences.
SHERMAN: Reminiscences of the Jewish Community in Milwaukee.
HESS: Well I think in the first place, we ought to get acclimatized to the
period and area of which I shall speak. I'm trying to bespeak Jewish life as I
knew it, in what was at that time known as the Ghetto. Of course, the ghetto as
such is merely a euphemism, even at that time, there were Jews living outside
the periphery of the
ghetto. They were the rich Jews. They were to a large
extent Jews who had been here prior to the coming of East European Jewry for
some decades. But largely, the Jewish Community of Milwaukee as I knew it and
I'm speaking circa 1905 to about 1920. I say, the Jewish community as I knew it,
was circumscribed in an area, which I would loosely denote beginning on Lee
Street and Sixth, going west to about Thirteenth, Fourteenth, or Fifteenth
Street and north, just a few blocks beyond what is now known as Walnut Street.
In that area,
[coughing] and in that area, I observed the kind of Jewish life
that is now in my opinion becoming more of history and museum than real. The
second and third generation moved away and as you know have proliferated
throughout the whole county and country for that matter. But let's try to
concentrate on what was the Jewish life at that period to which, well say from
1905 up. On the first place, it was a very changing scene, immigration was still
vibrant, Jews were coming in-in large numbers. I'll remind you that in this
connection that not until the Johnson Immigration Bill was there any stoppage
Jewish immigration, and a good many came from the East, sent largely by
organizations who didn't want 'em all concentrated in the Eastern borders
and so they went West. It was a conglomerate. Most of us, most of them were
small business grocery stores, delicatessen shops, shoe shops, small impecunious
kind of businesses. A great many, great-great many were peddlers.
Let's understand, an immigrant would come and usually attached himself to a
lanzman, somebody who came from his section of Europe. A lanzman himself was a
man who was probably of very modest means, probably himself a peddler. And
this new arrival sometimes with family, mostly without, would attach himself to
a lanzman and he began to peddle. Ohh first, there was a pushcart operation, and
then as he prospered, he probably saved up enough money and got a little help
from others to buy what he called a ferrdel, which is a diminutive of a little
horse. I recall in this connection that the horse dealer of that time was
a...the horse dealers were a couple of brothers known as Tolkan Brothers,
T-o-l-k-a-n. There are all sorts of anecdotes of that period speaking of the
chicanery of the Tolkans in regard to their victims that they sold horses that
didn't match up to
representations. I recall vividly one when I was already in
the law with Joe Padway, one of these victims came in and complained bitterly of
the Tolkan Brothers. Oh they were crooks, they were in there where they picked
up enough to call them "sons of bitches" and "thieves." "And
look," he said. "He sold me a horse and he guaranteed," he said, "he was
win broke and so I didn't know any different, I bought him and so I put him on
the wagon and he don't pull. So I think maybe I got to give him more oats, so I
buy him oats. I buy him hay, but work, nothing. Now I don't know what to do Mr.
Hess." They never called me Hess as they couldn't pronounce the "H," you
know. "Oh what shall I do?" But
what could you do? They complained bitterly that
they were always cheated, how true it is, I don't know, but I do know that the
Tolkan Brothers were the distributors of the horses for the peddlers.
But let's go on, most of them were peddlers they [pause] made a precarious
living. Their economic situation was [pause] hardly enviable, notwithstanding as
was the custom of those days, these peddlers saved penny to penny to get enough
money to bring the family and ultimately most of them did bring their family.
They were boarders and it is peculiar they had to board not only themselves but
the horse, and we had in those days a good deal of
litigation between tenant and
landlord as to the position the horse had in the deal. Then there were, of
course, as I said little stores, there were a lot of delicatessen stores. Oh
some of the children of these people have become quite known, but their origins
were in this ghetto area.
Now in this ghetto area, there was some professional life, very limited, I think
as I recall it, when Joe and I got into the practice that it was 1912, I
believe, there might have been, not too exceed, oh a half-dozen other lawyers.
There were very few physicians that I remember. I remember a Doctor Nahin,
N-a-h-i-n, a Jewish doctor. My
father, who came on the scene in about 1902, was
the second Jewish doctor. Then later there came Doctor Markson, charming man who
was in general practice and then went into the specialty of [pause] skin. What
do you call that?
BARON: Dermatologist.
HESS: Dermatologist. He is the father of another well-known dermatologist
practicing now in Milwaukee. There were a limited number in professional life,
most of them at that time depended still upon non-Jewish physicians and lawyers
for that matter. Life was hard, life was complicated and yet because of the
period, it was also simple. For instance, we didn't have [pause] oh
radio, we
didn't have television, very few of us had telephones. Good deal of the
amusement of the time was concentrated in the early days of the motion picture,
and in this connection it might be interesting to note that the first motion
picture was a neighborhood house, so to speak. For the second was on Twelfth and
Walnut, where Walnut and Fond du Lac intersect. And I had the distinct
privilege, I think it is, of being one of the early lecturers. Now you've got to
remember, to whom I was talking, in the first place, the instrument of the
motion picture was a very much underdeveloped thing. It would surprise you that you got
fair ladies, and color, and all the modern--
BARON: Sound.
HESS: Sound and acoustical and so forth. It was very primitive. For instance, I
recall very vividly that there were no titles. As a matter of fact, on the
screen itself there were cross lines to indicate the periphery where the actors
could go because it all depended upon focusing them in the camera, so it was
sort of a stilted operation. Now, the duty of the lecturer was very simple. He
had to tell the story to the audience and he was in a precarious position
depending whether the audience accepted him or not. Now as matter of fact, if
they didn't accept you, they weren't kind about it, they'd knock the hell outta you.
HESS: They really
would, and so we had bouncers, bouncers to protect the
lecturer. As a matter of fact, one of our bouncers became [pause] oh, err, oh--
BARON: [inaudible]?
HESS: Shut that a minute. Let me think of that word. Became the head of the
Customs Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was our bouncer, because it was
all your life was worth if you didn't happen to hit him right. As a matter of
fact, we had another tactic, if things were too quiet, we picked a fight in
order to maintain our dignity to make 'em understand who was boss. It was
an interesting period. It was the time when Jewish life was beginning to get
acclimatized to their environmental
conditioning. And I had the rather unique
experience of translating the picture in the framework of what this Jewish life
understood. In other words, I was the voice of the picture and you became more
or less of a hero to the audience, because you made this thing vivid to them.
And, of course, I would interject a good deal of jargon, using all of the
localisms and phrases that they understood. It was cheap entertainment and the
only kind of entertainment we had. You go out today and you go to "Fair
Lady," I think you pay three and a half. They used to get in there for a nickel.
As a matter of fact, it was called the nickel show. Pictures changed, I think
either two or three times a week and there was a constant flow of nickels
into the box office. It was an interesting period. Now, there were all sorts of
characters within the area and periphery that I am describing. They always had
unique names, in...they brought over from the old country. A woman might be
known as "Sera del herbata," Sarah the Hunchback, that was her synonym, Sera del
herbata, or "Mush the hinkendinker," Morris the Cripple, one who dragged his
foot one after the other. They had all sorts of nicknames, but by God they went
through life that way. That's what they were. If "Serka the herbata" lived to be
a hundred-and-nine, she would be still "Serka the
It was in that period that Joe Padway and I began the practice of law. The
actual period begins in 1912, and maintains until both he and I had gotten out
of the area and came, quote, "donton." The sphere of our work was limited
to the kind of clientele we had. Now what was that clientele? Well there were
storekeepers, who sold their stores, landlords, who laid leases, contracts,
occasionally a personal injury case. As a matter of fact, we lived on those, the
others were just bread and butter, without very much bread or butter. And oh,
but I got a tremendous background of Jewish life because of that. I must say
also in connection with that, that we had a druggist right next door to our
office. Our offices were on Ninth and Walnut. On the northeast corner of Ninth
and Walnut, there was a drugstore that had been there for years, but in our time
was owned and occupied by a fellow by the name of Schoenkerman, a charming
[pause] intellectual with a great sense of humor. And it was at that store that
I acquired a great deal of the feel, and what I might call in Jewish the 'tumb,'
of Jewish life of that period. Schoenkerman
as the druggist, by the way
Schoenkerman has, [pause] I know, at least two children oh living here who are
physicians. The girl as I remember it, is a graduate physician, but married to a
physician. I don't know whether she's active in the practice. I think her
husband's name is Stern. The boy, of course, is Schoenkerman. Schoenkerman was a
character in himself. A Russian Jew with a fine background, and like so many of
his genera­tion, came to America and [pause] struggled through, became a
druggist and subsequently, subsequent to his pharmaceutical degree, became a
physician. It was in this drugstore that I, as I said before, got a good deal of
the feel
of community and what we call community standards of Jewish life at
that time. Recall it with me if you will, that the Jewish pharmacists of that
day or as he was called the 'druggist.' The 'druggist' was the source of all
informa­tion, not only pharmaceutical, legal, marital, everything that
happened, they came to the 'druggist.' They came to the 'druggist' when they
were arrested. They came to the 'druggist' for comfort and Boris, that was
Schoenkerman's first name. Boris was a very sympathetic ear. Now you must
remember that Joe and I had a law office right next door. Now you can understand
that in the daytime, we didn't do anything. Sure, at night we
were what the Jews
call a Yarid, a market place. The place was filled with clientele and if at the
end of the evening, we had nine dollars apiece in the till, it was a lot. So in
the daytime, we had nothing to do and I spent an awful lot of time in
Schoenkerman's, because as I told you, you never knew who'd walk in. I must tell
you, one that I remember vividly, it's mostly in Jewish, but I'll give
it to you for the record, if those who hear this will understand it, good, if
not, at least I've given you my impressions.
There walked into Schoenkerman' s store one day a rather corpulent "gezenta
eathener," one of those broad backed type with a fachelic over her head. A
fachelic is a
handkerchief. They were still orthodox, they didn't have
their own hair. In Jewish law, as you know, when a Jewish girl got married, she
cut her hair, they wore a parick, and over this "parick" they had a
fachelic. A fachelic is simply what we now call a "babushka." So she
ambles into this drugstore and has a crumpled piece of paper in her hand, hands
it to Schoenkerman and says, "Mr. druggist man sachjeck ma trea."
I'll translate as I go along, "...please take
notice," "ehobdo," I have here, "aclana rasepala," a small
prescription. "Rasepala," translated means prescription, it's a
Russian word. Now get the significance of this, she said she had a
"clana," small, rasepala, now
rasepala is the diminutive, understand.
Now, avowedly and with purpose it, was a rasepala because a resep would cost more.
SHERMAN: Oh, yes.
HESS: So, it was a rasepala. "Sadjac ma trea ibe," good enough to tell me
"this'll that was miscosten." What will it cost me? So he looks at it
and says, "Oh, adus Mrs. Golfarb dus a da costen acarat teny five nine sic
cent." "Teny fiv nine sic cent, Ban te teaner." Which means for voce,
for what? "For nine proshackays?" Now get the continuity, a proshack
is the Russian word for [pause] the Russian word for powder. In other words,
apparently the
doctor had told her that this prescription would come in nine
powders. So to go on, she said, "for vois?" For what? Remember,
he's asking for ninety-five cents for nine powders! "Whic meansta
servox miens groutten blotter.'' Do you think we get money from the streets,
from blotters? "[Inaudible]." So he sees the kind of a customer he's
got, he says, "if istinckis.'' You don't understand, Mrs. Goldfarb. "In dem
proshacken." In this powder, "Forrizine gredient," such an ingredient"
"Which cost calenasa gilt sa hast cocaine hastes, cocaine, cocaine." So she
burst out, "Wis haste porcaine remark badetainor cocaine hein cocaine have. In
bacertva nine fisic cent fer nine proshackays." I mean those are the types he
dealt with, he had the
patience of Job. He should have thrown her out on her big
fanny, [laughter] but that wasn't 'the way to handle 'em at that time. Or,
a kid came in from the neighborhood. I'll never forget this one. One of these
little bit of a tots, maybe six or seven or eight years old and hands the
'druggust' on a piece of rough, remember they had err wrapping paper for
butchers shops...
BARON: Butchers.
HESS: Remember that? Very thick, and on it is written, apparently written by an
older child, "Please Mister Druggustman man, please, with the enclosed boy send
for ten cents ipecac, my mother wants to break." Now you got to understand
what's back of this. Mother wants to break is a very loose translation of ray
mama del brecken, you
know? Heave up. That was called brecken. So this is
translated freely, "Please, Mister druggust man, please with the enclosed boy,
send for ten cents ipecac." Ipecac was something to induce vomiting. "My mama
wants the break."
BARON: [Laughter]
HESS: Those were the type of clientele we had or he had, but not only that, he
was, as I said, sort of an oracle, everything that he said was, was accepted.
And he really was square about them, if they had an ear ache he would send them
to an ear doctor, if they had a legal problem he'd send them to the well-known
firm of Padway and Hess and, but the main thing is I'm trying to give you a
picture of the changing life of that period. They also came in to him with their
troubles, and as a matter of fact he acted much in the same way as the
family court acts now. He would try to amend, he would try to bring them
together. If he couldn't, he'd send them next door to Padway and Hess. There was
also in that period [pause] a social life of a certain significance for the
growing kids, I can recall vividly, we had no escape except we'd go to lake park
for a picnic. Now Lake Park was really a venture, if we lived on Ninth and
Walnut, we had to take at least two or maybe three transfers to get to Lake Park.
The morale of the period was so entirely different. I can recall my own
experience, my father was a physician, he died in 1907, and this then was prior
to that, and I had gone with my sisters, at least one of them that I remember,
Annette, who is now a woman in the seventies still practicing medic-dentistry,
and I had my girlfriend and we went to Lake Park. Now what in God's name could
we a do in Lake Park that was vicious? In those days, hell a fellow wouldn't
dare to take a girl's hand, if he surreptitiously reached out for her hand and
petted it that was as far as the guy would dare, compared to the moralities of
today. So, we got back. We got back, I think, a little before eleven o'clock
p.m. Now mind you, this was after we'd been there and had our roast, what
do you call the...As we walked
in, the first thing I knew, I got a smack over my
jaw from my father without any explanation, but he didn't limit himself to me,
he gave another resounding smack to my sister, Annette. He couldn't imagine how
any decent people would be out after ten. I mean that was the standard of moral.
Again, apropos of the standards, the morals change. If a woman in those days
were to come to Bradford Beach and didn't have her bathing suit down to her
ankles, she'd be arrested for indecency, absolutely. Today, if she came that way
she'd be arrested for violating the peace, a riot would occur. You know, the
changes of morals. Again, I can remember very vividly in Jewish
life, the
consternation that I remember in the neighborhood when we found that one Jewish
woman living two or three houses away from ours, we lived at 903 Walnut Street,
was smoking a cigarette. Cigarette smoking was only the privilege of the whores,
the women of easy virtue. Painting their lips that was unheard of. They had a
very strict, limited sense of liberties in the sense that we know them now. I
only mention this in passing because the whole standards have...are in the
distant past. We didn't have an opportunity. We didn't have movies, we
didn't have...we had a very limited theatre, if you could afford it. Who
the hell had twenty-five cents to go to the
gallery of the Davidson? If you did,
you saved for fourteen days to be able to take in the show. Then, the whole
standards were different. There was a much more cohesive family life. Sundays,
we usually gathered, the kids I'm speaking of, around the piano and we sung the
classics of those days, whatever they were. There was very little opportunity to
go beyond that. Occasionally, we went to West Park, which is now Washington Park
or Lake Park, but that was a day's outing. If a guy wanted to take his girl out,
he had to have no less than twenty-five, thirty cents. I can remember even when
I was already a lawyer in my courting
days, I was limited because my income was
very little, I'd take my lovely Sarah and we'd go to a place called Jacob's on
Third and State. It was a famous beer hall, where they had a free lunch counter,
and I want to tell you those counters were full of beautiful, editable foods. So
you'd get your girl a glass of beer and a glass of beer for yourself, linger and
eat fifty cents worth of food in the process. But it was a very interesting life
and the thing that I like to think of is what emerged from it, from these rather
insignificant, hard beginnings. If you think in terms of the [pause] the
offspring of these people and the offspring of
the offspring, you see to what a
far extent Jewish life has progressed in the area that I speak of and I like to
feel that it isn't only true of Milwaukee, it's true generally. That very thing
also had its other side. The assimilation between Jew and non-Jew. The freedoms
that came in is probably one of answers to the problem that confronts Jewish
life today of the [pause] getting away from Jews and Judaism and so on. There it
probably...there it expresses itself in intermarriage and a freedom that their
grandfathers never had. Now whether their grandfathers lived a richer life in
the Jewish sense or not really is a debatable question, but what I'm trying
to tell you in this
discussion is to give you a sort of over tones of the life
that I knew in the ghetto.
Now, I want to bespeak another thing. There were [pause] outstanding characters
in that era. There were some who occupied [pause] governmental stature. I
remember Mr. Schlomovitz, who was the bailiff of the United States District
Court for the eastern district of Wisconsin here in the post office. Really, his
job as bailiff was a very insignificant thing in the makeup of the judiciary on
the third floor of the Federal building, but the fact that he was bailiff gave
him a
pedestal and they looked up to him as though he were God himself. And he
also became the focus. He focused everybody to him, that he took a little bit of
an advantage of the situation is neither here nor there. Finally, and for the
purpose of this reading, we'll probably have more, I'd like to say this; When I
look at Jewish life as I knew it, in what was then the so called ghetto, and I
look at what has become of the ghetto, I go up Walnut Street every so often. I
needn't tell it has become completely colored, the the houses that I knew, the
house where my mother ran the lying in hospital, the home of Schlomovitz who was
the bailiff, the home
of oh, I forget his name, the doctor who lived next door
to us. All demolished, all becoming part of the urbanry. The stores we used to
frequent; the store across the street, run by Weiss, W-e-i-s-s, the
delicatessen, run by Mr. Feder whose daughter is now a very prominent figure in
the Labor-Zionist movement. I think she was or is the president the Women
Pioneer. What I think of another grocery man, whose daughter is now head of the
Legal Aid Society. What I think of all the kids that grew up there, what became
of them and what became of the children of the children, where they are
and I
see the tremendous development, the enlarging of the scope, the opportunities
that we have and I go back to the raw beginnings, I have a kaleidoscopic view of
Jewish life from let's say 1900 to 1960. Let me give you an aside that is
interesting, among others, one of the now greats that emanated from that period
in that area and that kind of parentage was Golda Meir, now Prime, not Prime
Minister, but Foreign, Foreign Minister of Israel. I knew her very well. It so
happened that she was a Socialist and I was a Socialist and we were both members
of the Central Committee of the Socialist Party.
At that time, it was customary
to have soap boxes speeches and both she and I--
SHERMAN: Uh, we are going to continues this on the reverse side of this tape,
uh, talking about Golda Meir.
[Long pause]
SHERMAN: This is side two of the record recording of Robert Hess interviewed by
Robert W. Sherman and Mrs. Baron of Milwaukee.
HESS: Shall I go on?
HESS: I don't know how far the last tape was, we were speaking about Golda
Meir. Her maiden name was Golda Meir, oh Mabowitz, M-a-b-o-w-i-t-z. She came
with her parents approximately,
I don't know exactly, but somewhere around
1905 or 1906 or maybe a little later. As I said, she was a very ardent Socialist
[pause] and an ardent Zionist, save as she expressed her Zionism in what is
known as the Labor-Zionist Movement and I was in the, so called Alga minor,
general Zionist movement. We both were members of the Central Committee of the
Socialist Party and each of us used to go out on Saturdays or whenever the
stores were open on soap boxing in behalf of the Socialist Party. I remind you
too, this is an aside, that Socialism had quite a vogue in that period. In fact,
we elected the first Socialist Mayor of Milwaukee in
1910. Uh, she was very
active as a Zionist and active as a, as a Socialist, and I don't recall
exactly, but in the early part of the period after 1910, she went to Israel and
became increasingly important and as her party, Mapie, became dominant, she
became a dominant person in the movement, and I have always thought of her as
one of the outstanding women world over, in so far as Zionism and Jewish life is
concerned. She has reached proportions which she richly deserves. She is a very
and dedicated personage to the movement, but to revert back, her
beginnings were in Milwaukee. As a matter of fact, I think she got a degree from
the Normal School here, taught school here for a while, and shortly thereafter
went to what is now Israel, then Palestine, in its very primitive days, began
her early life in Israel in a kibbutz and grew to the proportions that we now
know her. She's a woman approximately, I would say, in middle sixties,
sixty-five or thereabouts and I've always thought of her with most affectionate
consideration, because of her beginnings and her subsequent dedication to Jews
and Jewish life and especially the
re-establishment of Israel as a homeland for
the Jews.
Now let me digress and tell you about another guy, another person. We had a
fellow here by the name of Strelzin, S-t-r-e-l-z-i-n. A very [pause] acute, able
businessman who subsequently went to New York, and I don't know, counts his
riches in millions. His contribution to Milwaukee was limited, but it's
interesting to note that he too had his beginnings in Milwaukee. As a matter of
fact, his father was a talmud...
SHERMAN: [Inaudible].
HESS: No, no. Hebrew school, talmudturder and many of the kids recall his father
and especially his mother, whom I
remember as a very gentle, loving Jewish woman
of the old school. And let me say this and if I make no other impression with
this interview, I want to go on record, having lived pretty richly myself in
both the general life of the community and Jewish life in reaching now to the
late seventies. I think the period that I speak of and especially the Jewish
woman, the Jewish mother, the "mama" of that period, we'll never have her
like again. She was the repository of all that was worthwhile for her family.
She was a devoted mother, devoted wife, struggled with her husband and both of
them had a weather eye not so much upon their
present, but as to their future,
not for themselves as translated in their hope of immortality, which rested in
what would their kids be. And to a large extent their kids didn't
disappoint them. That's all.
SHERMAN: Mr. Hess could you tell us more about the Jewish mama?
HESS: Well, I just heard an aside given to me by Mrs.Baron that there is a book
out called How to be a Jewish Mama. I don't know the book. I know nothing
about it. I don't know whether it is written in a serious vein or more or
less in a humorous vein or. Whatever there was, which contributes to how to be a
Jewish mama, it'll never be the same Jewish mama that I knew in 1900, in
1910, and in the 1920s. The Jewish mama of that
day didn't [pause] uh had
problems that certainly don't confront the Jewish mama of today. Today, the
Jewish mama is worried about whether her kid will or will not go to high school,
where is the kid after ten, worried as to whether the kid's behaving, or
whether she is in bed with some guy. The Jewish mama of yesterday never worried
about that. The Jewish mama of yesterday is an a, is a type that
has vanished from Jewish life, at least on the American scene. I don't know
what it is in other countries, I suppose that there is no real Jewish life of
that kind that I'm speaking of. In Russia today, from which these people
emanated, Jewish life has pretty well disseminated by
the Hitlerian period. I
speak only of a personal knowledge of Jewish life on the American scene using
Milwaukee as the prototype and pretty confident that what happened in Milwaukee
happened all over, especially away from the eastern, eastern coast. That Jewish
mama to her should be built some sort of monument, not of the one but of the
type. Some artist or some sculpture ought be a being that would try to depict
whatever art he has what that woman meant. She was largely the hitching post
upon which all her family life radiated. The father might be the
peddler, who
went out with his horse in the morning and suffered all sorts of indignities,
especially went to the south side. The mother was the one to whom they all came
and if you read, as I have read over the period, the few books that have been
written descriptive of that life, you will note, as I have noted that the writer
usually centrals his typification of Jewish life around the mother, the matrix.
That was the life I knew. There have been modifications with the passing of the
years, but the original has gone forever, and if she is still alive she's
too old to be of any use. I mean, I'm trying to give you the Jewish mother, the
typical Jewish mother of
the period described.
BARON: Can you tell me more about what your mother was and about her?
HESS: How did you know about my mother? Have you ever heard anything about her?
BARON: Well you've talked about her a few times.
HESS: Yeah, my mother was a good deal, though in a more modern sense, the Jewish
mama that I have just tried to describe. My mother came to America with her
husband. I think about 1887, it must be that because I was born in '88.
They went through the same struggling period that I have described only in New
York. And uh she was an akashorka, which means midwife in the old country, and
used midwifery to help her husband get through
college. By the way, that was the
custom of the time, the Jewish mother, Jewish sweetheart, would help her
husband. She worked while he went to school. And my father did go to school. My
father was a graduate of Jefferson Medical College of I think 1900 or
thereabout. He was a sickly man and I don't know the whole of it, but I know
that he was advised to get away from Philadelphia. He did get away from
Philadelphia and went to a Zionist convention in Pittsburgh, where he met
another very ardent Zionist, who became rather famous in his day, by the name of
Zolotokoff, Z-o-l-o-t-o-k-o-f-f. Zolotokoff invited him to come to Chicago as
his guest. Zolotokoff was assistant United States attorney. My father didn't
like Chicago and he was told that there was a little
shtetl, a little town
nearby known as Milwaukee. My father might like that more. So taking the old
whaleback, which was a famous ship that used to ply between Chicago and
Milwaukee for one buck, he came to Milwaukee. I don't know just what prompted
him, but there he stayed. The legend is that he was supposed to go all the way
to the coast. He did me a great injustice by not going, but there it was. The
family came and the family went to school and I graduated in the same year that
pop died, North Division High School. The first [pause] graduating class of the
now famous North Division High School, except that it wasn't the brick
building as it is now, it was
barracks. Well pa died suddenly in 1907. Not
suddenly, he died of Bright's disease and left nothing but a good name and
five-hundred dollars on the books that people owed him, which I tried to collect
with very little success. My mother had the business of taking care of the kids,
so she went back to midwifery. She went back to midwifery first as the attendant
of a Jewish woman and services began oh maybe a month or two before the birth
and continued for I don't know how long after the birth. In all sorts of
conditions, in all kinds of weather for I think the going rate at that time was
dollars for a confinement, which included all the pre and subsequent. A
hard life, very hard life, and this went on until I got back from school. I went
to the University and got back in 1913, as a graduate. I then read an ad in the
paper, which read somewhat as follows: "Best care [pause] before and during
confinement, babies adopted." And there were three institutions, or two before
mother's, one was known as the Fuze Home, the other the Doctor Hibkey Home.
Doctor Hibkey has some sons who are still
physicians. I made an inquiry and
discovered what it was. That usually it was a girl who would become pregnant,
illegitimately, and she'd come to this home when things became rather obvious
and the home would take her in and go through the confinement and then have the
baby adopted. This was before the period of the social services and any controls
and it became much of a pretty thriving business. The demand for adopted
children was great and the fee was commensurate, but the ability of the person
who wanted the baby very badly to pay. So the result was that mother gave up
this miserable going out at night and all kinds of weathers to a Jewish home,
itself pretty
modest, and continued that practice until 1919. My mother was a
different kind of type of, I mean as distinguished from the rest of the mothers
of the children that we [pause] associated with. She was liberal and the kids
almost instinctively recognized her liberality. She would wink her eye at things
that the other mothers would slap the little rear for, whether it was good or
bad, I don't know, but I remember that she was quite understanding about this
business of adolescence and getting older and so on. She was in her way a very
[pause] intelligent woman. She spoke Russian fluently until the day of her
She was very much to the left and militantly so. I recall very clearly
once that I got a letter from a friend of mine that my mother who then
seventy-seven was picketing the May Store at Los Angeles. Mind you, she'd
come in from, come in from Venice and the only way she'd get from Venice would
be the interurban, which is twenty, thirty miles away to picket unfair to
organized labor at seventy-two. She had a very, very [pause] dominate [pause]
feelings. She was always right, the other side didn't have a chance. I was a
Zionist and she was
terribly anti-Zionist, terribly anti-Zionist, it was
imperialism, it was capitalism. A matter of fact, she went to Russia, a to
Palestine with Joe Padway, in his company, and she came back and she was more
vitriolic than before. She was a...she was an individualist, but to her ever
glory must be said, she too had that typically Jewish sense of values, which
wanted to have her kids better than she was economically, socially,
intellectually, schooling, etcetera, with the net result that the fact is I did
become a lawyer. It was she that insisted that Annette, my sister, should have a
profession, and it is
interesting to note that my sister is one of the very
early woman graduates of Marquette class of 1914. She was a very powerfully
dominate personality, who would brook no interference with what she thought was
proper. I had many a quarrel with her, but I certainly remember her as being
that the type that [pause] heroes are made of, in her way, that was my mother.
SHERMAN: This is the end of the taping session with Mr. Robert A. Hess of
Milwaukee on February 3, 1965. Mr. Hess has promised to edit and
record further
reminiscences and anecdotes of the Jewish community and on his law partner, Mr.
Joe Padway.