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Interview with Peter Ottenstein, February 21, 1961, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Jewish Archives Oral Histories
Wisconsin Historical Society
summary Bill Marten interviews Peter Ottenstein on February 21, 1961 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mr. Ottenstein discusses his activities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin since his immigration in 1905, the establishment of Palestine as a separate Jewish state, Zionist fund raising and leaders in Milwaukee, and Ottenstein's attempt to settle in Israel in 1950. Note: There is a woman talking over the first several minutes of the interview.
accession number WSA0143
summary Bill Marten interviews Peter Ottenstein on February 21, 1961 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mr. Ottenstein discusses his activities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin since his immigration in 1905, the establishment of Palestine as a separate Jewish state, Zionist fund raising and leaders in Milwaukee, and Ottenstein's attempt to settle in Israel in 1950. Note: There is a woman talking over the first several minutes of the interview.
created 1961-02-21
created Unknown Date
Interviewee Peter Ottenstein
Interviewer Bill Marten
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MARTEN: This is Bill Marten, staff member of the State Historical Society
of Wisconsin. [Inaudible] I will be interviewing Mr. Peter Ottenstein in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin in his home.
OTTENSTEIN: I was born May 2, 1891 in White Russia in [inaudible] in the Jewish
world as a Jewish [inaudible]. I came in 1905 to the United States and I went to
the grammar school for one year. I would have continued
school, but I was
nearsighted and at that time they wouldn't tell me that I needed glasses.
So I was just begging the teacher to put me in the first row and I couldn't see
the blackboard. She said, "Well, that's all I can do for you." So when I
finished the first year, I went as an apprentice in a tailor shop, to learn as a
machine operator. And [pause] I wanted to study, you see. Of course in Europe, I
was studying the Talmudic - I was a Talmudic student and I wanted to continue
the language and so forth. So I start to read Jewish, which is the closest thing
and I
joined the Labor Zionist movement which was just in the beginning-I would
say in about 1908, about two-three years later when I came to the United States.
They had a library, translations of French novels, Emile Zola, and all the
Russians, Tolstoy. And everything that I could lay my hands on, I read. Then I
started to read the Jewish classics and I continued to read 'til today. Got
a nice library and my biggest pleasure is reading, when I relax. I never play
cards or any other things. Reading is my biggest pleasure. And being
involved in
Jewish study, Jewish life and Jewish culture and Jewish perpetuation was to
[inaudible] the religion, you see. When we came - I came here to the United
States in the time of the so-called radical movement, when everybody threw off
religion you see. But [pause] but I was nationalistically inclined, you see? And
as soon as he was about 18 years and they opened up the first Jewish school we
called it the Jewish Hochschule.
I was one of the teachers, there were three of
us, one of my closest friends, he died just last May, man by the name
[Inaudible] Stein. A young fellow, [inaudible], he died very early in life, he
was a young fellow. He used to go out and [inaudible] tried to get children to
come. You know, when the Jewish came to the United States, we country men, to
throw off the old and the Jewish life, with the exception of the orthodox, you
see, the young people joined the socialist
movement and becomes a part of the
labor Zionist movement. We also used to campaign for the socialist party like
the first time Herman Seidel was elected in Milwaukee. We helped along quite a
bit. And at that time as soon as the labor movement-was the strongest, the
extreme movement - I wouldn't call them, they were not communist, but they
were socialist - and it was composed largely of the socialist branch, Jewish
branch, and branches of the workingmen's
circle. They used to mock us...mock at
us, laugh at us,"Zionists, dreams, fantasies," And "it'll never be realized" and
so forth and so on. But we believe just like the orthodox Jew believes in the
Almighty God, he believes that you'll someday attain independence which we are
[inaudible] realizing now. And I devoted the rest of my life to the cause of
labor Zionism and then for the working of independence of Israel. I'd like to
rest for a
It was - I left off with Yiddish [inaudible], the Jewish school and we taught
Yiddish, Hebrew, history and Jewish folk songs and the children were very very
enthusiastic about it. I know I never took up teaching as a profession but the
love of the children, I like children in general you see. And to teach them the
Jewish language was to me, it seems that the children felt it, because you could
drop a pin and you could hear the pin drop, it was so
quiet when in class and I
wasn't a professional. Because I'd give each one attention and I'd show them
each one should write exactly and you know when I was through in six months,
each one had my handwriting. It was remarkable, my step always right around the
[inaudible] became involved, we got some more of our comrades, we called them
[inaudible]. It was at that time I got acquainted with [pause] Golda's sister,
Golda Meir. And I was the first one who got acquainted with Golda. Golda was
about sixteen years, I presume. And I asked her if
she would join our staff to
teach Yiddish and Hebrew. She enthusiastically accepted it and joined us and we
had another girl, Dr. Faler, now, she's a doctor in Cincinnati or somewhere
[pause] and later on we acquired a few more of our friends. There was a
gentleman, a scholar, he was a profession, by profession a lawyer. He could
speak French, Russian, Hebrew and he joined us to teach history. Later on we had
another gentleman, by the name Coppelov. He later went with Golda Meir to Israel
[pause] in 1921. And we used to teach these children and we gradually got more
and more and then we felt that this isn't enough, that this circle of Jewish
education is too small and we started a movement to teach Yiddish or Hebrew in
the public schools. And that is our movement, the labor Zionists and it was
promoted here in town.
The so-called east side, which we called the reform Jews with Rabbi
at the head of it were opposed to it. The reason, because they were trying to
assimilate the Jews into so called America. That was the understanding that
America was the means it assimilate and dissolve ourselves. We couldn't
attain it and we started a movement to [pause] get Jewish books in the public
library. That we were successful and in order that we should, shouldn't press on
the public school [pause] question...They gave us, there was a so called Lincoln
House, built by these so called east side Jews, which we,
we used to call them
the reformed Jews. The gave us a Lincoln House. It was nice in comparison. What
we had, we had a very old dilapidated building with very poor classrooms and
this looked like a palace and we enlarged it and then we got a hold of a young
student that studied [inaudible] as a dentist. And he was a cantor's son
and he taught our children Jewish folk songs. It was beautiful, he had choirs
and then later on organized a Jewish choir that we used to have public concerts.
It was a remarkable choir from about forty, fifty - a mixed
We later on, there wasn't one phase of Jewish life that our movement wasn't
Interested, Except I must admit, we weren't Interested in the synagogue, which
nowadays is just the opposite. Most of our comrades went back to the synagogue.
Not only that, we are going so far as to give our children a Jewish education, a
religious Jewish education, a traditional Jewish education, I know I personally
have a grandson that I pay about $46 a month for his education, in an orthodox
school where they teach Hebrew and English, simultaneously, because first of
all, we feel that to be a good American, you've got to be a good Jew; If you're
a good Jew, you're a good American. And second, we have such a rich culture, the
Jewish culture, and if-if people don't know, naturally, it means nothing to
them. But if anybody that knows and studies and realizes, what a rich heritage
we have, and we just throw it away, is ridiculous. It's just - you find people
do it. For instance, you see I'm not
orthodox, but it's worthwhile that a child
should know all the tradition, every phase of Jewish life, [pause] all the
ceremony. There is such a rich ritual in the orthodoxy, but believe it or not,
it is a rich ritual and it's beautiful. And we don't give our children - we
deprive them of the most beautiful heritage. I know I've - my children - I have
given a secular education and it isn't enough. My daughter, she is now the
of a rabbi. He doesn't practice rabbihood, but she is very intelligent, and she
is intelligent and they are going to the synagogue every Saturday and they have
their children go to a parochial school. Their children speak Hebrew and English
just as well they speak both languages. And they know all the ritual and
tradition and my oldest grandson-I was on December the 16th in New York
[inaudible. He was reading from the Torah, that is the
scriptures, which very
few can do it with the cantalization, you know, the music of it, just as it's
supposed to, That after he was through, a woman came up to him - she is
arranging for a small congregation, she says. I'll give you a hundred dollars if
you'll read the Torah for us on the high holidays. That's the type of education
that I personally would like to see every Jewish boy. You see, there is a
thought of among Jews that if they go to parochial school, they will not be
enough. My grandchildren I can assure you, they mix with the non-Jewish
boys, play baseball and they'll tell you every baseball leader and so forth and
so on, regardless if they go to a parochial school.
And to my opinion, I think there is a movement in the United States among the
Intelligentsia that to preserve the foreign culture, to preserve the foreign
language, not to be just a one-single speaking language, people of one language,
while In Europe speak half a dozen languages. I was In Israel three
times and
you'll talk to a cab driver, he'll talk to you In any language you want to. Here
In the United States, If you talk another language, they tell you right away,
speak English. And It's funny that people that have an Inferiority complex are
afraid or they are ashamed to read their language. I know If I am on a bus or a
train or on a plane, if I have a Jewish magazine, I read It just as frankly as I
read in English. And I read a lot of English - as a matter of fact, any good
book that Is out, I am there to read It. And that doesn't mean that I
read Jewish. First of all, Jewish Is closer to me. You know I came In 1905 and
my brothers, they have no accent at all. I've got a brother In
Washington, Joe Ottenstein, and he says to me, "How is it that you got an
accent?" You know, because I always mingled with a Jewish crowd. We always
spoke Yiddish among ourselves. It was a pleasure to talk our language.
Well, go back to our movement. It was during the,
after the first world war,
when the Jews were persecuted by the Russians and the United States we started
out-I think some of my colleagues already told you about It, there was a relief
fund here that we used to go from house to house and raise nickels, dimes and
quarters and so forth and so on. I remember there was one time that we proposed
each one should give a day's wages. And I remember that Golda Meir was standing
on Walnut Street on a soapbox on one corner and I was standing on another corner
and we were appealing to the people to contribute a day's wages. At that time, a
day's wages was
about three dollars. But It was a lot of money at that time. And
Golda Meir gradually grew up In our movement. At that time, as I mentioned
before, that the so-called left wing of the labor movement, the Socialist, the
working circle as well as the Jewish-speaking branch of the Socialist Labor
Party. After the first world war, a movement for the Jewish Congress started all
over the United States and in Milwaukee also.
And [pause] we called a conference
of all the organizations belonging to the labor movement, our movement as well
as the workmen's circles, the socialists and so forth and so on. And we argued.
We asked that all demands of the peace conference should be national loan for
the Jewish in Israel, in Palestine, at that time. And we should have minority
rights in-in the European countries, like we were granted minority rights after
the first world war in Lithuania and
we-had a ministry of Jews-Jewish,
especially for Jews, which they took up the Jewish education, the Jewish social
life and so forth and so on. In fact, the entire Jewish life was organized on a
basis of autonomy.
Well, the other side, the so-called - we called them assimilated Jews - they
said, "We'll go along with you on Jewish autonomy in diaspora, but we are
opposed to a Jewish owned land." Now it's to laugh about, but they fought
tooth and nail and they called us traitors because we told them that we are
walking out of the
conference, if they insist that we shouldn't have a clause
for a Jewish state in Palestine, then we are walking out. And they called us
traitors. And when they called us traitors, I wasn't a delegate and Golda wasn't
a delegate to that conference and we were standing in the hall and listening to
it. And when Golda heard that they called us traitors, she cried. She cried. I
says, "Golda, now if you can cry, you're eligible to join the labor movement,
our Zionist movement." And then she joined and she became very active. We could
see right away that she's an outstanding personality.
To give you an idea of the movement,
[pause] [inaudible] impression of the
people, of the Jews in Milwaukee, I was chairman of the district, of the Jewish
district right here in the heart of the Jews that was on Eleventh and Vine
Street. There was a temple called [inaudible]. I had about a thousand voters in
that temple. The campaigns that we conducted, I can assure you that the
Republicans and Democrats can take lessons from us. It was so fiery, so hot, you
know, the east
side, the reformed Jews, they wanted to elect their men. They had
Charles Friend, a lawyer, which is passed and also one of our men, Nathan Svent,
and a Jewish poet, Ephraim Swarsinsky. He is a New Orleans, he is a very
outstanding Hebrew poet. Those three were running and two were supposed to be
elected. And Friend and Swarsinsky were elected. Well, Friend wasn't elected, so
they demanded Swarsinsky and Svent were elected. So they demanded a recount.
we were counting the votes all night Sunday. Then we had a recount on Wednesday
all night. And I said, Charles Friend was elected, as well as Ephraim Swarsinsky
and they went to the Jewish Congress.
To give you just a few more episodes of, I was very active in the movement all
my life, and later on we felt that the [pause] Jewish or rather the Lincoln
House is not our home. So we bought a home on Eleventh and Vine Street. I don't
want to brag about
it, because I never told any public, but I had - we made - we
had a down payment and each of us contributed so much. I had only two-hundred
dollars and I was a married man with children. I contributed the whole
two-hundred dollars of what I had for that school that we organized. It's
nothing to be - it's not a matter of showing off. To me, it was my religion,
just like an orthodox Jew will build a temple, on the same basis, you see. He'll
contribute his last dollar. And then we organized our school there and we-we
hired professional teachers. We brought down a teacher from New York, Mrs.
[Inaudible], a man by the name of Solomon Shapiro. He is now the leader of the
entire movement of our schools throughout the United States. And he tried to
organize here a very high standard school. We brought down a teacher from
Israel, but it wasn't enough, you see. We had several teachers. They were - what
he accomplished in one semester, they would kill it in the next semester. And I
was chairman of
the fund - we didn't get no funds from nowhere. We had to raise
our own funds. I was chairman of the school and I arranged - that was in 1937, I
arranged the bazaar and we raised $4500. Then the pupils used to pay, some of
them $1, some $2.00, some $3.00, some $4.00 a month that was the highest they
would pay and that's the way we used to get along to cover our budget.
Then in 1935, that was the school...In 1935, I was chairman of our
branch and I
felt that the Jewish National Fund, which was one of our most sacred funds,
every Jew feels that one of the most sacred funds. The Jewish National Fund is a
fund to the redemption of the land of Israel. Even now, we raise funds that the
land shouldn't belong to Individuals, but the land should belong to all the
people. If anybody wants land, he gets it. As long he is on the land, it's
his. If he doesn't want to work, he can walk away, but the land belongs to the
Jewish people forever and not only to the people of Israel, but to Jewish people
throughout the world. We raise
funds for that, we raise funds to-in the form of
trees, to plant trees. You know, in Israel there was no trees at all until the
Jews came. Now there is millions and millions; Every year there is millions of
trees being planted in Israel. And not only that, the Jewish National Fund
develops the land. Where there is swamp she dries it; Where there is no water,
she tries to get water, to restore water rather. And I felt when I was chairman,
that the Jewish National Fund is being neglected. I just looked into it and I
saw that after the year 1935, nothing with the exception of $76 dollars was
raised. And the Jewish National Fund always raised thousands and thousands of
dollars. Now we'll raise just from box collections alone $10,000 a year or more.
Besides these, there is an enormous amount, I don't exactly know the figure what
they raise, but at that time is as I stated before, I felt that the Jewish
National Fund was being neglected. You see, the Jewish National Fund is a
council which is united, affiliated with all Zionist organizations like the
Hadassah, general Zionists, labor Zionists, the religious
Zionists, and the
pioneer women, and so forth and so on. You see, all the groups are united in a
national foreign council and we raise funds for that purpose. Well at that time,
I said, I felt that something was wrong there, so I resigned as chairman and I
went over there. The first year, I just looked on and helped establish something
and we raised $2,000 dollars. That was the first $2,000 dollars. Then the next
year, I arranged a bazaar downtown in the auditorium and I had a brother of
mine, which was a very prominent businessman, Royal Lobotzke, as the head of the
bazaar. And the first
time for many years, that was in 1936, that we raised
$10,000 dollars net. And there was a big-big sum at that time. And from this
year was the nucleus of the organization that is now the Jewish Welfare Fund.
The next year, [pause] the Zionist organization called me up, since I was the
head of the fund raising. They thought, well this man knows how to raise money.
So we got together and I told him that you see in that fund, that bazaar that we
had, we took in as partners the [inaudible], the labor of Israel, they got fifty
percent and the national fund got fifty percent. And I told him that we should
get a meeting, get together and take in the [pause] Palestine Fund, it's called
[inaudible]. So they happened to have Louis Lipsky, one of the leading Zionists,
is 87 years old now. He's the most outstanding leader of the general Zionists in
the United States. They had him in Milwaukee and we had a meeting with him and I
told him that we should make a, we should have a drive and we
should have the
[inaudible] also in the three funds, for the Jewish National Fund, for the
[inaudible] group. That is, the labor movement in Israel as well as the
[inaudible] [Palestine Fund]. Well [inaudible] Louis Lipsky said that it is a
wonderful idea and it appealed to him that we should go together and organize
and we appointed a committee to get a chairman. The main thing in a drive, at
that time, was if you have a prominent chairman then you can succeed. Well, I
suggested it was a prominent lawyer, Joseph Padway, I don't know if you've ever
heard of him. He was the former
attorney for the Federation of Labor. He was an
outstanding, a marvelous man. Shrewd and intelligent and very wise man, I would
say. I was on the committee and a lawyer by the name Glass and Sampson of the
Sampson, [inaudible]. And we went out to...I suggested Joe Padway. So we went
out there, we had a talk with him. He says, "Boys, I'd love to do it," but he
told us what he's got work and he's occupied and he can't do it. So I said to
him, "Joe, think it over. We'll be back
Saturday." Well, we were back Saturday,
Sampson wasn't along, but Glass was along. We came there and he told us the same
story. He says, "Sorry, can't do it," and we walked out and Glass, says, "Well,
Ottenstein, it seems like we'll have no campaign." I says, "Well, we'll
have a campaign." He says, "Whom have you got for a chairman now?" I says,
"Joe Padway." He says, "You're crazy." I says, "I'm not crazy, but Joe Padway is
going to be chairman." So I went down to my brother-in-law, Royal Lobotzke. I
says, "You go down to Rabbi Trasky." And Joe Padway was an admirer of
that rabbi, Hasidic
rabbi. And he took along a few more old timers and they went
out to him Sunday morning and they sat there until one o'clock or two
o'clock, I don't recollect, and he accepted it. And then we came together to
organize, and [pause] we set a goal of $25,000 and we went over the top. We
raised $28,000. Now it's a drop in the bucket. At that time, it was a lot of
money. So the- before we are through with the campaign, [pause] the reformed
Jews called us up. They wanted-we should unite. We should also take in the joint
distribution committee, which now is a part of it. Now everything is in the
United Jewish Appeal. Well, I told him I wouldn't. I explained to Joe
Padway the old story. At that time, it was-when these reformed Jews practically
were running the whole show. You see the Zionists, they gave forty percent, they
took sixty percent. You see, they are--it's not the forty and sixty, it
the-was to put them on a lower grade, you see, that was the idea. Principally,
you see, it wasn't right, you see, because we were equal partners. For instance,
now the joint does in
Israel all the work that has to be done. They take care of
the old age and so forth and so on. But at that time, they exclusively confined
themselves to Europe. They wouldn't do anything in Israel. Naturally, we wanted
to get more money for Palestine as it was called at that time. So they called
us, Gimbels, I forgot the name of the old man who died, he was the president of
Gimbels. So they said, "They were wondering how you could raise so much
money." He says, "There's Ottenstein, He raised $10,000, just imagine
all these rich people." That same - oh, I can't remember his -
he bought a
giraffe for the Washington Park Zoo and he raised $10,000 dollars, but he
couldn't raise $10,000 dollars for the European Jews that were in such calamity
that they had nowhere to get any relief. So they suggested to us that we should
join together and I told Joe [Inaudible] the whole story and he orientated
himself very, very well. And he said he told them we are going alone and we'll
show you that we can do it. And we went alone and after we went through with the
campaign and we went over the top, then they called us together again and it was
the former president of the Boston
Store, Nate Goldstein, and there was an
outstanding lawyer, I forget his name, he's also dead. And we had a conference
for hours and hours debating. They wanted-we should join together. Everybody was
for we should join together, I was the only one who opposed it for the reason, I
said, "If we join, you're going to run the show and we, the Zionists, we are
going to be the tail end and that's what we don't want. " And Nate Goldstein
came up to me, "Ottenstein, don't worry." You know he sat down next to me and he
says "[Estad Root?]." I says, "I'm not just worried about [Estad Root?],
I'm worried about the plain common Jew, that we shouldn't be degraded. We are a
proud people and we want to be equals, not just to be the tail end as I said
before." Then he was agreed that everything will be alright and took a vote.
Naturally, when everybody voted, the majority was for it and I agreed too. Then
I suggested we should raise $100,000 dollars for the first campaign. "No," they
says. "Ottenstein is flying in the air, A hundred-thousand dollars." "What do
you mean a hundred thousand dollars?" So they agreed to $75,000 dollars. We
ran over the top.
And at that time we organized, there was a young lawyer, Nathan Stein, he knew
all the mechanics. He actually organized the Jewish Welfare Fund and He put it
on a basis that it's actually, ‘til today, is actually doing. Milwaukee,
really can be proud of it, Milwaukee is raising not only for the joint, for the
Zionists, but they're taking the hospital, the vocational school, Jewish
education, national organizations, like various funds
educational, like the
[Inaudible] College we'll say gets $500 dollars, the American Jewish Committee
gets $5000 dollars. Just a few glances to give you an idea of the - they've got
a number of education like the [Teckneon?] the Hebrew University and the
Hadassah, all these organizations, Jewish Cultural Organization, all, everything
that's pertaining to Jewish life is in the Jewish Welfare Fund. If I may say, I
don't agree on many contributions they are making. I just can't help it. That's
the way a fund is. Theres's-if people are around the
fund, certain
organization or certain fund is their hobby, they'll contribute more. But in
general, I think it's the most wonderful thing that the Jews of Milwaukee ever
accomplished in the area.
To give you-I've got a thousand different things to give you, details. What I
went through, there were times that Sampson, he died, you know these stores, if
you know, he's got- his sons are running his appliance stores, very wealthy
people. He used to ask me, "Ottenstein, haven't you got anything else to do but
meetings?" You know I would drop my work at twelve o'clock and go down to a
meeting, have lunch, and discuss and so forth and so on. In the evening, again
meetings and I would neglect my family, 'cus that was my life, you see.
Everything pertaining to Jewish life and not only Jewish life, I'm interested in
everything going on in the United States. Everything pertaining to - I can tell
you, everything that is going on from the President, down to the governor, or
the city mayor. I'm interested in everything. I'm - I'll be seventy-one and I
wish my youngsters would be alive to everything that goes on in this world as I
And if we should bring Jewish culture, Jewish education, to the Jewish youth
we will have a type, what I am. I hope there should be many like me. I don't go
out in the streets and pat myself on the shoulder, but I'm just telling you,
because everything human is dear to my heart and everything Jewish and
everything American is dear to me. I know - I think I love America more than
American boy, because they take it for granted. And I know, what I went through
as a
child in Russia and I can appreciate the United States more than any American.
I know my daughter, she was about eighteen or twenty years, she joined the WACs
in the first world-during, the second world war and she was very serious just
like I am. She came home once and cried because they laughed at her. She was a
recruiting officer. "What do you mean women soldiers?" Now it's not only a
common thing, it's a necessity. You take Israel-is doing a marvelous job of
training the women soldiers just like the
men and they are doing a wonderful
job. To my opinion, that the United States wouldn't be out of place if they
would draft the girls just as well as the boys, give them discipline, education,
and in Israel they teach them a vocation too as well. Well, I hope that my talk
can be of use to you and thank you.
MARTEN: Would you just...would you just fill in just a little bit?
OTTENSTEIN: Well in 1949, the end of 1949, I decided to settle in Israel.
[Pause] I was in Newport News for seven years and I liquidated my business
and I bought new furniture and I emigrated to Israel. When I came to Israel, I
came with a plan. Being with Newport News, I was a news dealer. I used to sell
magazines and newspapers for over $100,000 dollars a year in a news stand. So I
thought, I'll come there and I made arrangements. My brother is one of the
largest news dealers in the United States in Washington D.C. and he made
arrangements with the companies, where he buys his pocketbook editions, that I
could get them for a nickel apiece, and in Israel they were
hungry for it. You
see, the best literature is not being sold in the United States. You know, these
detective stories, murder stories, that you sell is not good literature. They
publish, it doesn't sell. Naturally, they go to foreign countries and I was
figuring to buy here in the United States for my dollars and sell them in Israel
for Israeli pounds. Then I applied for permission from the government and the
government rejected. They says, "We need more important things than
magazines." And I couldn't get it. I took it-was heartbreaking to tell you
the old story, what I went through. Golda called me up and asked me what she can
do for me, I
says, "You can't do nothing, the only thing you can do is you
can give me a hearing at the [pause] educational ministry, it's called
[Inaudible]. And if they would give me a hearing, I would explain to them what I
want to do." So finally, she got a-they invited me-she called me up and I
explained what I wanted to do and they wanted to protect the jobbers there. They
say, "What do you want to bring?" I said, "I want to bring Life Magazine, Time
Magazine." "Well," he says "[Inaudible] this one [inaudible]."
Another jobber couldn't get in there. You see, that was the old
time. It's
protection. It wasn't, you see, there's a lot of people think that it was only
the labor movements, since they were the head of the government, that they could
push in their own people. I was a labor Zionist and that had nothing to do with
it. They protected this man that never had anything to do with the labor
movement. But he was a jobber in Israel for so many years and he was protected,
that's all. They couldn't do nothing about it. So, I tried. I went to the
president of the Manufacturers Association in Tel Aviv. And I told him my story,
"I'd like to invest $25,000-$30,000 or more" and he gave me a number of
manufacturers I should go. That needed
American capital. So I went to one
manufacturer, chemist, and he tells me that he makes the-the serum for the
injection of chicken's. He says, "He's got twelve million customers."
I says, "It's a wonderful business." I says, "I'd like to invest
in a business like that." I says, "How much? how many pounds would you
like?" He says, "He don't want pounds." I says, "What do you
want to do?" He says, "He wants to build a factory in another
city." I says, "You don't need no dollars, you need pounds." He
says, "But I want dollars." The reason was, you see, at that time, the
pound was $2.80 per for the
dollar, or $2.80 for a pound. Now, it's $3.00, three
pounds for the dollar. At that time, it was the opposite. It was three dollars
for the pound. And you know, as a businessman, I saw the pound, by at that time,
what a pound could buy and I saw the dollar can buy more than the pound. So I
told him, "At least," I says, "let's make an equal change, the
dollar for the pound." He said, "No, if you want to do business with us,
give us $2,80 for the pound." I wouldn't do it.
One of the richest men in
Israel was an African Jew. He had gold mines in
Africa. He was the president of the African Association and they had their
houses' insurance companies, cold storage houses and they needed a quarter of
a million dollars for cold storage machinery. And one Saturday afternoon, he
tells me the story. He says, "Their corporation pays 12% dividends a year,
plus 10% bonus in the stock." I said, "I'll buy these." He says, "We
can't give you the market price." He says, "We need $215,000. We'll
pay you
7%." So I told it to my son-in-law. He said, "It's impossible, 22%
dividend." He said, "Show me the perspectives." I said, "Okay,
let's go down to [inaudible]." You know, he had a palace of a house that he
lived in and that was the smaller house. The real palace, that was turned over
to the American ambassador. The government asked him and he turned it over to
the American ambassador. So we came over there and he showed him and that's the
way it is. You know my son-in-law he says, "I'll go to United States because he
can raise money." He just sold recently two and a half million in Mexico
for the Hilton Hotel they are building in Tel Aviv,
and he could easily raise
the money. See, he worked at a time for Weizmann Institute as a director for a
publicity director. So he was astonished. He couldn't believe that it's really
so. But then he says, "I'll go to the United States. At 22% we can raise
the money overnight." He says, "We will not take any [inaudible] a closed
corporation. We will not take outside of South African Jew." He says,
"We'll pay you 7%." He says, "Thanks very much anyway," and walked away. The
same thing, I went to Haifa. In Haifa, there was [pause]
a chemical company that
produced paint and they had no trouble in selling the project because of all the
ships coming into Haifa - you know in every port they have to paint their
boats-but they needed more capital. I says, "Okay, I'll invest my $5,000." He
says, "Thank you, we'll give you seven percent." But he says, "We don't
[inaudible] you." And that's the way we went from one to the other. Then my
son was with me. He's in business with me now. And the driver for the president
of [inaudible], [pause] he suggested to me that we should make a
MARTEN: [inaudible].
OTTENSTEIN: You know, my son, he is in business with me now. He is in Israel too
and we wanted to make a garage, bring machinery from the United States and so
forth and so on to fix machines, automobiles. And this driver, [Inaudible]
driver, he suggested that we should go as partners to this. My son and the
driver and another party. He was a mechanic, a first-class mechanic. He would
invest - he had a lot on the - in a
very prominent place on the
crossroads from Tel Aviv to other cities. And the mechanic would Invest his
knowledge and I would invest the capital. I said, "Good." I said, "I'll bring
$10,000 dollars worth of machinery from the United States. Now what will I be
credited with?" He said, "$3,000 - Three-thousand pounds." I told him, "No
deal." Because it's ridiculous, you see. If we'll bring-the machinery at
that time, in Israel, was worth not only $10,000, but three times ten thousand,
they were actually starving for machinery. I knew a lot of people, which they
told me.
I had friends there, which they are since the first world war, when
they were in the Legion. Especially one, a contractor. They told me. He says,
"Machinery is-is a better than gold." But, these people wherever I
went that was the same thing they wanted three pounds-three dollars for the
pound, and I couldn't do nothing. Until one day, my son-in-law, my daughter
lived in Israel for seven years and they had three children in Israel which they
are called Sabras. They are now in the United States, in New York. He works for
the [Inaudible] College for three or four years then for
New York [pause] City
College. New York University, rather, for the Jewish Cultural Department, but he
resigned and he is working now for investment company for Israel.
I would've stayed in Israel, if I could have only be occupied. You see, I'm
a man that can't sit still. I'm going to be seventy-one in May. I just
can't sit still. Today, in weather like that, I was out and all this year I
made about a hundred and fifty miles. I have a driver but gotta go out and sell
the stuff. And the driver don't sell that
stuff. And over there, I had
nothing. I had a friend that had an orchard, a grapefruit grove and he invited
me to help him pick the grapefruit. To me, it was the biggest joy if I could be
occupied. He gave me a sack to put it around and showed me how to do it and gave
me [inaudible] and showed me how. He says, "First of all, [inaudible
]." it was a pleasure you see. I wanted to be a driver, anything, as long
as to be occupied. But that time you couldn't do nothing. The government
told me my son-in-law was going to the government. They told him to bring tires;
we need tires. You can't bring the magazines, but you can bring the tires.
"Okay, I'll bring tires and what will I make on it?" He said,
"We'll give you
eighteen percent. That's pretty good, isn't it?"
But I would have to pay 280 for the pound, $2.80 for the pound, against three
dollars. So my money would be practically nothing. Now, for instance if I would
have $30,000, now it would be worth 10,000 pounds. See, now you can get three
pounds for the dollar. [pause] So yes, sure. My capital would practically wiped
out eventually and I didn't feel like that at my age, almost sixty years.
So along comes a man - he
was described in the New York Times last week. The
man that was blind for forty years and while being blind he made millions of
dollars. He got a turnover of 35 million dollars a year. He's in the
gasoline, oil, and coal business. He was on the Israeli, he was a contributor to
the Weizmann Institute and he came to our house. Since my son-in-law was the
public relations director, he invited him to our house. I took care of him. At
that time you couldn't get nothing, even for American money. You see later
on, they caught on, that it pays to import stuff to get American dollars, you
can make money. It took 'em a couple of years, you see, until they learn.
Now they - it's growing business there. You couldn't
get an egg. You had
three eggs a week. Now, they don't know what to do with eggs. They imported last
year fifty million eggs. The United States government asked Israel not to dump
so much eggs on the world market. They've got too much poultry. They've got too
much vegetables. You see a little country like that-the desert, where they can
produce. The only thing they lack is wheat, bread, because you need big fields
for that large areas. Someday, it will be when they'll be able to irrigate the
desert. That is the southern part of Israel. There is big stretches, you know,
the southern part of
Israel is practically three-quarters of Israel. The desert,
that desert, will be someday blooming like the north. I remember, I was in 1947,
I was the first time I was in an [inaudible]. I was in Israel and I came to a
place on the northern in Galilee. It's called the Hoolah, was swamp, not much
and now it's the most fertile country in Israel. They drained it and now there
is they have settlement after settlement continuously.
I jump from one subject to the other because I, you know, I've got so much in
that [pause]. So
this gentlemen came to me one day and says, "You know,
Ottenstein, a lot of people approach me I should go to Israel, but I have
confidence in you - I don't why - I have confidence in you. I'll give you an
equipment of a hundred trucks and bulldozers, those cranes, and see what you-
can do with it." And the proposition is this way. He had a son in the University
in the Hebrew University, he should get fifty percent, I should get thirty-three
and a third percent and twelve and a half percent should go to the Weissman
Institute. He says, "You don't have to invest a cent." I said, "Okay."
So I start to negotiate in various
groups, you know. Everybody was smart. This
one offers me - equipment was worth almost-three-quarters of a million dollars,
and I told Golda Meir. You know, she used to invite me often to her house and I
told her. She said, "It's a wonderful thing. Try to bring it here. We need
it." So, one company offered me twenty-five thousand pounds [pause] and they
should get an equal share of forty-nine percent. We should get forty-nine
percent and two percent for impartial people. Well, I didn't even answer him. So
I went to the federation of labor. Estad Root, if you heard, but you see the
Estad Root is the federation of labor, but they are
also the biggest corporation
in Israel. They have a turnover of probably-probably half a billion to a billion
pounds, dollars a year. See they've got glass factories, cement factories,
pipe- you know, concrete pipe factories, textiles, and they are the largest
builders. They are not only builders in Israel, but they build,for instance,
roads in Ethiopia, putting up bridges and buildings in Africa all over, in Iran.
They are big, very... So I told 'em
about, I talked to the President of
the- it's called [inaudible] that corporation that used to build. I
explained to him what we have. He said, "We'll take it on a fifty-fifty
basis." I says, "Okay." And I was supposed to get a letter. I got my
passport to go to the United States to conclude the deal with this gentleman,
Meneker. He's a New York Jew, Jewish wealthy millionaire. And I was
supposed to get from the leader was [Inaudible] was supposed to get a letter of
introduction to the their representative of the Estad Root in the United States,
but I couldn't get him. He went to Holland before I had a chance to see
him, to get a letter of introduction. So I told myself, "I'll come to
the United States. I'll see those representatives and go out with him to
this Menecker." I came to New York and I went up to this gentleman and I
explained to him. He said, "Okay, I'll go with you to this Menecker."
We went up to him and he says, the first question was that, "Is it true that
Ottenstein says that we can make a lot of money in that deal?" He says,
"Well," he says, "Maybe five percent." "What? He says, "I'm
gonna give an equipment of three-quarters of a million dollars and you tell me
you're gonna make five percent," "Well." He says, "I told you that if
you want to invest, we'll give you ten percent, if you want to give us a
hundred thousand
dollars." He says, "My dear man." He says,"I know where to
invest my money. You don't have to tell me." You see, the old deal was
wiped out, you see. I don't know what the reason was this man, a fellow
named Marguiles, whether he wanted to push me out of the picture, or he was mean
in general, you see. And at that time, the earth moving equipment, we could make
a lot of money. I knew a man, a friend of mine in Israel, he had one [pause]
crane that he bought an old crane. He used to make several hundred pounds a day.
He says, "Get a couple of cranes." He says, "And we'll make
money." Well, this deal became nothing and I started to
negotiate, to organize a
group myself, but at that time, you see, the American Jews didn't have the
confidence in Israel. See now, there is millions and millions of dollars being
invested and people are not afraid. They know there is, it's profitable.
But at that time, I wanted to organize a stone quarry or concrete, you know,
those crushed stones. And I had a plan. I went out to an engineer in New York
and he made a plan for me. It would at least cost a thousand dollars. He says,
"I'll make for you..." He knew my son-in-law, who is fairly influential.
You see, wherever he goes, he know thousands of people, his being in the
[inaudible] public relations director. He met all these people and he knows all,
all-anybody that is who's who, you see, he knows. [Pause] And we tried
to organize here, this engineer made a plan for a stone quarry. He says, "If you
realize it." He says, "I don't know if you realize it, but if you
realize it, I want to get a job." And we promised him, but I couldn't get a
dollar invested. I-I told him, "I'll invest the first twenty-five,
fifty thousand dollars," but nobody would invest a nickel. Even my closest
friends laughed at me. [Pause] Well, so I was in New York for about eight
months, trying to organize something to go back. I wasn't successful and finally
I gave It up and I came back to Milwaukee. My old town and I looked around and
started to do something. I wanted to start a newspaper business. Finally, I
landed a job with a jobber for the type of stuff that I sell, material that I
sell, cleaners and lumber supplies. And he gave me a very rotten deal and I
says, "You don't [inaudible]." He says, "You know what to
buy." He says, "Buy and get it." I says, "If I can buy, I can buy
for myself." So after a week's work, I quit. Now, I'm In business for myself. I
started out with a suitcase in my hand. I bought the first
[inaudible] and I
went out and I had a car and that's the way I started a business. And now--
MARTEN: This is after 1950?
OTTENSTEIN: Yes, 1951 I started [pause] after I came back from Israel. And now
I've got my son with me and we've got a very nice business. We are expanding
continuously [pause] and we have a very fine, reliable name established. People
have confidence in us. And what I want to express, which I should have expressed
before, when I did anything for the movement, I never did It in the name of
Ottenstein. I always said It was done by the Labor Zionist
Movement. I never had
my name like people now. They've got to be important. The main thing is to have
their name out. With me, that doesn't mean nothing. When I was, oh, about two or
three years ago at [Inaudible] College they had [inaudible] and I saw those
professors, you know, how small they can be. You know, that you gotta be first
and what did he say, did he say, "[inaudible] common people." You
know, since then, I have no respect for these so-called professors, 'cus
they are not any better than the average layman. Just the small, all these small
things. I think, I-I say there are men, laymen,
which are much bigger than some
of these big, so-called big men. You know, in my experience, I've seen a lot of
people, which are very simple and don't [pause] think that they are the whole
world and everything revolves around them. And I've seen one professor, believe
me. He came up and he said, "Well how did the did I impress the
public?" It's ridiculous. If you, if I say something, I say it from my
heart. I don't care what the public, the public automatically
feel and think of
you, what you think, if you are truthful. But If you are not truthful, the
public will feel It.
MARTEN: Well I appreciate this. I realize you've had a long, hard day.
OTTENSTEIN: [Inaudible].
MARTEN: To get this much on tape. You've been very helpful to me.
OTTENSTEIN: Could I hear it?