MAY 19, 1974


Copyright © 1998 Clifford M. Rees

Clifford M. Rees (CMR): The date is May 19, 1974, Sunday morning; the place is North Miami Beach, Florida, the apartment of Saul Miller. This a discussion conducted by his grandson, Clifford Rees, and we’re going to talk a little bit about family history.

Three days ago you celebrated your 82nd birthday. I wanted to go all the way back to the beginning, and ask you, where you were born, and what it was like in your first home.

Isador Louis Miller (ILM): Well, I was born in Sadagora, Rohozna, Bukovina, Austria. I was born in 1892; May the 16th, 1892. I was born in Rohozna.

CMR: That’s the name of the province?

ILM: That’s the town I was born in. I mean like the street, Rohozna. My father was in the covered wagon business. We had 20 covered wagons, 40 horses, a large stable, and a lot of employees. My mother use to cook for all those employees. My father died at the age of 55; I was 18 months old. I had two brothers and two sisters of which they’re all passed away except myself. I was 18 months old and three years later my brother got married and left my mother to support herself.

CMR: Were you the youngest?

ILM: I’m the youngest, yes, After then, . . .

CMR: What were their names?

ILM: The names were - my oldest brother was named Fishel, and my oldest sister was named Deborah, and my second sister was named Freda, and my brother’s name was named Chaskell, and I was named Zrul Leib. In Jewish tradition, Zrul Leib.

CMR: What was the family name, your last name then, because I know you changed your name when you came ...

ILM: My name was Reisch, but I changed my name to Miller. I took my mother’s name because I was raised by my grandfather. My mother’s father raised me. So the tradition was, the way they call it in Europe, that I was Chaim, that’s my father, Itzhik is my grandfather, grandson, grandchild.

So I grew up very lonely. My mother had to work and my sister was taking care of me. I practically grew up as an orphan, with no attention at all. When I got to about 4 years old, between 4 and 5, I went to Cheder.

CMR: School.

ILM: Hebrew School. And at 6 I entered Baron Hirsch School which was funded by a grant by Baron Hirsch.

CMR: He was a Jewish nobleman?

ILM: A Jewish traditional school. I went there for 4 years and also went to Hebrew School, to Cheder for 4 years. After I became 12 years of age, I became Bar Mitzvahed. And after I became Bar Mitzvahed, they started to look for something for me constructive to do.

CMR: Who was "they" - your family?

ILM: My family - my mother. My brother got married and moved away, moved out of town. My older sister got married to a no-good-for-nothing guy and my younger sister left for America. When she left, I was a blonde, good-looking fellow. When I entered this country, I was dark and my sister didn’t recognize me.

CMR: Really?

ILM: She sent for me, yes. So they decided that they should put me into some kind of trade. In Europe, they always believed you should have a trade, otherwise, you can’t get along. The town was very small and there was very little to do. My oldest brother drove a hack - he was like a cabdriver, but he moved out of town. My younger brother . . .

CMR: A horse-drawn cab?

ILM: Yes, he drove a cab. And my older brother from me, he learned a shoe-making trade. So, he had some friends, and he decided that he would take me in and learn me to be a barber. So they sent me to a small town, Sestavna, which is a small town also in Austria.

CMR: How far away was it from your hometown?

ILM: It was about 15-18 miles away. And my mother use to come and visit me every once in a while.

CMR: Did you live in the barber’s house?

ILM: I lived in the barber’s house and instead of learning the barber trade, why, I was doing, 8 hours a day, I was watching the geese; taking the geese to the pond, taking care of them. Carrying out buckets of blood; he was a doctor.

CMR: That’s right; barbers were doctors in those days.

ILM: Yes, he use to pull teeth and let blood. And the only thing they used me was for an errand boy. And I never had a chance. He ran the barber shop, but I never had a chance. Well, I stayed there for 6 months and I wouldn’t stay any longer. And I went back home.

CMR: Did you run away? Did you leave secretly?

ILM: I left Sestavna and I went back to Sadagora. Then, my mother decided she was going to learn me to be a tailor. So they got me job in Chernowitz, in a tailor shop. Well, I liked it very much. There was a nice place down there where to live, where to work. And one day, the boss sent me to buy supplies. The day before, in the evening, when we went for a walk into the town, they had what they call, like a ferezee that you would walk through. What do they call it?

Elizabeth Miller: An arcade.

ILM: An arcade, yes. And coming back, he showed me in the windows where all the tailor supplies were. And I had it in my mind that’s where it was. The next thing, he sent me down there, by the time I got there, they had cleaned the window out, and they redecorated the window, and I couldn’t find the place. Well, I walked from one town to the other, all through the place down there, and I couldn’t find it. When I came back, the boss was so furious that he took a poker and hit me in my head, and put a scar on my head.

CMR: You still have it.

ILM: The scar is still there.

CMR: How old were you?

ILM: I was about 3 months.

CMR: How old were you?

ILM: I was 13 years old.

CMR: Thirteen.

ILM: Eight years, between 7 years, I had 7 trades.

CMR: Seven trades!

ILM: Seven trades.

CMR: What were the other ones?

ILM: I’ll tell you what the other trades. The other trade was I left the tailor shop and I didn’t like that. So I came back home, and my brother at that time, my younger brother, that is older than I, he was working at a shoemaker place, and he says, well, he’s going to learn me to be a shoemaker. So I stayed there with him for a while and I didn’t like to put the nails in my mouth.

CMR: Why not?

ILM: I didn’t like the smell of the leather, and I said to my mother I had decided I didn’t want to do that. So I went home again, and I was walking the streets. Well then they decided that my brother-in-law, the one that was no good, that burned my sister to death . . .

CMR: He did?

ILM: Yes, not purposely, but accidentally. He was a furniture finisher, and he was making polish, furniture polish, and they had to cook that, and while cooking that, it caught fire, it was alcohol, and he throwed it through the hallway, like a breezeway. At that time, they wore long dresses, and her dress caught on fire and she had a third degree burn. And for 6 months she was laying, bathing in milk, in order to try to grow skin on her.

CMR: It didn’t work.

ILM: And finally, later on, she developed some kind of sickness and she passed away.

CMR: When did that happen?

ILM: That happened between 14 and 16 years old.

CMR: When you were 14?

ILM: I was 14 years old when that happened. Then they decided I should go back to be a tailor. So they got me into a tailor job, which I liked very much. And I worked there for a while and I liked it, and then this man here went out of business, went to another town, and gave it up. And they put me back into a barber shop. And I worked in Chernowitz in a barber shop down there and I worked there for a long time.

CMR: Did you get to be a barber at this point?

ILM: Yes, I was a barber, I was barbering.

CMR: Because the other time you didn’t . . .

ILM: Of course, I had the foundation for it from before. So this fellow gave me a chance, he was a German fellow and he gave me a chance, and he learned me quite a bit, and I stayed there with him for a good while. Then a man came and offered me a job in Galicia.

CMR: Which is where to Sadagora, south?

ILM: One of the towns there, I forget the name of it. But anyway, they offered me a job down there, and I worked for fellow by the name of Adolph Fiedler.

CMR: Fiedler.

ILM: And he had a large room, had a barber shop in the front and had a curtain across the room, and in the back he had the bedroom. Well he and I, his mother-in-law and his wife were sleeping all in the back, each one. The beds were made from bunks and in the bunks was straw.

CMR: How much did you - go ahead . . .

ILM: And they had a sheet over that, covered up with anything. And that’s how we slept, we all slept in that one room.

CMR: You were about 14 at this time?

ILM: I was about 14 to 16. I worked there for 3 years.

CMR: How much did you make?

ILM: I didn’t make anything.

CMR: You just got room and board.

ILM: You were hired out until you learned the trade; you didn’t get nothing. They may give you something once and a while as a gift, but they never give you any money. And all the clothes that I use to wear, my mother use to bring them back and we had a tailor in town, and he use to cut them down and make me a suit of clothes. And that’s what I use to wear until I came to this country; always in somebody else’s suit.

Well then, my sister, by now was 16 years old; my sister was settled down here.

CMR: Which one?

ILM: My older sister.

CMR: Why did she decide to come to America? I’m really interested in this . . .

ILM: Well, it was in 1909: two years before; 1909. I was 17 years old and I had a barber trade and I was doing pretty good. My sister was working and she saved $50 and they sent for me, and I came over here.

CMR: Why did she come to America?

ILM: She came to America because there was doing nothing doing for her except to be a maid.

CMR: She was married?

ILM: No. She was not married.

CMR: This was Tinty? [1]

ILM: Tinty, yes. She came here and she met this man here and she married him.

CMR: She came to Baltimore first or New York first?

ILM: She came to Baltimore. She came into New York but she landed in Baltimore because we had our cousins there.

CMR: You did have some relatives in Baltimore. I was wondering how you ended up in Baltimore.

ILM: We had some family, yes, which we still have some family down there, second and third cousins. So we came to work and when I came to America, it took two years before I got permission to leave the country.

CMR: She saved $50 for your passage?

ILM: $50.

CMR: And you decided to go - why did you decide to go? Because of the invitation?

ILM: Well there was no chance down there - see, you had to wait until one tradesman dies before you could get a permit to take his place. See, there was no opportunity at all.

CMR: So it was mainly economic opportunities in the country then.

ILM: Yes. For instance, I was a barber and I couldn’t open up a barber shop until someone dies before I could open a shop.

CMR: What about the army?

ILM: Well the army - I got out just before I was 19. After 19, I couldn’t leave, but up to 19, I could leave the country, Austria.

CMR: Before you left, were you subject to any anti-semitism?

ILM: Nothing at all. But it was danger to get out at night. Jews couldn’t get out at night. They were murdered by the police.

CMR: The police?

ILM: The police, yes. They weren’t gestapos because Austria was a free country, but the Jews were so few, that to kill one of them didn’t make much difference to them. If they didn’t like you, they’d kill you.

CMR: There wasn’t much of a Jewish population?

ILM: No, it was a small population - it was probably about three or four hundred.

CMR: Out of a total of?

ILM: Out of a total of, I would say about five or six thousand.

CMR: In Sadagora?

ILM: In Sadagora. But what we had in Sadagora was a large rabbinical association. We had the biggest rabbi in the world, that people use to come from all over the world for him. He was an educated man. [2]

CMR: Do you remember his name?

ILM: No, I don’t remember his name. And he had a large castle, with six horses driving his cart.

CMR: Really?

ILM: And on Saturday, we use to go pray there, and my mother use to wear a handkerchief around her neck and walk in shoes to go to the rabbi. Before I left, she went to the rabbi and he gave me a token.

CMR: It was suppose to be good luck?

ILM: Yes, it was a good luck piece. And he told me that I would succeed and I should go ahead. But before I left, I never realized when I got on the wagon to go to Bremer, to drive to the train, to go to Bremerhaven, to come to this country; it was June 11th.

CMR: What year?

ILM: 1911.

CMR: June 11, 1911, you left Sadagora.

ILM: Yes. I left June 11, 1911 and I arrived here on July 4th, on Mom’s birthday [3]. So, after then ...

CMR: You never realized what?

ILM: I never realized what it meant for a mother to lose a child.

CMR: I see.

ILM: She was never able to come to this country because she had glaucoma and they would never let her come in.

CMR: You had to be healthy . . .

ILM: People with tuberculosis couldn’t come in neither. I got, I’ll show you, I got a certificate from the doctor that I was in perfect health. So, I never realized when I got on that wagon how my mother felt, that she would never see me again.

CMR: She knew.

ILM: Yea, she knew she would never see me again because she could never get here. But, after I was here, I got married, I met Mom, we got married, and a couple of years after we got married; no, before we got married my sister went to Europe.

CMR: She did go back.

ILM: She went back and saw my mother. And she brought a picture back of her. And I had a girl in Sadagora but my sister thought it wasn’t the person for me. And she discouraged me from having any affair with her. So when she came back, I had met Mom already, and that was in September of 1912. It was right after Wilson’ s Inauguration . . . election . . . no, when he was nominated.

CMR: Nominated in Baltimore, right.

ILM: So I came here and during the year from July the 4th until July the 13th, a whole year, 1911, I worked in about 17 places.

CMR: Hold it. Let’s back up a little because I want to hear about the trip.

ILM: Well, the trip . . .

CMR: You took a covered wagon to . . . ?

ILM: We went in a covered wagon, it took us to Chernowitz. And in Chernowitz we took the train and went to Bremerhaven.

CMR: In Germany?

ILM: No, no, yes, in Germany - Bremerhaven.

CMR: And that was your first time outside of Austria?

ILM: Over there I took the George Washington.[4]

CMR: The liner?

ILM: Yes. And I came to this country here and arrived July the 4th.

CMR: In New York?

ILM: No, July the 3rd. The first of July I arrived in New York. They kept me two days in Castlegarden.

CMR: In . . . where’ s that?

ILM: That’s the Ellis Island.

CMR: Ellis Island.

ILM: Yes. They kept me two days for examination and clearing me. And I came here, and I had $10 and I didn’t have anything to eat.

CMR: How did you get to Baltimore?

ILM: They sent me $50; $40 was for the trip and $10 was for the entrance fee.

CMR: I see; you had to pay a fee . . .

ILM: No, you had to show that you had a $10 entrance fee. So I went ahead and I took a dollar and bought myself a box lunch.

CMR: I see.

ILM: And when I went into the examiner, he says, "You got $10?" I says "No, I only have 9." Yea, he could talk German. So I said, "I only have 9." And he said, "What did you do with the other dollar?" And I said, " I bought a box lunch." He said, "Well, you shouldn’t have done that, but as long as you did, that’s alright".

CMR: He wasn’t going to send you back.

ILM: And he passed me through, and that was July the third, at night. And I, when I got on the train to come to Baltimore, that was the first time I saw a colored person.

CMR: Really, On the train or . . .

ILM: No while I was on the train, I looked out in the station, [5] and I saw a colored person. I never realized, I always was under the impression that those people have 2 eyes, one in the front and one in the back.

CMR: You really thought that?

ILM: That was the belief. It sounds funny but that’s what I believed. And I thought that, they use to say that the Chinese use to have 2 eyes, one in the front and one in the back. Well, I thought these colored people, and I never saw one before. And I never saw bananas before. And I never had a ham sandwich. You know, I was always very kosher. So they gave me a ham sandwich and an apple, and a banana, and they charged me a dollar, in a lunch box.

CMR: You got gypped.

ILM: No, that’s what they charged everybody. So anyway, I got . . .

CMR: How did you get to the train? You didn’t speak any English, right?

ILM: No, no English at all; all German.

CMR: How did you know which train to get on?

ILM: Well they had a guide that took us.

CMR: They did have somebody to help you out.

ILM: Those for Baltimore, those for Chicago, those for other ones. They had what you call an organization, just like the Hadassah.

CMR: A Jewish organization.

ILM: Yes, most of, they separated the people that come in. So, anyway, when I came here, it was 2:30 in the morning.

CMR: To Baltimore.

ILM: To Baltimore. And at that time we lived on W. Barre Street[6], which today is all cleared off, there’s no more . . . its right in the back of the railroad.

CMR: In South Baltimore?

ILM: No.

CMR: Near Pennsylvania Station?

ILM: In East Baltimore, you know where the station, Camden Station . . . not Camden Station, but I came into Union Station.

CMR: Union Station, is it in the same place . . .?

ILM: Yes.

CMR: Charles Street?

ILM: Yes, the same place it is in right now. And we got a cab and it took me to Barre Street. I got in, and it was hot as misha.

CMR: Because it was July 5th at this point.

ILM: July the 4th. I was coming on July the 4th. I left 2 o’clock New York; it was about 10 o’clock, but it took about 3 hours, about 1(A.M.) or 1:30 (A.M.) by the time I got to my sister’s.

When I got into the hallway, people were laying stretched out in the hall. Here, I couldn’t talk to them. The landlady that owned the house, she came out because I made so much noise. I walked on people. I couldn’t see where I was going. They were laying all stretched out in the hall. It was hot, there was no air conditioning. So, her name was Mrs. Levy. She came out, she talked Jewish, and I told her who I was. And she knew, that my sister told her she was expecting me. And my sister lived on the third floor.

So she took me upstairs and rapped on the door and my sister opened the door- she wasn’t married then. And I told her who I was and she said, "You’re not my brother, my brother was blonde." So anyway, I convinced her, showed her the letter and everything. She knew I was coming. And I convinced her.

Well next day, I needed a bath. You know, coming off the boat. Everything I had, I’d thrown away. They told me you had to fumigate it. So I had a fur-lined jacket and I had my tifilin, you know what a tifilin is, don’t you?

CMR: No.

ILM: You know, the . . .

CMR: Oh, tifilin.

ILM: Tifilin, talos and everything. I threw everything overboard.

CMR: Were you very religious?

ILM: Well, I wasn’t very religious, but I had to be because I lived in a religious town; we had to doven every day. So we threw it all overboard because they said they had to fumigate it.

CMR: Before you got off the boat you threw it away?

ILM: Before we got off the boat. So anyway, I got off the boat and I came to my sister only with the measly things which I had - just a few thing; I didn’t have nothing. I had a suit on and a couple of shirts.

CMR: And you had the lunch box . . .

ILM: And I had my barber tools.

CMR: You had the barber tools in a suitcase.

ILM: I had my barber tools, which on the boat, a couple of guys stole some of my razors.

CMR: They did?

ILM: Yes, and I knew who it was because I saw them in another barbershop where they worked after I came to this country. So my sister took me down to the bathhouse to get a bath. It was the 4th of July and it was closed. So . . .

CMR: Did you know that it was an American, that it was the 4th, what the 4th of July was?

ILM: I didn’t know what it was. I knew it was a holiday. My sister told me it was the 4th of July. To me, the 4th of July didn’t make no difference whether it was the 3rd or . . .

CMR: You didn’t know why . . .

ILM: Yea, I didn’t know why. But I knew everything was closed. So finally, the next day, she took me down and showed me where the place was. I went in there for 3 cents, with a towel, they gave me a towel; it cost 2 cents for the bath and a cent for the towel. And I took a bath and I got cleaned up. She bought me clean underwear and clean shirts and a tie, and a suit.

CMR: She took you out for your first clothes.

ILM: And she had me all dressed up and the next day she had to go to work. She worked.

CMR: What did she do?

ILM: She was working for Greif, sewing flies on pants making $6 a week. She had an apartment down there, she paid $8 a month rent on the third floor, she had one room.

CMR: And you were in the room, you shared the room with her?

ILM: I was there until, for a few more days, until they found a job with one of Mom’s cousins.

CMR: Your first job?

ILM: My first job. He had a barber shop and I slept down there. They had a, one of those cots, where the guy examines your head, you know, one of these . . .

CMR: A roll-away cot?

ILM: No, no.

CMR: Oh, a reclining chair?

ILM: No, it was a sofa, but . . .

CMR: Like a psychiatrist’s couch?

ILM: A psychiatrist’s bed, and the damn thing, the spring was coming out there . . .

CMR: That was your first job, was as a barber?

ILM: I worked for him. I slept on the head of the steps. There was just room enough for the bed to stay there. I worked for him for a while and I didn’t like that and went to work for another one and kept going to another one.

CMR: Why didn’t you like it, do you remember?

ILM: Well, for one thing, I didn’t like, she use to take the bottle, she use to nurse the baby, use to give it a bottle and she’d stick it into the coffee pot; the baby was rolling on the floor, playing with the bottle, and she use to stick the bottle and put it into the coffee pot. She was very nice to me, both of them were nice. Then, Mom’s father [7] was a barber too, he was down the street. So I left him and I went to work for one of Grandpop’s friends, who came from Romania. I worked for him, and then I didn’t like that and I went to work for another one. From July the 7th, when I started to work, until July 13th, until I got married, I had 20 jobs.

CMR: That’s over a one year period.

ILM: Over two years period, 1911 to 1913. I got married July the 13th, 1913. I had 20 jobs over then. I went from one place to another.

CMR: All as barber.

ILM: All barbers, yea, all barbers.

CMR: So, it was fairly easy to find jobs, but hard to find one that you liked.

ILM: Yes. It wasn’t the . . . one worked too late, till 10 o’clock at night. One worked till 12 o’clock at night on Saturday night. At 12 o’clock at night he said to me "Stay open longer". At that time it was 5 cents a shave, ten cents a haircut. And I made enough money to keep us so my sister didn’t support me.

CMR: How much did you make? Do you remember how much?

ILM: Six dollars a week. When I got married, I got paid $8 a week. Why I got married, I don’t know! It was just wished on me, that’s all!

Natalie Rees (Cliff’s sister): Cliff, I want to hear the story how he met Mom.

ILM: So, anyway, in September, 1912, I met Mom. And I came to see her . . .

CMR: How did you meet her ? Because you knew her father?

ILM: No. There were six boys and girls, got together. There was Aunt Minnie and Uncle Alec, they were single at that time.

CMR: Mom’s brother and sister?

ILM: And sister, and Mom had some friends down there; some more barbers that I knew. And we all went together, six of us. And I came in and I met Mom.

CMR: This was a few months after you got here? September, 1911?

ILM: Yea; no. September, 1912.

CMR: Oh, over a year later.

ILM: Yes, over a year. Well, I met her before, but I didn’t know her.

Elizabeth Miller: You forgot about the movie pictures.

ILM: I met her before, but I didn’t know who she was. But, anyway, I was sitting on the steps, with another barber, right in front of the barber shop, and Mom and her sister had come by and . . she was a beautiful girl . . .

Elizabeth Miller: I was going to the movies.

ILM: . . . and I looked through the glasses and I saw her, and she goes in.

CMR: What glasses?

ILM: Mom looked at me and she goes and tells her father, "Who’s that crazy barber" who works for her cousin?

CMR: Why did she think you were crazy?

ILM: Because I was looking at her. She was very bashful. She couldn’t stand anybody looking at her.

CMR: How old were you?

ILM: She was very beautiful. About that time I was 20, going on 21. So I met her in September. So, then we went to the movies one night, her and Aunt Sophie [8], went to the movies, and right in front of me . . . Aunt Sophie told me that she was going to be at the movies and I wanted to meet her.

Elizabeth Miller: The Cluster Movies.

CMR: The Cluster Movies? Do you remember what the movie was?

Elizabeth Miller: On Broadway.

ILM: On Broadway, yes.

CMR: What was the movie?

ILM: Five cents. I don’t know what the movie was. I never bothered looking at the movie! I bothered looking at her!


CMR: You were in the movies . . .

ILM: I was in the movies, and the child’s foot got stuck in the chair and Aunt Sophie asked me to come over to sit near Mom. And I took her home that night and the following Sunday I went over to see her in her house. And she had a gathering. And that Sunday, I had to go. I was being initiated in the Hebrew Young Men’s Sick and Relief Association. And my uncle took me in as a member. It was a, you know, its like a relief association. So I excused myself and I left, and when I came back the next day to see Mom, Mom was gone.

CMR: Really?

ILM: Her aunt came and took her to Dover, Delaware. And, every night, I use to come over to see her mother [9] and her mother kept arguing with her to come home. And see, her aunt came, her father’s sister came; they had a used furniture store in Dover, Delaware.

Elizabeth Miller: They did not. They had a big department store.

ILM: And they thought, my father had nine children, if he took one with them, he’d have one less to feed.

Elizabeth Miller: They didn’t have no used furniture store. It was a big department store with everything under the sun.

ILM: So, they had a big department store over there and they took her and stayed with them. And that was in September, and I waited until Christmas, and I went over to see Mom. That’s in 1912. And I spent there three days with Mom. They took us to a show and they took us to Milford, Delaware where her uncle went to buy furniture. And they left me and Mom in the hotel and said, "You two get together", him and his sister were together, and he said, "Now you two get together down here." Well, we didn’t have much to talk about; I didn’t know what to talk about. Anyway, whatever, we talked. Finally, the following day, I left. And Mom promised to come home, but she didn’t come home until February, the middle part of February .

Elizabeth Miller: I stayed with them for 3 months.

ILM: And when she came home, we got engaged.

CMR: Oh, did you?

ILM: Yea. She came to see me in the barber shop and I could picture her today, with her blonde hair. She had a blue blouse on with a white hand-made collar her mother made, made from lace, beautiful color. And I could picture her today. You see, the houses have like a small breezeway in which you go into the back of the house. And it was just about two feet wide, two or three feet wide. And her and her father came , and they called me out of the barbershop to see her. Well, from then on, we started keeping company, then we got engaged. And July the 13th [10] we got married. And Sandy’s mother . . .

CMR: Sandy Block? Marc’s wife, right?

ILM: Sandy Block’s grandmother, her mother and father, her grandfather and grandmother, give me away because I didn’t have no parents. And my sister didn’t want me to get married at all.

CMR: She didn’t?

ILM: No. She objected terrible. So finally, when I got married . . .

CMR: Why did she . . .

ILM: Well, she thought I was too young, and she wanted me to marry a rich girl. You know, her brother, nothing was too good for her brother. She adored me very much. So anyway, we got married and then we . . . her cousin got a divorce from his wife.

CMR: Who’s cousin?

ILM: Mom’s cousin got a divorce from his wife. And he sold me the barbershop.

CMR: Mom’s cousin sold you a barber shop?

ILM: When he sold the barber shop, that was on Alicanne Street. We rented a room down there - an apartment. We had a stove and a bed and a bureau and a table and chairs. This was our apartment for $8 a month, we paid for it.

Elizabeth Miller: Two rooms.

ILM: We lived down there for about six month and then we decided we’re gonna move. So we moved up to Eastern Avenue and Anne Street. And that’s where Herman [11] was born. I rented the whole house, moved the barber shop up there, Uncle Herman was born down there and (inaudible). Then Aunt Minnie came up from Richmond, Virginia, and she talked me into it, to sell the place and come to Richmond, I could make more money in Richmond. We sold everything out, and we went to Richmond, Virginia, and we lost everything we had.

CMR: You moved to Richmond for a while?

ILM: Yea. We lived for a while - about three months we lived in Richmond. We lost everything we had.

Elizabeth Miller: My jewelry, my watch . . .

ILM: We came back broke. We came back to my sister on Eastern Avenue and Chapel Street. We stayed down there for a while, and then in 1916, I hocked my watch and chain and my brother-in-law loaned me $50, and I bought a barber shop from another brother only a few doors away from where I worked. Remember, I showed you the corner one time . . .

CMR: Yea, I think so.

ILM: Where I had the barber shop.

CMR: Why did you move to Richmond, I don’t quite follow you.

ILM: Well, I moved to Richmond because she thought I was going to do better business. What actually happened, Mom had an aunt and that aunt took her to Virginia; that aunt took her to Dover, Delaware, and she asked me while I was there whether I intended to be a barber or I could do something else. I said I could do something else if I had a chance. She says, she was going to buy us a place in Elizabeth, Delaware, and open up a store like they had, a second-handed store, and in the meantime, she got leukemia and died.

Elizabeth Miller: You keep saying a second hand store. They never had a second hand store!

ILM: Do what?

Natalie Rees: It was a big department store, Mom says.

Elizabeth Miller: A great big department store.

ILM: A department store, whatever it was, I don’t remember. But they were going to buy us a store and put us in business. So, in the meantime, she got leukemia and she died. So, I remained a barber for the whole time, and I bought this house on Eastern Avenue, I bought one house and later on, I bought a house next store. And the same landlord sold me both houses. And I sold the one next door, and I stayed on the corner until 1924. In 1924 I sold it. I bought it for $100 and I sold it for $7,500.

CMR: That’s a good deal!

ILM: Yes, and I bought Fairview Avenue.

CMR: Right.

ILM: I opened a barbershop on Oakfield Avenue and we starved to death. We couldn’t do anything. Nobody came in.

CMR: This was - where was this now?

ILM: On Garrison, right on the back of Garrison, one block back of Garrison. So from there on, we moved up to Garrison and I opened up the shop on Garrison. I rented a store, and we started to do business, and we stayed there until 1935, and Mom’s brother decided that him and I should go in partners. Opened us a barber shop and beauty shop. He was going to learn me the beauty trade.

CMR: 1935?

ILM: Yes. So I went with him and I stayed with him for 4 months and he wouldn’t learn me the trade at all, the beauty business. A barber could have been by myself. I didn’t need him, and he started to run around and had a lot of trouble with women; you know, the beauty shop business, I wasn’t that type person.

So, anyway, one morning I came down, and had my whole place cleaned out. He took all the fixtures out and everything. I lost everything I had. So I went back to the supply man and he gave me some more furniture and I rented another place, and I couldn’t do nothing. Then we went back to Bonnie Road. I waited for Uncle Sam to get home from work on Friday night and he gave me $6 to move to Pimlico Road, from Gwynoak to Bonnie Road. We stayed down there for 5 years in the cellar and we done terrific business. From there, I said to Mom, I says, "I think we’re going to get out of there. We going to get up on Garrison." I saw a store to be rented on Garrison, and Mom says, "You’re crazy, you’re making a living, you’re going to give up what you got?" I says, "We’ll gamble all, either all or nothing!" And I went up to Garrison, and opened up, and we done good business and that’s all.

Elizabeth Miller: Then we moved to Florida . . .

CMR: Until you sold it in 1955 . . .

ILM: That was in 1936.

CMR: And you stayed there until 1955 . . .

ILM: I stayed there until 1955.

CMR: Well, let’s back up to the family.

ILM: Well, the family . . .

CMR: You had 5 kids?

ILM: We one boy and four girls. [12]

CMR: And what was it like growing up with a big family like that? Was that a big family for those days or was that an average-sized family?

ILM: Well, it was not a big family for us, because we figured, we wanted a large family.

CMR: You did?

ILM: I told Mom when we started, if she couldn’t have any children, we could never live together. That was the . . . I love children, even today, not only our children, but I love somebody else’s children.

CMR: So you wanted a big family?

ILM: We didn’t exactly want a big family, it just happened that we had a big family. See, there was no way, because we had a doctor, we never knew what birth control, we never knew what anything take care of, he used to tell me, he says, the only thing I could do was lock the door and throw the key out the window. That was the doctor’s prescription at that time, we didn’t have any children when your mother was born. For ten years, Mom practiced birth control and then one day we went to Philadelphia and a streetcar bumped us. And Mom started to have a pain in her stomach. And she went to the doctor, and when he opened her up, and he found out that she had a large lump from the bump. But he came downstairs and he says, "Look, while we have your wife open", he says, "we’re going to sterilize her". Well, I didn’t know no difference about sterilization at that time - he didn’t explain it to me. So anyway, she was sterilized.

Elizabeth Miller: I said five is enough!

ILM: I didn’t need any sterilization because we practiced birth control for ten years and we didn’t need any. But anyway, he operated on her. What was his name? Dr. . . ?

Elizabeth Miller: Sarbin, Dr. Sarbin.

CMR: You didn’t want any more children anyway though?

ILM: Yea, he operated on her and he sterilized her, and that was alright.

CMR: How would you describe each of the children as they were growing up?

ILM: Well, the children were growing up. We were a very happy family. I had control of the family. Not iron hand, but the children listened to me. And what Mom use to do, Mom never had control of the family. She use to, if a child would do something wrong, she’d say, "I’m gonna tell your father when he comes home!"

CMR: You were the disciplinarian.

ILM: Yea, I was the disciplinarian. Now, how are you going to discipline a child when you come home nine o’clock at night and the child is in bed?

CMR: Yea, that’s pretty hard.

ILM: So you actually couldn’t do it. And we never had any trouble. My children never missed school;. Hannah is the only one that failed and Deborah almost failed, until I had to go to school.

CMR: One grade.

ILM: Yes, and the graduation.

CMR: Could you describe each of them, like sort of a capsule summary?

ILM: Well . . . its hard to describe . . . the children grew up just like blooms, just like tree blooms, that’s how they grew up. Everyone of them had their own way, their own character, their own dispositions. We had to handle each one of them, Mom use to have to take and taste everybody’s food when she use to cook. Deborah liked a taste a certain kind, your mother a certain kind, Janet a certain kind, and before she served food on the table, Mom use to have to taste all the food of the children. Each child had to take a vitamin to school with them. A child would walk out of the house, they all had little boxes and to take, what is it, Viesterol was it? Viesterol. Each of them took Viesterol. And they had to take the pills. And we use to take care of them. The only one we had trouble with was with your mother. When your mother was born with a slight murmur.

CMR: Heart murmur.

ILM: Yea. What happened; she use to have fainting spells. She use to black out occasionally. We couldn’t imagine what it could be. We took her from one doctor to the other, Dr. Rosenthal was out family doctor. So I use to tell him, I said, "She holds her breath for a long time." He said, "You-you-you-you le-le-let her hold it. When she-she-she needs it, she-she-she catch it." You know, he use to stutter.

CMR: Stutter, yea.

Elizabeth Miller: Who?

ILM: Dr. Rosenthal.

Elizabeth Miller: Oh yea, he use to stutter.

ILM: When she need it, she-she-she catch it. Finally, when we went to have her tonsils taken out, Dr. Edgerton took her . . .

CMR: How old was she?

ILM: She was about five when she had her . . . Dr. Edgerton said to us, "You know that your child has a slight murmur of the heart, and that causes her fainting." Later on, she outgrew it, she outgrew. But this was her whole trouble the whole time. And at one point, it was so bad that we were ready to give her away. I wanted to give her away, because my sister wanted her.

CMR: Tinty.

ILM: But we couldn’t. I mean it was something that was impossible. It was not incurable, it not incurable. Until we found out what it was. But finally, they took her to Dr. Silver, and Dr. Silver straightened her out. He prescribed liver, wasn’t it? Dr. Silver prescribed she should eat a lot of liver.

Elizabeth Miller: I don’t know.

ILM: Yea, liver, they gave her a lot of liver and finally she got all straightened out. That’s the only difficulty we had. Now Aunt Janet, she took sick when she was about 12 years old.

CMR: What did she have?

ILM: She got up one morning with a pain in her stomach. So I sent Deborah upstairs, and I says, "Deborah, go upstairs and find out; maybe she’s unwell." You know girls, they . . . so she, Deborah, went upstairs, and she says, "No, it wasn’t that." Instead of taking her to school, with the pain in her stomach, we put her right in the car, remember? We rushed her to South Baltimore General Hospital and she had her appendix taken out. She had an appendix attack. See, we were very observant with the children. We didn’t allow anything, whatever was wrong, we always saw that it got attention. And Hannah, we almost lost her when she was 8 months old. She must have grabbed a pea from the table. You know how children grab when we were eating, and it was something unnoticeable, and she started to run a fever, for 3 days. And Dr. Silverstein gave her up. He said she had pneumonia, she had this, she had that. And finally, one day, she passed through the pea, and her fever just dropped, and she came back to life again.

CMR: How would you describe the personalities of the different children?

ILM: Well, the personality, each one had a different personality. Each one of the children had different things about ‘em. And we use to guide ourselves according to whatever they did. This one wanted one thing and the other wanted another thing. And we use to give’em things that they wanted. To us, we never felt like they were unhappy. But the only thing I use to tell them, "If you want to smoke, don’t go into the bathroom and smoke. When you make your own money, you can go ahead and smoke." Deborah would start to smoke a couple of times in the bathroom and I told her, I says, "If you want to smoke", I said, " when you make your own money you can smoke". I never gave a child a cigarette. I was a heavy smoker but I never inhaled. I didn’t want them to smoke and I’d throw it away. But when the children, I didn’t want them to smoke. Your mother could never stand smoke. She had a marvelous job. Your grandfather got her a job in the Post Office.

CMR: Eddie Rees?

ILM: Yes, she got a job. He had his own place on St. Paul Street . . . she went in there . . .

CMR: A law office.

ILM: She worked for Ayres Loan Company and she had diarrhea for 3 or 4 days; where your father use to work, she worked on North Avenue. And Mr. Kellner called up, and said she didn’t have to bother coming in, coming back anymore. So she got up one morning, when she felt better, and she went to the Post Office and she applied for a job. And she got a job. Eddie called me up and says to me, he says, "Saul", he says, "Flora just got a job, " she was courting your father then, "Flora just got a job, $38 a month, a week," or something like that. I couldn’t believe it. I says, "Are you sure?" He says, "Yea, she got a job in the Post Office." She worked there for some time. Then, she gave up that job and she went to work for a magazine and she liked that.

Deborah took an academic course. I should have given your mother an academic course and Janet an academic course, but I always wanted a child to have a trade. I felt, I still had the European idea that when you have a trade, for instance, if you marry a man that needs a business, needs a typist, needs someone to do bookkeeping, I says you’ve got to have some kind of education. Everyone of them graduated high school. Herman graduated State Teacher’s College. I gave ‘em the best I could. I couldn’t give ‘em anymore.

You know five children, at that time, Depression was just as hard, things were just as high, in 1928, ‘29 as it is today. You never realized, it use to cost me $2 to send the children to the movies. You know, 5 children, $.40, it use to cost me on Saturday, was the only day they use to go to the movies, it cost $2. Of course, at that time, I was making money in the beauty shop and I didn’t mind it. But at that time, things were just as hard, inflated, as it is today. Until 1932, when everything, the bottom fell out, we lost everything we had. But we still stuck to the barber shop, beauty shop.

CMR: You were able to keep everything - you were able to keep your shop and the house. That was better than a lot of other people.

ILM: We never lost our home. I struggled enough. I went to the Homeowner’s Loan and I paid for the . . . they gave me a new loan. They reduced my payments and we lived long enough to pay for the house. And when we sold it in 1956, we sold it, we got, $10, $11,000. No, we got $10,500, $9,500, and $1,500 - $11,000. And we paid $5,500 for it. Of course, we put a lot of money into it. I built a back room and everything. We sold that and then came down here to Florida, and then we bought this building here.

CMR: On S.W. 6th Street.

ILM: On S.W. 6th Street, 2027, and we stayed there for ten years.

CMR: From ‘55-’65; 1955-1965. Why did you decide to come to Florida?

ILM: Well, the place was very lonely. The planes were roaring overhead, you couldn’t rest at night, you couldn’t rest during the daytime. They had Cubans next door . . .

CMR: No, why did you leave Baltimore and come to Florida, were you ready to retire?

ILM: Well, I tell you. I took sick and I went to the hospital. I was in the hospital for 5 days. It was right after I fell off a stepladder. And I went to Dr. Lyzansky. And he says to me "Saul", he says, "if you can retire" he says, "you stop working."

CMR: This was in 1955?

ILM: In 1954, beginning 1954, January, 1954. When Eisenhower had his attack. So he kept me in the hospital for 5 days. No cardiogram. No nothing. They put me on a different diet, and he sends me home and he says to me now, "what I want you to do, if you could retire, retire. I don’t want you to drive a car without power steering. I don’t want you to push stepladders and climb stepladders and I don’t want you to push cars. And if you could retire, retire." Well that year, in 1954, I kept looking for . . . I fixed my shop up, I remodeled the whole thing, I put in about $8,000 in there which I had the money saved up, and when I sold it I got back the same amount of money back for it. But I had a foundation. Between the $11,000 on the house and the $8,000 on the beauty shop, see, that would give me $19,000 and I sold the Shore for $5,000; that would give me $24,000, and I paid $25,000 for the building.

CMR: In Florida?

ILM: In Florida, yes, so that give me a good start. I had rent free, I had all my expenses was paid, and we stayed there for 10 years. Of course, I put a lot of work in the place. I put in a lot of improvements. But I got my money back for it. So then, we start to get bored down there. Mom was bored, very much bored down there. There was no one to talk to. Friends use to come once a week. Once every 5 weeks. We had 5 sets of people, 5 couples, we use to play cards together. So we had to wait 5 weeks before we’d get company, except when the children use to come.

So, I was walking along, and one of the . . . my lawyer’s father and mother came from Connecticut, moved down, and I went there to look for a house for them. Either a house or an apartment. And then we went down to 158th Street. There was a circle there. We saw a house down there. But it was too much work. And he was very unhandy to do anything. So we went ahead, and we came around a corner and we hit 59th Street.

CMR: 159th Street.

ILM: 12th Avenue and 59th Street. And I saw a brand new house down there, and I said to Mom, "Let’s go down and take a look at a new house, I never seen a new house." So we went in there, and we fell in love with it. It was just the thing we wanted. We finally decided we’re gonna buy it and I figured out that the rent that I was gonna get from my little house, we could afford to stay down here and enjoy life much better than we did down there. So we bought a house and we moved in. And we stayed there for 3 years, almost 4 years.

CMR: On 159th Street.

ILM: On 159th Street, then when the children decided to bring us up here.

CMR: To the condominiums?

ILM: Yea, condominium. I made $6,000 profit on that house over there, which I didn’t make any $6,000, I put $6,000 in there. See with improvement, I put washers in there, and different things down there. So I got my money we put in there and then stuck it into here. So you see, I didn’t have to take anything out of my pocket, and I still had the building, was an income from the building, $300 a month, and it was all mine. The rent from my little house paid the building and loan association on this house. See, I had a $10,000 mortgage, so I paid $90 a month, and I rented my apartment for $90 a month, on the house. They took care of everything. All except the roof, I took care of the plumbing. And we stayed there for 3 years. We stayed there from September, 1955, 1956; 1965, September, 1965, until April, 1969, and then we moved in here April 1, 1969. And we’re here ever since.

CMR: What are some of the things you look back on?

ILM: Well, there is quite a few things to look back on. You look back on the raising a family, struggling, and what we got, for what we struggled, its paid off 100%. We have a lovely family, we have nice grandchildren, we have nice great grandchildren, we’ve been respected all our life by everyone of ‘em. We have Norman [13], we adored him; Dave [14], we love him; your father [15], the same way. There’s everyone of ‘em just like our own children. We don’t feel like they’re son-in-laws. And especially Toddy [16], we don’t feel like she’s a daughter-in-law. She feels like a daughter. And everyone of the children has been just wonderful. Thank God I didn’t have to come to ‘em for any help. But I know that anytime I needed help, they were always there. And that’s what we got - what we got was respect, honor and respect. And that’s something a lot of people never got. To live at that age of life that we have, and to have the respect of all our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, its worth all the struggle that we went through. Its hard to describe, if Mom would start to tell you hat she went through, her life.

CMR: It was very difficult?

ILM: It was unbelievable! If I had the education and I could write. You see, I only went to 4 grades and what I learned English, and what I learned working in barbershops that talked English.

CMR: That’s how you learned to speak English?

ILM: And that’s why I never talk with an accent. You take the, 90% of the people that came from Europe talk with an accent. I went to work for a barber, called Pejames, on Franklin Street. I worked there for 6 months. He was German and his partner was Italian. And he use to speak German to me and translate the words in English to me. And that’s how I learned. In a years time, I spoke just as good English as all the rest of them. I never went to school, I never had a chance. When I worked for her cousin, he wanted to take off a dollar, he paid me $6 a week to start with before I was married, he wanted to take off a dollar because I wanted to go two nights a week to night school. And I couldn’t go to night school because I had to work until 9 o’clock at night. At night was the business, you know, the people come from work, use to come in the barber shop. That’s how I worked. I worked on Eastern Avenue, I worked on Pratt Street, I worked for 3 barbershops on Baltimore Street, I worked one on Franklin Street, I worked 2 on Fayette Street, and 2 on Baltimore Street. I worked one on Baltimore near Broadway and one on Baltimore and High Street. In fact, 3 on Baltimore Street. They wanted me to work after 12 o’clock to do some shaving and cutting hair. But the most part about, and to be honest about, and to tell the truth, that I was never designed to be anything that I was.

CMR: You think so?

ILM: Never. I wasn’t designed to be a barber and I wasn’t designed to be a carpenter. And I wasn’t designed to be anything, and what I turned out to be was just a miracle. I like mechanical . . . paper hanging, I took it up myself, carpentry work, painting, decorating, upholstering, all that stuff I took up just by experience.

CMR: Why did you think you weren’t designed to be that then?

ILM: I just couldn’t, you see, I didn’t have no guidance. When I came over, if I had a guidance, someone to guide me. I was green, you know I came out of a, out of a . . .



  1. Born Freda Reisch; after her marriage to John T. Cosgrove in Baltimore, Maryland, she was known as Florence Cosgrove. They had no children.
  2. Probably referring to the "Friedmann dynasty" of Hasidic Rabbis.
  3. His wife, Elizabeth Hornstein Miller, was actually born in Baltimore, Maryland on August 2, 1895. The family always celebrated her birthday on the 4th of July however.
  4. To access the registry of vessels arriving at the port of New York between 1789-1919, write the National Archives, Reference Service Branch, Washington, D.C. 20408. I was ultimately able to obtain a copy of my grandfather's ship manifest list showing his name upon arrival in New York.
  5. Probably the train station in Jersey City, New Jersey.
  6. 215 W. Barre Street
  7. Hyman Hornstein (1863?-1939)
  8. Mom's sister.
  9. Molly Hornstein (1867? -1923)
  10. 1913
  11. Herman Miller (1914-1992)
  12. Herman Miller (1914-1992); Deborah Miller Cohn (1915-1995); Janet Miller Sachs-Toomer (1918- ); Hannah Miller Block (1920-1972) and Flora Miller Rees (1922- ).
  13. Norman Block (1918-1980)
  14. David Cohn (1914- )
  15. Harold Bernard Rees (1921-1993)
  16. Charlotte Miller (1918- )

Footnotes added by Clifford M. Rees in November, 1998