Transcript Index
Search This Transcript
Go X
0:00

MARTEN: This is Bill Marten of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. I am making this tape on Wednesday, February 21, 1962, at 11:15 in the morning for the Wisconsin Jewish Archives. I will be interviewing Mr. Morris Weingrod in his home.

WEINGROD: I ought to say a few words about the individuals whose names I believe that I have mentioned before. I mentioned the name of Nathan Sand. Mr. Nathan Sand came to Milwaukee at the turn of the century and he too came from Poland. And he has joined what was then a very small movement of newcomers to the city 1:00and what I know that people told me that he became one of the leaders and probably was at the helm of that, or the leadership of the Po'alei Zion movement for at least a half a century. He was a very kind man, very talented, let me also mention that he was a very poor man, because he was perhaps--throughout the years, he was-spent a lot of time and gave a lot of his talent to this movement, in developing this movement, in doing a lot of work. He served many years chairman, secretary--this man has done so many things for fifty years or so. And he died at the age of sixty-five or sixty-six in 1947. I also want to mention 2:00the name of Mr. Louis Perchonok who came here in 1905, and he too gave a lot of his--a lot of his time and was engaged in these activities until 1952, when he passed away. I--There is another man by the name of Elias Zavel who came here not so early--I think he came during the first world war. He was quite an educated man; I believe that he had a PhD degree from a university in Paris. He 3:00had been in Paris--France, rather, during the first world war. And he has made great contributions, great contribution, to our movement. He has taken the Zionism of Po'alei Zion so seriously that he has always dreamt of identifying himself with Zion, with Palestine. And in spite of the fact that he held--worked for a company here--was employed by a company here and held a very fine position and made what is known as a very comfortable living, he has left Milwaukee or left the United States in 1932 with his wife and with their only son, who was at that time probably fourteen or fifteen years old and went to Israel, to Palestine and [pause] settled down there. He worked there for the Histadrut. He 4:00was in the head of adult education, because he was quite a scholar in Hebrew and, as I mentioned before, a very talented man, very systematic about things and very very idealistic and devoted. He died in 1957. His wife died later and their only son lives in Israel today. I visited with him during our visits in Israel. Alec Zavel--or Efrat, they changed their name to Efrat in Israel, a Hebrew name--lives in the kibbutz Afikim, near the Syrian border. He is a 5:00teacher in an agricultural school. He has written several books, one book which was very very highly praised on agriculture.

Let me--I mentioned the name of [coughing] Goldie Meir or, as we knew her first as Goldie Myerson. She made her first trip--after she settled in Israel in 1921, she came to the United States in 1927 and naturally visited among many other communities. She also visited her own community, her own home in Milwaukee. 6:00She--since then she made innumerable visits, being here on various missions starting with Histadrut, on behalf of Histadrut in the olden days, later in behalf of the Pioneer Women, and then after the state was established [pause] in behalf of the Jewish agency, in behalf of the government, in behalf of Israeli bonds. And she never missed the opportunity to meet with her old friends. Usually, it almost became a custom or tradition--when Goldie comes and after the banquet or dinner or public meeting or what have you, she would in the evening get together, either at Mr. Tuchman's house or at our house; and we would call 7:00the old friends from the olden days and would sit and talk and spend in a very fine warm atmosphere. And Mrs. Golda Meir is a, despite of the position that she holds, is very friendly and I would say very very simple, unassuming, usually, and particularly when she is with her old friends, when she comes to her hometown, Milwaukee.

[Long pause]

I have tried to talk about the--our activities and the part, small part or 8:00substantial part that we played in the Jewish community. I want to say at this point that up until the thirties we were--Po'alei Zion and the few affiliate organizations such as the Farband or what was known then as the Jewish National Workers Alliance, and the Pioneer Women--'cuz these three make up what is known as the Labor Zionist Movement. We were separate, in a way separate from the 9:00entire Jewish community. Twenty-five or thirty years ago it was [pause] almost common and natural that the--that the community (when I say community I mean the Jewish community in this case) were sort of divided: in the east side Jews, which made up the more settled, more Americanized, mostly born here, and the upper middle-class people; and in the north side Jews or what later became the west side, Jews who were mostly made up of either workers or small shopkeepers. We were divided. We were never--they who were in the helm of the entire Jewish 10:00community, to the Federated Jewish charities, they never turned to us and I think if they would have turned to us thirty years ago, we would have turned them down. Because we had sort of a philosophy that-that we would lose our identity if we were to join any other group.

Then we--like everything else when people have a philosophy--it is very very hard to-to change that. And I think there is an important change--but life, let me say this, life has changed it. And in the early thirties with the oncoming 11:00storm in Europe with the advent of Hitler and Hitlerism in Germany, something happened to both sides--to the north or west side, and to the east side. That there was a feeling that in order to help to some degree alleviate what is--what the Jews throughout the world are facing with these policies, British policies in Palestine where there was a strict quota for Jewish immigrants which, with the pressure in those years of--on the part of Jews in eastern Europe and 12:00western Europe, that is Poland, Germany, and Latvia, and Lithuania, and all these countries, to get out as quickly as they can, because they undoubtedly felt that more keenly that we did in the United States and with the British closing the doors of Palestine, we felt that unless we are united we won't be able to do very much. And very slowly, I would say almost unnoticed to ourselves, we were being drawn into general Jewish activities. We being drawn in and they drew in other parts of Jewry in this community. Such thing--It was not 13:00unusual to call a protest meeting to protesting against British policies in Palestine to aid that we had to give to western--German Jews and others, and slowly, step by step, we start merging. And the culmination I believe was in 19--in spring of 1937 when three organizations or rather four, let me name them: the Histadrut, that's the people who have helped organize Jewish labor in 14:00Israel, that is ourselves for whom I speak here, and the general Zionists who also would raise money, and the Joint Distribution Committee that was--who was in the hands of the wealthier class of Jews, and the Milwaukee Federation of Jewish Charities--got together in spring 1937 and laid the foundation of the Milwaukee Jewish Welfare Fund. It was a very small beginning under the leadership of the late Mr. Joseph Padway, a well-known attorney in this 15:00community. We went out for the first time in the united effort, went out to raise money and set out to raise our goal of $25,000 and wound up with $28,000, which in those days, it was quite a sum of money. And I will at this point mention the name of Mr. Peter Ottenstein and myself, Morris Weingrod, who were charter members and helped to establish this organization.

[Pause]

I'd like to talk about the American Jewish Conference in which our movement, in 16:00particular, was active, very much interested and with some degree of success. And I'd like to say a few words about the background, what led to the American Jewish Conference and what was the American Jewish Conference. The American Jewish Conference was the idea of the late Henry Monsky who was then the president, national president of B'nai B'rith. There was in those days, in the Jewish communities throughout the land various groups of Zionists and there were 17:00also many--I don't know if very many, but there were substantial Jewish, substantial sized Jewish organizations and many many affiliated and non-affiliated Jews who were opposed to Zionism and who were opposed to the idea of the Jewish state. That isn't really new; that has--that's been going on not only in this country, but also in Europe as early as the turn of the century, as early as Zionism and the idea of a Jewish state were founded, which is also 18:00natural. There was opposition to that. And during the war, the late Mr. Monsky felt that in order to convince the nations of the world or the body that will be created after the war, in order to deal with the many problems of many nations--what we now know as the United Nations at that time we didn't know exactly what form, shape or name it will have. It will be necessary for the Jews themselves first to make it clear. Are the Jews really behind this historical 19:00task? Are the Jews in the United States behind it? Are the people, are-are the majority of the Jewish people, of the adult Jewish people living in the United States, are they really for that program or is the majority against it? Because everybody who spoke for and it's only naturally that everybody who spoke against it and wrote against it, felt and said, rightly or wrongly, that he speaks, that he or she speaks for the majority of the Jewish people.

We therefore conceived the idea that we're going to call for the first time a democratically elected body, and since there were approximately about five 20:00million Jews, we will elect, these five million Jews. We'll go out to the organizations and temples, congregations, synagogues, we'll go out one day and will elect five hundred people, one delegate for each ten thousand Jews. This took place in the summer. The election took place in June, 1943. Our movement, the Labor-Zionist movement very--being devoted Zionists, being devoted to labor in Palestine, we were very much engaged in this work. Engaged? We called 21:00innumerable meetings. We--many people from New York, from the leadership from our general offices, came to help us and we ourselves called meetings through the summer. And we fought together with other sections of the Jewish community what is known in elections in general as a hard fought campaign. Finally, on a certain Sunday in June, our people went out and voted and three people, since Milwaukee has a population of approximately thirty thousand Jews and as I mentioned before, the ratio was one delegate to each ten thousand. The result of 22:00the fight, of the election, that was that we have elected three delegates to that historical conference. They were let me name them now: Rabbi Louis J. Swichkow, Attorney Hyman Seidelman, and Morris Weingrod, that is, myself. We were the three representing [pause] Milwaukee Jewry. I should also mention we were, I mean the idea succeeded beyond our expectations, that the five hundred delegates representing the five million Jews or almost the overwhelming 23:00majority--I think that there were two groups, one who had twelve and one who had fourteen, who abstained from voting on these issues--so that we can say now many years later (incidentally I should mention that this historic conference took place at the Waldorf-Astoria in the city of New York in September of 1943).--The majority, the overwhelming majority, like 474, have unanimously voted and gave support to the general program and have demonstrated to ourselves, to American Jewry, to the world, perhaps also to the American government, and later to the bodies that were formed, that the Jews of the United States through elected 24:00representatives, were in favor of a Jewish state.

[Pause]

We have been involved and engaged in many many activities since then--'cus this is almost, this is almost twenty years ago--We are engaged, we are, what I want to say by this is that all these organizations in our movement are functioning, we are still in business, in spite of that I have mentioned that so many people who were in the helm of it, who have unfortunately, untimely, passed away. Other 25:00people, some younger people, have taken their place. We are the organization that's called, I will repeat it, Po'alei Zion or Labor Zionism, and Farband and Pioneer Women, have regular meetings. We have here our own very nice building called Beth Am Center on fifty-four eighteen West Burleigh Street. If anybody would come in--and I'm not a promoter for the building--anybody would come in for the evening or Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening, somebody will always find that there were a lot of activities going on including--and we should 26:00mention before--of the Habonim, Habonim. I'll translate this--this is a Hebrew word that means children. We have younger people or kids from the age of twelve to sixteen who are our [pause] youth movement. This place is full of activities. Our school, which is united--we united the old Yiddishe Folkshule, which we united with a Jewish city school--that we have at the present time a united program. Our school is there, is located there or about two hundred and sixty to two hundred and eighty children get their education from four in the afternoon 27:00'til eight in the evening.

Now what else? Oh yes, at the conclusion, I also feel that most of the cases, when one is not prepared properly to—for a report of that kind that we were always, that all throughout the years we always carried on, that we were interested in education, not only education, not only Jewish education for our children, but to further education also to adults. And when I came here in 1921, in the spring of 1921, I remember very clearly that I think—after I spent two whole days in Milwaukee, I went to a lecture. They took my, my friends took me to a lecture—I don't remember what the topic was, but something like a lecture on Jewish literature. And-and throughout these forty-one years that I remember we carried on an activity of educating ourselves, educating ourselves. At least twice a month, our people get together and we have speakers, lecturers—some of them come from New York to us—who lecture to us on Jewish history or world history, on Jewish literature, Jewish living; and the men and the women get together. Our last lecture was by a famous Jewish poet only about a week ago. And I mean it is not—it's a continuous, a continuous program of educating ourselves. Of course, the majority of our people, particularly the older ones like myself, did not go—most of us did not get college education and in that way, we further our education and we really do like it, we appreciate it, and we like it and we always look forward to these kinds of activities. I think that I could really tell about more things, but I really hope that I have done what I set out to do, to give at least a glimpse of the thing—of the activities and achievements of the Labor Zionists in Milwaukee as I remember that and as I have been, like many other people involved in it, engaged in it, from 1921 ‘til this day in 1962.

30:0029:0028:00