Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Max Tannenbaum, June 2, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:21 - Introduction / Early childhood

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Partial Transcript: Okay, Mr. Tannenbaum, where were you born?

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer, Judy Levin, is interviewing Max Tannenbaum who is a Ukraine born immigrant. He immigrated to the United States when he was 19 years of age. The initial part of the interview focuses on Tannenbaum's early years growing up in the Ukraine. Tannenbaum was born 1 year after his parents married, and discusses how his family grew with multiple siblings over the years. He recounts learning Hebrew at the age of 5, and that he taught other children Hebrew while in his teenage years before he went on to find other jobs because, unfortunately, the job did not pay well.

Keywords: Brothers; Careers; Hebrew language; Jewish citizens; Jobs; Siblings; Teaching; Ukraine; Work

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; Language and languages.

00:06:06 - Big responsibilities at a young age

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Partial Transcript: My father used to be a, a, a guy that makes shingles on the roof.

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum discusses how his father participated in roofing work that was difficult to do year round. He states that his father struggled with finding work, which prompted him to eventually immigrate to the United States to find work. As a result of his father leaving, Tannenbaum was left to take care of his family. This prompted him, along with his brother, to travel across Ukraine to find work at a local dam. It was on this journey that they encountered wolves and had to survive in the wilderness.

Keywords: Careers; Jewish; Jobs; Local dams; Ukraine; Wilderness; Work; Young boys

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:13:09 - Finding work and providing for the family

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Partial Transcript: And I decided, I went over to that guy there that I saw that time when he came to the synagogue...

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum discusses his need to provide for his family financially, and how he approached a man at his synagogue and propositioned him for a job at a local dam. He was questioned on his ability to perform the duties, but stated he proved his strength by doing a "strength test". After proving his ability, Tannenbaum and his brother were given work at the dam making 10 rubles a week, which he gave to his mother. Tannenbaum discusses how he also built toys and other items to make money for his family in addition to working at the dam.

Keywords: Careers; Death; Financial responsibility; Grandfathers; Jobs; Local dams; Money; Rubles; Tests of strength; Work

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Economics.; Families.

00:17:51 - Fond memories at the synagogue and ice skating in the winter time

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Partial Transcript: Sh, she, she was a--when we used to, uh, pray in the synagogue, the synagogue was divided into two halves.

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum discusses how his mother was educated by the synagogue and would teach other women how to pray. He recounts an amusing story of when a dog entered the synagogue and scared the women. He remembers how his mother told the other boys to chase the dog out of the building. He further remembers positive memories about making wooden skates and going ice skating along the frozen lakes, as well as eating different kinds of berries that were frozen over in the winter time.

Keywords: Ice skating; Jewish faith; Jewish synagogues; Prayers; Winters

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Jewish children; Jews--Identity.; Judaism.; Recreation; Religion; Worship (Judaism)

00:22:48 - World War I

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Partial Transcript: And at that time it came in when the first World War came in from when the Germans attacked, uh, Russia and France.

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum recounts how his village was in the middle of the war (WWI), and that the Germans came and settled their line close to his village. He recounts how the Germans would collect food and other items from the village to supplement what they did not have. Tannenbaum discusses how he was given a job by the German secret police to drive a carriage because he knew the German language. He was given the job to lead a horse and wagon to the front line trenches selling items that the Germans could not purchase in the neighboring villages. Tannenbaum discusses how he and the German secret police officer split their profits 50/50.

Keywords: German secret police; German translators; German-Russian relations; Germans; WWI; World War I

Subjects: Employment; Language and languages.; World War, 1914-1918

00:30:23 - Tannenbaum's immigration to the United States

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Partial Transcript: This is really interesting but could we talk about your experience when you decided to come to Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum discusses why he chose to immigrate to the United states, and specifically states that he left so that he would not die while fighting in the Russian army. He recounts how his father would send him letters talking about the amazing experiences he had in the United States, and encouraged him to come join him. Tannenbaum discusses how, when he came to Philadelphia, he worked in a factory making suspenders by day and went to school to learn English by night.

Keywords: 'American dream'; 7th Street and Arch Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); English as a second language (ESL); Family reunions; Fathers; Language acquisition; Night schools; Russian Red Army; United States; Upholstery workers; Warsaw (Poland); Warsaw, Poland

Subjects: Education; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; Language and languages.

00:40:36 - Changing jobs from upholstery work to secretary treasurer of the union

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Partial Transcript: And I says why don't you let me go in the piece work? I do better work than they do.

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum discusses doing odd jobs, but says that he had a desire to join the union. He recounts how he participated in the general strike even though he was not a union member at the time. He states that his hard work paid off as he was afforded the job of Secretary Treasurer of the union. Tannenbaum recounts how while striking he was accused of being part of the Red Army, and he discusses the traumatic experience of being arrested as a result of this accusation.

Keywords: General Union Strike 1936; Russian Red Army; Upholstery; Upholstery unions

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:49:50 - From union worker to sole business owner

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Partial Transcript: So I decided I'm going to go and try to make an upholstery business for myself.

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum discusses how he was tired of trying to find odd jobs working in the upholstery business and ultimately decided to open up his own business. He recounts how he started out by opening up a small stand out front of a butcher shop. It was here he started the business of reupholstering strollers of the mothers who frequented the shop. Once he saved enough money and had a substantial business going, Tannenbaum decided to purchase his own store to sell his wares.

Keywords: Business owners; Butcher shops; Northeast Philadelphia; Reupholstering strollers; Small business owners; Upholstery

Subjects: Employment; Small business--Ownership

00:56:31 - Prosperous businessman

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, and she, she was always afraid that I go too far, that I spend money, give away the 10,000 dollars for the building for--

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum discusses how his wife was worried about his spending with the shop, but that he did very well with his job and was very prosperous. He recounts how his business was going well, but that the neighborhood began to see an increase in crime, and he was worried about his safety. He eventually decided to sell his business as a result of the crime rate increasing.

Keywords: Criminal activity; Fiscal conservatism; Frugality; Small business owners

Subjects: Crime.; Employment; Small business--Ownership

01:06:26 - Returning to the synagogue

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Partial Transcript: And I see the synagogue there and I see there's nobody praying there or anything.

Segment Synopsis: Tannenbaum recounts having to move due to his wife's failing health. In doing so, he was able to find a synagogue that he could teach Hebrew in. Tannenbaum helps the synagogue by teaching new converts Hebrew and holding prayers. The interview is concluded with the interviewer thanking Tannenbaum for his participation and his impressive memory of events spanning his whole life.

Keywords: Hebrew language; Jewish religion; Jewish synagogues; Nursing homes; Teaching; Wife

Subjects: Health; Jews--Identity.; Judaism.; Language and languages.; Religion; Worship (Judaism)