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This is Ken Chumley at the University of Louisville Oral History Center. The date is January 5, 1979, and I am interviewing for the second time Mr. Alex Berman, a Louisville attorney at his office in the Marion E. Taylor Building. Mr. Berman is an attorney.

AB: In the period that I grew up in Louisville, there were not a great number of young Jewish people going into professions. Most of the young generation - my generation at that time - planned to remain in business with our families. 1:00Because as I've said before, a great part of the Jewish community was engaged in business. But as time went on, small businesses were not doing so well, especially during the time of the depression, around in the 1930s and whereabout. Business was becoming less attractive and Jewish young people were starting to look toward professions. Prior to that time, there had been 2:00difficult for Jewish boys to get into some type of professional schools, whether it was coincidence or a plan, I do not know, but very few students in Louisville for example in engineering school. And even when they did get into those schools, the prospects of their future were not very good. Likewise, there was always a difficulty getting into medical school. And as a result, there were not a great number of Jewish applicants accepted at medical school. There was a form 3:00of a quota, although that is not definitely or officially said or proven and I certainly do not want to be a person who is saying there was a planned quota, but in effect that's what it was.

KC: I notice for instance that there was some kind of quota system at the U of L Medicine School because a prominent Jewish physician in town told me that. I don't know whether it was above board or whether it was a stated on the books kind of policy or whether it was just sort of ...

AB: That's correct. I don't think it was quite the same case in law school. But in any event, around 1930 I think, going to professional college for young 4:00people became on the upgrade. Now I think, too, that one of the reasons for that was that big corporations were starting to take over, and a lot of the businesses - small family business, mama and poppa stores - were beginning to have problems and were not as attractive to young people as they had been in the past. We, of course, noticed that trend was beginning to grow where small businesses closed down. As I said earlier, there were many especially Jewish 5:00people - who had small grocery stores and hardware stores, clothing, jewelry stores, such as that, and did very well. But as time went on and we got into the period of depression where many people lost their businesses, young people started looking elsewhere for their future. Also, as a result I think that many of us went to professional schools.

KC: What were the affects of the Depression on your Father's store?

AB: He had a very large men and women's clothing store. It was one of the large 6:00stores in the city. During the Depression, we suffered like everybody else and the business was just practically destroyed. And as a result we had to sell the building that we had owned on Market Street and move into smaller quarters, with the location being on Market between First and Brook Street. And from that point on, the business continued to decline.


KC: You all were living above the store in both locations?

AB: No, we first had a business at 216 and 218 West Market and we lived above the store there and that was a rented building. And then we bought the property adjoining at 220-222 and there were no living quarters there. This building was remodeled extensively and became a modern building for those days, with an elevator and all. We lost that building and went to smaller quarters. Also 8:00during that period of time, many people bought real estate in my family and it is true of many people back then of the same background as my parents where they would buy a small business place or a little piece of investment property. And as a result, the people at that time with the same background as my family bought real estate. Not expensive real estate, but small houses and rented them 9:00and had an income. As a result, it was common that when the head of the house passed away that there usually would be a couple of little cottages or business places that produced enough income where the widow could get along pretty well. It was not until the last 20 years that wives worked outside of a business owned by the husband. And that was a difficult situation with Jewish families when seldom the wife worked out. But where the husband had a small business, the wife 10:00would frequently help. And there was nothing wrong with it but it was not the custom for women to work away from the home, as they were needed to look after the children and to maintain the home properly. That might be one of the reasons why the records for delinquency among Jewish children was historically lower among Jewish families than the general community.

KC: So your parents, by investing in real estate and these properties, were able


to cushion a lot of the blows from the Depression?

AB: Well, that's true. But during the Depression, much of the real estate was lost, too. Because people were unable to pay rent, and there were mortgages on the property, and so when we couldn't pay the mortgages, we had to give the property back. But of course some of it was salvaged and managed to get through the Depression.

KC: Tell me now. You mentioned earlier that business wasn't a lucrative 12:00profession. Lots of times people went into the business because their parents had the business. You mentioned though that young Jews were beginning to enter the profession you chose - law. Where did you go to law school?

AB: I got all of my education in Louisville and went to the University of Louisville Law School and finished in 1928 and took the bar examination and started practicing the same year when I was 21 years of age, when I started practicing.

KC: That's rather young, isn't it? Was it young then?

AB: Well, you have to be 21 before you can be admitted, but I was 21 and have been practicing continuously since that time. It's interesting to note that 13:00since the shifts to professions - I was the first of my generation to enter a profession. That is, such as law, medicine, dentistry or engineering. I don't know of any others who are in a profession at all, but I am sure I was the first of any of these professions. Since then, my oldest brother who is now deceased had a son become a lawyer and another ·son graduated from the University of Louisville Speed Engineering School and one went to Columbia University to 14:00become an Engineer and he graduated from Columbia in Business Administration and was associated with Booze Allen and Hamilton, a very fine consulting company. They were the children of my oldest brother, Hyman. The one who was a lawyer was Donald Berman, who practices in Chicago and is now deceased. Another brother, 15:00Ike was unmarried and no children. Then there was Dennis Berman, my brother who is now deceased. He had a son, Harris Berman who is a lawyer, three daughters, each of whom took teaching as professions, and one of the daughters is married to a lawyer, Bob Kohn, who is my partner. One of Dennis' daughters who is a teacher had a son to become a lawyer. My brother, Morris, had a son, Jerome, who is a lawyer and also my partner.

KC: How did your parents feel about your decision not to go into business, but 16:00to go to Law School?

AB: Oh, they approved of it, and encouraged me.

KC: Was the profession of law considered special, a cut above the ordinary?

AB: Well, I think that going to college in itself was a little above the average. Today it would not be so, but then - longer than 50 years ago - it was a little unusual. Our family encouraged it, all nine children graduated from high school, some college. rm trying to show how the change of business background changed professions. And I think this is pretty general not only in 17:00our family. We were always a family of merchants and now there is not a member of the family who is a merchant. I have a nephew by marriage - he married my brother Morris's daughter and his name is Lee Grossman and they own Loevenhart's Men Store. That is an old business. He is the only really merchant left of a very large family. We were all merchants before, clothing business, liquor business, drug stores and varied types of businesses. I have a son who is a 18:00doctor who practices in Chicago, Phillip Berman. He gastroenterologist and he went to Vanderbilt University for his undergraduate work and then got his medical training in Louisville. My daughter, Esther, graduated as a teacher and now lives in St. Louis and married an engineer, Robert Banishef and they live there with their family. He is a consultant and mechanical engineer. But each of my brothers and sisters have professional children. There were nine and there 19:00was a big development in that area.

KC: As the first one into a profession, surely you met some kind of resistance. As you said, historically or traditionally perhaps. Your family and Jews were merchants, but were now saying as you recounted it, Jews are beginning to go into professions heretofore mainly occupied by White Anglo-Saxons perhaps. What kind of reception did you have?

AB: Well, the reception that I received was very good. Personally, I have not had any disabling or discouraging signs of prejudice. I know it exists, and 20:00those are not things that you can actually put your finger on but you do feel it but never to the extent that it has disturbed me personally but I regret it that the situation existed and tried to at all times conduct myself in such a manner in my affairs - in such a manner that I would not justify any criticism against 21:00me personally or against me as a Jew. I was associated and shared an office space with a Protestant lawyer for about 30 years. His name was John C. Wickliffe. He died about ten years ago. We had a very fine relationship. He respected me for living and doing as I did and I, of course, respected him likewise. He was much older than I and he was very helpful to me and had given me some legal guidance that was helpful. So as far as my personal association 22:00with non-Jewish people, in the profession it was always quite close. Things were always on a very friendly, fine basis.

KC: In your class at the law school, do you recall how many Jews were classmates of yours?

AB: Yes. In my class, we had a 50th class reunion last year and the three Jewish students who were in that class were at the reunion. And they were Sam Steinfeld who was recently a member of the Supreme Court of the State of Kentucky. It was known as the Court of Appeals while he served. Frank Garlove was also a member 23:00of the class but was not at the reunion. We all still practice law. Sam is doing more teaching than actual practicing. Sam Steinfeld's father was a lawyer and Sam's son is a very fine young lawyer. They both live in town. Also Frank Garlove who was in my class has a son now who is a lawyer, Matt Garlove. The three of us were Jewish students and we got along very well with all the teachers and other students and there was no antisemitism or hostility at all.


KC: You were graduated you said in 1928, two years before the Depression began I guess formally. Did you enter private practice by yourself?

AB: Yes, I started practicing and I was supposed to go into the office with a very fine lawyer by the name of Joseph Seligman and his brother Alfred Seligman, both were very excellent lawyers. I was supposed to start practicing with them. 25:00But in the meantime, I was coaxed by a lawyer by the name of H. A. I. Rosenberg, who was not a native Louisvillian but who came here and suddenly developed a tremendous criminal practice and a big part of his practice was defending bootleggers. Bootlegging was a big illegal industry at that time, and defending them was a very profitable type of business to lawyers. Anyhow, this man had a 26:00tremendous practice in that field and he invited me to come into his office which I did and which I later regretted. He was doing very well for himself financially, but I was doing some of the work for him which I did not enjoy doing, and I did not make very much money doing it. That, I suppose, was my fault, and I just didn't like that kind of practice and I didn't like the association with people who were bootleggers and dealed in illegal activities. 27:00So I stayed there a couple of years and then I had office space with a lawyer by the name of Joseph Solinger, who is a very nice man. He had a civil practice and I stayed with him about five or six years and then I moved with Mr. Wickliffe who had offices in the old Louisville Trust Building. He was a real estate 28:00specialist. That's all he did was real estate work and matters related to real estate law. He was considered an expert in this field, a very fine man and I stayed with him until he died in about 1968 or thereabouts. I don't remember exactly when. But after he passed away, I stayed in Louisville Trust Building for a year or two after which I joined the partnership then of Taustine, Post, 29:00Berman, Fineman & Kohn and I merged my practice with theirs and became of member of the partnership. In addition to those in the firm name, since then, two young men have become partners, Alvin Wax and Martin Snyder, both very fine young men. All of the members of the partnership have roots in Louisville except Joe Fineman, who came here from West Virginia - he and his wife and family - very 30:00fine family, nice family and they are very active in the community. He is President of the Jewish Community Center. Other than that, the rest are all practically native Louisvillians.

KC: What kind of legal work are you doing now?

AB: Well, practically all of my work is estate work. Probate, estate and real estate. It's a general practice, of course. I do some corporate work and 31:00occasionally I have a personal injury claim. That type thing which involves Court work I've always turned over to somebody else. I don't enjoy Court litigation.

I'm also a native Louisvillian and I've always participated in the affairs of the community. I belong to a number of organizations; I've always been active in 32:00the Keneseth Israel Congregation which was originally named Jacob Congregation which consolidate with another congregation to form the Keneseth Israel Congregation. I have taught Sunday school there, been principal of the Sunday school, editor of the paper and have been on the Board for as long as I can remember and I was President of the Congregation for about 4-5 years. That activity continued over a period from when the Synagogue was located on Jefferson Street between Preston and Jackson and later functioned at Preston and 33:00later moved to a building at Floyd and Jacob Street. At that time, my Father was Treasurer of the Congregation, my brother-in-law, Louis Shuster, was Chairman of the Building Committee and took a great part of the responsibility in building the beautiful synagogue which now still stands at Floyd and Jacob and it's a beautiful building. I continued my activity to the present location of Keneseth 34:00Israel Synagogues which is now at Taylorsville Road. Louis Shuster was on that committee, very active on that; and I, too, was on that committee for building the new synagogue. Also, I was President, then succeeded by my brother-in-law, Louis Shuster, who was President, and then by another brother-in-law, Sol Goldberg. Sol Goldberg is now deceased and has been for about 25 years. He was a very young man when he was President, as was I. I was President before he was. I think I was in my middle 30's. And that's quite a responsibility because when I 35:00became President, I had succeeded a man by the name of Sam Goldstein who had been President for a number of years. I became President in 1943 and at that time, the Congregation was in debt with a mortgage and so forth. I succeeded in raising enough money during the four years while I was President so that we paid off the mortgage during my administration and it was debt-free. Also, it was customary in the Congregation - I guess in churches of all faiths - to try to raise money during the services from the pulpits. And we people would pledge 36:00their money right on the spot. This always seemed. distasteful to me, and while I was President, we had a new policy where there would be no open solicitation for funds from the pulpit. And that continued for quite some time and added much to the dignity of the services. Also, I belonged to the Masonic organization, but I was never active. That's the only organization I ever belonged to that I was not active. I became a member when I was about 21 years of age, as were my other five brothers. And I may have mentioned this before, but my three sisters 37:00- each of their husbands were Masons. There were nine of us. But I was never active in that and one of the reasons for it was during the War when Hitler invaded the various countries in Europe, one of the organizations which was put out of business or destroyed were the Masonic orders and I guess other fraternal organizations. Of course, this also destroyed the unions. I always felt that the Masonic organization did not protest the actions of Hitler strongly enough. They 38:00made a token protest but didn't do anything that was very meaningful. And in my appraisal of the situation, they could have been so helpful not only to the Masonic organizations and lodges, but for humanity in general. They could have had boycotts in this country or protested. There were many things they could have done, but I didn't think they did adequately. As a result, I've never been very active in Masonry; although I've always been a member and just recently was given a 50-year lodge membership in that organization.

KC: What do you remember were the effects of how the Jewish community really 39:00responded before WWII? Did you have information - that is, did the Jewish community know the degree to which Hitler was persecuting the Jews and killing the Jews?

AB: I recall that during the time Hitler was corning into power, I was editor of our congregational paper. It was just local news, but just recently I had occasion to look through some of those papers and several years before Hitler came into power, there are articles in there about how this man who is practically unknown has been inciting the people of Germany and how he is 40:00working his way into some type of leadership and the prejudices he was developing among the people, and yes, I was aware of it. Many people, the whole community - the Jewish community - were certainly aware of it. The general community was aware of it but did nothing about it except say it is just a fad and it will pass. But he certainly gave enough warning. People had enough 41:00warning to have done something to try to stop him and protect themselves.

KC: Last summer I believe it was in Skokie, Illinois, there was some controversy about allowing neo-nazis to march. The American Civil Liberties Union said they should be given the right, and Jews opposed the march. I don't know whether there was a march, but in December 22, 1978, - I think - issue of the Jewish Post Opinion, there was a brief article saying that swastikas had appeared in Louisville. I'm wondering, do you see a resurgence of nazism a kind of neo-nazi movement across the country and perhaps locally?


My personal opinion is that prejudice is inbred to some people and is always going to show up in one form or another and any indication of that type of behavior or inhumanity should be stopped as soon as it's noted. And it cannot be stopped by the Jewish Community alone. That's a mistake that Jewish people have, it's a mistake that the general community has. One group cannot stop these things. They may be able to identify them, but it's up to the general community to do something about it. And if the general community just accepts these things 43:00and makes light of them, saying it's nothing - just a prank - that just allows the people who are intent upon destroying the American form of government - and that's what it is. Anyone who is anti-anything or anti any group is un-American. It just gives those people an opportunity of enlarging their hold.

KC: As an attorney, I'm wondering what are the constitutional implications of not allowing Nazis for instance to march, even though the march would be--

AB: I think every act has to be considered on the basis of what the purpose is, 44:00what the motive of it is. We talked about the free speech. We've all heard the illustrations saying we have free speech but we cannot in a crowded theatre stand up and yell 'fire' and cause a stampede where people could be killed. That's a simple illustration, but it's a meaningful one and that's the way it is with these people who are nazis. There is nothing good identified with the nazi movement that I know of. Now there may be some good things about it, but I've never heard of any. It's slavery, it's persecution, it's killing, it's all the 45:00horrible things in life. And when a group says now these are the things we stand for and we have rights, I think that's a misinterpretation of rights. They don't have a right to kill or to tell somebody to kill me or you or your children. They don't have the right to enslave you or me or my children. It's gonna be done by these talks and speeches they give. That doesn't give them the right to do that. The Constitution can be interpreted in many ways but I don't think it was ever the intent of the framers of the Constitution and those who were 46:00responsible for the enforcement of the restrictions of the Constitution are to allow the opportunity provided by the Constitution - to destroy somebody else in enforcing those rights or taking advantage of those rights. I think that knowing what the organization stands for and the purpose of their program determines what they may or may not be able to do.

KC: In another vein source, how have you seen the Jewish community change from your earliest recollections to the present? In what ways have the community 47:00changed and I mean community broadly defined.

AB: Let me make another comment not exactly answering your question. I belong to an organization you probably have never heard of. It's called the Junior Order of United American Mechanics. Now that's a fraternal organization that is about 125 years old. One of the basic principles of that organization is separation of church and state. It's based very much on the same principles of Masonry. They 48:00were very active in the creation of the public school system.There were a few Catholics who belonged and maybe two or three Jewish people who belonged. I was invited to join and I did become a member of that organization and I became quite active in it. One of the reasons I became active in that organization was 49:00that those people who belonged were good people. They were not professional people. These were blue collar people with trades, and they had not had much contact with Jewish people. So one of my reasons for getting into that organization was I wanted to see if I could create an image that would be favorable. One of the objects of that organization was to not only be strict but almost complete limitation of immigration. And one of the precepts was to give an American the­ benefit in every relationship over somebody who was not an 50:00American. And when they said American, I would imagine they were meaning somebody even if he was naturalized, but they still gave an American born person the advantage over him. And this organization has done a lot of good work. It has an orphanage and an old people's home and some of the immigration laws they objected to they were probably right in doing so. When a person came to this country, they wanted him to become a citizen of this country which I think is 51:00good. And they were basically a patriotic organization of the United States of America. The precepts were very fine, I thought, so I joined that organization. As I say there were not over 2 or 3 Jewish people in there and one of the reasons was that they didn't reach the Jewish community. They were not businesspeople, they were not professional people, they were blue collar people. They weren't office workers, they worked in factories. They were fine, good 52:00hard-working people. Of course, there were some professional and businesspeople, too, but not primarily. So I was very anxious to create the good impression - and I think I've succeeded in doing that, because I was named as Counselor that's like President. And when I was elected, we had 3,000 members in our chapter here in Louisville. We were a very effective group. I respected them and 53:00always thought they were good citizens. I participated in all activities and services, and they made me the Counselor, and I had a very fine relationship with this group. I'm still a part of it, I make speeches to various organizations for them, because it is a very patriotic organization.

KC: Tell me the name of it again? Junior Order of United American Mechanics.

AB: They respected me and they all knew that I was Jewish - I made it a point.

KC: Were there many Jews in the group of 3,000?

AB: No. Now this group around here has dwindled. I don' guess there are 500 54:00members left now. It used to be a very active group.

KC: Tell me briefly if you will because we're running out of tape, again how you feel the Jewish community has changed?

AB: Well in the first place, the number of people in the local Jewish Community has not changed. According to the census, we have I think about 8500 Jewish people in the community, and it has been that for a number of years. The Jewish community has tried to carry on the traditions it has had for such a long period of time. This has always been a well-organized and very fine YMHA. They were 55:00rare in the country. Incidentally I was a member of the Board of Directors of that group for many years. They had a Jewish Hospital. Today it is the smallest Jewish community that has a Jewish hospital, and I was on that Board for about 20 years. So they've retained all these things and they've tried to upgrade it. There have been a lot of good people moving to Louisville and have become active in our community, enriched it and have been beneficial. The Jewish population itself is much more integrated than it was 25 years ago, and more unified. There's no division as marked as it used to be. The Orthodox, conservative, reform, or the rich and the poor. They are all now in the younger generation well educated and are all college graduates.

KC: Among young Jews do you think there is a growing interest in their Jewish 56:00race and heritage, the language, the tradition, the history?

AB: Well, I think that Israel has done a lot to solidify the Jewish feeling among the young people. That is a common central point for Jews all over. The person today is much more at ease in public than he was 25 to 50 years ago. I believe too that the general Jew has found that it's recognized that the Jewish population are making a contribution to the community. They serve the community, they participate in every worthwhile program and I believe they've shown how to 57:00be charitable, not only in money but in their conduct of the leadership that many Jews have shown - the problems of the Black, in trying to establish their rights and protect their rights has shown their charitable ideology.

KC: I read somewhere, I can't recall now the author of the article, but the author, a Jew, argues that Jews in the United States are becoming more conservative from liberal causes, liberal ideology, from involvement say in the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. There is a shift away from those 58:00causes to a more conservative outlook. Do you think that's accurate?

AB: Well I don't think so. I think they are still interested in National causes, more than they have ever been. However, I think that the Jewish community should be sure that their own interests are not jeopardized by trying to protect the rights or proclaim the rights of other people like in this suit where the Civil Liberties wants to give the right to march to the Nazis. I don't think they 59:00should participate in a thing like that. It is basically morally wrong. The theory is good, but that's something that should not be permitted. They're not trying to march for anything good, they are trying to march to destroy the Jewish community. Why should anyone support something like this?

KC: I want to thank you for the time you've spent and for participating in this.