Ziskind.com > Writing > His Story: Morris L. Ziskind > Chapter One - Childhood

His Story: Morris L. Ziskind

Chapter One - Childhood

I am Morris L. Ziskind. I am 85 years old and telling my life story to my son Jerry. He began tape recording my reminiscences and writing this narrative January 4, 2000. I intend to maintain final control of what appears here.

I was born May 24, 1914. My Jewish name was Moshe Leib, Morris the Lion Hearted. I was named in memory of one of my father's brothers. The literal translation of Leib is lion, so when I needed a middle initial in college, I chose "L" for Lionel.

Samuel and Jennie Ziskind, Parents of Morris L. Ziskind

My father, Samuel Ziskind was born in Russia in 1886. A hard worker, he was about 5' 6", a strong man with a solid build. Those were times of tempest in Russia when Jews were being killed in pogroms. During his travels while serving in the Russian army he met my mother Jennie Rabinowitz, who was born in Grodno, Poland in 1895. As soon as he got out of the army they eloped and left Russia. They carried what possessions they could on their backs.

There were organizations in the United States that lent money for the purchase of tickets (shiffcarten) to America. A loan was paid off in installments through an agent, and then you got the tickets. After my father got to America he organized his relatives to continue to bring over other family members. Aunts Tsivia and Bessie, my mother's sisters, wouldn't contribute and that caused tension in the family. Since my parents left Europe before the rise of Nazism, my family was not directly affected by the Holocaust. However an uncle, on my father's side was presumed killed.

Morris L. Ziskind, Age 4

I was born, the second of four children, in Philadelphia Hospital. My older brother Abe, my sister Elsie, my younger brother Sidney, and I were raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I lived with my family on the second floor of 709 South Third Street. I was a healthy child, however I remember when I was about seven years old I had hernia surgery. My father was a skilled harness maker and had his harness shop on the first floor. He had some leather working hand tools he might have brought with him from Russia. I remember a half moon shaped tool with a circular blade used to cut a sharp straight edge. He would rock it back and forth to cut the leather. He then sewed the edges. He sat on a wooden horse using his feet to open and close it to hold the object he was sewing.

Morris L. Ziskind as a child with siblings Abe, Elsie and parents Jennie and Sam.

Near my father's store, at Third and Bainbridge, was a place where people could water their horses. Money had been left in a will to build six round openings where water ran continuously. With the coming of the automobile there were few horses in the city so the children played in the water. The police were using cars and trucks so most of the harness making business gradually disappeared. All that remained was repair work for the few policemen who rode horses when on duty at the track. Pop had his picture in the newspaper for making a handmade suitcase and he made a beautiful saddle for Tom Mix, the movie star. The saddle was on display in our store window. Although Pop was highly skilled at harness making he would have hated it if I had learned this dying trade. I was to go to school.

My father was very popular, so there were always people hanging out around his shop. Pop would tell stories and the men would reminisce about their Russian army experiences. His shop was a meeting center, an ideal place for collecting bribes for policemen on the take during prohibition. Bootleggers didn't want to be seen paying off the police. A man could starve if all he did was make bridles, so my father supplemented his income as a middleman for delivering bribes. My father collected bribes from the bootleggers and I delivered the money to the police captain, each time getting a quarter tip. He lived at 2200 south on Rittner Street and I lived on the 700 block. I would walk the twenty-two blocks, saving the nickel carfare, and buy a cookie. That quarter was a lot of money for a twelve year old. It lasted me a whole week.

My father also supplemented the inadequate income generated by his harness making with bootlegging. These were hard times and people had more than one business; whatever it took to put food on the table. No one suspected a harness shop would be used for bootlegging. My father made the liquor in our kitchen the old style Russian way. He made mash and let it ferment and age in wooden barrels in the backyard. He sold this homemade stuff to local speakeasies. We bought gallon jugs, which were returned as empties. We hid the liquor in a crawl space above my mother's clothes closet in my parent's bedroom. We could access the crawl space with a ladder by pushing up a panel in the ceiling. One of my jobs was to climb into this attic and hand down the heavy five-gallon containers. My mother would carry them to the steps to be loaded for delivery. If the police raided us my mother would call "ze zeinen du" (they are here). We would climb from the crawl space above the closet to the roof where we also stored liquor in five-gallon cans. Our house was a row house so we could move along the connected roofs of the buildings and come down on the other side of the street. We would move the liquor to an adjacent roof, for which the police would need a different search warrant.

The policemen who had been bribed tipped us off as to when the raids were scheduled. It was relatively easy to move the liquor to another building when necessary because Spear's Garage, which was three houses away, was a convenient place to park our truck and load it. The garage was also a convenient place to load a truck sent to pick up an order for an out of town saloon. The driver would pull his truck into the garage for fuel and we would load it with cans of alcohol.

It was quite an enterprise, but of course it was illegal. It would have been easy for the government to stop bootlegging by locating the source of the bottles. But the government didn't want to know. There was bribery and all kinds of cheating. While I did not help in the making of the liquor I did help in delivering bribes and alcohol. My mother and father told me to do it, so I did.

Sometimes I would accompany a local delivery of bootlegged liquor. An adult would push a baby buggy (carriage), sometimes with a baby, sometimes not, but always with a five-gallon can of alcohol. I would walk along side the adult so it would look like a real family scene as we made the delivery to the speakeasy. Bootlegging provided my family a living during this difficult period. We were caught a number of times and paid the fine. You didn't go to jail for bootlegging. We were eventually put out of business by the combination of police raids and the declining profit in bootlegging, which no longer made it a viable business.

My mother stayed at home with the kids. I think she did odd jobs like sewing. Raising four kids was a big job. People would complain to her - "Your son did this or your son did that". My mother was the disciplinarian and made the rules. Her demands were reasonable and fair. She was very strict, domineering, and we did what we were told. We were well-behaved children. If we wanted to go to the movies and she felt it was inappropriate and said no that was the end of the discussion. My parents were not demonstrative. My mother did not cover you with kisses and hugs. When she gave you a compliment you deserved it and treasured it.

One time I came home from school with a perfect score on my report card. I told my father that I had gotten a note from the principal. My father came over and gave me a shot in the tuchus (buttocks).

"What are you hitting me for", I asked?

"Any time you get a note from the principal something must be wrong," he answered. He had automatically assumed that the note was a complaint. He apologized when I finally was able to explain that I had been given a compliment.

If necessary, and it rarely was, my father was the enforcer. He would give you a verbal spanking, which was worse than being hit. He only intervened if there was an impasse. I remember that happening when I was about fourteen. I had accidentally broken a window in the neighborhood pickle store. He slapped me on the face and gave me hell.

"I never want to hear of anything like this again!"

The argument was whether our family was responsible to pay for the repairs. A compromise was reached and I had to pay half of the cost, six dollars, on the installment plan. My parents wanted me to know that I was responsible for the damage I had done. My parents' fairness influenced me when I became a parent. My wife raised the children and like my father I was the enforcer, the final judge or arbitrator. I, too, tried to be fair.

In retrospect my parents did a very good job raising their children. They taught us right from wrong; we learned to obey orders. While we didn't always agree with them, we always listened to them.

My parents spoke many languages including Yiddish, Polish, and Russian. My Mother went to night school to learn English. She spoke English well, but with an accent. She would translate letters from the old country for her friends and write their dictated response. My father learned six or seven languages from his years in the army. He would learn the language of the area in which he was stationed. Unlike my mother, he was not literate. He never learned how to read or write. When friends came to visit my father they spoke Russian. We spoke Yiddish and English at home. My Mother spoke to us in Yiddish and insisted we answer her in English so she would learn the language. We kids spoke to each other in English.

When my parents wanted to communicate with each other and not have the children understand they spoke Russian. If they wanted to go to the movies and not take the children they would discuss it in Russian. Eventually we kids learned the key words. Quarten in Russian means movie. When we heard them say quarten we would say, "We want to go too".

There was not much free time or family time. In the evenings my father would read the newspaper. We often had visitors. People would come to see my father and they would have a "glasel (glass) tea". The Slatkins were close friends of my parents. My father had lived in Mr. Slatkin's house in Europe. My father would help him unpack supplies for his grocery store in the evenings.

Sometimes the neighbors would gather to listen to the boxing matches on our radio. One fight I remember was the match in 1923 between Benny Leonard and Lew Tendler, two Jewish fighters. My father had met both of them, but favored Benny Leonard who won the fight. It was one of the few times I saw my father gamble.

We ate together as a family. We always had enough to eat although we did eat a lot of bread - a good piece of Herschel's' brut. My parents would send me for bread to Herschel's bakery at Fourth and Cater. Herschel's charged a penny more than the other bakeries but if I was not prompt doing that errand Herschel would sell out and my father could always tell if I went to any other bakery. "Where did you get this?" he would ask me sternly. As young children we would have to run errands and help out as soon as we could. There was not much time for play and we did not have any toys. There was no formal celebration of birthdays with parties and gifts.

We always had a cat to deal with the rat problem. Cats were clean, useful pets. We might also have kittens until somebody would ask for one. We had a mixed breed dog named Peggy. She lived off the scraps and leftovers from the store. When she died we buried her in a park off of Broad Street where people at that time buried their dogs.

My parents were active in "landsliet" groups - informal organizations of people who had the same country of origin, or even the same "stetle" or town, who now lived in America. These people were looking for a touch of the old country, of their past. My parent's landsliet sponsored Jewish theatre in the group's native language of Russian. My father and mother helped organize these shows, which otherwise would not come to Philadelphia. Pop was the business manager. They worked with a New York group that supplied the actors and show. One of their first shows had the famous actress Molly Picon. The performers were paid in advance. The group rented a theatre at 8th and Walnut Streets and sold tickets. If there was a profit it was divided among the organizers with some of the extra left in the group's treasury. When they lost money, which was most of the time, the organizing group split the loss among the members. My parent's helped keep Jewish theatre alive in Philadelphia.

Tik Tak Logo, as drawn by Morris L. Ziskind

I was about 15 when we moved to Delancy Street. My father left the harness shop that was losing money and started a soda business at 520 Lombard Street, adjacent to Cater Street, three blocks from the harness shop. A salesman talked my father into buying some soda machines and Pop thought he was going to get rich. Pop believed he was getting new machines but they were used and not in good condition. My father knew nothing about machinery. He spent a lot of money trying to keep those machines making Tik Tak Soda. He would travel to get parts to keep the machines running. The soda business was not profitable but was a good front for my father's continued bootlegging. We could drive in and out and no one would suspect anything since we were also making deliveries of our soda. My brother Abe and I helped Pop run the soda business and also the bootlegging.

The yard behind the soda factory backed up to Hughes Restaurant and the rear of a movie theatre, the Model Theatre. We would climb over the back fence to see the movie. A favorite was Over the Hill. It was a two-part heart-rending story about poor people. It mirrored everyone's situation. I must have seen it twenty times. My mother always cried when she saw it.

After Pop sold the soda business he started to sell Singer Sewing machines. Then he bought a grocery store. He had no income and no one could get a job, so he went into the grocery business in desperation. Right across the street was another grocery - the Unity Store. The owner of that store belonged to a suppliers club that bought in bulk. My father knew nothing about the grocery business. Every time we had a sale the guy across the street was able to undersell us. It was a tough business. My mother would open up the store at five o'clock in the morning when it was still dark. She would take in the bread and a few doughnuts the bread deliveryman brought. We hoped to sell the doughnuts to the "breakfast trade" - three doughnuts for a nickel. But there was no breakfast trade. If you sold some bread you would make a profit of two cents. I would be in the store by eight A.M. Some days all we would have was a single customer. It was a terrible time. We had no money, things were bad, and we relied on eating the food we were trying to sell. Then my father would send me to the A&P, a bigger store, to buy stuff to put on our shelves. A & P would have a sale, for example on three cans of salmon. So I would buy their salmon and put it on our shelves so we would have salmon to sell. A customer might come who wanted salmon; we wouldn't have the brand he wanted. All we had was what I had bought at the A & P. "Why do you have A & P salmon?" the customer would ask. So we would try to buy some salmon that didn't have the A & P label. Our stock was what I purchased at other stores. The customers had to want what I had bought. When we didn't have what customers wanted they would go to our competitor across the street. Eventually they didn't come to us at all.

But that wasn't the whole problem. We extended credit. Business was so bad we had to let our customers borrow. If our customers moved away we would lose out. My father's grocery store experience was a failure.

While my family struggled economically, I was a good student in school. I went everyday and then worked after school. I don't remember much about my elementary school days in the local public school. The Wharton School, which went through eighth grade, was located at Third and Bainbridge. Philadelphia was divided into zones or sections, which determined which school you attended. Third Street was the dividing line between zones. Children living on one side of the street were in one zone, children on the other side of the street went to a different school. I didn't want to go to one nearby school where there was always fighting and trouble so I tried to get assigned to the Wharton School. Once when we moved I had to go to a different school and I lost that whole group of friends.

High School Graduation of Abe Ziskind and Morris L. Ziskind (1927)

At some point my brother Abe and I ended up in the same class. Even though he was over a year older than me he was not a good student and was put in the same class with me, his younger brother. I am sure this did him no good and I certainly opposed it, but in those days no one thought much about it. At least they could have put Abe and me in different classrooms, but they didn't. I suppose they called me the "smart" brother and Abe something less flattering.

I liked school and did well. Sometimes other kids would come to me for the answers. One time a teacher said to me, "I notice the similarity in the way you (and another student) did the problem. The answer was correct but who helped you?" He thought I was getting help. I was the giver!

I participated in wrestling as an extra curricular activity in elementary school and continued for a while into high school. My physical education teacher encouraged me to try out for the team. I weighed 140 pounds, a weight class the team needed. I won about as many matches as I lost. I eventually stopped wrestling for a part time job.

I liked reading mysteries especially Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series.

I remember one homeroom teacher - Miss Hoffman. She was about fifty, kind and motherly. Everyone liked her. After school she would sit and talk if you stayed to ask her a question. She always gave me an honest answer. Mr. Furman was a math teacher I had in both Junior and Senior High, who I liked very much. Calm and likeable, he never got excited. He made math the most popular class. He used competitive team games. I especially enjoyed how he gave ten problems for homework with an eleventh bonus problem. If you got them all right you got 110 points. A Polish boy and I competed to get the eleventh question, creating a lot of interest and discussion. Mr. Furman tried to stimulate an argument. He would ask, "Why did you do it that way?"

Mr. Furman and Miss Hoffman taught the two subjects I liked, Math and American History. I had no trouble in school and always got good marks. I went to every class and they accepted me. I graduated from South Philadelphia High School at Broad and Snyder. I didn't want to go to Southern because of its reputation for fights, but it was my neighborhood school. The girls' side of the school was on Snyder, the boys' side on Broad Street. A classmate of mine was the Negro opera singer, Marian Anderson.

My brother Abe didn't like school and quit on May 10, the day he was sixteen. It was during the Depression and he wanted to work and contribute to the family. He was a bicycle messenger - Special Delivery. My sister Elsie also quit school. At that time everybody was looking for work. You would see a line around the building because someone had advertised a job. I was always able to get a job running errands, but not for much money. They would give you a nickel and wanted you to work all day.

I never got along with my sister Elsie. She always wanted money. When my parents didn't have any to give she came to me, "her rich brother." I had money because I was always looking for opportunities to earn money. She always had a need: she always had an excuse or a story. She never repaid her debts and eventually I got fed up and told her no more. She was an excellent card player. There was always a card game going on in the space above Spear's Garage. Eventually, when she was about 18 or 19, she and a boyfriend and went to California, and that was the last I had anything to do with her.

There were gangs in our neighborhood, the Fourth Street Gang and the Fifth Street Gang. Ususally Jewish boys were not unified, generally didn't belong to gangs, and were the ones who were picked on. We were part of the Fourth Street Gang. I wasn't active but Abe was. Abe did not like to fight but he had a reputation as a fighter. If I got into trouble my brother would come and fight for me. Then there was no problem. Abe was quiet but he was tough. Everybody was afraid of him. When Abe asked, "What did you say?" it meant trouble. Once he had to fight the champ, so to speak. We formed a big circle in the back yard to watch the fistfight. You had to stand there and watch or get the hell out of there. Everybody was afraid of this big bully. Abe said, 'I'll fight him.' He gave him a "shot" and knocked him out. Once my brother Abe took over there was no fighting and we all got along. If someone hit me then he would fight. So no one touched me. I didn't have to fight. I was protected by Abe's reputation.

Arthur Haskell was one of the neighborhood boys. His father was a baker. I always liked to go into Mr. Haskell's store because he would give me a doughnut. Haskell was in my class and later became a lawyer.

I remember two other classmates from Junior High. One boy regularly came to school in a new suit. I had one suit. He had a lot of suits, each one a different color. I couldn't understand how he could have so many suits. "Don't you know who his father is," one of my classmates said. "That is Lefty Gerson. His father owns Gerson's Clothing Store."

I also remember my friend Eddie Rubin. Everybody liked Eddie - quiet, smart, well behaved, polite, he never gave you a hard time. He was so gentle that some considered him a sissy. We played together and studied together. We went to the Wharton Elementary School. He read a lot. When he said something you accepted it. We would argue; he liked to tease. I learned a lot from him. We were together a lot. If his mother wanted to find Eddie he was either at my house or we were at his. He had a heart condition and was sickly and weak. His mother paid me to eat with him to encourage him to eat. Eddie did not have many friends and since I liked him his mother liked me. She would give me a Boston Crème candy (chocolate covered white crème filling), made by Fannie Mae, as an unspoken reward. "Here's one of your favorites," she would say. She was a fine woman, but also sickly. She died before Eddie did. Eddie died when we were about 14.

Eddie's father was a corsetiere and I would make deliveries for him. People were happy when their wedding dresses were delivered so they gave a big tip. I often got a quarter tip, a lot of money in those days.

When we were ten or twelve kids would hang around the candy store at Third and Bainbridge. In those days people didn't have their own telephones. People would telephone the store and we might get a nickel tip when we ran to tell the person they had a telephone call. "Hey Moishe, would you get Mr. Brown. He has a call." Sometimes I got a piece of candy as a reward instead of the money. I would rather have the money. For two cents you could buy a candy bar of chocolate covered halvah. For fifteen cents you could buy a sandwich. The lady in the store liked me and would always give me an extra thick sandwich.

I joined Troop 76 of the Boy Scouts when I lived on Third Street at the Harness Shop. (Seventy-six became my lucky number. I turned down the corner of the page or wrote my name on page seventy-six in every book I owned as a way of marking it as mine.) At the end of each scout meeting we were given a snack of cookies or cake, which was the reason I joined. The only time I got cake was at the scout meetings. Mr. A. H. Loeb was my scoutmaster. He was very gentle but firm, well liked, and very intelligent. A bachelor, he was a regional official and a power in the scouting organization as well as our local scoutmaster. I remember being impressed when he was honored at a meeting.

At first my mother was opposed to me becoming a Boy Scout. The uniforms made her think of the army and my father was concerned about the regimentation. She thought if you became a Boy Scout you would eventually become a soldier and she wanted to have nothing to do with the army. She insisted on meeting with Mr. Loeb, who ordinarily wouldn't meet with parents, at the Settlement House Music School on Queen Street where we met. He assured her that I was not going into the army.

I was one of the youngest boys in our troop, which was a new troop comprised of a lot of immigrant children. We had boys from eleven different ethnic backgrounds and religions and even got publicity in the local papers because of this unusual integration of cultures. I was considered Yiddish. Our troop was divided into patrols of eight boys. I was in the Eagle Patrol. There was quite a rivalry among the patrols. My mother liked the boys in my patrol.

We put on an annual show to raise funds for the use of the building and our snacks. It had started just for fun, but then we got serious and rehearsed every Wednesday. It seemed like we rehearsed all year for the show, which was a minstrel show done in black face with boys dressed up as the girl characters. My role was the interlocutor. We sold tickets to our parents and friends. Each year we sold more tickets as the show grew in popularity. Once there was an article in the local newspapers and I was mentioned. The other boys kidded me by repeating the comment made about me in the article.

Mr. Loeb encouraged members of our troop, Seventy Six, to join with another group of scouts as well. He lived in a hotel and for special meetings would invite us to his hotel at 17th and Locust where he had the meetings. I was impressed by the building and going up in the elevator.

I enjoyed the camaraderie and the skills I learned, like camping. My mother was happy because it was a safe place away from the gangs in our neighborhood. In the summer were two weeks of Treasure Island Scout Camp, which was held on an island accessible only by boat.

Even though my mother scrimped and saved and I helped earn the six dollars for one week, I couldn't afford to go for the full two weeks like most of the boys. I reached the level of Life Scout, earned eighteen merit badges, right below the level of Eagle Scout. I was most proud of my merit badge in first aid. It was one of the hardest to earn as a professional asked the questions. I never became an Eagle Scout because I couldn't swim well enough to earn the life saving merit badge. You had to swim and pick up a weight that weighed about ten pounds. I would retrieve the weight but then drop it.

My brothers were not scouts. Abe preferred to play ball in the street and play marbles. You'd make a circle and put marbles in the center and try to shoot a marble with your fingers and hit one out of the circle. He was the marble champ. They had a contest in the city for marbles. I was pretty good, but Abe was very good. When he was playing on a team his opponents knew they had a tough adversary. If you could hit one marble you were doing well - he could hit two.

Sid, my other brother, was over ten years younger than me. I don't remember much about his childhood because I was out of the house a lot by the time he came along.

My parents were not particularly religious. They observed the High Holidays, but little else. However my father insisted that I attend Hebrew school, at least until I had my bar mitzvah. I had my religious training on the second floor above the nearby shoe store. A learned man taught the local boys and prepared them for their bar mitzvah. We went four or five times a week for over six months. My bar mitzvah was nothing special, just an addition to the regular Friday night service.

After I was thirteen and had my bar mitzvah I didn't have to go to Hebrew school any more. However I was often called to fill in at the shul to make a minion (ten adult males necessary for formal prayer). If I was outside playing ball and they needed another man at the shul, someone would stick their head out and say "Hey Moishe, come on over here." One time I didn't go and my father gave me such hell. "When he calls, you go!" If I tried to protest and tell him how you had to pay attention to the game he would say, "You pay attention to me!" For some reason it seemed they always called me and it was easy for them to get me because I was playing in the street. The religious service wasn't that long - it just came at an inopportune time. I would try to say, "Wait till the next inning." I might have just hit a home run or something and they haken dir a tscheinik (get on my nerves).

Most of the time we didn't even have a ball for our games. A ball cost fifteen cents, which no kid could afford. We made a ball like contraption by cutting one of the ends off a clothespin and making it sharp and sticking it on the ground. The "ball" was not pitched. You had to hit the sharp end on the ground knocking it straight up in the air. Then you tried to hit it again in the manner that you tried to hit a pitched ball. Then you ran the bases. It hurt your hands when you caught this little hard "ball". Every now and then you might find a ball so you would initial it in ink to identify it as yours.

One time we got in a lot of trouble when we broke a store window. We all had to chip in over a couple months to pay the ten dollars for the window. We played on that particular street because there was no trolley car. If anything happened we were always blamed. "That ball team did it."

I always enjoyed playing first base. Abe was a very good player and often pitched. We would choose up teams and the team I was on always won because I was on Abe's team. He was a good hitter and runner as well as a top pitcher.

We didn't have a lot of time to play. I had errands to run and things to do for my mother and father. And I had to study. That was one thing my parents insisted on - I had to study. Jewish boys had to be smart. Jewish boys had to be smarter than "goys".

Morris L. Ziskind (about 20) with siblings Sid, Abe, and Elsie.

After graduating high school in 1929 I wanted to go to college. I was proud that my marks were good enough to get me into Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, the two schools to which I had applied. My problem was deciding which school to go to. I don't remember why I wanted to be a veterinarian or even how I learned about veterinary medicine. I did know that there would be a job if I became a veterinarian. I was accepted in the engineering school at Drexel but I was told that Jewish boys found it difficult to get jobs in engineering. The possibility of a job in veterinary medicine was a factor in my decision to go to the University of Pennsylvania.

I lived at home while I went to college. I had classes five and a half days a week. I took the #40 street car to get to school. On Saturday after my half day of class I worked at Fischer's Delicatessen at Seventh and McKeen. It was not a kosher deli, but kosher like; it had all the Jewish items. I had worked for Sam Fischer's main employee, Harry, part time to fill in for other workers, so when I applied to Fischer's for a job, Harry said, "Take him." I waited on trade. I was the best lox carver in the area. Once a customer wanted a cube of lox, one inch on each side. I told him he would have to pay for it. He said, "You just cut. I'll tell you when to stop cutting. Keep cutting. Keep cutting." Finally I got to the quality part. Then he wanted to pay for just a quarter of a pound. Chiselers!

Sam Fischer was a good employer. A lot of the customers would try to cheat. Who would they cheat? The boy who was waiting on them! But Sam always stood up for me. Sam Fischer had a phenomenal memory. A customer would come in and buy something. Then he would come in two weeks later. "What brand did I buy here last time," the customer would ask? If I didn't remember, Sam did! Of course we sold fresh eggs. When they were more than a few days old Sam Fischer told me to refer to them as "delicious" eggs. While a customer was shopping and moving around the market they might take a handful of poly seeds (sunflower seeds) out of the open fifty-pound bag. Sam would say, "Morris, give Mrs. Jones a quarter pound of poly seeds." They thought he didn't see but Sam saw everything. He was tough.

When I was not needed behind the counter I often helped making potato salad. We sold two pounds of potato salad for a quarter as a come on to get the customers in the store. Then they would buy something else. Fischer would say, "How about some meat? How about some pickles?" They began to realize they had to buy something else. You don't make very much on two pounds for a quarter. All day long we would be making potato salad. There was a black man who peeled potatoes all day. If I had nothing else to do I would help peel potatoes. I would stick my whole arm into the fifty-gallon container to mix it up. In those days no one thought of wearing gloves. Years later when I told my wife Rebecca about making potato salad she looked at my hairy arm and said she would never eat potato salad again! I learned a lot working for Sam Fischer. He was a good teacher.

I never had any trouble getting a job after that. Whenever I needed a job and said that I had worked for Sam Fischer I would get hired. It's hard to get a job for one day a week. People don't want to take the time to break you in. Not after working for Sam Fischer. A customer would say, "You tell your boss not to fire you because I like you."

If Fischer didn't have any work for me he would send me to someone he knew. He didn't want to lose me. I liked working for Sam. He and his wife were good to me.

Mrs. Fischer was big and fat. She would send me to buy special expensive crackers that came in a fancy wrapped box. Sam would ask her why she was eating that "stale bread." She said it would help her lose weight. But she never lost weight. If I dosed off when I was working she would never wake me. I was tired because I was working long, irregular hours. If Mrs. Fischer knew I had an exam she would send me upstairs where they lived above the store so I could read and study. They trusted me. The only time they went to the movies was when I was working. The other workers would steal. She came to my college commencement. Sam had to stay and work in the store. She was very, very nice, a sweet person. After I graduated I would go back and see them.

I also worked for Carl Barry in his delicatessen in Camden. It was an hour by bus to Camden, so I could do some studying. I got the job through Sam Fischer. I worked every Saturday either for Carl or Sam. Carl was a popular, good-looking fellow and built the business with his personal charm. His wife was just the opposite. She was lazy and ugly. I could never understand why this handsome young man married her. The women who came into the store would want Carl to wait on them with the idea they would make a match with him and their daughter. If an old woman came in who just happened to be walking by with her spinster daughter, everybody would say, "Here is Carl's customer." He would laugh because it was good for business.

Meanwhile school was hard. I needed time to do my schoolwork because I had the Saturday job. I was always tired. While I enjoyed my friends at school I focused on my job and my schoolwork. It was essential to maintain a certain average or they would cut off my partial scholarship, which covered the cost of books for two years. I was not able to raise the money, $900 a year, a fortune at that time, to complete my education in four years. I dropped out a year to earn money. I did all kinds of jobs that year, including making "brooms".

My father and I made and sold "brooms" made of leaves that were used by a parchick (masseuse) who gave the massage in the schvitz (sauna). Patrons of the schvitz liked the smell of the leaves, which reminded them of their home country. We had to go into the country to gather the leaves. Pop would drive out past Camden, New Jersey where I would gather the bleta (leaves) and Pop would tie them together. We got twenty-five cents per broom. Pop was always looking for opportunities to make money. We did anything and everything to make a buck. I suppose this experience influenced my attitude and encouraged me to try the supplementary income generating activities that I did all in my life.

If I dozed off in anatomy class the guy next to me would give me a shove because you could tell whose turn it was to be called. The teacher of anatomy, Block, was a lecturer for fifteen years. He was so dumb he never got a promotion. The only reason I remember him was because he was such an anti-Semite. Generally there was not noticeable anti-Semitism among the faculty. He was an exception. If I got up he would pour water on the seat so I couldn't sit down again. One time he was bragging about an unusual specimen he had received. He asked me if I had ever heard of anything like that specimen. He didn't remember that I had sent it in. He was no good.

He was a vice president of a savings and loan. I was so angry with him that when I learned he was affiliated with the bank I went in and loudly said, "I want to close my account. I don't want to have anything to do with a bank that has Block as an officer."

Another poor teacher I remember was Garrison. He was from the dregs of the veterinary profession so he became a teacher. One time we had a discussion that became an argument. I showed him the book with the correct answer underlined. That was a mistake. I learned you never criticize a teacher in front of his class. I embarrassed him and he was furious. I didn't want any argument with anybody. I was in the minority - seven Jews in the whole school.

I also remember Dr. Lee, a fine man. He was the best horseman in the area. They always consulted Lee with any unusual case involving horses.

There were approximately twenty-eight students in our class. We had all our classes together, except for laboratories. There were seven Jewish students in my class in the veterinary school while I was there: Saul Pravitz, Mike Meyerwitz, Len Sherman, Seymour Lustig, Bob Shomer, Syd Rosenberg, and me. In a private joke we told acquaintances that we were members of a fraternity, Sigma Iota Zada (grandfather). Meyerwitz, Sherman, and I used to study together because we lived near each other. I had a rivalry with one of the other Jewish boys to see who would get the higher grades. The Jewish boys were the best students, which may have been a reason the non-Jews did not like us. There was subtle discrimination by the non-Jewish students. If I needed to borrow someone's notes, for example, they wouldn't lend them to me.

One of the exceptions among my non-Jewish classmates was "Pop" Vale. He was the oldest student in the class and was married. He was a good guy, treated everyone fairly, and was one of my best friends. He was a very slow learner but once he got the point he didn't forget it.

There were a couple of women students and one black man, James Walker. He sat next to me because we were arranged in alphabetical order. He wasn't the brightest guy. He liked to study with me because I always explained things to him. He would remember what I explained, word for word, but he had trouble making generalizations and applying what he had learned. He worked his way through college as a semi-professional baseball player. We corresponded after we graduated.

Before I finished my degree and graduated I started to hang around Siegel's stables on Bainbridge Street between Second and Third Streets in Philadelphia. Individual owners rented space at the stable and on occasion someone would need some veterinary work. It was an opportunity for me to learn and earn some money. The horse owners were happy to have someone like me around because it was hard to find someone to do horse work. However it had to be someone who knew me and would not report me since I had not yet graduated and was not licensed. I was scared to death I would lose my license before I even got it! I was especially afraid of being caught because I was Jewish. When you are in a minority everybody is against you.

Morris L. Ziskind, College Graduation

Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School in 1934 was one of the achievements in my life. Penn was one of the two oldest veterinary schools in the country. When you say you are a Penn graduate, the only school in the country to give a VMD (Veterinary Medical Doctor) degree, you detect a sense of respect from others.

Next: Chapter Two - Secaucus | Index