Interviewee: Elliott Hertzmark
Date: Oct. 29, 2012
Interviewers: Joan Solomon Janshego and Carl Lankowski
Location: Hertzmark residence
Transcribed (from audio recording) by: Joan Solomon Janshego
Elliott Hertzmark passed away Sept. 16, 2016 at age 98
Q – Maybe we can start with your birthdate.
EH – November 12, 1917.
Q – Where were you born?
EH – Holyoke, Massachusetts
Q – Tell us about your family. Were there other children in your family?
EH – My brother was 11 years older than me. His name was Abner.
Q – Where were your parents from?
EH – My mother was born in Brooklyn, NY and then they moved to Denver, CO. My father was born in Riga, Latvia. Her parents were from Poland, It was interesting, if you don’t like what you were doing in Brooklyn, the government would give you land, under the Homestead Act, in places like the Denver area. My father went out there and was told to raise sugar beets, and so that is what he did. He raised three children there.
Q – Approximately what year would that be?
EH – I can’t remember. It would almost have to be late 1800s.
Q – How did your father get here?
EH –He came to the United States when he was about 14. How he got to Holyoke is beyond me.
Q – Do you know what her year he came?
EH – I think he got his citizenship papers in 1896. So he must have come at least five years before that. There was a great influx of Jewish people from the Russian lands, because Russia was inducting them into the military service for about 25 years. This is not what any of the family wanted. My grandfather must have come with him, I am sure.
Q – Do you know when your mother’s parents came to this country?
EH – No I don’t. I don’t know anything about my mother’s parents.
Q – They were from Poland?
EH – Yes.
Q – The Russian part of Poland?
EH –Probably the Russian part. They never talked about their past.
Q – Was there some other language spoken in your home – other than English?
EH – Yes. They spoke Yiddish, but they would not teach it to me. They were afraid that I would not learn English. Besides, it was a way for my parents to say things they didn’t want the children to hear.
Q – What was your father’s background or occupation?
EH – He worked in sales. I remember he mentioned that he had a cart with a donkey. This was probably in New York. It is a confused memory. From there he went on to selling clothes and later shoes.
Q – When you were growing up, what was he doing?
EH –He had retired. He had a shoe store in Holyoke, and it was successful. Then he owned a tenement building. They called it a cold water flat.
My father was married twice. His first wife died in Denver. That’s where he met my mother. My father was an early supporter of a sanatorium in Denver, which later became the Denver Hospital.
My father was a businessman. He was not an educated man outside as what they called the Hader – the Jewish Orthodox study of religion.
Q – So he did that?
EH – Yes. He was self-educated.. He was very bright.
Q – How about your mother – did she work outside the home?
EH – No.
Q – Do you know her background? Did she work before she married?
EH – She married when she was 16. In those days, if your wife died, according to Jewish tradition, you had to be married within six months if you had children. This was to protect the children. I guess it was an arranged marriage, because he was 20 years older than she was. It was not a happy experience for her. But she never had to work. He always supported her. Then she had two children – my brother and me. And then there were four siblings from his first marriage. They were all good people.
Q – Were the older siblings still in the house when you were growing up?
EH – No. They were all married. There was 20 years difference.
Q – Where did you grow up?
EH – In Holyoke, MA.
Q – When did you come to Chevy Chase?
EH – I fell in love with a girl in 1954. She was working here.
Q – What was her name?
EH – Dorothy Barker
Q – How did you meet her?
EH – She was going through a divorce in California and moved to Chicopee, MA, where she got a job at Westover Field, which is near Holyoke. Westover was an Air Force base. She went to the Holyoke library to find out how to get things published, because she was doing a lot of writing. The librarian knew me. I was writing at that time, and publishing things in magazines. He said, “there is some guy who is prowling around the book stacks here, and I’ll get his name for you and let you know.” So that is how it started. She did publish some articles.
Q – Did you marry in Massachusetts?
EH – No we got married in Charlottesville, Virginia., since her sister was living there. My wife wasn’t Jewish.
Q – She got a job in Washington?
EH- Yes. I was working in New York at the time working for Fairchild Publications. They published Women’s Wear Daily, Footwear News and publications like that.
Q – Tell us more about your writing.
EH – I wrote for several aviation magazines, and then I got a real job with Fairchild Publications. I wrote some of the economics about men’s shoes, which I knew nothing about. That lasted about a year. I had a lot of technical background, and so I got a job with the government writing technical manuals. That is where I made my real career.
Q – Which agency was that?
EH – It was the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in White Oak.
Q – What was your education?
EH – I went to Union College and graduated in 1941.
Q – Where was Union College?
EH – Schenectady, New York.
Q – What did you major in?
EH – I majored in English. But I took a lot of physics and a lot of biology. That really interested me. English gave me the opportunity to take a lot of electives. I talked to the dean about it. I enjoyed that tremendously. I liked to read medical things and research.
Q – What was your wife’s educational background?
EH — She was one of the first women safety engineers – with the Moore Dry Dock Company in Vallejo, California.
Q – That was before you married?
EH — Yes. She came here in 1954.
Q – What was your first residence in Washington?
EH – It was a rental in Northwest. Later we bought a house on Nicholson Street – which is off of 16th Street.
Q – Where did you live after that?
EH – She looked at 150 homes and then we found this place on Northampton Street. We lived there from 1954 to until 1976.
Q – What was the address at Northampton?
EH – 3112.
Q – Do you know anything about the house? When was it built?
EH – It was an Aladdin Home. I don’t know when it was built – maybe around 1925.
Q – It is a kit house?
EH – Yes it was. They cut all the pieces, and then they assembled it on site.
Q – Do you know anything about the previous owners?
EH – No.
Q – When you were there, did you remodel it or change it any?
EH – Yeah. We added 400 square feet to the back of the house. Those kit houses were pretty small. It was where everybody congregated when we had parties. My wife was very social and she was also a terrific gardener.
Q – Did your house have a second story?
EH – Yes. Well it had three stories. You went up seven steps instead of the usual 14 steps to the second story. It was seven steps and then another seven steps as it turns. It was an interesting house. I had my piano on the first floor.
Q – Is playing piano an avocation?
EH –Yes. I enjoy it. I don’t play very well, but I enjoy it.
Q – Do you play for other people?
EH – For parties.
Q – You learned that in Holyoke?
EH– My mother got a piano teacher for me – a good Irish person.
Q – Tell us about Northampton Street. What was your recollection of the neighborhood in 1954?
Q – I just have a foggy idea, because we didn’t socialize much. My wife grew beautiful rose bushes. We used to give roses to the people across the street. But later the Flacks moved in. The Amotos moved in. A few houses away were the Steinbergs.
Q – What kind of occupations did they have?
EH – Kirk Flack had a doctorate in American History. Steinberg was a businessman. He had a grocery store, a liquor store and now he is selling real estate.
Q – Is he still there?
EH – Yes. Flack is still there. He and his wife are wonderful people.
Q – Besides the Flacks and Steinbergs, you mentioned another family?
EH – The one across the alley – on Nebraska – was the former governor of West Virginia. I can’t think of his name. The Flacks would remember.
Q – Dr. Flack – where did he teach?
EH – He taught at the University of Maryland. His wife was a legal assistant with Covington & Burling.
Q – The man who was the former governor of West Virginia, did he have another occupation?
EH – I think he was a lawyer.
Q – How did the neighborhood change after 1954?
EH – As things changed, I think in the early 1960s, other people started to die off or the children took them in. That is when the Flacks, the Steinbergs, the Amatos moved in. The Horowitz family lived on the alley.
Q – Is Horowitz the professional pianist who lives in the neighborhood?
EH – No. Alan Mandell is the professional pianist. He lives on that side of that street, too. The only ones that live on my side was Blanca – she lived next door to me. The last I know, She was an assistant to the senator from Wisconsin. She had a son, and he is now a lawyer living in New York.
Q – What was it like politically in Washington during that time?
EH – Washington was the first commissioner. That is another story on how Washington came to be. My second wife was active in DC politics.
Q – Tell us about your second wife.
EH – My first wife died in 1975. I remarried in 1977. I married Libby Dunne.
Q – What did she do?
EH – Her husband had died. She was a docent at the Museum of American Art. After her husband died, she got politically involved in trying to get the vote for the District. She was one of many who tried. I wrote a story about her for the family. I can get it for you
Q – When you moved in 1954, we would like to know what stores you frequented.
EH – Safeway and Magruders were the major ones. There was the neighborhood family grocery store – the Broad Branch Market.
Q – How did you get to work?
EH – I drove. My wife drove. She worked in Virginia, and I worked in Maryland and so this was evenly divided. That was my first wife. My second wife didn’t work. She did the volunteer work. She did paintings that are on the wall.
Q – Do you have recollections of block parties?
EH – Yes. Who started them – maybe Kirk Flack. Kirk might remember. He is much younger than I am.
I was in charge of one of them. I had to go downtown to get permits at two different places to block off the street. Then the fire engine came. The children loved it. The firemen would take the children through the fire engine. We always had block parties. In fact, we planned our vacations so as not to miss them.
Q – What about other holidays?
EH – People had their own coterie of friends for the other holidays. They were not necessarily those that lived on Northampton Street.
Q – But it was a pretty social street?
EH – Yes. Then the block of Oliver Street – near to where I lived on Northampton – picked up the idea of block parties, and have continued it to this day. They invite me to the Oliver Street block parties, even though I don’t live in the neighborhood anymore. I hated to leave Northampton Street, but it got harder to manage a house when I was alone.
Q – What about Halloween?
EH – We always had “trick and treat” for the kids coming to the house. There were a lot of kids. The fathers would stay on the street. They were supervised.
Q – Even in the 1950s?
EH – Oh yes. It was dark. They didn’t want their children out there alone. Everyone was warm and friendly. It was a noncompetitive atmosphere and people got along.
Q – D o you remember anything about minority groups in the neighborhood?
EH – There was only one black person that I can think of. She lived on Nebraska Avenue. She was a nurse – a very nice person.
Q – Was she a single person?
EH – If she had a family, I didn’t know about it. We always tried to include her but she didn’t always come. We all liked her.
Q – We rediscovered Reno School, which was next to Deal. It was the black segregated school. The building is still there.
EH – I didn’t know that. Is it occupied?
Q – No. It is just a shell, but they have a plaque on it now. It stopped being a school in 1954.
EH–Is it an historical preservation building?
Q – They have not done much to preserve it. It looks like it is about to collapse, but they did put a plaque on it. There was a black community on 44th Street. We discovered this in some of our interviews.
EH – I didn’t know that. Coming from Massachusetts, we didn’t have much of a black population. Blacks are part of the crowd now. In fact, two members of my family are married to blacks.
I would like to come back 50 years from now and see what other changes there are. Blacks got a raw deal. Have you ever been to Ghana? The Ghanaians were part of the slave trade, and they sold their own people into slavery. That castle – I can’t think the name of it – it is till there. It is an historic sight. It was amazing breaking up a family. It was horrible.
Q – You arrived in Washington in the same year as the Supreme Court handed down the famous school desegregation case – that was in 1954.
EH – I was not following it at the time because it didn’t affect us. We didn’t see too much of it. You live in your house and you go to work. That was about it. We never had contact with black people. Subsequently, we did. I find black people very nice and no different than white people.
George Washington Carver was the outstanding black of the 1920s and 1930s. He could have done more in today’s society.
Q – What was it like being Jewish in Chevy Chase?
EH – It was nothing like in New York. I lived in an Irish Catholic community in Holyoke. Every Sunday, the priest would say, “The Jews killed Christ.” I would get chased home from school and get beaten up.
There was one guy who used to beat the hell out of me. Finally, I said “Harold, You are always beating me up. You should teach me how to fight.” I was teasing him, but he said, “OK.” So he taught me how to fight. After a couple lessons, he went home and got his violin, and we played duets together. He grew out of his prejudice. Later, he was on the police force, and he wanted to get a master’s degree. I did a lot of his research for him down here in Washington, and he got his master’s degree with my help.
Q – So you stayed in touch with him all those years?
EH – I stayed in touch with him until he died.
Q – What was it like here – in Chevy Chase – being Jewish?
EH –It never came up.
Q – Do you think that this “live and let live” attitude was what your neighbors thought?
EH – Oh yes. The subject never came up.
Q – Was there a lot of people moving in and out in the neighborhood?
EH – No. It was a stable neighborhood. I was always comfortable there. The only reason I left is that my second wife died.
Q – Tell us more about your first wife.
She was a very bright woman. She worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency. She was one of the first woman safety engineers. She wrote a lot of articles on safety that I have collected. During the war, women were hired because there were labor shortages. Women in the workforce changed the work environment. There had to be a way, for example, for the women’s hair not to get caught in machinery. She thought of all of those things and came up with solutions. She was an extraordinarily perceptive and inventive woman.
Q – When did she pass away?
EH – My first wife passed away in 1974 or 1975.
Q – When did you get your first computer?
EH – I don’t know. It is over there. It is my first computer. I have had it for maybe 10 years. But I don’t really use it. My caregiver uses it for me.
I use a typewriter when I write. It is an antique. It is a Smith Corona portable. – I still can get a ribbon
Q – I want to take a picture of you with it.
Q – My niece is coming up for my birthday. She may show me how to use the computer.
Q – You said you were writing about your father.
EH – I started to but haven’t gotten far. Maybe if I live to be 100.
Q – You are on your way.
Q – When did you retire?
EH – In 1974.
Q – What have been your main avocations since retirement?
EH – Enjoying life.
Q – Did you ever use Rock Creek Park when you lived on Northampton?
EH – I ran there. But now I use the treadmill.
Rock Creek Park is a wonderful place. Mr. Mandell – the professional pianist in the neighborhood – ran with me.
Q – You would take long runs?
E H – About three miles – up and down hills.
Q – You mentioned that your wife liked flowers. Did you also grow vegetables?
EH – No. You have to spray roses and flowers and that spray is poisonous to vegetables.
Q – When was the last time you were running regularly.
EH – Probably after my first wife died – about 1975. Maybe I should write a book on old age. I have lots of experience.
Q – When did your second wife die?
EH – She died in 2002.
Q – Is that about when you moved to your apartment?
EH – There was no point in staying at our home.
Q – You moved to the Irene in 2002?
EH – When I was courting my second wife, she told me that she intended to move to the Irene. That was the first time I ever heard of it. So after I sold the Northampton Street house, it was natural that I should move to the Irene. The rooms are enormous. My wife knew what she was doing. It was a good move. There is diversity of people – children, occupations, people from embassies, and there are a lot of old people also.
Q – Did you do ice skating?
EH – Yes. But not in Washington. I kept my skates for a while, and then gave them to charity.
Q – What is your recollection of downtown Washington and shopping?
EH – Woodward and Lothrop and Hecht’s were there. My stepson was married at Mount Vernon Square at a church there. It was easy to drive down town in those days. It was the so-called sleepy little town on the Potomac. The restaurants closed at 8 o’clock at night.
Q – What was the character of Washington? Was it southern?
EH – Yes, it was very southern.
Q – You came from the north in New England. Were you aware that you were going to a culturally different area?
EH – All I knew was that Dee lived here. People are moving to Florida now.
Q – Did you ever consider moving to Florida?
EH – No. That is for old people. In Washington, you have wonderful libraries and museums – interesting people. What more could you ask for? Restaurants are not outstanding, but they are good. We had the Hot Shoppes back then.
Q – There was a Hot Shoppe on Connecticut Avenue. Did you go to that?
EH – Yes. It was south of McKinley. Somewhere near UDC in Van Ness – but north of that.
Q – When you went to restaurants, were there restaurant in Chevy Chase that you went to?
EH – The only one we went to was Bread & Chocolate. Cameron’s and a fish place across the street from the Safeway – south of the Safeway – was one we also went to.
Q–Did you go to the Avalon Theater?
EH – Yes. We went quite a bit.
Q – Let’s go back to piano. What kind of role has it played in your life since you were in Washington?
EH – It has played a role all of my life. Any time I have had a problem, I sat down and banged on the piano. It is an emotional release really. My mother used to try to play, but she was more into singing but my brother played well. She made sure that there was music in our family.
Q – How long have you had the baby grand?
EH – This is a new one relatively. I think I have had it about 15 years. This is going to my second wife’s grandson when I die.
Q – Do you play every day?
EH — Not every day, but I tend to play when I am bored.
Q – When you had friends over, did you play for parties?
EH – If they asked me to. I play my own compositions.
Q – Oh really.
EH – I don’t write them. I compose them on the top of my head. I used, to but I don’t do it very much anymore.
Q – Why do you think that you don’t play as much now?
EH – I don’t know. I am too involved in sleeping!
EH – I get emails from everybody. My caregiver pulls out emails for me. But I don’t respond by computer. I respond by telephone. A lot of emails come from my stepdaughter in Chicago.
It is not too bad a life for an old man. I don’t have to worry about food. I do my own cooking. It is very pedestrian – mostly salmon and other fish.
Q – Was your social life at our synagogue
EH – No. I use it for religious reasons. But there are a lot of social things that go on there also, but I don’t go out in the evenings. I gave up driving some time ago when my family told me it would be a good idea.
Q – Anything else we should have ask you.
EH – I don’t think so.
© Copyright Historic Chevy Chase DC
Oral history interviews may be copied for personal, research and/or educational purposes only under the fair use provisions of US Copyright Law. Oral histories accessed through this web site are the property of Historic Chevy Chase DC. the copyright owner.
Use of these interviews is subject to the following terms and conditions:
- Material may not be used for commercial purposes. Short quotes and references are permitted for instructional and publication purposes.
- Users must provide complete citation referencing the speaker, the interviewer, the date and website with URL address.
- Users may not re-post or link the oral history site or any parts of it to another program or listing without permission.
Questions about the use of these oral history materials and requests for permission should be directed to email@example.com or HCCDC, PO Box 6292, Washington, D.C. 20015-0292.prev / nextBack to Oral Histories