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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                     BERTRAM ADOLPH EHRLICH (1913-2002)

INTERVIEWER:                 ANN HOFFMAN SCHOENBERG

DATE:                                 SEPTEMBER 23, 1998

LOCATION                      ATLANTA, GEORGIA (ABOUT BAINBRIDGE, GEORGIA)

TRANSCRIPT ID: 10170

NUMBER OF PAGES:        49

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY 

Bertram was the son of Julian and Rosalie Kwilecki Ehrlich, who were born and raised in Bainbridge, Georgia. His paternal grandfather, Henry Ehrlich, emigrated from Germany. Henry was a civil war soldier (for the Confedracy), general store merchant, cotton broker, plantation owner, and banker. Henry settled in Bainbridge when he took over the business of his brother, Abraham, when he died. Bertram’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Breitenbach Ehrlich, was born in Albany, Georgia. His maternal grandparents, Isidore Kwilecki and Bertha Brash Kwilecki, were both born in Germany. Isidore owned a hardware business in Bainbridge.

Bertram’s parents were married in 1912. Bertram was born on September 23, 1913 in Bainbridge. He had a younger brother, Sidney. Bertram spent his childhood in Bainbridge where his father Julian operated a drug store. Bertram’s family attended Temple Beth-El, a Reform congregation that was founded in the early 1900’s.

After graduating high school in Bainbridge, Bertram attended Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee for one year. He then enrolled in Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bertram graduated with a degree in pharmacy in 1934. He worked as a pharmacist with the Katz and Besthoff chain in New Orleans, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

In Knoxville Bertram met Bernice Jacobs at a Hadassah dance. Bertram and Bernice married and lived in Knoxville. After Bertram’s son Irvin was born, Bertram returned to Bainbridge to work in his father Julian’s pharmacy. Bertram and Bernice raised their three children—Irvin, Melvin, and Sarah Gail Hytowitz—in Bainbridge.

Bertram wrote a memoir that was serialized in a local Bainbridge newspaper and published in the book “I Remember Life in a Small Southern Town, Bainbridge, Georgia, 1913 to 1985. The Reminisces of Bertram Ehrlich.”

When the last of his family—his son Melvin—left Bainbridge and moved to Mobile, Alabama, Bertram relocated to Atlanta, Georgia where his daughter Sarah Gail and son-in-law Allan Hytowitz resided.

Bertram’s son, Irvin, is a Reform rabbi, a chaplain in the United States Air Force, and a congregational rabbi in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Bertram’s son, Melvin, is a Baptist minister and a pharmacist in Mobile. Bertram’s daughter Sarah Gail is a school teacher who married Alan Hytowitz and lived in Atlanta, Georgia. Bertram had seven grandchildren.

Bertram died in 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia.

SCOPE OF INTERVIEW

Bertram discusses how his ancestors first settled in Bainbridge, Georgia 132 years before. He talks about his great-uncle, Abraham Ehrlich, the first member of his family to settle in Bainbridge. Abraham, a Civil War veteran, opened a general store in Bainbridge after the war. When Abraham died, Bertram’s grandfather Henry Ehrlich took over Abraham’s store.  Bertram also remembers his maternal grandparents, Isidore Kwilecki and Bertha Brash Kwilecki, who were both born in Germany.  

Bertram talks extensively about his aunts and uncles, their spouses, and their families. He gives details about their businesses and professions.  Bertram reminisces about visiting his grandfather Henry’s plantation that spanned three counties in South Georgia and was one of the largest tracts of single ownership land in South Georgia. He recalls that the Depression and back taxes forced the family to sell it for just 10 cents an acre.

Bertram discusses living in Bainbridge, recalling a story about his father’s pharmacy and the blue laws that prohibited businesses from selling tobacco on Sundays. He recalls that his father was sentenced to ten years of hard labor on a chain gang for selling cigarettes on Sunday, but the sentence was suspended if he promised not to sell cigarettes any more.  He promised and he didn’t.

Bertram discusses Jewish life in Bainbridge. He reminisces about Temple Beth-El, a Reform congregation in Bainbridge, which had its roots in a Sunday school started by Bertram’s mother, Rosalie, to provide religious instruction to her children. Because of Rosalie’s many years of teaching and her instrumental role in the Bainbridge Jewish community, she was nicknamed the ‘Boss of the Jews.’

Bertram tells how the few Jewish families living in Bainbridge were able to build Temple Beth- El. He says they funded the building by soliciting donations from wealthy Jewish donors across the country. Bertram recalls Rabbi Edmund Landau from Albany who served the congregation on a part-time basis from its inception until his death. Rabbi Landau visited twice a week and held services on Sunday night, which were conducted almost entirely in English. No services were conducted for the High Holy Days at Temple Beth-El, so families attended those services in nearby towns and cities in Georgia.

Bertram notes the absence of antisemitism in Bainbridge. He ascribes it to the fact that Jewish residents in Bainbridge were founders of the country club, the Rotary, and the Lions Club. Bertram describes black-white relations in Bainbridge. He mentions that the Ku Klux Klan met across from his father’s store and how the Grand Wizard lived next door to him. He discusses his neighbor and close friend Marvin Griffin who served as Governor of Georgia from 1948-1955. Bertram recalls how Marvin Griffin campaigned as a segregationist for political reasons but was not a racist in his personal life.

Bertram spoke about attending Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee and Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana where he received his degree in pharmacy. Bertram recalls dating and marrying his wife Bernice Jacobs, and returning to Bainbridge to work in his father Julian’s drug store.  Bertram shares details about the remainder of his life in Bainbridge. He was a member of the Lions Club and socialized with a group called the Temple Beth-El Youth Group and Booze Club—a group of ten Jewish couples who were 65 and older.

Bertram recollects Emma Ree Baker, his mother’s cook in Bainbridge and how she came to work for him after his mother’s death.  Emma Ree’s mother was born on the plantation owned by his grandfather, Henry Ehrlich. Bertram describes about his children’s affection for Emma Ree.

Bertram remembers Bainbridge during World War II and the impact of the nearby Bainbridge Air Base, at which Army Air Corps pilots were trained.  He recalls the town’s support for Jewish soldiers in the form of the Jewish Welfare Board and seders, which were attended by hundreds of people.

Bertram recalls his courtship and marriage with Bernice Jacobs and their happy life together.  He discusses his two sons, Irvin and Melvin. He tells how his son, Irvin, became a Reform rabbi and how his son, Melvin, married a non-Jewish wife and became a Baptist minister. He mentions how he and his wife accepted their marriage rather than opposing it.

Bertram talks about leaving Bainbridge and moving to Atlanta when the last of his family left Bainbridge.

KEYWORDS

Albany, Georgia

Algiers (neighborhood, New Orleans)

Apalachicola, Florida

Auburn University—Auburn, Alabama

Autobiography

Automobiles

Bainbridge, Georgia

Bainbridge Air Base—Bainbridge, Georgia

Baker, Emma Ree

Bar mitzvah

Bat mitzvah

Blue laws

Castle Heights Military Academy—Lebanon, Tennessee

Cemeteries, Jewish

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chicago, Illinois

Civil Rights Era

Civil War, 1861-1865

Chambers of commerce

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Columbus, Georgia

Conformation

Cotton brokers

Cotton industry and trade

CVS (drug store chain)

Dances

DeSalle University—Macon, Georgia

Dothan, Alabama

Drug stores

Ehrlich, Abraham

Ehrlich, Bartow

Ehrlich, Blanche

Ehrlich, Bernice Jacobs

Ehrlich, Bertram Adolph

Ehrlich, Elenore [Dickey] Weile

Ehrlich, Henry

Ehrlich, Irvin (Rabbi)

Ehrlich, Julian

Ehrlich, Louis

Ehrlich, Marvin

Ehrlich, Mortimer

Ehrlich, Rosalie Kwilecki

Ehrlich, Sarah Breitenbach

Ehrlich, Sidney

Ehrlich, Sigo

Fitzgerald, Georgia

Flint River—Georgia

Florida

Fort Benning—Columbus, Georgia

General stores

Georgia

Georgia Institute of Technology—Atlanta, Georgia

Germany

Grand Wizard

Great Depression

Griffin, Samuel Marvin Sr. (Governor of Georgia)

Griffin, Samuel Marvin, Jr.

Grollman, Joseph

Grollman, Rose

Hadassah

Hebrew Union College—Cincinnati, Ohio

High Holy Days

Hillel

Hytowitz, Allan

Hytowitz, Sarah Gail Ehrlich

Integration

Intermarriage

Jacksonville, Florida

Jewish-black relations

Jewish-gentile relations

Jewish Welfare Board

Judaism—Customs and practices

Judaism—Fasts and feasts

Judaism, Conservative

Judaism, Orthodox

Judaism, Reform

Kashrut

Kast and Besthoff (drug store chain)

Kennedy, John F.—Assassination, 1963

Kiwanis

Kosher

Knoxville, Tennessee

Kohnke, Alfred

Kohnke, Grace Kwilecki

Korean War, 1950-1953

Kranz, Philip (Rabbi)

Kres family

Kronheim, Mindel Ehrlich

Ku Klux Klan

Kwilecki, Adolph

Kwilecki, Bertha Brash

Kwilecki, Frances

Kwilecki, Grace Rice Baggs

Kwilecki, Isadore

Kwilecki, Julian

Kwilecki, Louise Reid

Kwilecki, Max

Kwilecki, Pearl Myers

Kwilecki, Ralph

Kwilecki, William

Landau, Edmund (Rabbi)

Lions Club

Lobsters

Macfadden, Bernarr

Macon, Georgia

Marianna, Florida

Matzah balls

Middlesboro, Kentrucky

Miami, Florida

Mobile, Alabama

Montgomery, Alabama

Nashville, Tennessee

New Orleans, Louisiana

Norden bombsight

Nussbaum Family

Nussbaum, Bernald

Oak City Cemetery—Bainbridge, Georgia

Oneg Shabbat

Passover

Pensacola, Florida

Pharmacists

Pharmacies

Physical Culture

Physicians

Plantations

Pullman (railroad cars)

Quincy, Florida

Rabbis

Railroads

Religious education, Jewish

Revco (drug store chain)

Rosh Ha-Shanah

Rotary Clubs

Sabbath

Savannah, Georgia

Schmier, Louis (Dr.)

Seders

Segregation

Shabbat

Sharecropping

Sigma Alpha Mu (Jewish fraternity)

Soldiers, Jewish

Southern Airways

Sunday school

Tallahassee, Florida

Tampa, Florida

Teaching

Temple Beth-El—Bainbridge, Georgia

Temple Sinai—Atlanta, Georgia

Temple Sinai—New Orleans, Louisiana

Tenant farmers

Thomasville, Georgia

Tifton, Georgia

Transportation, trains

Tulane University—New Orleans, Louisiana

Union of American Hebrew Congregations

United States Army Air Corps (USAAC)

United States Air Force

Vanderbilt University—Nashville, Tennessee

White supremacy groups

Wallace, George Corley, Jr.

World War, 1914-1918

World War, 1939-1945

Yom Kippur

 

 

 

 

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