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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       SOL MILLER

INTERVIEWER:                   SANDRA BERMAN

DATE:                                  SEPTEMBER 3, 2014

LOCATION:                          HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA

SPONSORED BY:               Southern Jewish Historical Society, Marietta, Georgia

Transcript (PDF)

Biography

Sol’s grandfather, Louis Miller, came to the United States in 1913 from Minsk, Belarus and originally lived in New York, working in the garment industry.   After visiting his brother who lived in Tennessee, Louis decided that he liked the pace of living in the South.  He heard of a business opportunity, which led him to move to Huntsville, AL.  

Sol’s grandmother, Elise Ratner, came from a town near Minsk.  The interview does not explain how she ended up in Huntsville.  Her first husband died of cancer, and she then married Sol’s grandfather, Louis.

Sol’s father, Israel Bernard ‘Buddy’ Miller, was born in 1926.  Upon graduation from Georgia Institute of Technology, Buddy joined his father in the business.  He married Sol’s mother, Dolores Evelyn Katz in 1947.

Sol was born in Huntsville in 1955, and grew up there.  He went to religious school at Temple B’nai Sholom from kindergarten through confirmation.  He became bar mitzvah and was influenced by several of the spiritual leaders of the congregation over the years.  He never experienced any antisemitism and enjoyed growing up in Huntsville. 

After graduating from Vanderbilt University and then law school at Cornell University, Sol practiced law in Nashville for several years before returning to Huntsville to join the family business.  In 1981, he married Elizabeth Dembo, and they had two children, Isabel and Louis.

Sol and his wife raised their two children in Huntsville, and the family scrap metal business remains active to this day.

Scope of Interview

Sol discusses how his grandfather, Louis Miller, came to Huntsville, Alabama after leaving Minsk, Belarus to come to the United States.  He lived in New York while working in the garment industry, and after a visit to this brother in Paris, Tennessee he decided he liked the pace of life in the South.  Sol describes the business opportunity that was available in Alabama with Ike Denbo, Ben Denbo, and Jake Bernstein.  It was a scrap metal business, which included other merchandise, and through several changes over the years became L. Miller & Son.

Sol provides a timeline of the marriage of his grandparents, who met in Huntsville, the birth of his father, Israel Bernard ‘Buddy’ Miller, and marriage to Dolores Evelyn Katz, and his own birth in 1955 and marriage to Elizabeth Denbo in 1981.  The timeline includes when Sol’s father joined the business, and when Sol joined the business after graduating from law school, practicing law in Nashville, Tennessee for several years, and then returning to Huntsville to join the business.   

Sol describes his experiences growing up Jewish in Huntsville.  He never experienced antisemitism and has fond childhood memories of Temple B’nai Sholom and several of the spiritual leaders there.  He also describes the early days of the Jewish community there in the late 1800’s and the changes over time.

Sol discusses the German rocket scientists, including Werner von Braun, who were brought to Huntsville.  Their past was white-washed, and the community embraced them.  Some, like Sol’s grandfather, had a hard time doing business with them. 

Sol describes his awareness as a child about segregation.  He explains the impact that NASA had on the peaceful integration of blacks, since the government threatened to move the location out of Hunstville if black engineers who were applying for jobs there would be segregated in restaurants, housing, hotels, etc. 

Sol talks about his family memories growing up Jewish in Huntsville, family holidays, and raising their own children there.  Their children are now young adults, and he describes where they are now and what they are doing.  It is unlikely either of them will settle in Huntsville, thus ending the long family history there.  

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