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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       BERT ROSENBUSH JR. (1929-  )

                                          MARY LOUISE ROSENBUSH

INTERVIEWER:                    SANDRA BERMAN  

DATE:                                  JANUARY 11, 2012

LOCATION:                          DEMOPOLIS, ALABAMA

TRANSCRIPT ID:               10816

NUMBER OF PAGES:          23

Transcript (PDF)


On downtown Demopolis in the 1940’s:

“There was one big department store, Mayer Brothers.  It was probably the most prominent store in town.  It was . . . it had a three-story building. Then there was Milton Long, he did a lot of advancing.  He would loan money to the farmers and . . . when they made their crop they would pay him back. There mostly . . . on the High Holy Days, practically every store in town was closed. The ones that weren’t Jewish they would close too.  So on the High Holy Days the downtown area was just all closed up.”   4

About segregation:

“My parents never talked about it.  I never thought anything about it. We had black aides and truck drivers and people that worked in the yard. It never was anything said about it from my parents to me about segregated schools. I was just oblivious to the fact . . . My daddy always had help in the house for my mother. He would have a cook and domestic help. Then when I was growing up he had colored boys that would nurse me and play with me. Then he built a goat wagon, and had a colored man that would drive the goat wagon for all the kids in the neighborhood . . . I knew them and they knew me. They would take care of me and be good to me.  But I never . . . it’s not like I really became attached to any of those people . . . I was respectful to them, but I never became real close to them in any way . . . my grandmother always had a black driver for her car . . .The first date I ever had, my grandmother loaned me her car and her driver. I had date with my girlfriend and had a driver.”  6, 7

“We were always respectful to the colored people. We were good to them. My grandmother, especially, didn’t allow . . . anybody to . . . not to be respectful to them. My daddy was respectful to them and, of course, my mother was too. We had a good relationship with the colored people.  In fact, right now, when I go to the grocery store, I’ll see a lot of my customers, and they’re glad to see me. We did a big credit business. They would buy on an installment plan and come in and pay every week or every month or every two weeks. A lot of times the colored people would get on hard times and they couldn’t make their payments. I would wait on them and give them a chance to pay instead of turning it over to an attorney or repossessing their furniture.”  8

On the Jewish community and the synagogue in Demopolis:

“They just dwindled away . . . growing up we had a few Jewish people in our Sunday school class. Then they just married and moved away. Our Temple was . . . we remodeled our Temple around 1951 . . . it was a big beautiful building with . . . it had an organ in it and a balcony for the choir. Then it was a wooden building . . . it became hard for our congregation to keep up. At the time, my daddy was building this house and the architect drew up some little plans for the remodeling of the Temple. We had a reader and a Torah.  It was a nice little building. [It] had a Sunday school room. Then, some of the older people in the Temple got together and decided they would give the Temple to an Episcopal church. It really just broke up the congregation that we had.”  11

On the Holocaust memorial Bert provided in the Jewish cemetery:

“I’m a charter member of the Holocaust Museum in Washington.  I’ve always been interested in the Holocaust . . . in the 1960’s . . . I wanted to put up a memorial then, but I never could convince the local congregation to do it.  So finally, I was able to get permission from the people that were in charge of the cemetery to put up a Holocaust monument.  About four years ago, I got permission and I put up a memorial to the Holocaust victims.  I contacted the museum in Mississippi and they had some friends at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.  They helped me with the wording and the Hebrew letters. I had a local company that I was friends of to build the monument and put it up at the cemetery. Then we had a ceremony . . . when the monument was finished.” 16

On his father’s furniture business:

“. . . my daddy bought a 40-passenger Ford bus and converted it into a showroom. I’d go from house to house selling furniture. I’d go all over this part of the country, selling furniture . . . People would . . . I’d stop at a house and they’d get on the bus and see if there’s something they wanted, and [I’d] sell it to them on credit.  Some of the sales I made were bad sales and [we] never collected for them and some of them were good . . . Then some of the towns I’d go to . . . I’d just go in a pickup truck and take all those . . . deliver the merchandise later.  It was just a way of doing business.”  22


Bert’s parents, Julius and Essie Baum Rosenbush, came to Demopolis, Alabama in 1905.  Before coming to Demopolis Julius lived in Mississippi, where he sold turkeys. In Demopolis Julius opened a furniture store, the Rosenbush Furniture Company.  Julius also worked as an undertaker and operated a funeral parlor in the back of the furniture store.  Bert’s father joined a Jewish community of 200 Jewish people, many of them involved in cotton growing and agriculture.  Others, like Julius, owned clothing, department stores and other retail stores.  On the High Holy Days, most of the town’s retail establishments were closed.

Bert was born in 1929 and he and his family lived just around the corner from the synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun (Reform).  He went to Sunday school but the family was mostly secular and usually only attended synagogue on the High Holy Days.  He went to public schools until the eleventh grade when we went to military school in Marion, Alabama. The family employed black people as domestics, cooks and chauffeurs.  Bert’s family was on good terms with the black population, giving them credit in the furniture store.

Bert did all the usual childhood and young adult activities: going to the movies, bicycling, Boy Scouts, swimming, dating, going to dances, picnicking, etc. He also participated in Jewish youth activities, including Falcon.  Later, he became a member of the Demopolis Country Club.  Bert married Mary Louise Bell in the 1970’s.

Bert went to University of Alabama then returned to Demopolis to run the family business. 

As the Jewish population dwindled, in 1995 the Reform Temple was given to the Episcopalian Church.  They are using it for storage.  Bert has also donated several buildings to the city and is interested in restoring them.


Bert recalls his family and their roots in the South and their arrival in Demopolis, Alabama from Mississippi where his father, Julius, opened a furniture store with a funeral parlor in the back.  Bert remembers how his father retired from the funeral business when a homicide/suicide occurred in Demopolis in which a man murdered his entire family. The family was so similar to Julius’ that it shook Julius up badly and he left the funeral business.

Bert discusses growing up in the South including attending public school, dating, sports, parties, picnicking and getting into mild trouble.  He talks about celebrating Christmas and having a Christmas tree. 

Bert also spoke about participating in Jewish youth activities including the Falcon.  He discusses the retail furniture business in a small town including hiring black employees, giving credit to black people, and getting robbed at gunpoint in 1990 in the store.  The thief tied up Bert, Mary Louise, and his delivery people, and locked them in the storeroom.  The thief stole Bert’s car and fled.  After he wrecked Bert’s car he was captured in Mississippi.  Bert and his wife suffered no physical harm.

Bert recalls segregation as he experienced it during his youth and his family’s attitude toward black people, personally and in their business dealings.

Bert reflects on the diminishing Jewish presence in Demopolis, which was about 200 in the early 1900’s and his sadness that today he and his wife are the only Jews left in Demopolis.  He discusses the strong Jewish influence in retail and agriculture and how it dwindled starting in about the 1970’s as the young moved away. The synagogue was closed in the late 1990’s and donated to a local church.  Bert describes his attempts to renovate some historic buildings in Demopolis, to save the synagogue building, and his dedication to commemorating the Holocaust in Demopolis.



Baum, Daniel

Bessemer, Alabama

Black Warrior River—Alabama

Boy Scouts

B’nai Jeshurun—Demopolis, Alabama

Buildings, historic

Camps, summer

Cemeteries, Jewish


Christmas trees

Civil War, 1861-1865

Clothing industry and trade

Corinth, Mississippi

Cotton growing

Cotton gins

Demopolis, Alabama

Demopolis Country Club—Demopolis, Alabama

Education, military



Fiebelman’s (saloon)—Demopolis, Alabama

Fields, Joan

Field, Napoleon ‘Bony’

Fraternities, Jewish

Funeral homes

Furniture industry and trade

High Holy Days

Historical preservation

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)

Holocaust memorials


Jewelry industry and trade

Jewish-Christian relations

Jewish-black relations

Judaism—Fasts and feasts

Judaism, Conservative

Judaism, Orthodox

Judaism, Reform

Kohn, Herbert

Long, Milton

Marengo Theater—Demopolis, Alabama

Marion, Alabama

Mayer Brothers—Demopolis, Alabama

Meridian, Mississippi

Murders/Suicides—Demopolis, Alabama (1934)



Religious education, Jewish


Rosenbush, Bertram Jr.

Rosenbush, Bert Julius Sr.

Rosenbush, Essie Baum

Rosenbush, Julius

Rosenbush, Mary Louise Bell

Rosenbush, Miriam Stein

Rosenbush’s Furniture Company—Demopolis, Alabama

Rosh Ha-Shanah




Smith, Frances and Elsie

Soldiers, Jewish (Confederate)

Sunday school

Temple Emanu-El—Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Tombigbee River—Alabama

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum—Washington, DC

University of Alabama—Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Wallerstein, Bette Rosenbush

Yom Kippur

Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT)



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