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About Harry Aaron Specter
THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF ARLEN SPECTER'S FATHER'S BIRTH -- (Senate - July 01, 1992) [Page: S9393] ---
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, 2 weeks from today, July 15, 1992, will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of my father, Harry Specter. When I attended the joint session of Congress on March 27, 1990, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of President and general of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, I thought of my own father's contribution to the United States and decided to commemorate his centennial through this presentation in the U.S. Senate.
The date of my father's birth cannot even be fixed with certainty because there were no birth records maintained in Batchkurina, a village 160 miles from Kiev in the heart of Ukraine. My father told me that he was born in the season when the pear sickles were ripe on the fruit trees which he estimated to be July 15. He said he recollected writing that he was 10 years old in the year 1903, which would have put his year of birth a year later, but his citizenship papers list 1892 as his year of birth.
Harry Specter grew up in a one-room hut with a dirt floor, shared by his parents, seven brothers, and one sister. His earliest impressions were of anti-Semitism and abusive treatment by the villagers and the Russian Government. He spoke bitterly about the Cossacks and the pain they inflicted on the Russian peasants, especially the Jews. He spoke of conscription by the czar and military service in far-away outposts such as Siberia.
At the age of 18, determined to avoid the oppression of the czar's heel, he saved a few rubles, walked across the European Continent and set sail for America in steerage. His arrival in the United States and his search for his brother, Joseph, demonstrated his character, imagination, and determination which would be the hallmarks of his life.
When he landed in New York, a teeming city of almost 5 million people, my father had no address for his brother but knew only the name and street corner of his brother's bank from a check which had been received by the family in Batchkurina. So, on a Sunday morning, he went to the street corner with the hope that his brother might live nearby and pass the bank.
After several hours, he saw his brother walk by and excitedly ran up to him and shouted, ``Yussel, Yussel, Ich bin dein bruder Aaron.'' Yiddish for: ``Joseph, Joseph, I am your brother Harry.'' My father had changed considerably in the 7 years since Joseph had last seen his 11-year-old brother. Looking at the stranger, my Uncle Joe said, ``Oyb du bist mein bruder Aaron, kum mit mir.'' Yiddish for: ``If you are my brother Harry, come with me.'' And so began my father's life in America.
My sister, Shirley, who read this text last night, recollects the story a little differently. By the way, Shirley is here today, as is my sister Hilda Morgenstern, my brother-in-law Arthur Morgenstern, and my niece Judith Barzilay. Other members of my family may also be watching on C-SPAN 2. In any event, Hilda recalls that my father stood on the street corner for 3 days, but the essence of the facts are the same.
Harry Specter worked for a tailor, a sweatshop as he called it, at Fourth and Lombard Streets in Philadelphia. Determined to improve his lot in life, he saved his money, bought a model-T Ford and traveled West to learn English and see America.
He was a peddler. He sold blankets to the farmers in the winter and cantaloups on the streets of small midwestern towns in the summer.
When purchasing blankets and dry goods in a supply store in St. Joseph, MO, in about 1916, he met Mrs. Frieda Shanin and asked if she had a daughter. My grandmother-to-be--Bubba, we called her in Yiddish--replied that she did, but her daughter was too young for him. Actually, Frieda Shanin had four daughters and three sons with the oldest, Lillie, 16, and the others ranging from 13 to 2. My grandfather Mordechai Shanin, had died suddenly of a heart attack in his midforties a year earlier.
The romance of Harry Specter and Lillie Shanin was interrupted by World War I. Next to his family, my father was most proud of his service as a buck private in the American Expeditionary Force in France. His discharge papers disclose that he joined Company I of the 355th Infantry on May 6, 1918, and sailed from the United States for France on June 4. The intervening 29 days left little time for training.
One hundred days later, he was seriously wounded in action in the Argonne Forest, carrying shrapnel in his legs until the day he died. Harry Specter convalesced and returned to the United States on January 5, 1919, according to his record of military service. On crutches, he returned to St. Joe to marry the beautiful, slender redhead. Their wedding picture, the bride in a full white gown and the groom in uniform, hangs in my office in the Hart Building.
During the course of the next 45 years, Harry and Lillie Specter moved back and forth between the east coast and the Midwest in search of ways to support his family. He said with some frequency, ``Schver tsu machen a lebn.'' Yiddish for: ``It's hard to earn a living.'' And that was certainly true for him.
I do not know all of the family's travels, but I do know my brother Morton was born in 1920, in St. Joseph, MO, and my sister Hilda was born in Philadelphia in 1921. My mother recounted living in Camden, NJ, and watching a workman fall from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which was under construction for several years prior to its opening on June 30, 1926. The family was back in the Midwest when my sister Shirley was born in St. Joe in 1927, and then we lived in Wichita, KS, when I was born 3 years later.
During the midst of the Depression, my father borrowed $500 from my Aunt Anne, my mother's sister, so the family could move back to Philadelphia where my father could earn a living. In Philadelphia I started school. For a short time, my father had a small grocery store in Suthwest Philadelphia and drove a bootleg truck in the coal fields of Scranton, PA. We moved back to Wichita, KS, in 1936 because, as bad as the economy was, the opportunities appeared to be better in Kansas. In Kansas in the mid-thirties, it was back to the same routine: selling blankets to the farmers in winter and cantaloupes in the summer. Before dawn, my father would take the back seat out of our car, and my sister Shirley and I would accompany him to the farmers' market where he would load bushels of cantaloupes into the back seat. We would then drive to neighboring small towns to sell cantaloupes door to door.
The largest cantaloupes, perhaps nine inches in diameter, would be sold three for a quarter, down to the smallest ones, perhaps four inches in diameter, priced at six for a quarter. Our treks up and down the streets with baskets of cantaloupes were frequently interrupted by the town constable who ran us out of town because of complaints from the local merchants whose cantaloupe were substantially costlier.
In 1936, my father bought a new pickup truck. Driving down a Kansas highway, the vehicle turned over when the spindle bolt broke on the front wheel, crushing my father's right arm. He was furious with his lawyer and the legal system when he received only $500 in settlement for a permanently disabled right arm. He was pleased with the excellent care he received in Wichita's Veterans' Hospital. Notwithstanding shrapnel in his legs from World War I and metal holding his right arm together, he persevered to support his wife and four children.
Peddling gave way to my father's junkyard in Lyons, KS, in the late 1930's. When I accompanied my father in the summers to help him work the winch on the truck, we slept on the floor in a single-room corrugated building and the Kansas farm outhouses made our toilet facilities look lavish by comparison. My father commuted the 100 miles between Lyons and Wichita each week until 1942 when our family moved to Russell, because the 165 miles to Wichita was too far to commute.
During World War II, the price of junk went up a little and my parents saved enough money for a modest retirement.
When my sister Shirley was of marriageable age in the late 1940's, there was only one Jewish boy in town--her brother--so the family moved East to provide the opportunity for Shirley to meet and marry Edwin Kety. When he became Dr. Kety and joined the public health service, my parents followed them to Phoenix, AZ, in 1961 to help with their young family.
While the 100th anniversary of the birth of my mother, Lillie Shanin Specter, will not be celebrated until September 20, 2000, her life story was a full partnership with my father. She came to the United States in 1905 with her parents and younger brother and lived in St. Joe, MO, until she married my father in 1919, and then began their lifelong worldwide odyssey. She was the quintessential nurturing mother--always there for care, comfort, and the mealtime admonition: ``finish all the food on your plate''--a habit which I honor to this day. When her four children were grown, she and my father were devoted and caring grandparents, putting their family ahead of everything else.
From my parents' total commitment to their children and the example they set, my brother, sisters and I instinctively understood our obligation to behave and work hard to achieve our full potential.
Seeing their struggle and sacrifices, it was simply unthinkable that any of the children would do anything to embarrass our parents or fail to match the intensity of their efforts.
Education was the watchword in the Specter household. Our parents valued it so much because they had so little of it. My mother had completed only the eighth grade and my father had no formal schooling at all. But they were self-educated people. My father was an avid reader of the Tog--the Jewish daily newspaper--and read the editorial pages of the English-language papers from top to bottom frequently quoting Dorothy Thompson or Walter Lippmann. In her own quiet way, my mother's educational achievement surpassed most college graduates. There was no exhortation by our parents to study and succeed. It was assumed.
Notwithstanding the tough immigrant life and the problems of the Depression, my parents always had a strong sense of optimism. They were gregarious people. My father frequently quoted Will Rogers' statement that ``he never met a man he didn't like.'' It was always reassuring for me to hear my father say that the system would provide a man with the opportunity to make a living.
My father was always very interested in politics. Although I do not recall the specifics, I believe that I was deeply impressed by the veterans' march on Washington in the early 1930's and my father's reaction to it. He was outraged over the failure of the Government to pay the bonuses to the World War I veterans. These were particularly tough times for our family. We had little more than his small disability pension to put food on the table. In a sense, it seems that I have been on my way to Washington ever since to get my father's bonus.
World War II and the Holocaust found the Specter family deeply involved in international events. We watched in anguish as 6 million Jews were murdered. My father virtually had his ear in the radio every night at 10 p.m. when he listened to Graham Fletcher and the news on radio station KFH in Wichita. He agonized as Hitler's army marched across Russia and he feared the destruction of his native village, Batchkurina, and the annihilation of his family there. When Hitler had made his deepest penetration into Russia, I recall my father being interviewed by the local newspaper and his confident prediction that the German Army would be repelled.
A trip to Israel was my father's lifelong ambition. It always made me uneasy when he would say that he wanted to die and be buried in Israel. On October 9, 1964, Joan and I brought a bottle of champagne on board the ship Shalom to toast my parents' departure for Haifa. Three weeks later, a letter arrived from my mother saying that my father had suffered a heart attack when he overexerted himself in his excitement to walk the streets of Tel Aviv. A 5 a.m. telephone call on November 2, 1964, brought the news of his death and my sister Hilda and I flew from New York later that day to bury our father in the Cholom cemetery in Tel Aviv. The orthodox burial ceremony had no casket with my father laid to rest in a large tallis, the Jewish prayer shawl.
Joan and I visited my father's birthplace in 1982. In Batchkurina we talked to the village elder, a man 81 years of age, who at first did not recall the Specter family. When I commented that the Specters were the only Jewish family in town, he then exclaimed that he did remember ``Avram the Jew.'' His identification of my grandfather's first name was made without any prior identification of that name by me. That incident emphasized for me the difference of being Jewish in Russia in 1911 or 1982 or, for the matter 1992.
My father's story is both extraordinary and typical of the lives of millions of immigrants who made the United States the great country it is today. Harry Specter personified America's most basic values: love of family, education, patriotism, courage, sacrifice, optimism, hard work, commitment to do whatever was necessary to do the job and an overarching sense of optimism.
While this brief statement cannot obviously match the pomp and ceremony of the joint session of Congress commemorating President Eisenhower's centennial, it is a privilege for me to be in the U.S. Senate to have this opportunity to honor my father on the occasion of his 100th birthday. His struggle, his accomplishments and his values are an inspiration for America's future.
I thank the Chair for this opportunity.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, are we still in a period for morning business?
The PRESIDING OFFICER. We are.
Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I would first like to compliment, if I might, the Senator from Pennsylvania. I had the privilege of listening to his very eloquent address relative to his father, and I sincerely state to my colleague and to my friend from Pennsylvania that truly this was a very moving tribute to a great man. It was a great privilege for me to hear him out and to hear his statement to the Senate.
Harry Specter's Timeline
July 15, 1892
Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine
St Joseph, Buchanan, MO, USA
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
February 12, 1930
Wichita, Sedgwick, Kansas, United States
November 2, 1964
Tel Aviv, Israel
Tel Aviv, Israel