The geechee courier

From Poland to Augusta--
A Bolgla's Story

Sara Bolgla Breibart wrote the following article for the College of Charleston's Jewish Heritage Foundation.

Sara Bolgla was eighteen months old when she left Brest-Litovsk, Poland, with her parents Abram Moshe and Yocha Sobel Bolgla, her five-year-old brother Hillel, grandmother Sheina Perel, and young uncle Leizor.

The Bolglas sailed from Antwerp; their destination -- "the land of milk and honey, where the streets were paved with gold."

The voyage was a nightmare. "What could be good about traveling steerage class," Sara recalls, "parents who could not speak English and were afraid to eat the food due to their obsession with keeping kosher?"

Sara cried so much, no one wanted to come near her. "No wonder you cried," her mother said. "We were afraid to let you eat the food."

Soon after reaching New York, the family received a telegram from Abram's father, who had gone ahead with Abram's older brother to Augusta, Georgia, and opened a shoe store. Abram debated whether to rush to Augusta and set up a second shoe shop in space his father had rented for him, or to stay with his wife who was approaching her ninth month of pregnancy. Yocha told him, "What will be with you, will be without you – you must go and get the business started."

Tucked in her baggage Yocha carried a pair of candlesticks and a small, hand-sewn address book, with names and addresses, most in English, and marginal notes in Yiddish, written mainly in her own hand.

They included dozens of relatives and friends who had settled all over the United States: Abe Sobel, now living in San Francisco, who in the old country had made Persian lamb caps for the Cossacks; Cousin Heyman in Savannah; Louis Wengrow in Blackville, South Carolina; Feinburg in Fitchburg, New York; Schereshevsky in Brooklyn; the Rosenthals in Milwaukee; Nathan Goldman in Chicago; the Sonenbergs in New York – in later years they would take Yocha to the Brestka Ball; and last but not least, the Joint Distribution Committee, "20 Exchange Place, New York, America."

Thinking back on the experience, Sara Bolgla Breibart marvels at her mother's fortitude in "leaving home and relatives with very slim chance of ever seeing them again, traveling from New York to Augusta with three small children, one a new-born, and not even being able to speak the language."

Why were they willing to gamble on the great unknown? "My father's family was poor," Sara concludes. "When people are poor with very little opportunity to make life better, they are more willing to chance a change.

So my father's family picked up and came. On the other hand, my mother's family was different. Her father, following the same pattern, came to this country, earned enough money to send for his wife and children (my mother had two brothers), but my maternal grandmother would not go.

She was ultra-Orthodox and came from a moderately well-to-do family, so things weren't bad enough for her to leave. And being so Orthodox, she would not go to a treyf medina [a non-kosher country]. As a result, my father's family was spared the Holocaust, but my mother's family all perished.Would you call it luck – lucky to be poor?"

In Augusta, Abram and Yoche Bolgla opened their little store, first selling second-hand shoes, then new ones. They never became "a Sachs or a Macy's," Sara reports, "but they made a respectable living – buying a house, educating their children to become professionals – and lived to a ripe old, comfortable age."

From Russia to Charleston --
A Breibart's Story

Solly Breibart told this story to the College of Charleston's Jewish Heritage Foundation's oral history of Charleston Jewry.

Jacob, he was known as Yankel, Jacob Goldberg, my maternal grandfather. He was born in Russia in 1854. Probably around the Minsk area. And he died in Charleston in 1930. And my maternal grandmother—Sarah Lipsitt was her given name—also was born in Russia, probably the same area, born in 1862 and died in 1954, old age. Longevity there.

Back in those days they had sort of a network that you could send people—children—by this network. And [my father] was taken out of Russia by somebody who saw to it that he got on the ship and he came to America.

It amazes me. I can’t visualize my son when he was 14 years old being shunted off to go by himself to America. And he had more experience in traveling than my father had. My father probably never got far from the shtetl he lived in or the city he lived in.


My father’s store was on Meeting Street. I’ll tell you where it is. It’s on the corner of Meeting and Maple Street and at that time Maple Street was a dirt street. Meeting Street was paved with oyster shells. I remember sitting on the front of my father’s steps at the store and seeing them pave Meeting Street with the first coats of asphalt and things of that kind. I remember them laying the sewers on that street there,too, before they did the paving. That was in the1920s, mid ’20s.

The main store was a big room, a big room—I’m talking about my father’s place. He had ceiling fans. He had an ornate tin ceiling over the fans. Too bad it’s gone now. The store changed over a period of time but as far back as I can remember it had a big counter where he filled the orders on the counter.

He had a candy case. He had the old-type cash registers. Had shelves behind the counter where they had the groceries, teas, and canned goods of various kinds. Then they had a medicine cabinet on one wall where they kept drugs of various kinds, patent drugs, medicine, that kind of thing.

On one wall he had bins in which he used to sell—used to have chicken feed and rice. I can’t remember what else he had in there. And then eventually he had a meat case where he kept meats. Eventually he opened a meat market there and then he had another—he had a showcase then, he had a big showcase then.

He had two back rooms to the store and he had a hall on the side which led to an entrance from the front of the store so you didn’t have to come through the store. One room was a storage room where he kept supplies, groceries, and so on.

And he had one of the first automatic hot water heaters. When he built his new house, he had a bathtub and he had showers and he had instant heat, you know. It’s about so high, metal cabinet with copper coils and the water ran through the copper coils and then the gas was on a pilot and when the water started flowing the pilot flared up and began heating the coils and so you had instantaneous hot water.

The cash register was about this big. I remember very well because when I was growing up, one of my first things I did in the store was make change. They would sell something and tell me to take out so much and make change for them.

They didn’t keep any books. They didn’t keep any books whatsoever. He was just flying by the seat of his pants, you know. As he needed things he would order things. He would buy on credit and he gave credit too in the grocery store. He wrote down the credit but he didn’t have any ledgers for that.

He had a spindle in the store on which he would write down what the person owed and stick it on there. And then he eventually gathered them all together and figured up what the person owed him.

He used to have also—you may have seen in some of the stores—he had a cookie case. They’d be maybe about four feet tall and they would be able to put in there boxes, cookies with a glass covering that you open it and go in and take them out.

Sold a lot of one-cent cookies and one-cent candies in the store.

And it was a place usually, much more so later than earlier I think, that people used to come in and just schmooze, hang around the store, talk. They would just lean on the counter and talk

. That was a time, I must have been about sixteen, seventeen years old, and there used to be some regulars who’d come in all the time, almost every night, drink a beer or two, stand around and schmooze, that’s all. And one worked at the Navy Yard and he used to tell them all the things that were going on at the Navy Yard that he didn’t think was right but he was a part of it. And there was one that used to work at the Clyde Line, the steamship company. He was also a butcher. A man named Siemers. Not Jewish. None of these were Jewish. We lived in a neighborhood that was just growing up back in those days.