Wasserman, Max
Diaries of Russian Immigrant, Motel "Max" Wasserman, Cloth Cutter and Trade Unionist, resident of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dated 1933-1946

Six manuscript diaries, totaling 819 pages, kept by Max Wasserman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, hand written in English, as follows: Diary for 1933-1934, 105 manuscript pages, entries dated 31 Dec .1933 to 31 Dec. 1934, 12mo kept in a composition notebook, marbled paper boards, paper spine, entries written in pencil and ink, in a legible hand, 2 leaves (4 pages) are loose and chipped at edges. Diary for 1935, 223 manuscript pages, entries dated 1 Jan. to 25 Dec. 1934, 12mo, bound in limp red leather, entries written in ink and pencil, in legible hand. Diary for 1936, 118 manuscript pages, entries dated 1 Jan. to 31 Dec. 1934, 12mo, bound in stiff red leather, two days per page, entries written in ink and pencil, in legible hand, includes one page list of people he works with at rear. Diary for 1937, 127 manuscript pages, entries dated 1 Jan. to 28 Dec. 1937, measures 12mo, bound in limp green leather, two days per page, written in ink and pencil, in legible hand. Diary for 1938, 198 manuscript pages, dated 1 Jan to 27 Dec 1938, 12mo, bound in limp red leather, one day entry per page, written in ink, in legible hand. Diary for 1946, 48 manuscript pages, entries dated 1 Jan. to 11 Sept. 1946, 12mo, bound in limp black leather, three days per page, written in pencil, in legible hand.

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Motel "Max" Wasserman (1904-1986)

 

              Motel "Max" Wasserman was born on 4 February 1904, or 1905, in Ostropol, Russia. He immigrated to America on 5 March 1921 on the vessel "Vestris" by way of Liverpool, England. On his declaration of intention to become a citizen of the United States (dated 28 Nov 1923), he stated that he lived at 837 N. 6th Street. A postcard tucked into one of the diaries shows him living two doors away at 841 N. 6th Street. Wasserman's social security number is found in the diaries, as was the day and month of his birthday (Feb 4th) and was compared to the online databases of Ancestry.com where a record was found giving his date of birth and death and residence at time of death. The diary of 1937 is signed "Max" and the diary of 1936 is signed "Max Wasserman," and the diary of 1933-34 being signed "M. Wasserman."

 

               In the 1930 Census, Max was found living at 3109 W. York Street, the address that is also found on his petition for naturalization on ancestry.com.  He lived with his mother Marcy and two sisters, Minnie and Esther. They rented the house. Max was working as a shipper at a dry goods business. Everyone in the family was born in Russia, and Max's mother is listed as divorced.

 

               The Wasserman family lived at various addresses in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia: 3109 W. York Street; 2946 W. York Street; 1933 N. 31st; and 2416 N. Corlies. Formerly known as Summerville, the neighborhood takes its name from a house known as Strawberry Mansion, at one time housing a restaurant known for strawberries and cream. Strawberry Mansion was home to a number of Philadelphia's wealthiest families in the 19th Century. It became a mixed-income, predominantly Jewish neighborhood, but since the middle of the 20th century the neighborhood has been struck by economic decline and urban decay. During the time Wasserman lived there it was a predominately Jewish area. The neighborhood borders     Fairmount Park, Wasserman and his friends spend a great deal of time hanging out in the park, walking in the park, bicycle riding in the park, as well as attending many concerts and movies in the park, or at the Robin Hood Dell Theater.

 

          The 1940 Census shows Max's mother and sister Esther living at 2416 N. Corlies Street, Max was not in the household, having married Dorothy Segal on 22 January 1939. Max moved out to start his own family in a rented apartment. The 1940 Census shows Max's mother and sister were living at this same address in 1935. The family moved to Corlies Street in 1934. When the 1939 diary ends Max and Dot were planning their marriage, buying furniture, linens, household goods, etc., and when the 1946 diary begins they are celebrating their 7th wedding anniversary and had several children.

 

          Wasserman describes himself as a Jewish American and he mentions the coming war. He discusses Hitler and the spread of Fascism around the world. He mentions the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and other incidents. He states how lucky he is to live in the United States.

 

          Wasserman also states that his family was being evicted in 1934 due in part to problems created by the depression. Wasserman then mentions applying for government benefits. Max had multiple jobs and sometimes no job at all. He finally lands a job as a cutter in 1936.

 

         Wasserman was quite progressive he supported Roosevelt and discusses how he became a union member. Max gives an account of his first strike. He is a member of Local 219 of the Cutter's Union a union associated with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. He worked as a “Cutter” for Milgrin's Manufacturing Co. he mentions the “Cutting Room” and that many women worked there as well. The company made women's clothing.

 

               Wasserman is a thoughtful writer, and discusses his opinions about his life, the Depression and the state of the country. One diary in particular (1933-1934) is very personal. This diary is filled with discussions of a woman with whom he is in love and he is quite frank about his feelings. The rest of the diaries have this theme and he finally finds a woman that he would like to marry.

 

                Wasserman had an extremely active social life. He is constantly attending dances at the Jewish "Y" in Philadelphia. He is always going to the “Pictures” or movies, or Hebrew Literary Society, and writes excellent descriptions of them. He views what he calls "Jewish Musicals" and goes downtown to see “Nixon’s Colored Review.” He takes in burlesque shows and attends lectures on religion and politics. In several diaries he mentions multiple romantic encounters with several women whom he continues to see throughout the 1930s.

 Max Wasserman died in August 1986 in Philadelphia.

 

Sample Quotes from Diaries:

 

          The diary for 1933-1934 mainly concerns Max's romantic difficulties with a girl named Dorothy Segal. He is trying to get over a failed relationship with a woman named Zena, when Dorothy enters his life. Max writes about her, their dates, and the many shows and films that he attends with her and other women and male friends, either at the Robin Hood Dell in Fairmount Park, or in downtown Philadelphia at the old movie houses of the Fox, Mastbaum, Boyd, and others along Chestnut and Market Streets, and eating ice cream at Horn & Hardart's (H & H). He also mentions his work as a cutter at Milgrins, a clothing manufacturer.

 

"Jan 5, 1934

Early in the morning we moved in to 1933 N.31st Street from 2946 W. York St Where we were in trouble with the constable for the last 6 months. And lately with a levy on the house and we almost escaped from eviction. Came in late to work on account of the moving. Raining hard all day."

 

"Oct 28, 1935

Coming home from work Union organizers called at my house and informed me that a strike in our trade - the underwear industry will take place sometime this week and that I shall be ready for the call. To be frank to myself I hate strikes, but am not much against a union with all its faults."

 

"Oct 30, 1935

The expected strike took place today at 10 o'clock. I went down at 12 noon. Bill Boduer & Irving Saslin my co-workers went down earlier. What be now I can't tell as the call to the strike wasn't so enthusiastic, however, & it is too early to judge yet and again I say my old slogan You can't do anything yourself time will take care of it."

 

"Oct 31, 1935

Rainy and the strike seems to be a flop. What's next now? I'm at a loss what to do next."

 

"Nov 7, 1935

As the strike was given up I went up to see my boss Joe Milgrin and after a little lecture he accepted me back to work..."

 

 "Nov 8, 1935

Little by little I'm getting used to the place again and the strike begins to be a secondary thing in my daily shop work. The scab girls who remained working during the strike stopped "kibitzing" me as they did yesterday and Leon and the bosses did likewise..."

 

"May 5, 1936

I’m cutting again with the machine but not very enthusiastic about it. As I hope that some day I will go out of the shop. It is not my ambition to be a worker (spending) all my life."

 

"Aug 1,1936

Saturday off Not doing anything today went down on Market St & Chestnut St .Just like that stopped in at the Trans-Lux to see the news of the world especially the Spanish news, which is the topic of all the news - A revolution which might end in world war. In the evening took Eva my niece to the Dell Concert inside."

 

"Mar 10, 1937

Lately there's going on a wave of strikes all over the county especially sit down strikes. The main object is to unionize every industry our shop being unorganized one might not be spared as I see union organizers loitering near and in our building trying to convince our girls to get organized and it looks like that we may expect a strike very soon."

 

"Mar 26, 1937

After the Seder Moishe, my nephew and I went down to Nixon's Grand to see Armstrong's Colored Review."

 

"Apr 5, 1937

The long expected strike in our place (Milgrins) took place today. The union organizers came and stopped everybody at the entrance. Most of the girls went to work after the police arrived and just a few remained striking, among the few I was counted."

 

"Apr 7, 1937

The strike is in full swing we had a big picket line from outsiders and sympathizers. Will we Win?"

 

"Apr 8, 1937

I am getting more interested in the strike, and since I consider my job as lost unless we win

I did my best to see that we win. Picketed and tried to convince a lot of scabs or those that come up to work in spite of the strike is on."

 

"Apr 9, 1937

Rain and nasty weather all day long but we picket just the same. So far the "Enemy” and we the Union are in the same position. Neither will give in yet. Altho we crippled his (Milgrins) production almost to a third."

 

"Apr 10, 1937

Very cold. All hopes of winning the strike are postponed for next Monday or Tuesday I’m growing impatient of the outcome."

 

"Apr 12, 1937

Victory has not come yet in our strike. The union people assigned me to a place on bathing suit for tomorrow (Ben Jardin 26027 N. Howard St.) P.S. Today the Supreme Court of the U.S. passed the Wagner Labor Act as constitutional."

 

"Apr 13, 1937

Came up to the place that I was sent from the Union and wasn't successful. Worked three all day and was sent away by the end of the day."

 

"Apr 14, 1937

Picketed again my old place (Milgrin's). The outcome of the strike seemed today indefinite."

 

"Apr 15, 1937

My bosses the Milgrins began to confer with the Union people to come to an agreement. P.S. Sent a birthday card to Dorothy Segal."

 

"Apr16, 1937

There was no picketing around Milgrins on account of the conference between them & the union."

 

"Apr 19, 1937

The Union declared a truce of the strike. Spent most of the day in union headquarters 1008 Cherry St. Was also sent out to distribute leaflets in other unorganized underwear shops."

 

"Apr 20, 1937

Learned today the strike was settled, i.e. Milgrins recognized the union and we will be able to return to work. Was a little disappointed as I hoped we will gain some increase in wages too besides union recognition."

 

"Apr 21, 1937

Raining and nasty all day. Stayed home all day as we will resume to work on Monday. Was sort of moody & depressed of the outcome of the settlement as the fight for improvement of conditions in our shop has just begun."

 

"Apr 23, 1937

We the strikers and the (scabs) inside workers came to a meeting to hear about what the union people have to say."

 

"Apr 26, 1937

After staying out for full three weeks we resumed to work. It was sort of discomfortable [sic] to meet the boss and the others but I was soon myself again."

 

"Friday May 21, 1937

Mr. Milgrin our boss told us (the cutters) to come in tomorrow to work 4 hours and next Sat. 4 hours to make up for the coming decoration day. We all went to the Union Headquarters to find out if we are allowed to do it. We were told not come in. It's against the rules of the union. This procedure or protest made me feel sort of uneasy. As I knew my boss will burn up. Since it took a little time to mend the old rift (the strike) and now again facing his (the boss's) wrath. But thanks to our union I hope we (the cutters) will overcome this little "revolution" also..."

 

"Monday, May 24, 1937

Thanks to the feeling of being a union man I faced the boss nonchalantly, despite him being sore."

 

"Jan 3, 1938

Today begins the fourth week of my staying idle and I’m getting literally sick and tired already.

Heard Pres. Roosevelt’s broadcast his speech for the opening of 1938 Congress. He criticized the big capitalist for their being greedy and called them that they are the cause of the new depression. According to the speech something will be done to stop this coming depression."

 

"Feb 7, 1938

Was elected to the executive board of our shop..."

"Feb 21, 1938

Flash!

Hitler (of the Nazi Germany) defying speech to the world (yesterday) shocked everybody the press was full of it the news as well as editorials. His expression of Steel & Iron will speak if anybody will stop his ambitions. England’s foreign secretary Eden resigned his post on account of England capitulating to the dictators of Europe Germany and Italy."

 

"Feb 28, 1938

...In America - Democracy - altho not a perfect one, but still the best one that the world now has. Here to we begin to rearm again. Altho not for offensive purpose but National Defense and I must admit in spite that I am pacifically inclined I agree that this is the best thing for world peace. It may not be very long before it will end but no buddy can tell may be war clouds will clear away as it is now its very cloudy now. Business - it looks a little better now.   Our President tries his best to improve conditions. As a Jew I’m thankful that I live here where the sun still shines on us."

 

"Mar 2, 1939

Attended an executive board meeting it was very interesting. Mr. Otto our manager addressed us - he's a magnetic personality..."

 

"Mar 15, 1939

Attended a union membership meeting of our local 219"

 

"Sept 19, 1938

World News

England and France sell Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Hitler's demand is that the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia be annexed to Germany and England and France agreed on it on excuse of avoiding

a world war. What will Hitler do next? Is the whole world going fascist?"

 

"Nov 10, 1938

Again Nazi Germany this time a real program on the Jews the world was shocked the press was full of the accounts. Our President Roosevelt denounced the Nazis calling them uncivilized, all prominent Americans joined in chorus  calling the worlds public opinion to stop the outrages."

 

"Dec 17, 1938

Dorothy's sister in law, Mrs. Friend's mother, died today after being sick for the last few weeks so our intention of going to linen shower was cancelled. Having nothing to do we took a walk and looked for an apartment. I mentioned something to bargain about the rent and Dorothy got up in the air and called all kinds of names like "Kike" and what not and even said that she thinks we might not be able to get along and maybe we should break off. I was calm surprisingly, but I burned up inside coming home I thought it over and even thought that if she does not change, I might take her anger more seriously. Maybe it's better now than to wait till after we get married."

 

"Feb 19, 1946

Attended a cutters meeting, Selcovitz was praising himself of the advances he made in the local, but as far as my place is concerned he didn't do a think. That goes to show that where ever places have plenty work he does things or they do themselves, but in slow places he does nothing -"