page 7 of 12
Introductions and Coming to America
Please report errors to: email@example.com.
Note: this is the SECOND of two interviews with Charles Newton. The first interview—conducted in early March, 2004—has not been fully transcribed and will be posted upon completion.
My name is Lindsey. My name is Jacob. My name is Sydney and we're here in Carmel, California interviewing Charles M. Newton on March 26th, 2004.
Charles, where does your name come from?
When we were in Camp Ritchie, we were—I was a foreigner. They couldn't send me overseas if I hadn't been an American. They can't take some foreigner into the army. So they asked us to first of all become citizens. We did that in Hagerstown <Maryland>, which is a small town but a very famous town. Lincoln came there at the time of the war. But they asked us to change our name, because in the Intelligence if they captured us and we had relatives in Europe, they could pressure these prisoners to give them information that they normally wouldn't get.
The American judge asked in the last minute, "Any of you who have parents or anybody in Europe, you change your name." So people’s name, Buchsbaum he became Butler, and—everybody changed their name. I took the name of Isaac Newton, who as you all know was an inventor, but he wasn't Jewish. However, the name is related—the letters are all the same as my original name was, so it was okay. In a minute I had to find a name. Because in the morning they didn't tell us that "at ten o'clock you're going to change your name." That’s how our name was changed.
Did you make a conscious decision to take a last name that wasn't traditionally Jewish?
Not personally, no. Actually, you know, life is difficult enough without all of that. The fact that we were Jewish did not really matter that much. There were—that wasn't in your time, but in my time, we came to America and hotels were restricted. You couldn't just go into—as a famous joke for, a Jew with a beard who comes to a hotel, and the man says, "you can't come in here." He says, "I don't want to come in there. I keep my mistress here." The idea was that the Jews could not go into every hotel. That is, also the blacks could not go in every hotel, but with the Jews you couldn't see it so much.
Some friends and I—we were in the Berkshires—and we went to a hotel, and we were there already three or four days when we looked at the ads in one of the papers and this hotel was restricted. It said so:"Hotel Restricted." We were a little bit embarrassed! Here we were, four Jewish boys in a hotel that doesn't want us. So, we moved out and we sent somebody to buy the hotel, because that was the best way to get rid of all the hotels that were restricted. And slowly, that's what happened. Jewish firms bought up the finer hotels. In the end they couldn't—even here in Pebble Beach, the hotel was restricted. You could not come in there just and take a room.
This was in the 1940's?
That was the 1930's and 40's. After '45, that didn't exist anymore. The war changed a lot of things. One of the things was that you can not restrict hotels anymore. That was the end of it. But while we were young, that was very embarrassing to us. But that was the only time that I remember that we had any—nobody had said anything; they let us in. But we didn't want to be in a place that didn't want us. Especially that we paid money for it. It’s just to say, it wasn't always as easy as it is today.
What was your name before it was Newton?
I am not going to say that because that is confidential.
Were you mad when you found out that you were staying in a hotel that restricting your people?
No. It wasn't a question of mad. We were displeased. You don't get mad over such things, there's very little you could do about it. But you had to accept, certainly—now in Europe that didn't exist. Jews were not discriminated against in anywhere. First of all they were the ones that had the money. So, in most of, in Belgium, Belgium is nine million people, the whole of the country; before you're in it you're out. However the Jews played the very important role. They were the merchants. They brought food to the people, because the workers were all in the diamond business and they worked for the Jewish people. There wasn't even a Jew, a poor Jew in Antwerp who didn't have a maid. That was not even thinkable that you would be restricted against.
That was rather new to us. We didn't have that. American freedom, American freedom, that was no freedom. But it changed, over the years. Today of course—I hope that nobody ever has such experience. It was the only time that we had a feeling that Jews were discriminated against. Of course you could not go to all the schools. Is that part of history? Then I won't go on. Because there were quotas in every University; you couldn't just apply and go in. Today you can. My wife went to Wellesley, and it was very unusual that there was a Jewish girl in Wellesley. It was mostly Protestants and they were very strict and my wife sang in the choir in their Churches, but nobody ever discriminated against her either.
It's very personal, and there was no—we did not feel—in New York of course it's different than the rest of the country. In New York, three quarters are Jews. It's hardly that you meet somebody who's not Jewish in New York; those are the people who feel out of place. On Jewish holidays, all the stores are closed. Non-Jews too, because nobody comes to buy anyhow so they might as well not open. There is a difference between New York, which is a very cosmopolitan town and accepts everybody, against I don’t know—Illinois or somewhere else where there are eleven million Jews in the world, and it's a very small amount. And six million are in America. Now three and a half are in New York and the rest is distributed over the whole world.
Here in Carmel, very few Jews, almost none. Until the hospital started to get Jewish doctors in here. And that became a very good hospital, exceptional hospital. But before that this city here was very white Protestant you know, all generals and colonels. When we came here—I don't know if you know who Pierre Salinger was, he was a senator from—not Jewish, Christian senator, but a Jewish father and his wife Mrs. Salinger was his mother, Pierre's mother. Pierre is a friend of mine and he told me, "When you are in Carmel, go and see my mother." Mrs. Salinger introduced us here, right away, to everybody, Ansel Adams, whoever lived here. The first thing we told him is that we were Jewish because we didn't want that they should make remarks or find out that they were embarrassed afterwards. Mrs. Salinger always says, "You know, I really honor you for going around and telling everybody you're Jewish." I said, "Well, I am not going to hide. On the contrary, I am very happy to be Jewish." Not ever Jew is happy to be Jewish, some Jews would like not to be Jewish, but that is not our case.
Did you chose the name Newton to prevent certain prejudices or having everyone know you were Jewish.
No. It happens the letters "N," "T," "W" were in my name. I had to find something that had very similar letters because I was not going to re-change all my papers later on, my passport—everything—into other names. After the war we stayed in that—I stayed in that name, but in my family I am the only one—my brother has a different name than I. This is—it happens to be difficult—foreign names here is, "How do you spell it?" sixteen times a day. You call up somewhere, charge account or so, "how do you spell it?" Newton is easier for them to accept. But I had to invent this name in two minutes.
I don't know if you know that, but all the Jews were brought by the Romans into Spain right after Christ was born, and the Romans had a war with the people that at that time were Judea. They took all the Jews that were of any kind—they left some peasants, otherwise everybody was taken to Iberia. Iberia is what is today Spain. It was a province with very few people in it. All the Jews went there and they had no names. I don't know if you know that, none of you that are Jewish know, perhaps, that you had no name. You were called "Simon son of Moses," or "Aaron son of Peter." This kind of designation.
Jews had no names until Napoleon came in 1810 and liberated the Jews. Napoleon invaded all of Europe and all the ghettos that existed were asked to remove themselves. The Jews had to go and take names. Wherever they were, in Spain or whatever was left there, or in Italy, or in France, or then in Germany, the Jews had to choose names. And so, you see, "Goldberg" and "Silverberg" and so were names they chose. However, people with the name that ended "w-i-c-i" or "i-t-z" these names mean that they were derivative of the country or of the city that they lived in. Like for instance, Lublin was a city in Poland and Jews took on the name "Lubelsky." In Italy, if they lived in Venice they called themselves Veneziano, or Siracusano. These were all Jews, who often then became Catholics, but kept these names, so anytime—or they took also animal names. "Dove" in Italian is columba. Columbus had that name, and who discovered America was a Jewish man, who originally lived in Genoa, and—after they were chased out of Spain they went to Genoa, that family. Until today—Columbo—all the Colombos in Italy are Jews. It means Dove.
In Germany, they took Germans names. In French, we know Jews there by the name of Carcassone, Paris, people that—and those were Jews. That is why names of Jews show where they were in 1810. That doesn't mean that they always were there, because they moved around. They were invited from one small country to another small country to be- since the Jews were the ones that could handle money without punishment. You could not lend money in Catholic countries. Even the Pope needed Jews to help him, bankers. They forced Jews to take jobs in medicine, in art, and in banking. They were not allowed to be shoemakers or tailors. Then in other countries they were not allowed to be owning ground, or other restrictions so that they had always trades that afterwards remained in the family. Musicians, actors were Jews that were talents that they expressed by themselves. Today’s Jews in America that have American names, it fits in with the rest of the history.
It is not necessarily a Jewish name; it's often a Russian name. If you lived in Russia, you took on a Russian name. You can retrace that way, actually, family history. I often said to my wife when we were in Venice, "I had the feeling that I already had been here some time." Either from Spain, maybe my ancestors went first to Italy, because I speak Italian very easily; it was always very close to us. Everything Italian we enjoyed, so it's a matter of, probably before we landed in Belgium, my family may have been in Italy for all I know. It doesn't really matter. It's just to say how names became different to various—blacks had no name either, but they took on the names of the owners of the slaves. You see Irish names to blacks, it doesn't relate. Yet it is because they were, in this country, owned, and took on the name of McCallan or something like that.