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Oral history interview conducted by Charis Shafer
June 24, 2013
Call number: 2011.019.053
CHARIS SHAFER: OK.
JUNE KAPLAN: So, when my dad -- my dad is a physician.
CHARIS SHAFER: Can I just give us the date? So, it's June 24th, 2013, and thisis Charis Shafer doing an interview for the Brooklyn Historical Society's Crossing Borders Bridging Generations Project. And if you could introduce yourself in your full name, and then launch into whatever part of the story you wanted to start.
JUNE KAPLAN: OK. My name is June Feigenheimer Kaplan. And we grew up inBrooklyn. And my father came here because in Germ-- they're both German, and my dad was a physician, and he could see the handwriting on the wall that Hitler was not going to be very welcoming. So he actually came in '33. And my mom, who's about -- was about six or eight years younger, she stayed until '39 and brought my grandparents over, but my father had already taken a residency here 1:00and done his boards over again. And so we -- he bought a small house in Brooklyn -- it was like a two-story house -- and we all lived together, all seven of us.
CHARIS SHAFER: Where in Brooklyn was this?
JUNE KAPLAN: Oh God, I can't pull up the address. It was Covert Street, betweenKnickerbocker -- can't remember the street up there. It was a mostly Italian neighborhood. One block was Irish, one block was Italian, my father was the neighborhood doctor. So -- and since they got married -- my mother was 32 when she got married -- they kind of had me rather quickly. Actually, my sisters and I did the math, and we're not sure I'm really legitimate, but who's counting? 2:00You know, newly married people, they don't keep track of it. Anyway, I was born in '44, my sister Irene was born two years later, and Aviva was born six years after me. So we're three girls, and we grew up in this very, I would say, it wasn't even middle-class, it was really a working-class neighborhood. There were factories. There was a funeral parlor across the street. There were -- it was really working class, and the neighbors next door fought every Saturday night. I mean, they used to have wild, wild fights and then have sex. And, of course, we could hear -- in Brooklyn there was no air conditioning, and when it was warm -- so anyway, we were the only Jewish kids in the entire neighborhood. And my parents deci-- my parents, my mother especially, was very political. I 3:00would say she was a Socialist/Communist, very leftist. My father wasn't so political, but my mother decided that she didn't want us to go to the public schools, because they were pretty awful, and so we were sent to a school down near Pratt. And we commuted every single day to -- it was called the Brooklyn Community Woodward School. A lot of famous people went there. I'm trying to think who was in -- the class ahead of me was Bobby Fisher. My sister Aviva went to school with -- what's his name? The folk singer -- it'll come to me. I'm old. Anyway, it was a very small private school, very progressive, and all my friends went to Catholic school. So it was -- 4:00
CHARIS SHAFER: This is the friends in your neighborhood?
JUNE KAPLAN: In the neighborhood.
CHARIS SHAFER: OK.
JUNE KAPLAN: So I had neighborhood friends who went to church, and we were, youknow, the token Jews in the neighborhood. Growing up, all I wanted to do was have trees. It was not -- it wasn't like Park Slope, or any of those nice Brooklyn places now. And --
CHARIS SHAFER: What did you consider the neigh-- what did you call your neighborhood?
JUNE KAPLAN: I don't know if I called it anything. I know that, because of ourschooling situation, I never had -- like, when I went to high school, after we graduated from Brooklyn Community, I decided I didn't want to go to a private school. I was sick of the 12 people that had been my class from day one. You know, if you do something stupid in second grade and you're with the same 12 people until -- it sucks. It's not good. So I said I wanted to go to a public 5:00high school. And somehow or other we selected Wingate High School, which is near Downstate Hospital. And that was two buses away. And so 6:00 7:00 8:00 9:00 10:00 11:00 12:00 13:00 14:00 15:00 16:00 17:00 18:00 19:00 20:00 21:00 22:00 23:00 24:00 25:00 26:00 27:00 28:00 29:00 30:00 31:00 32:00 33:00 34:00 35:00 36:00 37:00 38:00 39:00 40:00 41:00 42:00 43:00 44:00 45:00 46:00 47:00 48:00 49:00 50:00 51:00 52:00 53:00 54:00 55:00 56:00 57:00 58:00 59:00 60:00 61:00 62:00 63:00 64:00 65:00 66:00 67:00 68:00 69:00 70:00 71:00 72:00 73:00 74:00 75:00 76:00 77:00 78:00 79:00 80:00 81:00
Oral History Interview with June Kaplan
June is a woman who was born in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, New York in 1944. Her father, Erwin Feigenheimer, was a physician who came to the United States in 1933 escaping from Germany under Hitler. Her mother, Hildegard Feigenheimer (née Marx) stayed in Germany until 1939 bringing her parents with her when she emigrated. Her father bought a house on Covert Street near Knickerbocker Avenue where he became the neighborhood doctor. Her mother was a writer and an intellectual. June attended Brooklyn Community Woodward School and George W. Wingate High School. She later went to Queens College. She is currently a social worker and has traveled extensively for her work.
June discusses her early life in working-class Bushwick, Brooklyn with her two sisters. She remembers the neighbors fighting every night and then making love. She recalls being the only Jewish family on the block. June describes her mother as political, socialist leaning, and a sometimes communist. She insisted on sending the children to the Brooklyn Community Woodward School.
June remembers being the "token Jews" in the neighborhood and having a split between her friends in the neighborhood and her friends at school. She recalls sneaking out to attend the nearby Catholic church with neighbor friends. When she was caught, she was made to attend Hebrew school.
June's mother was a writer who read in German and English. She discusses her awareness of the differences between her family and the surrounding neighborhood families. Despite their intellectualism, her family was very hands off in terms of assigned schoolwork. She believes this was due to her father's alcoholism.
Later the family moved to Kew Gardens because of crime in the Bushwick area, but her father's medical practice that thrived on informal bartering in Brooklyn was never as successful in Kew Gardens. He passed away from throat cancer in 1971.
She recalls the difference between Queens and Brooklyn in her own perception at the time. She considered Brooklyn to be less prestigious than Queens. In the area she lived she recalls seeing violence, and describes it as "not pretty." However, her parents would discuss their European homeland fondly. They remembered it as a verdant and lush area of Germany. Her mother went to school with Richard Wagner's sons. She received asylum because of her writing. A scholar in San Francisco discovered her poetry and arranged to help her escape Germany. In her early years, June's mother had refused to marry June's father in order to pursue her writing career in Berlin. Her father, one of eleven children, had many siblings who disappeared during the Hitler years.
She discusses cultural differences between her family and the neighborhood families. She recalls her hatred of the Christmas holiday. Her neighbors exchanged many gifts while her family's holidays were more austere. Her family spoke German. Because of this children in her area would accuse her of being a Nazi. She stopped speaking German after this time and spoke only in English. She recalls feeling special as a child because there were so few children in their Jewish refugee community. She discusses female control of family networks. Surrounded by large Italian-American families, she felt rather isolated. Her family had childless couple friends who would come for adult salons.
She relays a story of meeting her neighbor, Peter Garruba, in Valley Cottage during Hurricane Sandy. They began to talk about their youth in Brooklyn only to discover that they lived on the same street as children in Brooklyn. They lived two blocks away from each other in Bushwick. She discusses the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
She recalls her friendships with the Italian-American community in the area and the cultural differences between her family and the neighboring families. She recalls sharing meals with them and the difference between the types of foods enjoyed by each. She expresses never feeling American and never fitting in with that community.
She remembers the decline and death of her father. She wrote an article when she was in college for Seventeen magazine about alcoholism and her father. She was interviewed on various news programs about his alcoholism.
She tells stories of her high school friends. She recalls how her best friends' families had struggles with mental illness that paralleled her father's struggle. She compares her friends' expressions of Judaism with her own family's expression of it. At this time, her female neighbor friends began to have children. She remembers feeling disbelief at this development. She describes sexuality and sexual expression in her remembrance. She reflects on the demographics of her high school, the gang activity, and her admiration of the teachers.
She tells the story of her travels in Germany where she counseled servicemen and their families. She remembers feeling reverse culture shock upon returning. She describes the confidentiality agreement of the counselors, especially related to sexual preference. She discusses the importance of therapy particularly in a military context. She talks about her work in the Pentagon and the irony of it considering her mother's communist/socialist leanings. She reflects on her visit to her mother's childhood home in Bayreuth, Germany with her sister, Aviva.
CitationKaplan, June, Oral history interview conducted by Charis Shafer, June 24, 2013, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.053; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Kaplan, June
- Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
- Jews, American -- New York (State) -- Kings County
- Jews, German
- Social workers
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Bushwick (New York, N.Y.)
- Kew Gardens (New York, N.Y.)
- United States
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection