Sylvan Karchmer Collection

The life of an archivist often involves stumbling down rabbit holes. Morsels of information located in primary source materials prompt further research, forming webs woven from a multitude of sources, connections made with dedication and deductive reasoning…

It is this formula with which I bring you a recent acquisition, the Sylvan Karchmer Collection—a WWII Era correspondence collection donated by a niece of Sylvan’s that provides an in-depth review of daily life and the experiences of an enlisted WWII soldier stationed in Italy and North Africa, and the lives of his loved ones during the conflict.

Sylvan, standing far right, with other soldiers, undated

To be honest, this collection is, as of yet, only partially processed. The content has not been closely studied, cross-referenced, or transcribed. It has simply been organized – chronologically and by author/recipient, so that the above tasks may be accomplished more efficiently. During that process, I was able to build a basic outline of Sylvan’s family structure and a timeline of his training and service locations. Even so, organizing the materials still required outside research to learn about Sylvan and answer a few questions that arose – mainly: what is the structure of the Karchmer family tree? Why is Sylvan’s father never referenced? What happened to Beverly’s beau of several years, Harold V. Cook (aka Kelsey – and why did Harold always go by Kelsey?)? What did Sylvan do following his discharge from the military? Why don’t we have any other Karchmer materials in the collection, considering a lengthy history in Dallas?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer the latter, but I am excited to share what I learned regarding my other queries.

Sylvan Karchmer was born in Dallas in 1911 (d. 1991) to Rose Jacobs (1883-1976) and Eli Karchmer (1878-1935). He had five siblings: Jeanette May (1907-1918), Alfred Jerome (1909-1973), Jean Herschel (1914-2004), Joyce (1920-2017; married Nat Sachter in 1941), and Beverly (1922-2018; married Louis Silverman in 1945). Eli, Rose, and Jeanette are buried here in Dallas at Shearith Israel Memorial Park, Sylvan, Herschel, and Beverly are buried in Houston at Emanu El Memorial Park, Joyce is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Commerce City, CO, and, Alfred is buried in Aurora, CO, both just east of Denver.

Sylvan graduated from Forest Avenue High School and began work in the petroleum industry outside of Dallas. He enlisted to serve in WWII and went through training in Alabama, North Carolina, and New York before getting posted in North Africa and Italy. In the collection, we have several programs from symphonies and operas Sylvan attended during his time in Italy, as well as Allied, Tunisian, and Italian currency, and sight-seeing photographs from Rome.

Following the war, Sylvan settled back in Texas, Houston specifically, possibly to be close to Beverly and Herschel who were both living there with their families at the time, earned degrees in Fine Arts in writing, and had a prolific and illustrious career as an author and playwright—sometimes publishing under the nom de plume, Lee Brian. Links below, from the University of Houston Special Collections, list hundreds of short stories Sylvan wrote (published and unpublished), as well as many books and plays.

He taught creative writing at the University of Houston (where he also received his undergraduate and graduate degrees), the University of Oregon, and Banff School of Arts in Canada. He was a part of many writers groups and organizations, and an award, the Sylvan N. Karchmer Prize in Fiction, was named in his honor by the University of Houston. Despite his travels, he settled back in Houston prior to his death. I could not find any record of Sylvan ever marrying or building a family, though he undoubtedly lived a full life.

As far as Beverly and the mystery of Harold V. Cook – Harold was a military man, a resident of Denver, and an engineering student at the University of Colorado Boulder. Letters indicate that he went overseas to serve during WWII, but the letters stop somewhat abruptly in October 1944.  A few months before letters from Harold stop, Beverly sent Sylvan a photo of herself with Louis Silverman, whom she married in January 1945, and a few letters between Sylvan and Beverly allude to dates with other fellows in 1943 and 1944, so it appears Harold and Beverly were not exclusive. Ultimately, I did not find anything conclusive about where Harold ended up. it is possible that he died during the war – there were a couple of different death notices for Harold V. Cooks; however, I did locate records from Colorado dated after the war that identify a Harold V. Cook working in local government. So, anything is possible. I never did learn, though, why he chose to go by Kelsey…

Beverly Karchmer and Louis Silverman, circa August 1944

Check out the links below to delve into other collections that highlight the life and work of Sylvan N. Karchmer.

Listing of known short stories written by Sylvan Karchmer (published and unpublished), 1940-1982: https://findingaids.lib.uh.edu/repositories/2/archival_objects/20902

Another listing of works, including books, stage, screen, and teleplays: https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/uhsc/00071/00071-P.html

Other Related materials:

The Morgan Library & Museum: https://www.themorgan.org/literary-historical/96408

University of Houston: https://findingaids.lib.uh.edu/repositories/2/resources/129; https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/uhsc/00071/hsc-00071.html;

Jessica Schneider, MA Archivist, DJHS

Judith & Paul Tobolowsky

Judith & Paul Tobolowsky
Paul was born in 1947 and grew up in Dallas. He went to Southwestern Medical School in 1973 and did his internship at Boston City Hospital.Judith grew up in Brooklyn and studied speech pathology at Boston University.
They met in Boston, got married and moved to Texas in 1979. They have 3 children and are active members of Jewish Community Center
Published on July 1, 2014.

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Carol Alkek

Carol Alkek
Born in 1941 in Dallas, Texas, to her parents who came to the United States in 1938. Carol graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1963. She taught for many years and has worked in corporate training for 30 years. She has been a big part of Dallas’s Jewish Community through her participation in organizations such as Temple Emanu-El, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the American Jewish Committee, among others.
Published on June 7, 2016.

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Treasures from the DJHS Archives – Skibell/Goldstein Collection

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Russian Chumash from the Skibell-Goldstein Collection

Among the many collections to explore, the archives of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society (DJHS), located in the Aaron Family JCC, houses a collection from the Skibell-Goldstein family, chronicling the history of this large Jewish family from the late 1800s to early 1970s.  The collection includes a large number of photographs (some from the 1870s) and documents (letters, government certificates, two wedding ketubahs – one from 1911 and another from 1941), as well as a number of artifacts, including a Russian Chumash, dating back to the 1800s.

The Goldstein family traces its roots in Dallas back to the late 1800s when the patriarch of the family, Jacob Goldstein, immigrated to the United States from Russia through the port of Castle Garden, NY in 1882.  In 1910, one of Jacob’s five children, Isaac Goldstein, married into another prominent immigrant family, the Skibelski family, who changed their name to Skibell upon entry into the United States.  Isaac and his wife, Ida, had five children – Jacob, Hilda, Sylvan, Mitchell, and Rhea Leah.  All three of the sons served in the military during World War II.

A notable artifact in this collection – a World War II medical kit – belonged to Isaac Goldstein’s sister, Beckye Goldstein Levin.  After the United States entered the war in 1941, the Red Cross quickly mobilized a volunteer and staff force to provide comfort and aid to members of the armed forces and their families, as well as to serve in hospitals suffering from severe shortages of medical staff.  Millions of volunteers across the country, including Beckye, stepped up to the call of duty.  On September 1, 1942, Beckye became a member of the Citizens Defense Corps and was certified as an instructor for several courses, including Fire Defense and Gas Defense.  The medical kit contains its original contents.

Goldstein Medical Kit EDITEDThe Skibell-Goldstein Family Collection documents and unfolds the story of how two immigrant families came together and successfully integrated into and contributed to American society.  The collection was generously given to the DJHS by Elaine Druss Lerman, daughter of Hilda Goldstein Druss, and granddaughter of Isaac and Ida Skibell Goldstein. To learn more about the collection, please visit DJHS at the Aaron Family JCC.

The Dallas Jewish Historical Society works to collect and preserve the papers, photographs, artifacts, and recorded personal stories that illustrate the rich history of the Dallas Jewish community.  Please visit us anytime at www.djhs.org to view our extensive online collection of oral histories from hundreds of people who have shaped the Jewish community of Dallas.

 

Submitted by Liz Liener, DJHS Board Member

Tina Wasserman

Wasserman, TInaTina Wasserman was born in 1948 in Hempstead, Long Island. Having grown up in a family that was heavily involved in the Jewish community, she continued this way of life in her adult years. Tina met her husband, Richard, at a USY convention and after many moves throughout the years, they ultimately settled in Dallas in 1982 when her husband was offered a job at Southwestern University. Through Tina’s hard work and passion for teaching and cooking, she became the food columnist for Reform Judaism Magazine, a frequent lecturer, and has authored two cook books.

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Dr. Alan Menter

Dr. Alan Menter and his wife, Pam, were one of the earliest Jewish families from South Africa to arrive in Dallas, thanks to a fellowship opportunity at UT Southwestern Medical Center in 1973.  Since their arrival, the Menter family has been actively involved in Jewish communal life, including Temple Shalom and AJC. Dr. Menter, born in England in 1941 and a former member of the South African National Rugby team, is a renowned dermatologist and authority on psoriasis as a serious immune-mediated disease.  Click on the image to watch the video or click here.