Oral History Interview with
A. J. Granoff
Kansas City, Missouri
April 9, 1969
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Granoff, I wonder if you would mind starting this interview by giving us a little of your background, where you were born, where you have lived and your education, and anything else that you think might be pertinent to researchers who are interested in knowing who this interviewee is.
GRANOFF: I was born on February 22, 1896, in the Province of Kiev, Russia, one of three children, the oldest. My father, a tradesman, deserted the Russian army, my guess is around 1898 or
99, something like that. He hitchhiked clear across to the English Channel, and then got over to England and eventually became "ballast" on the Battleship St. Louis and landed in New York. It was then easier to get into the United States than today, I assure you. He had no trade, but got a job in a sweatshop on the East Side of New York City. He never could articulate how he got the pennies and the nickels to bring over this family, his wife and three children, and we arrived here on Labor Day, 1904. I caught sight of him from the ship--they wouldn't let us off on that day, Labor Day, until the next day. He moved us into a dilapidated tenant house on Monroe Street in New York City. There he remained about a year, developed lung trouble and moved his little family to Palmerton, Pennsylvania, where he became a peddler with an old dilapidated horse and wagon, to try to make a living; in a way he never could make a
living, poor man.
I entered the public schools immediately, I spoke Russian fluently--I don't know a word of it today--and Yiddish, but I learned English very quickly. He then moved us from Palmerton to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and continued his peddling. To cut a long story short, I graduated from the Allentown High School in 1914.
Meanwhile, while working on a fruits and vegetable counter in a butcher shop, I learned how to cut meat, and I became a meatcutter, a butcher. By the way, some of the clients I have had probably still think I'm a butcher. Anyway, I became a butcher and I worked my way through college in that capacity. In Lawrence, Kansas, where I went to law school . . .
FUCHS: What college did you go to?
GRANOFF: I went to Muhlenberg College for a year and a half, in Allentown, but I never got my undergraduate degree. I did get my LL.B. from K.U. Law School.
FUCHS: How did you happen to go to K.U.?
GRANOFF: Because it was the most convenient.
FUCHS: When did you move to Kansas City?
GRANOFF: Oh, I forgot to say, in 1915.
FUCHS: That was with your family?
GRANOFF: My father came first and then he brought us here in 1915 and we have lived here since then, with the exception of close to three years when I practiced law and cut meat in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
FUCHS: How were you able to gain admittance to K.U. Law School without a college degree?
GRANOFF: In those days you didn't need one. Anybody could get in those days. It was different times in those days.
FUCHS: Was that a three-year course?
GRANOFF: It was a three-year course.
FUCHS: And upon graduation you went to Tulsa?
GRANOFF: I went to Oklahoma as a tutor of three or four classmates, who paid my way there, to take the examinations. I went with them.
FUCHS: State examinations, you say?
GRANOFF: State bar examinations. While there I decided to take the examination, too. It was no effort for me, pardon my immodesty, but I didn't need a tutor.
FUCHS: Had you already passed the bar of Missouri?
GRANOFF: No, I took that much later, by motion.
I stayed there almost three years, and the only thing I can show for it is the beautiful girl who decided to marry me, and she lived in Tulsa. You've met her already. She's not as beautiful today as she was then. You can tell her that.
FUCHS: Neither are we.
GRANOFF: At any rate, I finally left there because my father and my mother were almost literally starving and I had to quit Tulsa and come here. I got myself a little office and tried to make a living, but at the same time I cut meat at 6th and Walnut Streets, and in those days it paid very well, you know.
FUCHS: What market was that?
GRANOFF: It was Kansas City Market, between 5th and 6th on Walnut, on the West side of the street, owned by Hickman Brothers.
FUCHS: Where was your law office?
GRANOFF: In the Scarritt Building. I had rented a desk with George K. Brasher, who is now gone. I couldn't make a living, and got myself a job with a law firm known then as Achtenberg and Rosenberg, for one hundred dollars a month, and I worked seven days and seven nights a week, which Mr. Rosenberg will confirm. He's still alive. I was with them for quite a while.
FUCHS: What year was that, about?
GRANOFF: Oh, let me think. I'd say 1924 or 1925. I became associated with this man--Phineas Rosenberg withdrew from the firm, and Mr. Achtenberg asked me to become a member of the firm. A big deal. The firm became Achtenberg, Fredman and Granoff. And my draw was increased from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month.
That was my partnership.
Later on, Mr. Fredman and I withdrew and organized what was known then as Fredman and Granoff Law Firm. That was an unfortunate venture for me. Mr. Fredman turned out to be dishonest and it cost me plenty of money. I had to pay creditors for his defalcations, but it's unimportant. I then went out for myself and stayed that way until I had to retire six years ago because of ill health.
While in school, I participated in debate and oratory. It's hard to believe to hear me talk now, but I turned out to be what they said was the number one orator of K.U. in 1920. I represented the university in the association then known as the "Big Eight," and came out second as a speaker and debater.
I then developed a fairly good practice. By accident I became known as an expert in bankruptcy, an allegation I never have denied.
I used to laugh about being an expert, but the lawyers and the courts made me an expert, and I handled many hundreds of cases, mostly from other law firms and assignments from the courts. Later on, thanks to then Senator Truman, I was appointed as a public member of the War Labor Board, Ninth Region, eight or nine states. It was quite a job and I eventually was the chairman succeeding Bill Wirtz, who went to Washington, and I succeeded him as chairman of the region. You know, Secretary of Labor.
GRANOFF: A fine gentleman, by the way. And after the agency was dissolved, subsequent to the end of the war, the parties made me an arbitrator. So for the next fifteen or sixteen years, until I was disabled, I was quite a notorious labor arbitrator in this general
region, a number of states. I heard hundreds of cases, some of them small, some of them large. One lasted some sixty days in St. Louis, involving millions of dollars. I used to love that work. It didn't pay very much, but I sold myself the idea that I was contributing something to industrial peace. I loved the work. I was just called for a case about a month or so ago, but I told them I couldn't handle it. My vision is bad and so on; but I enjoyed that, so I became a labor expert, too, an allegation which I would not deny. But a lot of my work at the bar, a good portion of it, was trial work, mostly for other law firms, highly complicated, technical cases, no criminal cases, all civil. I would try these cases for other law firms, and was well compensated. I appeared, I think, only once in a state court in twenty-five years, just once. All my work was in Federal
Court, sometimes by and through the bankruptcy courts, sometimes, of course, from the District court, to begin with.
In the meantime, of course, I married, and I have two wonderful children, and I'm grateful that my poor poverty-stricken father, who never could explain where he got the pennies--thankful for being in America, a fact which my children, I'm afraid, do not appreciate as much as I do. I dont know, sir, if that's enough of my background or not. I might say this: It sounds immodest. Although I never got an undergraduate degree, a college degree, I studied constantly: sociology, economics, history, philosophy. I had a veritable library around the bed. And I like to boast that I've given myself any number of degrees in these subjects, degrees I would not have had time to obtain if I had stayed in school. Again, I'm supposed to be somewhat
of a scholar, also an allegation that I do not deny. Now that's the situation. I never was interested in politics, and, only to raise a few dollars for a man by the name of Harry S. Truman when he was running for office, outside of that, I never was interested in politics. I did agree to make speeches the first year, about 1924-25, but I didn't like it, and I gave it up. I never was active in politics excepting to solicit funds, Eddie Jacobson and I, for a man named Truman, little pennies and nickels, it wasn't too much, but it raised a little money. That is my background.
Oh, I have been active in the community. I have held some very high offices. I organized, as chairman of the committee, the Kansas City Jewish Federation and Council, and was its chairman for over a year. That's the most powerful of the local Jewish organizations today. It's all philanthropic, you understand, to raise
money. I went through almost every chair, high and low, of the Bnai Brith.
FUCHS: When did you first become associated with Bnai Brith?
GRANOFF: My guess is at this moment, about 1924. I'm sort of notorious in Bnai Brith. I'm now a life member of the Hillel Foundation Commission of the Supreme (International) Lodge of Bnai Brith. There are very few, there are just about five or six life members and I am one of them.
FUCHS: Just what is the Hillel Foundation, for the benefit of the users of this transcript?
GRANOFF: The Hillel Foundation was organized some forty years ago to try to bring a semblance of relationship between Judaism and the Jewish boys and girls attending our universities. It now is functioning in 273 campuses: United
States, Canada and Britain. It employs approximately two hundred rabbis full-time, and some forty or fifty part-time rabbis who supervise the activities of these kids on the university campuses, religiously, sociologically, and to keep them interested in their religion. Although we do our best, it's an unfortunately discouraging effort. The same thing is true with the Newman Clubs of the Catholics. They have the same problem. Kids are not today interested in such things. Now, that's it. I've held other high offices in Bnai Brith.
FUCHS: We discussed in our preliminary conversations that Bnai Brith entered into the story of the creation of Israel, and we also mentioned that Hillel was part of Bnai Brith. Just what is Bnai Brith?
GRANOFF: Well, Bnai Brith is a brotherhood. Bnai Brith means "sons of the Covenant."
It is a brotherhood, functioning over the years on philanthropic fronts. It has since spread its activities on political fronts, like the Anti-Defamation League, you may have heard, that is also a B'mai B'rith agency,