Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Harry Praw - June 30, 1982

Life in New York

It was a shock to you to find poor people.

It was really was. It so happens my fa...my uncle--my aunt--I had one of my aunts and uncles who were very poor people. He was a plain tailor, worked in the shop his all his life in New York. And when I told them finally--I lived with my sister in law for three months and I was offered a job. The offer that I had was sixty-five dollars a week as a painter. Of course, I had never been a painter but you had to take what you could find. And I never turned down anything, no matter what it was and they told me, "You go here, meet this and this guy and take you on the job." So it was on a Monday I go on a paint job. I was--it was a big company, must've been about four or five hundred people working, Jewish owned. This was Monday. Friday I get a pay envelope with twenty dollars in it. It was for a weeks work. At that time a painter works seven hours a day. I was told the second day I got to come in six o'clock in the morning and work 'til seven o'clock at night...


...and they give me thirty dollars a week. So I asked the boss, "What happened to the sixty-five dollars? He said, "You're crazy, you're not a painter." I said, "You know, I'm not a painter but the union told me..." the union gave me the job, it was a union shop. I said, "You know, the union told me that you're going to pay me sixty dollars a week." He said, "I can't even do it if want to." I said, "Why not?" "It's against union rules," he said, "you get--only get twenty percent of union wages." I thought the union wages were sixty, seventy dollars a week. So, I had no choice. I couldn't make no living one way or the other so it didn't really matter whether I stayed or not. So I told him Friday after I got paid, I shook hands with him, I said, "Thank you very much. Goodbye." He said, "Where are you going?" I said, "You're telling me I'm not a painter. Whether I make the twenty dollars or don't make the twenty dollars really doesn't matter." Even when I was strictly on my own I had no more support from the JOINT Distribution Committee. Otherwise, they didn't want to know me no more. They told me they sent me there, I had my business staying. I had no business coming to New York. If I came to New York then you're on your own. But I stayed on the job. We fought, we fought with the boss--I fought with the boss, we bargained. I said I wanted fifty dollars, they'd give me thirty-five. I said forty-five, he said forty. But I stayed there. We lived there for seven years and I worked for seven years in one shop.

As a painter?

Yeah. I started as a painter's helper and I wounded up as a foreman. And...

Mm-hm. Where did you live?

I lived in the Bronx.

Did you--but you found a place of your own?

Yeah I finally found a place on a fifth floor walk up. And that was thirty-two dollars a month but it was a nice three-bedroom apart...I mean three-room apartment. But we were young so we figured, so you walk up five flights of steps, so what? But this was New York living and you had no choice. The money that I earned I couldn't be too much of a chooser--couldn't pick too much so I had to take what I got. I lived there couple of months on the top floor then an apartment vacated down on the second floor. So I had to bargain with the landlady and we again you had to deal. So I got an apartment on the second floor.

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