Standing Up for JusticePublished 4:45pm Monday, August 12, 2013
Just as today, 1930s Perham was an economic center with numerous businesses ready to take in consumer dollars. The jewelers, milliners, clothiers, shoe, hardware and sundry other stores that lined the Main Street attracted shoppers from a wide area.
Braufman’s Department Store occupied a prime location on Perham’s Main Street where Photo Magic sits today. The glass front store displays beckoned customers to come in, browse and shop.
Proprietors Philip and Pauline Braufman were new to Perham and newlyweds in 1930. Like many young people they had dreams of owning a business and starting a family in a welcoming community. Perham seemed like just the right place and when the store owned by Abe Diamond came up for sale, the couple jumped in. Despite the beginnings of the Great Depression, they bravely opened their store.
The Braufmans fit right into this village of immigrants, farmers and entrepreneurs. Philip, born in Romania, had come to America at age 22. He learned the dry goods business working for his uncle in a general store in North Dakota.
Pauline, a Minnesota native, had retail experience as well. Census records show that her parents, Alice and Morris Lurie, had immigrated from Odessa, Russia and Kovno, now part of Lithuania. They ran a grocery store in St. Paul with help of Pauline and her three siblings.
Recognizing the benefits of civic involvement, Philip joined the Perham Masonic Lodge and Chamber of Commerce. It also made business sense to take out a policy from the local agent for the Citizens Fund Mutual Fire Insurance Company.
Imagine the Braufman’s shock then, when the Underwriting Department of the company’s canceled the policy, “due to the fact that the above assured is a Jew.”
For Pauline, the initial shock turned to anger. She drafted a letter in response to the insurance company, but before mailing it, sought the advice of her clergyman, Rabbi Herman M. Cohen of St. Paul’s Temple of Aaron. Rabbi Cohen called the letter “perfectly all right” and suggested she write it. “Declare to them in no uncertain terms how uncivilized and un-American their attitude is.”
(An excerpt from the letters appears here. Complete documents are available at the Minnesota Reflections website.)
I cannot address you as Gentlemen, as that word would not imply what I think of your concern after being advised what you wrote to your agent here. We did not come to you asking to be insured. Why any American, being in business, should turn down a policy to a well respected clean record citizen, just because he is a Jew, certainly ought not to be living in a civilized country like ours…..I am really glad to know I don’t have to do business with a concern that has as narrow mind as yours.
Whether her scathing letter changed hearts and minds is unknown. Nevertheless, Pauline Braufman took a stand for justice. By the end of the decade, servicemen and women from Perham and the rest of the United States would also take stand, fighting to defeat the forces of intolerance.
Braufman Department Store served the Perham community for 33 years until the couple retired and moved to Minneapolis. Pauline Braufman passed away in 2003 at age 99. Her daughter Chernie Rae Levinson kindly shared this family photo and her “fond memories of Perham” with the Historical Society.