My Father – A Tribute to his Life

Since it is Father’s Day, and my thoughts have gone to my Father, I thought I should write something about him.

My father, Dan Aminoff, was born in 1907 in Samarkand in what is today called Uzbekistan. He was born into a family of Bukharian Jews in a predominantly Moslem country. At the time of his birth the country was known as Turkestan and was under control of Russia. Much of Central Asia was known as the Emirate of Bukhara prior to the mid-nineteenth century and was part of the Persian Empire. There was an Emir of Bukhara who reported to the Shah of Persia.

In 1868 Czarist Russia conquered Bukhara and wrested it from Persia. They renamed it Turkestan. It included what are today the countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Our family was fairly well-to-do during my father’s childhood. My grandfather was a merchant who traveled the “Silk Road” bringing Bukharian rugs and Bukharian woven silk textiles and silver to China, where he would sell them, and then he would buy raw silk thread and other Chinese products which he would then bring back to Bukhara and sell there.

The family owned a farm/ranch outside of Samarkand where cattle and some vegetable crops were raised. The family worked hard on the farm and took the produce to the local outdoor marketplace – the Bazaar. My father was in a local yeshiva studying for the Rabbinate. My family had several generations of Rabbis and my father was the one who was designated to carry on the family tradition in his generation.

It was a fairly comfortable life until 1918, when the Soviet Revolution had come to Central Asia. The name of the country was changed to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. One day a local member of the Komsomol (Soviet Youth) came to the family farm to tell my family that they no longer owned the farm – it was now owned by the State, and henceforth all production would be delivered to State stores and not sold in the marketplace.

Uncle Mike, my father’s older brother answered the door. My Uncle Mike was a large, strong, well-developed man who picked up a nearby axe and told the young man to get off the family property, and if he came back again he could expect to have a very close encounter with the axe.

That, unfortunately was not the politically correct response. My Aunt Frieda went to the Bazaar later in the day and was told by friends that the local Communist Party had targeted Uncle Mike and planned to kill him and other members of the family as an example of what happens if one refuses to accept the nationalization of property in the Soviet Union.

My Aunt came back to the farm and told everyone that the family had to leave immediately or one or more family members would be killed. They gathered up some things of value that they could carry, silver pieces, Bukharian rugs, silks, etc. A family of 10, parents, children and 2 grandchildren went to the train station and bribed a local guard to let them board a train to Constantinople in Turkey. The voyage by train in 1918 through Central Asia to Turkey is the subject for another essay. I will just say that it was arduous, dangerous, long, and the family wound up in Constantinople with nothing.

The family mobilized upon arrival in Turkey. The local Turkish Jewish community was very helpful in finding family members a place to live, and finding work. My father and his siblings went to work in Turkey to support the family. It took them four years with all family members working in Turkey until they were able to accumulate enough money to travel by boat to New York. They traveled in steerage in the bowels of the ship with other Jews and poor immigrants and arrived at Ellis Island in 1922.

My father and his siblings went to work in New York. The family members were not afraid of work, and realized that hard work was the only way to make enough to provide for the family. No one from my family wanted a hand-out or government assistance. My father went to night school for a year or so, working during the day, until he had learned enough English to get by.

The family worked hard and were typical middle-class immigrant Jews in Brooklyn during the depression. Not wealthy, but not destitute. In 1931 a Jew from Bukhara, David Haimoff, who had moved to Los Angeles, but who knew the family in Samarkand, called my grandfather. He asked my grandfather to send one of his four sons to Los Angeles to help him in his linen store. My grandfather chose my father, and both came to Los Angeles in 1931. My father went to work for Haimoff, and my grandfather went back to New York.

My father learned the retail linen business and after a few years opened his own linen store on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Working for Dave Haimoff, at the time my father was there, was a young sales clerk, Ruth Kahn. Romance developed, and my mother and father were married in Los Angeles in 1935. I was born in 1937, and my sister came along in 1940.

During the Second World War a friend of my father who was in the garment manufacturing business got a government contract to make uniforms. My father saw an opportunity and bought some sewing machines which he had installed in the mezzanine of his linen store. He hired some people who knew the business and began manufacturing shirts on the second floor of his linen store. He managed to get a government contract to manufacture shirts for the U.S. Army, which turned out to be a steady source of income.

My father decided to go out of the retail linen business and open a shirt factory, specializing in the manufacture of boy’s sport shirts. He was very successful. He became President of the Boys Apparel Guild of California, a manufacturer’s trade organization and, in 1947 won a license agreement to manufacture Hopalong Cassidy western shirts. Hopalong Cassidy was huge after the War, and people were standing in line to buy Hopalong Cassidy wear. The business grew. So much so that it attracted the attention of the unions. Now the men’s and boy’s garment manufacturing business in Los Angeles in the 1940’s and 1950’s were primarily owned by tough immigrants, like my father, who were self-made men and who didn’t take kindly to the interference of unions. Not that they exploited their workers. They treated them well and paid them well. It is just that my father felt that the factory was his, and that no one was going to dictate to him how to treat his employees.

Since the garment industry in post-war Los Angeles was a non-union industry, the unions needed to break into one factory to get a foothold. Because my father’s firm was the largest in the boy’s shirt business in 1950, they decided to try and organize his company. They took a vote of the workers, as required under the Taft-Hartley Act. The workers turned down the union. That began a cycle of violence and intimidation by the union against my father’s employees. The alleyway behind the plant was blocked by pickets, and trucks who were picking up goods wouldn’t cross picket lines, so my father hired some non-union truck drivers. Employees were followed home and told they would be hurt if they came to work. Some employees were beaten up outside the plant. The police did very little to protect any one. My father hired armed guards to protect his employees from violence. Eventually, in 1953, after several violent incidents with union goons, one of my father’s employees was sent to the hospital after a severe beating. My father decided to close down the business rather than give in to the unions.

There were some other manufacturers who had started importing shirts manufactured in the new emerging Japan after the War. My father decided that he would start importing shirts from Japan. He went to Japan in 1953 and contracted with a Japanese factory. Not pleased with the quality, and feeling he could do it better, he moved to Japan in 1954 and opened his own factory. Needless to say, that proved to be a successful and profitable move.

My father died of a heart attack at the age of 54 in his home in Nishinomiya Prefect outside of Osaka, Japan in 1962.

I learned a lot from my father. I learned that hard work, self-reliance and determination are qualities for success. I learned that in the face of adversity you do what you have to do to succeed. I learned that you don’t hang around when dictators want to take over your life. I learned that if an opportunity presents itself, you better take advantage of it, or it will be gone. I learned that you have to take a stand for your principles to be true to yourself. I learned humility, reverence and the value of tradition. I learned from him that G-d hears our prayers, but you better not depend on G-d for your physical sustenance. I learned that Jewish tradition is important to ones life, and should be passed on and preserved. I learned to love this country, as he loved his adopted country and the freedom he enjoyed here. I learned that a sense of humor is essential to one’s happiness, and I learned that love of your family is one of the most important things in life.

My father, to a great extent, made me who I am today.

I miss you, Dad.