Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later

SURVIVOR ORAL HISTORIES

Max Hochfield

Max Hochfield, was a sewing machine operator who worked on the 9th floor of the Asch Building and was a survivor of the March 25, 1911 Triangle Waist Company fire that took 146 lives, including that of his sister, Esther. He is interviewed January 20, 1957 by Sigmund Arywitz, former California State Commissioner of Labor.

Download a copy of the audio file.

Download a copy of the audio file.

Listen to the interview (39:43)

To listen to the interviews, you need the Apple Quicktime plugin.
Download it here.

Interview Transcript

Q: Oh, what are you worried about. Let it alone. We'll just - we'll tape it, then - then we'll make notes as the same time.

[Simultaneous remarks by group.]

Q: And send it to New York. Everything now goes onto during the campaign, you know we had a lot of broadcasts - nation - national broadcasts. And then we had some local ones at civil rights that went on tape. And we did a lot of our national broadcasts, although [inaudible due to overtalk].

Female Voice: Will you shut up for a minute. [inaudible] so I can see how his voice [inaudible].

Q: And my voice is good?

Female Voice: I don't know that. I have to play it back.

Hochfield: Well, as I started to tell you before, I got a job - my first - my first job was a basting puller in a men's clothing factory. At that time, not only was I pulling the baste - the basting, but I had to carry up the bundles on the fifth floor and also carry - carry the pitchers of beer.

You - I don't know whether you remember, but at that time, for ten cents - I think it was for ten cents you used to get a pitcher of beer. The pressers - mostly the pressers - used to drink a lot of beer in the summer. They were members of [inaudible] of the United States.

00:01:14

So I am not sure of this but I know I came to this country in December 1910. And as I told you before, about basting-pulling jobs and so on.

But then, my father - do you know what - do you know what a Sefer is? A man that used to write the Torah on parchment. You are from a synagogue? And he used to write the Torah on the synagogue with the - with the feathers.

Q: The cloth.

Hochfield: Pens. Yes, with the feather pens.

Now, of course he never made a living in writing. But he came here - he came here with my elder sister. The last few dollars that were rationed. Of course, when he came here he loved this country. He loved this country because he could get fish very cheap.

Is it all right? Is it all right?

Q: Sure tell the story.

Female Voice: We want to hear it in your words. It's your story to tell.

00:02:14

Hochfield: He used to get - he used to get five pounds of fish and eat it for - for - for several days. He loved it. But anyway, he thought that - that an operator is the best trade in the United States and he insisted on my sister to take me up to the Tri, to the Triangle Waist Company to teach me the trade of being an operator.

Why, she didn't want to do it. She wanted me to learn plumbing, or electrician. You know, a man's trade, not - not this - not this needle trade business.

But he kept on; he was persistent and she couldn't help herself, so she took me up to the Triangle Waist Company to - and I was pretty good at it. After working for about two, three weeks, you know, I could - with [inaudible] clothes, I learned the trade pretty good.

Now it happened so, that at that time my sister met a young man and they were engaged.

And by the way, I want to tell you that the Triangle Waist Company had three floors in that building: the eighth and the ninth and the tenth. The eighth and the ninth were for operators and the tenth were for the cutters.

Now, my - at that time, when my sisters was engaged, they made an engagement party on Sun - on Sun - on Sunday night. And it lasted 'til about one o'clock in the morning. Naturally, we couldn't - we couldn't go to work the next day. And when we didn't come to work the next day, our machines were taken over and when we came to work on Tuesday, they gave us two machines on the ninth floor.

00:03:56

Q: What floor where you on before that?

Hochfield: We were on the eighth. And they gave us - they gave us two machines on the ninth floor. So actually, I don't know, if I was superstitious I would say for that - this engagement - was maybe - if my sister wouldn't have this engagement party perhaps she would be alive today.

Q: Why? Did the people on the eighth floor survive?

Hochfield: The people on - most of the people on the eighth floor survived. And see, at that time - today perhaps, if there was a fire on the eight floor, somebody would run up on the ninth floor and - and spread an alarm. Today people know more about those things. At that time, you know, most of them - most of them were foreigners. They didn't know such things. They wouldn't trained to, in case of a fire, to make an alarm or tell the - the . . . .

As I recall, the fire started on the eighth floor. Just about the time when the machines - five o'clock - at that time you worked Saturday 'til five o'clock. Just as the machines stopped. And then the - I - I never waited for the elevator because the elevators were too crowded. And most of the time because they got stuck.

00:05:28

Now, my sister, she knew that her - that her boyfriend was waiting for her downstairs, so she went into the dressing room. I suppose she wanted to - you know, like [inaudible] or put some - I don't know whether they used lipstick at that time. I don't remember.

Female Voice: Freshen up.

Hochfield: [inaudible]. And I went over - I went over to the elevator. I heard some noise. So I thought to myself I guess - I guess the elevator is out of order again. And I - I walked down the stairs, from the ninth and the eighth floor. When I - when I went down I saw the entire eighth floor is aflame. Nobody there. And when I looked out the window I saw girls - men - people with - walking down the . . .

Female Voice: Fire escape.

Hochfield: . . . the fire escape. Then I stopped to look and I - I didn't know - I didn't know what - whether - this is the first time I saw a fire in this country. I was only three months in this country. I came in December. That was January, February, March 11, 1920 [sic] . . .

Female Voice: 1911.

Hochfield: 1911. March 25, 1911.

00:06:51

Now, I wanted to go back and get my sister. But while I turned back, there was a fireman right - right there and he grabbed me by my, by my shoulder. He says, "Why are you going in? Where are you going to go?"

I says my sister is up there. I want to go back to save my sister.

He says, "You better go down if you want to save your life."

So I went down - of course, I couldn't - I went down on the seventh floor. And on the seventh floor I stopped. I couldn't go back. And I didn't because the flames was - were all over, you know. In fact that I couldn't pass anymore. But I stopped on the seventh floor and I watched the girls go by. Most of them were girls. And I didn't see my sister. But then some more firemen came up and they told me to walk down. And when I came down I saw - quite a number of people jumping from the windows.

Q: Was your sister one of those who jumped?

Hochfield: No. My sister - my sister was burned to death. I - and she was so badly burned that we couldn't recognize her. It seems that [inaudible], her boyfriend, did recognize her. And I tell you how he recognized her. I - I remember exactly, I think he had bought her something - I think it was a corset that she bought . . .

00:08:27

Female Voice: An undergarment.

Hochfield: . . . that was still there, on her body. And he recognized that piece of corset. Because they - and she was engaged at that time so it was the custom that he gave her rings and earrings. This - this - they didn't find. In fact, there were a lot of bodies there. And the firemen - the firemen took off the corset because it was obvious they - they took it off. They were looking . . .

Female Voice: And they got stolen?

Hochfield: They stole it ...

[Simultaneous remarks by group.]

Female Voice: Did her boyfriend also work at the Triangle Waist Company?

Hochfield: No. her boyfriend was - was a salesman for - for a delicatessen.

Q: What was your sister's name?

Hochfield: Esther.

00:09:16

Q: Esther. How old was she?

Hochfield: She was - well, she - let's see. Oh, she was four years older than I am.

Female Voice: She must have been about nineteen or twenty. Oh, twenty. You were sixteen.

Hochfield: Yes, she was about twenty. Twenty or twenty-one.

Q: And she - well, she came over from Europe the same time you did?

Female Voice: No.

Hochfield: Well, no. She came before.

Q: How long had she worked at the Triangle?

Q: She worked there - she worked - she must have worked there about three years. I know that - that when we came to this country they had a strike there. And she returned - they lost the strike, of course.

Q: That was in 1909. The shirtwaist factory?

00:10:06

Hochfield: Yes. In fact, it must have been . . . .

Q: She was out on strike, huh?

Hochfield: Yes, she was - they was striking at that time and they lost the strike and then they were a lot of them anyway, went back to work. She went back to work because they expected her - the family, my . . . .

Q: Now, so you were in the Triangle shop, all together for a couple of months, huh?

00:10:34

[Telephone rings.]

Hochfield: About.

Q: And so let's see. Well, now how did the employers behave there? What was the relationship?

Hochfield: Well, we didn't see them. Their - their names were Harris andBlanck. We didn't see much of them. They - they - they had a lot of floor ladies and there was a manager by the name of Bernstein. A little fellow. I think he lost his life in the fire, too.

00:11:10

Female Voice: Is he alive?

Hochfield: No, no, I don't think he is. Some of his relatives. I think his brother lost his life. But he - he was a - he was [inaudible] life.

Q: And were the people talking about the union again and . . .

Hochfield: No. I - I - I don't think they were talking about union again at that time. I didn't hear it in the shop.

Female Voice: This foreman Bernstein, how did he behave towards the people?

Hochfield: [Talking in the background] You know, at that time, he was kinda a little bit [inaudible] . He was a little fellow. But the people in general, they were - they - I think - I think - I'll tell you the truth, I - I - as soon as the machine stopped, I just went home.

Q: Yes.

Hochfield: [Slight laugh.] And during - during walk outs, I didn't . . .

00:12:16

Female Voice: Have much time.

Hochfield: . . . I didn't have time to . . . .

Q: Now, so you don't know how the fire started, what was said at the time?

Hochfield: I can't - I really can't tell you about how the fire started. But I know it started on the eighth floor and it spread rapidly from the eighth floor. And I can tell you that much. That - it - the ninth floor, if the door on the ninth floor would have been opened I think most of the people would have been saved. That front door on the ninth floor - in fact, most of the casualties came from the ninth floor.

Q: How about the cutters?

Hochfield: The cutters. I think the tenth floor, most of the people were on the tenth floor and the eighth floor was saved. I think all the victims were from the ninth floor. Because that door was blocked.

Q: Well, how did you get out?

00:13:10

Hochfield: I got out - I got out from the - there were two doors. On the - let's see - do you know where the building is on Waverly Place and Greene Street? I don't - I don't remember . . .

Q: No, it was before my time.

Hochfield: I don't remember. I forgot about it. I know it was on Waverly Place and Washington - and anyway, there were two exits. But they kept - they kept one door locked because every night when - when we went home, each girl had to open her own bag and show to the men that they didn't steal any lace or - or any - or thread or material and so on and so forth.

So if that door would have been opened, I am positive there would be no casualties. And there--there were no men. Very few men. Perhaps - perhaps if there were men, they would take - they would take a machine or hit the door. There were mostly the women. And they found most of them - they couldn't - the found in the dressing room. Nobody warned those.

Q: I see. Well the fire probably spread so rapidly . . .

Hochfield: Yeah.

00:14:39

Q: . . . and then without the automatic alarms, nobody to push a button . . .

Hochfield: Remember . . .

Q: Otherwise they would have to run up the stairs.

Hochfield: At that time - at that time the floors - the floors were wooden floors and they were soaked through with oil, the baskets that people worked was wicker baskets and each basket - each basket contained about four to five dozen blouses, lingerie at that time. And lace. How much - how much does it take to catch fire?

Q: That was a real fire trap.

Hochfield: Yes, it was a real fire trap.

Q: In fact, the . . .

Hochfield: And the people don't - the people weren't trained. It's a good thing that the stairs were [pause, seeking for word] - I think they were . . .

Female Voice: Concrete.

00:15:37

Hochfield: . . . concrete, if I'm not mistaken. Concrete or marble. I can't remember. But they were not - they were not wood.

Female Voice: They were not wood.

Hochfield: Yes. But -

Female Voice: But the people could not have walked down the stairs.

Hochfield: Oh, there . . . .

Q: And how were - were the stairs open or were they enclosed?

Hochfield: There's . . .

Q: Was there a stairwell or was it just all open hallway with the stairs on the end?

Hochfield: No, it was a stairwell - a stairway, in the hall.

Q: But you know, now, the stairway is enclosed. It's apart from the rest of the building, in the modern building

00:16:18

Hochfield: It was an enclosed stairwell.

Q: Was in enclosed then, too?

Hochfield: Yes.

Female Voice: How about the fire escapes? You said that you looked out the window and you saw people going down the fire escape.

Hochfield: Well, quite a number of people went down the fire escapes.

Female Voice: There were fire escapes?

Hochfield: Oh, yes. There was a fire escape.

Q: So then when was it that you went to look for your sister then?

Hochfield: Oh, we went to look for my sister the next day. It happened on - it happened on Saturday and then Sunday I think we looked for her for about - all week - for about a week we couldn't find her. And finally her boyfriend recognized her.

00:16:53

Q: And they knew you - the authorities knew that you had been there and you were a survivor?

Hochfield: Yeah.

Q: Was there any investigation of the fire, what happened? Did anybody ask you any questions?

Hochfield: No. No.

Q: Police - no one was interested after the fire.

Hochfield: No one was interested. No one was interested. In fact, at the trial - I was a witness at the trial - and the lawyer - I know was Max V. Steuer, famous - famous politician - famous democratic politician. He was - he was the lawyer for the - for the Triangle bosses and the district attorney at that time was - was, I think, Whitman. He made - he made a name for himself at that trial. And he made - he became governor.

But anyway, I remember going to night school and the teacher taught - he was a teacher, day time teacher and he studied law. And he was about to become assistant district attorney. And he - somehow he found out that I was a survivor of the Triangle fire and I lost my sister there, so he told me - of course he didn't tell me that it's so, but somehow he hinted to me that - that the judge - the presiding judge got a lot of money for it because Steuer, the judge, belonged to a family or . . .

00:18:35

Female Voice: Max, did [inaudible]

Hochfield: . . . see each other.

Female Voice: [inaudible] It's okay.

Hochfield: That they meet each other at the meeting. And I know when the judge died he left quite - quite a - quite some real estate. And he couldn't buy it at the wages that he got from being a judge.

Q: Yes. Wasn't there a legislative investigation and they passed the factory laws?

Hochfield: No. At that time - after the fire, things began to roll. They - they passed legislation that you could - that buildings, you got to build fireproof, plenty of fire escape, and no smoking in the factories and so on and so forth.

Q: Now, when did you join the union then?

00:19:23

Hochfield: I joined the union - of course, after the - after the fire I was kind of afraid to work in a factory. Especially when I felt that the factory is not fire-proof. And that [inaudible] even today, when I go to the theater, or a movie. Or to a banquet.

Q: In crowded places.

Hochfield: In crowded - I - I want to make sure whether the building is fire proof.

Female Voice: That's logical, having had the experience you did.

Hochfield: Now, not - not that life is so dear to me but in general, somehow I - I feel better. I enjoy the show better when I - that at least that I'm satisfied that the building is - is fire proof.

Q: So then when did you go back into the trade?

Hochfield: Well, then a friend of mine - a landsman that lived next door - he got a job as the foreman in the base factory on Grant Street and he took me up there. Because I - it was a small building, on the first floor, and that was - I knew, even though it was a fire trap, it was - it was the kind of fire trap that if anything happened I - from my - from the window I can - I can run. There was a long building, one-story building, you could just go out of the window and get on the roof of the other building.

00:20:56

Q: So what year was that?

Hochfield: That was in 1911.

Q: Oh, it was still the same year?

Hochfield: Yes. And then I - I think I became a union member in 1912. I think - yeah, I became a union in that job, in 1911.

Q: In 1911.

Hochfield: Yeah.

Q: And what was it? The Local 25?

Hochfield: Local 25. I think it was [inaudible]

Female Voice: [inaudible].

Hochfield: Yeah, yeah.

00:21:24

Q: And then later you went into Local 22.

Hochfield: Yeah, that's right; that's right.

Q: And you were in Local 22 or 25 all the time you were in New York, huh?

Hochfield: I was in Local 22 all the time I was in New York. The only time I - I was out of the union was the time I was in the Army in 19 - from 19 - the thirteen months that I was in the Army in the First World War. And during the action fight, I was out of the union because I was married in 1925 and I bought a farm, for the reason that I didn't want to - I didn't want to - I didn't want to join the - the Communists.

In fact, I was a member on the executive board when Sigman was president of the International.

Q: Member of the Local 22 executive board?

Hochfield: Yeah. After they threw out the - the left.

00:22:34

Q: After the left went out, huh?

Hochfield: No. They - they were thrown out.

Female Voice: [Slight laugh.]

Q: I know. I didn't live through that time but in the history of the union...

Hochfield: But you know - you know the history. I remember - I remember I went into the union and I told them something. And he says, "Look here, you think you are - you are a member of International. You have to do . . ." I still remember exactly, there was a fellow by the name Weissberg - Weissberg. He died of cancer. He should have [inaudible].

[Slight laughter from Hochfield, Male Voice and Female Voice.]

Hochfield: They were a cancer in the international.

Q: They certainly were and they still try to be.

Hochfield: They - they - not in New York. Only here.

00:23:22

Q: Oh, yeah.

Hochfield: And this is the reason why I am not active here. Of course, I'm not active due to my health. That's one thing. And then I hate the Communists, I don't want to have nothing to do with them.

Q: Well, now they're just an annoyance here. They - they dare raise their heads very infrequently.

Female Voice: But they cause trouble.

Q: They look for every opportunity.

Hochfield: I can't stand them. Of course, in the shop I would tell them what I think of them.

Q: Yeah, your shop is pretty full, isn't it?

Hochfield: No, not the shop. But [inaudible]

Q: All right, when did you come to Los Angeles?

Hochfield: I came in - in '42.

00:23:50

Q: That's in '42. And then you went into the coat makers union.

Hochfield: A short time I joined Local 96 - is it the dressmakers'?

Female Voice: No, the dressmakers.

Q: Yeah.

Hochfield: I went to work for - what's his name? Cronenberg [ph]. But I - somehow I saw that the coat makers are earning more than the dressmakers and I transferred to the - to Local eighty -

Q: It was 65.

Hochfield: It was 65, yeah.

Q: And that when? In '42? 43?

Hochfield: In '42, I guess.

00:24:30

Q: That same year.

Female Voice: Local 50. Oh, then it was . . .

Q: No it was 65. And then it became 50.

Hochfield: I don't remember. I came in November of the year. It must - it must have been in '43.

Q: And you stayed in ever since.

Hochfield: I stayed in ever since.

Q: Well, I guess that's about it. Do you want . . . ?

Female Voice: I was wondering, maybe a few more questions about the trial. You know, the Triangle Waist fire trial.

Hochfield: About the trial? Let's see.

Female Voice: If you could remember some of the things that were asked of you as a witness.

00:25:03

Hochfield: That's right. I told you before my teacher, he told me that because they - they were - they were released, you know, the Triangle employers.

Female Voice: They were not held responsible for the fire.

Hochfield: Yes. You see, they were - they were accused for keeping the - the doors locked. Now, at that time - you heard about George Plimpton? Plimpton at that time was a young lawyer and an active member in the Socialist party. At that time they called a meeting of the survivors.

Female Voice: When you say they, who do you mean?

Hochfield: The - you see, the radical movement tried to make hay out of - out of the - you know . . .

Female Voice: Out of this great tragedy that happened to working people.

Hochfield: Oh, it was a big tragedy. Of course, they're not - the men failed. They wanted the people to organize the union jobs. And - and to improve the conditions and so on. But at the same time they tried to make hay for the Socialist - for the Socialist Party.

[Simultaneous remarks by Hochfield and Male Voice.]

00:26:10

Hochfield: . . . they called the meetings of these survivors. And the - and the firm had spies. They planted spies at these meetings, and these people, they were working people and they sold themselves for - they got - I understand they got good pay. And they claimed at the trial, they said that we were told what to say when we would be called as witnesses. In fact, I was called - they - I was called as a witness and they asked me how long are you in this country and what is your name? And that's all.

I was ready - I was ready to tell them the story. Of course, I asked for a [inaudible] at that time, and for an interpreter he says, "You're all right. You can speak the best way you can and in English. It will be better." But they didn't ask me much. They cut it short because since I lost my sister I suppose he didn't want to ask me no questions.

And this lawyer - this lawyer told me that you do the meetings that the Socialist Party called and to tell us what to - what to say at the trial. This helped the employers a lot to - to go free.

Q: And do you believe that they would have been found guilty if it weren't for that?

Hochfield: I - I doubt very much. I doubt - there was too much graft. That's all. Of course . . .

Q: Or whether they used the excuse of the Socialist meetings to give them their . . .

00:27:33

Hochfield: But that was good for their excuse that time.

Q: How long did the trial last?

Hochfield: I can't tell you.

Q: What was the atmosphere in the city? Were there any papers that were condemning the . . . ?

Hochfield: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. That's all. Of course, [inaudible]

Q: They used the excuse of the Socialist meetings to give them that out.

Hochfield: Of course, it was an excuse that time.

Q: How long did the trial last?

Hochfield: I can't tell you.

Q: What was the atmosphere in the city? Were there any papers that were condemning the . . . ?

Hochfield: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. At the beginning, as far as I can remember, I think the Journal American, at the time, and The World at the time, they - they were very much against the - the firm, for keeping the doors locked.

00:28:23

As they got it going, let me tell you a secret. At that time they didn't charge - they didn't charge for the needles. And as far as - and as far as pay is concerned, they were in there better than in - in other shops. But as far as this is concerned, the pay wasn't - was better, because I remember my sister used to earn about eighteen, twenty dollars a week.

Q: And how many hours of work was that?

Hochfield: Of course the - let's see, we worked forty-five and - about fifty - about fifty-four hours a week.

Q: I see. That's nine hours a day, six days a week.

Hochfield: Yes.

Q: No overtime at all? If you worked later, you just worked later, that's all.

Hochfield: That's right. We didn't get paid for overtime. I think - I don't remember whether we worked overtime or not. And as far as the relationship in the shop between the people, it was a friendly relationship. You know. Of course there were quite a number of Italian girls working there.

00:29:41

Q: And they all were in - in those days if, say, somebody wanted to make something for herself at home, and she wanted to take a little thread, if she went to the foreman and asked for thread, if she asked for some lace, what would happen?

Hochfield: I tell you, it was too big of a shop. Don't forget, I think there were - there were two hundred machines on the floor.

Female Voice: On just the one floor that you worked on?

Q: Yes, ninth floor.

Hochfield: Yes. There was - there was the same thing on the eighth floor.

Female Voice: So all together, about how many employees would say they had?

Hochfield: Oh, they had about five hundred. It was one of the bigger shops in the industry at that time. At that time, yeah. But, of course, the rumor was that the - that the fire was - that the fire was started. Because they had a name for collecting insurance several times before; before this fire. But that was the rumor. Whether it's true, I cannot - I cannot tell you.

00:30:56

Q: And the investigation never went into that side of it.

Hochfield: No. It never went into that

Female Voice: They never actually found out how the fire was started or where exactly?

Hochfield: No.

Q: Were you sister and you the only children in your family?

Hochfield: No. We are seven children.

Q: Uh-huh. Any of the others in the garment trade?

Hochfield: Well, my brother - I had - I had - I had a brother here. That he died two years ago. In January. He was a pressman.

Q: He lived in Los Angeles.

00:31:35

Hochfield: He lived in the area.

Q: Was in Local 97.

Hochfield: In the pressman local.

Q: Yeah, 97. That was . . . .

Hochfield: I don't know. I think he - later he remarried.

Q: And your family, you lost touch with them?

Hochfield: Yes. Of course, he took it - he loved that girl very much. She was - she was younger than he was.

[Break in the recording]

You know, he came down to take down the people. I wanted to her when the - the [inaudible] burning of the boys at the time of the Waist Company. So I told him an idea. I didn't have the time, so I took their time to get money to buy a gun. And I thought to myself, "Well, I will talk to Local 25." At that time I think Bower [ph] was the - was the manager at that time at Local 25.

00:33:07

I would speak to one of the managers or somebody - some authorities at the Local 25, they should give me money and I'm going to buy a gun and I'm going to shoot these guys down because I - we had that to collect a week's pays.

It was announced in the paper that they opened up a new - a new factory right away. Two buildings away they opened up a big factory and all the stooges - all these people that - the - the spies that had worked for them, you know, and a lot of people - at that time, you know, a whole bunch of just newcomers and to them a week - a day's wages meant - meant a lot. So - but they went in there and they went back to work and everybody was fine. Until they find the people.

Now he was supposed to get a week's wages. So I figured out that I'll go to get - collect the week's wages that will surely be there, and I was right. They were there. And the little manager refused.

So I met one of the clerks in the union. I saw that there was nobody around, and I confided the little secret that I carry in my heart. I says, look, I am a survivor of the Triangle fire. I lost my sister. And I can't let it go by. And now is an opportunity for me to get revenge on these people. If I can only get a hold of a gun, [inaudible].

Don't do it, he says. You [inaudible]. It's too bad a thing that you lost your sister, but take my advice: don't do it. It wouldn't do you any good, it wouldn't do us any good. Forget about it. But you know - if - if I had any other source of getting money and know where to buy a gun, perhaps I would go through with my plan. Now I am not sorry for it. But that's the way I felt at that time.

00:35:58

Female Voice: Well, you felt that the firm itself was responsible for the actions [inaudible].

Hochfield: I'm sure they - I'm sure they were responsible. I'm - of course, we cannot - I cannot prove it. That the fire was made to collect insurance, there's no doubt in my mind. But I - I can't - I can't prove it. I haven't got a proof.

And at least if they made a fire - They had businesses, they should have known to keep the doors open. This - there was this door on the ninth floor, if this door would be open, I am sure that there would be no casualties. And then if there would have been casualties, perhaps it would be much less. It wouldn't reach the [inaudible].

Female Voice: Was it the ninth floor that most of the people were [inaudible] come to?

Hochfield: The ninth floor was the - in fact, there were people - you see, the day they took up people, the day of the fire, or the day before. And before they leave I saw the floor lady waiting - waiting for her pay envelope. From the ninth floor window. She - she was - she wasn't jumping. She didn't have the courage to jump because - the firemen held nets. So one of them hit the net and, gone. You know the impact of . . .

00:37:46

Q: Of course.

Hochfield: I think because she [inaudible]. Of course, they - they can cut out the things that they don't - they don't want to hear. I had to live, though, you know. When a - a person that - when it comes time, you know, it's so much happening then . . . .

Female Voice: I'm sure.

Hochfield: Now, but a few of them couldn't stand the fire. The fire was licking them and they couldn't stand it so they jumped. And they jumped and they dropped dead immediately. And she didn't have the nerve. She said they don't bring me no pay envelope and [inaudible].

Female Voice: Back [inaudible].

Hochfield: Backed up from the smoke.

Female Voice: So she probably died in the fire [inaudible].

Hochfield: Yes.

Q: How long does this whole thing, from the time you saw - you came down to the eighth floor and you saw that the place was engulfed in flames - until the fire was controlled and they were able to get in there.

00:38:46

Hochfield: It took - the firemen - the firemen came in there in about - in about twenty minutes after the fire started.

Female Voice: But you said you met a fireman on the stairs as you were going down.

Hochfield: Sure. It - it didn't - it didn't take long.

Q: How long did the people struggle? How long was this period where they were still alive inside?

Hochfield: Oh, about - about - not that long.

Q: This whole thing was happening so fast.

Hochfield: Sure. The fire spread so rapidly. I told you before that - that the wicker baskets, the oil-soaked floor, the baskets were full of - full of material. The flammable material. They caught fire like - like a wild fire.

00:39:35

Q: And the cutters on the third floor made no effort to help the people . . .

[Break in audio and restart.]

Q: The cutters on the third floor made no effort to help the people on the ninth, huh?

Hochfield: No.

Q: They just went down.

Hochfield: In other words, the people from the eighth floor [inaudible] or they didn't know. You've got to be trained for it. Nowadays - afterwards they - they - the union group, in the - in the new agreement that they signed [coughs] they had fireman come in, in drills. [coughs]

Female Voice: Is it possible that the cutters on the tenth floor then didn't even know there was a fire. Do you think the cutters might have gotten out without knowing that there was a fire?

Hochfield: Well, the cutters - the people on the tenth floor knew that there was - there was a fire. They knew.

00:40:31

Q: They had to pass them, right?

Female Voice: [inaudible]

Hochfield: They saved themselves - I think they saved themselves by the - a few - a few of them saved themselves by - by - by jumping to a connecting building.

Female Voice: Because the fire had gotten to the tenth floor last; that's the last floor [inaudible].

Hochfield: I remember - I remember we lived in 292 Monroe Street on the East Side. And 294 Monroe Street, my luntzmatel [ph] also lost her - we got two luntzmen that lost - lost their . . . .

Q: Oh, so they were on the ninth floor, too.

Hochfield: And she had the cutter - she had a brother, a cutter, on the tenth floor.

Q: And he was safe.

Hochfield: And she was safe. In other words, all the [inaudible] were from the ninth floor because the people from the eighth floor [inaudible].

Female Voice: [inaudible] there. So they got out.

00:41:27

Hochfield: Yes, they just ran down and the people from the tenth ran - ran up.

Female Voice: And then the ninth floor people were trapped by the locked door.

Hochfield: By that locked door, yes.

[Simultaneous remarks from Hochfield, Male Voice, and Female Voice.]

Female Voice: Is that the only floor that had a locked door?

Hochfield: That's the only floor that had a locked door.

End.

Sweatshop conditions in the early 1900's

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEWS