The Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina honored Max and Trude Heller with the Order of the Jewish Palmetto, its highest tribute, the third such award to be bestowed and the first given to a couple. The Order was presented at the Society’s meeting in Columbia on April 28, 2007, at a cocktail party at the Gerry Sue and Norman Arnold Jewish Community Campus immediately before an evening cabaret performance. The two earlier recipients were Senator Isadore Lourie o.b.m., the Society’s founding president, and Solomon Breibart, Dean of Charleston’s Jewish history.
Max Heller and Trude Schönthal were born in Vienna, Austria, and came of age as the Nazi Party was taking power in Germany. They had met in 1937—he was 18, she barely 15—and began dreaming of a life together. Max secured a visa to the United States in 1938, ending up in South Carolina, with the help of a young American girl named Mary Mills from Greenville. After five unsuccessful attempts to escape Europe, Trude finally made it to the United States in 1941. Max and Trude will celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in August 2007, with their three children and many grandchildren and great-grands.
Trude has been an active Holocaust educator, speaking in schools and at public gatherings about the Shoah. In 1999 Furman University awarded her an honorary doctorate. Max made his mark in the textile business. Starting as a stock boy at Piedmont Textile Company, he rose through the ranks and went on to found the Maxon Shirt Company. He also succeeded in public service. In 1969 Max was elected to the Greenville City Council and from 1971 until 1979 served as mayor of the city. He led the effort to revitalize downtown Greenville. “The only thing I miss[ed] about Vienna was the music,” Heller has said, and he proceeded to turn Main Street into a cosmopolitan esplanade, while working to bring new businesses into the city. He lost a close election for a seat in the U.S. Congress. Under Governor Richard W. Riley, he served as chairman of the South Carolina State Development Board.
The Hellers have been deeply involved in Jewish life in Greenville. Committed to their synagogue, Beth Israel, and active in community affairs, Max and Trude exemplify the best of Jewish values. The Society wants to acknowledge their extraordinary contributions by conferring the Order of the Jewish Palmetto jointly on Max and Trude. May they go from strength to strength!
by Martin Perlmutter
Max Heller, 92, visionary, humanitarian and beloved citizen and family man of Greenville, S.C., passed away peacefully on June 13th, 2011, surrounded by his loving family. (from the Greenville News)