Having trouble reading in English? Then translate it!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

From Europe to Freedom

 * * * * *

Almost as soon as the British took over the Cape Colony from the Dutch at the beginning of the 19th century, practising Jews began arriving there. At first, most of them were occupied in trade although at least one was a medical practitioner. Amongst the earliest traders were well-known names such as Bergtheil, Norden, Solomon, Thalwitzer, and the Mosenthals. The latter were responsible for opening up the interior of the Cape to trade, as well as bringing out more Jewish men from Germany (mainly) to work in their network of trading stores.

Until the discovery of first diamonds and then gold in what is now South Africa, most Jews leaving Europe tended to head westwards to the USA. After the valuable products started being unearthed, the number of Jews heading towards South Africa rose sharply. Both the increasing prosperity of the 4 constituent territories (that were to unify in 1910 to become South Africa) and also the pogroms in Tsarist Russia led to Eastern European Jews, especially from Lithuania and its neighbours, flowing into the country in ever increasing numbers.

Despite the Jewish people always being a small proportion of the European population of South Africa, they ‘punched above their weight’ – they made a disproportionately large contribution to its development, economically, politically, and in many other ways. This has been described masterfully and in great detail in “The Jews of South Africa” edited by Saron & Hotz, which was published in the 1950s.

My book “Exodus to Africa” approaches the story of Jewish migration from Europe to South Africa from a different angle. I have used the stories of some members of my large South African family to exemplify and illustrate a range of aspects of this movement of Jews out of the lands where they were subject to oppression to a place where they were largely respected and allowed to lead their lives without undue hindrance. My story begins with the earliest member of my family to arrive in the Cape (in 1849), the German Heinrich Bergmann, and it ends with the last person to arrive from Europe, Hendrik Jami. He arrived in the Cape in 1949, having travelled from Lithuania via Shanghai.

Exodus to Africa” - a study of mass movement of an oppressed people - describes why Jewish people left Europe; how they got to South Africa; what they and their descendants did there; and how some of them influenced the history of the country. My stories include those who witnessed, or were in some way directly involved in: the Cape Convict Crisis of 1849; the Anglo-Boer War; the Union of South Africa; railway building in the Eastern Cape; diamond ‘mining’ in South West Africa; Jewish Territorial Organization; the Grey Shirts; building ‘locations’; fighting in both World Wars; municipal government; and opposing apartheid. My book adds a personal flavour to spice the general history. The examples chosen from my family all illustrate general points relevant to the history of the Jews in South Africa. My story might well be subtitled ‘From Mosenthal to Mandela’

The book is available in paperback ( from www.lulu.com) and also in the Amazon Kindle format.