Having trouble reading in English? Then translate it!

Thursday, 15 December 2016



Telicherry (Kerala) sketched by Edward Lear in 1874

On September, the 24th 1874, Mr Edward Lear (1812-1888), who was staying in Bangalore (now ‘Bengaluru’), wrote in his diary:
Walked to Orr and Barton’s and got my photographs…”

Lear is best known for his nonsense verse, lesser known as an artist. Although never as successful as his contemporaries (e.g Holman Hunt, Lord Leighton, Alma-Tadema, Turner, Millais, and Rossetti,) in the 19th century UK art world, he was a wonderful landscape artist. In addition, he was highly skilled at depicting flora and fauna (especially birds: he was said to rival Audubon). Oddly, his talents did not extend to great representations of the human form except in comical cartoons, at which he excelled.

Restless, Lear travelled the world in search of the ‘picturesque’. He visited many places, including Albania, which is what got me interested in him in the first place. He recorded his travels in sketchbooks, and later transformed some of these into oil paintings - the medium which he hoped to master - but never really managed. Lear described his trips in diaries that he later published as travel journals, his pen producing portraits of the places almost as eloquently as his fine sketches and watercolours.

Recently, I discovered that Lear visited India (including Ceylon). He did so at the invitation of an old friend, Thomas Baring - Lord Northbrook, who had become the Viceroy of India in 1872. I bought a reasonably priced second-hand copy of Lear's "Indian Journal", introduced and edited by Ray Murphy (published in 1953). Unlike his other travel journals (e.g. for Albania, Greece, Corsica, and Southern Italy), this book contains Lear's actual diary entries rather than a later polished-up literary version of them.

Lear describes almost every day of his trip to India, which lasted from November 1873 until January 1875, when sickness and bad back pain forced him and his Albanian servant Giorgio to end their rambles, which had taken them from the heights of the Himalayas to the deep south of India and through Ceylon.

The trip was dogged with problems: logistic, illness, food, and so on. Yet, even on the worst of days, Lear found something redeeming to write about. Lear enjoyed Indian 'local colour', but was often less than lukewarm about British colonial social life. He preferred the ‘really Indian' places to those places favoured by the British. Many a place where the British liked to spend time relaxing were loved because, to use Lear's words, because of their: 
un-Indian qualities."

Lear visited Bangalore twice. His first sojourn was between the 13th of August 1874 and the 21st of that month. He arrived there on a train that passed through:
Arkonam … at the junction of the Bombay-Madras and Madras-Malabar lines.”
At this his junction in Tamil Nadu, now known as ‘Arakkonam’, he had to spend a night in a waiting room. In Bangalore, he took rooms for himself and his servant in the Cubbon Hotel, which he did not rate highly on arrival. However, a few days later, he noted:
The food at this hotel is good, and the service quiet and unobtrusive…”
Kora Chandy wrote in “The City Beautiful” by TP Issar (published1988):
“…let me turn to Infantry Road and the present office of the Commissioner of Police. Some 100 years ago, it was the leading hotel in Bangalore, called the Cubbon Hotel. The facilities it advertised included a ball room, ‘complete suites of the bachelor’s apartments’ and ‘carriages on the premises. In the early years of the century the British Resident purchased this property and his office was located there until 1928…” 
In 1911, the Cubbon Hotel still existed, when it was leased by Spencer’s, which was then in the hands of the Oakshott family.  The Cubbon Hotel was rated along with the (still extant) West End Hotel as being above average in Murray’s “Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma, and Ceylon” (10th edition, published 1920). Therefore, the Resident must have purchased it sometime after 1920. Maya Jayapal writes in her “Bangalore: roots and beyond” (published in 2014):
“… the Cubbon Hotel… was constructed in the prevailing style of colonial architecture, sometimes called Greco-Roman. It is now the police commissioner’s office…
A photograph (see below) in TP Issar’s book confirms Jayapal’s description of the architecture. 

Lear considered Bangalore:
“… an odd place, not over beautiful, but contains three picturesque bits and, I think, one general view. The tall coco-palms are a chief characteristic, but the queer houses are odd indeed…”
On the 15th of August, he visited the Lal Bagh gardens, concluding that:
“… he had never seen a more beautiful place, terraces, trellises, etc., not to speak of some wild beasts. Flowers exquisiteThere is something very rural quiet about this placewalked with Giorgio to some granite rocks, and a little tank, where I drew till it began to rain, ven I cum back…”
This little excerpt exposes Lear’s liberated approach to spelling. I have visited Lal Bagh often, and have seen its large tank, which contains an island. The large tank is separated from a smaller one, often filled with waterlilies, by a causeway. I am not sure about which water feature Lear was writing. Next day, he visited Ulsoor Tank, but arrived too late to sketch it. The Tank, which is still in existence, is a veritable lake with several islands in it. Zafar Futehally and Kora Chandy writing in Issar’s book, noted:
It extended over an area of 125 acres and was constructed by Kempegowda II during the second half of the 16th century.”
It supplied drinking water to the civilian and military population of Bangalore until the 20th century.
That day he praised Bangalore in his diary:
This station is very extensive and populous, and seems in some ways the pleasantest I have known in India. A sort of homely quiet pervades everything, and the air is delightful, ditto flowers. Birds are numerous but make absurd noises.
All over India, Lear remarked on the peculiar birdsong he heard. He left Bangalore on the 21st of August, heading for Madras.

Lear returned to Bangalore on the 23rd of September 1874, arriving by train from Salem. His journey had not been uneventful.  Near ‘Cajdoody’ (this is probably modern day Kadugodi, which is on a railway close to Whitefields, and, relevantly, a couple of still-extant large bodies of water), a bridge was down. Lear wrote:
Descending from the carriage, we had to walk along a narrow edge of clay by the steep side of the embankment; this was … difficult. … Next, a descent, with a crowd of natives, and still more awkward pass over loose planks to a boat … ferried across deep and rapid water, the result of a broken tank which had so swollen the stream as to carry away the bridge. Then came a hoisting up slippery wooden steps … to the level of the other train…
Lear and Giorgio arrived exhausted in Bangalore on the 23rd of September 1874 after a thirty-minute train journey from the flooded area. It was the following day that he visited Orr and Barton’s to collect some photographs – of what he does not say. Throughout his visit to India, Lear bought photographs, which he might have used to remind him of places that he had seen.

On my last visit to Bangalore in 2016, I bought some jewellery from Barton’s, whose extensive shop is within Barton Tower on MG Road. From its earliest days, it had been a jeweller but it came as news to me that it was also known for its photography. The 1920 Murray’s guide to India (see above) lists “Barton & Sons” both as a jeweller and a photographer.  One of the Mr Bartons must have been an exceptional photographer. M Fazlul Hasan writes in his “Bangalore Through the Centuries” (published 1970) that when an equestrian statue of Sir Mark Cubbon was unveiled in March 1866, many photographers rushed forward to ‘snap’ it, but:
Owing, however, to the fading light and other difficulties, only two, Major Dixon and Mr Barton, succeeded.”

Bangalore was not Lear’s last port of call in India. He went on to visit several other places including Sri Lanka before returning via Kerala to Bombay, and thence back to Europe. It was noticing that he had visited Barton’s, a shop I know well, that prompted me to write this piece based on the lesser-known travels of a well-known cultural figure of the nineteenth century. 

DISCOVER MORE by clicking: H E R E !

Thursday, 24 November 2016



In 1837, the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote his “Kejserens nye Klæder” (‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’). Two tailors weave some new clothes for the Emperor. No one can see them because they were invisible, they had no substance at all, they did not exist.

London’s Design Museum has just (November 2016) moved into what used to be the Commonwealth Institute (‘CI’) in Holland Park. Its construction was completed in 1962. I remember visiting the CI in the early 1960s, when its gloomy interior housed exhibits from various parts of the Commonwealth. I was more impressed by the building’s then original and fantastic architecture than by its contents.

The CI building remained closed and disused from long before the beginning of this century until this year when it re-opened as the Design Museum. The building’s exterior has been well-restored, but is somewhat hidden from the road by two ugly ‘rectanguloid’ (or box-like) low-rise tower blocks, which are an affront to both good design and good town-planning. I imagine that letting or selling space in these two buildings helped pay for the restoration of the former CI building.

The interior of the old CI building has been scooped out and replaced by a wonderful new interior, an exciting space worthy of a museum that is dedicated to design.

Sadly, the exhibition fails miserably. Leaving the splendid atrium, the visitor enters a series of ‘galleries’ crammed with ‘icons’ of (mostly) 20th century design. The cluttered exhibition spaces reminded me of charity shops or jumble sales. The only difference between the museum and the latter is that the objects on display are in better condition than those in jumble sales or charity shops.

The newly located Design Museum made me think of Hans Christian Andersen. The building is splendid, both outside and inside, but the exhibition does not deserve such a fine building. The clothing is great, but the Emperor is missing.



Tuesday, 15 November 2016


About ten years ago, an American Jewish acquaintance, who had just completed a tour of southern India, complained that he had seen no end of Hindu temples and Christian churches, but only one synagogue. Well, I was not surprised. Once in Venice (Italy), a religious Jew on learning that I am Jewish asked whether my wife (a gentile), an Indian, is Jewish. That got me thinking. I calculated that randomly meeting a Jew born in India was extremely improbable – it is less than 0.0005%.  So, to write about the Jews of India is to describe a minute proportion of the country’s vast population. And as I write, that proportion is only likely to diminish.

While idly flicking through the Eicher street atlas for Bangalore, I noticed, quite by chance, that the city has a “Jewish Grave Yard”. I have visited this cemetery several times. It contains less than sixty graves, but together they open a window that provides a good overview of the Jewish people who have lived in India. The story of India’s Jewry has been described in detail elsewhere (for example: “India’s Jewish Heritage” edited by Shalva Weil and “Shalom India” by Monique Zetlaoui). I will present their tales as viewed through a south Indian lens.

Jews have lived in what is now Kerala since time immemorial. They lived on the Malabar Coast in, for example, Kranganore and Cochin. It is said that St Thomas came to India to convert them into Christians. He failed miserably, converting, instead, the other people who he found living there.  A grave in the cemetery commemorates Elias Isaac, who came from Cochin to Bangalore to act as the schochet (ritual slaughterer) to the Moses family.  Today, there are one or two elderly Jews still living in Kerala.

The oldest graves in the cemetery mark the resting places of Subedar Samuel Nagavkar (1816-1904) and Benjamin Nagavkar (1877-1910). Samuel might have served the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who donated the land for the cemetery in 1904. The Nagavkars were members of the Beni Israel community, whose origins are obscure. According to the historian HS Kehimkar, they claimed to have come from “the North” to India in about 175 BC (BCE). Many of their community still live in and around Maharastra State.

There are several other graves bearing names of Beni Israel Jews. Tor example: the horse trainer Sion E Nissim (1900-58), one of whose horses, Commoner, won the Indian Derby; Mrs Abigail Jhirad, daughter of the Subedar; and Joshua Moses Benjamin  Bhonkar (1920-2005). The latter (aka ‘Joshua Benjamin’) was both a writer (“The Mystery of Israel's Ten Lost Tribes and the Legend of Jesus in India”) and a Chief Minister in the Government of India.

Whereas the origins of the Malabar and Beni Israel Jews are obscure, this is not the case with the Iraqi Jews, who came to India from the Middle East beginning in the 18th century. Many of them settled in Bombay and Calcutta. The most famous of them being the Sassoon family.

The Bangalore cemetery contains graves for the following families from Calcutta: Ezra, Elias, Earl, and Moses. Edward Earl (1910-1953) was the proprietor of the once well-known Earl’s Pickles company.  Calcutta used to have a large Jewish community, including the Moses family, who are buried in Bangalore and originated in Iraq.

Ruben Moses (1871-1936) left Iraq to join the California gold rush. He left California for India in 1906, following the disastrous San Francisco earthquake. He headed for the Kolar gold fields, but ended up in Bangalore, where he founded a shoe store in the city’s Commercial Street. The store, which is now occupied by Woody’s veg fast-food outlet, was once the largest shoe retailer in southern Asia. His home, now long since demolished, contained a prayer hall where the city’s few local Jews and Jewish visitors from all over the world came to wordship along with the Moses family.

What did the Jews do in Bangalore apart from what I have mentioned above? Poor Moses Ashkenazy(1957-1982) was a student, who died of an overdose of drugs.  Sassoon Saul Moses (d. 1975) was a ‘hawker’, as were many of my Lithuanian Jewish ancestors who arrived in South Africa in the 1890s. The widow Rebecca Elias (1927-1992) lost her husband early, and then worked in a needle factory in Bangalore. GE Moses and Isaac Cohen, neither of whom are buried in the cemetery, were, respectively, a clothes retailer and an auctioneer. The grave of RE Reuben (1877-1939) records that he was “Malarial Supervisor of the C&M Station Municipality”. I wonder whether he ever met the Nobel laureate Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932), the pioneer of the fight against malaria. Reuben’s place of work is mentioned in Ross’s papers.

Troubles with anti-Semitism in Europe and, later, the outbreak of the Second World War (‘WW2’) led to other Jews entering the Indian Judaic scene – refugees and soldiers. They are well represented in the Bangalore cemetery. But, before describing some of them, let me not forget the Russian-born Saida Abramovka Isako, who died in 1932. She was the wife of FY Isako, who was proprietor of the ‘Russian Circus’. Her coffin was carried on a bier drawn by white circus horses. I imagine that the burials of the German refugees Siegfried Appel (1906-1939) from Bonn, Gunther and his mother Mrs Rahmer from Gleiwitz, and Dr Weinzweig, were less memorable. Carl Weinzweig (1890-1966) was a dentist (his surgery was in MG Road), as was Gunther Rahmer.

Amongst the military personnel that passed through Bangalore during WW2, was the future President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who was stationed at an RAF base in the city. His name appears in the Moses family guestbook. Sadly, the cemetery records the casualties of war, who died in the city. These include Yusuf Guetta (1921-1943), who was evacuated from Ben-Ghazi in Libya by the British in 1941, and Private Morris Minster (1918-1942). Minster served in the South Wales Borderers Regiment and was initially buried in the grave yard. His stone remains, but he has been moved to a large Commonwealth war cemetery in Madras.

The “Jewish Grave Yard” in Bangalore encapsulates the story of the larger of the Jewish ‘groupings’ that have lived in India. The cemetery is so unknown that even a few of the Jews who have lived in the city have been unaware of it. I have met the heirs of the Jewish refugee from Germany, Mr Jacoby, who introduced popcorn and machines for making it to India and settled in Bangalore. Their nearest and dearest are resting in peace in Christian cemeteries, of which there is no shortage in Bangalore.

At the beginning, I mentioned that India’s Jewish population is diminishing. Over the years many Jews left India. My wife, who went to school in Calcutta, remembers that the city had many thriving synagogues and that there were several Jewish girls in her class. When we visited Calcutta four or five years ago, we saw three synagogues. Two of them were well-maintained, by Moslem caretakers, as is Bangalore’s Jewish cemetery. The third that we saw appeared to be about to crumble.

India can be proud to remember that, unlike so many other countries, it was not anti-Semitism that caused Jews to migrate. Just as so many other Indians have left the country to better their economic prospects, so did the Jews.

An album containing annotated photographs of all of the graves in Bangalore's 'Jewish Grave Yard' may be purchased as an e-book (or a paperback) by clicking HERE

Tuesday, 8 November 2016



A new book about Albania by Adam Yamey

Albanian people live all over the Balkans and in the Middle East, not to mention those who have migrated to Western Europe and the USA in the last two centuries. Subjects to a series of foreign rulers over the millennia, some of them now live in independent countries, which are governed by Albanians: the recently formed Republic of Kosova (‘established’ 2008), and the longer-established Republic of Albania (‘established’ 1912). Adam Yamey’s book, “Rediscovering Albania”, is about the latter, although some references are made to the former.

Adam, who has been interested in the Balkans – especially Albania – for many decades, first visited Albania in 1984, when the country was governed by a repressive regime headed by Joseph Stalin’s fervent admirer, the dictator Enver Hoxha (1908-1985). The country was then ‘hermetically’ sealed off from the rest of the world, even more so than North Korea is today. The only way for a tourist to visit Albania in 1984 was on a closely supervised guided tour during which the Albanian authorities did their best to ensure that the visitor only saw what they wanted. Their aim was to send tourists home with the impression that Albania was a ‘paradise’, which other countries ought to envy and emulate. In order to create that impression, the foreign visitor was not allowed to talk to, or otherwise communicate with, Albanian citizens; not allowed to stray from the tour group; not permitted to eat in the presence of Albanians; not allowed to take photographs of whatever interested him or her; not permitted to carry certain reading matter including religious works; and so on. Despite these restrictions, Adam came away having had an interesting view of the most beautiful country in the Balkans.

Enver Hoxha died in 1985, and was replaced by Ramiz Alia. Five years later, two years after the Berlin Wall was officially breached, Albania’s Stalinist dictatorship ended. For the first time since independence in 1912, Albanians began experiencing the closest they ever had to true democracy. In the beginning, it was not easy. During the early years of Albania’s post-Communist existence, there were many problems to be faced. For example: complex internal politics; the break-up of its neighbour, the former Yugoslavia; a civil war in 1997; Kosova’s struggle for independence.

In May 2016, Adam paid another visit to Albania. He and his wife hired a car and toured the country extensively – from the high mountains in the north to the Greek border in the south and the Macedonian border in the south-east.  On this trip, Adam and his wife could: talk with any Albanian whom they met; travel wherever they wished; eat and drink with Albanians; take photographs without restrictions; carry whatever reading material they wished; and so on. They came away from the country with favourable impressions and happy memories.

During his latest trip, Adam kept a detailed travel journal. This formed the basis for writing “Rediscovering Albania”. The book charts Adam’s trip through Albania, providing personal anecdotes and observations that give the reader an idea of what to expect when visiting the country. But, there is much more.  Wherever Adam went, he heard things from people, and saw sights that aroused his curiosity. On his return to London, he investigated what he experienced in detail. “Rediscovering Albania” describes Adam’s trip in the context of: Albania’s troubled history and vibrant present; the reports of earlier travellers (Francois Pouqueville, Lord Byron, Edward Lear, Edith Durham, and many others); and the opinions of Albanians, whom the author met during his journey. Also, the book includes comparisons of how the author found Albania in 1984 with what it is like today in 2016. The resulting text is an informative and entertaining introduction to one of Europe’s most fascinating, but undeservedly lesser-known, countries.

The book, which is available as a paperback and an e-book (Kindle format), contains two maps and many photographs.

As Adam took far too many pictures to be included in one book, he is posting them gradually on a Facebook page (which can be accessed and viewed by those who have no Facebook account). Visit:

To buy a copy of the paperback: click HERE

To buy the Kindle: click  HERE

Saturday, 17 September 2016

A bunker in south Albania

Bunker by Lake Ohrid, near Pogradec

Most of the defensive bunkers constructed in Enver Hoxha's Albania were in the form of hemispherical concrete domes (see illustration below). 

Here, I describe an unusual one that I saw next to Lake Ohrid, just north of Pogradec.

Typical Hoxha era bunkers (near Lin)

Near the village of Memelisht (north of Pogradec), we examined the huge bunker on the lakeshore (illustrated above). It was like an elongated egg in plan. Part of it protruded into the lake, and the rest caused the road to curl around it. Its entrance faced inland. 2 gun slits faced north - one slightly towards the west and the other slightly towards the east. A third faced south towards Pogradec. I peered inside, and saw a central passage with doorways leading to 3 side rooms. The corridor was clean and painted white. A few discarded bottles lay on its floor. This ‘bunker’, which was so different from other bunkers that we saw in Albania, puzzled me. Valent at the hotel believed that it had been built by the Italians to control the road between Elbasan (and the north of Albania) and the south of the country as well as Greece. This seemed a reasonable explanation for its existence and positioning.
Does anyone know exactly who built it. Was it the Italians, the Albanians, or someone else?
Now, please visit: 

Sunday, 11 September 2016



There are 2 places in London that remind me of some of the sets in Fritz Lang's film "Metropolis" (1927): the common parts (vestibules etc) of the Barbican Centre and the escalator hall of Westminster Underground Station ( rebuilt in 1999).

At Westminster there is an interchange between the Jubilee Line and the Circle/District Lines. The sub-surface Circle/District lines are separated from the far deeper Jubilee Line by a series of ecalators. The latter are housed in a huge concrete lined space. The whole ensemble is grey and gloomy, lit by lights that both illuminate and at the same time emphasise the gloomy nature of this futuristic collection of escalators, steel tubes, and other structural elements. I use the word 'futuristic' with reservation as this place resembles, as already mentioned, the sets of a film made back in 1927.

Full of human life, this interconnecting hall is rather inhuman - a collection of machines for moving hordes of people from A to B. It reminds me of factory assembly lines. Worth visiting because it is an extrordinary visual and psychological experience - and because it helps you to travel through the metropolis.



Tuesday, 2 August 2016


CB Fry (source: Wikipedis)

Here is an excerpt from Adam Yamey's soon to be published book "REDISCOVERING ALBANIA"  ...

Albania's hero Skanderbeg (Picture by A Yamey)

My only criticism of the National Museum in Tirana was that it was poorly ventilated. After spending about 1½ hours looking around it, we returned to the enormous foyer, and slumped into 2 of the large comfortable armchairs located in the entrance foyer. These chairs reminded me of those which were provided, complete with lace anti-macassars, in the customs shed at the Han-i-Hotit Albanian border post, when I arrived there in 1984. One of the chairs in the foyer was occupied by a man, who looked as if he might have been from the Indian sub-continent. He was working on his lap-top computer. While I visited the museum’s shop, Lopa remained seated. At one stage, the man with his computer made a ‘phone call to his wife. Lopa, recognizing the man’s obvious Indian accent, asked him where he was from. He said that he was from the south of India, and was waiting for his son to return from cricket practice.  
We were surprised to hear that cricket was being played in Albania. Vijay told us that there was an Englishman in Tirana, who was trying to teach an Albanian rugby team to play cricket, and that there were plans to organise a cricket match between the locals and ex-patriates from the UK, Pakistan, India, and elsewhere. This match between the local Albanian Eagles and the international visitor’s team the International Lions was to be played in late June soon after we left Albania. The Eagles who were all out for 49, won by 1 run. Our friend Vicky was the 2nd highest scorer with 16 runs.
Albania nearly became associated with cricket soon after gaining independence in 1912. The renowned British cricketer CB Fry (1872-1956), who was also a politician, was offered the throne of Albania in 1920, but declined it. A report in the Guardian newspaper published on the 12th August 2001 describes how the European Cricket Coach, Tim Dellor, first brought cricket to post-Communist Albania. The reporter concluded: “A seed has been sown in a dusty terrain. If it grows, could a Test match take place one day in Tirana?”. Well, the Test match is still awaited, but on the 26th May 2015, Albania hosted its first ever international match. It was between the Albanian Eagles, captained by Prince Leka II, Zog’s grandson, and the International Lions, captained by the English comedian Tony Hawks. The Albanian team won, and was awarded the Sir Norman Wisdom Trophy.
[Norman Wisdom, by the way, is popular in Albania because his films were the only foreign films that were permitted to be screened in Albania whilst it was enduring  more than 4 decades of Stalinist repression under its Communist dictator Enver Hoxha.]

by clicking HERE

Saturday, 7 May 2016



In 1862, when Adam Yamey's great-grandfather Franz Ginsberg was born, his birthplace BEUTHEN (now Bytom in Poland) was deep within German territory. After 1918 when borders shifted, Beuthen was still in Germany BUT ONLY JUST because it was surrounded on three sides by Poland which was no more than a mile from the city's heart.

While Franz Ginsberg was a Senator in the parliament of the Union of South Africa, legislation, inspired by the Minister of the Interior DF Malan (an architect of apartheid), was being formulated (in March 1930) that would severely restrict the entry into the country of Eastern European Jews. Franz Ginsberg was firmly against this.

One of Franz’s many objections was connected to the impermanence of Europe’s national borders. He said:
Considerable difficulties will arise with this Bill ... There have been perfectly new boundaries created in Europe since the war (i.e WW1), countries that formerly belonged to Germany have become, for instance, Polish ... there is Silesia too. My birthplace is in Silesia and I am very glad to think that I would not come under the ratio of prohibited countries (i.e countries, such as Poland, whose Jews were to become subject to a quota on immigration to South Africa), although that might have been the case if the boundary laid down in the Peace Treaty had been shifted a few miles...

Sadly, the South African Government passed the Quota Act of 1930. DF Malan defended its passing. According to the issue of the JTA published in November 1931:
"The Quota Act, he (i.e. Malan) declared, was introduced in the interests of the whole country, including the Jews. There was a feeling of unrest over the low type of immigrants coming from Eastern Europe, and the whole country demanded legislation to limit this immigration. The unrest threatened to develop into a feeling of hatred against the Jews, and as a result of the Quota Act this bad feeling has died down. 
Cynically, Malan was presenting his anti-Jewish legislation as something that would benefit Jews already in South Africa. This was not long before South Africa’s version of the Nazis, the Greyshirts, started becoming really active.

Read more about how Franz tried to defend the rights of Eastern European Jews to enter South Africa, as well his fights for the rights of many of the less priviliged members of South African society in “Soap to Senate: A German Jew at the Dawn of Apartheid” by Adam Yamey. The book is available from Amazon and www.lulu.com

to discover more writing by Adam Yamey

Wednesday, 27 April 2016


Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936)

In the 1960s, my late mother used to mention her grandparents Franz and Hedwig, and often remarked that theirs were an odd pair of names. For a long time that was all that I knew about them. My late uncle Sven Rindl gave me an ingeniously designed family tree of our Ginsberg family many years ago, and I kept it as a curiosity. It assumed a great significance when, in about 2000, I began to become interested in the history of the families into which I was born. Soon after this, I learnt that Franz was a South African Senator and that he was held in high regard by my mother’s family. After investigating the lives of other members of my extended family, I began including Franz amongst those whom I researched. Several members of the extended Ginsberg family were kind enough to supply me with much interesting material, but at first I was unable to put them together to form a ‘big picture’ of Franz’s life. As I began to do so, I realised that not only was I discovering a great deal about his life, but also about a fascinating and important period during the history of South Africa.

I obtained a British Library Reader’s Ticket, and that was the key to unravelling Franz’s story. My great-grandfather Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) left his birthplace in Prussia in 1880, and shifted to King Williams Town (‘King’) in the Eastern Cape of what is now South Africa. He lived there for the rest of his life. The British Library is home to a more or less complete run of one King’s newspapers, the Cape Mercury (the ‘Mercury’). When the newspapers were stored at Colindale, I used to drive there and spend several hours every Saturday morning leafing through the huge bound volumes of the paper. As I did so, fragments of the crumbling paper used to float down off the pages, which I imagine had hardly ever been looked at since they were printed in King and then bound by the library in London. I scoured every page from 1880 onwards looking for mentions of ‘Ginsberg’. Before 1885, there were no mentions of Franz because there was little reason for him to appear in the news. But, from 1885 onward both he and, to a lesser extent, his future brother-in-law the photographer Jakob Rindl began to appear at ever increasing frequency in the pages of the Mercury. For, it was in 1885, that Franz opened his own factory. It made matches. The match factory was followed by an ink factory, and then a candle factory, and later a soap factory.

Mentions of Franz in the Mercury became even more frequent after about 1890, when he entered local politics. First, he was elected a Town Councillor, then the Mayor for a while. Soon, Franz entered national politics, and became elected a Member of the Cape Parliament, a position that he held until 1910 when the Cape Colony and the three other colonies of southern Africa united to become ‘South Africa’. After unification, Franz became King’s member of the newly formed Cape Provincial Council. He remained on this until 1927, when he became the first elected Jewish Senator in South Africa. Franz’s name began appearing in the Mercury with ever increasing frequency until he became a Senator. After his ascent to the exalted position of Senator, he did not disappear from the pages of the Mercury, but mentions of him became less frequent because his civic duties in King occupied less of his time than the affairs of the Senate.

From 1885 onwards, the information that I gleaned from the pages of the Mercury, which is now stored in Yorkshire but made available in the British Library in Kings Cross, gave me a good idea of what Franz and his family were up to. The newspaper entries included detailed reports on the proceedings of the Town Council of King as well as what happened in meetings of other organisations, such as the town’s School Board, in which Franz participated actively for many years. From these reports, I began to build up a picture of how Franz functioned as a politician. The newspapers also included details of his comings and goings as well as a wealth of information about his and his family’s involvement in the life of King.

There are two other important sources of information about Franz, which I consulted. These were the reports of both the Cape Parliament and also of the South African Senate. Both of these publications reported the debates in the two legislative assemblies in great detail. The Cape Parliament reports recorded the debates as reported speech, whereas the Senate was reported more or less verbatim. Therefore, what is reported in the Senate debates is what the speakers actually said, rather than someone else’s summary. In the absence of any known recordings of Franz’s voice, what is preserved in the reports of the Senate’s debates is all that remains of the authentic voice of my great-grandfather.

In addition to the above mentioned, there was a host of other material that I consulted whilst preparing Franz’s biography. Some of this, including much interesting material about Franz’s diamond mining activities in German South West Africa (now ‘Namibia’) and his brother Gustave’s life, were from the National Archives of South Africa. Accessing this material remotely from the UK involved employing locals in South Africa to look up the documents (that I had identified in the archives’ on-line catalogue), and then photographing them to send to me. This was always most satisfactory. Books from the British Library and material sent to me by relatives provided more pieces to complete the jigsaw puzzle.

I have been researching Franz’s life for well over 10 years. Several times I tried to write his biography, but had to give up because although he achieved a great deal in many fields, his story did not seem to me to be of general interest. That was the case before I began looking in detail at what he did and said whilst he was a Member of the Cape Parliament, and then later a Senator in the Parliament of the Union of South Africa.

Franz was a Member of the Cape Parliament between 1905 and 1910. He was a Senator from 1927 until his death in 1936. Between 1910 and 1927, he was involved in provincial, rather than national, politics, representing King on the Cape Provincial Council. During the first 4 decades of the 20th century, much legislation was passed that diminished what few rights the non-Europeans ever possessed. One can safely say that this legislation paved or eased the way towards the establishment of apartheid in 1948.

Arriving in South Africa aged 18, Franz did not have a university education. His father Nathan was an accomplished academic. For religious reasons, as I explain in my book, Nathan had to turn down offers of academic positions in German universities. So, despite not having attended university it is likely that Franz was well-educated when he arrived in South Africa. When he was involved with national politics, he debated with politicians, many of whom had attained a high level of formal university education: lawyers, clerics, and so on. Yet, the reports of the debates in which he was involved demonstrate that Franz was easily able to hold his own with his highly educated colleagues in the Parliament and the Senate.  Always an opponent of the Nationalists, he was able to see through the deviousness and disingenuousness of their arguments. And, being able to do so, he attempted to combat or at least to mitigate the unfair legislation that they were promoting. Sadly, he was one of a few lone voices crying out in the wilderness.

When I began to see what my investigations into Franz’s political life were revealing, I realised that writing about his life would result in something with greater interest than a simple biography. Franz’s biography opens a ‘window’ into the history of the evolution of apartheid.

Prejudice against non-Europeans in South Africa began as soon as the Dutch first dropped anchor in the waters lapping the Cape of Good Hope. During the 19th century, under British rule, things did not improve for the non-Europeans. By the beginning of the 20th century, ensuring the submission of the non-European population became an ever-increasing concern of legislators. The ending of the 2nd Boer war in 1902, and the desire to unify the 2 former Boer republics (the Orange Free State and Transvaal) with the 2 British colonies (Cape Colony and Natal) led to a further reduction in the political status of the non-Europeans. This was because in order to achieve unification, the British felt obliged to acknowledge, or at least not challenge, the firmly held views of the Boers that non-Europeans were to be regarded as inferiors with no rights at all.

Franz’s role in the politics of this interesting era was that of trying to ensure that non-Europeans were fairly treated. However, this is an oversimplification as I explain in my book. His approach was complex, and at times unusual. Trying to explain his activities to today’s readership in the context of his times was one of the challenges of writing his biography. I feel that this is what gives my narrative interest to a wider audience. One reader in South Africa has already written:
Your studious unravelling and compilation of Franz’s remarkable life … gave me a sense of the evolution of our country …”
It is this ‘sense of the evolution’ of modern South Africa that I had hoped to convey when I published my biography of Franz Ginsberg, “Soap to Senate: A German Jew at the dawn of Apartheid.” (By Adam Yamey)

Available on Amazon Kindle and from www.lulu.com (paperback edition) by typing “Soap to Senate” in the appropriate places on these websites.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The genesis of apartheid in South Africa


The book "SOAP TO SENATE: A GERMAN JEW AT THE DAWN OF APARTHEID" by Adam Yamey is the story of an enterprising man. His life was dedicated to improving the lot of those who were less fortunate than him, as well as advancing his own family. He lived in South Africa during the gestation period of apartheid  that was completed a dozen years after his death. Had there been more men who acted as he did, it is possible that apartheid might never have seen the light of day.

The man was my great-grandfather, the late Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936). 

At the age of eighteen, he migrated from Germany to King Williams Town in the eastern part of the Cape Colony (in what is now ‘South Africa’). During the 56 years that he lived there, he served his adopted country and its people generously. He was a ‘Victorian’ man. However, he stood out s being unusual amongst his contemporaries because he tried to counter the relentlessly racist tide in South African governmental policy-making - something that he was able both to observe first-hand and also to criticise in the positions of public office that he occupied for many decades.

Ten years after Franz’s death, Steve Biko, the black anti-apartheid activist, was born in the King Williams Town (‘King’). This man, a founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, was callously murdered by the South African apartheid government in 1977. They were terrified by him, his ideas, and his powerful influence. In 2003 when I visited the Steve Biko Foundation headquarters in King, I was shown a room that contained a number of commemorative wall plaques. Each of these celebrated someone who was considered to have been important by the Foundation. With the exception of one, all of the plaques commemorated black Africans involved in the struggles for their rights. The exception was one to remember my great-grandfather. At first sight, there would appear to be little to link a German Jewish immigrant, such as Franz was, with a martyr to the cause of freedom of the black people in South Africa. However, there is a connection. Biko was born and also lived in an African ‘township’ in King Williams Town. Steve’s birthplace, Ginsberg Township, was named in honour of my great-grandfather. Franz wanted it built to give his African workers better housing.

Franz arrived in South Africa with a high-school German education, and then began working as a photographer’s assistant. Within a few years, he became one of King Williams Town’s leading industrialists. Soon after that, he entered local, and then, national politics. In 1927, he was awarded a great honour: he was elected a Senator in the South African Parliament, the first Jew to be so elected.

This book describes the life of my great-grandfather, who left Germany both to seek his fortune and also to escape religious prejudice. In his adopted country, South Africa, he found himself privileged to be a white man accepted by other Europeans on the basis of merit rather than religious beliefs. However, being a man of conscience with great sympathy for his non-European neighbours, he tried to strike a moral balance between easing the lot of his severely disadvantaged non-white compatriots and safeguarding the superior advantages of the white man. Franz exemplified the words of the famous Jewish scholar Hillel the Elder:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?

The book is fully illustrated with photographs and maps




AND AS A KINDLE by clicking HERE

Or just type "SOAP TO SENATE" in the search box of either Amazon (your local regional site) or lulu.com