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The South African Jewish Year Book Database

Compiled by Ann Rabinowitz

This database contains over 1,000 extracted entries from two South African Jewish "Who's Who" books: 1929's The South African Jewish Year Book: Directory of Jewish Organizations and Who's Who in South African Jewry 1929, 5689-90, and 1945's The Jew in South Africa: A record of what individual Jews are doing in various spheres of the country's life.

1929

The 1929 entries contained in the South African Jewish Year Book Database are taken from the 783 biographical entries found in the "Who's Who Section" of a mostly unknown and little used publication that is an essential resource for tracing South African Jewish roots.  The publication is The South African Jewish Year Book: Directory of Jewish Organizations and Who's Who in South African Jewry 1929, 5689-90, edited by Morris De Saxe and Associate Editor I.M. Goodman.  The Year Book was compiled and issued under the joint auspices of The South African Jewish Historical Society and The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and published by The South African Jewish Historical Society, Johnannesburg, 1929.

The 1929 book was the inaugural volume in a series of twelve Year Books for the years 1942-43, 1953-54, 1954-55, 1955-56, 1956-57, 1957-58, 1959, 1959-60, 1960-61, and 1961-62.  As stated in the Year Book, the material provided "an official record of matters Jewish in the southern portion of the continent of Africa" and included a "Who's Who Section" of biographical entries.

There was a further series of three similar volumes for 1965, 1967-68 and 1976-77 that were published privately by editor Leon Feldberg.  The 1976-77 volume included a new separate "Who's Who Section" for those South African Jews who had made aliyah to Israel.  Also, a volume was produced by Dora L. Sowden and Maurice Konvisser, the editors of a book that contained 2,000 "Who's Who" entries which was entitled The Jew in South Africa: A record of what individual Jews are doing in various spheres of the country's life. (Johannesburg: Century Publishing, 1945).

According to Gus Saron, eminent South African historian, in an article published in Jewish Affairs, April, 1981, page 71, the initiative for the publication of the 1929 Year Book was to " ... have available reliable statistics and facts in order to refute the anti-Jewish propaganda which periodically troubled the community".  Further, Saron stated that the newly formed South African Jewish Historical Society had as part of its program "publication in co-operation with the Board of Deputies of a South African Jewish Year Book and official Communal Diary".

A general committee of seven coordinated the gathering of the information for the 1929 book and supervised its publication during an eighteen month period.  This was accomplished in cooperation with an additional seventeen committee members from outside the Johannesburg area in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Springs, Bulawayo, and Salisbury, as well as thirty-eight patrons who provided the wherewithal to publish the book.

The 1929 Year Book was published in limited quantities for subscribers, Jewish institutional use and for public libraries in South Africa.  The main locations where the Year Books can be found in South Africa today are the South African Jewish Board of Deputies Library, Johannesburg; the Kaplan Centre Archives, Cape Town; the Gitlin Library, Cape Town, and other Jewish institutions and the libraries of deposit in Cape Town and Pretoria.

Presently, copies of the Year Books have not been adequately documented in libraries or archives in Great Britain, Israel, or other countries where large numbers of former South Africans now live.  Copies may still be held by those individuals whose families originally purchased them or by other private collectors.

In the U.S., copies may be found at several libraries, such as Harvard University (Call # [Jud 20.20]), Brandeis University (Call # [DS135.A26S6]), Boston Public Library (Call # [DS135.S6S69]), University of Texas-Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (Call # [DS135A26S688]), Library of Congress, Hebraica Section (Call # [DS135.S6569]), and the YIVO Library (no Call #).

The 783 entries in the 1929 Year Book database, by no means represent the entirety of the Jewish community, as there were approximately 71,816 individuals both male and female accounted for in 1926 alone, according to comments made by Louis Hotz in the Year Book.  However, the database does provide a fairly accurate portrait of the enormous impact the community had on South African society as a whole.

Each entry represents an individual who was part of an extended family.  These individuals and their families and descendants have intermarried with many other families in South Africa until the original 783 individuals have become connected to most other Jews in South Africa in some way.  Their heritage is the heritage of the community as a whole.  As South African Jewish families have moved to other parts of the world, they have taken these relationships and expanded them exponentially.  So, even if you live in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Australia, or South America, there is a good possibility that you have relationships with families in South Africa, especially if your family came from Lithuania or Latvia.  This is the major significance of the database for not only South African, but general genealogical research.

The entries follow a basic format and include individuals both living and dead with many entries accompanied by a photograph of the individual.  Submission of the entries from several sources: the individual profiled, their parents, their wives or their children.  Examples of several types of entries are as follows:

BROZIN, Nahum, Merchant. Born in Kupishki, Russia, in 1895. Educated at Vilna, Commercial School. Came to South Africa in 1911. Married Rose Abrahams in 1926; has one child. Town Councillor; Chairman Zionist Society. Secretary, Middelburg Hebrew Congregation. Postal Address: Box 137 Middelburg, Transvaal.

FIRST, Julius, Manager, Union Mattress Co. Born Bauske, Courland, in 1896. Came to South Africa in 1906. Educated in Johannesburg. Married in 1924 to Matilda Leveton; has one child. Ex-Hon. Secretary, Russian Famine Relief Fund. Postal Address: Box 6648, Johannesburg.

GORDON, Mary S., Medical Practitioner, M.B., B.S. Born in Russia in 1890. Educated at Argyle House, Sunderland and University of Durham. Came to South Africa in 1917. Hon. Medical Registrar, Johannesburg Hospital; M.O., Education Department, Transvaal. Postal address: Adderley House, Johannesburg.

HERSMAN, Samuel Barnat, Produce Merchant (Trading as Hersman Bros). Born in Lithuanian Province of Kovno in 1885. Educated in Russia. Came to South Africa in 1902. Married in 1910 to Rebecca Futerman; has four daughters. Committee Member, Capetown Jewish Helping Hand Association; supporter of Jewish and non-Jewish causes. Postal address: P.O. Box 992, Capetown; or 9 Woodside Road, Tamboers Kloof, Capetown.

LURIE, Jacob Ber, Farmer (known as "The Potato King"). Born in Poneves, Lithuania, in 1878. Educated at Yeshiva. Came to South Africa in 1896. Married Anny Shavell in 1912; has three children. Director of the S.A. Palestine Enterprise Co. (the "Binyan"); Director, Johannesburg Poneves Yeshiva Buildings; Trustee, Bloemfontein Congregation; takes a most active part in, and contributes generously to, all communal and Zionist work. Postal Address: Tweespruit, O.F.S.

WOLF, Angel, Merchant. Born in London in 1874. Educated in London. Came to South Africa in 1901. Married to Anna Weiner in 1905; has four children. Responsible for introduction in this country of system of C.O.D. through the post. Postal Address: P.O. Box 399, Capetown.

ZADIK, Joseph Louis, Artist Photographer, Commissioner of Oaths. Born and educated in Sweden. Came to South Africa in 1893. Married to Florence Goldman in 1905; has two children. Past Member of Cape Hospital Board and Committee Cape Jewish Orphanage; Past Committee Member, United Hebrew Schools. Postal Address: 80 Adderley Street, Capetown.

1945

The 1945 entries are from the book The Jew in South Africa: A record of what individual Jews are doing in various spheres of the country's life, edited by Rabbi Maurice Konvisser and Dora Sowden.

The book, published in (Johannesburg by Century Publishing in 1945) contains three hundred and fifty "Who's Who" entries.  It is basically in the same format as the 1929 South African Jewish Year Book.  However, there are a number of differences.  For one, the entries were taken from actual interviews with the individuals unless he/she had already passed away.  In that case, the material was from family and public sources.  The entries contain much more anecdotal material than the 1929 Year Book and there is more attention given to the positions the individual held.  Many of the individuals are not found in any other source.  Finally, there are more religious individuals profiled.  One of the more interesting pieces is for the following personality:

COHEN, WolfOne of the early pioneers on the Rand and one of the leading figures in the ranks of traditional Judaism in the country.  Founder of the Rand Steam Matzo Factory Ltd., and of Cohen's Bakery.  Born in 1848 in Pumpiani, Lithuania, came to South Africa in 1895 when he immediately concentrated on the manufacture of Matzoth.  Imported Matzoth were retailed in Johannesburg at that time at the almost prohibited figure of 2/6 per lb., and the Rand Steam Matzo Factory attained within a very short time an annual production, which at that time was sufficient for the needs of the whole of Transvaal Jewry.

During the Boer War, when the British were advancing in the Free State, and great difficulties were experienced in carrying on the industry, Mr. Cohen was granted a special permit by the Boer Government which enabled him to travel to Bloemfontein for the purpose of obtaining supplies of Kosher flour.  While this flour was being ground in Bloemfontein the British Army was approaching the city and the noise of battle could be distinctly heard in the mill.  When the occupation of Johannesburg was becoming imminent, the Boer troops attempted to commandeer Mr. Cohen's supply of flour, but the plan was frustrated by Dr. (now Mr. Justice) F.E.T. Krause,, who at that time was commandant of the town.

In 1903 the factory was transferred to Ophirton where it is still situated to-day.  Subsequently the Rand Steam Matzo Factory was floated in the Rand Steam Matzo Factory Ltd., with Mr. H. Beare, V. Freed, Rabbi Rosenzweig and his son Mr. M. Cohen as directors.  The factory employs 100 per cent Jewish labour and is conducted under most hygienic conditions and on strictly traditional Jewish lines.

Mr. Cohen was one of the founders of the Beth Hamedrah in Fox Street, and of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodel in Doornfontein.

Mr. Cohen died at the ripe old age of 90 years on the 1st May, 1938, and left in his will considerable sums of money for all Jewish institutions in Johannesburg, and for a number of Talmud Torahs in Eastern Europe.  His estate which is not to be wound up for 50 years makes ample provision for his grand, great-grand children, should any of them desire to study Rabbinics in any of the Yeshivas of Europe and Palestine.

In many of the entries, the rabbinical antecedents of the individual are provided.  These are not often found in other available sources such as the South African Jewish Year Books.  For instance, the piece for the following person:

GOLDBERG, JacobDiamond Dealer.  Grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Peisach of Tarnow and son of the Gaon Naphtali Zewi Halevi Goldberg, Rabbi of Tarnow for 40 years, author of the well-known Talmudical work "Beth Halevi."  Born in 1885 in Tarnow, Galicia.  Studied for many years Talmudical literature with his brother Rabbi of Povianetz, near Lodz, Poland.  Came to S. Africa in 1911; married in 1917 to Hetty Rosenberg; travelled widely in the various countries of Europe and America.  Postal address: 140, Shakespeare House, Johannesburg.

Of note too are the photographs in the book as many of the individuals are pictured in military attire.  This is due to the book's publication at the end of WWII.

A copy of the book is to be found at YIVO in New York, the Gitlin Library in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Jewish Studies Collection at the University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.

THE DATABASE

The database itself does not contain all of the information that is available in the biographical entries as noted above.  However, it does have the most pertinent facts that are to be found in the following fields:

  • Page

    This refers to the page on which the entry appears in the Year Book.

  • Photo

    There are approximately two hundred and sixty-four photographs that accompany the entries.  Many of the entries that had photographs were of individuals who had already passed away.  Unfortunately, no dates of death are provided in the entries if this is the case.  A way to cross check this is to look in the South African burials listed in the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR).

    In some instances, the photos may be the only ones known of certain individuals or the only one of the individual at a certain age.  A case in point, is the photograph for Abraham Benjamin Kavonick.  His children had never seen the photograph before and it pictured him at an age where there were no other surviving photographs.

  • Surname / Firstname

    The last name is fairly straightforward.  However, some entries include the present name of the individual such as Kentridge and their original name such as Kantrovitch.  Other examples are Lomey / Lomiansky or Torbin / Press.  Or, there were examples of names that individuals were also known by such as Stanfield or Starfield.  There were double names too such as Kossuth-Sieradzki.  The names reflected the infusion of a wide variety of Jewish individuals from all over the known Jewish world.  There are no noticeably oriental or Sephardic names in the entries.  The women profiled are generally listed under their married names and their maiden names where provided are found after their first name.  An example is the well-known South African writer: MILLIN, Sarah Gertrude Liebson.

    The first name of the individual may either be their full name, as in Morris Isaac or Hector Ernest Solomon, or their name along with their nickname, as in Morris or Mannie, or their initials such as M. I. for Moses Isaac.  In some cases, the entry may include a professional title such as Dr. (Doctor), Rabbi, or Rev. (Reverend).  There are also titles such as those bestowed by the British Empire for services rendered as in "Sir".  Two cases in point are Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and Sir Lewis Richardson.

  • Year Arrived / Address

    The arrival data pertains only to those who were born outside South Africa.  There were a number of individuals who do not have information listed as they were either born in South Africa or they did not provide the information for their entry.  The earliest arrival in South Africa was 1876 and the latest was just one year prior to the publication of the Year Book in 1928.

    The bulk of the individuals profiled in the entries were among the earliest arrivals during the period of the greatest development of South Africa in the era of the discovery of gold and diamonds.  Many were part of the mass evacuation from Europe due to the harsh economic and political conditions in the 1880's and 1890's and the first part of the 1900's.  Later arrivals came when entry was denied them in other countries.  However, a number of individuals were not fleeing oppression or the poverty of their lives, but came with a profession such as medical practitioner because South Africa offered unbounded economic opportunities in their field of endeavor.

    The address refers to the town in South Africa where the person lived or received mail at the time of the publication of the Year Book.  In many cases, a post office box was used instead of an actual street address, especially in the case of professional listings for physicians or lawyers.  The database lists the town name only.

  • Father

    There were only twenty-four first names provided in the total of thirty-two entries for the first name of the father.  Some were initials only or a professional title such as Reverend (Rev.) or Rabbi.  There were only thirty-two entries that had the last name of the father provided out of the total of 783 entries.  In some rare cases, in the entry, it was stated that the individual was the first or second son of the father.

  • Mother

    There were only two entries that provided the mother's name and one was not an actual name, but the honorific Mrs.

  • Spouse / Date Married

    The first name of the wife ranged from typical Jewish names such as Hannah Leah, Rachel, Rebecca and Shulamith to more modern permutations such as Aurelia, Carrie, Clara, Maud, Nancy, Phoebe and Zephyra.  Also, there were a number who listed only the initial of their first name.

    The last name of the wife refers to her maiden name.  Many individuals had already taken on anglicized names such as Burns, Coral, Hill, Kay, Green, Sanders, Smith and Watson.  There may be some cases where the individuals married non-Jews and this is difficult to determine just from the name.  Many retained their original names such as Baiewsky, Kantorowich, Mikhalisky and Sieradzki.  In some cases, the last or maiden name of the wife appeared to be the same as that of the husband.  It was felt that this did not indicate that the wife was related to the husband only that the husband had written in her married name as opposed her maiden name for the entry.  The data also indicated that there were several sisters who married brothers.

    There were two hundred and fifty-three entries where the individual did not mention their wife's name.  This was particularly true of medical practitioners and dental surgeons who, for the most part, did not provide family information.  They may have felt that the listing was for professional purposes only.  In some cases, the individual may very well have been a single man, but this was not usually the reason the wife's name was left off the entry.

    The earliest marriage recorded was 1877 and the latest was the year of publication of the Year Book.  There were two hundred and fifty-three entries that did not include the date of marriage.  As the entries contain both the date of marriage and the date of entry to South Africa, it is possible to hypothesize that the individual possibly married someone from his/her hometown or its vicinity if they married prior to their arrival.  Many individuals married after arrival to women who were also from their hometowns and who had come to South Africa too.  A number had gone back to their birthplaces to bring back a bride.  Familiarity with the family names from the individual's birthplace can confirm this.

  • Year of Birth

    The earliest date of birth was 1853 and the latest was 1908. For the most part, almost all the entries had birth dates. However, there were some seventy-one entries that did not have a date of birth provided. One entry gave the Hebrew date of birth and this was converted to the modern equivalent.

  • Place of Birth

    There are approximately two hundred and nine different towns of birth represented in this field and two hundred and four entries that did not contain the town information. The town names range from South African, South-West Africa and Rhodesian towns such as Johannesburg, Durban, Kimberley, Windhoek, Salisbury, and Bulawayo, to towns in Australia, England, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, and Russia. The town of birth was usually given in either the old Russian or Yiddish name or the modern Lithuanian name being used at that time. There are a few town names such as Neinstadt, Lithuania, that were either names where there were several towns by the same or similar name or they could not be located in standard texts such as Where Once We Walked by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack. Also, there were a few entries that used a guberniya name such as in Vilna Guberniya rather than an actual town name.

    There are twenty-four countries of birth in this category and the largest number of entries came from Lithuania with one hundred ninety-one entries, followed by South Africa with one hundred and eighty-nine and England with one hundred and eleven. The country names used are those in existence at the time the person left to come to South Africa or the modern name as of 1929. Also, twenty-four entries did not contain the country of birth information at all.

    In eighty-one of the entries, "Russia" was given as the country of birth which is thought to be a generic designation for all those places located in the Russian Empire. When "Russia" was used, the individual usually did not provide the town of birth, so it is difficult to determine exactly where they were from originally unless they were known to have come from a specific town. In cases where Kovno is given as the town of origin, it may refer to the Kovno Guberniya rather than the actual city of Kovno.

  • Occupation

    There were approximately eighty-one types of occupational endeavors listed with many representing similar or the same professions written in different terms. The most numerous occupations were those of merchant which came first with the legal profession coming in a close second and medicine third.

    For the most part, the occupational names were not standardized at all. Doctors, for instance, were listed as medical practitioner, physician, consulting surgeon, surgeon, consulting gastroenterologist, and specialist nervous and mental disease.

    The legal profession had a number of terms used depending on the level of expertise or training. Examples of these terms are advocate, advocate of the Supreme Court, attorney, barrister, Kings Counsel, lawyer and solicitor.

    Some of those profiled who played a prominent role in the development of Jewish institutions in South Africa had quite modest entries as is the case of Wolf Hillman:

    Hillman, Wolf, Merchant. Born in Zabelen. Resided in Talsein, former Kourland, now known as Latvia. Came to South Africa in 1891. President of the South African Jewish Orphanage, Johannesburg. Postal Address: P.O. Box 2954, Johannesburg.

    A number of individuals did not list their occupations at all as their communal activities far overshadowed their profession endeavors.  Quite a few of these were instrumental in the development of Zionism both in a South Africa context and even worldwide.  Four of these were Abraham Couzin, Manual Leo Gennusow, Jacob Gitlin and Benzion S. Hersch.

    Some individuals put retired and left it at that.

    The women were, for the most part, active communal workers or involved in charitable endeavors.  Where women did have a specific profession listed, it is to be noted that they were usually pioneers in their field.  Some of these early South African Jewish career women were Mary S. Gordon, one of seven medical practitioners listed, Hannah Greenberg, a solicitor, Jennie Trakman Hayman, a dentist, Gertrude Liebson Millin, the writer, and Eugenie Sachs, a chemist.

  • Business

    There are one hundred and sixty entries that have a specific business associated with the individual.  In addition, the "Who's Who Section" has sixty-two advertisements throughout which give some idea of the many types of companies that the Jewish population was involved in.  In some cases where the individual did not list their business, it was mentioned in an accompanying advertisement and this has been added to this field.

Instructions for Using the Search Engine

The search engine allows the researcher to use either text or numbers to locate information.  When searching for the names of individual entries you can use the exact spelling of the name or you can choose the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex.  Very often, it is more productive to use the Soundex as it may bring up a spelling of your family name that you did not know existed.

For searches of the town or country names, it is best to use the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex if you do not know the exact modern spelling of the name.  If you do know the exact modern spelling of the town or country then you can do a regular search.

There are various types of data you can search for such as all those entries that had photographs . . . just search on "photo".  Or, you can search for all the female entries by searching on "female".

Searching by year can bring up all the individuals who came to South Africa in a particular year or those who were born or married in a specific year.

Conclusion

The foregoing discussion of the contents of the database is just a beginning for those interested in pursuing their South African Jewish roots.  There is much more to learn from many other valuable resources.

To continue your research, visit the JewishGen Southern African SIG Web Site or join the Southern African SIG.

You will find a wealth of information from these two resources that will assist you in directing your efforts towards the information you need.

Acknowledgements

The 1929 Year Book was very kindly supplied by Debby Ozinsky Myers, Cape Town, a member of the Kupishok SIG and the Southern Africa SIG.  Assistance with various inquiries in South Africa was provided by Helen Glass Katz, the Gitlin Library, Cape Town, and Veronica Penkin Belling, Librarian, Jewish Studies Collection, University of Cape Town.  Additional assistance was provided by Dr. Saul Issroff, London (Coordinator, Southern African SIG) and Roy Ogus, Palo Alto.

For the 1945 book, thanks go to both Veronica Penkin Belling, Librarian, Jewish Studies Collection, University of Cape Town, who brought the book to my attention through her publication, "Bibliography of South African Jewry", and to Dr. Saul Issroff who provided a copy of the book so that this database could be created.

Note: The database is copyrighted and may not be used for commercial purposes.

Ann Rabinowitz
December 1999


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