Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
South African Literature in Yiddish and Hebrew
by Prof. Joseph Sherman © 2000
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2003 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Memoirs have always been a chief feature of all Yiddish literature, and fifteen volumes of this genre have appeared in South Africa. The motivation to produce these varied: some writers never really adjusted to life in the harsh environment of Africa, and looked back with nostalgia to that world they had left behind in Eastern Europe, so savagely obliterated by the Holocaust.
The horrors of the Holocaust itself were movingly chronicled in two Yisker-bikher (Books of Remembrance) edited by South Africans and published in Johannesburg: _Yisker-bukh fun Rakishok un Umgegnt_ (Remembrance Book of Rakishok and Environs) edited by Mendel Tabatznik (1952), and _Yisker-bukh Khelm_ (Chelm Remembrance Book), edited by Hersh Shisler (1954).
Personal Holocaust experiences were movingly chronicled by two survivors who emigrated to South Africa after World War 2: Levi Shalit in two volumes of essays, _A Yid in der Velt_ (A Jew in the World) (1972) and _Tsaytn Dertseylen_ (Time's Tales) (1974) and David Wolpe, in several stories which have appeared in South Africa, Israel and the United States.
Foremost among South African Yiddish writers of non-fiction was the polemicist, researcher, and historian Leibl Feldman (1896-1975). Not content with vigorously describing his own early adventures as a diamond digger, Feldman, a passionately committed Yiddishist with strong Marxist leanings, became the earliest chronicler of South African Jewish life.
He published five books of history, providing indispensable documentation of early Jewish settlement in South Africa, particularly in the ostrich boom town of Oudtshoorn (Cape) and the gold rush city of Johannesburg (Transvaal) at the turn of the century. He also investigated the history of the Indians in South Africa, and published a controversial essay of generally unfavourable impressions after several visits to the newly-founded State of Israel.