Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
South African Jewish Communities
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2003 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Date: 27 February 2003
(Material submitted by Ann Rabinowitz as it appears in the S.A. Jewish Report and with permission of Edith Friedlander and her family).
De Aar in the Northern Cape is well known as the second most important railway junction in South Africa. Not so well known is the fact that it was established 100 years ago by two Jewish brothers from Courland, Wulf and Isaac Friedlander. (Note: the Friedlander family originated in Sabile, Latvia).
Edith Friedlander, Wulf's daughter-in-law, was invited to attend De Aar's official centenary celebrations in Oct 2002 by Gerhard Engelbrecht, the organiser. "We drove for 10 hours through the Karoo in the heat, but when we arrived" said Edith, "the warm welcome we received made the journey worth while."
Edith's late husband, CK Friedlander, the legendary sports commentator and attorney, was born there in 1912. His father and uncle arrived in South Africa in 1878 and opened an hotel and trading station in Renosterfontein.
They sold everything from calico to cocoa. It was a wide expanse of bare Karoo scrub, with many sheep, and few people, hot in summer, bleakly cold in winter. For 11,000 pounds they bought the nearby farm De Aar, and laid it out as a town initially called Friedlandertown. The Friedlanders planned a model township with wide streets and donated building sites for the cemetery, churches, a synagogue, schools, sports fields, town hall and hospital. They also made an application for De Aar to receive municipal status (which it received on May 20, 1904) and for a Town Council to be elected.
"We started off by driving round the town looking for any sign of the family's role in the founding of the town. We found Friedlander Street next to the station, which used to be the main street, and streets named after Jenny and Alida, their wives, and their sister, Amalia. We could find no trace of their houses." Their original hotel and store, built of wood and iron, had burnt down when a drunken soldier overturned a candle, during the Boer War. The army helped to rebuild it but this time the Friedlanders insisted on bricks. The hotel still stands, basically unchanged and was flood lit for the occasion. "I did not expect to find such an impressive building!" said Edith. The hotel was well-known for its good table, organised entertainment and was famous through the area for the silent films shown there. Background music was provided by "Morgan's organ." One night Morgan, who had dozed off, woke up in the middle of a death scene, and thinking it was the end of the film, hammered out "Vat you goed en trek Ferreira," cheered by the audience!!
Edith and her party looked for the Shul which is now the Apostolic church. They only recognized it by the convex projection behind the building, which had enclosed the Aron Hakodesh. Edith's son, Hessel, has the Friedlander's Sefer Torah from the Shul, which is now in the Yeshivah Gedolah in Johannesburg.
We went to the Jewish cemetery which has been vandalized, and Isaac's Matzeivah lying broken on the ground. There are two elderly Jews left in De Aar.
She found it sad that there was no recognition anywhere in the town of the major role played by the Friedlanders in its history. Wulf and Isaac each had nine children. One of Wulf's daughters was Feodora Clouts, one of the first women to graduate from the University of Cape Town. One of Isaac's daughters was married to the well-known Jewish historian and educator, Dr Louis Hermann.
Of interest was the Olive Schreiner connection with the history of De Aar. She was a friend of the Friedlander family, and there are letters from her, one of which congratulates Johanna upon the birth of her son, "CK." Her home is now a restaurant.
The De Aar municipality had organized an extensive centenary programme. Among the events were a national sheep counting contest, choirs, dancing, Cape tenors, sporting activities, rickshaw rides, a firework display, and the arrival of the first steam train in forty years, 3 hours late, aroused tremendous excitement! It was accompanied by 3 television crews. So warm was the welcome to the passengers that the Spoornet representative said on his arrival that it brought tears to his eyes. South Africa is a magnet for steam train enthusiasts. It is planned to make the Jhb-De-Aar steam train trip an annual event.
Edith was asked to say a few words at the dinner sponsored by the Mayor, B. J. Markman, the first Black mayor of the city and Michael Friedlander, grandson of Wulf, a Professor of Physics at Washington University in St. Louis, U.S.A., sent a message which Mr. Engelbrecht read out.
"At first I felt ambivalent about going," said Edith, "but my children, Hessel and Rae, encouraged me and I am glad I went as I was the only member of the family able to be there. I felt I owed it the Friedlanders to see that their contribution to the town's development was acknowledged."