Day Two in Warsaw was highlighted by a visit to JHI Warsaw
I watched a 45 minute movie on Jewish life in Warsaw during the Holocaust.
Followed by two exhibitions:
“AFTER THE HOLOCAUST. THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF POLISH JEWS 1944–1950 – a unique collection of documents, photographs and films illustrating the way the CCPJ operated.
SALVAGED: The collections of paintings, drawings and sculpture held by the JHI Museum. According to the JHI, this exhibition is an attempt to break the silence surrounding these little known yet excellent artists.
I also caught up with Aleksandra Dybkowska of the JHI Genealogy department
The Jewish Historical Institute was created in 1947 as a continuation of the Central Jewish Historical Commission, founded in 1944. The Jewish Historical Institute Association is the corporate body responsible for the building and the Institute’s holdings. The Institute falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. In 2009 it was named after Emanuel Ringelblum. The institute is a repository of documentary materials relating to the Jewish historical presence in Poland. It is also a centre for academic research, study and the dissemination of knowledge about the history and culture of Polish Jewry.
The most valuable part of the collection is the Warsaw Ghetto Archive, known as the Ringelblum Archive (collected by the Oyneg Shabbos). It contains about 6000 documents (about 30 000 individual pieces of paper).
Other important collections concerning World War II include testimonies (mainly of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust), memoirs and diaries, documentation of the Joint and Jewish Self-Help (welfare organizations active in Poland under the occupation), and documents from the Jewish Councils (Judenräte)
The section on the documentation of Jewish historical sites holds about 40 thousand photographs concerning Jewish life and culture in Poland.
The Institute has published a series of documents from the Ringelblum Archive, as well as numerous wartime memoirs and diaries.
Jump up ^Stephan Stach Geschichtsschreibung und politische Vereinnahmungen: Das Jüdische Historische Institut in Warschau 1947-1968, in: Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts / Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook VII (2008), 401-431, ISBN 978-3-525-36934-0
Please contact me if your towns are listed here or your dorp is near one of these towns.
In front of the poster of my cousin, Phyllis Zinn Jowell z”l
With researchers Larna Bronstein and Elona Steinfeld
Some profiles of towns already covered in previous volumes
Witbank is a major coal mining centre in Mpumulanga situated 115 km east of Pretoria. The first coal deposits were discovered by a Jew called Woolf Harris in 1878. These became more important as the goldfields of the Witwatersrand developed and the country became industrialised. Other Jews arrived before 1896 and played an important role in the coal industry, in business and in civic life of the surrounding areas. The first minyan took place in 1905 and their first synagogue was built in 1913. Now only two Jews remain.
Pietersburg is situated in the Limpopo province 275 km north of Pretoria. In 1881 a new centre was laid out to serve Eersterling in the northern Transvaal where gold had been discovered. The town which developed was named Pietersburg in 1886 became a Municipality in 1903 and was the seat of the Transvaal Government. The Jews were inextricably linked to the growth of the town which became a major industrial, commercial and financial centre. The Zoutpansberg Hebrew Congregation was established in 1897 which included Pietersburg. In 1912 it became the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation which also served other neighbouring towns. A new synagogue was opened in 1953. But by 1960 the vibrant community began to decline. Only 13 Jews remain in the town.
The historic town of Stellenbosch in situated 48 km east of Cape Town. It is the second oldest town in South Africa and is famous for its educational institutions, historical monuments and old oak trees. The first Jewish settlers from Lithuania were there in 1885. In 1903 the community bought a house which they consecrated as the Stellenbosch Hebrew Congregation synagogue and used until 1920s. They built a small synagogue and a communal hall in 1932 and always had good relations with the Stellenbosch University and the people of the town. It remains a fully functioning congregation and community centre. The Jewish community of 19 families was instrumental in restoring the “Skuinshuis” complex in 1975. Over 200 years old, and the second dwelling in the town, it is the best known landmark in Stellenbosch. The façade was probably built in 1803 after a fire and bears the Historical Monuments Plaque. This remains a fully functioning congregation.
Springbok’s history goes to the time when Governor Simon Van der Stel discovered copper in the area of Namaqualand. The town lies on the main road to Namibia and was founded in 1862. Several of the earliest pioneers of the area were Jews but the first services were only held in 1911 and the congregation was founded in 1919. A synagogue was built in 1929 and served the congregation until it closed in 1972 when the Namaqualand Hebrew distributed and the building became the Joseph and Rebecca Jowell Museum depicting the life of the early Jewish and Afrikaner pioneers .
Graaff Reinet is the oldest town in the Eastern Cape Province and has many famous monuments. The 1820 settlers from England and Jewish immigrants, like the Mosenthals, from Germany, came to the region and helped to develop this part of the country. The Hebrew congregation was started in 1839. Business profited from merino sheep farming and the sale of ostrich feathers. The defunct congregation was revived in 1941 when Manfred Halberstad from Germany revived the services. He went on Aliyah in 1966 and the synagogue was sold in 1975. Today only two Jews remain. In order to pay tribute to the role the community had played in the development of the area, a monument to the Jewish smous was unveiled in 1989.
Hermanus lies 120 km south east of Cape Town. The first Jews from Lithuania arrived in c1880 and the congregation was founded in 1906. The local community is strengthened by the influx of holiday makers each summer. Unlike other communities, when it fell into a decline the congregation rejuvenated itself. After a lapse of 23 years a Rosh Hashanah services were held again in 1998. In 2006, after several meetings of the fully functioning community, the old synagogue was sold and a new building was completed using the proceeds of the sale. Hermanus was chosen by the late Chief Rabbi and Mrs Cyril Harris as their place of retirement and he passed away there in 2005.
Vryheid is one of the oldest towns in Natal lying north of Durban. At the start of the Anglo-Boer war in 1899, Vryheid was occupied by British forces and was later incorporated into Natal. The earliest Jewish families, mostly from Eastern Europe settled in 1880 and were involved with the start of the town. Famous Jewish families like the Trens, Baranovs, Werners and Kantrowitches (later Kentrich) were amongst others who helped to start the congregation which was the first in Natal. The community peaked at 65 families in the 1950s and today no longer exists. A Memorial Trust was formed in 1987 and the records, the Sifrei Torah and remains of the synagogue building were placed in the Durban Jewish club where it still remains.
Umhlanga Rocks is situated on the seacoast north of Durban and was originally a sugar plantation. Most of the early Jews were there in 1890. It is a very popular seaside resort so that visitors and residents come and go. Chabad House was established in 1987 and has supplied a very adequate religious centre for Jews along the Natal coast. Recently a beautiful new Jewish Centre has been built consisting of a new synagogue and Rabbi, Jewish day school and nursery school.
Winburg is 116km north of Bloemfontein in the Free State. The first Jewish settlers arrived in 1870 from Germany and Eastern Europe. Several wellknown families settled there and members of the community fought on both sides in the Anglo-Boer War. The Winburg Congregation was started in 1900, the first Synagogue was built in 1922 and reached 120 persons in 1936. By 1951 only five families were left. When the synagogue closed in 1977 much of its furniture was sent to new Kempton Park synagogue near Johannesburg. Rabbi Casper sent one Sefer Torah to Israel.
Welkom is a new town established especially to serve the people, including many young Jewish families, who came to work in the new gold mines in the Free State. Before the discovery of gold in 1939, there were only a few Jews in the area. The Anglo American organisation created it as a model town with all facilities. The Odendalsrus-Welkom Hebrew committee was formed in 1955 and a synagogue/hall was built for services and functions for the approx. 330 Jews in the town. A minister was appointed in 1957. The first Sifrei Torah were borrowed from nearby congregations. Despite help from the SAJBD and other congregations the number of persons declined fast and today only four are left. In 1995 the synagogue/hall was sold and congregation closed.
South African Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth
The South African Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth (SAFBH) was established in Johannesburg under the chairmanship of David Ellman in 1982. This followed a very successful joint project in the form of an exhibition documenting the Jews who lived in the large towns in South Africa, undertaken by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), the South African Zionist Federation and the then Beth Hatefutsoth Museum (or Museum of the Diaspora) in Tel Aviv, Israel. The exhibition was first shown in Israel, and then in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
Following requests for information for its database from the Museum of the Diaspora and also a trip to Eastern Europe by a group of South African Jews of Lithuanian origin which included members of SAFBH, the organisation began to focus on recording the history and accomplishments of Jewish communities and individuals in the country areas of South Africa.
This series of volumes on Jewish Life in the South African Country Communities covers the history of Jewish immigration to this country from as early as 1820 when a group of 18 Jews arrived with the 1820 Settlers. They came looking for a better life, either escaping economic hardship, conscription into the Tzar’s army, pogroms and antisemitism throughout Eastern Europe. They knew little or nothing of the conditions they were to encounter, many could not speak the local languages and most left behind families, some of whom they never saw again. The immigrants, however, never forgot their Jewish roots. They formed communities and congregations, found a location in which to hold services, and often even built synagogues in the little villages or towns where they lived.
From these humble beginnings the Jews of South Africa made a huge contribution to the growth of this country. They were pioneers in industry, science, medicine, farming, education and many other fields.
This fascinating story, at present covering five volumes based on different regions of South Africa, has been extracted from an extensive database captured over the past 20 years, from records preserved in the archives of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and of the South African Zionist Federation, the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at UCT and from interviews among many other sources listed in the books.
Rose Norwich and Adrienne Kollenberg are the co-chairmen and project convenors of the organisation.
For Purchasing of books, the submission of material and donations to this project please contact Elona at email@example.com
White Schooldays: Coming-of-Age In Apartheid South Africa
by Ismé Bennie (Author)
Ismé Bennie reflects on her life of privilege as a young white Jewish South African growing up during the tumultuous and unjust Apartheid era.
As a young girl she was not aware of how advantaged she was, she was a child at play under the South African sun.
White Schooldays is a reflection on the relative normalcy of Bennie’s life in the 1940s and 1950s – a life filled with her pets, family, school and friends. As a Jew, Bennie was a minority within a minority, but she still enjoyed the benefits of life as a white South African. Her everyday experiences stand in stark contrast to the suffering of the black community, the violence and discrimination that went on around her.
White Schooldays is Bennie’s homage to a way of life that was special and beautiful for those who were privileged to lead it. In this collection of pieces, with a strong Jewish thread running through it, she paints a picture of daily life as she remembers it.
But these memories are underscored with the political reality of the times!
Preview one of Isme’s stories, “George or Holidays By the Sea”, which appears in this book,
This story can be found on the Muizenberg KehilaLink here:
Ismé Bennie is a graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. She started her career as a librarian, but a move to Canada led her to become one of the most respected women in Canadian broadcasting. She has received numerous honors including the Canadian Film and Television Production Association Personal Achievement Award; the Jack Chisholm Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Toronto Women in Film and Television Outstanding Achievement Award.
Now writing full time, Bennie has published articles on a variety of topics, from food to crime fiction, and contributes to New York-based VideoAge International on Canadian media issues.
I have set up three basic websites for PE, Pretoria and Oudtshoorn, forerunners of the Kehilalink websites.
These websites celebrate and document the Jews of these cities from its pioneers, through the families who lived and worked in these cities over the decades to those still there today. It will tell the story of the Jewish institutions, the shuls and other Jewish buildings and cemeteries.
The site is hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society. It is managed by Eli Rabinowitz
Please join us on this journey – and if you or your family have connections with these cities then we look forward to hearing from you and receiving your stories, memories, photographs and family biographies. Only by doing so, will the story of Jewish life will be revealed and available for the benefit of current and future generations – wherever they may be. We have made a start in July 2014 and created the possibility – now please will you help to fill in the details by telling us about your family.
Time is of the essence as the number of those that can “tell the story” and the remaining community dwindles. So please contact me to send material and for any queries.
Here are the links:
Please send in your photos and stories and fill in the questionnaires
To see a working kehilalink, visit Kimberley:
Thanks again to Geraldine Auerbach MBE in London, who has been an inspiring partner in the Kimberley kehilalink project.
Those from Kimberley, please send us your photos and stories as well.