Author Topic: The Jewish Contribution on the Development of South West Africa/Namibia  (Read 4277 times)

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Offline Hail Columbia

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South West Africa is a land of anomalies and surprises. One of these is that so few Jews should have contributed so much to the development of the country with so little known of this fact.

Decades before Adolf L├╝deritz established a trading post at Angra Pequena on the coast of what was then Namaland in 1883, an Anglo-Jewish family called de Pass had preceded him.

Aaron de Pass was the founder of a mercantile shipping company at the Cape. He gent trading ships to Namaland, carrying the first post in that area, prospected for minerals, worked the guano on Ichabo island, established fisheries at Sandwich Harbour and se nt salted fish from there via Cape Town to the Isle of Malagasy.

Before Adolf L├╝deritz appeared on the scene, de Pass had already acquired trading and mineral rights at Angra Pequena (later L├╝deritzbucht) from the local Nama chief and had opened an unsuccessful mine f├╝r silver and lead on the mainland opposite Pomona island. All unknowingly his workers had been shovelling away sand in which a fortune in diamonds lay concealed.

De Pass was largely instrumental in persuading the British Government at the Cape to annex the islands off the South West coast but had been unsuccessful in getting Britain to extend its sphere of influence to the mainland. This would have entirely changed the fate of Namibia leading to all sorts of interesting conjectures. During the German rule of the South West African colony, an eminent German Jew called Emil Rathenau became involved in the development of the territory. He was an outstanding engineer and financial genius who had pioneered the German electrical industry and founded the Allgemeinen Elektrizit├Ąts-Gesellschaft in Germany. In 1907 he established a research company for the study of irrigation problems in South West Africa and also was a founder of the German South West African Mining Syndicate.

His son, Walther Rathenau, played a still greater role in the fortunes of the South West African colony. He was one of the most outstanding figures in Germany, a man of many talents, an engineer, industrialist, leading personality in the economic life and distinguished author of several books on subjects ranging tram economic theory to philosophy.

He was therefore considered eminently suitable to accompany the German State Secretary, Bernhard Dernburg, on an official tour of the German colonies, with a view to devising ways and means of running them on a more businesslike basis. The South West African Protectorate particularly was proving to be a heavy financial burden.

These two important personages arrived in South West Africa in mid 1908, soon after the discovery of diamonds. Rathenau gave valuable advice that featured in the decisions that followed to put the infant German diamond industry on a sound basis, as well as other administrative reforms.

The official Memorandum that emanated tram their visit came tram his pen. It was incidentally his first contact with politics and it is of interest to note that ultimately he became Foreign Minister of Germany, accomplishing much for his Fatherland and being murdered for his pains by extremists.

Still another German Jew who was involved in the early development of the colony was an associate and friend of Walther Rathenau named Carl F├╝rstenberg. He was the Manager of the Berliner Handels-Gesellschaft and was one of the most popular figures in German banking circles. F├╝rstenberg helped to promote the struggling new South West diamond industry and also assisted in organising the construction of the railway line tram L├╝deritzbucht to Kubub.

Then came the South African mandatory period in which Jews were initiators in almost every sphere of development. This included farming, the cattle and karakul industries, meat processing, commerce, mining, fishing, the various professions, civic affairs, social welfare and service clubs, cultural developments and sporting interests - in fact just about everything with the exception of politics.

Jewish cattle dealers pioneered the cattle industry, travelling on indescribably rough roads to visit remote farms. They sorted and graded the cattle, paying cash on the spot to the needy farmer. Amongst these men were the brothers Max and David Lentin, later joined by Jacob Tobias, who went on epic treks with cattle for hundreds of kilometres through waterless and difficult country. These trips often lasted several months.

Then Wolf Davids pioneered the export of frozen meat, opening up fresh markets. He was the General Manager of the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Co. Ltd of Cape Town. He spent a great deal of time in the mandated territory, organising a cold storage factory and abattoir at Walvis Bay which was opened in 1927. He was also responsible for the development of the dairy industry and initiated the first fishing factory at Walvis Bay.

Hans Isenberg and Jakob de Jongh developed the meat processing industry. Both were butchers by profession and later cattle farmers.

South West Jews have proved to be particularly successful farmers, revealing both enterprise and initiative. Among the farming giants were the brothers Ewald and Ernst Luchtenstein, well known karakul farmers in the south of the territory. In fact Jews have played a great role in the development and expansion of the karakul industry. Originally the trade was primarily in the hands of three German firms who controlled the prices paid to the farmers. When Hitler came to power in Germany, the Jews of Leipzig, who had been in the forefront of the fur trade fled to London, which then became the centre of the fur market. Same of them emigrated to South West where they did much to advance the karakul industry, They were men like Grische Geronimus who imported the first grey karakul sheep into the territory, Aladar Koellner, Selmar and Erwin Sandelowsky.

When the karakul market slumped, one of South West's best known businessmen, Sam Cohen, searched for new markets while on a business visit to the United States. He persuaded a large American karakul importer to establish a buying office in Windhoek. A new company was formed called the United Karakul Exporters of which he became Chairman. At one time it was the biggest shipper of karakul pelts in the territory.

Then Barney Gamsu who represented the Port Elizabeth firm of Mosenthal's in Windhoek, successfully persuaded the company into entering the karakul market. They gent a consignment of pelts to the auction house Eastwood and Holt which resulted in it becoming involved in the rapidly expanding karakul industry.

The firm of Pupkewitz built up a karakul wool export department which at one time was the biggest in South West. Jews arrived from widely divergent parts of the world bringing their own particular talents and expertise. There were the Beilin brothers from Paris and Brussels. the Traut brothers and Jack Fisehler from New York and a Persian Jew called Habibulah Shabanzazi who, operating under the name of H. Shaban. also contributed to developments in the karakul trade, as well as selling Persian carpets. Later the Stern brothers - Walter and Heinz added their skills. while Kurt Stern became a member of the Karakul Advisory Board, serving for almost thirty years.

In the meanwhile all over the territory little country stores were being opened largely by Jewish shopkeepers. There was Morris Goldstein in Outja, the Pieters family in Usakos, Phillips in Otjiwarongo, Maurice Jafte in Okahandja, Katz in Berseba, Jock Silber in Gobabis, Chaim Charney and Sternberg in Mariental, Shar in Swakopmund, Pupkewitz in Kalkrand, Nurick in Asab, Druker in Aus, Frank in Stamprietfontein, Jacobson in Oste Rode, Sher in Oshakati, Hirschowitz in Kalkfeld, Grundleger in Omitara and a hardworking Jewish community in Keetmanshoop which included Silber, Gordon, Paradisgarten, Phillips, Kani- kowsky, Isaacson, Dreyer, Jacobson, Sirkin and Singer.

In Windhoek there was Liwinowski who had the largest and smartest ladies' shop in town, Binnes and Newman, Pupkewitz, Feinstein, Swatt and Shar, Berman, the tailor Benjamin, the up-holsterer Kornblum and Kaplan. There were Jewish manufacturers' agents and distributors like Barney Gamsu and Harry Brener as well as many Jewish commercial travellers.

Jews also pioneered the motor industry. Nathan Hirschowitz, together with Willie Tr├╝ck, established the first motor business in the territory, the S.W.A. Trading Company, with branches and agencies throughout the country. He imported the first aeroplane, called Miss Windhoek which was supposed to carry the mail tram Windhoek to Gobabis. Unfortunately at its first appearance and in front of a welcoming group of dignitaries including the Mayor, it ignominiously ran into a fence and so never operated.

In 1927 the S.W.A. Trading Co. obtained the franchise for General Motors S.A. Ltd. for the whole of South West Africa. After the depression this went to a well-known businessman, Sam Cohen who was later referred to as the uncrowned king of South West. Other Jewish pioneers of the motor industry were Fritz Langer and also Binnes and Newman.

When Sam Cohen entered the motor business he travelled hundreds of kilometres to sell cars. It was often business by barter, payment being made in cattle, firewood, salt horses, pigs or farm produce. Through this he became the largest dealer of firewood in the country as well as handling 90% of South West's salt at one time.

As the sole distributor in the territory for the Caterpillar Tractor Company, he pioneered road building and the first mechanically built dams and founded a heavy industrial project which assembled cars, trucks and tractors.

Sam Cohen served the community in many ways. He was Chairman of the Motor Traders' Association of SWA for years, Chairman of the Gifts and Comforts Fund during the war years and Chairman of the SWA branch of the Red Cross society. He built the Sam Cohen hall in Windhoek for communal usage and gave generously to the Swakopmund Museum and Scientific Society, resulting in the building of the Sam Cohen library. He made donations to just about every religious denomination and innumerable charities.

His only son, Jacky, who started his own successful motor business, gained a well deserved reputation for being even more generous than his father.

Max Pupkewitz was the founder of the well-known firm M. Pupkewitz and Song. In the German times he was a wagon builder at Okahandia, then later opened a small general dealers business in Windhoek. Eventually there were branches all over the country, covering everything from fencing to groceries, with a motor division and engineering supplies.

Chaim Charney, a shopkeeper in Mariental, became a prominent karakul and grain farmer with his own grain mill. He was one of the first to start karakul farming in the district and was indefatigable, rising at 4 a.m. to inspect his farms and returning to Mariental in time to open his shop. He also ran a small hotel in the village. Joch Silber led a similar life at Gobabis.

As far as the mining industry is concerned one of the most colourful of the pioneers was Eli Kahan, popularly known as Mo. He doggedly prospected the South West side of the Orange River and discovered copper, naming the mine Lorelei. He built a twelve mile road through the mountains to take supplies there. Later he found diamonds at Saddle Hill - but perhaps his greatest discovery was zinc. He named the mine that arose there Rosh Pinah which is the Hebrew word for corner-stone hoping that this would become the corner-stone of the South West economy. The morning before his death he drew up a preliminary contract for the sale of the mine to Iscor. It now produces thousands of tonnes of zinc concentrates.

The Pieters family of Usakos were also venturesome prospectors. Louis Pieters began mining tin in 1924. His son Sydney has a tourmaline mine and the only cutting and polishing works for facetting gemstones in the territory. He also discovered a completely new type of stone which was named Petersite in his honour, as well as a rare mineral called Jeremejevite.

Jack Levinson was a pioneer of lithium - mining lepidolite, petalite and amblygonite -as well as same beryl. Through his efforts the first lepidolite beneficiation plant in the world was put up at the lithium mines near Karibib. He also discovered diamonds on Skeleton Coast.

With regard to the fishing industry and shipping, as already mentioned these were pioneered by the remarkable de Pass family. Subsequently the Lurie family pioneered a rock lobster processing plant a L├╝deritz, while the Harries family was involved in shipping at Walvis Bay. Its founder J. C. Harries became Chairman of the Harbour Advisory Board and contributed much towards the development of Walvis, where a park was named after him.

Jews have shone in both the medical and legal professions in South West, opening practices in Windhoek as weil as serving the country communities. There was Dr. Gon Weinberg in Mariental, Dr. Joe Lichtman in Outjo, the Cohen brothers in Omaruru and Outjo, Dr. Bernard May in Gobabis (later Windhoek), Dr. Larry Jacobson in L├╝deritz (later Windhoek), Dr. Shulman in Keetmanshoop, Dr. Spiro in Karasburg and another Dr. Spiro at Walvis and later Rehoboth. In Windhoek there where many notable doctors including Dr. Jack Jacobson, Dr. Werner Kiwi, Dr. Morris Super, Dr. Hymie Paradisgarten, and among the dentists were Dr. Phil Davis and Dr. J. Johnson. It is interesting to observe that Dr. Rose Weinberg was the first woman doctor in the territory.

Most prominent of the Jewish legal luminaries was Adv. Israel Goldblatt who took silk in 1934 and was acting Judge at the High Court for a while. He was a leading member of the Windhoek bar for decades and his daughter Karin the only woman barrister at one stage. There have also been numerous Jewish attorneys.

Jews have been leading figures in various diverse organisations, clubs and welfare societies. Barney Gamsu was the President of the Chamber of Commerce for seven years, Chairman of the Governor-General's Fund during World War 2 and President of Rotary. Louis Berman was also President of the Chamber of Commerce, on the board of the SA Foundation and a Show Society committee member. Harold Pupkewitz hag also held similar high office and was recently the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

Although the Jews of Namibia have never played any part in politics, they have been active in the civic field. Jack Levinson was the first Jewish Mayor of Windhoek and is the longest serving City Councillor - same twenty-six years. Sam Davis followed him as Mayor. Jack Druker was Mayor of L├╝deritz, Herbert Simonson, Mayor of Swakopmund and Joseph Harries Mayor of Walvis Bay.

There have been several Jewish Councillors while George Kerby was Town Clerk of Windhoek for almost three decades in the formative years of the South African Administration after World War One. He was also the Divisional Commissioner of the Boy Scout movement. There have been two Jewish electrical engineers in the Municipality of Windhoek - Gerald Fainsinger and Leon Lewis. Jac Joel once headed the Administration's architectural department, while Jewish architects like Effie Lentin, Sydney Seftel and Aaron Feldman have contributed towards architectural developments.

Dr. H. Paradisgarten was President of the Medical Association, the first Chairman of the Road Safety Organisation and the head of the Department of Radiology at the State Hospital. Dr. B. May was President of the Cancer Association of SWA while his colleague Dr. W. Kiwi founded the Red Cross Blood Transfusion service and was its Medical Director until it became an independent service. His wife Ruth hag dedicated more than thirty years to serving the Red Cross and is now its Regional Director. She hag raised hundreds of thousands of rands tor this society and done outstanding service in caring for refugees tram Angola.

Jewish women have always taken a keen interest in social welfare. Mrs. Sarah Goldblatt was president of the Benevolent Society which wan an old aged home for people of all denominations. Mrs. Hedwig Harris was President of the Council of Woman for many years.

Jews have also been prominent in the journalistic, literary and cultural spheres. Sam Davis was the representative of the Sunday Times, Reuters, the Argus Group and the Cape Times. He was appointed to the SA Press Association and founded the South West Annual together with Sam Smith in 1948. He was Chairman of the SWA Publicity and Tourist Association for 21 years and Chairman of the Windhoek Library for twelve years.

Adv. Goldblatt is the author of a well researched history of South West Africa from the beginning of the nineteenth century, while Dr. Con Weinberg produced a popular bock of reminiscences. Olga Levinson is the author of various bocks, the latest being the Story of Namibia as well as innumerable articles. She has also given monthly broadcasts for the SABC for many years and served on the Board of the SWA Broadcasting Corporation. She founded the French circle in Windhoek and was its Honorary Life President, as well as being Honorary Life President of the SA Association of Arts (SWA) she has served as its President for eighteen years during which it initiated the building of an Art Centre in Windhoek, incorporating art galleries and the territory's only theatre. Olga Levinson was also a founder member of the SWA Performing Arts Council and Chairman of its Opera and Ballet committees. Art-wise Naomi Jacobson made her name as a sculptor.

Jews have also been active in the sporting field and given generous financial support to various sports clubs. Mr. H. Pupkewitz was President of the SWA Amateur Swimming Association for eleven years, Mr. L. Berman Chairman of the Windhoek Turf Club, Dr. H. Paradisgarten Vice President of the Hockey Association, Mr. Natie Bloch President of the Junior Soccer Association.

So it can be seen that there is virtually barely a facet of life in the development of South West Africa in which Jews have not played a vital role, although they form less than half of one percent of the white population. But what they have lacked in numbers they have made up for in initiative, enthusiasm, imagination and dedicated hard work.


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In thy power Almighty, trusting,
Did our fathers build of old;
Strengthen then, O Lord, their children
To defend, to love, to hold
That the heritage they gave us
For our children yet may be:
Bondsmen only to the Highest
And before the whole world free.
As our fathers trusted humbly,
Teach us, Lord, to trust Thee still:
Guard our land and guide our people
In Thy way to do Thy will.