24 February 2018
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Legendary Litvak heroes of Africa

Three African Governments are these days coordinating a combined honouring of twelve Litvaks who through two centuries made outstandingly much to help their African homelands and their peoples. They release these honours publicly as a completely new stamp issue now in March 2011. The stamp issue acknowledges the extraordinary sacrifices made by Jews to the liberation of their African brethren, and these stamps recognize some of the most significant contributors to global humanity in the 20th Century.

In the anti Apartheid South African Liberation struggle, it was estimated that Jews were over represented by 2,500 percent in their proportion to the governing population. This stamp issue acknowledges the extraordinary sacrifices made by Jews to the liberation of their African brethren, and these stamps recognize some of the most significant contributors to global humanity in the 20th Century.


Helen_SuzmanHelen Suzman

Helen Suzman (nee Gavronsky) was born in the South African mining town of Germiston on 7 November 1917 to Samuel and Frieda Gavronsky, both immigrants from Lithuania who had come to South Africa to escape the restrictions imposed on Jews. 

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Eli WeinbergEli Weinberg

Eli Weinberg was born in 1908 in the port of Libau, in Latvia on the Baltic Sea. He experienced the First World War and the October Revolution of 1917 as a child, and this led to his socialist political development. During World War I, he was separated from his family.

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Esther BarselEsther Barsel

Esther Barsel (born October 17, 1924, in Raguva, Lithuania; died October 6, 2008, in Johannesburg) was a South African politician and long-standing member of the South African Communist Party (SACP). She was a member of both her local African National Congress branch and the SACP's Johannesburg Central Branch..

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Hymie BarselHymie Barsel

Hymie Barsel was born on September 11, 1920 in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, South Africa to Faiga and Moishe Barsel, both of Litvak heritage. He was raised in a Zionist oriented home. He suffered from epilepsy which was ill understood at that time, eventually receiving treatment from Dr. Max Joffe, also a Zionist.

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Yetta BarenblattYetta Barenblatt

Yetta Barenblatt was born on 24 September 1913, in Dublin, Ireland, to Basna and Solomon Malamed of Lithuanian origin. In 1925, a friend encouraged her to come to South Africa with the promise of employment. However, due to her circumstances, further education was not possible and Barenblatt was forced to seek employment at a retail store.

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Ray AlexanderRay Alexander Simons

Ray Alexander Simons née Alexandrowich was born on 12 January 1913 in Latvia. While at school, she displayed little fear in challenging authorities. Her independent thinking suggested she pursue a career in medicine but she soon took up politics. When she was about 13, she became active in the underground Latvian Communist Party. 

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Baruch HirsonBaruch Hirson

Baruch Hirson, named after his late grandfather, was born on 10 December 1921 at Doomfontein near Johannesburg in the Transvaal. His father was an electrician. His parents, Joseph and Lily Hirson, were Jews who had immigrated to South Africa to evade the pogroms, persecution and discrimination Jews were subjected to in the old Romanov Empire.

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Norma KitsonNorma Kitson

Norma Kitson was one of a generation of Jewish activists, who committed themselves to the struggle against racial tyranny in South Africa. The drive of these South African Jews was to give witness against racism and social injustice, even at great personal cost. Norma Kitson's autobiography, Where Sixpence Lives (1986), uniquely fuses the personal and the political.

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Ruth FirstRuth First

Ruth First was born on May 4, 1925 to Jewish immigrants Julius and Matilda First. Julius, a furniture manufacturer, was born in Latvia and came to South Africa in 1906. He and his wife were founder members of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) or South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1921 . Ruth and her brother, Ronald, grew up in a household in which intense political debate between people of all races and classes was always present. 

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Hilda BernsteinHilda Bernstein

Hilda Bernstein was born in London in 1915. Her father was Simeon Schwartz from Odessa, Ukraine. He relocated to England in 1901 where he became a Bolshevik and represented the new USSR in UK for a short while in 1920's. He returned to the USSR when recalled in 1925, and died in the 1930's without ever having returned to the UK.

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Lionel Rusty BernsteinLionel "Rusty" Bernstein

Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein was born in Durban, in 1920; the youngest of four children of European émigrés. Orphaned at eight years old, he was raised by relatives. These early disruptions to his family life were compounded when he was sent to finish his education at a boys’ boarding school. Hilton College, a private school, that was the South African equivalent of Eton or Harrow. 

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Ronal SegalRonald Segal

At an early age, Ronald Segal proclaimed himself a Socialist, saying he did not want to be a millionaire. But he had no choice. His father was a co-owner of Ackerman's, a giant cheap clothing chain in South Africa. At their home on the slopes of Cape Town's Lion's Head, his Zionist parents entertained visiting dignitaries. At age eight, Ronald read “Gone With the Wind” and a biography of Disraeli.

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© Legendary Heroes of Africa

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Jews in South Africa

Some background/facts:

1.      Nelson Mandela in his “Long Walk to Freedom” wrote, “I have found Jews to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice”. It was a firm of Jewish lawyers Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman that challenged Apartheid by engaging Mandela as an articled clerk, thus giving him the rare chance for a Black man to become a lawyer. While studying law he became friends with fellow students and future anti-Apartheid political activists Joe Slovo, Harry Schwarz and Ruth First.

2.      Jews comprised only about 2% of the White (ruling) population and 0.6% of the total population, South African Jews should take tremendous pride in the very high proportion that opposed Apartheid in multiple fashions. Of the 150 charged in the 1956 Treason Trial of Anti-Apartheid activists, 23 were whites and of the 23 whites, at least 14 were clearly identifiable Jews (well over 50%). Advocate Isie Maisels won acclaim for his leadership of the defense team which achieved acquittal of all the accused in the Treason Trial. As a committed Jew, Maisels had served as President of the Federation of Synagogues, as well as on the Executives of the Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation. The 1963 Rivonia Trial resulted from the ANC having secretly established underground headquarters where the military arm of the ANC Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) was conceived. The premises at Lilliesleaf Farm were acquired by Arthur Goldreich who had served as a volunteer in the nascent Israel army in 1948. Nelson Mandela stayed at the farm in the guise of a farm worker. Significantly, all the whites arrested in this epoch-making event  were Jewish: Arthur Goldreich, Rusty Bernstein, Dennis Goldberg, Bob Hepple, and Dr Hilliard Festenstein. Goldreich now lives in Israel

3.      It is doubtful that any other group can boast anything approaching the proportionate number of Jews who took part in the struggle against Apartheid. The South African Muslim community comprised 1.1% of the total population compared with Jews 0.6%. The number of Muslims known to have actively opposed Apartheid is minimal and in fact they were reported to have cooperated with the Apartheid government. While Afrikaans newspapers frequently accused the Jews of subverting the Apartheid Regime, pointing to the high percentage of Jews among the whites detained by the police, the Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger in a two-part series, praised the Muslim community for its cooperation. It said: “Moderate Muslim theologians (geestelikes) in the Peninsula are of the opinion that not even civil disobedience is permissible for the Muslim minority in South Africa where they are to obey the law and are under obligation to negotiate if they consider the political system to be unjust or oppressive.”

4.      The secretary general of the African National Congress Kgalema Motlanthe in his address to the 42nd Biennial Conference of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in Gauteng on October 19, 2002 said “That people of Jewish descent should be so prominent in the liberation movement says something fundamental about the compassion of Judaism”. Many Jewish immigrants who arrived in our shores in abject poverty, laying claim to little but their rich commitment to humanitarian and egalitarian ideals. These commitments were sometimes rooted in traditional Jewish teaching. They sometimes emerged from traditions of socialism. Whatever the case, Jewish compassion is the fruit of empathy, rather than sympathy. It is the fruit of struggle over many millennia, against racism and persecution”.

5.      Jewish influence towards racial equality in South Africa dates back to the earliest days of Jewish immigration. As far back as 1917 a Yiddish-speaking branch of the International Socialist League was formed. This league, a forerunner of the South African Communist Party (SACP) organized unions and co-operatives without distinction of class or color, eventually being absorbed into existing unions. Another typical example of the early days was the Garment Workers Union (GWU) a militant and multiracial trade union led by its general secretary, Solly Sachs from 1935 to 1948. White unions and the government fiercely opposed the GWU.

Mr.  Motalanthe (mentioned in 4 above) said of Joe Slovo
he was proud to acknowledge the Jewish roots of his compassion. Brought up as a child in a Lithuanian ghetto, he experienced at first hand the degradation and misery of being unfairly treated for no proper reason. So in the South Africa he grew to love, he determined that no one should be singled out for unfair treatment for no proper reason.

The disproportionate representation Jews amongst the minority of whites that chose to cast their lot in with the oppressed did not go unnoticed by the racist regime and there were consequences for the Jewish population by the racist regime.

Category : Litvak forum
  • Eugene Rangayah

    I appreciate that White South Africans, who chose to join the struggle had everything to lose. That is not what I dispute about the article. The article, in my opinion, does a direct comparison between Muslim and Jewish participation in the anti-apartheid movement, resulting in the Muslim involvement being marginalised. Why does it not measure Hindu, Buddhist or Christian involvement? I do not think that this forum, should be used as an instrument to spruce up anyone's involvement in the anti-apartheid movement at the expense of others. If the intention was to highlight the contribution of the Jewish community, then that's fine, as it is the Litvak forum, but definitely not at the expense of the Muslims or any other religious sect.

    March 08 2011
    • Grant

      Correct – Jews were regarded as white in South Africa and did enjoy all the privileges. What made their sacrifices even more remarkable was that they put themselves at risk and all the privileges at risk to fight a fight where they were not victims themselves.

      The "Coloreds" and Indians were a disadvantaged community, so they were fighting for themselves with self interest at stake.

      What made Jewish sacrifice so remarkable was that they had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, and still they participated at 25 times their proportion to the white community. Remarkable! If they had fought at a rate of twice their proportion to the population, that would have been remarkable by itself, but 25 times. Wow!

      March 03 2011

      • I have to say that I do support your march and well i am black, but there will alawys be a majority of people going against this. I think I should explain why black south africans are treating white south africans like this. They say what goes around comes around and they would like to make the white south africans taste their own medicine. Now don’t get me wrong, I am certainly against it but then yet again the majority of black people will alawys support what they are doing.

        November 17 2012
        • Eugene Rangayah

          Further to my comment above, one also has to acknowledge that Jews were regarded as White in Apartheid South Africa and enjoyed the benefits afforded to them as White South Africans. Some chose to oppose it, who have been duly honoured, and some chose to ride the wave of these benefits.

          March 02 2011
          • Eugene Rangayah

            I am not sure about the source of the information entitled Jews in South Africa. Especially with regards to point 3, which clearly, in my opinion, is aimed at marginalising the involvement of Muslims in the anti-apartheid struggle. The comparison made is with regards to the Muslim population in the Cape region. One would have to understand which race group makes up that population in order to understand their perspective. That region's Muslim population is made up of the "Coloured/Mixed Race" or "Cape Malay" race group. This race group has had an association with the Afrikaaners, which goes back centuries! In point of fact, most of the Coloured people who I have encountered, often associate themselves with their Afrikaaner heritage(from a race perspective) rather than their African heritage. At times referring to themselves as Akrikaaners, based on Afrikaans being the first language.

            In order for one to gain a full perspective on the Muslim involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle you would need to consider other race groups as well. In the Indian community in South Africa, over 80% of the anti-apartheid activists were Muslims. Look up the following people: Ismail Kathrada, Ismail Meer, Fathima Meer, Ahmed Kathrada, Yusuf Dadoo, Yusuf Cachalia, I could go on listing names.

            At the end of the day, what is more important, is that people regardless of religion or race, took the initiative to join the struggle to oppose Apartheid.

            March 02 2011


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