(updated 12.6.14 with corrections and input from John Beemer, nephew of Sonya Beemer Jacobs. With thanks to Wendy Winkelman )
Sonya Jacobs (Sisi)
Father: Joseph Beemer from Lithuania
Mother: Antoinette Therese Renner from
Grandfather: Abraham Beemer, came to Bulawayo
during Lobengula’s time and was granted by Lobengula a trading concession
(approximately 1895). However, he
returned to Lithuania and sent his 5 sons to take up this concession. Sons: Harry, left to Johannesburg where he
opened a chain of stores, did very well but died years later in a tragic
manner, falling into a lift shaft of a building while under construction. Joseph, remained trading in Bulawayo.
Mother’s Sister: Mother had a married sister, Jeanette Palk in
Bulawayo. They had a bakery and a citrus
farm in Carmi Ruins. Antoinette came
from Vienna to visit her sister (about 1908) aged 18 and met Joseph Beemer and
married him. They had 5 children.
Siblings: Pearlie (1903), Sonya (1905), Abraham
(1907), Ellie (female Approx. 1910), Hilda (1915).
approximately 1909, mother went with 3 children to visit family and friends in
London, Vienna and Russia, not realizing as yet that she was expecting another
child. Ellie was born in Russia and as a
result had no birth certificate which caused her difficulties later on.
return from Russia, mother brought back with her a Jewish peasant girl as
nursemaid who was educated and eventually married in Bulawayo.
Home: Quite wealthy. Large, with all comforts. No lawns in those days, but plenty of
flowers planted mainly in tin drums (the mainstay of all at the time). Had a swing.
Private well with pump and windmill.
Education: Eveline School attended on 1st
day of schools opening in 1909 by Pearlie and Sonya (5 years old). As Pearlie spoke no English on return from
Russia, Sonya was sent to school with her in spite of tender age, so that she
would have someone to talk to, who would understand her (check date of 1st
opening of Eveline School).
Family had Basuto and
Shetland ponies. When Abraham started
school, he was taken back and forth daily by pony. Pony used to come into the dining room to
deliver its charge.
had a Ford car (one of the 1st in the country). It was a great pleasure, but on outings into
countryside often had to push car up hills.
(Mother involved in car accident badly injured when steering wheel broke
while she was driving, but recovered).
Family: Orthodox. Hebrew/Jewish education provided through
private lessons by Rabbi who came to the house.
Parents civic minded. Led full
Jewish life. Entertained, attended
synagogue regularly. Children enjoyed
collecting moths and butterflies and setting them on boards in glass
cases. Father very prosperous merchant,
owner of properties. However, in 1918,
tragedy struck family. The flu epidemic
attacked the whole family. Dining room
was converted into a hospital ward to facilitate nursing all the sick
children. Joseph (father) was very ill
with it and died. The children were not
informed of his death until they all recovered.
Father died intestate. Mother
left Bulawayo with all children to settle in Johannesburg – with five children,
the eldest aged 14 and the youngest 5). Mother
was widowed at age 52. Girls were placed
in Park Town convent for schooling as boarders.
Sonya matriculated at 16, then attended Art School at Polytechnic
as part time student with Prof. Austin Wintermoore and Persival Small.
Prior to move to Johannesburg, family was very friendly
with the Jacobs family. Riddley and
Cecil Jacobs, the two sons of the family were constant visitors at the Beemer’s
and Riddley was Pearlie’s childhood sweetheart, although boys were much older.
In 1914, Cecil volunteered to serve in the British
army. Before leaving, a farewell party
was given to him by his family to which the Beemer’s were invited. Cecil had a private rondavel in his family
grounds and Sonya went to visit him there on her own – an unheard of
activity. She was 10 years younger than
him. To spite society at the time, she
asked him to give her his cigarette case to prove that she had visited him in
his private abode, which he finally did.
Quite a daring act. Cecil served
in France and was decorated as an ordinary soldier for Bravery (M.B.E.) on the
field. He returned to Bulawayo I n 1918
and was honored by all as a Rhodesian war hero.
On return from war, Cecil was instrumental in forming the
British ex-servicemen league and later on became its honorary life
President. When demobbed, he joined a
firm of solicitors and was articled to Sir Charles Cochrane. In 1931, Cochrane died. Sir Allan Welsh become head of the firm and
at his demise, Cecil became head of firm.
Cecil was very active in civil affairs.
He was chairman of the Jewish Guild for many years. Chairman of the Gilbert and Sullivan music
society (he was a pianist in his own right).
He served as Chairman of Jewish Board of Deputies for many years. Sonya was very active too.
The Beemer’s (after moving to Johannesburg) used to come
yearly to Bulawayo to visit father’s grave and used to stay with the Falk’s at
Carmi Ruins. Cecil would visit them
there as all the Beemer’s adored him. He
too would visit the family in Johannesburg resulting in his engagement to Sonya
in 1929 and their marriage in 1931 (took place in Walmarans Street Synagogue)
by Rabbi Dr. Landau. The reception was
in the Beemers’ magnificent garden.
While on their honeymoon in Durban, Cecil built a home in
Bulawayo by correspondence. (The house
is still inhabited by Sonya today 52 years later and is surrounded by a
magnificent garden which she looks after).
The couple returned to Bulawayo in July 1951 to settle in their new
home. However, Cecil’s mother thought
that the ceilings were too low and paid 100 to the builders to raise the
ceiling another 3 feet.