By Rose Tobias - July
(for family photos click
Great-Grandfather, Moses Rabinowitz, was a pioneer to Rhodesia in 1986 and
then President of the Bulawayo Chevra Kadisha. My Grandfather, Dr Lionel
Rabinowitz Bergson, was the FIRST Jewish G.P. doctor in Rhodesia. His
tombstone in the Bulawayo cemetery reads "Kind and wise physician Beloved
friend of all who suffered". HE was ALSO the FOUNDER of the Revisionist
movement in Rhodesia AND when Jabotinsky visited in 1938, Jabotinsky stayed in
my grandfather's home on Wilson Street! He married Rose Krenski - she was a
concert pianist - I have a review of a concert of hers from the Bulawayo
Chronicle - she died in 1939. My father was a farmer, an engineer and an
industrial gunniter. He played violin in the Bulawayo Symphony Orchestra. I
once played solo piano accompanied by the Bulawayo Symphony Orchestra - I was
12 years old. My brothers were good athletes - Lionel broke the Rhodesian high
jump records through the late 60s and early 70s and held those records for 3
years till my next brother, Brian, came along and broke those records and held
them for many years - as far as I recall up to Under 16 and I think Under 18.
My mother was the Social Worker for Housing and Administration Mpopoma. I have
many documents of reference about them, magazine articles, invitations to my
mother to attend high level Commonwealth, British Empire and Royal functions.
And many photos, and university degrees from Moses Rabinowitz onwards. We are
also connected to the Ellenbogen family - they were my mother's half-brothers.
Moses Rabinowitz is listed in the Bulawayo cemetery list and under his name
is Rabinowitz, Mrs - she was my great-grandmother, Moses' wife, Batsheva nee
Here are my farm memories:
Matabeleland: Lonely Mine, Inyati, Turk Mine, Bulawayo
I am weeping as I write this - I was telling a friend just over the weekend
about the Farmer's Union - our fathers would discuss the farming issues, we
would be playing, the mothers would be talking Women's Institute, and the
real joy of Guy Fawkes on a rotation at a different farm each November and
(just 2 Jewish families and 2 farming Jewish brothers, the Berwitzes in the
area) so we all enjoyed the Christmas parties at the Farmer's U hall, Turk
Mine cricket matches with my father hitting 6s like mad, making 36 off 10
balls and going out quickly, playing doctor with Roger and Stephen Williams,
and Stephen became a doctor! And I dated Roger briefly at UCT in 1970, when
we met up after a gap of 12 years.
Cattle auctions and braais at different farms where we kids would be
relegated to a bedroom, and would have the greatest fun - apparently, one
evening I found the farmwife's make-up and accordingly decorated all the
girls, and on one farm (Harold and Lucy Barry), we (10 or 12 of us) would be
tucked into one very large double bed in the "blue" bedroom, and
sleep, not for fun but we never knew why till I visited that farm again with
my family when I was 20, and Mrs Barry said that the original farmwife had
slowly died of cancer in the blue bedroom and it was reputed that she was
still in that room - and that's why we never slept! And I could find those
other friends, I guess to corroborate that - but at the end of that visit,
we left at sunset, about 5.45 pm, and as we slowed down at the gate to go
over the cattle grid, a woman leaned in through the front window of the car,
and wished us "Good evening, and a safe journey." NO-ONE WAS THERE
OUTSIDE THE CAR. But all 5 of us clearly heard her. When we got back home to
Bulawayo, my mother phoned Lucy Barry to tell her, and Lucy said that that
first farmwife had always walked in the front garden at sunset.
DO you know the FIRST murder of a farmer took place in 1959, 2 farms from us
- at Lonely Mine / Inyati, Huntsman WIlliams was murdered. What followed was
Harold Macmillan's "Winds of change" speech, Uhuru, the riots in
the horror of the Belgian Congo (where we also lost a very dear friend who
we'd met at the Vic Falls one year of the MANY times there). And he was shot
in the back 8 times while delivering milk, and who by?? The UNITED STINKING
NATIONS, not a Congolese. We took in a Belgian refugee family - how dreadful
for them - no English, forced to flee their lives with nothing, Henriette and
Luc were the kids. I have the thank you letter that came from them when they
were safely back in Belguim. And our other farming friends who have
been murdered, who were on "lists", Tony Ellman-Brown, Jewish Mark
Sommers, to name just two.
But it was also a bizarre area: apart from murders, my father's best friend,
John Merry, died agonizingly of cancer, and the family had to sell up and
move into Bulawayo. On our one neighbouring farm, Charles Mennell
accidentally shot his father, Bill, dead, pulling the rifle from the back
seat of the car. Charles's mother, Elsie, remarried the richest farmer in
the area, Meyers, and they emigrated to a sheep station in Oz, where Charles
was out with a cousin shooting rabbits one afternoon. Charles was driving
the tractor, the cousin was behind. The cousin shouted "There's
Charles stood up to look and simultaneously the cousin pulled the trigger ..
and killed Charles. There were 2 real ballerinas in the area: the one,
Rosemary Levin, was in a car accident and paralysed for life.Happily, her
daughter, Sally, lives in Israel! The other was Robyn Gilmour who was
married to ROBIN Gilmour! Charles and Avril Landry were driving to the Vic
Falls one night and at the very place on the road (you remember) where the
roadsign warning "Elephants" stands, they, in their Mini, drove
between the legs of a jumbo straddling the road! Avril was pregnant - she
lost her baby but they did survive that. Across the road to our farm was
Braemar, a farm owned by Lonrho, and who was the manager there for a while?
Angus Ogilvie (Princess Alexandra's husband)!
And the day someone came running from the Berwitz's farm to say that the
Berwitz brothers were "in town" for the day, and that an old woman
bitten by a snake. My father grabbed the snakebite serum tin, I jumped into
the vanette with him and the worker and off we raced. The whole farm
population had gathered to witness the saga. The farmhouse was actually a
huge barn - real bachelor pad - my father took her in, made her lift her
skirts, pull down her pants and bend over, gave her a shot in the backside,
then sat her on a cushioned chair, sterilised his penknife in flame, and
slit where the bite had occurred on the upper side of her hand. The whole
crowd had gathered inside. She was lucky, that old woman -
SLO-O-Ow poison - I will never forget, where he slit the flesh just above
her wrist, this black mucous wriggled out in a thick zigzaggy coil from her
hand, and the farm people all raised their voices in jubilation!! I remember
my father working out how long it had taken the farmworker to run the 10
miles to our farmhouse and the bumpy van ride on dirt roads and strip road
to the other farm. But she lived to a ripe old age, that one!
I remember teas with the missionary family at Inyati Mission Station - Rev.
and Mrs Mary Shaw, descendants of the originals in Africa, Robert and Mary
Moffat. How frugally they lived. They had one painting on the wall and it
always fascinated me as a child - a woman smoking a pipe.
What a rich childhood. I forgot that I'd always planned on marrying a farmer
too. I took my children there in 1997 - charming family on the farm which
had been subdivided. Their baby burst into tears at the sight of our faces -
I think we were the first "white" faces she had ever seen!
I hope I haven't depressed you. I got a ride home with my roommate at work
and my last words to her as I got out of the car were cursing Robert Mugabe
AND the hypocrisy of the EU and UN which respects power before human rights.
My Uncle, Montague Ellenbogen, represented Southern Rhodesia at Queen
Elizabeth II's coronation in 1952. He was seated inn Westminster Abbey. His
daughter, Carol Ellenbogen, was chosen for the Olympic Bisley team in 1968 and
we were then kicked out of the Olympics so she never got there. My brothers
held the Rhodesian high jump Under 18 record for at least 10 years between the
two of them.