A Brief History of the Rhodesian Branch of the Baldachin Family
Written 2nd March 2009 (updated 2nd Oct 2022)
Written by Sharon Bernstein (nee Cesler), from documents and anecdotal material obtained through the late Annette Cesler (nee Baldachin), the late Basil Baldachin, Pat Baldachin (nee Kaplan), Adelaine Turnbull (nee Baldachin) and Cyril Baldachin.
June 2004 (updated 28th July 2004)
Rudolph (Reuven) Baldachin was born in Stepney, London on 16 May 1891, the son of Gottlieb and Esther (nee Friesner) Baldachin. Gottlieb was a boot finisher, who had emigrated to England from Eastern Europe to escape the pogroms against the Jews, in the late 19th century. Gottlieb Baldachin, emigrated from Bohemia (today part of Czechoslovakia) to England and was married in 1890. When Rudolph was a small boy, the family emigrated to South Africa, and settled in Paarl. Rudolph had two brothers, Jack and Sam and a sister Lottie. When he was about 11, his father died, and his mother re-married a non-Jew. Soon after that, Rudolph ran away from home, and as a youngster in his early teens, found his way to Southern Rhodesia with his brothers. They spent their lives dabbling in various business ventures, from the Avondale Trading Store, to mining, to the butchery trade. Rudolf had another, much younger brother Arthur, who never lived in Rhodesia
In 1920 Rudolph married Florence Kiel, whose family had emigrated from Riga, Latvia after having spent a few years in the United States. Isaac Kiel, Florence’s father, had arrived in the USA through Ellis Island at the age of 42, to try and make a life for himself away from the miseries of Jewish Latvia. He married Esther Jacobson of Kurland. Florence was born in New York on 11 February 1898. It seems that things did not go well for the family in the New World, and they returned to Riga, where her brother Ben* and sister Annie were born. Soon after they moved again, making their way to Africa, where Esther’s brother Maurice Jacobson was living**. They arrived in Banket when Florence (or Flossie, as she was always known) was 10 years old. There they established a small trading store, and the children were sent to the Convent boarding school in Bulawayo. The train journeys to Bulawayo were slow and arduous – there were often animals on the tracks and once a lion – which wouldn’t budge off the line – had to be shot! Flossie was a very bright child and a talented pianist. During her high school years, she was offered a scholarship to study music in Germany, but was forbidden by her parents to take this up.
Flossie and Rudolph began their life together in Que Que. Their eldest son Sydney Douglas (b. 29 June 1921) and daughter Annette (b. 6 March 1923) were born there. Soon thereafter, they went to Port Elizabeth, because Annie Kiel was suffering from juvenile diabetes and Flossie wanted to be with her mother and sister. Basil Jocelyn, her second son, was born there on 8 November 1925. Upon their return to Southern Rhodesia, following Annie’s death, Flossie had 5 more children: Dawn Naomi (b. 28 March 1927), John (b. 7 July 1930), Adelaine Hilary (b. 15 November 1934), Cyril Leonard (b. 1 September 1936) and Michael Robin (b. 21 December 1943). They lived for many years at 5 Gifford Avenue in Bulawayo. The family always struggled financially and to help earn a little extra, Flossie played the piano at the silent cinema screenings.
The children all began their schooling at the Bulawayo Convent, where Annette went on to become Head Girl, obtaining her Cambridge School certificate at the age of 16. Annette, Basil, Adelaine and Cyril all achieved university degrees from the University of Cape Town.
Tragedy struck the family on several occasions. John and Adelaine contracted diphtheria, and John died, aged 10, on 24 May 1941. 4 days later, on May 28 1941 Sydney was sent to England to train as a fighter pilot with the RAF. Annette, who was at the University of Cape Town at the time, wrote in her diary that day “my small world, the only one which really matters, is crumbling to pieces beneath my fingers…” She never saw her brother Sydney again – he was killed on a training mission, when the instruments in his Spitfire failed, and the plane went down in heavy fog, hitting a school. He is buried at the military cemetery in Doncaster, England. Finally, Michael, the baby of the family, was born with Downes Syndrome.
Flossie spent the remaining years of her life working tirelessly to establish an educational programme for Downes Syndrome children in Southern Rhodesia, although Michael had died of leukaemia in 1951. She raised funds for the Retarded Children’s Aid Society and opened a school in the Masonic Hall for 5 children. Later the school amalgamated with Hopelands, grew and flourished, bringing in children from around the country, and the Sir Humphrey Gibbs Centre was eventually built in Kumalo, Bulawayo. The fist hostel was named the Florence Baldachin Home. It opened soon after she died of cancer in 1963, exactly ten years after Rudolph passed away in 1953, having suffered for several years from heart disease.
Annette graduated from U.C.T. with a B. Sc. degree and married Jack Cesler, an immigrant from Kovno, Lithuania, in 1946. Jack went into partnership with his father-in-law in the Charter Butchery in Bulawayo, which he ran for many years. Annette worked as a medical technologist and a maths teacher. They had 3 children – Sharon Ruth (b. 8 October 1947), Adrienne Jane (b. 22 October 1950) and Robert Paul (b. 29 June 1953 – the same day and month as Annette’s brother Sydney). Sharon and Adrienne were educated at Hillside Junior and then Townsend High School. Robert went to Tennyson Junior, Milton High School and 6th Form College.
Annette passed away in January 1989 and Jack in June 2001.
Sharon married Paul Bernstein and they have two sons, Jason (b. 29 July 1974) and Richard (b. 22 July 1977). The family lives today in Israel, where Jason is soon to marry Leanne Labe of Benoni. Sharon works for the South African Zionist Federation.
Adrienne married Ian Telford and has a son Nicholas Scott (b. 18 July 1994). They live in Johannesburg where Ian is an architect.
Robert married Helen Ger of Pretoria, and they have 2 sons, Justin Deon (b. 27 December 1982) and Warryn Adam (b. 20 May 1987). They live in Philadelphia, U.S.A. Robert is a businessman in New York City.
Basil Baldachin became a specialist physician, and married Patricia (Pat) Kaplan. Their children are Jonathan Guy (b. 16 November 1950), Daniel (b. 1 January 1953), Reuben (b. 15 October 1956) and Deborah (b. 3 November 1960). They lived for many years in Bulawayo, where Basil became the Registrar of Mpilo Hospital. Then they moved to Salisbury, where Basil built up a successful private practice. Many Government ministers were among his patients. Basil was a diabetic and died from complications of the disease in Harare on 21 August 1988. Pat now lives in London.
Jonathan married Brenda Lewin and then Carol, and has 3 children – Layla (b. 2 March 1979), Emma (b. September 1995) and Thomas (b. 31 May 1998). They live in London. Jonathan, Daniel and Reuben work in the computer industry.
Daniel married Michal Reiss and has two children, Adam (b. 23 December 1982) and Jenna (b. June 1989). The family lives in New Jersey, U.S.A.
Reuben has 2 children, Jeremy (b. 23 May 1991) and Samira (b. March 1993). He is divorced and lives in Switzerland.
Deborah married William Rider, and has Benjamin (b. 19 February 1992) and Dina (b. 6 December 1996). They lived for some years in Israel, and are now in Kent, U.K.
Dawn Baldachin became a sister-tutor and married Sydney Lassman and then William Anderson, and had 5 children: Douglas (b. 18 February 1950), John (b. 5 November 1951), Cheryl (b. 28 March 1955), Barry (b. 1958) and Bruce (b. 1960). With the exception of Douglas, who has remained in Zimbabwe, the family has moved away.
Douglas is married to Sarita (an Argentinian) and has Mark (b. February 1970) and Varda (B. 1975). John is married to Coral and has Michael (b. 1978) and Shaun (b. 1980). Michael is married with a small son – a great-great grandson of Rudolph and Flossie. They live in South Africa. Barry is divorced and lives in the U.K. with his two children Charmaine (b. 1988) and Ryan (b. 1990). Cheryl is in Johannesburg and has a daughter Robyn Dawn. Bruce’s whereabouts are not known to the writer.
Adelaine graduated with a degree in Music and married Andrew Turnbull. She has worked as a pianist for many years. Her sons are Mark Stephen (b. 9 April 1959) and Brett Kevin (b. 24 September 1961).
Mark is married to Sharon and they have 3 boys – Joel (b. 21 July 1988), Benjamin (b. 22 June 1990) and Joshua (b. 5 June 1995). Mark spent several successful years in theatre in the West End, and the family have now returned to the U.K. having spent some years in Harare, where Mark taught drama and was involved with the REPS Theatre.
Brett and his partner Wendy Fagan have 2 daughters, Josie Rae (b. 20 April 1991) and Billie (b. 30 October 1993). Brett works as a film cameraman and director, and the family lives in London.
Cyril graduated from U.C.T. with a degree in chemical engineering and he did further studies at the University of Chicago. He married Yolande Wadiche and they had 3 sons – Lawrence (Larry), (b. 22 December 1962), Craig (b. 18 May 1965 and died of a brain tumour as a young man, in January 1985) and Alan (b. 14 February 1967). Cyril and Yolande are residents of Toronto, Canada, as are Larry and his wife Jennifer, who have 2 little girls, Jessica Rose (b. 17 July 1998) and Carly Nicole (b. 19 July 2000) and a son, Samuel (Sam b. Sept 15, 2004). Larry is a businessman and Alan is an entertainment lawyer in New York.
Not much information is available for Rudolph’s brother Sam’s family, but it is hoped that their children or grandchildren might see and add to this story. Sam married Rebecca (Bex) Paul and they lived for many years in Que Que, where Sam was involved in a trading store and in mining. They had 3 children David, Dora (known as Sissie) and Paula.
Jack, the third Baldachin brother, went to London as a young man and married his cousin Dolly Friesner, whom he brought out to Rhodesia. They lived in Gray Street, Bulawayo and had no children. Dolly’s father Sam Friesner was an Impresario in London, who managed the famous Tiller Girls.
Notes: * Ben Kiel, brother of Flossie, was a brilliant scholar with a great future. Whilst working in America as a young man, he was found to be suffering from a brain tumour. He was operated on by Dr.Harvey Cushing. He never fully recovered, and returned to Bulawayo an invalid, never quite able to fend for himself. He died in Johannesburg in the 1940’s.
** Maurice Jacobson married Matilda (Tilly) Shiff and he was twice Mayor of Gwelo. His sons Nathaniel (Sonny) and Leslie were born there and educated at St. George’s College. Sonny became a Rhodes Scholar and studied law at Oxford University. Leslie became a physician in Bulawayo.
Annette and Sharon