(by Marvyn Hatchuel – June 2004 )

Family Roots and Wanderings;

 A century ago, my father Haim Hatchuel , a young man travelling along North Africa on one of his business explorations and with an adventurous nature arrived in Alexandria from Morocco where his family had lived for generations since the days of the Maranos. There he met up with a certain  Bechor (or Moussa) Benatar  from Rhodis who was on his way to what was then Southern  Rhodesia,  where he had a store in  the village of Penhalonga.  Curiosity and a sense of  adventure  with ideas of making his fortune must have crossed his mind and on sudden impulse while visiting the port he saw a boat that was due to travel along the East coast of Africa .With the little money he had he  took a chance wrote home and went on board hoping to make it to Beira. He paid his way at each port along the way for each leg of the voyage. When he arrived at Beira with little money left and  not knowing if he would find a Jew for help, he walked around asking for a “Rabbi” and was referred to a man known to be  a Jew. My father spoke Spanish and French as well as Arabic and a smattering of English, and somehow got thru to find out  how to get to Rhodesia.   With no money for anything else he walked through the bush along the railroad, and with help from the  indigenous found his way to Umtali and eventually Penhalonga.  A journey of some 160 miles or more. He presented himself at the  Benatar store where he was received in shock and disbelief. He was soon put to work and in order  to master English sat up at night with a dictionary and newspaper.  As I knew him, he had  only a faint trace of an accent and spoke an excellent English.   Some years later he met up with two Roumanian brothers,Maurice and George Daniels  and joined them in opening one of the first wholesale businesses in Salisbury  (for what was then known as  Kaffir truck)..  At some time before then while on a visit to Salisbury  Dad was staying at a local hotel, when one night there was a cry for help to extinguish a fire which had occurred in a tailoring shop nearby and  which belonged to my grandfather.   Many local residents responded including my father who helped in removing as much from the adjoining house including the piano.  This was when he met my mother and what ensued was a “Hot romance”, and their getting married in 1913 and holding  one of  the first receptions to be held  at the Drill Hall. (There  is story (true) that the presiding Rabbi who married them failed to register  the marriage in the registry office.This was discovered some 27 years later and resulted in a process and  an act of Parliament being passed  pre-registering the marriage . It stands in the statute books as a case of  “Hatchuel-Cohen  vs  Rex” and used as a precedent in other subsequent cases of similar nature. 

My mother came from an entirely different background. Leaving Poland around 1896 with her father, brother and stepmother (after a mutual divorce) they came to England and then proceeded to CapeTown about 1898. (Wynberg), moving on to Johannesburg and then  Salisbury  in 1908. 

Settling down to married life, and being part of a very close and friendly community they prospered, and were involved in the Salisbury Hebrew Congregational affairs; my father holding the position of Vice President in 1920, while my mother worked with the  Ladies Jewish Guild becoming their Chairlady at one stage. They lived on Moffat Street with an acre of ground on which they had a grove of citrus trees and  near to the General Hospital.   I learnt that during the great Flu epidemic after the first world war, my mother used to collect all the citrus fruit and take it up  to the Hospital for the patients. Many stories of those days were passed on to me as well as to my brothers and sisters, including one about Sir Roy Wilensky (Who became  P.M.  of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland) . He would often play outside my fathers store which faced on to a stream and float  his toy boats etc,  The stream  was later filled in and became a main thoroughfare known as Kingsway.  Many years later  (1958) I met Sir Roy and he mentioned that he remembered my father well.

In 1926 my father sold out his business interests to take on the position of overseas buyer to the British Central Africa Co, which then meant his being based in London for half the year and the rest of the time in Central Africa travelling between the Congo,  N.and S.Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The Compnany ran country supply stores all over Central Africa  He decided to transfer his family ( wife and four children) at first  to Algeria, where he had a brother with 11 children, but my mother soon realised that this was not what she wanted for her children and we were then relocated to Paris where all four children went to school and another one was to be born. !  Three years later we were once again relocated , this time to London , where we all finished our schooling.  At the end of dads contract with the BCA Co,  retirement was an option which did not suit him, and decided to join a clothing factory in Germiston in S.Africa which he then helped to develop further.  As we completed our schooling we all ended up living in Johannesburg (1937).  After my mother died  in 1956 my father decided to retire, and returned  once again to take up residence in S. Rhodesia.

  Concurrently to our leaving in 1926, Aron Cohen moved to Ndola in N. Rhodesia for over 10 years and then to Bulawayo until finally returning to Salisbury in 1940. Being a pious Jew he always recited his daily prayers and participated in “Dovening” in the Synagogue wherever he lived.  My mothers brother Hymie Court  after spending time in S.Africa settled in Salisbury about 1924/5 where he practised as a secretary/ bookeeper.

The war came and I went back to S.Rhodesia to join up after I had qualified as a pharmacist, and  had been  downgraded  by the S.A  Defence.Force.  I was seconded to the RAF, but did not have any special posting  outside of the colony.  In 1938  Brother Albert had returned to Rhodesia to work for Blooms Furnishers in Salisbury, and when called up served with the Rhodesian Medical Corps and earned the Military Medal for his services in organising the repatriation  and discharge of  soldiers with medical disabilities sustained while in the army. It is of interest to note that S.Rhodesia had to introduce conscription soon after the start of the war in order to stem the tide of  men and women who volunteered to join the army. This was in order to maintain the running of the colony and ensure that manpower in the civilian sector did not collapse.  Statistics I believe show that the colony had the highest percentage of people serving in the various forces relative to the size of its population compared to any other member of the British Empire.  Likewise the percentage of Jews  from Rhodesia serving was also one of the highest and  also in the numbers of decorations awarded and “mentions in despatches*.  

 Returning to Johannesburg I joined a pharmacy partnership  and after an overseas trip met my wife Aliza in Israel and brought her back to Johannesburg.  Political considerations influenced me to return to Rhodesia (1955)  where I joined my brother Albert in business and eventually opened my own Pharmacy. As soon as we arrived in Salisbury both Aliza and I became involved in Jewish communal  work in which we continued  until we came on Aliya in 1987,

The wanderings of our family  from Europe and North Africa to Rhodesia ,  then to Europe and S.Africa, and back to Rhodesia, and now with myself and brother Walter and his family ending up in Israel is  like a miniscule of the story  of the wandering Jews, but I feel priviledged and blessed that from the time my parents arrived in Rhodesia  and wherever we lived we were never subjected to anti-semitic  manifestations and enjoyed  comparatively comfortable lives.