Jerry and Lily Graham

June 2023 – Written by Martin Graham.

(See below more detailed text from the History of the Graham, Lurie, Fehler, Rubenstein families excerpted from draft of Martin Graham memoir on 8/18/21)

Gerry was born on the 9th of November 1924 in the mining town of Shamva, north east of Salisbury. His parents Percy and Rebecca (Rubenstein) later moved to a large house on Beit Avenue in Salisbury, abutting the trees on Second Avenue. Both he and his brother Arthur attended Prince Edward High School. Gerry played winger for the !st XV rugby team with Jackie Ferrera, and was an avid member of the tennis team.

The moment he finished high school in 1942, he signed up for the RAF training school Mount Hampden and Cranborne by falsifying his age. He was shipped out to England in 1943, and spend many weeks on the boat on strict rations while avoiding Nazi U boat attacks.

On arrival in England he was trained as a pilot on Lancaster Bombers and posted to Rhodesian Squadron 44, Bomber Command at Spilsby, piloting 9 missions over Germany.

After demobilization he returned to Southern Africa to study pharmacy in Cape Town and then moved to Johannesburg in 1948 to perform his apprenticeship with Mervyn Hatchuel. He had signed up to fly arms from Czechoslovakia to Israel during the War of Independence but love intervened. He met our mother Lily Lurie who was teaching him the piano in the Lurie house across the road from his digs, and they were soon engaged to be married. Lily claims “he was interested in the girl and not the piano”. The wedding took place in Johannesburg on March 8th 1949. They honeymooned in Plettenberg Bay and I was born 9 months later in Salisbury. Sister Wendy arrived 2 years later.

Gerry opened a retail pharmacy, Graham’s Pharmacy, in Salisbury and then began manufacturing pharmaceuticals by rolling 44 gallon drums around behind the shop. He partnered with Jossie Schwartz to form the manufacturing company Central African Pharmaceuticals.

He was an avid member of the Salisbury Hebrew Congregation, serving as President, and playing a large role in the building of the new Congregational complex in Milton Park.
He and Lily moved to London in 1973 and then emigrated to the United States. He remained an ardent and life-long Zionist and was a relentless supporter and advocate for the State of Israel. Hotly contested tennis matches between us, and his wise counsel and camaraderie are sorely missed. May your dear soul rest in everlasting peace.
Lily Graham 
Lily was born on the diamond diggings of Grasfontaine in the Transvaal South Africa on August 20, 1929. Her parents Meischel, whose given name in Lithuanian birth records was Yisrael Moshe, and Chana (née Fehler) had emigrated from the tiny village of Pumpenai, Lithuania, just a few miles north of Vilnius.
Meischel was originally intending to emigrate to the United States in 1924. However, one month prior to the receipt of his visa, the United States Congress passed the Johnson-Reed act preventing the immigration of Jews from Europe. He then went to Plan B, and obtained a visa to emigrate to South Africa.
In April 1925 He took a boat down the Baltic to Plymouth in England, and then sailed to Cape Town.
He left his sweetheart Chana back home in Pumpenai. Three years later, having learned the English language, and established a small business, he sent her passage to Cape Town and she arrived in June of 1928. They were married soon thereafter in the great synagogue, Johannesburg on December 4th 1928. Lily was born the following August of 1929.
The family set up shop on the diamond diggings in Grasfontein Transvaal. We have photographs of Chanah holding Lily at the age of three months outside their makeshift store on the diggings.
Meischel subsequently arranged to have his mother Matle and sister Rosie emigrate to South Africa in January 1929.
Meischel also arranged for the emigration of his numerous siblings and cousins to South Africa. They formed the nucleus of his expanding business in numerous towns located in South Africa including Koster, Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom. Ultimately the core family business was located in Johannesburg and was called Lurie Brothers.
Lily and siblings Marjorie z”l, Aubrey and Rhoda, grew up in a thriving Jewish community in Yeoville, Johannesburg and the family lived a vigorous Jewish life in their home, suffused with music, warmth, hospitality and Jewish observance imported from the Shtetl.
A major event in the life of the family was the purchase of a grand piano which held pride of place in the living room. Lily developed into an accomplished pianist and ballet dancer
Across the road from the Lurie house in 1948 were a number of Jewish boys living together, one of whom, Gerry Graham, was performing his pharmacy apprenticeship with Mervyn Hatchuel in Johannesburg. Jerry was a recently demobilized Royal Air Force bomber pilot from Salisbury Rhodesia. He had enlisted earlier that year to fly munitions from Czechoslovakia to Israel during the Israeli war of independence
Gerry heard that there was a young Jewish girl in the house across the road, went in and introduced himself, ostensibly to take piano lessons with her. Lily recently informed me “he was more interested in the girl than in the piano”.
The romance progressed and in September of 1948 Jerry proposed marriage. Lily’s parents stated that before consenting to the Shiddach, they had to verify the Jewish credentials of the family back in Salisbury Rhodesia, and so entrained promptly to visit the family there. They were not disappointed and the marriage was approved. The couple were married in the great synagogue Johannesburg on March 8th 1949.
The couple then moved to Salisbury Rhodesia where Gerry established his retail pharmacy. Soon I was born, and Wendy 1 ½ years after that.
The family moved into a modest single-story house on Lawson Ave. Milton park Salisbury. Lily and Jerry were both very involved in the burgeoning young Jewish community in Salisbury.
Lily became a devoted mother and wife and was very involved in working for WIZO with all of her friends. She was also very artistic and took pride in beautiful flower arrangements in the home and at numerous community functions.
Both Wendy and I were shuffled off to piano lessons from the age of 5 and Wendy to ballet classes. Lily loved socializing with her numerous friends in the community.
I remember many dinner parties in the house for their large group of friends.
Lily never forgot a birthday or other special occasion. She would send a meticulously written card that always arrived in good time.
Lily’s 2 greatest friends were Bubbles Gelfand z”l and Joyce Lasovsky with whom she would have extensive telephone conversations every morning.
While I was at medical school in Cape Town, Lily and Gerry moved to London England. Both Wendy and I subsequently emigrated to the US, and Lily and Gerry followed suite, setting up homes in Cleveland and subsequently in Naples Florida.
Our families flourished in the US, and we have now burgeoned to 2 children, 8 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
12 years ago, Lily lost her beloved husband Gerry z”l.
We now say a last farewell to her, comforted in the knowledge that she and Gerry will be reunited in the world to come.
Rest in peace mom. Your work is done. You have accomplished much and we will honor your memory forever, by continuing the wonderful ethics, traditions, commitment to family and love that you gave us and taught us

History of the Graham, Lurie, Fehler, Rubenstein families excerpted from draft of Martin Graham memoir on 8/18/21 and shared with Dave Bloom by email after prior agreement. 


Father’s family and early life 

 My father Gerry Graham z”l was born in Shamva, a small mining town in  Rhodesia northeast of Harare, on November 9th 1924. His father Pesach Yona (Percy) had immigrated from the Lithuanian town of Giedraiciai (Gedrovitz in Yiddish, 20 miles north of Vilnius) in the early 1900s with his brother Yisrael Pinchus (Joseph). They had left Lithuania, as did all Jewish boys of military draft age, to avoid the draft into the the Russian army which was for a duration of 25 years, meaning disappearance into Russian culture.  They could not obtain visas to America, the “Goldina Medina”, but visas were easily obtainable to South Africa and Rhodesia which were both British colonies at the time.   They took a boat from Hamburg down the Baltic Sea to England and then took a steamer from England to Durban and thence moved into Rhodesia.  I have found no records of their trip or their arrival in Durban. This information is anecdotal within the Graham family. 

The original family  name is reputed, by cousin Rachel Greenwald (Great Neck NY) to be “Gusman”. I have not found birth records despite extensive searching through the Lithuanian archives.  My assumption has been that when the Graham brothers arrived in South Africa, speaking and writing only Yiddish, they were given the most approximate Scottish name by a Scottish customs officer: “yer name’s now Graham laddies!!!” 

My father’s mother, Rebecca Rubenstein was born in Dublin Ireland on 10/23/1890 (documented per Dublin Jewish community records). Her father, Ephraim Rubenstein had emigrated from Lithuania in the late 1800s and married Malke Leich.  Rebecca had emigrated subsequently to South Africa and Rhodesia where she met and married Percy. 

I have no record or history of the courtship or marriage.  I do have a very well preserved photograph of the Ketuba of Percy’s brother Joseph to his wife Lily in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, December 15th 1920.  

 My father was the third of four children:  first was Renee, second was Arthur five years is senior, and his sister Monica was the 4th child.  They lived in a large  house with a colonial-style wrap-around, covered “veranda” and a tennis court, in Salisbury, Rhodesia. 

My father went to Prince Edward high school, named after a visit by the British Crown Prince who later abdicated his throne as Edward VIII.  Gerry played rugby for the first 15 team and tennis for the tennis team.  Percy Graham, his father, was a trader who did well until he “lost everything” in the Great Depression.  My father recounted to me, many times, that they were in such bad financial straits that they “ had to sell the piano”. The loss of the piano seems to have left an indelible mark on him. 

There was a very strong and very Zionistic Jewish community in Rhodesia at that time.  In Harare, this consisted of 2 equal homogeneous sub-communities, Ashkenazi, 100% emigres from Lithuania, and Sephardic, 100% emigres from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes, an ancient community dating back to the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492.  Each community had its own Synagogue, Rabbi and self governance. There was also a strong Ashkenazi community in Bulawayo.   

In 1943, after finishing high school, my father enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) by exaggerating his age.  The RAF  had a major training base close to Salisbury, where they were sending all their trainees.  Gerry was trained on Tiger Moth biplanes and Harvard trainers. He recounted to me the terrifying experience of being lost during a night flying exercise over Rhodesia, and also how many trainees were killed while learning to fly.  He then took a boat to England to serve in the RAF there, spending four weeks in the Atlantic evading Nazi U boats .  There was strict food rationing on the boat, and he vowed to never experience hunger again.  On arriving in England, there was a surplus of fighter pilots and so he was trained to fly Lancaster bombers, based in Spilsby England with the Rhodesian 44 squadron. He flew 9 missions over Germany, skipper and pilot of “Q for Queenie”. He did not like to talk about his experiences in the war but I would press him for stories.  There he was, all of 19 years old, flying and captaining this massive bomber with four powerful Merlin engines loaded to the gills with high explosive bombs.  Many crews crashed on take off, leaving just a smoldering crater in the runway. He described to me the approach to a German city undergoing a major bombing raid, with this massive glow of the inferno below coming into view as they approached the target. The bomb aimer would radio to him “left, left, steady steady, bombs away skipper”.  The Lancaster would spring into the air with the release of the bomb load but then the antiaircraft fire and German night fighters would open up on them.  They would take drastic evasive action by diving in a death-defying  “corkscrew” maneuver with the massive bomber standing on its wingtips and weaving down in an attempt to avoid the searchlights and the attacks.  He maintained that the key to survival was good team work and he would take the crew on repeated training runs  in order to get them attuned to split second, coordinated action when under fire. It should be noted that fatality rate in Bomber Command was 50%.  He said that many aircraft  would not return from the raid and the personnel would simply pack up the crews’ belongings and send them to the relatives.  Many crews were lost on their first training mission.  When the war ended May 5th 1945, he flew many British troops back from Europe to England in his bomber.  They would kiss the ground and cry when they landed. 

Brother Arthur fought in Montgomery’s Eighth Army against Field Marshall Irwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”, at the battle of El Alamein and subsequently went north into Italy with the American and British armies.  Arthur returned home with a number of paintings “acquired” in Italy, many of which were hanging up in his house, and which I remember well from my early childhood.  It should be noted that many Jewish men from Rhodesia and South Africa, fought with the British,  many of them fathers of my childhood friends, and many were taken prisoner by the Germans following the surrender of the Tobruk fortress to Rommel. 

Following his demobilization in May of 1945 Gerry  returned to Rhodesia and thence went to Pharmacy school in Cape Town for one year. He performed his pharmacy apprenticeship in Johannesburg.  He had signed up to fly munitions from Czechoslovakia to the new state of Israel during the Israeli War of Independence against the Arabs. However, love intervened. He lived in a house on Ellis Street, Bellevue Johannesburg with a number of friends. Across the road was my future mother, Lily Lurie.  She was an 18 year old piano teacher. He wanted to “learn piano” or so he said,  and so signed up as her student. Per a recent Facetime conversation with my mother (11/15/2020) he was, in reality, “interested in the girl and not the piano”. They fell in love, were betrothed later in 1948.    Following their engagement, my mother’s parents Meischel and Chana Lurie traveled by train to Salisbury to check out the Jewish credentials of the Graham family. There was a SNAFU with their reservation at Meikles Hotel downtown and they had to stay at the Graham house. According to Lily, Monica, my father’s younger sister, acted as the interlocuter between the two sets of parents in order to optimize harmony during the visit.  Chana and Meischel were satisfied and consented to the marriage.  See pics of Gerry with his mother Rebecca and Lily’s mother, Chana Lurie, and of Meischel and Chana, in Salisbury, 1948.  They were married on March 8 1949 in the Great Synagogue Johannesburg (see pic).  It was a massive wedding to which all Meischel’s business associates were invited.  We have an audio recording of the wedding on file.  

Mother’s Family 

My maternal grandparents Meischel Lurie and Chana Fehler  came from a small village, Pumpenai, in Lithuania just north of Vilnius, a major center of Jewish scholarship.  Jews had migrated there from Germany in the 16th century to evade persecution. This was called the “Pale of Settlement” where they were granted safe passage and protection by the local rulers.  Meischel’s father Avraham was a schochet (kosher slaughterer) in the village and Ba’al Koreh (Torah reader) in the synagogue.  Meischel was earmarked to attend the Yeshiva in Ponevesz, but his father died suddenly when the family was evacuated to Siberia during World War I.  Meischel was only 13 years old at the time and was forced to support the family and so hit the road trading in furs, with considerable success according to his report. It should be noted here that Meischel was a nickname and his given name in the birth and travel documents was Yisrael Moshe. He took the English name Morris in South Africa, a common practice amongst immigrants from Eastern Europe.  

We have written evidence on a postcard sent by Meischel on February 9th 1923, signed Yisrael Moshe in Yiddish script, to his cousin Zelda, Wolf in Silver Spring Maryland of his impending arrival in New York to join her family as an immigrant.  Zelda was Meischel’s mother Matle’s sister’s daughter, i.e. his first cousin). We have many pictures of Zelda’s numerous visits to South Africa in the late 1940’s, and 50’s and of Meichel’s visits to the family in Silver Spring later.  We Grahams visited Zelda in Silver Spring during our grand tour of the USA in December 1970. 

In 1924, the US Congress passed the Johnson-Reed act preventing the immgration of Jews from Eastern Europe.  It appears that Meischel’s plan to emigrate to the US was prevented at the last minute by this act.  Phone discussion with Aubrey Lurie, my mother Lily’s younger brother, on 1/3/21, confirms this suspicion.  Aubrey stated that Meischel’s application for emigration to the US missed the deadline by 3 weeks! 

A change of plan was called for and Meischel then joined the thousands of Litvak Jews who emigrated to South Africa. The stimulus to emigrate was, once again, because of the 25 year mandatory draft into the Russian army.  Meischel claimed that his mother bribed the Russian military recruiter into falsifying his age, which gave him breathing space to skip the country,  (listen to my 1983 Richmond VA interview of Meischel, on file). 

In May of 1925 he sailed down the Baltic and North seas to Plymouth England and then took  a steamer to Cape Town, departing Plymouth on May 22nd.  He arrived in Cape Town on the steamer “Grantully” on June 13th 1925.   According to Aubrey (phone conversation 5/12/21) Meischel claimed that he gave himself 2 years to learn how to speak and write the English language. We have numerous postcards written in Yiddish script from Chana in Pumpenai to Meischel in South Africa during this period. 3 years later, he brought  Chana over to South Africa.  We have a postcard dated May 1928 showing Chana with her chavurah in Pumpenai with sendoff messages from her friends written on the back in Yiddish script and translated. She arrived in Cape Town on the steamer ‘Wangoni” on July 2nd 1928. They were married five months after that, December 4th,  in the Great Synagogue, Johannesburg.   Lily (Leah named after Chana’s late mother), my mother,  was born nine months later on August  20th 1929.  

Meischel opened a small store in the diamond diggings of Grasfontein in the Transvaal. The biggest diamond rush in history took place in March 1927 on the farm Grasfontein near Lichtenburg, a small town to the west of Johannesburg, when 25,000 runners took part to peg their claims. On the 13 March 1926, Jacobus Voorendyk, discovered a diamond on his family farm and within 12 months there were 108,000 fortune seekers on the scene. The resulting diamond rush lasted ten years. We have pictures, labelled “Grasfontein” by Meischel himself and dated January/February 1930,  of Meischel, Chana and infant Lily outside the corruguted iron shack that constituted the store on the diggings. There is a gasoline hand pump and small serving window apparent in these photographs. 

Three more children, Marjorie (recently deceased z”l), Aubrey (a clinical pathologist in Shreveport LA) and Rhoda (retired dealer in foreign artifacts in Santa Barbara CA) followed subsequently (see pics).  Meischel’s mother Matle, and sister Rosa were brought over in January of 1929, arriving in Cape Town on January 9th on the “Watussi”.  We suspect that mother and daughter had moved to Kovno from Pumpenai, awaiting papers and passage to Plymouth.  Note that that the girl friend came first and that Meischel’s mother Matle and sister Rosa arrived a month after the wedding!  Apparently Matle never forgave Meischel for the faux pas of not waiting for her to arrive before the wedding. Arrival data in Cape Town for all the family members are on file in Dropbox and One Drive. 

Tragically, Chana’s sister Hodel, and Hodel’s husband Notel Kramer, despite numerous to and fro trips by the family to Pumpenai in the 1930’s, declined to join the rest of the family in South Africa because, according to family legend, they were caring for their father Mayla Fehler (my namesake).  They, and all the residents of the town of Pumpenai, were murdered by the Nazis in June 1942 during the German invasion of Russia. See postcard pic of Hodel and Notel sent to the family in South Africa in 1933.  

Meischel subsequently developed his store, from a little corrugated iron shack on the diamond diggings in Grasfontein, into  a thriving business centered in Johannesburg with satellite stores in smaller towns manned  by different family members he had helped emigrate to South Africa.  The business was called Lurie Brothers, dealing in fashion for the Jewish ladies of Johannesburg,  and groceries in the smaller towns. 

The evolution of Meischel’s family business was intimately connected with that of the Fehler family. The base for the two families was initially in the town of Koster, a small farming town to the west of Johannesburg. Meischel developed the Lurie Brothers store in Koster into a thriving business. We have numerous photographs of the extended families in Koster. 

A description of Chana’s Fehler brothers and sisters and their involvement in Meischel’s businesses follows: 

Jacob ran “Fehler and Flax “ in Doornfontein, an inner-city suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, located to the east of the city centre. This was a very profitable general store and delicatessen. 

Brothers Israel (Shroul), Benser and Herzl bought Meischel’s Lurie Brothers store in Koster from him and renamed it “Fehler Bros”. This store was also very successful. 

Meischel then moved his HQ to Johannesburg in 1938 and sent his brothers/cousins to open Lurie Brothers branches as follows: Louis to Zeerust, Issy Kramer to Klerksdorp and Echiel to Potchefstroom 

The Fehler sisters were Golda, the oldest, Hodel and Chana. Their mother died at age 30 from breast cancer. Chana refused to be nursemaid to the younger siblings and went to work with her father running a wheat mill, also successful. 

The work and family evolution of the Lurie family members in the different towns were as follows:  

Louis and Rachel were in Zeerust and subsequently Johannesburg but were childless.   

Cousin Issy Kramer and wife Gladys were in Klerksdorp and were parents  of Brian, an architect in Vancouver, Sandra Jaffe who lives on Pittsburg (husband Ronnie is a highly accomplished Pediatric transplant Pathologist) and Lorraine Kaye in Johannesburg, whose husband is an optometrist. 

Brother Echiel and wife ran Lurie Bros general store in Potchefstroom. Their son Russel Lurie, is a maxillo-facial surgeon who lives in Johannesburg.   

Working in the Johannesburg headquarters building named “Lubros House” were Meischel’s brother Louis and his wife Rachel, and cousin Max Kramer and his wife Minna.  

Grandmother Chana was an ace, aggressive, and highly successful saleslady on the shop floor, catering to the fasion tastes of the Jewish ladies. According to Aubrey, she had memorized the tastes and fashions of all her customers and gave very personalized service.  I visited the business many times as a child and medical student and saw her in action – very impressive.  I was always given gifts of luxurious imported sweaters by grandmother Chana when I visited the store.   

When visiting the Lurie house in Johannesburg in our early childhood, (38 Ellis street, Bellevue, Johannesburg), my sister Wendy and I would help Great Grandmother, Yiddish speaking, tiny lady with bent legs, Matle Lurie, make perogen and kreplach, Shabbat dinner delicacies from the old country.  They had a wonderful Xhosa cook Lucy who worked for the family for many years.  On Friday nights, there was a table with three different kinds of pickled herring in the living room, regular, creamed and Danish (with a tomato sauce), and a large mound of “kichel”, sweet egg crackers embedded with sugar, for the herring.  It should be noted that pickled herring is a staple food in the Baltic countries and was a staple Shabbat hors d’oevre at the Lurie house.  When I attended my first Shabbat kiddish at Keneseth Beth Israel Synagogue in Richmond Virginia, July 1980, and made a dive for the herring, the cantor Waldman shouted out “aha, a Litvak!!!”  The Lurie Shabbat midday meal always began with home made gefilte fish, each piece with a sliced carrot on it.  Shabbat afternoon, Chana would drink lemon tea from a Russian glass tea mug encased in a silver holder.  She would take each mouthful of tea with a spoon of prime blackberry jam.  Another delicacy was “Teglach”,  boiled ring biscuits dripping with sticky syrup.  Whenever the Luries would visit us in Salisbury, a 700 mile trip by car on “strip” roads, they would bring many biscuit tins of Teiglach and Kichel baked by Grandmother Chana and her mother-in-law Matle.   

Here is the translation of the Forward clipping (see image on left of this page) : 

“Married for 40 years” 

“Chana and Moyshe Lurie, who have just celebrated 40 years of married life. They got married in Johannesburg on December 4, 1928. Chana and Moyshe Lurie are popular and well-known as intelligent, friendly people. Aside from their substantial businesses, they find the time to entertain a large circle of friends, and take an interest in matters relating to helping others who need help. Mr. Lurie, who, in his day, studied at the Novardok yeshiva in Gomel (supervised by R. Yuzl, may the memory of this sage be blessed), still remembers what he learned as a child, and to this day opens a holy book and studies a page of Gemara. He is a lover of Yiddish and takes part in local Jewish communal life. His wife, Khane, is also a doer, in her own way. Daughters, in Salisbury, Johannesburg, and Capetown; a son, who is studying in London; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; friends and close friends wish them additional years together, in good health, happiness, and pleasure.” 

I feel this cutting is important because, in addition to the significance of the occasion, it documents that Meischel actually attended Yeshiva prior to his father’s death, and also studied Gemara at home in Jhbg, something I witnessed one Shabbat when I was travelling through Jhbg from Medical School. 

Meischel purchased a family vacation home in Muizenburg, close to Cape Town, the favorite seaside vacation town for South African Jews – the Miami Beach of South Africa.  See numerous pics of the Lurie family in Muizenburg in the 1930, 40’s, 50’s.  As children, we would travel by train for 3 days from Salisbury to spend December and January with the family there, dormitory style.  It was idyllic with the best bathing in Southern Africa there – a beach that would allow one to travel out for hundreds of yards and still have your feet on the sand.  The beach would be packed with vacationers – all Jewish.  Parents, small children, babies and Grandparents’ were seated at the ocean’s edge in front of multicolored bathing booths.  Adolescents and University students were tanning behind the booths in the “snake pit”,  socializing and arranging dates for the evening.  We would spend the morning on the beach and then retire to the house for lunch as the wind was ferocious in the afternoon.  In the evenings, massive crowds would saunter up and down the elevated “Promenade” taking in the fresh sea air.  Often we would motor to Kalk Bay, a fishing port around the bay to wait for the fishing boats to return with their catch.  The boats were loaded to the gills with fish and after making selections, the colored fishwives would gut and clean the fish.  The Uncles, Max Kramer in particular, would purchase wonderful fresh Cape fruit in pine boxes – peaches, plums, melons, grapes.  I have fond memories of dinners in the house, prepared by colored girls shipped in from the Transvaal for the vacation.  On one occasion I trained down to Muizenburg with Aunt Rhoda from Johannesburg, and on another, drove with Uncle Issy, Aunt Gladys and cousin Lorraine from Klerksdorp.  See Lurie and Graham pics in Salisbury,  Johannesburg and Muizenburg. 

When I see pictures of the the Lurie family, their humble homes in a tiny village in Lithuania, their travels and travails to the Lithuanian Baltic port, then to Plymouth England by boat, then down the East African coast to Cape Town, and then into the South African hinterland, having to learn to speak, read and write and whole new language, to start meager little businesses in rough and ready mining towns, and then to establish entire family units in the new country, I marvel at their courage and tenacity and what they ultimately accomplished. We must honor them and remember them and pay tribute to them and also educate our children and grandchildren about them.  

I include here, with permission from the author, an essay written by Aubrey Lurie, my mother’s younger brother, about his parents Meischel and Chana Lurie: 

Sent: Saturday, July 29, 2017 1:50:56 AM 
Subject: Essay on the Greatest Generation 

The Greatest Generation. 

TV Host and Author, Tom Brokaw, considered the fighting men (and women) in the American Military Forces in WWII to be “the greatest generation”.  They responded to the call of the American government and other allies the world over, to resist Nazism and Japanese Imperialism.   

Thinking about my own families struggle for survival has made me realize that my parents’ generation was a great generation as well. 

My parents had their youth during the years 1910 – 1925.  They lived their early years in small villages (shtetls) of Lithuania in working-class poverty and religious discrimination and were lucky not to be caught up in pogroms occurring in Russia.  With the outbreak of WW1, Lithuania was invaded by troops of Imperial Germany.  These troops often displayed compassion to local residents by opening up army storage depots containing food and clothing.  My paternal grandmother told me she sent her children to collect army coats and clothing released by the German army.  She remodeled these as clothes for her 4 children that lasted them for several years.  Lithuania and Russia evacuated many of the villages to remote sites in Russia or Siberia.  My father’s family were sent to a village in Western Russia.  My mother’s family were shipped in cattle-trucks to Siberia.  Many years later, while watching the movie, Dr. Zhivago, and a vivid depiction of an evacuation scene, my mother “lost it” and was mentally transferred back 30 years into the cattle-trucks.  She needed to be carried out of the cinema and resuscitated back into real time. As a consequence of her living in Siberia for a few years, she had a life-long love for the Russian language, literature and music. 

My Father’s father Avraham died during his family’s evacuation to Western Russia. At the end of WW1 my Father and his family returned to their Lithuanian village without him.  My father, aged 12 years at the time, had assumed the responsibility of supporting his mother and 3 siblings, which he did by trading in used fur coats, gloves and other clothing.   

Economics in Lithuania during the early 1920’s was harsh and perilous.  Families had heard of the economic advantages of life in the USA, so many applied for immigration papers to the USA. In 1925, aspirations to the USA encountered a US Congress resolution restricting Eastern European immigration.  This prevented my father from obtaining a US immigration visa. By then my father was in his early 20’s and he looked for other countries willing to allow immigration.  He was fortunate to obtain immigration papers to South Africa.  Reports of opportune conditions in that country had been received, so that he and many others of similar age made the move. 

In 1925 he sailed from Riga, Latvia with boat bookings through Southampton, England to Cape Town, South Africa.  An American refugee charity, called HIAS, assisted these young non-English speaking men by escorting them through the English ports.  After arrival in Cape Town the young immigrants were placed onto trains heading for Johannesburg, the financial center of the country. 

My Father, not speaking a word of English, gave himself a year to learn English, and to earn enough money to open his own general store on a diamond mine.  He also accumulated funds to pay the passage from Lithuania to South Africa for his girl-friend (my mother), and his own mother and 3 siblings.  He set up each of the male siblings and close cousins in stores in several small villages in the area, and eventually established a wholesale business in Johannesburg to supply the retail stores.    

The family business of 5 stores and a central supply center thrived. The headquarters of the business in Johannesburg established a factory to manufacture coats and women suites. It also imported goods for several department stores in Johannesburg from Europe, the USA and the Far East. 

After my father died in his 80’s I discovered a ledger book of listings in Excel-format the price of goods he purchased in the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Israel, their shipping and landing costs, their taxes and their mark up values.  Where did he learn all that?  He developed relationships with bank managers, accountants, advisors, and used his own practical and disciplined tough practices to make a successful life for his and 5 other families. 

My Mother assisted him for many years.  She had trained in business responsibilities in Lithuania where she worked with her father, who was a store owner there.  She had no knowledge of business techniques, but had an uncanny eye for fashion, clothing design and the fashion worlds of France, Italy, Spain, Israel and the USA; all this without any special education.  Her memory for clothing styles, and what suited her customers, was astounding.  She could recall what customers had purchased and worn years before such that they trusted her recommendations unconditionally.   

My father was a strict disciplinarian.  Life was hard and unpredictable.  There was no allowance for inactivity.  He disdained time-wasting activities such as cards, gambling and liquor.  He supported his children on cultural activities such as studying music and dance.  He encouraged us to purchase books but not to waste money on superficialities.  He was occupied in providing for his family 7 days a week.  He enjoyed walking as his exercise and working with plants in his garden or arranging floral displays for his house. My mother worked in the business with him on the sales and customer service side. The two of them went on several buying trips to Europe and the USA after WW11. 

These two individuals are excellent examples of the intelligent immigrant experience. There is no telling what heights they would have achieved in the USA, the ultimate country of free enterprise. 

That generation was extra-ordinary.  How fortunate they were to leave  Europe when they did.  If not, they, too, would have gone up in chimney smoke. 

Aubrey A. Lurie MD” 

To summarize, it appears that historical forces, British colonial, Russian militaristic, US governmental antisemitic, all came together to drive my ancestors out of Eastern Europe and into Southern Africa.  The timing was exquisite, as there was no foretelling, in the 1920’s, that the forces of Fascism and murderous antisemitism would consume Europe 20 years later. The courage of our forefathers to break free of their tiny villages and undertake the perilous journey into another hostile continent has to be marveled at and admired.  We and our children and grandchildren owe our very existence on this planet to the timely actions they undertook under very difficult conditions.