Katz Family

22.10.2004. Rhodesia-the Katz Family story-1939-1973.

Written by Ruth Mor (nee Katz)

My Father’s story.

Eric Katz, my father, was born in 1906 in Frankfurt en Mein in Germany. He was educated at the Samson Raphael Hirsch Jewish Day School which was considered one of the best of its kind in Europe. When Hitler came to power my father’s family realized that they had to leave Germany, and as my father said to me many years later “You don’t just leave a town or a country you leave a continent”. Almost all the family (on my mother’s side too) succeeded in moving to Israel, England and the U.S.A. My grandparents and my father’s younger brother Richard moved to South Africa in 1935 and left my father to close up things .This took longer than expected and my father was arrested on Crystal Night-he was a madrich in the Ezra Movement. At that time if you could get a visa to any where the Germans would let you out. South Africa had already closed its gates to German Jews, but my father had an Uncle Joe Strauss who lived in Livingston. At that time there were no visas available to Northern Rhodesia but he managed to “beg, borrow or steal” one to Southern Rhodesia. In April 1939 my father’s ship docked at Cape Town, but with the South African authorities it was “Go straight to Southern Rhodesia.Do not pass go. Do not collect 200! And say hallo to you family from the train window.” My father arrived in Bulawayo almost penniless, speaking hardly any English and with nowhere to live. He was taken in by one of the “older” German Jewish families-I don’t remember who. What I do remember is my father telling me that from the day he arrived in Bulawayo he only spoke English. In order to read the newspaper he would go to the Public Library everyday. He soon found work for a South African firm as their agent selling textiles. When the war broke out my father, who was stateless, and was also considered an enemy alien had to report to the police daily. Because his parents were aging, the South African’s allowed him to visit from time to time. During one of these short visits in 1946 he met my mother-Tillie Katz (she was a Katz before she married but no relation.)After three dates he said “Marry me or it’s over. My mother said “Yes!”  


My Mother’s story.  


The first members of my mother’s family arrived in South Africa in 1830 and trekked with the Boers, arriving and settling in Bloemfontein sometime in 1836.As happened in those days, those settlers brought out other members of the family. My grandfather’s uncle Julius Wertheim settled in Grafrienet and then sent for my grandfather August Katz (yes, as previously mentioned, my mom was a Katz before she married!) who arrived in 1896. After Mom died I found a photo album of my grandfather with photos taken from the boat going through the Suez Canal. My Grand father’s uncle fought on the Boer’s side and was captured by the British and sent to Ceylon as a prisoner of war. We have postcards written to the family from there.  


In 1914 my grandfather was on a family visit to Germany when the First World War broke out. His brothers were   officers in the German Army but as he was a British Subject he was interned for the duration. At the end of the War he met my grandmother, a dentist by profession. They were married but there followed a long period of correspondence with various authorities to arrange their repatriation. My grandfather was also not in very good health from his incarceration and thus it was that my mother was born in Germany, in 1919, a South African citizen born on foreign soil. A few months later the young family was repatriated to South Africa, where they settled in a dorp called Faurismth about 80 miles from Bloemfontein. They were the only Jewish family in town and though my grandmother was the only dentist in the district as she was qualified in Germany she was not allowed to practice. Faurismith lies in the heart of Afrikanerism  and as time went past, particularly after the rise of Hitler anti-Semitism was rampant. Although, as my mom said, the neighbours said that that didn’t apply to them!! In 1936 the family moved to Cape Town. It was during these years that almost the whole family on both parents side got out of Germany. My mother’s fiancée was killed at Tobrouk and although she met my father when he had been given permission to visit his parents she was not interested in anything serious. A year later in 1946 when my father was in Cape Town again she agreed to go out with him.  




My parents were married in Cape Town. At that time South African Law stated that a wife automatically took on her husband’s citizenship, and as at that time my father was still stateless, she lost her South African citizenship and she too became stateless!  


In Bulawayo they lived in Belmont Court behind Queens Sports Club. I was born in April 1948.A couple of months before I was born my parents were granted Rhodesian citizenship, British subjects.

My parents were very much involved in Jewish affairs. Dad was a member of the Shul committee and remained a member on and off until a few years before his passing in 1975.  


He started his own business in conjunction with his brother in Cape Town- Katz Brothers Agencies. Meanwhile in 1949 we moved to Kumalo before it became known as Jewmalo. My mother worked in the office in the early stages of setting up the business. At that time dad would have to travel a lot- mainly to Salisbury. We lived around the corner from the old airport and when we heard the plane fly over the house we would get in the car to fetch him and get there as the plane landed.

When I was about 5 years old my father (who never went near the water) decided that it was too hot, and he had built the first private pool in the area. On Saturday and Sunday nights we used to have between 50 and 60 people for supper at the pool. My mother arranged for Mr. Bridger the swimming trainer at the municipal pool in Borrow Street to train all the neighbourhood kids at our pool.  


At this time my father received a new name…”the singing Mr. Katz.” He would sing Chazanut on his way to and from work every day and all the shopkeepers along the route would set their watches by him as he went past singing, although of course they never understood What he was singing.

My mother was one of the founders of the Women’s Synagogue League and was also active in the Communal League. But she was mostly known for her election campaigning. Amongst others she ran Yurik Goldwasser’s mayoral campaign. When Reg Sager stood against Ian Smith, she ran his campaign and she predicted to within 20 votes by how much he would lose.

Meanwhile I was growing up in a children’s paradise. Although I was an only child and lived on the wrong side of Baxendale   Street –White Road bordered on Kumalo North! I was never lonely. We all attended Kumalo School. (Carmel School didn’t exist at that time.)  


Most Saturday mornings we would be driven into town by Robert Zipper’s driver for ice cream and cokes and bioscope. Sunday was Habonim day. When we went to high school, the girls to Townsend and the boys to Milton we lost some of that special closeness. At the age of 15 we became madrichim and then our lives evolved totally around the Movement. Easter holidays were spent at Weitzman camp. August holidays at seminar in Salisbury and Onrust at the end of the year. When I was in the lower sixth form I was the madricha in charge of the train to camp. There were 200 chanichim on the train .It took us 3 days  and nights passing through Botswana before reaching South Africa. When I think back on it that the parents had no problem in entrusting their children to a 16 year old, and to me it was perfectly  natural to do what I did. I will never forget the train trip home when the train was derailed and Eliot Gordon was killed- our first real meeting with death- but this didn’t stop us all going to camp the following year. My parents offered to send me to Switzerland for winter sports but I was adamant camp or nothing.  


As I write, memories pop up long past and forgotten and in no real chronological order: Incidents such as the riots in Bulawyo sometime early in the sixties. Rumours flew around that the Africans were marching on the centre of the city, so the police threw a cordon around the townships. Somehow my mother got hold of a knobkerrie which held pride of place under the bed. Later she even bought a pistol which she never even learnt to use. For months we slept with a packed suitcase under the bed and the cars were always filled up. And as my dad said if we had to leave we wouldn’t stop in Cape Town. I don’t think that he had Israel in mind as a destination, but as far as I was concerned from the age of 12 I had already made up my mind that Israel and Kibbutz were my destinations.

The Congo crises left a big impression on me. I remember convoys of cars, dirty, damaged and weighed down with all their belongings as well as trainloads of tired, frightened and bewildered people. My mother was called in to translate as her Afrikaans was of such a level that the Flemish speaking refugees could understand and communicate through her. I don’t remember how many families passed through our house, but after my mother passed away I found amongst her jewelry a silver cigarette case which one of the families gave her in appreciation. It was all of value that they had salvaged and I know how much she treasured that gesture.  


When U.D.I was declared we were all convinced that’s it, the beginning of the end. But at the beginning nothing much changed even when sanctions were first introduced. My father together with such others as Lutz Hammershlag who was married to my mother’s cousin Wallie, became major sanction breakers: Dad in textiles, Lutz in cars in exchange for tobacco, chrome and other tradable goods. Because of this my father suddenly had to speak German again as most of the deals went through Germany, although it was mom who did the correspondence because her German was better than his. We took out German passports to enable us to travel. This was an extremely difficult decision for dad to make but on a Rhodesian passport we couldn’t go past South Africa. Dad was a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Economic Committee and because of this was very much involved with all sorts of activities about which he never talked and took with him to the grave.  


Again out of chronological order (it’s as these things come to mind while I am writing) in 1953

 the Rhodes Centennial Exhibition took place in Bulawayo. The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret came to Bulawayo for the celebrations. Our next door neighbour (one of the few non Jewish families who lived in Kumalo) Donny MacIntyre was the son of the Mayor and later Minister of Finance  Sir Donald MacIntyre .  His children were chosen to present the Royal Party with flowers, and I ,the tag along from next door, spent hours with them practicing how to curtsy!!!. At that time I was a pupil at the Bulawayo Hebrew English Nursery School. I remember standing together with all the other children in the avenue that led up to Government House waving the Union Jack .  


After Rabbi Yesorsky passed away there came to Bulawayo a Rabbi unlike any we had ever known-Jeremy Rosen. ALL the girls fell in love with him. He was a really special person and left a lasting impression on the whole Community. He made the religion become very much a living entity and not something that belonged to the Rabbi and the Synagogue goers. And talking of Religion there was a period- I don’t remember  exactly when it took place ,when Shochtim Charidim were sent from Israel to kill beef, which was then exported to Israel. None of us had ever seen or met people such as them before .They too were only in Bulawayo for a few months but they left an indelible impression on all of us.  


In the period when we had no Rabbi my father was often called to give his opinion on Religious and Spiritual matters. He had an incredible knowledge and very modern attitudes to religion and tradition. He always believed that in order to be viable, Judaism should always be changing while not losing sight of our roots and beliefs. He was  an Orthodox Jew but this did not prevent him from being firm friends with Rabbi Cassel. They were both born in Frankfurt and had been in a study group with Martin Buber and Franz Rozenzwieg way back when.  


Some time during the fifties my mother began giving private lessons in Afrikaans. She never took money for them unless she felt it was necessary for the pupil in question to realize that in order for him or her to learn and understand why they needed her tutoring. It was more of an educational lesson than the need to be paid. Countless students passed their O and A levels thanks to her. In later years she also began teaching at the King George V Rehabilitation Centre  as well as doing a lot of work at the St. Clare’s Home for unwed mothers which was just down the road from us.  


I decided to go to U.C.R. as I felt that (1) I needed to complete my education before coming on Aliyah  (2)  The level at U.C.R. was higher than that of South African Universities and a London University degree was recognized anywhere in the world, and (3) most important-Habonim- the need for some sort of senior leadership. U.C.R. was an experience well worth going through. Learning in a multiracial society, small and intermit-1000 students-24 of them Jewish-2 girls Terry Abrams (who lives on Kibbutz Ktura) and myself. If we weren’t studying, we were busy with the Movement. I was in my first year when the Six Day War broke out. If I ever needed to be reminded where my future lay, it was in the words of one of the African students “Why are you still here? As far as the whites are concerned you are Jewish and not wanted, and as far as the blacks – you are white and Jewish so go to Israel.” At the end of 1970 I left. My father passed away in 1975. In the intervening years after I left, he slowly started to go down hill. Eventually he was overcome by Tuberculoses, a result of First World War deprivation and his stay in the Concentration camp or so the doctors said.  


In the meantime I settled on Kibbutz Yizreel and  married an ex American Yossi Mor . In 1974 together with my oldest son Nachshon who was then a baby of 8 months I visited Rhodesia so that my father could see his oldest grandchild. In 1976 my mother left Bulawayo and came to live with us on the Kibbutz .She passed away in 2001 at the age of 82.She lived to see 5 grandchildren and a great granddaughter. She too never went back and as the Hammerschlag’s and the Hodes’s (Meir and Hannah) also left, we really had no contact, although my mother heard from time to time from the Max Gordon’s and the Hans Bloch’s.  


BUT a few years ago the Kibbutz invested in a satellite dish to receive Super Sport .While watching a cricket match from Bulawayo  I could see that the city had not changed as they occasionally show shots of the city. I was also able to point out to the kids Belmont Court which was behind Queens ground, which was my first home.  


And last year the wheel came a full circle when my daughter Alita spent 8 months in Africa. She started in South Africa where she arrived in time to see a couple of games of the cricket world cup. From there she went through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Tanzania. The train that she took from the Victoria Falls to Bulawayo still uses the old engines and coaches that we used to travel to machaneh! She went to see our house in Kumalo and from her description and the photos it has not been changed, except that the pool was made smaller and the garden was not the beautiful park of my childhood. The pergola that my mother built together with the garden boy and was covered in various coloured bougainvillea, and at Succoth would hold between 30 and 50 guests is now totally bare. But other than that from her story going to Bulawayo is like slipping back in a time machine, although Zimbabwe is certainly not the Garden of Eden that was Rhodesia.