Rhodesian Jews - a brief history by Manfred Schwartz

Central Africa – a brief history

by Manfred  J  Schwartz 

            Immediately after the 1939-1945 World a great wave of immigrants flooded the region, and Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland beckoned many immigrants to its borders.

            But more than a half a century earlier in 1889, Cecil John Rhodes of De Beers Diamond fame,established, almost as his own fiefdom, the British South Africa Company (BSA) which wielded enormous influence in Africa,  

            In 1923 the Country was granted internal self-government and then in 1953 became the Federation of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland.

            As the British Empire builder supreme, he advocated a string of British Possessions stretching from the Cape Colony to that of Egypt, thus on the Map, each adjacent entity, printed in Red, would form the Route of successs of British Imperialship. 

            Thus during the latter part of the 1800’s  many settlers including numbers of Jews of eastern European origin came to this Paradise, and were instrumental in the development of the country.

            Later many emigrated from the Boer Republics and the Cape Colony and Natal. One Zeederberg of Pietersberg maintained a Mail Coach Service. He was renowned for having teams of Zebras drawing the Coaches. Thus many who could afford it, used the Coach Service, from the South, while others via Mozambique were compelled to walk from Beira in the Portuguese Territory on the East Coast, far through Central Africa and inland. From the Zululand eastern coastal strip right up to East Africa and westwards to Equatorial Africa was ‘fly belt’ (tsetse) country, prevalent too was the feared Malaria Fever.

Thus the intrepid settlers faced hazards from wild animals as well as  all the debilitating diseases and shortages of adequate food.  

            Glossina (Tsetse-fly) which transmit Nagana in animals and sleeping sickness in man, precluded domestic animals from being utilised for transport. As the railways had not been laid, people had to WALK the several hundreds of miles, even so far as the Belgium Congo. One Issy Heimowitz actually told me that in the 1920’s, when he came to Africa he had travelled for almost 1000 miles from Beira as far as Elizabethville (Lumbasha) in the Belgium Congo.

            It was thus the area which became known as Southern Rhodesia also was targeted as a ‘promised land’ and many pioneers and settlers invaded the Territory and extended to Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

            Many Sephardic Jews from the Greek Island of Rhodes (famous for one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, the statue of Helios, in the Aegean Sea) came, mainly, to Salisbury.         

            They established a Synagogue in 1932, and kept to their own millineum old customs and culture. Their prayer services are somewhat different from Ashkenazi ones, and the melodies are different too, as are their habits and traditional foods. They have a different pronunciation of a few Hebrew vowels and one Hebrew consonant. However, Ashkenazim are adopting Sephardic pronunciation because it is the that used in Israel.

            From ancient times Sephardic Jews have been more integrated into the local non-Jewish cultures. Whereas with Ashkenazic Jews, where Judaism flourished, there was greater tension between Christians and Jews, and hence they tended to be isolated from their non-Jewish neighbours, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

            In the Islamic lands where Sephardic Judaism developed, no such segregation existed. Sephardic Jewish thought and culture was strongly influenced by Arabic and Greek philosophy and science.

            Even in the post-war period they were never really totally integrated with the Askenazi Jews. It is probable that the Sephardic dialect, Ladino, a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish, precluded their complete absorption. Since they had no common Jewish lingua franca such as Yiddish (of the Slavo-Turic Jews) they were a separate community, and there were few intermarriages.

            During the Spanish Inquisition, in 1492, it happened to be that the Ninth of Av was the date designated for all Jews of Spain to leave the country. The horrors which those Jews experienced is of such a magnitude, that one can hardly imagine that even the passing centuries can not diminish.

            Prior to 1956 there was no Progressive Jewish Congregation or Reform Movement in Southern Rhodesia. Due to declining numbers generally, in 1977 the Salisbury congregation of Reform Jews, merged with the Orthodox Congregation of other Ashkenazi Jews, who are the Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe. The word “Ashkenazic” is derived from the Hebrew word for Germany.

            In 1935, with the general World Depression, Rhodesia too was affected. In order to gainfully employ the population and create and  find work and some income, the Government forced every unemployed White male into work gangs or teams and paid them five shillings per day, plus board and food.

            To absorb the larger number of unemployed, labour intensive Public Service projects were proposed. Thus manual labourers would be used to create and construct a viable system of roads and thus open up the Country for faster communication.

            The brilliant idea of Strip Roads came into vogue. These consisted of  asphalt strips of 30 inches (750 mm) wide. Oncoming traffic would cause each driver to veer to their left, and thus use only the one strip in each direction. Thereafter each vehicle would return to the two strips, till the next oncoming vehicle.

            This system existed till just after the War, when slowly all the roads would be widened. The use of Strip Roads certainly opened up the entire country with relatively cheaper all weather roads. Shortly after their completion, the War broke out, and proved to be most useful when the S A Defence Force moved convoys of materials and men etc from The Union through Central and East Africa into Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt and onto the Western Desert.

            It was a strange irony that this was a fulfilment of Cecil John Rhodes’ dream of ‘Cape to Cairo’. With all British territories (the ‘all red route’ on every map), across the African Continent, was that dream realised.

            During the war the  Royal Air Force opened Air flying schools in various of the Commonwealth countries. With the ideal weather conditions prevailing for the most part of the year in Southern Africa scores of servicemen were trained in the two Rhodesias.

            The majority of Air Force personel were from over-populated cities, who now experienced a new freedom in the Wild Africa of novels.

            So, at the end of the War many ex-Airmen and other servicmen decided to settle mainly in Southern Rhodesia. Of these there were quite a number of young Jewish men and women.

            The influx of cosmopolitan talent and ideas added to the local communities’ cultural and artistic activities, thereby raising the standard of the Arts, Culture and entertainment and many other social activities.

            After the 1948 elections and the victory of the Nationalist Party many South Africans feared that the strict race laws and Apartheid policies of the Government augured ill for the future. Thus large numbers of South Africans decided to emigrate and choose mainly Southern  Rhodesia.

            This influx of new blood, mostly Jewish, helped augment the already existing Industries and other commercial enterprises as well as to modernise and bring a greater impetus to the economy.

            Added to this was the establishment of the State of Israel, which gave added interest to the Zionist fervour and support and bonding to the new young democracy. To economically assist the infant State, every effort at fund raising was a priority to exist, which the generous community knowing no bounds, enthusiastically encouraged.

            In 1949 the Jewish Communities of the Rhodesias celebrated the first anniversary of the Statehood of the Jewish Land of Israel, with elaborate functions and festivities, and this continued each year thereafter.

            The Zionist enthusiasm of the Rhodesians was akin to that of the other Southern African Jews, and was highlighted in all their fundraising activities. Their efforts at Aliyah too, swelled the English speaking numbers in Israel, here too contributing to economic and academic endeavours in Israel.

            The expectancy of the Brave New World after the Second World War, which promised an end to all other Wars, gave everyone a Brighter Future, and showed up in their euphoric outlook and attitudes in every aspect of their activities and lives.

            The vibrancy of life, though hard, allowed people to enjoy the freedom of a life of leisure in a Colonial Atmosphere with pleasant, willing and freely available ‘cheap labour’. Like the words of the old song ‘’Those were the Days’’, people really thought that ‘they would never end’.

            In the Commercial sphere factories were established to take advantage of the plentiful, eager labour force. This, together with the need to become a self-supporting economy, gave rise to the manufacture of goods formerly imported from the UK, Continent and The United States.

            The war effort had brought about the need for small factories to provide the goods and services required, for everyday Wartime life. Building on the expertise from already established industries in the Union of South Africa and the United Kingdom, many concerns opened branches or subsidiaries in Southern Rhodesia. The result was a spate of new and better factories mushrooming throughout the two Rhodesias.

            Prosperity was felt in the air and the entire Country experienced the effects of the rebirth of Rhodesian achievements – Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, Constructional or Cultural. The fires of economic success were further fueled by virtual full employment and immigrants entering the Country. People were gainfully employed with the chance to earn money, and were spending their wages and salaries to satisfy their yearnings, aspirations, and newly discovered wants. 

            Many would claim that the Colonial days were not as bad as the post period, where Jack is as good, or even better than as his Master. Further, it may be considered erroneouos that the idea of Uhuru with its idiom of ‘majority rule’ is the panacea to remedy all historical evils. Despite the shackles of the Indigenous Peoples throughout the Colonies, there were certain degrees of education, health services, legal processes, law and order.

            In all these fields, there are specific examples of how Jewish endeavour and achievement has been influential. Throughout their long History of migration, settlement and entrepreneurship the Jews have always contributed adequately and sufficiently to every Country which has hosted them.

            Their ability to reach pinnacles of excellence in every field is so well recorded that one has at the back of ones mind the thought that no matter where or when they are, the Jews become achievers, leaders and prosperous citizens.

            The Central African scene was no different. Jews filled high positions in all spheres with their drive, enthusiasm, expertise, high ethic standards and achievements. From Agriculture to Zoology Jews make the grade and make their Home Land or Country of Adoption prosperous.

            For the lists of the names of many Jewish tradesmen, businessmen commercial and industrialists in the early 1950’s, can be accessed from the following websites:


Bulawayo  and  Harare   Zimbabwe

Researched and presented by Manfred  J  Schwartz  East London July 2004

 Copywrite      e-mail;——-[email protected]


by Manfred  J  Schwartz 

(see also these pages for additional businesses in Harare

and for businesses in Bulawayo ) updated in February 2022


Allied and Paper Processing Toilet Roll Factory Manfred Schwartz–Central African Pharmaceuticals Jos Schwartz and Partners (no relation) –Arthur Cohen Grocery Jamieson Ave–Bill Feigenberg Windsor Hotel then step son Albert Ruda –Forman Plumbing and Hardware Merchants –Dereck Friend Music Salon–Stan Guerlen Chemical Mfgrs–Paul Gillis Engineer (civil)–Goldsmiths and Silversmiths –Issy Haimowitz Bookkeeper–Handler and Schrier Cardboard boxes and fibreboard suitcases–Hoffman (Barney) attorney ??? Hoffman Water Judge–Joelson Bros Plumbing and Hardware Merchants–Boris Kass Director Lysaght & Co Ltd Engineering works–Bennie Kass & Guy Singer‘Timber and Hardware’ Kaufmans Wholesalers–Krikler and Lasovsky Wholesalers–Margolis William (Bill) ( Chairman of the Maize Board)–He and his Business Partner –Anolik had a very large Grain and Milling company. Bill was presented with the OBE –?? Odes Toilet Roll Factory–Palte Bros ran a Maize Milling Co Pichanic Bros the Express Nut and Oil Factory–Ivor Pitch ( Pitchanic) Mayor of Salisbury Huby Ponter Mattress and Furniture Factory–Bernard Ponter Sales Representations — Leslie and Harry Bloom of Blooms Furnishers — Jack Pelham of Pelhams Furnishers, Joe Salem of Salem Carpets, 

Robinson and Schwartz Wholesalers–Toby Rabinowitz and son Sweet Factory–Toby Rabinowitz and son-in-law Meltzer Tobies Bottle Store–Schwartz Agencies M J Schwartz–m/s Sugerman (Medical Doctor)–van den Berg brothers Terry towel manufacturers–Zlotnik Dentist –? Regenstraat Dentist Hilliard Bamberg Doctor-Albert Zinn Doctor

Marandellas–Raoul Codron General Dealer

Odzi-Goldberg Bros Farmers and Hotel

Inyazura– Louis Buffenstein Farmer (South Devon Stud) and Race Horse Owner, David Buffenstein farmer Sholem Buffensteintobacco farmer – Farm called Mount Shalom


Arcade Kaplan and his brother Outfitters–Abe Abrahamson Member of Parliament–Banet and Harris Furniture Dealers-Berman Colin manager-Economy Stores P Eagle manager-Major Harold Ellenbogen Furniture-Fredman Bros Wholesalers-S S Grossberg Wholesalers-Grahame Kadey Pharmacist-Harris Bros (Standish) Milling Co-Bennie Lobel and Brothers Biscuit Factory–Lobel Bros Bakeries-Lobel Delicatessen-Lepar and Partner S & L (Essanel )_Choclate Sweey Fcatory -Plate Glass Gerald Lubner

Posen Radio-Rhodesian Paper Barons-Sam Rabinowitz & son Clem Bulawayo Clothing-S Rabinowitzanufacturers Agents–Sager Motors–Sacks sweets? -M & E Solomon Clothing

Harry Suhr (well known Skin and Hide Dealer from early days )–Sussman Brothers Phillip and Harold Radio Assembly Factory–Sussmans Ranches in Northern Rhodesia–Meyer ? Phil Taube Modern Motors (General Motors distributors in Central Africa), A Zipper Clothing–Zlattner Textile Works

Gwelo–Rabinowitz Clothing Shop

General Observations

When the layout of Bulawayo was being decided on , Cecil Rhodes insisted that the streets be wide enough to allow a wagon and full span of oxen to turn around. An other suggestion was that the streets as well as the avenues had names and or numbers. Thus if the address would be 123 First Street an added instruction was given such as, between 7th and 8th Avenues this pin pointed the building/house precisely

Harry Shur as an early resident of S Rho naturally was friendly with Meikle (string of Shops and Hotels) who stipulated in his will that Shur enjoy at any and all his hotels free accommodation for life.

Harry Shur stored his hides etc at his large site out at the Industrial sites, (the boundry fences was composed of hessian woven cloth, nothing was ever stolen from his yard) where he stored bones and horns, the pile had accumulated over scores of years. Eventually in about 1950 some Rumanian Industrialists interested in Glue factories bought the mountain paying at that time the unheard of figure of ?25000-00

Issy Haimowitz in his early days was employed by Harry as his Bookkeeper, who would go through his cheque book stubs and tell Issy what he paid and all the particulars of each and every deal from memory. Paragha his Matabele chauffeur, driver and travelling companion was his righthand man and manager. After so many scores of years of working together they had built up an unique relationship. It is not known if Paragha could speak English but they certainly conversed in Matabele, which is virtually Zulu. As Harry could not read or write English he was said to be ignorant and illiterate. Quite the contrary he had been a Yeshiva Bocher in the Old Country and was well versed in both Hebrew and Yiddish which he could read and write.He never married and his large estate was left to the many Charities.

In those years every general dealer would have men working at sewing machines making khaki shorts and other clothing items either in the shop itself or on the verandahs in good weather. Another particular aspect was that in clothing factories all the machinists would be young men, unlike in South Africa where women did this type of work. The majority of the clothing as well as the textile factories were owned by Jews In the years just after WW11 import permits were required for American and other Dollar sourced goods. Funds on the other hand were available for any products provided from Sterling Areas, Before the war many German and other Jews seeking asylum from the Nazis were able to enter South Africa and Southern Rhodesia However when the low quotas set for these Immigrants were reached no more were allowed in. Fortunately the British Protecorates eg Swaziland- Bechuanaland- Northern Rhodesia allowed a small number to enter and settle. There were a number from the Baltic States who went to Livingstone near the Victoria Falls, and Lusaka and Ndola.

The Belgium Congo–Zaire


Amato Freres were very big merchants, dealers and manufacturers with factories making oil and soaps-and bye products from the local crops. When the Congo gained Uhuru (independence) the Amato family relocated to Umtali (S Rho) and South Africa. At Benoni they had a jute bag and textile factory. In East London they had an oil expressing factory, (a trade of which they were familiar in the Congo). They used Sunflower and Cotton seed and Peanuts–Towards the end of 1948 and onwards many South African Jews elected to settle in S Rhodesia.

During the war many servicemen were trained in the two Rhodesias due to the ideal weather conditions prevailing for the most part of the year in Southern Africa many Royal Air Force schools were established. Many servicmen returned after the war and settled in the Rhodesias.

Of these there were quite a number of young Jewish men. The influx of talent and ideas added to the local communities cultural and artistic activities of plays, concerts, fetes, and on and on

Added to this was the establishment of the State of Israel, which gave added impetus to the Zionist fervour and support and bonding to the new young democracy. for fund raising from the generous community knowing no bounds

During the early 1920s Capt Joseph Ellman MC and after demobilization from the Royal Engineers joined the Rhodesian Railways and worked as Chief Railway Engineer on the routes mainly in Northern Rhodesia to plan, survey and oversee the laying of the railway line in wild undeveloped virgin bush. No heavy construction available as three decades later when the Great North Road was built from Livingstone to Lusaka and on to Abercombe in the far north of N Rhodesia to connect with the Tanganiya and beyond to further and modernise Cecil Rhodes’dream Cape to Cairo Route and on to Fort Jamieson in the far east of N Rhodesia to connect with Tete in Nyasaland

Early in the 1900s transport was pedestrian, using porters to do the lifting and carrying, not to forgetthe forked stick messenger. Tsetse Fly and Horsesickness prevented draught animal transport. For this reason Zeederberg Bros who had the Mail Stage Coach Contract to service the Pietersberg to Bulawayo route experimented with Zebras, not a very easy animal to domesticate and train but were immune to the diseases. For quite a number of years they used these animals. It was a unique and picturesque scene to see, out of a cloud of dust, the Stage Coach pull up and these beautiful shiny sleek white and black striped restless animals at the end of their work shift or stage for that day.

Issy Haimowitz arrived (from Rumania) in Beira and WALKED (just as everybody else had to do till the railway line was built from the coast to the hinterland) to Ndola in N Rhodesai and onto the Belgium Congo This‘long walk’ took about nine months. One cannot realize the attendant dangers which the Pioneers faced of wild animals, river crossings with crocodiles, insects, snakes, ticks, sleeping sickness, malaria rough terrain, unfriendly local residents, fresh food and vegetables, lack convenience store on the corner and on and on. People must have been very tough and many survived, life was interesting although it was relatively short. With all that physical and manual effort and strain, the modern mental type of stress was not encountered. Sent to Saul on 09/06/2003

Additions after 09/06/2003

Nkana-Kitwe VicDiamond General Dealers–? Kollenberg General Dealers

Livingstone Jack Furmansky did Architecture at Wits

Wankie During the 1030;s General Dealers Business owned by Gedalia Sackstein of Market Street Johannesberg

Bulawayo Kollenberg

 Please send any updates to the editor