South Africa: Seeking Ochberg Orphan descendants

Genealogists are detectives, so here’s a case many of us might be able to help solve.

David Solly Sandler of Australia is seeking 2,000 South Africans – the descendants of 60 Ukrainian war and pogrom orphans, known as Ochberg’s Orphans.

Writes David: 

In 1921, Isaac Ochberg, representative of the South African Jewish Community, travelled to Poland and the Ukraine and brought back with him to Cape Town 167 “Russian, Ukraine and Polish War and Pogrom Orphans” plus 14 “attendants and nurses,” mainly older siblings.

Half the children were placed in the care of the Cape Jewish Orphanage (later Oranjia) and half went to Johannesburg, under the care of the South African Jewish Orphanage (later Arcadia). Many children were adopted by Jewish community members, who contributed generously to a fund to bring the children to South Africa and care for them.

What’s David’s connection to Arcadia? Born in 1952, David grew up from age 3-17 at Arcadia, the South African Jewish Orphanage in Sandringham, Johannesburg. Now a semi-retired chartered accountant, he lives in Western Australia and has completed two books on Arcadia (see below for more information). For the history of the orphanage – established in 1899 – click here.

David is now in month 18 of the 27 months he’s allocated to record the life stories of the Ochberg Orphans. Of the 181 children, the stories of 90 have been recorded, contact has been made with another 30, but 60 still remain to be contacted.

How did he arrive at this number? David believes – for the so far “missing” 60 – that each child was born around 1910, married and had three children, nine grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren, thus there should be more than the estimated 2,000 descendants cited above. Of course, no one knows for sure.

However, what is really important in this story is that many descendants might not know their connection to the Ochberg Orphans. The children did not often speak about this and many tried to hide the fact from their children because of the stigma of being an orphan.

One descendant wrote, says David:

Today, as for the general South African Jewish community, half  of the 2,000 descendants likely have left South Africa and now live around the world in Israel, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

“The general attitude of the community was that it was a mitzvah to have adopted one of those poor orphans, a good deed in a dark world, but you really wouldn’t want one of them to marry into your family, would you? After all, you knew nothing of their parents and extended family, their health history and their genetic background. This is a generalisation that isn’t true of all the adopters but it was certainly true of a fair number, nervous, insecure, only to do nothing that would jeopardise their increasing prosperity and emergent social solidity.”

Here’s the kicker – here are the names of these orphans. If you have someone with this name in your family tree, born c1910, there’s a chance you might be an Ochberg Orphan descendant, so read the list carefully and if you find a name of interest, contact David (email below).

— ELMAN Blume, ELMAN Jentl/ Izzy, ELSHTEIN Abo, ENGELMAN Jakob,
— JUDES Rubin,
— KAHAN Channe, KAHAN Golda, KAHAN Morduch/Mordche, KAHAN Shachna, KAILER Rywka, KAUFMAN Cypora, KAUFMAN Soloman/Shlama, KAWERBERG Mayer, KAWERBERG Mees/Moshe, KIGIELMAN Jacob, KNUBOVITZ Zlata, KREINDEL Rejsel, KRUGERr Rejsel, KRUGER Abram, KRUGER Jacob,
— NUDERMAN Gdalia,
— WEIDMAN Sheindel.

David adds that by the end of 2010, the lifestories of some 130 of the children will have been collected. They will be included in a book to be published and sold internationally with all proceeds going to Arcadia and Oranjia, as are the Arcadian Memory Books.

Readers who recognize names of interest should email David for more information, or if you are a descendant and want your family’s story included.

“100 Years of ARC Memories” (March 2006) celebrates the centenary book of Arcadia, formerly the South African Jewish Orphanage.

“More ARC Memories” (December 2008) is the sequel to the first volume, and includes 17 chapters on the Ochberg Children.

Together, the books total 1,100+ pages and hold the memories of more than 250 children. All proceeds go to the Arcadia Children’s Home that still exists and looks after children in need. By the end of 2009, some Rand 365,000 had been raised and the target is Rand 1 million. The set of two books costs $100 plus $10 shipping (click here for more information).

South Africa: Mendel Kaplan dead

The South African Jewish community suffered a major loss last week with the death of prominent leader Mendel Kaplan, 73, following a stroke in Cape Town, where the funeral was held on Sunday.

A major Jewish philanthropist, the billionaire industrialist was a citizen of both Israel and South Africa and lived in both.

Kaplan was also interested in Jewish genealogy, particularly the South African Jewish community’s Lithuanian roots. He had authored several books.

His grants enabled the computerization of the Registers of the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter and the database, -at the University of Leicester (UK) School of Historical Studies – is an important source of demographic, genealogical and migration information.

He founded the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town in 1980, and was involved in the founding of the South African Jewish Museum (via the Kaplan, Kushlick Foundation), opened in 2000 by Nelson Mandela. He funded the museum’s multimedia equipment as well as the reconstruction of a Lithuanian shtetl.

He promoted Soviet aliya after the Soviet Union’s collapse, was known for his commitment to Jewish education and the belief that unless education was at the heart of the Jewish community, the Jewish people would not continue, and he was involved in many social projects in both Israel and South Africa.

He was involved with many global Jewish organizations, serving as chair of the Jewish Agency’s board (1987-1995), Keren Hayesod’s World Board chair (1983-1987) and Keren Hayesod honorary president from 1995 until his death. Other major organizations also benefited from his leadership and he was Jerusalem Foundation chair (1995-1999), United Communal Fund of South Africa national chair (1974-1978), Israel United Appeal South Africa national chair (1978-1987) and South African Jewish Board of Deputies vice president.

In 1936, he was born in South Africa, graduated from Wynberg Boys’ High and the University of Cape Town with a law degree (1958) and earned an MBA from Columbia University (1960). His honorary degrees included UCT, Yeshiva University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He is survived by his Jill Lazar Kaplan, two daughters, two sons and grandchildren.

For additional information, click here.

South Africa: New newsletter online

The Southern Africa Special Interest Group (SA-SIG) at JewishGen publishes a quarterly newsletter. The latest issue (September 2009) and all previous issues are available online.

The purpose and goal of the group is to bring together Jewish genealogy researchers with a common interest. It provides information to Jewish family history researchers with roots in South Africa, Lesotho, Basutoland, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Mozambique, Kenya and the former Belgian Congo.

Many researchers of these areas also share a common Lithuanian heritage.

SA-SIG has published a quarterly newsletter since 2000.

At the recent Philly 2009 conference, some 22 individuals attended the SA-SIG meeting. On the agenda were the South African Jewish Rootsbank Database, which plans to document an estimated 15,000 core families who migrated to Southern Africa 1850-1950 from England, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus.

The September issue includes articles on the Feitelberg family, on the meaning of surnames, on the late Bernhard Herzberg and more. It also details the Muizenberg Exhibition, which will open at the Cape Town Jewish Museum on December 16. More than 1,000 photos, and a lot of material will be included.

The issue also contains information on joining the SA-SIG, or click here.

Sacramento: Southern Africa Jewish genealogy, Oct. 18

South Africa’s Jewish history is the program for the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento, California, on Sunday October 18.

San Francisco Bay area resident Roy Ogus was born in South Africa and is vice president of JewishGen’s Southern African Jewish Genealogical SIG (special interest group).

The meeting begins at 10am at the Albert Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright St., Sacramento.

The South African Jewish community is large. While we may not know it, many of us may have South African connections through ancestors who emigrated there.

Tracing the Tribe has located distant cousins there, and also confirmed that some relatives who came to the US kept up communication with their South African family.

From 1881 through the 1930s – the major emigration wave from Eastern Europe – many Jews, especially those from Lithuania, left for South Africa’s economic opportunity and freedom. And many South African Jews again emigrated from South Africa during more recent political unrest.

Roy’s program will summarize key sources of documentation and genealogical information of genealogical value in South Africa, and how these materials can be accessed and researched. He will also provide an overview of South African history as a backdrop for discussion of Jewish migration to the remote area.

For more information, about the JGS of Sacramento, click here.

South Africa: Their WDYTYA started this weekend

South Africa’s version of the BBC series “Who Do You Think You Are?” starts Sunday, May 31 at 9pm on SABC2.

The family-orientated documentary series allows some of the country’s top celebrities to go face-to-face with the hidden history of their ancestors and provides a journey of emotional discovery for them and the audience.

“These are highly personal films, yet the wider historical themes they reveal relates each personal story to a wider history that the audience shares in,” says SABC2 publicity manager Zandile Nkonyeni.

This format allows us to get to know the celebrity better, but mostly it allows us to explore our history in a fascinating and neutral way. It allows us to discover areas of our country which today look very different.”

The six episodes connect by combining documentary, revelation of a detective story, biography and big picture history, shared by the audience of a nation.

Well-known personalities include actress Nthati Moshesh, TV presenter Candice Moodley, singer HHP Jabulani Tsambo, SABC2 news anchor Riaan Cruywagen, Isidingo star Meshack Mavuso and comedian Kurt Schoonraad.

The celebrities’ stories demonstrate the history that created modern South Africa and will encourage viewers to start exploring their own history.

Ancestry24, a comprehensive ancestral and genealogical service, assisted the producers and researchers, while its channel manager spent hours in the archives and other repositories to assist with the research of the individual celebrities. If you have South African ancestry, you might want to check out the website, which offers a beginner’s guide, the 1907 Who’s Who, directories, vital records, biographies, community history, government gazettes, tombstones, a forum and a blog – even DNA testing.

“We effectively travel back in time to meet the featured celebrities’ extended family and those who knew them, and walk where their ancestors lived and worked,” she said.

The international series format has triggered a general interest in family history and a return to libraries, museums and domestic travel as people go back to the small towns they or their families came from.

The first episode focused on actress Nthati Moshesh, who’s also the great-great-granddaughter of King Moshoeshoe, the first king of the Basotho people. In the segment she crosses into Lesotho to speak to historians and family members.

It seems everyone in the world is already watching the show in a local version, except for the US. Oh well.

Read more here.