Cape Jewish Orphanage (2)

Much anti-Jewish feeling was aroused by the “Protocols of Zion”, which also perpetuates the blood-in-the matzah fable. The “Protocols” is one of the best examples of literary forgery. It was initated by Czarist secret police who sought to besmirch the revolutionaries as Jewish puppets. But it went much further than that. It was later pounced on with glee by the Nazis and many Muslims. It is quoted in Palestinian school text-books. It is mentioned in the Hamas Charter: “The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”

The Torah mentions that God promised the Jews the territory mentioned by Hamas, “from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). The zionists appeal to these promises. Yet the majority of zionists are atheists (like Weizmann and other founders of Zionism). So, one wonders why they appeal to a book they don’t believe in. The Jewish antizionist believes the Jewish people will only be a nation again and have a country of their own again when the Messiah comes. I believe the Messiah who comes will be Yeshua, who will be coming again.

In the pre-Russian revolution years (late 1900s up to 1917) many Jews sided with the revolutionary forces (the Reds) against the Czarist regime (the Whites). This was one of the reasons why the Pale of Settlement became the favourite hunting ground of Jew-haters. Jews smuggled despairing letters, informing Jews in South Africa and other countries of their desolation, pleading for help. The South African Jewish community devised a plan to rescue as many orphans as they could. Donations were generous. Many Jews were involved. but there is one man’s zeal that knew no bounds: Isaac (Yizchak) Ochberg.

Ochberg was an immigrant from Russia. Before the plan could go ahead, there were two questions: How to rescue the orphans from a war-torn region, and whether the South African government would admit? Ochberg met with the Jan Smuts, the prime minister (1919 – 1924) who gave permission, but stipulated that the children to be saved had to be in peak physical condition – the children chosen to pass over from death to life must be lambs without blemish or defect. About 400,000 Jewish orphans were left destitute in Eastern Europe. The South African Jews were determined to save as many as they could. Someone was needed to travel to Eastern Europe to make the necessary arrangements. Isaac Ochberg offered to go. Fanny Frier, who was one of the Ochberg orphans, recalls those days: “He was going to take some of us away with him and give us a new home on the other side of the world.” Although they were excited about “going to a beautiful new country, we also heard stories of robbers and wild animals and we feared we might be eaten by lions or cannibals or sold off as slaves. However, when he appeared with his reddish hair and cheery smile, we all took a great liking to him and called him ‘Daddy.’ He would spend hours talking to us, making jokes and cheering us up.”

Ochberg’s most harrowing predicament was that he only had funds to take 200 of the 400 000 orphans. Who to take and who to let leave behind? He decided to choose eight children from 25 institutions, who had lost both parents and were in good physical and mental shape. I wonder what medical advice he received in the selection. Ochberg must have suffered terrible anguish over the process. What a portent of the twisted things to come 20 years later in the medical “observatories” of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

After three months of hardships and personal sickness, Ochberg and the children arrived in London. A short while later they embarked on the Edinburgh Castle for South Africa. Fanny Lockitch (one of the orphans saved by “Daddy” Ochberg) describes some of Ochberg’s sufferings in her endearing – yet typically Jewish – use of English (a transcription of a conversation with Noreen Alexander, which I obtained from the Orphanage archives): “Daddy Ochberg set up on this grave but by no means unhazardous journey. He arrived there and believe me what confronted him – how the man came through I don’t know, because really he was so ill after a time and it was only our prayer that brought him back to life. He had to go through forests infested with bandits. He was strange in the country and of course there was a civil war raging in this country still.”

Ochberg could only take 200 children. Fanny Lokitch continues: “He would have saved more and I wish to God he would have because the rest must have perished twenty years later under the Hitler regimem no doubt. He really snatched us from thee jaws of death you can say because if we hadn’t died then out of famine and disease, we would have perished twenty years later in the gas chambers…Disease broke out amongst the children (the 200) they got a very terrible eye disease called trachoma and it delayed the actions, and Daddy Ochberg became very ill and that delayed things too…We went down from Warsaw to Dansig. In Dansig we boarded a little steamer which brought us to England.”

Ochberg relates: “I have been through almost every village in the Polish Ukraine and Galicia and am now well acquainted with the places where there is at present extreme suffering. I have succeeded in collecting the necessary number of children, and I can safely say that the generosity displayed by South African Jewry in making this mission possible means nothing less than saving their lives. They would surely have died of starvation, disease, or been lost to our nation for other reasons.I am now in London with the object of arranging transport and I hope to be able to advise telegraphically soon of my departure for South Africa with the children.”

Fanny Frier, whom we met earlier, relates: “Never, to my dying day, shall I ever forget our first sight of the lights of Cape Town and then the tremendous reception when we came ashore with half the city apparently waiting on the quay for us.”

When Yizchak (Isaac) Ochberg died in Cape Town, he left the largest single bequest ever made up to then to the Jewish National Fund. “[The Jewish National Fund] used it to redeem a piece of land in Israel called Nahalat Yitzhak Ochberg – which included the kibbutzim of Dalia and Ein Hashofet. In the course of years, the name Ochberg dropped off the signs and it’s now known as Nahalat Yitzhak. [bography’s note: Nahala” in Hebrew means inheritance, and by extension, the inherited land – Israel]. –  I am certain there is hardly anyone in Israel today who would know which Yitzhak it was.”

The inhabitants of Ein Hashofet probably remain happy in their ignorance of the man behind their good prosperity. ”Dropping names” has been literally restored. In 1962, I spent five months on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet (The Judge’s Spring), but I keep that for a later part of the story.

In my previous post, I mentioned that a documentary, the “Ochberg Orphans” was made in 2008. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Our knowledge of history is often lazily shaped by Oscar-winning movies. How many people gained their understanding of Jewish life under the Romans from the 1960s blockbuster Ben Hur, or the rebirth of modern Israel from Otto Preminger’s Exodus? Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Ochberg moved from town to town, visiting cities – Minsk, Pinsk, and Stanislav – as well as villages, collecting orphans. But what about the movies that don’t quite cut it at the Oscars? Have significant chunks of the past been relegated to the abyss of the unknown? Such may be the case of a recent documentary by director and producer John Blair, who won the Best Documentary Feature statuette for his 1995 Anna Frank Remembered.”

“Blair’s recent entry, The Ochberg Orphans, which deals with the rescue of Jewish children in 1921 from the war-torn Pale of Settlement and their resettlement in South Africa, failed to make the final five nominees at this year’s Academy Awards, and an inspiring chapter of Jewish history may now never reach a wider audience.”

Academies don’t give prizes to movies about the fatherless, the orphanos (from orphe “darkness”).

The Cape Jewish Orphanage (1)


Origin of the Cape Jewish Orphanage


I spent my very early years at the Cape Jewish Orphanage (three to nine years of age; 1944 to 1949). In 1994, I visited the Kaplan Jewish Archives at the University of Cape Town, where there are dozens of boxes of files on the Cape Jewish Orphanage. The Orphanage was situated in Montrose Avenue, Oranjezicht.

Events often appear to happen by chance. The origin of the Cape Jewish Orphanage was one of these seemingly chance events. The need for such an institution had been suggested in 1907. What got things moving in 1909 was the plight of three Jewish orphans who were living in squalor in the small village of Piketberg. They were found working at the back of an hotel. The Jewish community realised  that there were probably other neglected Jewish orphans in South Africa, and therefore decided that a home was need to house them. Three people who played a prominent role in the planning were Joseph Kadish (in English, Joseph Holy), Reverend  A.P. Bender and Isaac Ochberg. Ochberg, at the age of 15, came from Kiev  in the Ukraine,  which at that time was the heart of the Russian Empire. He prospered as a timber merchant, and took a great interest in helping the underprivileged.

The Orphanage committee rented a cottage in Mill street, Cape Town at £4 rent a month. By 1914, the house became too small to accommodate the demand. In that ominous year, before the outbreak of war, it was decided to expand. A new site was bought in Montrose Avenue, Oranjezicht for £1,125.  In 1915, the foundation stone was laid – by  the Governor General of the Union of South Africa, Lord Buxton. In 1918, the end of the WWI was overshadowed by the outbreak of Spanish Flu. which claimed more victims that the 1914-1918 slaughter. In “Black October”, Cape Town lost 10% of its inhabitants. There were also a few deaths at the Cape Jewish Orphanage. The death toll for the Union of South Africa was over 120 000.

In the early 1920s, the Jews in Ukraine were suffering terrible pogroms. “Pogrom” is the Russian word for “destruction” derived from the Russian verb “to destroy, wreak havoc, demolish violently.” Uri Avnery defines pogroms as “riots by an armed mob intoxicated with hatred against helpless people, while the police and the army look on. The Pogromchiks destroy, injure and kill.” The irony is that Avnery, a Jew, is writing about “fascist” Settlers who “riot in Palestinian villages whose lands they covet, or for revenge.” In January, 2009, the Israeli army was at war with Hamas in the Gaza strip. Three years earlier, Israel forcibly removed the Jewish settlers from Gaza.  Israel’s reason for the January 2009 bombing and invasion of Gaza was the incessant firing of rockets  by Hamas into Israel. Hamas responded that they were justified in their actions as long as Israel continued to blockade Gaza and occupy the West Bank. It is highly unlikely that there can ever be peace between Ishmael and Isaac. The Bible speaks of a perpetual enmity between the half-brothers.

To return to the history of the Orphanage, Jews were caught in the middle of devastating forces that were rocking the Russian Empire. After the Czarist system collapsed in 1917, culminating in the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family, opposing armies, –  the Reds and the Whites – were fighting each other for control. As a result, the already very opppresive condition of the Jews  became far worse. Out of the famines and typhoid epidemics,  anti-Semitism became more virulent than in past centuries.

The Ukrainian and Polish peasants joined forces with the Red Army to massacre Jews wherever they were to be found. Pogroms were reported every day. Although details of the scale of the destruction remain unknown, it is known that between 1919 and 1921, 70 000 Jews were murdered and a similar number wounded in 1400 pogroms under the Ukrainian leader Simon Petlura. One of the reasons given by supporters of the Pogroms is that the Jew’s love of money destroyed his humanity.

On 12 January 2009, I watched a documentary on the “Ochberg Orphans”. In the 1920s  Isaac Ochberg brought out hundreds of Jewish orphans from Eastern Europe during the Jewish persecutions. Many of  these orphans were housed at the Cape Jewish Orphanage in Cape Town. In the documentary, one Polish Jew explained: “The Jew is eager to lend you money. He lends you 100 slotis and writes down 300. Then he hounds you until you pay up.”  If only it had stopped at the Jewish monopoly of money lending. One of the anti-Jews in the documentary trotted out the medieval legend of the “matzo of blood” that Jews prepare from the blood of Gentile children. He said that the Jews put gentile children into a drum spiked with nails, drain the blood and use it to prepare the matzoth. The Nazis had a similar view. here is a piece from Der Stürmer, May, 1934, originally published in German: ”They (the Jews) are charged with enticing Gentile children and Gentile adults, butchering them, and draining their blood,” which is a bizarre twist to the medieval practice of thrusting a frail naked Jew in a nail-spiked barrel and rolling it down a hill while fellow Jews were forced to watch. On the other hand, the Jewish Talmud does say awful things about the Gentiles. The Talmud is a written record of the so-called Jewish oral tradition: “ each journey through it can have a different final meaning and significance for individual readers” (Jonathan Grall). I wonder how many different final meanings can be culled from the following Talmudic quotation: “Every Jew, who spills the blood of the godless (non-Jews) is doing the same as making a sacrifice to God.” (Talmud: Bammidber raba c 21 & Jalkut 772). The Nazis quote many such passages from the Talmud. Sadly, much of the Talmud is a blight on the Torah and a swallowing of camels and a straining at gnats – and where did Mohammed pick up much his knowledge of “Torah”? From Jews who thought more – and arguably knew more – of the Talmud than the Torah:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrite” (Matthew,23:23-25).