CHOL – Community History On-Line

A forum for those involved in preserving the footprint of Southern African Jewish community life in digital form


Many South Africans have written personal or family memoirs to remember and document the past for future generations. Click the entries below to read these fascinating memoirs (the majority of which have not been commercially published). This is yet another way of engraving the footprint of our people into the 'clouds' of our common sky.

Memoirs are listed in alphabetical order by title. Clicking the title will bring up the memoir. There is also a 'search' feature on the top right of the table that allows you to search the table for a writer or a topic.

We would love to have your feedback on the memoirs uploaded onto these pages. Please email us with your comments, questions or suggestions at

To read the many creative stories that we have posted on CHOL, go to the Share Your Stories page.

Title Writer and place, and date written/published Topic, period covered and no. of pages Date posted
Dr Hannah-Reeve Sanders (1928-2024) Bloch, Leila
Stellenbosch University (thesis), 2022
The first female Chief Medical Superintendent of Groote Schuur Hospital (1976-1986). This thesis serves as a critical lens from the perspective of a female doctor into notions of 'achievement' and 'success' within the medical field in South Africa during the middle to late 20th century. (188 pp) 2024.07
The Israeli War of Independence Hodes, Lionel
Lionel Hodes's experience as one of the 800 South African mahal who fought in the Israeli War of Independence. It includes information on how he organised his group of South African volunteers, how they left South Africa and how they managed to evade the British and get into Palestine. (136 pp) 2024.07
From Riga to Rishpon Hodes, Leon
Moshav Rishpon, Israel, 1963
Beautifully written memoir of Leon Hodes, born in Latvia in 1893, killed 1963, soon after the memoir was completed, by a truck when crossing the road. Covers travel to and growing up in Scotland before going to South Africa and then making Aliyah in the 1950s. (100 pp) 2024.07
South African Prisoner-of-War Experience during and after World War II: 1939 - c. 1950 Horn, Karen
Stellenbosch University (thesis), 2012
750 Jewish men were taken prisoner at Tobruk and others at Sidi Rezegh. For her thesis Karen Horn interviewed many soldiers, Jewish and not, who were taken PoW. Gives one a true picture of the terrible ordeal that the soldiers underwent. (245 pp) 2024.06
The Jewish Contribution to South African Military History and Other Interesting Facts Bergman, Lt Col William J.
Johannesburg, 2020
A personal view of the Jewish contribution to South African military history, 1668 to 1998, by Bill Bergman, who spent 25 years in the permanent South African National Defence Force, as the Staff Officer, Electrical Engineering Services. Bill has also lectured at Wits on electrical engineering in the building industry. He was awarded the South African Institute of Electrical Engineering 'Engineer of the Year Award' in 2011. (88 pp) 2024.06
Pietersburg / Polokwane Shem-Tov, Richelle
Kyriat Ono, Israel, 2024
Memories of life for all its peoples in her hometown, Pietersburg, when growing up there (b. 1939) before making Aliyah in 1962, and the changes Richelle found when visiting parents and friends thereafter. (12 pp) 2024.06
The Jewish Country Communities of Limpopo / Northern Transvaal Weiner, Charlotte
History and personal stories of Jews who lived in the dorps in the areas around Limpopo, Pietersburg, Houtbosdorp / Haenertsburg and Louis Trichardt. (232 pp) 2024.05
History of the Pietersburg / Polokwane Jewish Community Weiner, Charlotte
Covers the full span from establishment in 1867 through its heyday from 1930s to the 60s and its slow decline thereafter until 2003. Includes chapters on the Boer War, occupations, religious provision, the Chevra Kadisha, women, Zionism, and relations with surrounding population. Written for the author's MA degree in Judaica at the University of South Africa. (340 pp) 2024.05
Maraisburg Recollections – the Schneider Family Schneider, Robert
Sydney, 2024
Lewis and Gertie Schneider and their family in Maraisburg from c1900 to 1950. (11 pp) 2024.05
From Magachan to Merced Isakow, Leiz
The Isakow family story – a microcosm of the Jewish families who escaped poverty and restricted life in Lithuania and Latvia at the turn of the 20th century to start a new life to South Africa and in just one or two generations are making major contributions to science, agriculture, and life in general around the world. (162 pp, illustrated) 2024.05
My Dear Papa – Letters from a Farm in Africa Shem-Tov, Richelle
In this moving 'memoir' of her own family Richelle-Shem Tov has cleverly constructed in her mind the voices of her parents and grandparents and their siblings as they describe their travels, travails and triumphs in moving from Courland to Cape Town and thence to the northern Transvaal to farm in the Pietersburg area. (123 pp) 2024.05
The Bus Stop Doctor Kerbel (Kaye), Dr Brenda
The life and character of Dr Solly Kaye, a general practitioner, a family man and friend, in Cape Town in apartheid South Africa, written by his daughter, Brenda. (107 pp) 2024.03
My War Memoir Shem-Tov, Richelle
Israel, 2024
The period between 1967 and 2023 is covered in this memoir of wars in Israel. Told from a personal point of view. (17 pp) 2024.02
Charles Segal, Prolific Pianist and Composer Salmenson, Herman; edited by Geraldine Auerbach
London, 2024
Charles Segal (1929 – 2021), pianist and composer, Johannesburg, then Cape Town, then Boston and California. In 2017 in the Guinness Book of Records as the most recorded pianist. (2 pp) 2024.02
Olga Ryss, Opera Singer and Vocal Coach Gross, Beulah; edited by Geraldine Auerbach
Australia/London, 2024
Olga Ryss (1893 – 1980), from opera star in Europe to opera production and voice coach in South Africa from 1935 to 1956, then a renowned voice coach in America. (7 pp) 2024.02
Chayele Rosenthal, Yiddish Diva Shuman, Zola
Cape Town
A beautiful website tribute to world-famous Yiddish singer and Holocaust survivor from Vilna, Chayele Rosenthal, created by her daughter Zola, including the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre exhibition, biography, programmes, reviews, photos and videos. 2024.02
Aviva Pelham, Opera Singer South African Jewish Report interview
May 2023
Published interview with acclaimed opera singer Aviva Pelham, who has performed around the world, bridging many genres, on the release of her autobiography, My Musical Odyssey. 2024.02
Muizenberg as a Visitor Cramer, Daniel
Welwyn, UK, 2023
Visitor from Johannesburg, 1940 – 1944. The train trip, the beaches and entertainment. From Cape Town after 1945, day trips. (10 pp) 2024.01
Scenes from a World Long Gone Hoffmann, Jack
Denmark, 2015
Covers Jack's early life in Johannesburg from 1945-1972. It depicts scenes from nursery school, primary school, cheder, King David High School, Betar, Wits medical school and surgical specialisation. (207 pp) 2023.08
Johannesburg – A Memoir Moss, Stanley
Boston, 2000
Stanley Moss (1936-2000) was an architect, pianist, archivist and conservation specialist involved in the Big Dig Boston program. The memoir covers the period when he lived in Johannesburg. The memoir was submitted by Leon Moss, Stanley's older brother. (103 pp) 2023.08
From Butcher to Professor to Professor. Journeys from Papile to Bloemfontein to Johannesburg to Ughill Brown, Colin Bertram
England, 2023
Adventures of father and son, both professors of medicine in South Africa and England in the 20th century, as well as the history of their forebears. Colin studied medicine and specialised in nephrology in England. (19 pp) 2023.08
History of the Louis Family in South Africa Louis, Lionel
The memoir covers several decades of the history of the Louis family from the turn of the 20th century. It includes their experience in the Boer War and relates their history until 1939. Submitted by Lionel Louis's son, Peter Louis, who lives in San Diego. (7 pp) 2023.08
Letters in a Shoe Box, 1940-1945 Rapeport, Naomi Schamroth Julian Meyer, from Pietersburg, was a POW in WW2. He sent letters home to his mother, Fanny, which were kept in a shoe box. Julian died in 1993 and Naomi Schamroth Rapeport compiled this memoir from the letters, which were scanned in 2015. (108 pp) 2023.08
Bubba Meise – My Jewish Johannesburg Nathanson, Saul David MD
Detroit, 2023
Tales of my Jewish youth, growing up in Johannesburg from the mid-1940s to mid-1970s. (16 pp) 2023.08
Malmesbury: Shtetl Life in the Swartland - A Vanished Era Kretzmar, Julius H.
Cape Town, 1986
Growing up in the Jewish community of Malmesbury, Western Cape in the 1920s. (12 pp) 2023.07
Family Chronicle, Cohen Wollach, Clare
Tel Aviv, 1992
The story of the extended Cohen family who left Agustov, Poland, and settled in Cape Town at the turn of the 20th century. Their story is one of passion, adventure and a deep connection to the tradition of their Jewish roots. (98 pp) 2023.06
Jewish Life in District Six in the 1920s Wilkin, Esther, based on interviews with Gwynne Robins
Cape Town, c1990s
Jewish life in District Six in the 1920s. (17 pp) 2023.05
Rev Pulver’s Plight Robins, Gwynne
Cape Town, 2010 (first published in Jewish Affairs, 65:1, Pesach 2010)
Kosher meat or a complacent congregation – ministering to the fledgling Cape Town Jewish Community, 1849-1851 2023.05
From Eastern Europe to South Africa Schrire, Gwynne
Cape Town, 2007 (published by Jacob Gitlin Library and Western Province Zionist Council)
Memories of an epic journey over land and sea from Eastern Europe to South Africa, 1880-1937. (59 pp) 2023.05
Right Moves Kaplan, David E.
Israel, 2021
Fonda Dubb's teaching in Port Elizabeth at the Toynbee, Gelvandale School for Coloured students during the 1960s-70s (6 pp) 2023.04
Debutante Ball Dubb, Fonda
Israel, 2023 (updated 2024)
Teaching ballet and fund-raising for this purpose in Port Elizabeth in the 1960s-70s at the Gelvandale School (13 pp) 2023.04
Soldier and His Diary Green, Harris Zvi
Israel, 2023
Biography of Corporal Solomon Green (1911-1982) and his war diary in Libya of 1942 (190 pp - large print) 2023.02
Birzh Family Saga Sheinbaum, Miriam
As told to her niece Doris Hersch, Johannesburg, 1973
Tumultuous and dangerous life in northern Lithuania and Courland in the early 20th century (9 pp) 2023.02
Hidden Life of a Smous: Philip Borkum Levy, Lorna
Cape Town, 2016
Trial of two men for the murder of her grandfather, a smous from Kimberley, Philip Borkum. He was married to Ella Heydenreich – see Heydenreich Family Saga. (63 pp) 2023.02
Letters to My Wife in Lithuania Kretzmar, Tuvye
Edited by Gwynne Schrire and Phil Kretzmar, Kaplan Centre, UCT, 2021
'Trying' 1899-1903 - to make his way in the Cape, so the family could be reunited in Malmesbury (web format) 2023.02
Letter to My Grandchildren Chazan, Pearl
Jerusalem, 2011
Describes the rich Jewish life in Upington of her Nurick (from Goldingen, Courland) and other Upington families from the early 20th century to early 1940s (128 pp) 2023.02
Family Saga: Harris Mirvish, Sidney
Nebraska, c2002
Extensive saga of family from Ospezin, Poland, who emigrated to South Africa in 1880s, to 2002. Covers Kimberley, Zwartmodder, Upington and Cape Town; Waverley and South African Woollen Mills (1912). (c50 pp) 2023.02
Family Saga: Heydenreich Hoffman, Anna (née Heydenreich)
Johannesburg, 1954 (aged 83)
A learned, well-to-do and well-connected family in business, arts and professions from Courland (Mitau and Goldingen) across Europe to the UK. Some emigrated to Southern Africa, Kimberley, Johannesburg and Bulawayo (1880s to 1950s). (c8 pp) 2023.02
Kimberley Jews and the Second World War Auerbach, Geraldine MBE
London, 2020/2021
The stories of most of the 50 Jewish men who joined the South African or British army and served ‘up north’ in army, air force and navy and who all thankfully came home safely. (49 pp) 2023.02
Beit, Alfred, Part 1: Diamonds in Kimberley Auerbach, Geraldine MBE
London, 2017/2023
Much admired strategist and financier on the diamond and gold fields. Great friend and associate of Cecil John Rhodes, responsible for the financial deals and strategy of the amalgamation of the mines and establishment of De Beers Consolidated Mines. Randlord from a Jewish family in Hamburg became a British citizen and benefactor. (79 pp) 2023.02
Durbanville Scher, Vicky
Israel, 2023
Living in Durbanville, 1950s to 1970s (13 pp) 2023.02
Loon, Celia née Antonis Lustig, Gail née Loon, and her family
Israel, 2020
A tribute to her grandmother Celia, Dvinsk/Johannesburg, 1903-1988 (39 pp) 2023.02
Levy, Hazel: Physiotherapist Lustig, Gail née Loon
Israel, 2021
A tribute to her aunt, Hazel Levy (1926-2001), who helped rehabilitate child polio victims in Israel in the 1950s. 2023.02
Family Saga: Bergman, Jacob and Amalie Auerbach, Geraldine
London, 2018
The story of her grandparents and their family from Courland in the 1870s via Schmidtsdrift to Kimberley and diamonds plus contemporary feedback. (26 pp) 2023.02
My Life as an African - an online memoir Derman, Emanuel
New York, 2021-2
Growing up in Cape Town in the 50s-60s. The memoir consists of 33 essays written between November 2021 and May 2022 and may be read on the Substack website. An introductory page telling about the writer and his memoir follows, together with a link to the site. 2023.03
Education - My Life: Memoirs of a Hebrew Teacher Levin, Alexander C.
Translated from Hebrew by Michael Belling
Born in a Lithuanian shtetl in 1882 Levin describes with great perceptive detail, his early life becoming a Hebrew teacher and travelling widely in the Russian Empire. He arrived in South Africa in 1928. He was a pioneer in Jewish education, became the founding headmaster of Herzlia School in 1940, eight years originally proposing the idea. First published 1954, new translation published on the Kaplan Centre website 2019. (310 pp) 2023.03