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Afterwards - Life in Malmesbury

"In Africa we don’t go naked, but five shirts and trousers and socks and tallit katan, four to five tsitsit and a pair of boots. They must be strong and light, and you don’t need more than that.” (no date).

In 1903, before Tuvye’s family joined him, he helped his brother Shmuel, who had just completed his military service, come to South Africa.  He obtained the necessary permit and provided the required financial guarantee.  Later, he also likely helped his brother Wulf (William) emigrate.  Shmuel, now Samuel, settled in Heilbron, while William settled in Kroonstad, opening furniture shops. Some of Tuvye’s other brothers and cousins made enquiries about moving to South Africa, but did not come.


Samuel Kretzmar, born 1883 Birzh, died Heilbron 29.7.1963


When Taube and his children arrived in early 1904, she brought along the silver candlesticks, his Talmud, the other books as requested – and his letters to her.

In his letters to Taube, Tuvye describes some of the details of his journey from Birzh to Cape Town.  We know almost nothing of how Taube managed apart from one anecdote at a station when the four-year old Noah was missing. When she raised the alarm, the train guard apparently said “Never mind, you still have another three.”

Three more children were born in Malmesbury – Arnold (born in 1905), Julius (born in 1907) and Ashne (born in 1913.)

kretzmar family+ baby Julius.png

c 1908, left to right, Noel, standing next to Tuvye (Tobias) with Arnold on his knee, David, Leah, Taube and Freda. Julius is the baby on the table. 

Why did Tuvye settle in Malmesbury?

Malmesbury is situated in an area known as the Swartland, the heart of the country’s wheat farmland. As well as grain, it was a sheep farming area. Coming from Birzh, also a small rural town, where his family farmed potatoes, rye and kept a cow, he may have felt more comfortable in a country atmosphere than he did in the big city with its teeming refugees all competing for work and trade.

Fresh cream, butter and cheese was plentiful as it was common to keep a cow. Came Pesach they made their own wine from hanepoot grapes, first emptying the dregs from the barrel and laughing as the chickens, hens and the occasional duck or goose, drunk on last year’s alcohol infused grapes, staggered around the yard.[i]

Malmesbury had an newly-formed Jewish community into which Taube and their family could comfortably fit. There is some evidence that Malmesbury held its first minyan in 1895. [ii] Other early settlers who moved to Malmesbury before Tuvye included Israel Resnick– a speculator and dairy farmer -- who moved in 1896 and Dr. R. Rosezweig, in 1900.

The first Malmesbury Hebrew Congregation appears to have started around 1900. By 1904 there were 246 Jews in Malmesbury, of whom 114 were members of the congregation. The congregation  was reorganised on 26 September 1904 (kol hamoed Sukkot[iii]) as Ohel Jacob Hebrew Congregation with Tuvye as one of the founders and its honorary treasurer. A few weeks before the congregation sent M Krafchik to Cape Town to represent them at the inaugural meeting of the Jewish Board of Deputies, under Morris Alexander[iv]. Mr. Krafchik was elected a member of the Board in 1906 so Malmesbury was recognised as an organised Jewish community.

In 1906 they decided to build a synagogue of their own[v] and the following year a Talmud Torah was founded. The Kretzmar children could thus have a religious education as well as attending local schools.   The children grew up speaking English and some Afrikaans amongst themselves, and  Yiddish and some English with their parents. Tuvye and Taube spoke Yiddish, but over the years they learnt to read and write and speak English and some Afrikaans.

Family life included a range of cultural  activities. They subscribed to American Yiddish newspapers and on Friday nights after supper, Tuvye would read to them extracts from Bialik’s poetry or Shalom Aleichem stories from the Yiddish newspaper Der Amerikaner. Arnold would sometimes read to them English translations of Shalom Aleichem  or  from Israel Zangwill, Charles Dickens, or extracts from CJ Langenhoven’s “Sonde met die Bure”.[vi]  Sometimes Freda would play the piano, Arnold the saxophone and Julius the clarinet and people would stop outside in the street to listen.

It was not until 11 November, 1911 that the foundation stone of the beautiful Ohel Jacob Synagogue was laid by A Katz and B Alswang. 

It was designed and built by Max Goldman. How goodly are thy tents O Jacob, can still be seen inscribed in Hebrew on its entrance archway.  The synagogue was opened by the Rev A P Bender of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation on 16 May 1912, and the gilt key presented to him on the occasion is now on display at the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies.  


The Malmesbury shul


With a synagogue, a mikva, a communal hall, and a Jewish population of about 50 families in the 1920s, the Kretzmar family enjoyed a stable and rich Jewish life, like in Birzh, (although the community was not as traditionally observant) with attendance at daily minyanim, Shabbat services, Yom Tovim, cheder and kashrut. The town was the regional centre for Jewish life and for the High Holy Days the congregation would be augmented by Jews who travelled in from nearby villages such as Mamre, Darling, Kalabaskraal and even Piquetberg.  All Jewish businesses closed for the Holy Days.

In the 1920s, through the generosity of a local farmer, Piet van der Westhuizen, land was acquired for a cemetery.  He donated the land on his farm Rozenberg with a servitude stating ‘‘That this land is always to remain for the Jews.”[vii] He was also a generous donor of cash and cattle to the Zionist bazaars. Tuvye was one of the signatories on an illuminated address of thanks and appreciation presented to him by the community which he proudly hung in the entrance to his farmhouse.[viii]

Three of the boys - David, Noah (now called Noel) and Julius studied medicine.  David won a scholarship to the University of Cape Town, but did not complete his studies as the family could not afford to support him at university.  Noel (in the early 1920s) and Julius (in the early 1930s) studied medicine at Edinburgh University.  Arnold studied law and became a lawyer.  As was typical at that time, the girls did not have the opportunity to study further. 


Tuvye, Taube and Tuvye’s brother Wulf (Willie) on bench outside their house in Malmesbury


Standing Taube, daughters Leah and Freda, Sitting, Tuvye, on ground Ashne

David became ill and died from tuberculosis in 1924.  Tuvye died in 1928, and is buried in the Malmesbury cemetery. 

After his death, Taube, who was already frail, and the remaining children moved in with Noel, who had settled and started a medical practice in Kimberley in 1926.  Taube died in 1929, and was buried in Kimberley. None of the family returned to live in Malmesbury.


The community got smaller until there were no longer enough for a minyan and finally the synagogue was closed, being bought by Dr Goldman, the son of the original builder. On April 29, 1974, the Malmesbury synagogue was deconsecrated and transferred to the local municipality. The Torah and bimah were donated to the Herzlia Highlands School synagogue in Cape Town.[ix]

Since 1991, the Ohel Jacob Synagogue, 1 Prospect Street, Malmesbury, has been used as the town museum.  Tuvye’s son, Julius, then retired and living in Cape Town, was called in to help the curator with the history of the Jewish community. The Malmesbury Museum has been a heritage site since 1994 and has been cared for and well maintained. The Museum contains a leaflet documenting the history of the Jews of the town and an explanation of various items, ceremonies and festivals and includes the story of Tobias (Tuvye) Kretzmar and his shop in Main Street.




[i] Kretzmar, op; cit 19

[ii] Jewish Life in Southern African Country Communities. Vol II, SA Friends of Beth Hatfutsoth. Johannesburg, 2004, pp 405-406

[iii] Yiddish minutes of meeting quoted  in Markowitz, Arthur, “They  helped to build South Africa; The Story of South African Jewry:, IN SA Jewish Times, 7.11.1947,  quoted in a hand written article by Dr Julius Kretzmar titled ’A vanished era: Shtetl Life in the nSwartland in the 1920s: Nostalgic memories orf Malmesbury”

[iv]  Saron G & Hotz, L, The Jews in South Africa; A History, Oxford University Press, 1955, 253

[v] Kretzmar, op cit, 18

[vi] Kretzmar, op cit, 21

[vii] Historic Route - Malmesbury Tourism Swartland Directory.

[viii] Kretzmar, op cit, 23

[ix] Malmesbury | Jewish Journeys in the Western Cape › 2013/02/15 › malmesbury




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