Cape Town, undated

I hope there will be an answer to my letter, and especially to try that a letter should go out every week, without excuses and without interruption, and write everything clearly about yourself and the dear children and about the family and about the whole area. Because, when you come with company, you don’t want to talk only about bags. Please write me more, because for me it will be a pleasure, only if you feel loyalty about it. Although I do not doubt that it will be enough if it comes to that. Therefore, I fulfil my request in the small things, and when there will be peace, everything will be well.


And now, it is my duty to answer your questions. You ask me if I bought everything that I took with me from home and if they areuseful . I am writing to you to say I bought everything to Cape Town, everything in order. With regard to the cheese, I brought two of them to Cape Town and we ate it along with Moishe and L Rubin and it was very tasty and the remaining things are very useful although one gets everything here ready made. But it costs money and if you have it fun der heim, it is like a “find”.


About my business, I can tell you that in the beginning just as I came to Cape Town I found the position as follows. The outlook was dark but TG I did not give up hope. I felt energetic as in a fortunate time and I said to Mendel Sholom – Rivke’s son in law, “I hope it will be good P.G. although today I don’t see it yet from where help can come.” At heart I am happy and energetic, not according to these times. I find comfort in this feeling. I was lodging with a Rakeshiker [i] Jew who has a bag business. He advised me to buy bags and he would buy them from me and would give me a profit.  I was happy with the job – as I had something to start with.


That was Wednesday, Shmini Atzereth - we arrived in Cape Town. On the Thursday was Simchat Torah. They gave me an aliyah at the minyan and had a brochahafterwards in a proper glass, and also to eat. As it befits my heart. 


We came afterwards to another boarding house with Mendel and Gershon from Birzh and some others from Birzh. We had a good chat about how things were going on at home as it was on our hearts. Nevertheless today we took a little brandy and you feel alive, as it is today, you don’t look what the heart is like, you have a drink and you are happy. The ballebos said “Be happy and forget all those thoughts out of your head, a bit of brandy we will have and it costs you nothing”. A bottle appeared on the table – it cost 75 kopek. We enjoyed it until we finished it – there came a 2nd, a 3rd and a 4th, so we had Simchat Torah according to the Russian style.


The next morning I went out to do business. He told me how to call out "BAGS" in English and how I should ask and I started going to the shops, from one to the other. I bought where I got and then I went where the shops were far from one from the other. In the meantime I had forgotten the English name for bags. I was flabbergasted, like a farmer with the cock and bnei adam (kappores) and not knowing what to do, until I met a Jew and again I was taught and learned the language (for the bags). So again I was a business man and a linguist. This time I was more clever. I had with me a luach (calendar) and I wrote out in a corner the English language which consisted of four words and so I went on learning from the luachand did my business.” [ii]


In the next week I started buying bottles [iii] also but this is too heavy for one man to carry on his shoulders, so I became a partner with a young man from Birzh and we began to work and earn small amounts.


To save was impossible but it was enough for expenses. I did not suffer hunger. Until I got used to the prices, we bought stale bread because it was cheaper, a little later we became more enlightened and we began to buy fresh bread, because if you don’t eat, you can’t do business – hard labour we had enough and the streets are very long and you can walk two or more versts [iv] (3 ½ km) and if you buy goods, you must carry it on your shoulders in the hot weather. It is very difficult and Meish Katz [v] and Lipman advised me to give it up and I also saw that it was too much for me.


Other people came from the boats and earned more than 20 roubles (about £2) a week, which in Russia is a lot of money and they say it is not too difficult and it suited them to say so. So I also went to the boats as a daily worker. There I worked for three weeks and then I wrote you that there is work enough and in truth it was also that I did not want to eat (he was so tired that he lost his appetite). In the first week I earned 8 roubles (16/-), the second week 16 roubles (32/-)  and the third week 20 roubles (£2)  but I saw it would be the end of my health before that of my money and I could not carry on any more. I became distressed. Moishe Leib [vi] and his brother had told me in the beginning not to go there and today I had to admit that they were right. I could not give any advice for myself as to what to do.


I began to trade in eggs, because it is customary. [vii] You buy eggs in the market and carry it to town to the English and the Yidden and you sell it and from this you can make a good living. But I did not like it so Moishe Katz advised me to become a glazier because in Johannesburg Jews made good money out of it. It shook me, but I don’t mind being a glazier, as at home I was a craftsman and here I had to work with glass. If I could cut the glass in the east it would split in the west and in the north. I was plenty distressed but God showed me his mercy and I met a glazier down from Papile [viii] – Simon Motke’s brother who had come from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He is here already for more than a year and has made some money. He also advised me to become a glazier and bought me a diamond and a handle. To him I paid 7 roubles. Moishe helped me to mend the case and Michel Simon – Motke’s brother - showed me all the tricks of the trade and the language to use as an English glazier does and I became a glazier and TG for his mercy. I am earning my few shillings with ease. I am also saving as much as possible.


I am my own boss. It is enough for me to go round the whole day in the heat but never mind and TG for it. I did better at the start – the cost of living is more than in Russia – there is no rye, the bread is from wheat, and this costs 12 kopeks a pound, a pound of beef costs 50 kp a pound, mutton 42 kp, milk 16 kp a quart, fresh butter 1 rouble a pound, cheese costs 50 kp, eggs – varies -  sometimes 10k or 8k an egg (?dozen) and potatoes 3-4 k, cucumbers from 3 to 4 k each, onions cost 2k each (?) Riga onions were 80k. All that is in the past.


PG the news will be better. I close my writing as the paper is done, I had to buy aristocratic paper with flowers and this must go through many hands before it reaches you. I don’t mind this. Be well and live well, from me your ever loving husband who wishes you luck and fortune always, Tuvye Kretzmar


Notes

[i] Rakeshik (Rokiškis in Lithuainan) is a town in northeastern Lithuania, where 3,207 Jews were killed on August 15–16, 1941.

[ii] Hyman Polsky in a short story discusses the options open. “after a great deal of thought and lengthy deliberation, the following conclusion was reached. To try with bags and bottles, or with bread and meat, or with fowls, one needs a horse and cart, and since the countryman ...has no money, there is nothing to discuss here. As for fruit dealers, there are too many of them, and the competition is too keen. To try with cigarettes is suitable for someone younger. ..It is undignified for an elderly man with a beard to go around with a board against his chest. So there is the only and best occupation left - to try with old clothes ... one does not need a horse and cart, it does not require a large capital, and the competition is not too keen..” Polsky, Old Reb Aaron, In Sherman, Joseph, From a Land Far Off, (Jewish Publications, Cape Town, 1987), 24-25.

[iii] The minute book of the Cape Town Philanthropic Association 1897-1903 gives information as to the help it provided to new immigrants to earn a living. This included giving £1 to someone to drive a tram with empty bottles. Tuvye was carrying them on his back. Schrire, Gwynne, Adapting to A New Society,The Role Of The Cape Town Jewish Philanthropic Society C.1900 Proceedings of 11th Annual Conference South African Association of Jewish Studies. Durban 1988.

[iv] Verst is an obsolete Russian unit of length equal to 1.0668 km.

[v] Also called Meish Rubin –Lipman Rubin’s brother.

[vi] Meish Rubin.

[vii] The minute book also included giving 100 eggs to a man to start dealing in eggs and a diamond to another to work as a glazier.

[viii] Papilė is a town in northeastern Lithuania, near the Latvian border... Its Jewish population was killed on July 22, 1941 by an Einsatzgruppen assisted by Lithuanian policemen and Lithuanian nationalists.

© Kaplan Centre
Letters courtesy of Phil Kretzmar