My Items

I'm a title. ​Click here to edit me.

Cape Town, Monday, 2 October, 1899

My dear father, honoured and respected famous gentleman Yehuda Leib, and to my dear mother, may she live long, and to my brother Yaacov, my sister Rachel[i], and my dear respected brother-in-law, Moishe Schochet[ii], and his wife, who is my sister, may you all be blessed and may God grant you all the best.


To my dear wife Taube, be well in pleasant circumstances. And to my dear mother-in-law Neche and my sister-in-law, Chana Reza, and to my dear children, sons David and Noah, and daughters, Leah and Freda, be well, all in happiness and joy, and may we all be worthy of these blessings.


Dearest wife and friends, first I can inform you that I am enjoying good health, TG, and that on the boat I also was in good health. We came to Cape Town on Tuesday, Shmini Atzeret. Usually, everybody travelled to Johannesburg. But when we came into the harbour we already heard that going to Johannesburg was out of the question. People are running from there, so many that there are not enough coaches for them. When we came to the ‘Franken’ (? boarding house or office), everyone had a letter advising them to remain in Cape Town until the tummel settled down. I also got a letter from Moishe Tsabentsieker telling me that for God’s sake I must not go further. I should see if it is possible to get something to do and earn daily bread until times would settle down.


We wait every day for news – because it is near the end – and if the Lord wishes – He can stop the tummel and things will be better. Because today, everyone is running away from Johannesburg, because they are afraid the place is mined and it may become deserted like Sodom. But business is as before and one can make a living – and, therefore, I am remaining in Cape Town. The tradesmen/artisans who came with us have all got jobs, and the business people from Russia – each one is looking for his own chance. I began to buy bottles and bags and I hope that God will provide, because here in the good years one also had to suffer before you could make a good living. Therefore, in these bitter times, there is no question of any easy time. Johannesburg looks like Tisha B’Av, and people are running as from a fire. One is happy if one can creep into a railway coach through the window. And with every boat there are grienearriving from Russia.


You can imagine what it looks like, but nevertheless don’t worry my dear wife, you know how it is said in Russia ‘we expect that God will not forsake us’, and by you at home you say ‘it will all come right’. I can tell you that here we say the same thing. The Lord will carry us through. I have no other news to write in this letter, and maybe, with God’s help, I may be able to write more news about Parnosse (making a living). In the meantime, don’t worry, I cannot capture everything in the first minute, it must be with patience and with God’s help. Be well, live well, from me, your devoted husband and son and brother-in-law and son-in-law, Tuvye Kretzmar


PS. Please answer me right away and don’t be economical in words, and tell me of everything that’s happening to you, in health and business, if you have earned anything or lost. What did you get for the cow from Reinkos? And everything that’s happening to you there, and the same from me.


Notes:

[i] According to the Kretzmar family tree, Tuvye did not have a sister Rachel so it is not clear who he is greeting here.

[ii] Tuvye’s sister, Sarah, was married to Taube’s brother, Moishe Morris, whom he usually calls by his trade, Moishe Shochet .

Undated, Cape Town

To my dear wife, Taube, May she live and prosper.


My dearest wife, to begin with, I can tell you that, TG, I am in good health and I wish to hear the same from you. I have no further news to write now because our letters are written at night and there is no time for writing in the day and as it happens this is a letter written in the day, and the boat has to convey the letters and it is erev Yomtov and I have to make a yachatz – there is no time to write a long letter. So please excuse me for writing so little this time. I have received your letter number 1. Keep well and happy as is the wish of your true husband who is waiting for your answer. Tuvye Kretzmar

Letter from Meish Rubin

I greet my dear parents, brothers and sisters, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law and their families and friends. From me, Meish Rubin.

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.

Cape Town, undated

… It is not from envy because there is nothing to envy in the business, and about hatred there is none, so we can excuse him. But he has been warned that I will report it to my wife and mother-in-law and they will write to him about it. Please my dearest wife, write me a speedy reply and write all about your health and how you all are and about with whom my dear father conducts business and how the sales are in the shop and how much you have already spent there.


Write to me how much you’ve made off the shop and if you have received the rye from Klevansky, and also if there was a good crop of potatoes, and if you’ve harvested it already and how it grew in the house (shed) of my father’s, and what you earned, or the losses that you had.


And what’s the news of Yaacov Ben Yostentch? I lent him two and a half roubles – he promised to return it soon. Write me if he has paid it back or if he has not yet reminded himself. Write me where David [i] is going to cheder. Please write out everything because I am very keen to know about everything.

At the time Johannesburg was prosperous. One could make a living in Cape Town, but now that so many people have arrived [ii] like the sands of the sea, and each tries to do something to earn something, and so income is reduced but nevertheless don’t you worry, and as much as the storm and bad weather is severe, the sooner it will pass and the sun will shine and so it will be for us. In the meantime we have to be patient and hope for better times. At the moment I cannot send you any money – of my expenses I have left only £5 and a few shillings, which I had kept for expenses to go to Johannesburg.[iii] I needed now to do business because without money it is worse and when God will grant me a little business I will send you something.


I’m staying together with Moishe Tsabentsieker – Lipman Rubin comes to eat here and we spend some time comfortably although Moishe is not stingy with a pinch but he swears that he means it.


My dear father, Yehuda Leib Kretzmar, and my dear mother, the chaste and modest Beile, and to my erudite Yaacov Kretzmar [iv], and my younger brothers and sisters, may they all be blessed and may God grant them everything of the best, and also to my dear brother-in-law, Moishe Schochet, and his dear mother, the chaste and modest Getzel[v], his wife, my sister Sarah, and their children, I say Shalom to all of you. Tuvye Kretzmar


To my dear wife, Taube Kretzmar, I wish you happiness and blessings in all ways, my dearest wife.


To begin with I can tell you that I am well, God be blessed. May God grant that my letter should also find you in the best of health. About business I have nothing to write or how to picture it to you. I have only received one letter from you, which you addressed care of Lipman Rubin. Meish brought it to me in Cape Town. And the rest were addressed care of Glickman, so I will not get any more. Please write to me about everything – how is Uncle Zvi of Kesselshik? And also Zvi Ben Ha’Aron and his family? Please write me what our brothers who are in service are writing. Please in one word write to me everything in your area. I am closing my writing and I wish you all lots of luck and regard to our relatives and friends who ask about me. Keep well. As is the wish of your faithful husband, son, brother-in-law, son-in-law, Tuvye Kretzmar


To Israel Yaacov Greentuch, shalom to you, may He who grants peace to everybody should also remember you so that you should be able to receive all of His blessings, From me, Tuvye Kretzmar


I greet heartily Shmuel Rubin Ben Yosef. I hear that you have suffered a lot from the fire which occurred in the yard at Panemunė. I am sorry about it. I suppose you know the saying  “After a fire, people get rich”. And to prove it we found it in the Torah (Exodus Chapter 22:95). Shalom Ya Shalom Ha Maariv et ha Vaviv. (Quotation and comment: God will repay him double. Shalom va Shalom twice.) All the best to you From me, Tuvye Kretzmar


Notes:

[i] David was the oldest child of Tuvye and Taube, born in Birzh, 1893. He died in Cape Town in 1924.

[ii] Because of the South African War, also known as the Anglo- Boer War, 25,000 refugees, who had been expelled from the Witwatersrand or who had fled, arrived in Cape Town. This placed an enormous drain on the resources of the city.

[iii] Tuvye had planned to go to Johannesburg in the South African Republic, but the South African War broke out ten days after he arrived making travel impossible.

[iv] Yehuda Leib Kretzmer was born in Birzh, Lithuania c. 1845. His wife, Beile Katz, was born in Birzh c 1850. Tuvye’s brother Yaacov (Jacob) was born in Birzh in1880.

[v] This must be a mistakee – he must have meant Neche. Taube’s father Getzel must have passed away as Tuvye’s son David’s name was David Getzel and children were not named after the living.

Undated

To my dear wife, Taube Kretzmar, I wish you happiness and blessings in all ways, my dearest wife.


To begin with I can tell you that I am well, God be blessed. May God grant that my letter should also find you in the best of health. About business I have nothing to write or how to picture it to you. I have only received one letter from you, which you addressed care of Lipman Rubin. Meish brought it to me in Cape Town. And the rest were addressed care of Glickman, so I will not get any more. Please write to me about everything – how is Uncle Zvi of Kesselshik? And also Zvi Ben Ha’Aron and his family? Please write me what our brothers who are in service are writing. Please in one word write to me everything in your area. I am closing my writing and I wish you all lots of luck and regard to our relatives and friends who ask about me. Keep well. As is the wish of your faithful husband, son, brother-in-law, son-in-law, Tuvye Kretzmar



To Israel Yaacov Greentuch, shalom to you, may He who grants peace to everybody should also remember you so that you should be able to receive all of His blessings, From me, Tuvye Kretzmar


I greet heartily Shmuel Rubin Ben Yosef. I hear that you have suffered a lot from the fire which occurred in the yard at Panemunė. I am sorry about it. I suppose you know the saying  “After a fire, people get rich”. And to prove it we found it in the Torah (Exodus Chapter 22:95). Shalom Ya Shalom Ha Maariv et ha Vaviv. (Quotation and comment: God will repay him double. Shalom va Shalom twice.) All the best to you From me, Tuvye Kretzmar

Out of context, no date, no place

(about the fire in Ben Yosef’s yard) Although business is rather poor we can still send a little money. Therefore you must write to him personally, and if it helps it will certainly be good. I have no news now. Keep well and in good spirits as the wish from your ever true husband who wishes you to enjoy all the pleasures of life and blessings, Tuvye Kretzmar

Cape Town, Undated

My dear father, Yehuda Leib, and my dear mother, the chaste and modest Beile, and my dear brother, the scholarly bocher Yaacov Kretzmar, and my sister Hinda and my younger brother and sisters.


May you all be blessed with everything. To my dear wife, Taube Kretzmar, zolle lebben, live in wealth and happiness, and to my children, may they live in joy.


My dearest and most precious wife, at the outset of my letter I can inform you that I find myself TG well – may God grant to hear the same from you.


About business I have nothing to write at the moment. In these times hundreds of people are walking the streets, looking for work to do and to earn a living, which is much more expensive than at home and not everyone can find it. I thank God that so far I have made enough to cover my expenses and hope that God will provide more later on.


And now I am sending you one and a half pounds, and Moishe’s letter, and five roubles, which you must take off from Rochel of the money which I lent him to go to Africa. The money that I am sending you now is not all from the profit made in Cape Town, as when I came here I had £5 and two shillings which would have cost me to go to Johannesburg but as I stayed in Cape Town and I am earning my expenses TG, I have the £5. I cannot send you more now, in case I could do something with this money. So let this suffice you for the present and see if you can manage with it until the Lord will have mercy and send us some business, (Quotation, ‘so that there will be bread for the children’ (Quote from Chumash, Genesis, ‘and behold I am with thee and will keep thee’, vayizetze, line 15), and to pay a debt as this is a necessity, and the Lord will surely sometime provide. I have no news to write you now.


The war is still raging in South Africa. Everyday cables arrive giving news that the English have killed many Boers, and the second cable tells of the Boers killing many English – and so boats are arriving from London full of military – horses and mules and arms and so on in great numbers. If you would promise me a big share in it, I would wish our family to get what this amounts to. Please excuse me I am closing my writing, it is late at night and during the day I am busy. Please, my dearest wife, answer me as soon as you receive my letter and the money, and write me also about everything in your medina (area), and you, my dear brother Yaacov, please write what is happening there. We have heard that there is a monopoly on all grain – may the Lord spare us. Please write me everything and, believe me, when you will write me a long letter about everything.  I will enjoy it.


I greet cordially my dear brother-in-law Moishe Schohet, and his wife my sister, and their children, may they live zollen lebben, and my dear mother-in-law, the chaste and modest Neche, and my brother-in-law, Menachem Mendel, and Aaron, and my sister-in-law, Chana Reza, may you all live well. I greet all relations(freind) and friends (gutte freund), I wish you all, and myself also, good fortune and blessings (mi zeggen in alle weggen – rhymes) in all ways. And please excuse me for not writing out all the names. Believe me, at present there is very little patience, but hopefully we will overcome everything, until better days come. Adieu, be well, as it wishes you, your son, son-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law, freind and gutte freund. Tuvye Kretzmar

© Kaplan Centre
Letters courtesy of Phil Kretzmar