Dynamic Jewish Brothers Helped Open The Hinterland

In the 19th century, most Jews leaving Germany in search of better lives chose to go to the United States. Before the discovery of gold and diamonds, very few came to South Africa because it was considered a wild place. Those who did come to “this wilderness” faced great difficulties. Most were forced by the Dutch East India Company to convert to Christianity.  Some claimed to be Spanish, says Professor Sander Gilman, an expert in German cultural history, because they did not want to be known by the derogatory term of “Rhineland traders”. Nevertheless many played a vital role in opening up the hinterland, particularly the Karoo, and building up the economy of this vast inland area. Among them were Maximilian Thalwitzer, Gabriel Kilian and the Mosenthal brothers (Max and Gabriel). Max specialised in developing Merino sheep and exporting wool and Gabriel was a general merchant.  Joseph Mosenthal, Gabriel’s cousin who came to South Africa in 1837 to assist him.  Within a year, he was offered a partnership. In 1841, after the death of his two sons and Alexa Waldeck, the first of his four wives, Joseph returned to Kassel and persuaded his brothers Adolph and Julius to join him in South Africa. They eagerly accepted and arrived in Algoa Bay in November 1842 with a shipload of goods to sell.  Within days, the Mosenthals had opened a store in Port Elizabeth and within weeks had expanded to Graaff-Reinet.   Soon branches were popping up all over the country and they needed staff.  Almost half the Jews who came to South Africa between 1845 and 1870 came as a result of Mosenthal’s rapid expansion and need for manpower, writes Adam Yamey in an article in Stambaum. “ These brothers certainly made a major contribution to the development of the hinterland.”


© Rose’s Roundup, October 2010 (No 201)

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