Graaff Reinet, South Africa



Amanda Katz Jermyn

February 2016

My grandfather, August Katz, had two uncles, Hermann and August Wertheim, born in Kassel, Germany in 1849 and 1851 respectively. In about 1863 the Wertheim brothers were sent to South Africa to join their Baumann relatives who had already emigrated there. They traveled on the sailing boat, the Steinwerder, and the journey took about three months. While August Wertheim opened a general store, Wertheim & Co. General Dealer, in Fauresmith, a small town in the Orange Free State,  Hermann Wertheim settled in Graaff-Reinet in the Cape Colony where his Baumann cousins had already established themselves in business. Graaff-Reinet was in fact South Africa’s third oldest Jewish community, established with the arrival of Isaac Baumann in 1836. Hermann Wertheim began working as a salesman for the Baumanns, first cousins of his mother, Zerline Piccard-Baumann, in their store Baumann Bros. & Co. Later, Hermann, together with the store’s book-keeper, Carl Wille, took over the business, calling it Wille & Wertheim.[1] Wille married Helena, daughter of August Baumann. The store became very successful.

When it came time for him to settle down, Hermann wrote to his family in Kassel and asked them to find him a suitable wife. And that is how it came to be that Mathilde Japhet was sent by boat from Kassel, sight unseen, to become Hermann Wertheim’s bride.  At the appointed time, in 1880, Hermann drove his horse and Cape cart the 150 miles from Graaff-Reinet to Port Elizabeth to meet his bride at the harbor there.  Hermann and Mathilde were married in Winburg in the Orange Free State by the Reverend Samuel Rapaport, the rabbi sanctioned to perform Jewish weddings in the Free State, on December 9th, 1880. Witnesses were Hermann’s brother August and J. de Kock. Mathilde was a most accomplished musician, and that talent was passed down to future generations of this family. She also had a beautiful singing voice.

Hermann and Mathilde had four children: Julius, Max, Fanny and Fritz. Julius became an attorney, city councillor and Mayor of Johannesburg. His beautiful wife, Tercsi, had posed for commercials for Colgate toothpaste in Vienna before the war, and was known as "The Colgate Girl." She also posed for ads for Kolynos toothpaste in South Africa. (Kolynos was acquired by Colgate-Palmolive in 1995.) Max, an engineer trained in Germany, married Frieda Saenger. His passion was music, and he had some music published which he composed. Fanny married Moritz Marxheimer (later changed to Marx).  Hermann and Mathilde's son Fritz died in Graaff-Reinet at age seven.

My grandfather, August Katz, born in Kassel in November 1879, also spent time in Graaff-Reinett. In order to help provide an education for the younger children in the family he was sent to South Africa at the age of fifteen. He set out from Hamburg on a ship called The Pretoria on August 3rd, 1895, arriving at Port Elizabeth in Algoa Bay. In Graaff-Reinet he began helping his uncle Hermann Wertheim in the store he owned, together with Carl Wille, that they had taken over from the Baumanns. My grandfather worked for his uncle for just over a year. At the end of that time, in 1896, Hermann sold the business and retired at age 47. He had made about 30,000 pounds, a huge fortune at the time, and retired to Johannesburg, along with his family. Hermann paid his nephew twenty pounds in gold coins for one year’s work, a decent sum, and gave him an excellent reference, but it meant that at age 16, he was left high and dry in a strange land with no job. So August went to the nearby town of Humansdorp and found work as a bookkeeper for a firm called Saffery and Company. They were coal, lumber and hardware merchants and ran a general store. During the Boer War my grandfather fought on the British side, and after the war moved to Fauresmith in the Orange Free State where he and his brother Julius Katz ran Wertheim & Co, the general store they bought from their uncle August Wertheim when he retired.

[1] The Jewish Community of Graaff-Reinet: A Brief History, complied by South African Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth, 1999, p.14

Amanda’s grandfather's uncle, Hermann Wertheim, his wife Mathilde, and children Julius, Max, Fanny and Fritz who lived in Graaff-Reinett. It was taken in about 1892

The general store, Wille & Wertheim, formerly Baumann Bros., where Amanda’s grandfather, August Katz came to work for his uncle Hermann Wertheim.

August Katz, Amanda’s grandfather, in his British Boer War uniform




Wertheim & Katz Families

Grave of Adolph Baumann, infant son of Bertha and August Baumann. August was a first cousin of Amanda's great-great grandmother, Zerline Picard-Baumann Wertheim.

Grave of Fritz Wertheim, son of Mathilde and Hermann Wertheim. Hermann was a brother of Amanda's great-grandmother, Mathilde Wertheim.