Kimberley, South Africa


Senderovitz, Aaron

Posted April 2019

Jane Beth Cantor wrote in August 2017

Kimberley is very close to my heart. My grandfather Aaron Senderovitz lived in Kimberley first in early 1900s and then left to go back to Lithuania, as his father was dying. He originally ran a shop with another Senderovitz, no relation (as far as we know – but probably was related to Raphael who was doing well in Kimberley). One of his children was Heyman Senderovitz a businessman in Kimberley and Dov Sender was Heyman’s son. Dov Sender was very well known in the Jewish community.

Jane Beth continued: ‘Aaron Senderovitz, my grandfather, then settled in Taung. He was a very learned man, he spoke many languages and ran all the Shul services for the handful of Jews in the Taung area. He had eight children from his first wife and then four kids from second wife Zlata (Née Edelman). My mom Pearl was from his second wife. A few of his children became well known and settled in Cape Town. Dr Barry Sender, Hyman Sender and many cousins.

Aaron was 35 years older than his second wife, Jane’s grandmother, Zlata. They are pictured together here. Jane says: ‘Aaron was old enough to be my mom’s Zaida not her father, but Zlata who was born and grew up in Latvia, had married Aaron because she saw the opportunity of safety and security after her father and one brother were murdered by the Cossacks.

Aaron died in 1928 and is buried in the Kimberley Pioneer Cemetery along with his son and other members of my family. The cemetery seems like a mess today I see a big pole has fallen over my grandfather’s grave.

‘My mom was Pearl Sender, daughter of his second wife Zlata. She and her siblings, Mendel Sender, Mike Sender and Ethel Sender (who married Solly Ossin in Israel) were born and raised in Taung and my mom went to the Convent in Kimberley.

My mom’s oldest brother Mike Senderovitz enlisted in the army during world War 2 and was sent up north in a Scottish regiment to Tobruk. He was captured when Tobruk fell to the German commander Rommel and was thrown into Italian prisoner of war camps. I have his story and it is fascinating how he escaped just before being hauled off to die in a concentration camp. I want to type this and give it to Yad Vashem because he saved many lives by outwitting an Italian traitor.

‘My mother Pearl Sender married my dad, Abraham Mirwis who was born in South Africa of Lithuanian parents. After marriage, they went to live in Germiston where I was brought up. I had two brothers and a sister and they sadly, have all passed away so tragically from ill health. My dad’s father Morris Mirwis has a very impressive history. His mother was a Mervis married to a Mirwis. Morris and his wife Jane (after whom I am named) first settled in Cape Town. I am a cousin to Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth, as well as the very famous Rabbi Mervis who started a famous Shul in Cape Town. But that is also another story!

‘Pearl Sender, knew many Jewish families in Taung. I often wonder about those times in Taung.’ Jane asked on the Kimberley community Facebook pages if anyone knew her family.

Liesel Jocum wrote back: Hi to you. We live near Taung on a farm. My father-in-law was Laurie Jocum and his grandparents on his mother side were Cohens (but we have now been told spelled differently). We are the only Jews still living near Taung. We live on the farm. My father-in-law spoke of a Jewish shop owner by the name of Abrahams? Perhaps you know more about them? All the best and stay in touch.

Jane replied: Hi Liesel wow I can't believe you are living in Taung. Am sure your family long time ago knew my family. When my mom lived in Taung she said there were only a few Jewish families. I don't know about Abrahams. My grandfather ran a shop in Mokasa (8 km southwest of Taung also along the Harts River) and was away all week and my gran ran another shop. Sure, this was another time, another era. Such a hard, hard life they had. My late mom wrote about her life there.

Jane says: I would love to know more about life in Taung and wish I knew where my mom lived. Liesel says: Hi Jane thanks for your reply we live on a farm 50km from Taung and not in Taung itself. Unfortunately, none of your family's names do we recall as we are the third and probably the last generation. My father-in-law Laurie Jocum started farming here in 1938 and the only other Jewish family he mentioned was the 3 Rauff brothers. Another Jewish shop trader near us called Natie Bayer. The village was called Bayersholt now called Qhoo. Very interesting to hear the history of Taung. Geraldine says in the early 50s she was at school with Adele Bayer from Taung who was at Beit House, the GHS boarding school. Her Brother Arnold was also at school as a boarder at Kimberley Boys High at this time.

Arnold Bayer who was a child in Taung wrote to Jane: ‘My memory of the Senderovitz Family is a bit sketchy. We lived in Taung when I was about 8 years old. These were years before apartheid became official policy. There was a large area around, known as ‘The reserve’, and Taung was part of it. I do recall that the Senderovitz family had a store in the reserve about 8 - 10 miles from Taung. The one brother's name was Hymie and I have an idea that he was traumatised by a war experience, I can't remember much more at the moment but will give some thought and try and recall those years as best I can. I do know that Arnold Rauff was related to the Sender family in Israel and there is a possibility that they were the same family.’

Leon Chonin says, I recall that there was one Senderovitz who emigrated to Israel. My father was always in contact with him as he wanted to follow him there, but my mother would not entertain the idea. Leon recalls that Liesel’s father-in-law Laurie Jocum had a brother Cyril married to Anita. They were very friendly with Jeff Geller and the Goldenbaums, Myra and Joseph.

Jane responded: I think you might be referring to Dov Senderovitz who was my Mom’s nephew. Dan, one of Dov’s sons, is who you are talking about. Dov was a great guy and always remained very close to my Mom. His father was her half-brother (from Aaron’s first wife). 

Leon Chonin asked if they were related to Neil Odes who is now in Toronto. Jane replied: I think my cousin Dr Ivan Cohen is related to Odes family. Dov had a sister Lulu and when they were very young their mother Dina was electrocuted. I think Dina was an Odes. Their father was Heyman. Lulu had three sons Ivan Cohen and Alan and David Alperstein. All became successful doctors and Lulu and Henry Alperstein we're Mayor and mayoress of Kingwilliamstown. Sadly, Henry also died. Ivan started ‘walk for life’ there. Alan is a top fertility gynaecologist in Cape Town and David a plastic surgeon in America. Also, there are Many Senderovitz family members in Cape Town.

Leon Chonin explained: My father Edel Chonin came to Kimberley as a young boy of only seventeen, where his mother’s brother Sam (now called Chonnin) had settled in the Northern Cape.

Sam Chonnin had opened a general dealer’s business in Beaconsfield but was not able to employ his nephew Edel hence my father only option was to continue with his trade as a tailor. He opened his first tailor shop near the location of Klein Bros very close to the Big Hole. But he was able to live with his Sam’s daughter – his cousin, Sadi who was now married to Israel Oshry who farmed in the Taung area. (Sadi had two sons Alfie and Bernie.)

Sam’s other daughter Dinah married Mike Jocum from the Beaufort West area and he was encouraged by his brother-in-law, Israel Oshry to enter the farming business in that area, when he purchased land in the Reivilo district in the northern Cape. Mike and Dinah Jocum had four children, Laurie, Maisy, Mildred and Cyril.

About Taung: Geraldine Auerbach writes: I was wondering why many Jewish families had settled or sojourned in Taung, so I looked it up. I found out that Taung is a tiny and very pretty settlement – a small town nearly 80 miles due North of Kimberley, past Jan Kempdorp and about 30 miles south of Vryburg. It is on the Harts River. The name means place of the lion and was named after Tau, the chief of the Tswana speaking tribe.

Here is maybe some explanation of why people, including Jewish diamond seekers and storekeepers went to settle in Taung. In 1920 a public alluvial diamond digging — Tlaping — was proclaimed on the Taung Native Reserve in the northern Cape. It was one of nearly two hundred public diggings proclaimed between 1908 and 1929, but it was unique in that it was the first within a Native Reserve. (It is interesting that there was a Native Reserve before 1920?).  Tim Clynick wrote an article in African Studies in 2007 called Chiefs, diggers and African labour. The Tlaping diamond rush, 1920–1921. This essay discusses the political and class dynamics between the alluvial diamond industry and the rural people who had been given this ‘reserve’. An important facet of the politics of proclamation was the role played by the BaThlaping chiefs within the Taung Reserve. Their wider political agendas were played out through the racial and class dynamics of the alluvial industry. These were mediated by the changing character of the local and regional labour market as ‘foreign’ men and local women were drawn into common labour for white diggers. This resulting conflict led to a strong coalition based on common interests between the ‘official’ government chief and capitalist diggers.

Taung is also known for an anthropological discovery of International renown – the 1924 discovery of the juvenile skull of Australopithecus Africanus - a hominid species that lived in Southern Africa around 2.5 million years ago. The skull became known as the Taung Child, and the Taung site called ‘The Cradle of Mankind’, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999.

Compiled by Geraldine Auerbach MBE

For Jane Beth Cantor

London  2019