This is a sample chapter from a work in progress by Adam Yamey. It is from the life of his great-grandfather Franz Ginsberg.
Here is a brief ‘blurb’ or introductory note about the book. It was kindly suggested to me by Sandra Haven:
Franz Ginsberg left Germany in 1880. He settled in South Africa as an 18-year-old photographer, escaping the restrictions on Jews, only to adopt a homeland with escalating restrictions on ‘black’ and other non-European people. Franz flourished as a manufacturer of a large variety of domestic products, becoming well-known as an industrial pioneer. Soon, his concern for people’s welfare plunged him to politics. From 1927 onwards, as one of the 32 elected Senators of the Union of South Africa, he attempted to mitigate the racist policies that many of his fellow legislators promoted. During his progression from Town Councillor to Senator, Franz opposed the law-making processes that were to lead eventually, after his death in 1936, to the establishment of apartheid. Franz Ginsberg, the author’s great-grandfather, battled for a better world in a time not yet ready for that change—leaving a unique story and legacy on the blueprint of our modern world.
This is the sample chapter from the draft manuscript (with footnotes omitted):
COPYRIGHT: ADAM R YAMEY, 2015
Less than a year after the German trade treaty had been signed, the Senate discussed a Bill in March 1930, the Immigration Quota Bill, relating to another kind of ‘import’: human beings - immigrants wishing to enter South Africa. This was just over two years before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and not much longer before the Jews of Germany would begin fleeing from their homes in ever increasing numbers.
The Minister of the Interior, DF Malan, who was later, in the words of A Parker, to begin “… the apocalyptic legislative assault on black South Africans… ” during the apartheid era, explained to the Senate that the new Bill was in response to questions being asked all over the country about:
“…whether there was not a vast stream of immigrants coming to this country, immigrants who were undesirable.”
People wanted to know what the Government was going to do about them. Malan said that there had been a large number of complaints that the then existing Immigration Act was being applied in an unfair and unjust way. He explained:
“That was one of the complaints of a large section of the population, and more especially of the Jewish community in this country.”
Next, Malan talked about the Immigration Act passed in 1913. He said:
“The problem which I have mentioned is that we have a great influx of people on the one hand, chiefly from Eastern Europe. A vast and growing stream of immigrants is coming into this country, and the vast majority of them belong to a class of persons who follow a calling in life which has enough adherents in the Union, with the result that reinforcements are not required.”
Now, DF Malan was a highly educated man (he achieved a Master in Philosophy at Victoria College [which is now Stellenbosch University] and a Doctorate of Divinity at University of Utrecht) and chose his words carefully. He knew that one meaning of ‘adherents’ was ‘followers’ of, for example, a religious belief. He must have also known that ‘calling in life’ can have a religious connotation. He continued to speak about this ‘class of persons’:
“They belong to what was known as the middle classes the commercial classes, people … who belong to the commercial classes, and do not produce … The commercial community is too large for the country. This is one side of the matter.”
The other side of the problem, he explained, was emigration: too many (white) people were leaving South Africa. The solution that he favoured was adopting a quota system such was already in force in countries like the USA, Australia, and Canada. This would be incorporated in the new Bill, which proposed that on certain countries there would be no restriction, and on all other countries there would be a quota. Those admitted on the quota system would be carefully selected by the Immigration Control Board. Malan said that the Bill envisioned admitting about 1000 people per year from quota countries, and that the line which was to be drawn between countries that were unrestricted and those that were restricted would depend on the current composition of the population already in South Africa. Next, he said something that sounds very sinister in the light of what we now know about Malan’s country:
“The second principle, on which we base this discrimination, is that every country desires immigrants that will strengthen the race and that will be readily assimilated. A nation wants to be homogenous…”
Then, to drive his point further:
“There can be no doubt that there has been a certain amount of nervousness in the country during the last few years on account of the stream of immigration out of Eastern Europe.”
There was a third principle behind the new Bill, namely the safeguarding of Western Civilisation in South Africa. On this point, Malan said the following:
“South Africa has set its heart on maintaining the western form of civilisation in this country. … There is the eastern civilisation, the European civilisation and then there is the western civilisation and the civilisation of Eastern Europe. These two civilisations differ from one another, and when we draw a line between the different countries in the future, we must be very careful that we note countries belong to the western civilisation and which do not.”
According to the tree principles, Malan explained to the Senate, a line was to be drawn between Eastern and Western Europe, and no restrictions were to be placed on any of the following: USA, Western Europe, and the various parts of the British Empire. He did not state it, but I imagine that an immigrant’s skin colour was also an important factor determining whether he or she should be allowed to settle in South Africa. In any case, this was a Bill directed mainly at certain members of the world’s ‘white’ population, as Franz was to point out later in the debate.
Franz was against the new Bill, considering that it was unnecessary: most of what was being proposed was already in the Immigration Act of 1913. He knew that there was an overwhelming majority of people in favour of the Bill, and he regretted that. He had been told that the new Bill was a reaction to the country’s then poor economic condition (low wool prices and so on). Franz continued by saying that he had heard the Minister saying often that he wished to keep ‘undesirables’ out of the country. He too was in favour of this, but had difficulty understanding how an ‘undesirable’ was defined. He said:
“I think in a country like this, every decent man ought to be admitted.”
Franz had been very pleased to hear that the Minister of Labour (FHP Creswell), Mr Tielman Roos , and a number of other leaders, had praised the patriotism and usefulness of the Jewish population of South Africa. Who were these people, Franz asked. They were, he said answering his own question, the very same class of people that the minister of the Interior wished to exclude with his new Bill. To a very large extent, he added, these useful Jews had come from the east, very largely from Lithuania and other countries in Eastern Europe. Then, he spoke subtly to the Senate:
“I would like to say here that I do not hold the opinion that many people have expressed, that this Bill is anti-Semitic legislation, because I have too many proofs of goodwill extended towards the Jewish population of this country, so much proof that I cannot for one moment, believe, unless someone is lying, that there is, so far as personal experience is concerned, anything but sympathy and friendship with the Jewish people. I do not think there is much in the way of anti-Semitism in South Africa. … I have heard very much about the capabilities, the loyalty, and the patriotism of the Jewish people. So much so that one gets a little suspicious about these expressions, and I should ask why, if they are such good citizens, they are to be kept out of this country? There is a difference in outlook … between the Jewish people who come from the eastern part of Europe and those who come from the western part, but … that outlook quickly disappears in this country; in fact, it has been remarked that in an incredibly short time these people have become assimilated to such an extent that … they could not be distinguished from any other people.”
Regarding the Minister’s statement that there were too many middle-men in the country, he agreed. However, he pointed out, that the situation was changing: people were moving from one kind of occupation to another; the country population was moving into towns, and people were moving into industry and the professions. Gradually, Franz undermined the reasons that D Makan had given to back up his promotion of the new Bill.
After a short interruption, Franz continued with an impassioned speech, some of which is quoted here:
“Considerable difficulties will arise in connection with this Bill… It has caused ridiculous anomalies. … There have been perfectly new boundaries created in Europe since the war, countries that formerly belonged to Germany have become, for instance, Polish … there is Silesia too. My birthplace is in Silesia and I am very glad to think I would not come under the ratio of prohibited countries, although that might have been the case if the boundary laid down in the Peace Treaty had been shifted a few miles.”
Beuthen, where Franz was born, remained in Germany until 1945 when it was transferred to Polish rule following the Potsdam Conference in that year. Franz continued:
“I was born in Germany and the boundary was about 20 to 25 miles from my town. Since the war, however, my native town has been cut in half, and the one part is in Poland, and the other part in Germany, and, therefore, I might well have become a Pole if I had lived on the other side of the boundary. Are we to look upon Kubelik, who charmed Cape Town with his violin when he was here, as a prohibited immigrant, or would Mr Paderewski, supposing he wanted to become a music teacher in Cape Town, be permitted to do so, unless the Minister was good enough to allow him? And what would be the position of a person like Professor Voronoff?...”
I am not sure that the city of Beuthen was actually divided in two after WW1; maybe Franz was really referring to the countryside surrounding it. Kubelik, the violinist was Jan Kubelik (1880-1940) who was born in Prague ; Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), born of Polish parents in Czarist Poland, was the composer and one-time Prime Minister of Poland ; and Serge Voronoff (1866-1951) was a celebrated (in Franz’s time, but not these days) surgeon born of Jewish parents in Czarist Russia . Returning to Franz’s speech:
“Apart from these cases, I would like the Minister to explain what the position is of the man in Rhodesia … at least so far as I understand the Bill they would still come under the quota number.”
Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which shared a long border with South Africa, refused to join the Union of South Africa when the chance was offered in 1922, and was annexed by the UK to become a colony in 1923 . The point that Franz raised was that under the new Bill, Rhodesia, which contained many people who would have been acceptable or ‘desirable’ immigrants in the eyes of the Nationalist dominated Government of South Africa, would have become subject to the rules that were designed to limit immigration from Eastern Europe. Franz went on to say:
“… I do not agree with the arguments of so-called assimilation. How many people who are now in the country, people belonging to a variety of nationalities, do assimilate? Even between Scotch and English, Dutch and English, or German and English or Dutch. How many intermarry? They all work hand in hand and there does not seem to be any difficulty. They hold their different views and have their different traditions, but presumably they are trying to work hard for the good of the country.”
With regard to the ‘desirability’ of people from Western Europe, Franz asked:
“… whether people from the south of France and from Portugal are to be considered Nordics. I do not know whether they are to be considered more desirable than the people from Lithuania.”
Later on, he told the House that there were 60-70,000 people in South Africa, whose feelings were hurt by the Bill. Then, he said:
“The objects of the Bill could have been attained otherwise, and the restrictions that are considered desirable could have been managed by some other means without making it so obvious that those concerned are not to be considered part and parcel of South Africa. I am referring to the Jewish people of South Africa who have settled here. I came here almost 50 years ago as a stranger. This country has given me a home and has made me welcome, and I have been able to get a comfortable position here … I have considered myself a South African. I have come to live in this country, but I now begin to be doubtful whether I am going to be permitted in future whether to consider myself wholly and solely South African. The Honourable minister has spoken about problems with which this country is faced, and to me it is an insult of the first water to compare the problems of the natives and the Indians with the problems of Jews in South Africa. I am sorry that such an insult should have been levelled at a people which is supposed to be held in high esteem from the Prime Minister downwards, and it makes me wonder whether I am permitted in future still to love this country.”
Senator GG Munnik (Transvaal) followed Franz’s speech by saying that he felt strongly that just as everyone has a right to say who is his guest, the country had the right to say who could enter, and who could not. He agreed with the Minister of the Interior that the stream of immigrants from Eastern Europe was undesirable for three reasons. First, he said that South Africa has two industries - mining and agriculture - but the Eastern European immigrants engaged in neither of these ‘industries. Secondly, because they were poor, it seemed to Munnik that:
“…South Africa may now be called a Tom Tiddler’s land. Everyone who comes here to the Tom Tiddler’s land and desires to play the master.”
Tom Tiddler’s land (or ground), for those who are unfamiliar with this, is land or ground occupied by someone who is easily taken advantage of, or “…where pickings may be sought or had without effective interference ”. Munnik was implying that the South Africans (probably his fellow Afrikaners) were easy prey to the new arrivals. Thirdly, he said that the people from Eastern Europe knew neither Afrikaans nor English, and:
“…scarcely ever learn them; they only come here to make money by some means and such people are unnecessary in the country. They will remain a separate colony and we do not need them. Are we in need of people who are going to increase the problems of the country?”
Having just listened to Senator Munnik, Senator JA Neser (Transvaal) was amused by what his colleague had just said about the Eastern European immigrants. He said:
“Only a few days before he [i.e. Munnik] had brought forward a Bill for the encouragement of horse-breeding and horse-racing, and it is the people who he has now been denouncing who are the greatest supporters of horse-racing in this country.”
Then, a few moments later, he slipped into the disingenuousness so typical of racist policy-makers in South Africa:
“It is extremely unfortunate that our Jewish friends have taken it into their heads that the Bill is principally directed against them because there is not a word about the Jews or any other nationality in the Bill. It is just a coincidence that a large number of Jews come from that part of the world against which this bill is directed.”
Well, so it was! Franz was not the only Senator to defend the Jewish people in South Africa. Senator CJ Langenhoven (Cape Province), an active promoter of the use of Afrikaans rather than Dutch in the Cape, refuted Munnik’s suggestion that Jews who came to South Africa did not learn English or Afrikaans; the opposite was true. He added:
“If there are any of our friends who maintain that the Jew is undesirable, then I want to repudiate it, and I speak on behalf of the Afrikaans-speaking section of the population.”
Just when I was beginning to guess how Langenhoven would vote, that is against the Bill, his words showed how wrong I was:
“The Jew is the biggest nationalist in the whole world and in the circumstances he succeeded in maintaining the purity of his race to a greater extent than any other race in the world. The result is that the Jews remain a separate group, they form one herd, and as such do not readily assimilate with the rest of the population.”
Langenhoven, like the other supporters of the Bill, was concerned that without new controls the Dutch- and English-speaking world would become dominated by the ‘Jewish race’, and this was a reason that he would be voting for the Bill. Having demonstrated his pro-Semitism, he gave his reason for voting in favour as being not that the Jews were ‘undesirable’, but in order to achieve the self-preservation of, in his words, “our race”.
On the following day, the 5th of March 1930, the Minister of the Interior, DF Malan, made another speech in which he referred to Franz’s speech made on the previous day. He said:
“… not only do we all want him [i.e Franz] to consider himself a South African but we want to make it possible in a much greater measure than he has done today… as I said in the other House, in introducing this Bill, I consider this measure to be even more in the interests of the Jewish community in this country in that they want to identify themselves with South African life, with the South African nation, they would like to be treated on a footing of equality with other sections of the community, and they want to take their share in the national life of South Africa. That is only possible if there is no feeling arising in this country, such as there exists, unfortunately, in other countries, against the Jew as a Jew. That feeling, today does not exist to a large extent, and there is no doubt about it that it is dormant, but if this great influx of people from oversea should continue that feeling should continue, and it will become increasingly difficult for the Jewish community to come into their own, and take their share in the life of South Africa on a footing of equality. I say, therefore that not only has the Honourable Senator [i.e. Franz] a right to consider himself South African, but what we want with to do this Bill is to make it easier for himself and others to consider himself in that light.”
This speech was made less than three years before the South African version of the German Nazis, the Greyshirts led by Weichardt, began to wake up the ‘dormant’ anti-Semitism in South Africa.
The Senate passed the Bill, but continued discussing it ‘in Committee’. The schedule of countries which were not subject to quotas for immigration to South Africa were: Territories within the British Commonwealth, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA. Senator G Hartog (Transvaal), who was Jewish, could not understand why if Poland was excluded, why Austria was included. Also, he asked why Portugal, Italy, and Spain were included if the intention was, in his words, to:
“… replenish our stocks from the original Nordic stock.”
He felt that Latvia and Finland should be included in the schedule. He must have known that Latvia was the origin of quite a few Jewish immigrants to South Africa. To which Franz replied:
“I am going to vote against this [Bill] on principle. I am against restriction and therefore I am against deletion of any country from the schedule. I would certainly vote for the addition of a country to the schedule…”
The Minister of the Interior defended the inclusion of Spain, Portugal, and Italy because they had been included as being required for the maintenance of a “Western European Civilisation” in South Africa. He regarded Finland as being part of Eastern Europe, but not worth including as few Finns wanted to come to South Africa. Unlike Latvia, which Hartog wished to see included amongst the unrestricted countries, Finland had a negligible population of Jews. So, it could have been included on the schedule without risking much in regards to Jewish immigration to South Africa!
Fighting a losing battle, Franz, who was against the Bill, repeated that he had heard that the Minister of the Interior had wanted to secure immigrants of the ‘Nordic type’. He failed to see how people from Italy, Portugal, Spain, and some parts of France could be considered Nordic.
The so-called ‘Quota Act’ came into force on the 1st of May 1930, just over five years before Hitler and his government enacted the notorious Nuremberg Laws. This Act had the “immediate effect of reducing considerably the flow of Jewish immigrants, as of others from the restricted countries.” CP Robinson, a Jewish Member of the Union Parliament who recognised the anti-Semitic intent of the Bill, said of it (before it became an Act):
“… At present it is the poor Lithuanian, tomorrow it may be the Jew from Germany or France that will not be allowed to come in.”
Sadly, he was right. South Africa, like so many other countries with the notable exception of tiny Albania, ceased to be much of a safe haven for Jews trying to escape from the murderous intentions of the Nazis. Luckily for Franz, he did not live long enough to see the consequences of the Quota Act of 1930.
COPYRIGHT: ADAM R YAMEY, 2015
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