Brandfort (Free State)

The village of Brandfort was established in 1866. It is located in a farming district in the Free State, 56 km north- east of Bloemfontein.

Jews were already living here by the time of the Anglo- Boer War (1899-1902). The Brandfort Hebrew Congregation was founded in 1903 and a synagogue was built in 1907.

In 1908 the Jewish cemetery was laid out and the first burial took place the same year. The Tahara house (for ceremonial washing of corpses) was completed in 1909.

A Chevra Kadisha (burial society) was established in 1913, but by 1920 it was decided to merge the activities of the Chevra Kadisha with that of the Brandfort Hebrew Congregation.

A school committee regulated the activities of the religious school and in 1924 a cheder room (elementary school) and communal hall were built. At the time that the congregation was established, Brandfort had a vibrant Jewish community. Jews were engaged as general dealers, farmers, hoteliers and attorneys. There was also a pharmacist, a doctor, a tailor and a butcher.

The community dwindled and by 1970 the synagogue was no longer in use. In 1974 the synagogue and the communal hall were sold and the buildings demolished. In terms of the title deeds of the property, the land reverted back to the Town Council who established a park on the grounds.

Early statistics indicate that there were 116 Jews in Brandfort in 1911, but this number dropped to 68 in 1918. There were 56 Jews in 1936, 37 in 1951 and 20 in 1964. By 1972 there were only seven Jews left in the village. The last Jewish family left Brandfort in 1981.