Delmas (Mpumalanga)

Delmas is situated in Mpumalanga (part of Transvaal prior to 1994), 60 km east of Johannesburg and 19 km north east of Springs. The land was surveyed for a town on the farm Witklip In 1907. It lies in an important farming area, where potatoes, maize, wheat and beans are grown. Silica is also mined in the area.

The earliest recorded Jews were Simon Hammerschlag and his nephew, Moritz, living in the area from around 1897.

The Delmas Hebrew congregation was established in 1912, Rev Israel Bernstein being appointed in the 1920s. Prior to the building of the synagogue in 1944, services were held in private homes, a hall and the Delmas Hotel.

In 1965 a Hebrew nursery school was opened in the synagogue, with 9 children attending. This was the first nursery school in Delmas, and after two years the school opened its doors to children of all faiths.

There was evidence of Zionist activity in 1921-23 and a Women’s Zionist Society from 1958-1993.

The last minister, Rev A. Gottlieb, served from 1963-68. The congregation continued to function until 1991, with the synagogue being sold in 1992.An undated report by the country organizer of the SAJBD stated that anti-Semitism was rife in the district in 1939.

Over the years there were many Jewish farmers in the Delmas district. In the early years Jews were general dealers, produce and grain merchants. Later some owned hardware stores, cafes, furniture shops, supermarkets and butcheries. The first doctor and pharmacist in Delmas were Jewish (Sash and Proos respectively); there were Jewish attorneys and at one time a Jewish dentist. The Delmas Hotel was run by Jews.

Cecily Sash, the well-known artist, was born in Delmas and educated at the local Afrikaans school. Her father was Max Sash, the first doctor in town.

According to community records the Jewish population numbered 52 in 1939, 82 in 1959 and 87 in 1980/81, with official census data indicating 154 Jews at that time. In 1983 there were 52 Jews, and by 1986 there were only 23 Jews. In 1996 only 10 remained.