Duiwelskloof (Northern Province)


Duiwelskloof is situated in the Letaba district of the Northern Province (Transvaal- pre 1994), approximately 450 km north east of Johannesburg and 24 km north east of Tzaneen. The district of Duiwelskloof – translated as Devil’s Ravine – abounds in natural vegetation and plantations of sub- tropical fruit and timber. In 1866, the Transvaal Government made available what were known as occupation farms, to encourage settlement in the area, and Duiwelskloof was the centre of the community. The village was surveyed in 1919 and proclaimed in 1920. The earliest reference to Jews in Duiwelskloof is of AJ and Florence Jacobson, who were living here by 1914; Mrs Jacobson contributed to Zionist funds in 1914. In February 1919, Mrs Jacobson was one of seven women elected to the Duiwelskloof General Improvement Society, which administered village affairs until the Duiwelskloof Health Committee was established in 1921. The Zionist Record was distributed to the village in 1929. Because there were only a handful of Jews in Duiwelskloof at any stage, no formal Jewish institutions were ever established. The Jews were associated with the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation, some of them being country members. They also joined with Jews in the neighbouring towns of Gravelotte, Soekmekaar, Pietersburg and Tzaneen for Family Days that were mainly held to celebrate chagim (Jewish Festivals and High Holy Days). While most of the Jews of the town in the 1930s seemed to be general dealers, there was also one attorney, J M Schwabel. Jews who contributed to the economic life of Duiwelskloof but who did not live there include Sir Lionel Phillips and Isidore Schlesinger. Around 1912 Sir Lionel Phillips bought the Westfalia Estate, 5 km from Duiwelskloof, as a wedding gift for his son Harold. After Harold’s death in 1926, Sir Lionel took back the estate, and sold it to Dr Hans Merensky in 1928. Isidore William Schlesinger, commercial and industrial magnate, had interests in almost every sector of business. Apart from citrus estates at Zebedelia and Mudin, he owned the Letaba Estate, which was purchased in the mid-1930s. At one stage this was the second largest citrus estate in the world. In 1949, Mr Lissoos of Zebedelia, (near Potgietersrus), owner of the Goldfield Hotel in Pietersburg and the hotel at Zebedelia, bought the Duiwelskloof Hotel. In the 1930s, the district of Duiwelskloof was reported to be a hotbed of Nazism by Dr Hans Merensky. In 1936 there was a great deal of anti-Semitic propaganda and anti-Jewish meetings were held in the district. In response, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies sent Morris Alexander on tours of several Transvaal towns – including Duiwelskloof – to discuss the anti-Semitic movements at the time, and to strengthen ties of friendship between Jewish and secular communities. Rabbi Lapin undertook similar tours in 1941. A well-known musician and broadcasting artist, Aida Lovell, lived in Duiwelskloof in 1938 under her married name of Aida Osterman. A survey, known as the Matzo Board Survey, conducted by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies in 1943, recorded 6 Jews in Duiwelskloof, while a survey in 1953 recorded 10 Jews. This number remained static until 1964 when only 2 Jews remained.