Gravelotte (Northern Province)

 

Gravelotte is a mining village situated in the Northern Province (Transvaal – pre 1994). It was established in 1916 on a farm bought by Prussian missionary Fritz Renter who had fought in the Battle of Gravelotte during the Franco-Prussian War.

The village lies to the east of the highly mineralised Murchison mountain range. Gold was discovered in these mountains in 1870 and this sparked a gold rush to nearby Leydsdorp. Mining activity shifted to Gravelotte where deposits of antimony were found. The area has the highest antimony production in the world.

Early prospectors provided the first recorded Jewish religious activity in the northern Transvaal. Maurice Freeman, Joseph Jacobs and Louis Goltman from England, and Isidor Rosenthal from Germany, were among those prospecting at Fountain Gorge in the Murchison Range in the mid-1880s. The London Jewish Chronicle in 1889 carried a description of their endeavour to commemorate Yom Kippur in that isolated area, the first record of any Jewish religious activity in the northern Transvaal. Due to the very small number of Jews in Gravelotte, there was no organised Jewish life. The Jews of this district were affiliated to the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation and often joined other country families in nearby towns for family days; which were organised by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBOD) to celebrate chagim.

The handful of Jews who lived in Gravelotte was engaged mainly as general dealers and hoteliers. Jewish ties in the economy of Gravelotte are also found in the activities of three Witwatersrand-based mining magnates, Messrs AS Hersov, S Menell and N Erleigh. Through their acquisition of the Harmony Proprietary Company in 1923, the foundation was laid for the establishment of the Consolidated Murchison (Transvaal) Goldfields and Development Company. Their quest for gold proved unsuccessful but by the 1970s the mining operation had become the world’s largest producer of antimony.

No official statistics are available for the number of Jews living in Gravelotte for the years chosen for this study. However, in 1964, 7 Jews were recorded by the SAJBoD. In 1973 Mr Shmukler was the only Jew in Gravelotte and by 1980 there were no Jews in the village.