Louis Trichardt (Northern Province)

 

Louis Trichardt is the principal town of the Soutpansberg district of the Northern Province (northern Transvaal -pre 1994). It is situated on the railway line between Pretoria and Beit Bridge, 383 km north of Pretoria and 93 km south of Messina. The town was established in 1899, and named in honour of the Voortrekker leader who had set up a camp near the present town between 1836 and 1837. Louis Trichardt became a municipality in 1934.

Members of the Himmelhoch family are regarded as the pioneers of the Jewish community here. Other early settlers were Mr and Mrs Adolf Abramowitz, who had a business set up by 1909. William (Patsy) Cohen was living on a farm at Koedoesvlei near Louis Trichardt by 1907.

Early religious life for the Jews of Louis Trichardt was linked with that of Jews living in the entire district, with Pietersburg as the main centre. In 1893 the community participated in the first Rosh Hashanah minyan (prayer quorum) in the northern Transvaal, held at the home of M Rosenberg of Pietersburg. In 1897 this nucleus of Jews formed a congregation known as the Zoutpansberg Hebrew Congregation. By 1914 the Jews of Pietersburg formed a separate congregation – the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation – while the name Zoutpansberg Hebrew Congregation was retained by the small community in Louis Trichardt.

The first minister in Louis Trichardt was Joseph Gabriel Katz who served from 1931 until 1938. The synagogue was built in 1932. Prior to that, services were held in the Masonic Hall. By 1948 the congregation was all but defunct, occasional services were conducted by Chaim Brenner until his death in 1972. The synagogue was maintained by the Brenner family and eventually sold in 1998. There is a Jewish cemetery, the first grave dated 1907. Earlier burials took place in the Pietersburg Jewish cemetery.
The Jews of Louis Trichardt were involved in milling, livestock speculation and farming. There were several hoteliers, general dealers, an attorney, a doctor and a pharmacist.

Chaim Brenner was the stalwart of the Jewish community for many years, conducting services and chairing the congregation committee. In the 1930s he started Brenner Mills, which is today a public company.

Israel Katz, who spent his childhood in Louis Trichardt, was a founder of Russell’s Furnishers, today part of the JD Group Ltd. He and a partner started as household furnishers in 1943 and by 1964 had listed their company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
No official census data exists for the number of Jews in Louis Trichardt in the years chosen for this research. In 1943 a community survey by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies indicated 31 Jews in the town, but in 1953 another survey showed that the number had dropped to five. Other community records for 1959 and 1964 record 16 Jews in the town. By 1980 there were nine Jews and in 1999, there were six.