Pietermaritzburg (KwaZulu-Natal)

Pietermaritzburg is in Natal, 80 km northwest of Durban. Up until 1994, it was the capital of Natal.

The first Jew to put down roots in the town was Jonas Bergtheil. He settled in Cape Town from Bavaria in 1834 and arrived in Pietermaritzburg in 1844, where he became a business partner in ‘Jung and Jargal’s Emporium’. In 1850 he was followed by J. Bloch who was a hotelier, Mark Hirsch from Prussia and the brothers Isaiah and Jacob Solomon who established the town’s first tailor shop.

These early settlers were joined in the later half of the 1800s by Jews who set themselves up as general dealers, photographers, hoteliers, a jeweler, printer, pawnbroker and watchmaker. By 1904 there were 129 Jews in the town.

A Jewish cemetery was established in September 1883. There are also records of a congregation being formed in 1883.The Pietermaritzburg Hebrew Congregation was officially established on 27th October 1901, with 12 members. Services for High Holy Days of that year were advertised in the local newspaper. The first minister appointed to the Pietermaritzburg congregation was Rev. Goldberg in 1902.

The first Jewish marriage solemnised in the town was that of Rachel Denny and S. Pearl in 1906. The incumbent minister gave cheder classes but there seems to have been apathy on the part of the congregation.

There were always strong ties between the Pietermaritzburg Hebrew Congregation and that of Durban, with many of the local Jews being members of the Durban congregation as well.

From the early 1900’s the town had a Jewish Burial Board/ Helping Hand. Other communal organisations starting from the early 1900s included Zionist societies, youth organisations, the Student Jewish Association, the Hebrew Order of David, the Union of Jewish Women and the Ladies Guild.