Theunissen (Free State)


Theunissen is in the Free State, 102 km north east of Bloemfontein. The town was founded on the site of a railway siding, previously called Smaldeel and was officially proclaimed in 1907. It is a mixed farming area, maize being the main produce.

The earliest Jews at Smaldeel station were Herbert Baumann who came to work here in the 1890s; Simon George Rubinstein came from Lithuania in 1892 and was a general dealer and farmer from around
1906; M MCainer, Aaron Epstein and A Isaacman also arrived in 1906 and Max Mandelzweig came from Lithuania in 1898, and in 1908 moved to Theunissen where he was shopkeeper.

The Theunissen Hebrew Congregation was established in 1920 and ceased to exist in 1975. The synagogue was built in 1934 and sold in 1976. In 1968, although there were only two worshippers, Jack Ogince and Mr Ichikowitz, they kept the synagogue in good repair and opened it every Friday night. In 1982 there were 14 graves in the Jewish cemetery. ” “At its height, the congregation had comprised 20 families. The first minister was Rev Zolty and the Rev AS Israel. The congregation had already been reduced to two families by 1959, when Rev Israel and the Kotzen family left the town. Shechita (ritual slaughter) and Jewish education were undertaken by the incumbent ministers.

Theunissen had a Zionist Society established in 1928, a Women’s Zionist Society, a Union of Jewish Women established in 1946 and a Theunissen Jewish children’s ‘War Effort’ established in 1939.

The Jews of the town participated in economic activities ranging from general dealer, farmer, wool dealers, lawyers, hoteliers and doctors.

Simon George Rubinstein was elected the first mayor of the town in 1912. He served as town councilor for many years and has a street named after him. Other Jewish town councilors were Aaron Epstein, from 1909 1911; Ben Fuchs in 1912; and David Kotzen who served for some 17 years.

According to community records, there were 60 Jews in 1943, 30 in 1953 and 7 in 1964. Census figures indicate 4 Jews in Theunissen in 1980, but the last remaining Jews left for Welkom in 1980.