David Saks is Associate Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and editor of Jewish Affairs. He is the author of a number of books on South African political, military and Jewish history, including Boerejode: Jews in the Boer Armed Forces, 1899-1902 (2010).

Editor’s note: To mark the centenary of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, Jewish Affairs devoted its Spring 1999 issue to examining the Jewish role in the conflict. The issue quickly became one of the most popular ever brought out by the journal, which went on to publish further articles on the subject during the following decade. This year being the 120th anniversary of the commencement of the war, it is an opportune time for Jewish Affairs to revisit this perennially interesting topic, and accordingly, the remaining issues of 2019 will include further items relating to it. We hope readers will forgive the editor for kicking off the series with one of his own pieces, which looks at some of the Jews who not only served on the Boer side, but chose to do so long after the war was lost – in the parlance of the time, “to the bitter end”. An earlier version of the article appeared in the Chanukah 2009 issue of Jewish Affairs.

The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, the 120th anniversary of which falls on 11 October this year, was the last and by far the greatest of the many conflicts that wracked South Africa during the 19th Century. The result of the war, which pitted the forces of two small[1] Boer republics, the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) and the Orange Free State, against the full might of the British Empire, was never seriously in doubt. Even so, during its opening months, it was the British who were firmly on the back foot as they struggled to expel Boer invasion forces in Natal, the Eastern and North-Western Cape and Bechuanaland. Typically, the Boers settled for besieging British garrisons, in Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking, and in attempting to relieve them, the British suffered a series of embarrassing reverses. By the end of February 1900, however, the tide had turned decisively. Within a few months, the Boer capitals of Bloemfontein and Pretoria had fallen and those Boers still under arms were being driven steadily eastwards towards the Mozambique border. It looked all but over, but in reality, the Boers were far from finished. Too outnumbered to continue waging a conventional war, they now split up into smaller units that roamed the countryside and harried the British invaders at every opportunity.

The Jewish Boers
While native-born Afrikaners comprised the vast majority of those who served in the Boer armed forces, between two and three thousand were from other backgrounds. They included Dutch, German, Irish, Scandinavian and other foreign volunteers who made their way to South Africa to fight for the republics. A small number, perhaps 300 in all, were Jews. Some were themselves volunteers from European countries while a handful, including members of the pioneering Baumann family in Bloemfontein, had been born in the republics. The majority, however, were recent immigrants from Lithuania and other East European territories forming part of the then Russian Empire. Being citizens, Free State Jews were conscripted like everybody else; in the ZAR, where few Jews had burgher rights, most of those who served would done so as volunteers.

Unlike the foreign detachments, Jews never comprised a distinct corps, but were spread throughout the Boer forces. The advantage of this from this writer’s point of view was that when writing my book Boerejode: Jews in the Boer Armed Forces, 1899-1902, I was able to bring in all the main features of the war through referring to the role that individual Jews played in them. There turned out to be a Jewish angle, however small, to all the major battles and sieges, the guerrilla war, the home front, the POW camps and even to a limited extent the tragedy of the concentration camps. At least eight Jews were killed in action and four more died in captivity.[2] Nearly a hundred became POWs (sometimes on suspicion of assisting the Boers rather for having actually fought with them).

For the most part, those Jews who appear on wartime lists – as new recruits or POW records – are just names. Little or nothing is known of what they did during the war. The remainder of this article will look at some of those who did make an impact and whose stories have at least been partially recorded.

Jewish Boer POWs, l-r: John Weinberg (Cape Town and Ceylon), Veld-Kornett Herbert Baumann (St. Helena), Aaron Pincus (Bermuda), Hermann Jaffshitz (Ceylon)

Jewish Boer POWs, l-r: John Weinberg (Cape Town and Ceylon), Veld-Kornett Herbert Baumann (St. Helena), Aaron Pincus (Bermuda), Hermann Jaffshitz (Ceylon)

The elusive N D Kaplan
More than half a century after the war, war veteran F Zeiler described his old comrade-in-arms Niklaas David Kaplan in the following terms:

Nou ja, hy het wel soos ǹ bondel wasgoed op n perd gesit, maar waar verstand nodig was om die Engelse te uitoorle, was Kaplan se plan altyd van die bestes. Hy het baie maal vir ons die treinspoor gelaai, en waar hy die skoot geplant het, was die ontploffing ook n seker ding.

Roughly translated, it means that while Kaplan resembled a pile of laundry when astride a horse (!), when it came to outwitting the English, his plan was always the best. On many occasions, it was he who mined the railway tracks, and wherever he laid the charge, a successful detonation was sure to follow.

Kaplan features in Roland W Schikkerling’s journal Commando Courageous, a vivid record of the guerrilla campaign in the Eastern Transvaal: “Kaplan was a Jew and he was no coward [sic!]. Among other daring enterprises, he once crept up to a blockhouse with two bombs slung around his neck in a saddle wallet”. Kaplan was a favourite of General Ben Viljoen and, as a singer and comedian, was a popular member of his commando. Indeed, as Schikkerling further notes, Kaplan (“with the true instinct of his race”) acted as a bookmaker when the commando entertained themselves by staging horse races, held in Pilgrim’s Rest on Christmas Day, 1901.[3]

The Jewish oudstryder (war veteran) Sascha Schmahmann also met Kaplan, whom he remembered well “because he had one brown and one very blue eye”, when he arrived at Slypsteendrift with a report that General Trevor (to whom he had been Adjutant) had been killed. “The Boers said of Kaplan that he was a very brave man. They admired his efficiency in the use of the Pom-Pom, a gun he had learnt to use in Russia,” Schmahmann told his interviewer. He added that Kaplan fought in the war to the bitter end, and by its conclusion had been promoted to Commandant. Regrettably, nothing is known about what happened to Kaplan thereafter, apart from a vague reference to his setting up a business in Springfontein.

Jacob “Paul Kruger se Jood” Arnhold
Jacob Arnhold was one of the very few Jewish career soldiers in the Boer forces. Born in Leipzig in 1871, he was orphaned at an early age and settled as a teenager in the ZAR. In 1894, he joined the Staats-Artillerie. His pre-war activities including taking part in the defeat of Dr L S Jameson and his luckless raiders in 1896, and to the end of his days he relished the memory of the three pom-pom guns captured.

Arnhold took part in most of the important engagements in the Natal theatre, including Dundee, Ladysmith and Spioenkop. Known as ‘Paul Kruger se Jood’ because of his loyalty to the legendary Afrikaner leader, he was later one of Kruger’s bodyguards during the latter’s journey into exile. Arnhold fought throughout the war, finally laying down his arms at Wakkerstroom after peace was concluded, and remained a bittereinde until the end of his life. Interviewed by Chief Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz in the late 1940s (see photo), he poured scorn on the verraiers (traitors) who had ‘hensopped’ (‘upped hands’, i.e. surrendered) and spoke with pride about what the Boers had achieved:

"It was a great war. 60 000 Burghers who were not soldiers fought against 400 000 British soldiers and 3000 Indian Lancers [sic]. And still we might have beaten them had not Lord Roberts instituted his pernicious blockhouse system. At every mile they set them up, it was too much for us".

Jacob Leviton
Like Arnhold, Jacob Leviton could claim to have served continually in the Republican forces from the Jameson Raid right through to the conclusion of the Anglo-Boer War. In between, he took part in the Malaboch (1896) and Mpefu (1898) campaigns in the Northern Transvaal. He fought in all the major battles in Natal, and during the guerrilla campaign, with the rank of corporal, participated in various guerrilla operations in the Eastern Transvaal.

Leviton’s reminiscences of this final period were darkened by his witnessing the devastation wrought by the enemy’s scorched earth tactics. On one occasion, he saw Boer children lying on the ground looking for grain at a siding. Reports of the tragedies in the concentration camps were constantly filtering through to the menfolk in the field, generating lasting bitterness. Jewish bittereindes were largely spared this ordeal, being mostly young and unmarried. However, a number of Jewish families were interned and several Jewish children are recorded as having died in captivity, amongst them two of the children of Solomon Bernstein (Heilbron) and the infant daughter of Joseph Horwitz (Klerksdorp).

During the bitter winter of 1901, Leviton’s section moved to the Lowveld to spare their horses and find forage. That year, Leviton participated in the hard-fought Boer victory at Bakenlaagte. He finally surrendered on 18 June 1902, three weeks after peace was made.

The Dutch Die-hard: J C Duveen
Joel Charles Duveen was a Dutch Jew who arrived in the ZAR during the 1890s. His gallant conduct during the conventional phase of the war, particularly at the battle of Spioenkop, was long remembered by those who fought alongside him. During the guerrilla stages, he continued to display the reckless gallantry for which he was by now well known.[4] His feats during this time were communicated to Rabbi Rabinowitz many years later by his old comrade-in-arms Major Mauritz Domisse (whose mother was Jewish).

“He was a real dare-devil and never satisfied unless he was in some scrap with the enemy” Domisse wrote of Duveen. It was these qualities that brought him to the notice of General Beyers, who selected him for intelligence work behind the enemy lines. This he usually carried out himself, but sometimes did so in the company of a small patrol. Duveen’s luck ran out in October 1901, when he was severely wounded in the stomach during an attack on a fortified camp at Prusen near Potgietersrus. He was removed to the Potgietersrus hospital, where he was made a prisoner and sent to India for the remainder of the war.

A Pilten Pairing – Wolf and ‘Jakkals’
Joseph ‘Jakkals’ Segall was only seventeen when he joined the Phillippolis Commando. By then, Bloemfontein had fallen and the guerrilla war was underway. General JBM Hertzog was at first reluctant to enlist him, believing him to be too young, but yielded when Segall let him know that he was determined to remain in the field and “defend the freedom of his Afrikaner friends”. Within a short time, Hertzog’s misgivings evaporated as the young recruit’s dedication and abilities became apparent.

One wartime incident Segall liked to recount in later life concerned the conclusion of General Hertzog’s famous raid into the Cape, which in turn was bound up with the dramatic climax of what came to be called the ‘Second Great De Wet Hunt’. De Wet was also in the Cape, having invaded in the vain hope of provoking a Cape Dutch uprising. Hertzog joined up with him at Sanddrift near Phillipstown, on the southern bank of the rain-swollen Orange River. They were trapped there, unable to find a place to risk a crossing, and the pursuing British columns were closing in from all directions. Segall persuaded Hertzog to allow him to try to swim across. “I am going back to the old Free State” he said and dived into the water, just making it to the other side. He was pulled out, more dead than alive, by his old friend Adrian Schoeman and his black servant. When he revived, he saw that they were already starting to fight on the Cape side of the river. The British could be seen approaching and shells were bursting all around. De Wet and Hertzog made a fighting retreat, eventually finding a usable drift and crossing back into the Free State. Rosenthal remarks in his interview with Segall that it was thanks to his warning that the Vrystaatse Hoofkwartier could come to their aid and take them over the Colesberg bridge.

There were two particular engagements that Segall used to recall, Vegtkop near Phillipolis and a second clash on the Kroonstad-Bethlehem line. His good friend Nicolaas Havenga was wounded beside him on both these occasions. In November 1937, Segall, Havenga (by then Minister of Finance in the Hertzog government) and another veteran, Jac du Toit, attended a commemorative ceremony at the Vegtkop battlefield and spoke of their experiences there.

It was Segall’s turn to be wounded, and in his case captured, towards the end of May 1902, less than two weeks before the war ended. On a pitch-black night, the Boers were cutting their way through barbed wire protecting the railway line against sabotage when a fusillade broke out and Segall was hit in the leg. It is not correct, as was subsequently claimed on his behalf, that he was the last casualty of the Anglo-Boer War, but he was certainly one of them.

For a long time it was asserted that Segall’s famous nickname derived from his skills as a scout and spy. Actually, the real reason was the presence in the commando of another Jew, Wolf Jacobson. Wolf en Jakkals are a legendary pairing in Afrikaner folklore. A correspondent to Die Volksblad, Bloemfontein, identified as “Oom Holster of Ladybrand”, wrote (9 September 1948): “Omdat daar toe ʼn ‘wolf’ in die kommando was, het die burgers gedink dat daar ook ʼn ‘jakkals’ moet wees en so is Segall toe ‘Jakkals’ genoem”.[5] Another reason for this particular pairing must have been because the two men were together a great deal, both because they were Jews and because they had come from the same shtetl in Latvia, Pilten.

What of the second half of the Wolf-Jakkals pairing? In contrast to Segall, who lived long enough to be interviewed when people were belatedly starting to take an interest in Jews who fought for the Boers, Wolf Jacobson was never approached to tell his story, and hence only the bare facts of his career are known. At the start of the war, he enlisted in the Fauresmith-Phillipolis Commando, serving first under General Hertzog and thereafter under his successor, Chas. Niewoudt. He was on Niewoudt’s Staff-Corps and remained in the field until the end.

Wolf Jacobson and Joseph Segall , aka ‘Wolf and Jakkals’

Wolf Jacobson and Joseph Segall , aka ‘Wolf and Jakkals’

Max Goldman and the Bushman’s Kop Sefer Torah
Max Goldman’s journey to South Africa commenced with his fleeing Russia after falling asleep on guard duty and losing his rifle. Still in his teens, he arrived in Port Elizabeth and took up ‘smousing’ (peddling). In the course of his travels, he met and married a Boer farmer’s daughter and took to farming himself.

Goldman remained loyal to Judaism, and this nearly cost him his life during the guerrilla campaign in the Free State. He was doing patrol work when he heard that the British were about to attack Bushman’s Kop, where he knew a Jew named Michailsky kept a shop in which there was a Sefer Torah. Goldman, accompanied by his brother-in-law, made his way to Bushman’s Kop to rescue the Torah, which he duly obtained and stowed into his saddlebag. On their return home, the two men were accosted by a British soldier, who accused them of being spies and threatened to shoot them. Even as he had his rifle against Goldman’s chest, an officer arrived on the scene. Goldman explained that he was carrying a Scroll of the Law “which the Christians had rejected but the Jews held sacred”, opening his bag so that the officer could see for himself. They were allowed to continue on their way.

Goldman still had the Sefer Torah after the war ended. The nascent Wepener Jewish community held services in his home, and he was one of two candidates for the position of gabbai when the time came to formally establish a congregation. Prior to the election (which Goldman won), his wife let it be known that whichever way the voting went, she would not allow the Torah to be taken from her house since it had saved the life of her husband and her brother.

Who was the ‘Cohen’ in Deneys Reitz’s Commando?
On 17 September 1901, during his famous invasion of the Cape, General Jan Smuts led an attack on a British camp at Modderfontein some fifteen kilometres northwest of Tarkastad in the Eastern Cape. It was manned by some 200 of the 17th Lancers, relatively inexperienced and, as it proved, no match for their battle-hardened opponents. Denys Reitz was in the thick of the fight, and in his classic war memoir Commando recorded how it unfolded:

"The place we were fighting in was an outcrop of loose rocks, jutting up like a reef, nowhere much higher than a man, although the rear slope fell somewhat more steeply into the English camp. In this narrow space, where we were facing each other almost at handshake, a grim duel began. As the soldiers raised their heads to fire, we brought them down, for they were no match for us in short-range work of this kind, and we killed twelve or thirteen and wounded several more at a distance of a few yards. We did not suffer a single casualty, except for a few men hit as we rode in. Of these, one was …. a Jew named Cohen with a smashed ankle. These two had been able to crawl through to the firing line and were taking part in the attack".

The British camp was quickly overwhelmed and plundered, but when it was time to move on a day or two later, Cohen had to be left behind as his wound had turned gangrenous. Wrote Reitz, “Besides from being a brave man Cohen must have been a bit of a wag, for I subsequently read in an English newspaper that when he was captured and asked by a British officer why he, a Jew and an Uitlander, was fighting for the Boers he replied that he was fighting for the Franchise”.[6]

Here, Cohen was alluding sardonically to how denying the vote to British settlers in the ZAR had been used by Britain as a pretext to provoke the war in the first place. At the same time, he was also speaking the literal truth, since Jews in the republic likewise could not vote but could gain burgher status if they volunteered for armed service.

Cohen features at greater length in Kommandojare, the memoirs of J H Meyer who had taken part in Smuts’ invasion. It describes the Modderfontein engagement and includes a lively portrayal of the Cohen referred to by Reitz:

Ou Heimie was ʼn karakter van sy eie. Hy was nie meer’n jong man nie; naby die sestig, met a groot bleskop, ʼn paar tamaai wenkbroue en ʼn mankerige linkerbeen. Hy was vir ons ʼn gedurige bron van vermaak, altyd opgeruimd en vol grappe en met die hande aan die beduie wanneer hy sy eie soort Engels of Afrikaans praat. Ons was almal baie lief vir hierdie Jood. Hy was ʼn goie vriend en ʼn aangename makker. En hy was ʼn vuurwarm Kruger-man.[7]

Meyer confirms that Cohen (‘Heimie’ must have been a nickname, since his real forenames were David Louis) was in the forefront of the attack on the Lancers’ camp, despite being wounded. He goes on to relate that during the scramble for booty afterwards, he hurried over to a group of horses to obtain a new mount for himself and there found Cohen sitting on the ground with about twenty horses tethered together with a long leather thong. Clinging as hard as he could to the rope, Cohen called out, “Dese are mine! Dese are mine! Dey’re all mine!” When Meyer next looked, he saw a group of burgers descend upon them, and a moment later Cohen was left, sorely protesting, with just the tether in his hand.

Cohen’s smart retort to the question why he had joined up with the Boers has its parallel in an exchange between another Jewish prisoner and his captors (Springs, July, 1900). When scornfully asked by them, “Is this what you call a free country?” he responded, “It is free enough for me! I come from a country of real oppression – from Shadova in Lithuania”.

Unveiling of monument to Jews who died in the service of the Boer Republics, Ladysmith. 6 August 2012: It was erected by the SAJBD in partnership with the Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust. Pictured: Linda Nathan, Mary Kluk, Rabbi Moshe  Silberhaft, David Saks, Ronnie Herr.

Unveiling of monument to Jews who died in the service of the Boer Republics, Ladysmith. 6 August 2012: It was erected by the SAJBD in partnership with the Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust. Pictured: Linda Nathan, Mary Kluk, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, David Saks, Ronnie Herr.

[1] In terms of population, of course, not area

[2] By comparison, 127 died serving in the British forces, whether by enemy action or disease.

[3] Schikkerling R W, Commando Courageous - A Boer’s Diary (Johannesburg, 1964), p338

[4] For more on Duveen, see Rabinowitz, L I, ‘Joel Charles Duveen: Another Jewish Hero of the Boer War’ in Jewish Guild Annual, Sept 1952

[5] “Because there was already a ‘wolf’ in the commando, the burghers considered that there must also be a ‘jakkals’, and so Segall was named ‘Jakkals’.

[6] Reitz, D, Commando, A Boer Journal of the Boer War, London, Faber 1929, p234.

[7] Meyer, J H, Kommandojare, Human & Rousseau, 1971, pp256-7 (“Old Heimie was a character of note. He was no longer a young man, nearly sixty, with a big, bald head, a pair of enormous eyebrows and a lame left leg. He was an enduring source of comment for us, always cheerful and ready with a joke, gesticulating with his hands when speaking his unique brand of English and Afrikaans. He was a good friend and a pleasant companion. And he was a fiery Kruger man”)

Recent Articles

​Sentencing of Letsoalo sets important precedent. ​

Sentencing of Letsoalo sets important precedent.

Today, the Randburg Magistrates Court sentenced Matome Letsoalo to three years imprisonment, suspended for five years, for threatening and antisemitic tweets that he posted in June 2018. This follows Letsoalo’s pleading guilty last Friday to a charge of crimen injuria lodged by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies SAJBD).