23 September 2003


Eulogy delivered by

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft

Spiritual Leader to the African Jewish Congress



The creation story of Genesis describes the entire human race as descending from one human couple. All people inhabiting the earth constitute different branches of one great human family, springing from the same ancestry and standing in an identical relation to G-d. Expressing the concept of the unity of man, the Bible emphatically rejects division of people into superior and inferior races. This conception of the unity of the human race, and the equal worthiness of every individual, is one of the cornerstones of the Jewish faith. The rabbis teach that G-d made Adam from dust gathered from the whole earth and mixed it with the waters of the seas, so that the whole earth should be considered his home.


I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect publicly with you on the scope of Abe Galaun’s life. Not only was he an integral part of Zambian history. His was also truly one of the most remarkable African Jewish lives of the century.


We know from the biography he authorised, written by Jonathan H. Chileshe, how Abe himself understood the journeys and the historical scope of his life.  According to Chileshe, and in accordance with Jewish faith, “his greatest wish and interest above all … was to incorporate the upholding of the universality of mankind as the main purpose of [the] book.” As he looked back over his years, this was the legacy he believed ought to be bequeathed to future generations. It is a testimony to the integrity of the man that, when we assess the broad strokes of his life, we too see this as his life’s message. His life was nothing if not a powerfully lived example of the brotherhood of man. 


And just as the unity of humanity was an organizing principle in his long life, so is it true that, largely because of persecution suffered in his early life, the whole earth has been – in complex ways and at different times – his home. Born in Lithuania, in Eastern Europe, he spent his adult life in Zambia. Committed throughout to the land of Israel, he was ultimately buried in England. G-d made him, like Adam, from dust gathered from the whole earth.


Abe was born in February 1914 in Lithuania, in a small town called Varnia, or (in Yiddish) Vorna. His parents, Jacob and Michelle, had nine other children, four girls and five boys. The family lived in a tiny two-bedroomed house. Abe shared a single bed with three others.


Abe left school at the age of 13 or 14, as was common in those days. By that time, he had received a traditionally thorough Jewish cheder education. He was fluent in Yiddish, and Hebrew, both written and spoken.  According to his family, he had, to the end, a phenomenal recall of all things biblical – generally with a philosophical theme and relevance. In keeping with mussar values, Abe learnt as a small child the importance of considering the welfare of others, and of actively helping to create a better world.


Chileshe describes the relative ease with which Abe adjusted to Lozi life. He learnt to speak Lozi. And he understood traditional Lozi values, similar as they were to the traditional Jewish values with which he was raised. Abe was a firm believer in family ties, associations and values. He maintained passionate traditional Jewish family values even though religion did not command the same essential importance to him. For example, both the Lozi and Jewish homes expected children to obey and respect their parents and elders, regardless of their social status.


Abe’s father, Jacob, owned a small butchery. He leased an extra piece of land in which he constructed a stable to keep some of the animals the family slaughtered to sell. As a boy of ten, Abe tended the family flock. Abe learnt the rudiments of cattle-buying and running a butchery from his father, accompanying him as a young boy on his cattle-buying expeditions. This served him in good stead. In Mongu, many years later, Abe’s love for cattle resulted in him buying some animals from the local people who kept their herds in Eastern Province’s beautiful pastures. He kept them at the back of his house. He didn’t intend selling them.  He emphasised in his biography that he loved keeping cattle as a kind of hobby. However, the herd eventually swelled to some 200 animals which he sold to the government abattoir at Katombora. This was the African beginning of what was to become his life-long trade.


From his mother’s family, he learnt the art of cheese-making. The Galaun family sold the cheese alongside the milk to supplement their income from the butchery. Many years and a continent later, the former president of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, expressed his concern to Abe about the insufficiency of milk available in the country. Abe started the Diamondale Farm. It soon produced some 5000 litres of milk a day. Not only did he produce milk in enough quantities for the nation, he also added other dairy products like cheese and butter from his farms. Some of these products have since found markets in a few European countries under the trade mark “LUANA’ or “GALANE’, trade marks derived from his name.


Together with many other Jewish youths from Vorna and other Lithuanian towns, propelled by military conscription, poverty and anti-semitism, Abe’s older brothers Joe, Louis, Harry and a sister Leah, emigrated to South Africa.


As was typical, as each went and established themselves in their new land, they would send back enough money to enable the next sibling to make the journey, and provide a base and home when they arrived. Abe was always considered the more astute of the family and always arranged the affairs of his departing siblings – getting them excused from army duty for example, which was no mean feat in those days. Joseph left Vorna in 1926. He subsequently settled in Northern Rhodesia where he ran the Grand Hotel on the corner of Cairo Road and Katunjila Road.


Louis soon followed him to South Africa, where he became an established property developer. He founded the Vorne Valley, still situated on the road between Johannesburg and Pretoria. In 1930, Harry was the last of the family to migrate legally to South Africa, just before legislation was passed preventing further admission into South Africa of Jewish immigrants.


Despite his shortened scholastic career, Abe was himself very widely read. A committed socialist and Zionist he was, in his young days, a member of the left-wing Zionist movement, Hashomer Hatzaier. His socialism and Zionism were closely related. He was familiar with the works of Karl Marx, Friedreich Engels and V.I Lenin. Together with many other Lithuanian Jewish youths concerned with the fate of their fellow Jews between the two World Wars, he viewed the idea of soviet states as potentially providing a solution. Concerned to bring about progressive change in the country, he became a great admirer of Lenin. He joined the communist underground’ quite early in his life. Notwithstanding his commercial success, he always thought of himself as a socialist. Certainly, in his early Zambian days, in Mongu, he actively promoted his socialist beliefs by establishing a discussion club at which he gave talks on democracy and promoted friendship with the Soviet Union, Britain’s wartime ally.


At the age of 21, Abe was conscripted into the Lithuanian army. He served for two years as a quartermaster. His battalion was transferred closer to Vorna, for guard duties, and he frequently ate meals with his parents at home.


Soon after his military service ended, news of Hitler’s impending attack on Lithuania started to filter through.  As the only son remaining at home, helping his father in the latter’s declining business, Abe was reluctant to leave his parents and family. But increasingly the poisonous political atmosphere and the dire economic situation eventually left him no choice. Those who could afford to had already emigrated, or were in the process of doing so. He had a visa, and a ticket paid for by his siblings in South Africa. He eventually packed his bag and prepared to leave Lithuania for South Africa via Brussels and London. This was not his first choice of destination. Abe had spent a year at a Zionist agricultural training school, and he wanted to go to then Palestine. But with Jews restricted entry by the British, he had little choice.


In the typically punctured way survivors recount their extremely painful experiences, in his biography Abe described the moment he bid his family farewell. The night before he left, his mother sat awake by his bedside, holding on to his hand the whole night. The following day at the horse coach station, to which he’d been escorted by his father, sister and other members of his extended family, she didn’t utter a single word, not even to say goodbye. She wept openly. Abe looked at his family weeping, until the horses pulling his coach away in the direction of Telsai prevented him seeing them any longer. He too wept uncontrollably. He knew, correctly, that that was probably the last time he would see them again. That terribly sad picture is the one that accompanied him, I am sure, whether he spoke about it or not, to his last breath. While on board the ship from Southampton to Cape Town, he dreamt that his father had passed away.


The British doors to Jewish refugees were already closed, and Abe allowed only a 24-hour transit visa in London. Abe docked at Cape Town in December 1938. Two days later, he received confirmation of his father’s passing. One can only imagine the grief and perhaps even guilt of the young, homeless, poverty-stricken refugee. He was permitted to stay in South Africa only six months, at which point his application to remain permanently was denied. He moved north to Southern Rhodesia where his youngest brother then lived, and where again, the British colonial office denied him residence as the quota for Jewish immigrants had also been filled. He moved northwards, arriving in Livingstone on 1 February 1939, where he was permitted to stay and seek work. He was fortunate. As other countries, Northern Rhodesia didn’t unhesitatingly throw its arms open to Jewish immigrants desperate to escape Nazi-ravaged Europe. Here, however, he found a true, generous home where he could, and did, make a life for himself.


Painful as it must have been to leave Vorna, Abe was extremely fortunate.


Other members of the family did not survive the German occupation of Lithuania. Abe’s mother, Michelle, and his 17-year old sister Malka were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators, probably in June 1941.


His younger sister survived. Just before the start of  World War ll, Tzira, the third girl child and the eighth in the family, joined the partisans of the Socialist Movements.She ended up in Uzbekistan as a factor worker. After the war, she teamed up with Jewish partisans to travel incognito to Romania, from where she stowed away in a boat headed for Israel. Finally, Eastern European and other Jews had a place that wanted them, a homeland.


It is not surprising, then, that Abe was closely involved in affairs concerning Israel and Zambia both during the times when the former maintained a diplomatic presence there, but more especially when ties were severed, when he became an unofficial conduit for dialogue between the two countries.


Later, Abe discovered that one such Nazi collaborator was in fact his former friend and school mate who was highly decorated for his brutal acts and emigrated to Edinburgh. Together with Lord Janner of Braunstone QC, Abe successfully instituted legal action to have him repatriated to Lithuania to stand trial. However, the House of Lords refused to grant the request for extradition, on the grounds of the long passage of time.


Accompanied throughout his adult, African life by the memory of his beloved family and Vorna, Abe also, quietly, inscribed their memories into the landscape of his new life. Apart from the obvious continuities between his early training in animals and agriculture which came to play such a significant role in Zambian society, he and Vera were blessed with two sons who they named Jack after Abe’s father, Jacob; and Michael after his mother, Michal. And when, in recognition of his contribution to the promotion of Zionism, the State of Israel constructed a synagogue in his honour, he asked that it be named Ohel (Temple) Michal, in honour of his mother.


The Jewish community in Zambia has always been a minority within the broader white community. It consequently sought to engage the colonial government on their interests as a minority community. Within a fortnight of his arrival in Lusaka, Abe joined its Jewish community, consisting at that time of about seventy families. He immediately became one of its most active members. Within a year, Abe was made its chairman, a position which he held for over twenty years. Not feeling himself suitably equipped from a religious point of view, he was initially reluctant to accept the position. However, the community arranged for him to concentrate on the mundane affairs of the community while a religious leader, a rabbi was in the background to administer to the community’s spiritual needs. He was a founder patron of The Commonwealth Jewish Council in 1981. Together with Vera, he received their prestigious annual award for ‘Services to the Community’ in 1986.


He also created the Council for Zambia Jewry as the sole umbrella organisation for the dwindling Jewish presence in the country, which Michael now heads. It served to consolidate the assets of failing communities, and to formalise them into a body corporate for ease of administration.


Despite what happened to Lithuanian Jewry, and his own family at the hands of the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators, he retained a deep love for his country of birth. He visited the country several times and was always royally received. He supported Jewish institutions there and regularly received Yerushalayim de Lita, the main Jewish newsletter, in both English and Yiddish.


Abe Galaun has been gathered back to his ancestors, and to his people. To his mother and father and sister who he last saw in Vorna, and to others who have passed before him. His life’s journey complete, it can truly be said that, along the way, he actively made this a better world.