End of an Era for the Jews of Kroonstad – May 2011



On Friday 17 June, an era came to an end when the last two Jewish males living in Kroonstad, Wally Goldsmith and Solly Witten, passed away on the same day. All that now reminds of this once thriving Jewish centre, at its height the third largest in the Free State after Bloemfontein and Welkom, is a handful of single, widowed women. The final chapter has now also been written for the Kroonstad synagogue. To the end of his life, Goldsmith would go there to daven every Friday night, even when he was the only one present. The present building dates back to 1994, when a semi-detached house was converted into a small shul after the sale of the previous synagogue (opened in 1936).


Goldsmith, who was 72, died in hospital in Johannesburg and was buried in Cape Town. He was born in Kroonstad, and was active both in Jewish communal affairs and in public affairs.


Witten, who was 88, was buried in Johannesburg. He was born in Lithuania and arrived in South Africa shortly before World War II. He was one of “South Africa’s 800”who fought as a volunteer in Israel War of Independence in 1948.


On 12 July Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the Country Communities, officiated at a memorial service for the two deceased, which was held in the Kroonstad synagogue. In addition to the few remaining members of the Jewish community, over 80 other local residents attended, testifying to the high esteem in which they had been held.


He described Witten as “a quiet man, who took great pride in his family”, and as an active member of the HOD and and of the Kroonstad Hebrew Congregation. Goldsmith had likewise been a devoted family man and deeply committed Jew, amongst other things keeping the dwindling community going for as long as possible, looking after the Jewish cemetery and serving as president of the HOD.

Other tributes to Goldsmith were paid by Father Steven Giles of the Roman Catholic Church, Rotary President Andrew Fletcher, Aubrey Kok, president of the Kroonstad Bowling Club President and his daughter, Marcelle Shaman. The message of welcome was delivered by Percy Gersh of the Welkom Hebrew Congregation.