By Gwynne Robins
Steffie Buechler came to England in 1939 from Glauwitz, Germany (now Poland) to work as a domestic servant, having taken a one-month needlework course ‘for female emigrant Jews’. With a testimonial from the Paula Ollendorff Housekeeping School for Jewish women, she was able to get a life-saving domestic workers visa to go to Ealing and work in the house of a Jewish doctor, Dr Rachwalski. Most countries had closed their doors and their hearts to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.
Later, she was followed by her brothers Henry and Alfred, both aged 14 at the time, who arrived in the Kindertransport. They were not to see their parents, Jaques and Kate, again — they were murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.
Alfie (Alfred), now 95, worked in a hotel when he arrived in London, which provided him with a job and a roof over his head. His wife, Miriam, was in Bergen Belsen. They married in 1961. Alfie became a kosher caterer in Ilford, working from home to cater to large weddings and other ceremonies until a few years ago. Alfred visits South Africa for Passover each year and gave a talk on the Kindertransport at the Holocaust Centre in 2019.
Steffie married Albert Newall in England in 1944. Albert was a talented artist, sculptor and photographer who moved to South Africa in 1946. Like many other survivors, she did not speak about her experiences. Steffie passed away in 1972 at the early age of 52. Albert passed away in 1989, aged 69.
Their son Andrew, who was born in Krugersdorp, was prompted by the recent tragic loss of his life partner of 19 years to donate some Judaica items to the Jewish Museum and Cape Board collection. This gesture is also in honour of his late mother and her brother, Alfie.
The objects include a beautiful and rare silver filigree bessamin box shaped like a train engine and a most unusual pendulum clock shaped like a Magen David with Damascene inlay. There is also a fine brass, copper and gold inlaid Damascus ware tray with Hebrew inscriptions and a depiction of Moses in the bulrushes, a small brass Chanukiah, and an interesting leather handbag that has been engraved.
The handbag tells an unfinished story. It has the intertwined gold initials ‘J’ and ‘B’ on it, and a silver plaque in Hebrew and German. The current translation of its message is,
“On the other hand, to my dear friend Jetty from your friend Benno. First day Sukkot, 23 September 1926, Libau.”
Libau was a popular port of embarkation for ships from the Deutsche Ost-Afrika Linie or ‘DOAL’ — the German East Africa Line — travelling to South Africa. Therefore, presumably, it was Benno’s farewell gift to her. Inside the bag, there is a page from a bone notepad with the name ‘Watussi’ scribbled on it. The Watussi was a DOAL ship that was scuttled off Cape Point in 1939. So, presumably, Jetty left on the Watussi. A second plaque on the bag, in Yiddish, reads,
‘Yeta Fas, from Matty, 30 September 1926’.
Why did Matty add their name to Benno’s farewell gift a week later? And did Benno ever see Yeta (Jetty) Fas again?
We often do not know the stories behind the objects in our collection, most of which have been donated by members of our community who wish to preserve items that mattered to them. The Jewish community is very grateful to people like Andrew Newall who appreciate and value the past, who want to ensure that heritage items of historical significance are retained and cherished and who decide to honour their family by donating such items to the community in their names.
The Cape Board welcomes any further information that pertains to these items or individuals.