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Holocaust refugee’s son a powerful politician in Congo

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(JTA) Like many powerful politicians in Africa, Moise Katumbi goes by multiple titles. He is widely seen as the leader of the opposition of his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the president of its TP Mazembe soccer team, which is one of Africa’s finest.

Now, Katumbi is also closer than he’s ever been to becoming the first African ruler descended from a Holocaust refugee.

Katumbi’s father, Nissim Soriano, was a Greek Jew who fled the island of Rhodes from the Nazis and settled in Congo in the 1930s when it was still a Belgian colony. Soriano built a fishing empire, and married the daughter of a local chief, Mwata Kazembe XIV Chinyanta Nakula, with whom he had two children.

Katumbi, who has said several times that he wants to become president, forged a crucial political union last month with former rival Jean-Pierre Bemba. The union helped Katumbi, a former regional governor, become the second-strongest politician behind only president, Felix Tshisekedi.

Katumbi doesn’t define himself as Jewish, “but he has a warm connection to Judaism and Israel”, said Menachem Margolin, a Brussels-based rabbi who has been a close confidant of Katumbi since 2018.

In public addresses, the African politician refers frequently to his Jewish roots, even calling himself “the Moses of Katanga, back to lead his people”. (Moise is the French spelling for the name Moses.) Katumbi was the governor of Katanga, one of the country’s 21 provinces and by far its richest in minerals.

Margolin, the Israel-born director of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, said his relationship with Katumbi started “because I’m a rabbi”, but he declined to elaborate, citing his need to preserve the privacy of those who approach him in his rabbinical capacity.

Last week, Katumbi was asked to become prime minister or appoint one of his allies to the post, according to the African Report. He has not yet responded to the offer. Katumbi, who declined to be interviewed for this article, spent three years in exile in Brussels, where he met Margolin, before his return to Congo in 2019.

Katumbi had to flee because prosecutors in the capital, Kinshasa, issued a warrant for his arrest for alleged corruption. Katumbi, who enjoys considerable popularity in Katanga, has argued the claim was bogus to prevent him from running for president. The warrant was finally lifted in 2019, allowing his return.

Congo has lived through decades of anti-democratic political dysfunction that has essentially bankrupted the war-torn Central African nation three times the size of Texas with an unparalleled wealth in natural resources.

Katumbi’s own family lost everything, including their name, in one of the Congo’s best-known upheavals: the rise to power of its kleptocratic former despot, Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1965. Under Mobutu, his loyalists nationalised and divided among themselves businesses and possessions across the country, including the Soriano family’s fishery business. The family was also forced to change their Western-sounding name to something more African. They selected Katumbi, a name that appears in the lineage of the chief’s family.

Mobutu, who had seized power in a coup d’état, renamed the Republic of the Congo as Zaire. Following his ouster, the name was changed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In Greece, Soriano’s family, including his parents, had all perished in the Holocaust. Soriano’s sisters, however, came with him to the Congo and survived.

Katumbi, who is married and has six children, preaches reform and change in his speeches, a focus reflected in the very name of his party, Together for Change. His credentials go beyond rhetoric.

As governor of Katanga, Katumbi pulled off one of the most remarkable economic rehabilitation programmes in Africa in recent history.

Annual revenue in his region – the size of Spain which has 55% of the world’s cobalt production and 5% of copper – was about $100m (R1.5bn) in 2007 when he was elected governor at the age of 43. By 2013, two years before the end of Katumbi’s term, revenue had soared to $1.2bn (R17.7bn).

Katumbi achieved this partly by halting the export of raw materials and investing heavily in local processing and refinement. It was a bold gambit in a country where a culture of corruption and theft has stunted industrial growth for decades.

Yet that move, coupled with Katumbi’s political appointments and vigilance, paid off massively. Under his leadership, the production of copper cathodes in Katanga rose from 18 000 tons in 2007 to more than a million tons six years later, according to African Business.

Just less than a third of the province’s collapsing roads have been rebuilt in that period and access to water rose from less than 5% to 67% of the population. School attendance in Katanga, where about five million people live, rose from 400 000 children in 2007 to 1.2 million in 2013. The share of girls at schools tripled, from 15% to 45%.

It’s not anywhere near good enough, Katumbi told African Business.

“We not only have minerals in abundance, we have good rains, good soil. We should be as economically strong as South Africa,” he said.

Those who know Katumbi, an athletically built tennis and soccer player, speak of his laid-back demeanour, wry sense of humour, and excellent people skills in at least three languages, including English and French.

Africa, and Congo specifically – where about 70% of the population live in extreme poverty on less than $2 (R29.48) a day – have experienced many promising politicians who declare their intention to improve the lives of their constituents but end up doing the opposite.

Margolin believes Katumbi’s story will be different.

“He has what he takes,” the rabbi said. “He has the warmth needed to be loved by his people and the vision necessary to lead them and command the respect of international partners. I think something very special is about to happen in Congo.”

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Lost Barmitzvah boy finally finds his way home

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When Stephen “Sugar” Segerman started searching for the Barmitzvah boy whose photograph was on his mantlepiece, he didn’t imagine he would find out from someone half way around the globe that the boy had once lived a few houses away from him.

Last week, the SA Jewish Report described how Segerman – who once searched for and found the musician Sixto Rodriguez

– was now trying to identify the boy in a photograph he found at the Milnerton Market in Cape Town a few years ago.

Within a few days of publication and the story spreading around the world, the identity of the barmi boy as the late Arnold Kleinberger was revealed. Segerman had an emotional meeting with Kleinberger’s daughter, Aura Zartz, who lives in Cape Town, on Tuesday (13 April) this week.

“In the days following the story appearing in the SA Jewish Report, it was shared all over the world, judging from the enthusiastic responses I immediately received,” Segerman said.

“I started receiving a lot of emails from people who thought they recognised the barmi boy. One said, ‘My name is Cedric Reingold. I grew up in Highlands Estate and matriculated from Herzlia in 1978. I recently read the article, and recognised the person in the picture. His name is Arnold Kleinberger. He was in our third-grade year and if I’m not mistaken, left [Herzlia] sometime thereafter.’”

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from Chicago, Reingold said that he was scrolling through the online version of the paper, when he saw the photograph and immediately recognised Arnold. He then confirmed it with others in his matric year Facebook group. “But actually, I was 100% sure, even though he wasn’t at Herzlia for long [he then went to Cape Town High]. I can’t explain it – I just knew.”

Said Segerman, “I was elated. I then started an online search, and found that Arnold Kleinberger was born in 1960, which meant his Barmitzvah would have been in 1973, fitting with the timeline. Sadly, he passed away at the young age of 37 in 1997. I found a photo of his tombstone from the Cape Town Chevrah Kadisha website, and studied it to find any clues.

“It said that he was mourned by his family, but only his mother Sadie was named. I found out she had passed away in 2015. Her tombstone said that she was mourned by her daughters Marlene and Anita, son-in-law Maurice, and granddaughters Nadine and Aura.”

He searched the name Kleinberger on Facebook, and found a Doré Kleinberger, whose mother had been Eva Wolovitz. That led Segerman to Wolovitz’s tombstone, where again, he saw the name Aura. Further googling lead to the birth announcement of Aura and Adam Zartz’s son on the Herzlia Alumni Association site.

At this point, Segerman turned to his daughter, Natalia, and son-in-law, Ryan Rabinowitz, who were visiting from London, and asked if they knew them.

“Ryan looked at me with great surprise and told me that not only did he know Adam very well, but they had sat next to each other at shul that very morning,” said Segerman. “He immediately contacted Adam, and we spoke to his wife, Aura, who confirmed that the barmi boy was her late father, Arnold.

“She said that Doré was her mother, and her aunts were the late Anita Shenker and Marlene Kleinberger. Marlene had lived in Milnerton and passed away a few years before. Anita had cleaned out Marlene’s house and sent numerous items to the Milnerton Market.

“Aura was nine when her father passed away. She confirmed that his Barmitzvah was on 13 January 1973, and she had recently been given his Barmitzvah book by Anita’s husband, Maurice Shenker, which contained the same photo I had. She then told me that her father had grown up in Oranjezicht.”

Segerman and his wife have lived in Oranjezicht for the past 24 years, and it turns out they live just four houses away from where the Barmitzvah boy grew up.

In addition, Arnold’s parents’ domestic worker, the late Lettie Gal, would sometimes work for the Segermans. This is just one of many other coincidences linking all the people connected to the story.

Zartz, whose first-born child, Allegra, is named after Arnold, said that her father was always “elusive” to her. Her parents divorced when she was three, and she didn’t see her father much in the years before his death, which were marked with difficulties.

She said that when Segerman phoned, she felt like she was on some kind of ‘Candid Camera’ show – it didn’t feel real. In some ways, she felt heartbroken that her father’s photo had landed up in a stranger’s home, “but then I felt a huge amount of comfort that he was so close to where he grew up”.

She spent much of her childhood in her late grandmother’s home, and feels closely connected to it. Segerman emphasised that he has always felt very protective of the photograph, which meant a lot to Zartz.

Her mother, Doré, is the last remaining Kleinberger. She said Arnold’s father, Ernest, came to South Africa from Germany in 1936 when he was 13. “He had his Barmitzvah on the boat!” His mother, Sadie, was born in South Africa. She understands that Arnold was quite a “troubled child”, but also had many happy moments in his parents’ home and general goods stores, where he would help himself to chocolate.

“Their home was always warm and welcoming – a central meeting place that people gravitated towards,” Kleinberger said. “Arnold had a tough exterior, but was the kindest person. I think he had a difficult time in the army. But he loved Formula One racing and motorbikes, and would time keep at Killarney. He also loved to braai and surf. For our honeymoon, we went up the coast with his surfboard.”

Segerman was deeply moved by these revelations and in the days after finding all of this out, he went on his regular walking route, which passed the house that Kleinberger grew up in.

“Today my walk was different – more special and emotional than ever before. I stopped at both gates and thought about Arnold and all that has happened these past few days.” He has decided that he will say Kaddish for Arnold on his yahrzeit.

Zartz said that when Segerman first called, “I thought, ‘What is my father trying to tell me?’ And when I heard Stephen say he lived in Forest Road, I realised that he was just trying to make his way home. I don’t want to keep the photograph. I give it to Stephen with a happy heart. This story means that my dad is exactly where he needs to be.”

Correction: In the 9 April edition of the SA Jewish Report, we wrote that Stephen Segerman’s Mabu Vinyl store had closed. This is an error – it has not closed but has moved to new premises at 285 Long Street, Cape Town. We regret the error.

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Focus on Yom Hashoah turns to family

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There is a new international initiative to start a family tradition on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), in which families will gather to light six memorial candles and recite a pertinent poem and prayer to remember the 6 000 000.

This initiative, called “Generations light the way”, encourages families to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer, Kel Maleh Rahamim, and/or the poem, Nizkor – Let us Remember, by Holocaust survivor Abba Kovner, to impart the memory of the Shoah to the next generation. It is a collaboration between Yad Vashem and Tzohar Rabbinical Association.

“Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads,” said acting Yad Vashem chairperson Ronen Plot. “As the last generation to be personally acquainted with Holocaust survivors, we have a great responsibility to ensure that what we saw, what we heard, and what we learned is passed on to future generations.”

“The Shoah shows us how important every Jew is,” said Rabbi David Stav, the founder and director of Tzohar Rabbinical Association. He recalled an incident when an entire unit of Nazi soldiers stayed on a small Greek island for more than two weeks just to find one Jewish family.

“We need to realise how precious a Jewish life is. So much of our history has been forgotten. From the crusades to the pogroms of 1648 to 1649, to the Spanish Inquisition,” he said.

“We cannot let that happen with the Holocaust. It’s not just because the Holocaust is recent history, it’s important to remember because it teaches us that it doesn’t matter how you label yourself, we are all am echad (one people).”

Tali Nates, the director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, agrees. “We need to be aware of the past and how evil is allowed to grow if we hope to prevent more atrocities. And we need to recognise it quicker,” she said.

“The radicalisation of Nazi Germany didn’t happen in a vacuum. The world was facing an unprecedented economic crisis. Europe was still picking up the pieces of World War I. People were suffering and looking for easy answers to difficult questions. Extremism is born out of crisis.

“When people are suffering, they start looking for someone to blame. More often than not, blame falls on the Jews,” said Nates. “Today, we face another unprecedented world crisis. COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. We are facing a global economic and health crisis that we have never seen before. Again, born out of this crisis, we are seeing an alarming growth of extremism around the world. The open rise of nationalism and white supremacy is now leading to an increase in violence against those that look and sound different.”

Nates said there were many lessons to take from the Holocaust. “Remembering the Shoah is so important. Starting from our young generation and going beyond just the Jewish community, to all of humanity, it has a huge educational value.

“It’s a warning for us all to be vigilant and recognise the warning signs,” she said. “When words of hate turn into discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and violence, it ends with mass murder and genocide. The first thing is education – to connect the dots and try to prevent it from happening again.

“You have to make sure you fight antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia. These are the first signs. We need to educate about the dangers of those words and actions. We need to start with ourselves, on a personal level, to be consistent when we are with our friends, family, and neighbours. We need to educate each other that racism, however casual, isn’t acceptable. And we need to be active to avoid the same mistakes made during the Holocaust and other genocides, which unfortunately are still taking place today.

“Because we are in South Africa, we should focus on how we as South Africans can remember the Holocaust,” said Nates. “I would love South Africans to spend time thinking about their own families. A lot of them come from Latvia and Lithuania, certainly they have relatives who were murdered. I would like for the Jewish community to really think about where they come from and what happened to their relatives who couldn’t come here.

“We need to try and collect those names so they won’t be lost forever. Yad Vashem has only four million out of six million names. We need to ensure the other two million names don’t become lost forever. The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre together with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the Memorial & Information Centre in Mauritius have called on our communities to collect the names by sending in the names of family members that don’t have a grave. For us, that’s a start.”

Said Stav, “The only way to ensure that we pass this on to our children is to talk about it often. I speak about the Shoah with my family and community at least once a month.

“Evil doesn’t care what we look or sound like. We have passed on the torch of faith, resilience, and morality for more than 3 000 years. The story of the Holocaust is the story of the Jewish people. We have been murdered, prosecuted, and expelled from our homes. And yet, through it all, we managed to survive. We always find a way to come out stronger. Those of us who know a survivor personally have experienced this first hand. Rebirth and resilience is our story. It’s up to us to pass this torch to our children so they can continue to light the way.”

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Koleinu calls out horrific attack on London Jewish woman

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A young, pregnant Jewish woman walks down a London street without a care in the world. Behind her, a man strides purposefully, quickening his steps as he gets closer. As he reaches her, he takes out a bag or pillowcase that he throws over her head. He then punches her four times in the stomach, throwing his full weight behind each blow. The woman somehow breaks free and runs away, and then man runs off in the opposite direction.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but this scene played out on a London street on the evening of 18 March 2021, in the neighbourhood of Stamford Hill, which has a large Haredi population. The assault was captured on surveillance cameras, but local neighbourhood watch group Shomrim has since deleted the video from its Twitter feed, saying, “It’s a very violent attack, and can be triggering for many victims.”

The 20-year-old woman, who is about 28 weeks pregnant, was taken to hospital for treatment for minor injuries. A man in his late 50s has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, and is now in custody at an East London police station.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, the president of Shomrim, said the woman was left “deeply traumatised”. He noted that “[The perpetrator] followed her for about a mile. In other words, it was clearly premeditated. It wasn’t an opportunistic incident.” The brother of the woman later told the Jewish Chronicle that “It was because she was Jewish. She was wearing a Jewish headscarf at the time.” He confirmed that she did not know her attacker, and he had followed her for almost 20 minutes before the attack.

Describing how over the past month, there have been seven similar assaults on women and girls in the area, Gluck said, “It has reached a new level of violence. It seems he wanted to kill her. It’s a very shocking picture.” He said the Jewish community was “deeply concerned”.

The attack comes just weeks after 33-year-old Sarah Everard disappeared in South London on the evening of 3 March. On 9 March, Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens was arrested on suspicion of Everard’s kidnapping and later her murder.

On 10 March, her remains were discovered in a woodland near Ashford, Kent. Couzens was charged with kidnapping and murder two days later.

South African organisation Koleinu SA, which supports victims of abuse in the Jewish community and runs education programmes to prevent it, said the attack on the pregnant woman was “a wake-up call that shows how vulnerable women are when they walk alone in cities all over the world”. The organisations’ founders, Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack, said they were “shocked to see something so horrific and inexplicable”.

“Pregnant women are much more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves, as they have a baby to worry about,” Sack said. “That could be the reason he chose her as a target.

“We are desensitised as South Africans to violence against women as we are exposed to horrific acts of femicide on an almost daily basis. So it’s interesting that we are still shocked to see something like this. And not necessarily because she’s religious. As South Africans and Koleinu, we should be aware of the trauma and long-term consequences that such an incident can have on someone’s life, no matter who or where they are.”

Hendler notes that the man is full of rage, and said it was important to pinpoint why men were so angry, and why they would take out that rage on a woman.

“This incident is extreme,” she said. “But we see thousands of daily incidents of a violent nature – verbal and physical. It highlights its prevalence, and how many women live in fear. This video shows how violence against women happens in every community, country, and stream of religiosity.” She urges people to report any act of violence they witness or abuse they suspect. “We need to be brave enough to take a stand and hold others accountable.”

“The attack was totally frightening and just so awful, especially on a pregnant lady who was walking, minding her own business,” said 37-year-old Talya Zwiers, who emigrated to London in 2007. “Attacking her in broad daylight shows that we are all vulnerable, in spite of us thinking it’s safe to walk during the day.

“I left South Africa after my twin brother was hijacked and kidnapped, and as a result, lost all sense of safety and security in South Africa. I didn’t have the naïve belief that attacks and muggings don’t happen in London, but I most definitely went for a safer way of life, especially for my family,” she said.

“This attack left me feeling vulnerable, exposed, scared, and actually quite worried. It has made me aware that as women, we need to be constantly vigilant, aware of our surroundings, and cannot let our guard down. We cannot just walk carefree, unaware of who is behind us. I do feel much safer in London than I did in Johannesburg. I’m not on edge 24/7, but I have a heightened sense of awareness.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another South African Jewish woman in her 30s who emigrated to London in 2019 said, “Obviously the attack on the Jewish pregnant woman is shocking as in South Africa, we weren’t exposed to religiously-motivated attacks.

“It makes me more aware of not letting my son walk around in public with his tzitzit and kippah. Regarding Sarah Everard, this can happen anywhere. I haven’t really had a false sense of security coming from South Africa. I’ve always been overly cautious where possible.”

Another ex-South African woman who emigrated to London decades ago was shocked to hear of the attack as she hadn’t seen reports about it in the mainstream British press. “The volume of violent attacks against women is really overwhelming. Perhaps it’s because she ‘sustained light injury’ that it isn’t newsworthy. Last year, a mother and daughter were murdered in a park and it didn’t get the coverage that this most recent horrific murder [of Everard] received. The mother and daughter were black …”

The attack on the pregnant woman was condemned by Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, who said on Twitter, “This hateful attack on a pregnant Jewish woman in Stamford Hill is absolutely gruesome. As a society, we have to do so much more to tackle antisemitism as well as violence against women.”

Also on Twitter, author Professor Kate Williams wrote, “The footage from the #StamfordHill attack is so distressing. She looks so happy, walking and swinging her handbag. And then he attacks her and her unborn baby in a despicable act of antisemitism. And we are still being told that attacks on women in the street are rare.”

“This seems to be yet another example of Orthodox Jews being physically and violently assaulted because of their Jewishness,” said educator and author Ben M. Freeman, whose recent book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, aims to empower Jews to reject the “shame of antisemitism”.

“Orthodox Jewish communities regularly endure violent anti-Jewish racism,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to stand with them in solidarity, and to condemn the normalisation of violence against Jews.”

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