Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



Mauritius memorial and Jewish solidarity

Avatar photo



I participated in a moving series of events in Mauritius last week held to mark the 83rd anniversary of the deportation and detention of nearly 1 600 Jewish refugees during World War II. The refugees were deported to the island after being refused entry into what was then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1940, and were detained there until the end of the war. The ambassador of Israel, the British consul, and the deputy ambassadors of Germany and Austria were represented at the event.

With other participants from Israel, the United States, South Africa, and Canada, I visited various sites associated with the detainees, including the Beau Bassin Prison, the Beau Bassin Aliyah Bet Detainees Memorial Museum, and the St Martin’s Jewish cemetery, where those who died in captivity are buried. The programme concluded with a panel discussion on the topic, “Holocaust memory – between the past and the present”, where I was one of three panellists.

I was deeply moved by the memorial service held at the cemetery, where 126 Jews who died during the detention are buried. It was sad to reflect how so many of those who escaped the Holocaust and hoped to build a new life for themselves in Israel instead died as captives in a foreign land far from the refuge they were trying to reach. The story of the cemetery has a strong South African connection. After the war, it was handed over by deed of grant to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), which thereafter was responsible for its maintenance. Through the Board and the African Jewish Congress (AJC), the cemetery was extensively restored, and today, it’s beautifully maintained by the local Jewish community in consultation with the AJC.

South African Jewry, through the offices of the SAJBD, were a vital source of assistance to the detainees, providing them with material support and a link with the Jewish world. A plaque in the memorial centre records these contributions. I also had the opportunity of lighting a candle to remember the deep bond of support between the SAJBD and the detainees during that difficult time. My thanks to Tali Nates of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, Roni Mikel-Arielli from Tel Aviv University and, as always, the SAJBD for enabling me to be part of this amazing event and bear witness to this little known piece of history.

Yomtov greetings

This past year has been one of healing from the COVID-19 pandemic trauma, but has brought its own challenges. Loadshedding, in particular, is taking its toll on our physical, mental, and financial health. That being said, as a community, we are once again showing the strength that has made us one of the most admired Jewish communities in the world. In spite of dwindling numbers, South African Jewry remains vibrant on every front. The shuls are back and active, shiurim on so many topics are taking place every week, and this year, Limmud, that massive celebration of all kinds of Jewish learning, was back to almost record highs. Our superb network of Jewish institutions – among them the SAJBD, South African Zionist Federation, youth movements, Community Security Organisation, Hatzolah, South African Union of Jewish Students, women’s organisations, Chevrah Kadisha, outreach organisations, the Union of Orthodox Synagogues, and the South African Union of Progressive Judaism – continue to work like trojans to protect and nurture our beautiful community, while our fine kosher restaurants and caterers offer a marvellous range of delicious food and cuisines. Plus, we won our opening match of the Rugby World Cup! On that hopeful note, on behalf of the SAJBD, I wish you all a shana tova – a year of sweet new beginnings for ourselves, our community, and our country.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday, from 12:00 to 13:00.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *