On Monday 6 August 2012, representatives of the SAJBD and other members of the Jewish community travelled from Johannesburg and Durban to participate in a unique memorial ceremony just outside the historic town of Ladysmith. The occasion was the formal unveiling of a new monument commemorating Jewish burghers who died serving on the side of the Boer republics during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. In addition to the Jewish visitors, there was a large attendance of dignitaries, well-wishers and members of the town’s active heritage local heritage community. The post-ceremony luncheon was combined with the Ladysmith launch of the 2010 book Boerejode: Jews in the Boer Armed Forces, 1899-1902 by SAJBD Associate Director David Saks.
The memorial, which includes English, Afrikaans and Hebrew text, is located close to the main Burgher Monument on the Platrand, a hill bordering Ladysmith to the south that was itself the scene of bitter fighting during the war. It is unique both in being the first-ever official recognition of Jews who fought on the Boer side and by the fact that it is the first monument solely in recognition of Jewish soldiers ever to be erected in a public space in South Africa. While there are a number of memorials commemorating fallen Jewish soldiers around the country, all of them are either located in synagogues or Jewish cemeteries.
The monument project was carried out under the joint auspices of the SAJBD and the Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust (LSMT). The two organisations previously worked together for the 110th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Surprise Hill on 11 December 2009, when a plaque in remembrance of Harry Spanier, the first Jewish Boer to be killed, was amongst the new monuments unveiled.
The ceremony commenced with a march of honour by members of the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Siege Town Shell Hole). Counsellor Z B Rassool, Speaker: Emnambithi/Ladysmith Council, then delivered a message of welcome followed by a scripture reading by 5SAI Regt Chaplain Rev Caroline Pillay and an adapted English version of the Hazkara by Country Communities Spiritual Leader Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft. Trumpeter William Dyer played the Last Post as the monument was unveiled and two minutes silence was observed, concluding with a Gun Salute from an Anglo-Boer War-era 12-pounder gun.
In her keynote address, SAJBD National Chairman Mary Kluk said that the day’s gathering was to remember and honour twelve members of the Jewish community who gave their lives for the Boer republics. At the same time, all the brave men who fell in combat in the service of their respective causes were being remembered.
“The tragic sacrifices made by so many in so many wars fought in our land must be remembered. We need to learn from what happened, not only to honour their memories, but so that such events are never allowed to happen again” she said.
The ceremony concluded with Marina Gildenhuys reading F E Celliers’ famous poem Dis Al and the laying of wreaths while Douglas McMaster played the Piper’s Lament on the bagpipes. Amongst those laying wreaths were Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry Vice-President Ronnie Herr, the Campher-Cohen family, the Afrikaner Kultuur en Taal Vereeniging and the Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust.