Reading the article in the Cape Jewish Chronicle March 2018 (How South Africa became a home to Jewish Orphans) brought back my own memories of childhood at Oranjia.
The article is particularly pertinent to me because my late and much loved mother was an escapee, but nonetheless still a victim, of the genocide in Lithuania. My mother and her six siblings were brought up in an orphanage in Kaunus, my grandparents having passed away.
The continuous brutal attacks on the Jews at the time made life difficult, and during the pogroms two of my mother’s brothers were murdered. She and her remaining siblings were saved by the Haganah paramilitary organisation in the British Mandate of Palestine (1921-48) which became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The Haganah smuggled more than 5000 Jewish children into Palestine and integrated them into kibbutzim. These brave people took my mother (she was three years old), her two sisters and her two brothers through the forests of Lithuania and smuggled them safely to Israel where they were all raised on a Kibbutz.
During the Second World War my mother trained and became a nurse in the Israeli army.
She met my father, a South African medic, in the military in North Africa. Much against the wishes of her siblings she married my father and relocated to Port Elizabeth after the war
My mother only spoke Yiddish and Hebrew.
Regrettably, because of his war experiences, my father fell victim to alcohol and drugs.
Ultimately my mother was left to look after me and my four siblings. We lived in a wooden shack along the railway line in Port Elizabeth in dire straits.
This is where I can proudly say how privileged I am to call myself a Jew. Once the Jewish community knew of our plight they came to our aid.
My sister Malka my brother Trevor and myself were flown to Cape Town and taken straight to Oranjia. I was three, Trevor was four and my sister Malka was eight. My brother David was still in my mother’s arms and my mother was still pregnant with my sister Julia.
It was comforting for my mother to know that the Jewish community of Port Elizabeth were now taking care of her.
During the course of the next two years my mother gave birth to a 6th child which she gave up for adoption to a wonderful Jewish family. I am truly grateful to this family as my sister we never knew had a beautiful life
A year later my mother, brother David and my sister Julia came to Cape Town where they joined the rest of the family at Oranjia. My mother became the carer of the kids in the nursery school there. I stayed at Oranjia until I was 16.
I can only remember kindness, warmth and generosity from everyone we came into contact with. The community was loving and caring and totally committed to, and involved with, the children and the running of the home. We attended shul daily at Oranjia and I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah there.
In a world which has seen so much anger, hate and genocide, Oranjia stands out as a beacon of love and Jewish solidarity and I am eternally grateful to the Cape Town Jewish community for giving a home to my mother and my family. I am proud to be a product of Oranjia.
Graham Lewis Brink Bouwer
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