Freddy Hirsch, who passed away in Cape Town on 27 May at the age of 90, left an inspiring legacy for his family, friends and business associates.
From a penniless and bereft refugee to a successful family man, businessman and upstanding member of the Jewish community, Freddy made a valuable contribution across many areas of society.
Freddy was born on 30 March 1929 in Bad Wildungen, Germany, 1.5 hours north-east of Frankfurt. With the ascendency of the Nazis, the family made plans to exit. The tipping point came on Freddy’s birthday in 1935 when his father Emil, and other Jews were rounded up and marched through the town. Emil, a fine athlete, was made to carry a sign around his neck stating “I was the dirty Jew who won the 100 and 200 dash from a fine Aryan.”
Early on a freezing November morning in 1936 Freddy and his family left their small home town in Germany and with freshly printed exit permits fled by train via Frankfurt to Genoa, Italy.
From Genoa they boarded the ship Dulio, arriving in Cape Town Harbour in December 1936. Freddy was 7 years old. The family were desperately poor and father Emil soon found work at Ackermans in Castle Street as a warehouse packer, while mother Johanna managed to convert 3 Woodside Road, Tamboerskloof into a boarding house, renting out rooms in order to pay the rent.
There were no rooms for Freddy and his first cousin Ruth, so they slept outside in the fowl-run during the summer months and in winter sought shelter under the kitchen table. The family integrated easily into the local Jewish community and had a wide circle of friends, especially amongst the German refugees who escaped before the Nazis forbade emigration and borders were shut.
Freddy had his Bar Mitzvah in Cape Town in 1942 and had an idyllic upbringing in his new country. There were adventures up Table Mountain, many visits to Muizenberg beach and ‘Young Israel’ youth camps. The sport-mad Emil and Freddy often walked to Hartleyvale Stadium for a soccer game, sold programmes outside the grounds to pay the entrance fee, then walked home to Tamboerskloof thereafter.
On leaving Ackermans, Emil worked at a butcher supply company and was soon joined by Freddy. After a short period, Freddy convinced his father to join him in their own butcher supply company and the Freddy Hirsch Group was founded on 2 July 1956 with minimal means.
The business was a success from the get-go. Freddy had a warm personality, authentic and inspiring persona and a strong work ethic. Staff and customers felt his energy, passion and his total commitment. He believed focus and resilience were essential in business, together with the four basic principles that he espoused daily.
Freddy felt that as long as all of these things were framed within sound ethical practice, success was a strong possibility. The business grew nationally and across Africa after the fall of apartheid. Today it is a global enterprise selling its’ unique food ingredient technologies on every continent. Freddy lived to see the Group pass its’ 63-year mark and generations to come will have to pass the 100-year mark, which is only achieved by 45 out of every one million family businesses.
He never forgot his roots and remained humble and approachable to the end. As a waiter at a local restaurant said at his funeral: “To Mr Hirsch, nobody was invisible.” He served on the Board of the United Jewish Appeal and was a regular at the Marais Road Shul on Friday nights and yomteivim. A beloved husband, father and grandfather, he leaves his wife Aggie, four children and nine grandchildren. Love, admiration and gratitude were their watchwords for Freddy.
Although a workaholic, he always quoted the comedian Sid Caesar, “In between goals is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed.”
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