Greyshirts on the Grand Parade

By Gwynne Robins

An Oxford University study found that almost 20% of Britons believe Jews are behind the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 1930s, with a worldwide recession and unemployment, was another time of crisis that led to several neo-Nazi organisations developing, including the Greyshirt movement which was started in Cape Town by Louis Weichardt and soon had followers around the country.

They distributed leaflets like this one: “…Why You Should Not Vote for a Jew..: FIRSTLY, because he cannot be an Englishman or an Afrikaner, and a Jew… once a Jew, always an alien! SECONDLY, because the Jew is an alien to the highest degree. He is repugnant, too, and not of one’s own. Let him keep to his race, you keep to yours! THIRDLY, you will be a disgrace to the European community and the Aryan race if you vote for a Jew, because he is an Asiatic and NOT a European.”

Advocate Morris Alexander, founder and chairman of the Cape Board of Deputies, embarked on a countrywide tour to advise Jewish communities on handling antisemitism, enrol more affiliates and obtain funding for the organisation’s fight against it.

The Greyshirts held large rallies around South Africa, inciting their audience against the Jews, but this was not Germany, and young Jews fought back.

A so-called Monster Greyshirt Meeting was organised for Thursday 2 April 1936 on the Grand Parade, “to Protest 1) against the continued refusal by the jew [sic] controlled Town Council of the use of public halls for patriotic Greyshirt meetings while such halls are granted freely to Jews, Communists, Bolsheviks and other public enemies for anti-national and state-destroying propaganda, 2) against the failure of the government to suppress revolutionary and seditious Jewish organisations which… are endeavouring to stir up internal strife… and 3) against the inadequacy of the law to restrain and punish the circulation in the press and elsewhere of deliberate Jew-made lies concerning the aims and methods of patriotic South African movements.”

A group of young Jews, who had been practising wrestling in the Maccabi Club gym, just happened to be there (including the ‘Russian Lion’, the late Jack Rubin, father of Julie Berman, director of the SAZF). They also just happened to have some knuckle dusters and sticks with them. They watched for a bit, and when Weichardt, who was surrounded by swastikas, and his uniformed followers started on about ‘the bloody Jews’, they started heckling him. Weichardt asked his followers to attack them and Cissie Gool, who was holding a meeting in opposition, and a fight broke out.

When Greyshirts grabbed hold of Rubin and tried to drag him to their lorry, Max Raysman went to his aid and was hit on the back of his head with a cricket ball meant for the police, which injury later required stitches. Both were arrested and handcuffed. On the way to the police station, they saw Jacob Gitlin’s partner and called out to him. Jacob Gitlin came and bailed them out.

The Board of Deputies arranged for them to be defended by Beauclerk Upington, QC, one of the foremost advocates in Cape Town who was well-known for his willingness to defend the underdog. Upington pointed out that the Greyshirts had charged in straight lines, drawing objects from their trouser pockets — either batons or pieces of hosepipe — and hitting everyone who came near and had made repeated attacks under Weichardt’s orders on the crowd, who were defenceless and had no weapons but walking sticks.

The magistrate said he found it difficult to accept that Rubin calmly went up to a constable and struck him without rhyme or reason and accepted that Raysman was trying to rescue his friend because he was worried at the treatment he was likely to receive if he were taken to the Greyshirts’ lorry.

Rubin was found not guilty on both counts of assaulting a police constable and of escaping from police custody. Raysman was found guilty of attempting to rescue a prisoner from the police and was reprimanded, and also found guilty of the charge of escaping from custody, for which he got ten days’ hard labour to be suspended for six months, on condition of good behaviour.

“So already since 1936 I have been behaving myself,” he told me in 2003.

Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies website:

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