The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 10 No 2 - December 1995

(incorporating Museum Review)


By David Y Saks

As is well-known, the armed forces of the two Boer Republics in the South African War were assisted by a host of foreign volunteers from all over Europe. An estimated 2 120 of these volunteers, out of sympathy for the Boer cause or simply in search of an adventure, eventually fought for the republics.(1) Due to language barriers and ethnic solidarity, it was natural that the new arrivals should be grouped together, hence the existence for long periods of the conflict of small, colourful foreign units within the Boer Army. The foreigners offered more than mere curiosity value. Some units distinguished themselves in action, often suffering heavy casualties in the process. One thinks of the performances of the Dutch and German detachments at Elandslaagte, for example, or the sacrifices of the Scandinavian contingent at Magersfontein. There was an Italian corps, which fought at Colenso and, in the subsequent defence of the Tugela Heights, an Irish corps and a plethora of other nation- alities, including Russians, Frenchmen, Austrians and Americans. Nor did these adventurers make up the only non-Afrikaner element of the Boer forces. As Professor J Mohlamme of the Vista University has shown, many black South Africans also fought for the republics. Even less well-known is the fact that some 300 Jews actively served on the Boer side during the war.(2)

There was never a question of forming a 'Jewish Brigade'. Rather, Jewish volunteers were scattered throughout the Republican armies, making it difficult to establish nowadays who they were and how many. Later research has verified the names of some 200 of these 'Boerejode', although the list remains incomplete.(3) By way of comparison, just under 2 800 fought for the Imperial cause, most of them regulars or volunteers who came out from England.(4)

It is beyond the scope of this article to provide a complete overview of the Jewish contribution to the Boer cause. Rather, it will attempt only to compare and contrast the wartime experiences of three Jewish burghers, thereby hopefully throwing some light on a little dealt with aspect of the historiography of the South African War while at the same time rescuing these unusual men from obscurity.

The 'Russian Rebel': Chaim David Judelewitz
It took a Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Professor L I Rabinowitz, to 'discover' C D Judelewitz in the late 1940s.(5) Judelewitz was born into a prominent Jewish family in Russia in 1876 and arrived in the Transvaal in 1897. Before coming to South Africa, he had spent two years in the United States, apparently fleeing there after involving himself in the burgeoning anti-Tzarist movement.

Judelewitz settled down quickly in his new homeland, learning English and Afrikaans and establishing himself as a successful farmer and entrepreneur. He also became an accomplished horseman and, on joining the Wolmaran- stad Rifle Association, gained a reputation for being a crack shot. Both talents would naturally serve him well in the coming showdown with the British Empire.

When war broke out in October 1899, Judelewitz attached himself to General P A Cronje's commando, which he joined under the name of Herrman. After taking part in the early investment of Mafeking, he moved south with Cronje to the Kimberley theatre and probably fought in the ensuing battles at Modder River and Magersfontein. By all available accounts, he was a brave fighter, perhaps recklessly so. In vain would his comrades implore him to duck down while under fire. His best-known exploit during this period was to single- handedly hold up a party of the Scots Guards escorting a water cart and lead them back as prisoners to the Boer lines. During this period, he was promoted to the rank of veldkornet.

After the relief of Kimberley, Cronje retreated in a north-westerly direction, only to be run to ground and invested at Paardeberg on the banks of the Modder. Judelewitz' wartime career, like those of 4 000 other trapped burghers, would have ended right there had he not prevailed upon his despondent general to allow him to try to break through the tightening cordon. On the night of 26 February, the eve of Cronje's Majuba Day surrender, he managed to slip through the British lines and escape to Griqualand West. There, although accounts of his movements vary, he evidently made his way to Prieska, where a revolt by Cape Afrikaners was underway.(6)

The little-known Prieska revolt lasted until early April and for a time spread like wildfire throughout the north- western Cape. Eventually a large British force under Lord Kitchener's supervision was despatched to the area and most of the Boers and their Cape sympathisers retreated into the Trans vaal. Judelewitz was not among them. He had played a prominent role in the rebellion and had, in the process, been promoted to commandant. Now he assumed the leadership of a small, determined band of die-hards who chose to carry on the fight, notwithstanding the daunting odds and against the advice of the Boer leadership. Some 300 strong, not counting a number of women and children, the band was known as the 'Judelewitz Party' and its leader as the 'Russian Rebel'.(7) Its base was at Kheis, a small brook on the north bank of the Orange River. From there, the rebels set about commandeering supplies from neighbouring farms and raiding British outposts for arms and ammunition.

The British were concerned at this new development. The activities of the maverick commando not only jeopardized the security of the railway line to Mafeking, but also threatened to fan anew the flames of rebellion in the north-western Cape. On 19 May, therefore, Sir Charles Warren instructed Colonel Adye to clear Judele- witz from the north bank of the Orange. Three days later, Adye set out with a company of the Gloucestershire Mounted Infantry, a detachment of Nesbitt's Horse and four guns of 44 Battery RFA. En route, he was joined by detachments of the Lancashire Imperial Yeomanry and Warwickshire Imperial Yeomanry.(8) The rebel laager was attacked in force on 28 May. Taken by surprise, Judelewitz and his men quickly abandoned the laager and retired to some low, bushy hills further north. There they resisted determinedly until the Lancashire Yeomanry managed to get in their left rear and forced them to retreat in confusion. Judelewitz was among those killed in the final stand. He was buried in Prieska cemetery, probably in a mass grave.

A good luck charm: Sascha Schmahmann
Compared to the fiery Judelewitz, Sascha Schmahmann had a rather tame war, although it was by no means devoid of action. He arrived in the Transvaal as a teenager in 1895 and was only seventeen in 1899 when he joined up immediately upon the outbreak of hostilities. He was initially considered too young to fight and put in the Red Cross, learning to take temperatures and helping to feed and wash the wounded men.

'We did not feel about killing men as they do in this war', Schmahmann commented when interviewed in 1943, 'Our enemies were just other men to us, whom we fought with a will, but when they were injured, somehow you remembered that they too had families and homes.'(9)

Schmahmann was called 'Jan Snyman die Jood', not in a derogatory manner, but because his own name was considered unpronounceable and there was another Jan Snyman in the corps.

Soon afterwards, Schmahmann departed for the Natal Front and, on 15 December, took part in Louis Botha's great victory at Colenso. From his description, it seems that he was stationed in the centre, helping to silence and eventually capture the ten British guns. Evidently a kindly man, it was the plight of his battered opponents which stuck in his mind.

'We Boers felt sorry for them as we picked them off', he told his listener.(10) Schmahmann's mainly older comrades were obviously fond of their 'Joodjie', whom they looked upon as a kind of mascot. On one occasion, his commandant refused to punish him for a misdemeanour on the grounds that he had brought them luck - not one man on their side had been killed since his joining.

After the relief of Ladysmith, Schmahmann attached himself to the commando of Commandant Bril for a spell before being sent home. Although his narrative becomes rather incoherent at this point, it is evident that he rejoined the commandos at some stage and continued to fight until at least 1901. During this time, he came into contact with Nicholas Kaplan, another Jewish burgher of whom little is known. Kaplan was noted for his efficient handling of pom-pom guns, with which he had apparently learned to fight in Russia.(11) He was eventually promoted to commandant and was still in the field when the war ended. Unlike C D Judelewitz, young Schmahmann survived the war. At the outbreak of the 1914 Rebellion, he was approached to join the Government forces against the rebels, but refused.

A bittereinde: J C Duveen
That we know anything at all about Joel Charles Duveen is due to the reminiscences of his old comrade-in-arms, Harm Oost(12), which were first recorded in 1952. Born into a prominent Dutch-Jewish family in 1876, he immigrated to the Transvaal towards the end of the century and settled at Louis Trichardt. When war broke out, he joined the Zoutpansberg Commando, first under Commandant E Mare, then under Commandant de Villiers, and served on the Natal Front. Duveen was one of the burghers who helped storm Spioenkop on 24 Jan- uary 1900. During a hand-to-hand fight, having already exhausted his cartridges, he noticed a British officer threatening to shoot his veldkornet. With remarkable quick-thinking, he threw his empty rifle to his shoulder and shouted 'If you shoot him, I will shoot you!' The startled officer apparently dropped his weapon on the spot.(13)

Duveen was a bittereinde, refusing to surrender even after the fall of Pretoria (despite the fact that he was technically not yet a citizen of the ZAR and therefore not obliged to fight at all). He was on the staff of General Beyers, who took advantage of his restless, dare-devil nature by selecting him for dangerous intelligence work behind enemy lines. Not satisfied with this, Duveen persuaded two fellow officers, M Dommisse (14) and H Mentz(15) to form a small scouting party with him. 'Consequently,' Dommisse recalled, 'we were always on some adventurous undertaking, when the commando was resting. On one occasion, we tried to derail a train a few miles from Naboomspruit station. The main force of the twenty youngsters remained with Col Menu, who would derail the train. He [Duveen and his party] was surrounded, but fought himself free without a casualty.' In this last incident, Duveen's horse was shot under him. He eluded capture by diving into a thick bush and remaining there until his pursuers gave up the search. On another occasion, he came to the rescue when Menu and Dommisse were being pursued by hundreds of mounted men, counter-attacking with a mere seven others and enabling his friends to ride free.

Late in 1901, Duveen was wounded in the stomach during an attack on the fortified camp of Pruisen near Potgietersrust. He was sent to Potgietersrust hospital, where he was captured on 1 October and shipped off to India for the last eight months of the war. On his release, he settled in Pietersburg, marrying and opening a store there. Sadly, Duveen did not live much longer after peace was made. In 1904, he contracted Blackwater Fever while on a journey to the Lowveld and the illness proved fatal. He was taken, already dying, to a nearby store belonging to an Englishman where, implacable to the end, he insisted on being laid out on the floor. 'I am going to die,' he is reputed to have said, 'but I refuse to die on an Englishman's bed. Put me on the floor.' And there he died.

These three short monographs hopefully go some way towards filling a gap in our knowledge on the Jewish contribution to the Boer cause in 1899-1902. The compelling details of the three lives thus outlined also demonstrate once more how fruitful a field for original research the South African War remains for military historians.


1. Packenham, T The Boer War (Jonathan Ball, 1979), p 572.
2. Saron, G and Hotz, L (eds) The Jews in South Africa: A history (Oxford University Press, 1955), p 208.
3. Considerable research was undertaken by Rabbi Professor I L Rabinowitx ztl, former Chief Rabbi of South Africa, in the 1940s and 1950s. His notes are housed in the library at the Jewish Board of Deputies in Johannesburg.
4. Saron and Hotz (eds) The Jews in South Africa, p 207.
5. See text of a lecture delivered in 1949 by the Chief Rabbi, entitled 'The Russian Rebel', in the Rabinowitx Collection, Jewish Board of Deputies.
6. Various conflicting claims are cited by Rabinowitz.
7. Amery, L (ed) The Times History of the War in South Africa (1906) Vol IV, pp 226-7.
8. Maurice, F (ed) History of the War in South Africa, 1899-1902 (London, 1908), Vol III, pp 234.
9. Notes based on interview with Sascha Schmahnann, April 1943, in Rabinowitz Collection, Jewish Board of Deputies.
10. Notes based on interview with Sascha Schmahmann, April 1943, in Rabinowitz Collection, Jewish Board of Deputies.
11. Notes based on interview with Sascha Schmahmann, April 1943, in Rabinowitz Collection, Jewish Board of Deputies.
12. Later MP for Pretoria (District), 1948-1953.
13. Rabinowitz, L I 'Joel Charles Duveen: Another unknown Jewish hero of the Boer War' in Jewish Guild Annual, September 1952.
14. M Dommisse, also a Jewish participant in the war, later Major.
15. Hendrik Mentz, later colonel and Minister of Defence 1920-4.
16. British list of POWs received at Cape Town up to 6/11/1901 and at Natal up to 1/11/1901 (Nos 23455-24472). The full entry reads: '23610 - Duveen, Joel. Hollander, aged 25. Pietersburg. Veldkornetcy Zoutpansberg. Captured Pruisen, 1/11/1901. Received, 30/10/1901. Sent to India, 2/11/1901. Officer.'

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