In 1880, the 18-year-old Jew
Franz Ginsberg left his native Germany both to improve his economic prospects
and also to distance himself from anti-Semitism. He travelled across the Equator to King
Williams Town in (what is now) South Africa.
In South Africa he was
judged on his merit, rather than his religion. He was free to improve his
prospects. As a man of conscience, he quickly realised that he was privileged in
comparison with his non-European neighbours. Throughout his life in South
Africa, Franz tried not to abuse this privilege. In contrast, he used his
advantage to try to ameliorate the lives of his non-European neighbours, who
were becoming increasingly oppressed during the latter part of the 19th
century and most of the 20th.
By 1885, Franz had begun
making domestic products in South Africa on an industrial scale. In 1890, Franz
entered politics as a Town Councillor. From then onwards, he was involved in
both local and then later national politics. Eventually in 1927, he became a
Senator in the Parliament of the Union of South Africa. Even before the
Nationalists gained power in 1924, things were going from bad to worse for the non-European
people. Being involved in debates about legislative matters, Franz did what he
could to try to dissuade his political colleagues from passing laws that were
unfair to the non-European people of South Africa.
Both Franz Ginsberg’s
life and his political activity are described in great detail in Adam Yamey’s
book “SOAP TO SENATE: A GERMAN JEW AT THE DAWN OF APARTHEID”. The book reveals
a great deal about the Eastern Cape of South Africa as well as the history of
law-making that laid the foundations for apartheid.
Franz not only managed to
improve his economic status, but he also was able to help those who were far
less advantaged than him. He exemplified the words of the famous Jewish scholar
Hillel the Elder:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for
myself, who am I?”
After his death, one
of Franz's obituaries included the following words:
“Ginsberg erected his own
lasting memorial especially in the hearts of his fellow human beings. He was
the personification of an ideal Jewish immigrant to be upright and honest and
to help his community. He realised the words of the prophet Micah: ‘Always do good. Be just
and humble before God”
"Soap to Senate: A German Jew at the dawn of apartheid"
is available as both a paperback and a Kindle from Amazon by clicking H E R E