A project of Belfast Jewish Heritage
Please contact us if you would like to hear more from Belfast Jewish Heritage, including invitations to our walking tours and events.
in Northern Ireland
Please contact us if you would like to hear more from Belfast Jewish Heritage, including invitations to our walking tours and events.
Glenalla, Co. Donegal
Netta Franklin was born in 1866 into one of the leading British Jewish families. Her father, the banker Samuel Montagu MP, became the first Lord Swaythling in 1907. He founded the Federation of Synagogues, which brought into one organisation the chevras – small synagogues – established in the East End of London by refugees from Czarist Russia.
Brought up in a very Orthodox home, Netta joined her younger sister Lily in founding a Liberal Jewish movement in Britain. In 1902 Netta hosted in London the first ever meeting of the Jewish Religious Union for the Advancement of Liberal Judaism. This movement saw Judaism as evolving and progressing, and emphasised the ethical teaching of the Hebrew prophets.
Netta became a national figure in the campaign for political rights for women. She was elected President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1916. She once declared: “Judaism has taught the world to do justice…they had no right to be here at all, unless they tried to make the world better.”
The main cause in Netta’s life was educational reform. She became the secretary of the Parents’ National Educational Union, a post she held for 70 years. Despite having a disability, she undertook speaking tours across USA, Europe and South Africa.
Netta’s connections with Co. Donegal can still be seen today. Glenalla House, near Milford, is an 18th century home set in 250 acres of beautiful grounds which she and her family acquired in 1913. The garden is described as “a hidden world surrounded by native woods and moorland." The grounds include the rockery, rose beds, arbour and a stone edged lily pond which Netta helped develop and loved.
There is a curious PS to the story. In 2017, 15 rabbis of the Federation of Synagogues in London – the organisation founded by Netta's father, Lord Swaythling – held a two-day retreat at Glenalla.
Do you want to know more? A biography of Netta was written by the Irish writer, Monk Gibbon, but it was published in 1960 and is long out of print. She also has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and of course on Wikipedia.
Stephen Poliakoff, playwright and Netta's great nephew: "I was once taken to visit Netta at her house in Donegal, a sleepy Chekhovian sort of place, where I had to read prayers to her in English as she consumed artichokes — which I'd never seen before — for breakfast. She was very formidable; she even had a wooden leg".
Kennedy Place, Londonderry
The Jewish community in Londonderry was established in 1893. A number of Jewish families gathered at the home of Mr Welsky at 17 Harvey Street and agreed to form themselves into a congregation under the authority of the Chief Rabbi in London.
By the following year, the first synagogue was opened at 18 Abercorn Road. There were about 43 Jews living in the city. By 1901 a Zionist group was founded. For a number of years the synagogue was in rented premises on Hawkin Street.
Family names included Robinson (originally Rubinstein), Edelstein, Harris, Frieslander, Ruben, Jacobs, Watchman, Watson, Gay, Caplan and Tuck.
The late Trevor Danker said: “Life in Derry revolved around the shool (synagogue). All families lived within a few minutes walk from Hawkin Street.” The Dankers, with six adult males, often secured the minyan, the quorum of ten men needed for communal worship.
In 1929 a new synagogue was acquired at 4 Kennedy Place. The Jews of Derry, being "poor hard working men" appealed to the readers of the Jewish Chronicle to help them meet the costs of converting the building.
The late teacher Fred Logan recalled: “These Russian Jews were very orthodox. They observed Saturday as their holy day and worshipped in the synagogue every week...I know this because I was teaching in First Derry School, and all the Jewish children attended school there largely because it was more or less in the centre of the Jewish quarter. They settled around the Bishop Street, Fountain Street and Abercorn Road area.”
Here are some of the characters who made up the community...
By 1917 David Spain, a native of Kovno (today Kaunas, Lithuania) had become President of the congregation. He manufactured mattresses and lived on Abercorn Road. He died in Derry in 1971, aged 93. He was remembered for his “single-minded piety and uprightness”. David's wife Ray kept a home which was "an oasis of Jewish traditional life," in a city separated by over 70 miles from the nearest Jewish centre (in Belfast).
Cecil Bloch was born in Londonderry in 1908. He claimed descent from generations of Lithuanian rabbis. He went into the ministry and served congregations in Manchester and Portsmouth, was an army chaplain in Burma and Malaya, and after the war was minister in Swansea and South East London.
A well-known local personality was Michael Fredlander, who was a horse breeder and owned a stud farm in Eglinton. Ephraim Gordon is said to have set up the Empire Picture Frame Works in Newmarket Street as early as 1860 (but it was probably later than that). Nat Gordon owned the Art Shop in Bishop Street, and his son, Richard Gordon, until recently ran the Gordon Gallery at Pump Street.
During the war the Jewish population rose to over one hundred. Refugees from Nazi persecution found work in the shirt factories. Amongst those who assisted their arrival were Professor Paul Finegan, president of Magee College, and Mr Archie Halliday, who ran a private business school.
One of the refugees was Otto Goldberger, a proud Austrian who swam for his country in international competitions. After Kristallnacht, in November 1938, he was being lined up to be sent to a concentration camp, when he noticed the Nazi officer in charge had gone to school with him. He dared to step out of line. The officer angrily ordered Goldberger to stand with his face to the wall. For what seemed like hours Otto heard the lorries coming and going taking people away. The officer eventually came back and told him to leave Vienna immediately. His sister Freda had already escaped and was working in a place called Londonderry, which Otto believed was a suburb of London. Otto got a job at Faulkner's shirt factory. He was later a much-loved member of the Belfast Jewish community and a strong supporter of the Ulster Orchestra.
The last minister of the congregation, Rev. Heshel (Harris) Freeman, left Derry by 1946. The final service is believed to have taken place on Yom Kippur in 1947. The congregation’s Sepher Torah (scroll of the law) was donated to a synagogue in Rechovot, Israel, and the balance of funds went to support the new synagogue at Kibbutz Lavi in the Galilee.
In 2013 the former synagogue building at Kennedy Place collapsed. It had been derelict for many years. Fortunately no one was hurt.
If you would like to know more about the Jews of Derry-Londonderry:
Fountain Street, Londonderry
Yitzchak ben Yaakov Domnitz (Isaac son of Jacob Domnitz) was born near Minsk, today in Belarus, in about 1881. He was educated at the yeshivot, rabbinical academies, of Eastern Europe.
He came to Britain before 1907 and served a succession of remote Jewish communities in Wales – where the congregations were so tiny it was barely possible for him to make ends meet. He was both Chazan, the cantor who leads the main synagogue services and the highly-trained shochet who slaughtered cattle for kosher meat. Rev. Domnitz also taught the children Hebrew and looked after the spiritual welfare of the communities he served.
Rev. Domnitz was then briefly minister at Stockton-on-Tees, in the north east of England. It was in Derry that he and his family were at last able to settle. After their arrival in 1917, he and his wife Sophia lived at 27 Fountain Street, close to the city’s famous walls. Their home was a few minutes walk from the synagogue then at Hawkin Street and later at Kennedy Place. They brought up a family of two boys and two girls in the city.
Letters from Isaac Domnitz to the Chief Rabbi in London, written in a beautiful Hebrew script, await translation. They no doubt have a tale to tell of the trials and tribulations of ministering to a tiny and isolated Jewish community.
The Domnitz family left Derry for north London in 1933. Isaac died there in 1942. A veteran journalist remarked, “rarely have I met anyone more steeped in the spiritual side of life.” Rev. Domnitz was recognised to be a religious scholar of the highest calibre.
The Domnitz’s younger son, Jacob (b.1915), attended First Derry Boys’ school. During the Second World War he joined RAF bomber command. Jacob was killed, aged 28, when his plane was shot down over Holland on 12 June 1943. He is buried at the Eindhoven general cemetery.
Jacob’s older brother, Myer (1909-89), attended Bennett Street Boys’ school, Magee College and Trinity College Dublin, where he was awarded an MA in 1933. Myer made his career in education.
He was the first headmaster of the very Orthodox Yesodey Hatorah Day school in north London. Myer then served for 30 years as education officer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He was the author of a number of text books explaining Judaism to non-Jewish readers and also lectured across the country. The Jew from Derry/Londonderry – with its deeply divided Catholic and Protestant communities - pioneered interfaith relations on behalf of the Jewish community in the UK.
Myer had two sisters, Jean (Jenny) and Rebekah (Betty). They all lived in north west London and none of them married.
The letters of Isaac Domnitz to the Chief Rabbi are held at the London Metropolitan Archives.
The website Remembering the Jews of WW2 records Jacob Domnitz's RAF service here
Myer Domnitz's papers, particularly on his interfaith work, are held at Southampton University library.
Sion Mills, Co. Tyrone
Brigadier General Ambrose Ricardo was born in 1866, a great grandson of David Ricardo the famous economist. He was of Sephardic Jewish descent - meaning his ancestors were Jews who lived in Spain in the Middle Ages. The Sephardi Jews comprised the leading Jewish community in Medieval Europe for both learning and culture.
The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 was described as the biggest disaster to have befallen the Jewish people since the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans. It took place in the year Columbus set sail across the Atlantic.
The Ricardo family took up residence in Italy and then Amsterdam where there was a large congregation of Sephardi exiles. In the eighteenth century family members had moved to England and prospered. Ambrose grew up at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire, now the home of the Princess Royal (Princess Anne). His family had long relinquished its Judaism by the time of his birth.
Ricardo served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and saw service in India and during the Boer War.
His marriage in 1893 to Elizabeth Alice Herdman (in Burma) led Ricardo to later retire from military life. In about 1904 he took up the post of Director of Herdman’s Ltd. in Sion Mills. The Herdmans founded the village in 1835 and established a flax spinning mill there. The name Sion is derived from the Irish ‘Sidhean’ meaning fairy mound. However, the Herdmans were very religious and may have wished to associate their model village with establishing a "new Zion" in the north west of Ulster.
Ambrose Ricardo went on to co-found the annual Londonderry Feis (an arts and cultural festival). He was instrumental in the building of the eye-catching Church of the Good Shepherd in Sion Mills. He was a senior layman in the Church of Ireland and was to lead the Scout movement in Ulster. He was also president of the North West cricket union.
During the third Home Rule Crisis (1912 to 1914) Brigadier Ricardo helped recruit, train and arm a unionist militia in Co. Tyrone opposed to home rule. Following the outbreak of World War I, he is said to have recruited 130 men from the Tyrone village and surrounding areas who were to fight at the battle of the Somme in 1916.
Brigadier General Ricardo died in 1923. The circumstances of his death - he was found drowned in a reservoir near the village - gave rise to concern that he had committed suicide. He was known to have felt the heavy burden of surviving the war when many of the men he led had been killed.
In 2019 a blue plaque was unveiled by the Ulster History Circle at the stables in Sion Mills commemorating Ambrose Ricardo's life as "a soldier, philanthropist and founder of the Londonderry Feis".
This story is adapted from an article by Stephen Nimmons in the on-line Times of Israel (2013).
Ambrose Ricardo is the subject of this edition of the BBC Radio Ulster podcast, Your Place and Mine. Anne Marie McAleese is in conversation with Ricardo's great niece, Celia Ferguson.
Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry
Maurice Logansky applied for naturalisation in 1931. He had come from Russia and was described on the application as a ‘cinema proprietor’. He founded the Supreme Cinema Group Ltd which opened many cinemas in Northern Ireland. Initially, in the 1920s he hired halls and chairs and screened silent movies in many towns. He then brought the first Talkies to Northern Ireland, most notably the Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. The 1930’s was considered a boom-time for cinema. Tickets were cheap and offered escape from the worries of the Great Depression.
The Picture House in Randalstown, Co. Antrim was opened in 1935.
The Mid-Ulster Mail records the building of the Magherafelt Picture House in August 1936 by Supreme Cinemas as the most up-to-date in N. Ireland – seating about 400. The first night’s takings were contributed to charity. Charity benefits were a recurrent theme throughout the lifetime of the group. Permissions for cinema openings in Limavady and Whitehead followed – built with ‘the latest type of seating’ and ‘the most modern sound’ systems.
December 1936 saw the opening of The Park Cinema in Belfast on the Oldpark Road with seating for 1,200 ("of the tip-up, armchair type with rubber arm-pads and generous leg-room"). The architecture was an art-deco style and the inside was quite lavish. The proceeds of the two opening performances (‘The Three Musketeers’ with Walter Abel and Margot Grahame) went to the Lord Mayor’s Coal Fund – Belfast Newsletter, 22 Dec 1936.
The Ballymena Towers cinema opened in Dec 1937, closed in 1976. Maurice Logan also owned the State cinema in the town.
During the war years there were many benefit performances at the various cinemas, for example, Feb. 1940 at the Magherafelt Picture House in aid of the War Hospital Supply fund.
In September 1956 the Group opened the New Reo in Ballyclare (with first night proceeds going to the British Legion) and the Metro in Dundonald. At this time, Supreme Cinemas had 13 cinemas in the Province.
But television was now making inroads into cinema audiences and the Dundonald Metro and Whitehead Cinema closed in 1961 with other cinemas following. The Park Cinema closed in 1971. It re-opened briefly, but after bomb damage it closed permanently – the site is now a car park.
Maurice Logan was a member of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation and helped organise several variety shows for the community. He died in 1970 and his charity work continued to the end when he left his home to the Belfast Hebrew Congregation – a gift which was later described as a “life raft” for the struggling community.
Unbeknown to nearly everyone, except his closest family, Maurice Logan rescued family members from Poland prior to the Holocaust and helped them settle in pre-state Israel. Today there are over 100 descendants of those he rescued who owe their lives to their cousin in Belfast. They included Myer Rosenfeld who in the late 1930s was brought out of Poland aged three, and who later visited Maurice Logan in Belfast.
Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
In 1938 Maurice Komjat, at the age of 40, with his wife Clara and daughter Eve, left Budapest, where antisemitism was on the rise. He’d been a textile manufacturer.
The Daintifyt Brassiere Company Ltd was registered in Belfast in January 1940 as "manufacturers, buyers, sellers, importers and exporters of and dealers in corsets, brassieres, underwear and garments of all kinds" with Maurice Komjat and Lazslo Horvath as directors. They started production in College Street, Belfast before moving to a garage in Cookstown in May 1941 because of the wartime bombing.
During the war years the Daintifyt premises and production expanded. The family also actively supported many local fund-raising causes including The Tyrone Warship Week. Maurice was also on the Cookstown War Savings Committee. The family was very involved with the social life of Cookstown, including the chess and bridge clubs.
In December, 1944 Daintifyt formally opened a Social Club & Canteen in the presence of local dignitaries – bringing in a "new era in the social life of workers in provincial towns". 160 workers were employed at the time, mostly female. In March 1945, the factory was visited by Lady Montgomery (mother of General Montgomery) . She was "highly pleased" with the staff facilities. A donation of £29 7s. 6d. to the Eighth Army Comforts fund, collected by the workers, was presented to her.
In July 1945, the Mid-Ulster Mail announced a new Cookstown factory for the "manufacture for new hats and ladies’ handbags (with the renovation of old hats as a sideline)" in William Street, "employing about 60 workers to start with". This was founded by Jacob Muskat (Messrs. J. Muskat & Co.) who had been building up the industry over the previous 5 years and now needed larger premises. But in the previous week, both Mrs. Muskat and Maurice Komjat received information from Budapest that their fathers had died, and it is suspected they were Holocaust victims - over half a million Hungarian Jews were deported and murdered during the Second World War. The Mid-Ulster Mail wrote: "we are sure that the community who welcomed these strangers within our gates, who have been the victims of Nazi persecution, will sympathise with them in their double bereavement." It appears that Clara Komjat was the daughter of the Muskats and hence the appearance of both families in Cookstown. The Muskat hat business ran from 1942 to 1948 judging by ‘situation vacant’ notices in the local newspapers.
In 1946 a new Komjat factory, the Ulster Corsets Manufacturing Company was officially opened at Cookstown - employing 50 ‘girls’ initially. Mrs. C. Komjat was appointed as managing director - an unusual position for a woman in those times. She announced the provision of modern premises with "electric heating, floodlights and American machinery" and looked to expanding the company’s export market.
In June, 1947 a presentation of crystal was made to the Komjats marking their departure for a "long vacation after years of unremitting hard work". It was given in appreciation of the provision of "happy and congenial employment under healthy conditions". On their return, the Komjats said they would take up residence in Newforge Lane, Belfast.
By 1953, "450 Ulster girls were busy sewing dainty garments" made under the name of ‘English Rose’. Another factory (government-built) opened later in Limavady making a total of three factories by the mid 50’s. These employed over 1000 workers, 95% of whom were female. As well as the home markets, output was also exported to France and Switzerland. Most employees, coming direct from school or domestic service, lived within a 15-mile radius of the factories. Work was piecework and £7 per week could be earned for fast workers. Management provided tea and toast in the morning, free lunches to the under-16s and some payment of bus fares. The factory’s employment over the years was a huge boost to the economy of the area.
By 1961, the company had gone public and paying dividends to shareholders. The Investors’ Chronicle noted that "competition is keen in the corsetry trade", but Mr. Komjat envisaged further expansion and the shares were "fairly valued". In 1965, Daintifyt was taken over by Northgate English. One reason for the merger was that the Ulster factories, even though employing about 1400 workers, were unable to increase production enough to meet demand.
The Komjats meanwhile had moved to Hampstead, London - continuing their charitable and social work, and were active in Jewish and Israel-related organisations. Their daughter Eve was called to the bar in 1957. Clara died in 1963 and Maurice in 1981.
Nothing more is known of the Muskats, except for a death notice for Jacob Muskat placed in the Jewish Chronicle by Clara Komjat in 1953.
Further Reading and Links:
Mid-Ulster Local History Journal Vol. 4, "Daintifyt and Ulster Corset Manufacturing Co. Ltd", pp 19-24. https://coaghinww1.co.uk/docs/b014.pdf
Stuart Hall, near Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone
Belfast had been severely blitzed by the Luftwaffe in April and May 1941. Over 1,000 were killed and 56,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. Tens of thousands of citizens had taken to the countryside for safety, and were in urgent need of accommodation.
Businessman Nat Goorwitch strove to establish a community for up to 1,000 evacuees from Belfast, irrespective of their faith or background. He wanted this community to provide city dwellers with experience of rural life, offer vocational training, and ensure each individual and family would contribute to the needs of the community.
He may well have been inspired by the example of the Millisle refugee farm, which was being run along the lines of an Israeli kibbutz. The kibbutz was a rural community based on the principle from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Goorwitch was born in Odessa where many ideas of social reform were formulated.
The Earl of Castle Stewart provided his Ulster home, Stuart Hall (located near Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone), for the new scheme. Nat Goorwitch secured the support of the local gentry, Unionist and Nationalist MPs, and the Northern Ireland government.
Goorwitch was the proprietor of a chain of stores across Northern Ireland which had revolutionised the sale of women’s fashion on the Ulster high street. He was a man of vision, determination and organising ability.
By August 1941, 200 evacuees were living at Stuart Hall, which now included about 50 Nissen huts in the grounds. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and other dignitaries came to inspect the new settlement. Nat Goorwitch set about providing additional living accommodation and the necessary facilities. There was to be a school on site, a sick bay with a matron, and a shop in the former stables. He insisted on using only local labour and wanted to integrate the scheme into the local community. He initiated plans for vocational training in horticulture and garment making.
There was no settlement for evacuees quite like it anywhere else in the UK. However, the scheme was destined to fail. Some local opinion - including notably Viscount Charlemont - turned against Nat Goorwitch. There were allegations of mismanagement and that he was using the scheme for his own advancement. There was also delay from Government in releasing grants which prevented the vocational training from developing as quickly as planned.
Viscount Charlemont, as chair of the board of supporters of the Stewartstown scheme, felt sidelined by Goorwitch's management style. Having resigned, he campaigned behind the scenes to have Goorwitch reined in. Charlemont wrote in April 1941:
"… I think it’s strange that the Government should have given such extraordinary powers to a – well, to a non-Aryan; in view of feeling about such persons themselves and also the natural idea that Ulster people are best fitted for Ulster positions..."
Charlemont had perhaps forgotten that the Earl of Castle Stewart, on whose land the settlement was built, was married to a "non-Aryan", Eleanor May, daughter of Solomon Guggenheim. Also that a former Countess of Charlemont had converted to Judaism.
The number of residents at the Stewartstown scheme never came close to the thousand aimed for, and the settlement proved not to be self-sustaining. The scheme of Nat Goorwitch got caught between the urgent need for short-term housing in response to the blitz and the longer-term vision of its founder which was never fully realised.
This story is based on the excellent articles about the Stewartstown scheme in The Bell. The journal of the Stewartstown & District Local History Society, No. 14, by Pat Castle Stewart and Aidan Fee. The articles are illustrated by photographs provided by members of the Goorwitch family.
For more pictures, see https://niarchive.org/owner/dungannon-and-south-tyrone-borough-community-archi/
Valley Hotel, Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone
Jan Pick lost his textile business in Czechoslovakia after the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland in March 1938. He fled to England with his Hungarian wife Elizabeth (née Nirenstein) and two-year old son Ernst Hubert. Here he joined the Free Czech 312 RAF Squadron which was formed in 1940 and was made an officer. Flight Lieutenant Jan Pick served as a photographer. After the war he found that most of his relatives had perished in the Holocaust.
Knowing some textile contacts in N. Ireland, he went there to investigate possible business opportunities. He had a look at Enniskillen. Returning to Belfast the bus stopped unexpectedly in Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone, and he had to stay overnight in the Valley hotel. The owner offered him a loft at the back of the hotel to start a business. Jan Pick liked the look of the area – so took up the offer! They started out with two sewing machines.
The company was registered in Feb. 1947 and began by knitting woollen jumpers, then later linen and silk handkerchiefs and headscarves. By the 1950s the business had relocated to a factory in Clabby Road, and around 40 women were employed in sewing, as well as outworkers in the community who folded and packed the handkerchiefs etc for piece-rates. In May 1964 the Belfast Telegraph reported a visit of Prime Minister Terence O’Neill to the factory.
On a company document, the name of Zdenek Joseph Sochor is noted with an allocation of 1 share. He was another Jewish Czech refugee who had a textile factory in Czechoslovakia and started a textile print company called Belfast Silk and Rayon in Waterford Street, West Belfast. This was likely Jan's initial contact to come to N. Ireland.
In 1957, Elizabeth helped as a volunteer interpreter with the re-settlement of about 600 Hungarian refugees who arrived by boat in Belfast at the end of January - with an official welcoming by Lady Brookeborough, wife of the PM and President of the NI Hungarian Relief Committee.
Jan was made a vice-president of the Fivemiletown British Legion branch. The Picks were very much involved with the local community and are remembered fondly by ex-employees as being sociable and fair, although exacting at times!
Jan died on holiday in 1974. Elizabeth died in 1991. Jan and Elizabeth appear to have had no formal connections with the Jewish community in Belfast. They are buried in St John's Churchyard in Fivemiletown. The company was sold in the early 1980's and taken on by the then company manager, Desmond Orr. The factory was still in operation until 1999.
Thanks to : Anne Lawson (USA) for photographs and information, and to Jack Johnston (The Ulster Local History Trust), Margaret McNulty and Desmond Orr for information.
St James Church, Moy, Co. Tyrone
A convert to Judaism, the Countess of Charlemont (1834-1882) is buried in the small graveyard attached to the Anglican Church of St James at Moy, Co. Tyrone, close to her family home at Roxborough Castle. Many years later the grave of a small baby was placed beside the Countess’s grave, the tiny headstone etched with a Star of David.
Lady Charlemont was born in Co. Meath, the daughter of Lord Athlumney. In 1856 she married James Molyneux Caulfeild, the third Earl of Charlemont. They had a daughter in 1866, who sadly died the day she was born.
When in London, Lady Charlemont worshipped at the fashionable Bayswater and Central synagogues. When at home at Roxborough Castle she travelled 40 miles to attend services at the Great Victoria Street synagogue in Belfast. Her first Hebrew teacher was the minister to the Belfast Jewish community, Rev. Dr. Joseph Chotzner.
Lady Charlemont was involved in many charitable works around Moy. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia: "She was an excellent linguist, a good musician, and possessed a remarkable gift for recitation, which she utilized on behalf of charitable institutions."
She took great pleasure in the company of Jewish people and according to the Jewish Chronicle was “more fervid in her practice of the Jewish rites than the most devout members of the Jewish race themselves.” Sir Moses Montefiore, the lay leader of British Jewry, was a friend and mentor of Lady Charlemont.
The Countess died in 1882, aged 47. According to some press reports, the Jewish observances at her funeral caused “general astonishment” to the local gentry who attended.
Intriguingly, immediately beside Lady Charlemont’s grave is a tiny plot, the gravestone of which has a Star of David etched onto it. But until recently, no one knew for sure the nature of the Jewish connection.
The grave belongs to Frances Margaret Jacobs ( who died 16th December 1942). Research by church member, Lila Jackson, and genealogist, Sid Katzen, has shown that the deceased was a baby, born in Belfast in September 1942 to Solomon Sydney Jacobs and Agnes Jacobs. Agnes was from Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, and her maiden name was Sinnamon. At the time of the baby’s death the family lived near Benburb.
In Orthodox Jewish tradition, Jewish identity is taken from the maternal line. Agnes Sinnamon was not Jewish, and her baby was buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard.
However, the Star of David on the grave suggests Solomon and Agnes (or whoever installed the headstone) wanted to honour the baby’s Jewish heritage. And perhaps someone knowing the tragic story of the Countess of Charlemont, whose only child died at birth, arranged for the Jacobs baby to be placed next to the Jewish Countess.
Research so far has failed to identify any descendants of Solomon and Agnes Jacobs. However, the former Rector of the church, Aonghus Mayes, observed small stones on occasions placed with care on the headstone – this signifies that someone familiar with Jewish customs has visited the grave and placed the stones in the traditional Jewish mark of respect.
Soprano Susan Nelson has recorded a number of compositions by the Countess of Charlemont. Here Susan sings Alas!
The Jewish Encyclopedia entry on the Countess of Charlemont is available on line and can be read here
Jewish Chronicle 2 June 1882.
Thank you to Lila Jackson and Sid Katzen for their help in researching this article.
It would be fair to say that prior to compiling this map it is unlikely any person alive was aware that a Jewish community ever existed in Armagh, a city famous for being the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. But buried away in the archives of the Jewish Chronicle are the details of a tiny congregation which barely survived a year.
A notice appeared in the Jewish Chronicle, 26 April, 1895 as follows:
A CONGREGATION AT ARMAGH.
"A MINYAN for regular Jewish Service was started at Armagh, Ireland on March 5th, 1895. A general meeting was held on Sunday, April 7th, 1895 for the purpose of electing Officers and making other arrangements".
The notice goes on to reveal that Mr. Samuel J. Parks was elected President; Mr. Abraham Glickman Treasurer; and Mr. Bernard Glick Secretary. The committee comprised Messrs Bernard White; Hosea Parks and Isaac and Henry Glick. Special thanks were accorded to Mr A Glickman "for his valuable services."
However, the Jewish Chronicle in London disapproved of the new congregation and others like it. The newspaper's editorial on 2nd August, 1895 remarked:
"what is especially surprising is that such large numbers of immigrants are settling in the Sister Isle, and in addition to joining the congregations long established in Dublin, Belfast and Cork are forming small colonies; in the towns of Limerick, Armagh, Londonderry, Dundalk and Waterford. We must confess that we cannot view without some misgiving the settlement of the foreign immigrant in towns such as these, which unfortunately, cannot be described as prosperous. We think that our Boards of Guardians, both here and in the provinces, should strongly dissuade their applicants from proceeding to any of these towns".
Despite such disapproval, Jewish services were held in Armagh in the following year. The Jewish Chronicle 9 October, 1896 reported:
"Many Jews from a distance made Armagh their temporary home during the recent festivals in order to attend public worship. The services were read by Mr. Samuel J. Parks and Mr. Abraham Glickman."
No further record has been found of a Jewish congregation at Armagh. By the early 1900s there were more Jews living in Lurgan, about 16 miles away, and they soon formed their own small congregation.
The 1911 census records that Abraham Glickman was by then living in Dublin. Born in Russia in about 1871, and married to Sarah, his eldest children: Molly, Phillip and Laurence were born in Armagh city in the 1890s. His next two children were born in Dundalk - where there was also a tiny community at around the same time - and the family had moved to Dublin by 1903.
The obituary to Abraham Glickman (Jewish Chronicle 26 June, 1942) reads as follows:
"THE REV. ABRAHAM GLICKMAN (Manchester), aged 71, was a Shochet [slaughterer] in Dublin for twenty years, and a Shochet under the Manchester Shechita Board for twenty-one years, and was a former President of the Agudas Hashochtim [association of Kosher slaughterers], Manchester. He conducted Shiurim [religious classes] at the New, South Broughton, and other Synagogues, and was respected for his piety and Talmudical knowledge. He leaves a widow, four daughters, and four sons, one of whom is the Rev. L. Glickman, [First Reader] of the Holy Law Congregation."
By the time of his death, Rev. Glickman's early years in Armagh and in Dundalk had been forgotten. His son, Rev. Laurence Glickman MA, who was born in Armagh in about 1896, was a noted Hebrew scholar, cantor and headmaster at the Holy Law synagogue, an important congregation then situated in Redbank, Manchester.
Portadown, Co. Armagh
Mordechai’s son, Kasriel and his wife Carola, came a long way from Kalisz. After marriage they settled in Danzig, a port city on the Baltic sea, which at that time was a Free State (it is now Gdansk in Poland). Kasriel had a number of business interests there and also a factory in Bydgosz, a city in Poland, which produced fishing nets. He also handled his father's export trade and supplied lace products to Mayfair Manufacturing in the UK (who in turn supplied Marks & Spencer).
It was Kasriel’s foresight and energy which made emigration to Ulster possible. Hitler had come to power in Germany, threatening war and spewing hatred against Jews. Kasriel sensed time was short and was prepared to sacrifice all he had in Poland to start a new life elsewhere. A conversation in 1937 with his principal customer in Britain, Jack Posnansky, persuaded him to start a manufacturing business there. Fortunately the Northern Ireland government was on the look-out to establish new industries and Kasriel was able to interest them in his family's experience of lace manufacture.
Kasriel headed to Portadown, with his brother-in-law Jack Shanik, to re-create from scratch the family business. At the end of August 1939 the rest of the family travelled in haste by overnight train from Warsaw through Germany to Ostend, and then to Dover. On the morning they arrived in Britain they saw the newspaper headlines that Germany had invaded Poland. By the time war was declared on the 3rd September, Carola and sons Richard and George, had joined Kasriel and Jack in Portadown.
George Bloch recalled: “Unknowingly, we were on the last transcontinental train from Warsaw through Berlin to Belgium. I can clearly remember the journey. A sleepy frontier post on the Polish side. Once in Germany mile after mile of railway trucks with troops and armoured vehicles.”
Kasriel’s new business, Ulster Laces, was incorporated in November 1939. During the war it made uniform badges for the armed services. Later the firm’s largest customer was Marks & Spencer. At its height the firm employed nearly 750 workers at three different sites - a new factory on the Loughgall Road was opened in 1954 and later extended so that all the production could be concentrated there. Changing demand and fashion caused the gradual phasing out of lace, and embroidery production followed the installation of the most modern knitwear plant. Ulster Laces designed in-house and produced over a million cardigans a year.
The people of Portadown took the Bloch family to their hearts. They had escaped from Poland with next to nothing. According to one Portadown resident who came across Richard and George Bloch at Portadown college, they exuded “Old world European charm, stoicism, generosity and interest in others.”
Ulster Laces was forced to close in 1984 in the face of foreign competition – to the great regret of the Bloch family, the workers and the whole town. “The Ulster Laces now lies silent and bleak” wrote D. Errol McCrory, in his poem “A sentimental walk” (1995).
Here are some memories posted on the Portadown “Back In The Day” Facebook Page:
“Loved the Ulster Laces. Made so many friends there. Very sad day when it closed.”
“Loved working there - good times, best stitching factory going.”
“Mother worked there sporadically & my aunts too when it was on Thomas [street].”
The biographer and historian, Michael Bloch, son of the late Richard and Ruth Bloch, was educated at Portadown College and St John's College, Cambridge.
The last word goes to George Bloch: [as a child in Europe in the 1930s] “I experienced more antisemitism in one week than in the many years that I have lived in Northern Ireland.”
An oral history interview with George Bloch, conducted on behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2018, provides much detail on the family in Europe before the war and can be viewed here
North Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh
Lurgan is a market town about 18 miles south west of Belfast, near the southern shore of Lough Neagh.
From at least 1916, 49 North Street, Lurgan, served as the “minyan rooms” of the Lurgan Hebrew congregation. A minyan is the quorum of ten adult men required for communal worship. A minyan room is therefore a Jewish prayer room – a little too small to be called a synagogue.
The first known services in Lurgan were held as early as 1903 at the private home of Joseph and Sarah Hammel in William Street. Worshippers came from Newry, Banbridge and Enniskillen to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and to fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. According to the 1901 census, about 40 Jews were living in Lurgan. Except for one family, all lived in adjoining North, Ulster and William streets. The 1911 census shows over 70 Jewish residents.
The dominant figure in the Lurgan Hebrew congregation was Joseph Herbert who arrived before 1891. He came from Tukum, Latvia. Joseph set up shop at 16-18 North Street selling furniture and household goods. The family traded there for over a century. Joseph Herbert was a Poor Law Guardian and in 1913 he topped the poll in municipal elections.
In 1904 the members of the community formed a society to buy a precious Sepher Torah – the scroll of the law, which contains the first five books of the Bible. Hand written in Hebrew on special parchment, a portion from the Sepher Torah was read each Sabbath at the minyan rooms. The congregation employed its own ministers – including the quaintly named Rev. Salem Turtledove. A resident, Louis Rosenberg (d. 1938), acted as honorary chazan, or cantor, for many years.
Levin Road in Lurgan is said to have been named after Robert Levin, who in 1901 was a 20 year old draper boarding with two other Jewish men in the town. He became well known as a trade union organiser for the Lurgan weavers and is remembered for his work to alleviate poverty.
The Lurgan Hebrew congregation folded in 1926, shortly after the death of Joseph Herbert. Lurgan by then had two Sefer Torahs which were presented to the Belfast synagogue. During the Second World War Jewish services were once again held in the town, by evacuees from Belfast. In 1941 the military authorities let them use a hall in Lurgan to conduct their services.
The Herberts traded on North Street over three generations, Joseph – who came to Lurgan from Latvia in the 1880s, his son Abraham (Abe) and then grandson Alan. The shop closed when Alan retired in 1999.
“Who remembers the Herbert’s shop?" Lurgan people on Facebook were asked recently – here are some responses:
“I loved Herbert’s shop growing up.”
“It was a pleasure to go into Alan’s shop. He was a true gentleman.”
“Alan was brilliant, great fun.”
“Got loads of furniture off them, paid weekly, a brilliant shop.”
Do you want to know more about the Lurgan Hebrew congregation?
See the Lurgan Hebrew congregation page on the JCR UK website compiled by David Shulman and Steven Jaffe here
Local historian Jim McCorry has written an excellent article about the congregation in the Craigavon History Society Review (2010/11).
Stanley Shapiro, who ran a shop in Lurgan called Robinsons (R Robinson & Son), wrote movingly about the community. His article in the Belfast Jewish Record (April, 1961) has been digitised by Queen's University Library, Special Collections.
Union Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh
In 1960s Lurgan, Linda Fullerton accompanied her father to Church on a Sunday. They passed a shop on Union Street, the door of which was half open for trade. They are Jews – her father explained – they have their Sabbath on a different day. Linda’s curiosity was aroused.
Many years later Linda attended a cultural event at Belfast synagogue. Two elderly men in front of her proclaimed in loud mid-Ulster accents they hadn’t heard a word of the performance but it must have been very good. Linda asked: “Would one of you by any chance be Elliot Mathews?”
From the conversations and friendship that followed, Linda wrote the book, More than a Suitcase of Memories. This gives a priceless insight into the life of a Jewish family in an Ulster market town around the Second World War.
Linda takes the story back to eastern Europe. Some time in the 1880s, the family was forced out of their shtetl – or village –in Lithuania, and moved to the nearby town of Zhager. Zhager was overcrowded with displaced Jews and making a living there was hard. The Jews were penned in by restrictions and discrimination, and by the fear of deadly pogroms which were breaking out elsewhere in the Czarist empire.
Isaac Mathews – the name originally was probably Matthaus – escaped Russia aged 20. He headed west as far as he could go, ending up in Co. Armagh in 1890. Isaac settled first as a lodger at Gusman Clark’s (possibly a relative). In 1896 he established his own business as a credit draper. By 1901 he was living at William Street. He eventually got married, to Gertrude Morris from Belfast in 1917, and raised a family of four boys and two girls, all Lurgan born and reared.
Lurgan synagogue had long closed and the Matthews family visited Belfast for festival services. Some of the boys stayed with their grandmother in Belfast so that they could receive a Jewish education and be prepared for their Bar Mitzvah ceremony on their 13th birthday.
The Matthews were members of the Tribe of Levi. This was a designation that they and their ancestors had proudly maintained for well over twenty centuries, from Biblical Judea to Lurgan, Co. Armagh.
First Isaac hawked goods door-to-door on foot – carrying his wares in a pair of battered suitcases across the town and surrounding villages like Moira five miles away. The family eventually set up a small shop in the front room of their home in Union Street, where local people remembered being served by Benny and sister Ray. Many years later Sammy acquired his first car which made travel for business a lot easier, and enabled the family to sell bigger and heavier items, like rolls of carpet, oil cloth and window blinds. The motor car also enabled the Matthews boys to live in Belfast on getting married, while retaining the business in and around Lurgan. Their father Isaac had died at the home on Union Street in 1955.
The business was principally in credit drapery and house furnishings – but the Matthews were required by their customers to be jacks of all trades. They had the good-natured patter to be successful salesmen. The youngest Elliot set off on his own career path, trained at the Optical factory in Lurgan and got his first job at the Sirocco works in Belfast.
The Matthews were loved for their down to earth common sense, hard work, and a deadpan sense of humour. They were born raconteurs, loved music and took great joy in their yiddishkeit – their Jewish faith and culture.
When in 2018 the Facebook page Old Lurgan Characters asked who remembered Benny Matthews, almost 100 responded - all positively. Here is one comment:
“My Mum’s was his last stop. On Saturday nite/ early hours of Sunday… he had a sandwich and a wee beer with my parents…sometimes a sing song…for absolute years he done that…left us kids sweets…so I was always first up Sunday morning! A true gentleman.”
The book, More than a suitcase of Memories, was published by Linda Fullerton in 2013. Sammy, Elliot and Sammy's son, Alan Matthews featured in a BBC True North Programme, The Last Minyan – A Belfast Jewish Story (2014).
Benny Matthews wrote humorous stories which were published in the Belfast Jewish Record, including: "I'm a man of many talents but no shochet [slaughterer]*."
"Far away from troubles and strife in the townland of the Birches amongst the apple and plum trees, there stood a small cottage with a roof of straw and the aroma of turf burning on the fire. Contented and relaxed dwelt old age pensioners Sarah Ann and husband Willie.
I called every fortnight and received either a dozen eggs or a stone of potatoes freshly dug. There was no electricity, no running water and a television was never heard of. A double burner oil lamp provided light and the turf fire was their only means to provide heat or to cook their meals. They had no education and I often had to read their correspondence and fill in their forms and voting papers.
It was during Chanuka and a week before Christmas, I will never forget the duty they asked me to do. There were two large roosters one in each basket crowing loudly. "I am waiting for you, I want you to ring those roosters necks, one is for my Christmas dinner and the other is a gift for you," said Sarah Ann. I told her "you might as well ask me to wring your neck, I think I would make a better job of it". She insisted, "Take the one in the basket and ask a neighbour to kill it". I must have spent an hour explaining the kosher doctrine. In the end I accepted a dozen eggs and we wished each other a happy festival".
*A shochet is a slaughterer. In Jewish law only a highly trained shochet is permitted to kill animals for kosher food.
Newry, Co. Down
A tiny item in the London Jewish Chronicle, on 6 March 1903, records that Lill Saether’s great grandfather, Abraham Freeman, originally from Russia, but then of Mill Street, Newry, had naturalised as a British citizen.
Lill doesn't know for sure why her family arrived in Newry. They were East European Jews who like millions of others were escaping persecution and seeking a better life. For most the goal was New York rather than Newry.
There was a tiny cluster of Jewish families in the town - but not enough to form a synagogue. Leonard Abrahamson, a pupil at the Abbey Christian Brothers school, was a brilliant Gaelic scholar and future president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.
"My family were also well received in Newry" Lill says. "My great grandparents, Abraham and Rhoda, were living at Cecil Street at the turn of the century - Abraham was a tailor, general dealer and commercial traveller. My grandmother, Florrie, was married at 30 Mill Street, one of her sisters got married at Newry Town Hall. Her youngest brother was born in Newry and qualified as a doctor.”
Lill's grandmother began married life with her husband Joseph at 7 Kilmorey Terrace and was rearing three young children when in 1911 the family moved to Norway. Joseph, opened a shop in Trondheim, where two more children were born. The business failed - "Newry is better than Norway", the family complained, and by the early 1930s they had moved to the capital, Oslo.
In April 1940 Germany invaded Norway and occupied it for the rest of the war. The Nazis brought with them their hatred of the Jews. Even though the Norwegian Jewish community numbered only two thousand, they were targeted for persecution.
Oppression in Norway started with executions of trade union leaders and those accused of resistance, as well as legal restrictions and random attacks against the Jews. The persecution of Norway's Jews intensified when the pro-Nazi collaborator and leader of the Norwegian Nazi party, Vidkun Quisling, became premier in February 1942.
Jews were issued special identity cards, they were made to fill in four-page forms detailing all their property and business interests, and the authorities demanded membership lists of all Jewish associations.
In October a group of fleeing Jews were challenged by border police on a train. They had neither identity cards nor permission to travel. The non-Jewish guide, who was to take them across the border to Sweden, panicked and shot one of the policemen dead. Both he and the fleeing Jews were arrested and killed.
The Nazi-controlled press spewed out hatred against the entire Jewish community and called for revenge. On 26 October the Norwegian police and SS came to arrest all Jewish men across the country and seize Jewish property on an unprecedented scale.
Lill says "This was an enormous bureaucratic exercise. In the state archives I've seen the lists drawn up by civil servants of arrested Jews, Jews yet to be arrested, Jews in hospitals etc. There is also a list of my own family's possessions - down to individual items of my grandparent's furniture."
What the family could save from the confiscations they gave to their gentile lodger - a shipyard worker, who took away jewellery, family photographs and documents. Every item was returned after the war.
When the police and Gestapo arrived in the flat to arrest the males none were present. Lill's grandfather, Joseph, was in hospital recovering from an operation. Her uncle, Harry Isidor - a musician – was working in another town. The police warned that unless their son gave himself up to the authorities immediately the whole family would suffer.
"The next morning Harry Isidor came to the family home to say goodbye to his mother, looking so sad," Lill says. "He also came to the shop where his sister Elsie - my mother - was working and to the hospital where his father was admitted, to say goodbye”. Later that day Harry Isidor gave himself up at the police barracks.
Prior to the 26th November the news leaked that the Nazis were going to round up the entire Jewish community that day, including women and children. While often described as a "German round up" Lill points out the action required widespread collaboration - Oslo's police, the State Police and the Norwegian Ministry of Justice participated in it. But many also risked their lives to try and warn Jews.
That morning the police and Gestapo returned to the family flat. All four women - Lill's grandmother and her three daughters - were at home. But Lill's mother protested. "We are British citizens", she said, "you have no right to arrest us."
Lill had learnt that citizens of certain nations would not be taken away immediately until the Nazi authorities had worked out what to do with them.
The police ordered the daughters to prove their citizenship. They produced the passports issued to them years before in Newry, following Abraham's naturalisation. But the youngest daughter, Esther, who had been born in Norway, had no British passport . She was arrested and taken away.
The photographs of the Jews at the quay can't convey the violence and fear as they were forced onto the deportation ship, the Donau. Esther and Harry Isidor - Lill's uncle and aunt - were on board that ship. It took the Donau four days to reach the Polish port of Stettin, in rough seas and in terrible conditions.
On arrival the Jews were brutally forced onto the waiting trains - each wagon, designed for cattle, was crammed full with people, without seats or even enough space to sit on the floor.
Nearly 28 hours later, without food or water, the trains arrived at Auschwitz.
Within hours of arrival on December 1st, Esther was gassed, with all the other women and children in the transport. Harry Isidor, with the other men, underwent a selection procedure. Those deemed unfit for hard labour would be killed. As a disabled man who could not disguise his limp, he too was murdered on the 1st December.
Of 773 Jews who were deported from Norway, only 38 men survived the war. Altogether six million Jews were murdered, about one and a half million of them were children.
Back in Norway Lill's grandfather, Joseph, was hiding in the hospital. The doctors and nurses saved Jewish patients. They induced fevers and even rendered some unconscious so that the Nazis would not take them away. Lill has discovered the various dates the Germans arrived at the hospital to arrest her grandfather.
On 8 December, Lill's mother arrived at the hospital. Her best friend was in the Norwegian resistance and she also had contacts at the hospital. A nurse with a torch led her through a back entrance and up some stairs. She entered the ward through a side door. She collected her grandfather and another Jewish patient. They crossed the hospital grounds and passed through a hole in the fence where a car was waiting to take them away.
A group of Norwegians, including an ex police officer, had organised an escape route for Jews and others in danger. Every evening two lorries left Oslo carrying 20 fugitives, hiding under sacks and packaging. Police and guards were everywhere but somehow the escape operation worked for two months.
The leader of the escape operation was present on every trip. He spoke fluent German, knew the backroads to the border region, and managed to evade checkpoints and patrols or talk his way out of the situation if they were stopped.
After a four-hour journey, in the bitter cold, they walked the last 500m through a forest clearing and across an unfenced stretch of the border. Swedish border police welcomed them with hot drinks, food and warm clothes. From there they were transported to different parts of Sweden where they were safe for the rest of the war.
Lill feels it extremely important to share her family's story. She frequently visits Ireland on holiday. She is drawn to the scenery and the people. But the country means much more to her. Because of the family's time in Newry her grandparents and mother were saved from the Holocaust. Otherwise she wouldn't be here today.
Adapted from an interview with Lill Saether by Steven Jaffe, published in the Irish News, 20 January 2021.
To watch a presentation by Lill Saether to the Killeeshil & Clonaneese Historical Society click here
Kilkeel, Co. Down
Edith Sekules, born Edith Mendel in 1916, made the most of her youth in Vienna. While she had little money, she was happy to skip meals to be able to buy tickets for concerts and the theatre. But in 1938, when she was 22, Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany. Edith discovered even people she knew well were declaring Nazi sympathies.
As a result of anti-Jewish race laws, Edith lost her job at the Hotel Bristol – one of Vienna’s top hotels, where she had worked for six years. They sent her home with a note: “Dismissed - reason: Jewish.”
Edith was married to Kurt, a radio engineer, and was seven months pregnant. They fled from Vienna – leaving behind her father who didn’t survive the war. They arrived in Talinn, Estonia, an independent country which didn’t require a visa to enter.
In 1940 Estonia was invaded by the Soviet Union. As German passport holders, Edith, Kurt and their two young children found themselves treated as enemy aliens by the Soviet authorities.
They were arrested and imprisoned. They were then transported hundreds of miles eastwards on cattle trucks across the Soviet Union, spending time in notorious prison camps in Siberia. Edith recalled the unbearable heat and thirst of these journeys during summer. But worse still was the intense cold of the Siberian winter.
The family ended up in Kazakhstan in Central Asia where they would remain for over five years. They were kept at labour camps surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers and under snow until April. Many prisoners did not survive the harsh conditions.
In May 1945 Edith greeted the news that the war had ended with jubilation and prepared to return to Vienna. But they were held in forced labour in Kazakhstan for another two years.
Kurt began to correspond with family members who immediately before the war had escaped Vienna for a place called Londonderry. Kurt’s father had secured visas under a government scheme to encourage new industries in Northern Ireland. They part-owned an artificial flower and feather manufacturing business. In 1948 Kurt, Edith and family secured a visa to join them.
By January 1950 the family had moved to Kilkeel in the opposite corner of Northern Ireland, where Edith set up a knitting factory. At a time when women entrepreneurs were far from the norm, Edith soon employed 16 full-time staff. The Kilkeel Knitting Mills made its own label knitwear and commissioned Arran handknits. The firm supplied prestigious stores around the world.
Given her remarkable story, it is not surprising to learn that Edith’s four children were born in Vienna, Estonia, Kazakhstan and Northern Ireland respectively – she called them her “little United Nations.”
Edith once said: “The camps weren’t pleasant, certainly, but looking back now I can see that by keeping us captive, the Russians actually saved our lives. They kept us away from the Nazis. Often in life from the darkest night comes the brightest dawn.”
Edith died in Kilkeel in 2008, aged 91.
Do you want to know more? Edith told her story in her book Surviving the Nazis, Exile and Siberia (2002). Her son Walter recalls his childhood in a Soviet concentration camp here:
Market Street, Downpatrick, Co. Down
Shrigley, Co. Down
The model industrial village of Shrigley lies less than a mile from Killyleagh, near the shore of Strangford Lough. The village was established in the 19th century by the Martin family, with well-designed houses, a school and plenty of recreational facilities. The mill produced cotton, then linen, and grew to become one of the largest flax spinners in the world. The demise of Irish linen in the 20th century was a catastrophe. The mill shut in 1930 which left the villagers without jobs and dependent on meagre state handouts and on charity. In the Hungry Thirties the Shrigley villagers protested at Stormont. “This way to hunger land,” was an improvised sign placed at the village entrance in 1933.
The Utitz brothers, Alfred and Jacob, came from a family with 144 years of experience in tanning leather. Their factory in Czechoslovakia was placed under pressure to increase exports and the brothers were on the lookout to open an operation overseas to assist this. They were pointed to two depressed regions in the UK, the North East of England and Northern Ireland. They were taken to see the abandoned five storey mill in Shrigley, but it was much too large for what they intended.
Then Hitler intervened. Nazi Germany annexed the Sudetenland in 1938 and invaded the Czech lands in 1939. As they were Jews the factory was taken away from the Utitz family. The urgent priority for Alfred and Jacob was to get loved ones out of the country. Their plans changed radically, and by November 1939 the old spinning mill at Shrigley was adapted and began tanning leather. The United Chrome Tanners (UCT) was born, taking on initially 90 workers.
“The villagers not only had to be taught an entirely new kind of work; they had to be taught to work at all…years of total unemployment had bred total despair.” (the Guardian newspaper, 1956)
The sheepskin and cattle hides processed at Shrigley were used to make leather shoes, fancy bags and clothing. As well as giving much-needed work to local people, the Utitz brothers endeavoured to help fellow Jews escape Nazi persecution by securing work permits for them. Nicholas Vermes, a tannery worker from Hungary, owed his life to receiving a letter from Killyleagh, Co. Down in 1940, which offered him a job at Shrigley. After a dangerous six day trek across Nazi-occupied Europe, Nicholas arrived in Belfast to “the fresh breath of freedom.”
Other refugees connected with the business included Walter Weineger from Austria, who opened the Marybag factory in Belfast which finished the handbags. The first managing director of UCT was a Mr. Horenovsky.
In the late 1960s the tannery was employing over 400 people.
“And out from Killyleagh goes suede to all the leading makers of shoes on the Rome-Paris-London fashion axis…” (the Guardian).
A crowning achievement of the firm was winning the Queen’s Award for Exports in 1966 – the first Northern Ireland company to do so. In 1973 Erik Utitz OBE, son of Alfred and managing director of the firm, was elected President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. His brother Gerhard worked outside Northern Ireland in charge of sales.
But in the 1970s the increase cost of the raw materials, competition and changes in fashion took their toll. In 1972 the factory closed its doors despite only a year or two earlier planning for expansion. Chris Hagan attributes UCT’s demise in part to the Troubles. Poliitcal instability and violence dented foreign confidence in doing business in Northern Ireland and led some banks to withdraw credit facilities. A new tannery under international ownership opened a new chapter in the history of the village.
Thanks to the work of Chris Hagan and others the remarkable contribution made by the Utitz family and fellow refugees to the people of Shrigley will not be forgotten.
Here are two Shrigley men speaking:
Hugh Cochrane: “The opening of the tannery was a gift to the people of Shrigley, for in the years between the closure of the mill and the opening of the tannery there was little work other than on the farms.”
George Watson: the Utitz tannery: “was a God-send to the people. Eventually there were six bus loads coming from Downpatrick alone [to work in the factory].”
For more information see Farewell to Dear Old Shrigley by Chris Hagan. Thanks to Chris for generous permission to quote from his book.
Saintfield, Co. Down
In July 1944 thousands of Gibraltarians were brought to 17 emergency camps across Northern Ireland. They had been evacuated from the Rock because of fear of invasion. A large number living in London were dispatched across the Irish Sea for safety after the capital came under intense bombardment by V1 rockets.
About 300 of the evacuees were Jews. Camp 4, at Saintfield, was known as the Jewish camp. Saintfield is a village about 15 miles south of Belfast.
These Gibraltarian Jews were Sephardi – the name given to those who trace their descent from the Jewish communities that thrived in Spain and Portugal during the Middle Ages, but were expelled in 1492.
The Sephardi Jews spoke their own language, Ladino, which is a mix of old Spanish and Hebrew. Their Mediterranean cuisine and culture was very different from the Ashkenazi Jews of Belfast – who came from Eastern Europe and spoke Yiddish (a mix of Hebrew, German and Slav languages).
The Rev. Benzimra was the spiritual leader of the Jewish evacuees from Gibraltar, and became close friends with Rabbi Shachter of Belfast. Younger evacuees remember visits to the Belfast Jewish Institute, and played football with the locals.
The evacuees at Saintfield organised dances, film nights and even formed their own band, and mixed well with local people. But this was no holiday. As people from the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, they feared the damp and cold of an Irish winter. The accommodation in the camp was very basic, consisting of Nissan huts, no electricity and an unreliable source of piped water. The evacuees were denied the right to work and were not entitled to claim the dole.
The evacuees protested they wanted to return to Gibraltar once the threat of invasion was over – but the authorities were in no hurry to repatriate them. In 1946 a number of Jewish evacuees were still living at Saintfield – they travelled to Comber with other Gibraltarians to see a visiting Princess Elizabeth. One of their number, Yvonne Abudharam, presented the future Queen with a bouquet of flowers.
Rachel Beniso recalls: “The Northern Irish people were warm and friendly, but the weather nearly killed us!”
Do you want to know more about the Saintfield camp ? Local historian Gordon McCoy delivered a presentation for History Hub Ulster in 2020, which has been posted here:
The story of the wider evacuation of Gibraltarians across Northern Ireland is told by Scott Edgar on the Wartime NI site
Millisle, Co. Down
On board the plane from Prague were over 100 children, squatting patiently and silently on the floor. The flight by all accounts was noisy, bumpy and cold, but the children were used to much worse conditions. On their way to Northern Ireland in February 1946 were some of the few surviving orphans of Auschwitz concentration camp.
The pilot, Denzil Jacobs, recalled the reception which greeted them at Belfast airport.
The local Jewish community had received advance warning about the flight. A fine tea was laid out on a table, and a somewhat embarrassed crew, together with the children, were embraced as conquering heroes.
The children well deserved the accolade. Against the odds they had survived the unspeakable evil of Nazi genocide. Hitler's Holocaust had consumed six million Jews, and well over 1.5 million of the dead were children.
The child survivors often owed their escape to looking older and tougher than their years. At selections for extermination only the fittest were consigned to slave labour, the rest (including the elderly, young and infirm) were gassed. Most of the slave labourers were themselves worked to death, alongside gypsies, prisoners of war and others, and many succumbed to disease or starvation.
One of the children brought to Northern Ireland was Victor Greenberg, a 16-year-old veteran of Auschwitz. From Nutts Corner, Victor and the rest of the children were whisked off to the refugee farm at Millisle, Co. Down.
Victor recalled his first meal in Northern Ireland. Bread was brought to the table and one of the boys asked how much they were allowed to eat. The unbelievable response was "as much as you want." The children spirited away the bread to hide under their bedclothes. "Who knows when we will be able to eat again," they reckoned.
The local people of Millisle were by then well used to having refugees in their midst. What was known locally as Gorman's farm, located just to the south of the village, had been a haven to German, Austrian and Czech Jews since 1939. Seventy acres of land had been leased to leaders of the Belfast Jewish community (including Barney Hurwitz, Leo Scop and Maurice Solomon). The farm – one of several in the UK – was established by teenage members of the religious Zionist Bachad movement to prepare them for a career in agriculture in a future state of Israel. Taught by local instructors, including Robert Muckle, the teenagers from Berlin, Prague and Vienna brought the land back into cultivation, built new farm buildings, dormitory accommodation and workshops, and laid drains. They established horticulture and reared chickens.
After the Belfast blitz the children of the kindertransport, who were living at a hostel on Cliftonpark Avenue in north Belfast, were brought to Millisle for safety. Many attended Millisle Primary school and schools in Bangor or Newtownards. They were active in the local Air Training Corps and Scouts. The farm was also home to many other refugees, including the Kohner family from Czechoslovakia who administered the farm, Eugen Patriasz from Hungary, a qualified agriculturalist, and Adolf Mundheim, a civil engineer from Hanover, who oversaw the building project. Another refugee, Erwin Jakobi, was responsible for the welfare of the children at the farm. While the farm became more self sufficient, it still required subsidy and support by the Jewish communities of Belfast and Dublin.
The farm provided refuge for around 300 adults and children and at any given time up to 80 people lived there. According to a Belfast Telegraph news report, in 1940 the farm had two Clydesdale horses, seven cows, 2,000 chickens and included 16 acres of vegetables and dairy farming. In addition to agriculture, there were workshops for shoe and brick making.
Victor Greenberg remembered the daily regime at Millisle after his arrival in 1946. The day started with religious worship in the farm's synagogue and the morning was taken up with English lessons. In the afternoon the children played sports and games, and the sturdier were expected to do their share of market gardening. The fresh food (much of it grown on the farm) and exercise "helped to develop our bodies, which we desperately needed." No doubt the bracing fresh air rolling off the Irish Sea also helped.
The highlight for the children was being let loose in the bright lights of Donaghadee. The local cinema proprietor allowed the refugees cut price admission, and pocket money was squandered in the amusement arcades. Greenberg never forgot the day he was taken to Belfast to choose the pattern for a Burton's suit.
For some of the children the trauma of losing parents and siblings, and of the unspeakable brutality that they had witnessed, hit harder in later life. But incredibly many of the Millisle children went on to live useful and well-adjusted lives. Wilem Frischmann was on the flight from Prague. He qualified as a structural engineer, and was instrumental in the construction of some of London's best known landmark buildings (for which he was awarded the CBE).
Most of the Northern Ireland contingent of child survivors had grown up in very religious homes in Eastern Europe. It was decided to move them on to the larger Jewish communities in Manchester and London. There they could receive a religious upbringing more in line with what they would have received at home, had Hitler not intervened.
But their first taste of freedom in Ulster was never forgotten. In the early 1980s the late MP, Harold McCusker, ventured into a New York jewellery shop to buy a present for his wife.
He was taken aback when the shopkeeper crossed the counter to greet him: "You are from Northern Ireland!" he exclaimed in a heavy continental accent, "tell me is Donaghadee lighthouse still as beautiful as ever?" Alex Friedman, jeweller, of 47th Street, had also passed through Millisle.
This story is adapted from an article by Steven Jaffe published in the Belfast Telegraph.
To find out more:
The inspiring story of the orphans who were brought to the United Kingdom in 1946 (including those who came to Northern Ireland) is told by Sir Martin Gilbert in his book The Boys, Triumph over Adversity (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).
The BBC drama The Windemere Children tells the story of child survivors who were brought to the Lake District. Some of the filming was at Millisle.
Rachel Levy was on the flight from Prague to Northern Ireland in 1946. In a presentation by Scott Edgar of the Linen Hall library, Rachel speaks about her family's experiences in the Holocaust. Rachel came to Millisle aged 15, having spent over a year in Auschwitz and Belsen. She described her time in Millisle as like a dream.
In 2018 Rachel returned to Millisle: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1778088035556410
More on the Millisle Farm:
An interview about the farm with Steven Jaffe on NVTV: https://www.nvtv.co.uk/shows/in-focus-steven-jaffe/
Interview with Ruth Kohner (Aug, 2018) about the Millisle Farm: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn694077
History Ireland Magazine: https://www.historyireland.com/millisle-county-down-haven-from-nazi-terror/
(Imperial War Museum) Edith Jacobowitz and the Millisle Refugee Farm: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/edith-jacobowitz-and-millisle-refugee-farm
A Kinder Place, a Different World - a video made by the children of Millisle Primary school :
Walter Kammerling, one of the kindertransport, speaks with Dr Katy Radford MBE:
Excellent resources about the farm can be found on the websites of Down County Museum, Millisle Primary school and Wartime Northern Ireland.
The children’s novel, Faraway Home, was published by Marilyn Taylor in 1999 combines fact and fiction to tell the story of the child refugees in Northern Ireland.
A documentary film and website about Alex Friedman, one of the orphans brought to Millisle after the war, made by his son Robert, is called More Precious Than Pearls. The film website is http://moreprecious.weebly.com/ and can be watched here .
A life journey: - Benno Zell's story from persecution in Vienna to kibbutz pioneer in Israel. Benno found refuge at the Millisle farm.
While the farm is in private hands, a Holocaust memorial garden can be visited at Millisle Primary school. The garden is known as Safe Haven.
Tudor Hall, Holywood, Co. Down
Martin Jaffe was the eldest son of Frederike and Daniel Joseph Jaffe, the founders of the Belfast Hebrew congregation.
In August 1864 Martin (aged 25) married in London Kate, daughter of Sampson Samuel, Secretary to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Martin brought Kate to his home at Tudor Hall, Holywood, overlooking Belfast Lough. His parents lived nearby at Craigdarragh House in Craigavad.
It is surely no coincidence that it was at Tudor Hall a month or so after the wedding that the first recorded Jewish religious service took place in what is today Northern Ireland. Kate had been brought up in an observant Jewish home at the centre of the British Jewish community.
Jewish Chronicle, 14 October 1864:
THE HOLIDAYS—A correspondent writes:
I take the opportunity of stating that Divine service was performed this year for the first time at Belfast, Ireland - Mr. Martin Jaffe having allowed his co-religionists to assemble at his country seat at Holywood.
Who attended the service? We know that a number of Jews (some with families) had settled locally by this time. Jacob Mautner, who also lived in Holywood, was described as one of the most zealous members of the community, his house was sufficiently kosher to enable the Chief Rabbi to stay there when he visited Belfast. Isaac Julius Weinberg had grown up in a strictly Orthodox home in north Germany but had abandoned Jewish practice on his journey to Belfast in 1851. Herman Boas was a future president of the congregation. Two other Jewish residents were George Betzold and Moritz Portheim. All had come to Ulster from Germany and were connected to various Linen export businesses.
The first religious service was reported to be "under the auspices of the Rev. Dr. Alder." Rev. Adler was the Chief Rabbi in London and had conducted the marriage service for Martin and Kate. It is known the Jaffe family had a Sepher Torah (scroll of the law) which had been acquired in Copenhagen and was said to be many centuries old.
Despite this early report of religious activity, the Belfast Hebrew Congregation was not properly established until around 1869. The first purpose-built synagogue was opened in 1871.
Martin and Kate moved to Brandon Towers in Sydenham, and the couple were to have eight children. The family left Ulster for London by 1872, and they were among the founders of the New West End synagogue in Bayswater, west London. Jaffe Road in Hong Kong is named after their third son, Daniel (born in London), an engineer who built the city's dam and reservoir. Another son, the Ulster-born Dr Charles Sampson Jaffe, was a well-known doctor in London.
Amalie Croft, Marine Parade, Holywood Co. Down
THE ETHICAL WILL OF JAMES JACOB MAUTNER
BY HERB MAUTNER
My Great-Grandfather, James Jacob Mautner, born in Dessau, Germany, in 1823 and his wife, the former Rosalie Herz, born in Jessnitz Germany in 1839, brought eight children into the world... Most of them were born in Holywood, [Co. Down].
On April 9th 1869, after the birth of their last child, James Jacob Mautner sat down in Belfast and wrote a very moving "ethical will" about his beliefs. This four-page document was written in German, except for one sentence in English, and a Blessing for his family in Hebrew, was addressed to his oldest, Max, who was ten years old at the time. It was not to be opened until after James Jacob's death, but not before Max's 14th birthday, and copies were to be given by Max to all his brothers and sisters.
The following is a translation of Jacob's ethical will:
DATED APRIL 9TH, 1869, BELFAST
TO MY SON MAX!
Whenever this letter will be delivered to you, my son, you my dear boy, and my other dear children, will be fatherless orphans. May the Almighty Father in his wisdom decide to look after you and your brothers and sisters, who are all very close to my heart, for a very long time. Especially your Mother, so she would be able to look after all of you with her Motherly love. Amen.
My eyes are filled with tears at this moment while I'm writing this and I'm imagining placing my hands on the heads of my dear remaining children, G-d's blessing be upon you.
Hold on to your Jewish religion and even where there are circumstances under which you might not be able to fulfill one of the commandments or another, according to the laws, it should by no means enter your mind to leave your G-d revered religion. Do not waver or yield until the time when I can be reunited with my children in the great beyond.
Honour, respect and love your mother who was always a good, loyal and honest wife throughout our lifetime. Show her always that you are good, loyal and loving children, which she deserves, and ease her life in the sad days of widowhood until the Almighty Father above has united us once again.
Brothers and sisters should always stick by one another as if you were welded together. No matter in what circumstances in life one may find the other, help each other with advice and action, as genuine brothers and sisters should. I believe that this is the best memorial for your father, who has passed on.
To you, my dear boys, I would like to call your attention as to what course to follow later on in your lifetime. Choose your career with great care regarding your future and continue to follow it until you reach your goal. Do not be afraid whatever difficulties should arise, for you to get there. Only in the case that the chosen field was a mistake, either due to reason of health or locality etc, etc. or would not be profitable, then every effort should be made as quickly as possible to follow in anew direction with the utmost speed, and with extra enthusiasm and hard work, you must catch up on lost time. Choose your special road and stick to that. [this sentence is written in English]
To you my dear girls, I would like to suggest that you follow the caution and understanding of your good and loyal mother. She will raise you into religious, modest and proper housewives and she has the necessary knowledge to prepare you to fit into respectable society. Religion, modesty, unpretentiousness and purity is the mark of a maiden.
Do not close your heart to the poor with each according to their ability. Abhor lies and admire truthfulness. Disregard sacrifices which will be asked of you to carry this out. But the truth makes you a decent human being. Always practice honesty and sincerity towards other people. Never display conceit and arrogance towards anyone else, whoever it might be.
You, my dear son, Max, will get this letter handed to you and as my firstborn, assume the responsibility to see to it that my herein enclosed wishes will be carried out, if possible. I sincerely hope that my wife, your dear mother, realizes how much importance I attach to this.
Above all, help her with the upbringing of your minor brothers and sisters. See to it that there always is harmony at home. You, my son, see to it that you and the rest of your brothers and sisters behave as good, loyal children towards your mother, and thereupon receive the blessings of the Lord.
(THEN FOLLOWS THE AARONIC BLESSING, (Numbers 6:23–27) WHICH IS WRITTEN IN HEBREW
BELFAST, APRIL 9, 1869
Your Loving Father
Source: The Mautner family from Nachod / Bohemia 1786 - 1997. A genealogical survey by Herb Mautner, which is available on line.
What do we know about Jacob Mautner?
On Jacob's application for British citizenship, he declared that he was born in the town of Dessau, in Upper Saxony, in June 1825 (?). He is believed to have served as an apprentice at one of the weaving or spinning mills at Nachod in Bohemia belonging to members of the wider Mautner family.
Jacob spent a year in Dundee in 1853 and arrived in Belfast the following year - so along with Daniel Jaffe and Isaac Weinberg, he was one of the earliest Jewish settlers in what is today Northern Ireland. He became a British subject in1857, the year he married Rosalie Herz in Jessnitz, Germany (the birth place of his mother).
He first appears in the Belfast Directory in 1860, as James Mautner and Co., Linen Merchants, of 27 Victoria Street. His offices were later at 91 Abercorn Buildings. An observant Jew, he was described in a newspaper report as one of the "most zealous" members of the newly-founded Belfast Hebrew Congregation.
James Mautner prospered in the linen trade. He was the owner of a country estate, known as "Amalie Croft ", on Marine Parade in Holywood. The house consisted of 10 bedrooms, 4 reception rooms, a large dining room and nursery and also contained pantries, baths, toilets, and gas heating throughout. Outside, there were stables, a coach house, a dairy, and a well-stocked garden of fruit and flowers. The estate consisted of nearly three acres of land.
Despite their material success, Rosalie Mautner had persuaded her husband to return to Germany by 1873. They auctioned off their Holywood house and possessions. James Jacob opened a mechanized weaving mill in Nordhausen, Germany. He died there in 1899 and Rosalie died in 1911. As a result of Nazi persecution, descendants of Jacob and Rosalie today are scattered in South America, Israel, the UK and Ireland, and many places elsewhere.
Court Square, Newtownards, Co. Down
The Anschluss (March 1938), the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany, resulted in Austrian Jews desperately seeking to escape. Alfred Neumann had come to England from Vienna in 1936. He sought to facilitate the admission of Austrian refugees and soon his focus was on N. Ireland. He worked with the Belfast Jewish community to bring children to the Cliftonpark Avenue shelter, and in 1938 he established two enterprises, in Newtownards and Derry, to bring over skilled workers.
In August 1938, the dignitaries from the Ulster Development Council and the Ministry of Commerce lauded the arrival of a party of Jewish skilled key workers from Vienna, under the auspices of Neumann, who planned to set up an industry in Newtownards utilising home workers. The Jewish workers would teach local people Austrian handicraft skills of design, cutting and hand-finishing for the home-based manufacture of gloves, belts, handbags and crochet work based on leather and fabric. These would incorporate the widest use of Irish linen and Irish designs. With the aid of government grants, a training quarter in Court Square, Newtownards would provide tuition for about sixty workers at a time over 2-3 months to gain expertise.
At the reception to welcome the group of design and production managers from Vienna, Mr. Scott from the Ministry of Commerce noted that Mr. Neumann had "grit and determination" and had overcome well-nigh insurmountable difficulties. And he had "the makings of a real Ulsterman!" The workers had to be surreptitiously brought out of Austria because if the Nazis learnt the true purpose of their visit, they would not have been allowed to leave. (Northern Whig, 10 Aug 1938).
Neumann explained that he wanted to:
‘start a new handicraft industry of the type which Austria has been traditionally associated. And to help some of my own people who find their country has been changed for them. And to show that aliens and refugees can bring much good for the country that offers them a new home. Daily barbarism has made it impossible for my key workers, and thousands of others, to make a living in their country.’
He quoted from Psalm 118 : ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner headstone’ !
Trainees were to be paid 10s per week while training, and when proficient could expect to earn sixpence an hour working from home. A popular line was to be winter sports gloves with bright woollen embroidery – bold in design and not as detailed as the fine linen embroidery to which many trainees were accustomed to. Then they could progress to painted belts, crocheted string belts and collar sets. Also fans, tablemat holders, serviette rings, and hand-painted woodwork.
Later the same year, Neumann was instrumental in setting up a company in Londonderry with David Gilfillan, a local hosiery and knitwear manufacturer. With the help of government loans, the company, Gilfallan and Neumann Ltd, leased part of the former shipyards and employed several Viennese refugees as workers. In January 1939 Neumann and others also founded the Londonderry Continental Novelties Ltd making footwear, toys, novelties etc.
However the Newtownards project ran into problems in early 1939 and government funding was withdrawn. The scheme was taken up by Nathan Goorwitch becoming the Ards Handicrafts Ltd. According to an Ulster Development Council document, Goorwitch was instrumental in bringing over Zoltan Frankl and his wife Anny Lewinter from Austria to take over the scheme and late in1939 it was re-registered as Anny Lewinter Ltd. The company received various government grants and traded successfully until 1985.
Meanwhile Neumann returned to England to further the rescue of more refugees. In 1940, with the threat of an imminent invasion, there was an outbreak of ‘spy fever’ and many so-called enemy aliens, even if they had not been previously classified as a security risk, were interned in various camps throughout the UK. They included Germans, Austrians and Italians – many who had lived in England for decades. But also included were Jewish refugees who had fled the Nazi occupation. According to a BBC Fact File on WWII Civil Internment, 80% of the internees in one of the Isle of Man camps were Jewish refugees.
Thousands of these internees were to be deported – many to Canada and Australia. The ex-cruise ship Arandora Star left for Canada from Liverpool on 2 July 1940 carrying ‘German and Italian’ internees. The ship was struck by a U-boat torpedo off the north west coast of Ireland and sank within an hour - around 800 people drowned out of about 1600 on board. Throughout the month of August, bodies washed onto Scottish and Irish shores. It later transpired that many of the internees were Jewish refugees who had fled to the UK from Nazi oppression. Questions were asked in Parliament about the tragedy and the seeming cover-up about the nationality of the victims. An outcry and subsequent enquiry ensued. The outcome was a relaxation of internment rules, and most of the Jewish refugees were released from internment.
This policy relaxation came too late for Alfred Neumann who had been interned when he returned to England, and then was sent to Canada on the Arandora Star. An unbelievably tragic end to a man who had saved many Viennese Jews and set up the template for a ‘cottage industry’ infrastructure based in Newtownards.
Further Reading and Links:
“The Northern Ireland Government, the New Industries Act, and Refugees from the Third Reich, 1934−1940”, John Privilege, Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, Ulster University.
Civil Internment: 1939-1945:
The Sinking of the Arandora Star:
‘Men that came in with the sea’: the Coastwatching Service and the sinking of the Arandora Star.
Arandora Star victims: A supplement to the White Paper, 1941: (Response to Enquiry by Lord Snell)
Parliamentary Discussion: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1940/aug/06/loss-of-arandora-star
Longlands Road, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim
At the Zionist Congress held in Prague in August 1933, Franz Kohner and Edith Geduldiger met. Franz, a lawyer, had already visited the British Mandate of Palestine in 1926. They married the following year when Franz was thirty-five years old, and Edith was twenty-two. In 1936, Dinah was born and Ruth followed a year later. A son, William, was born in 1947 in N. Ireland.
In September 1938 the Munich Agreement permitted Hitler to occupy the Sudeten German territory in Czechoslovakia whereupon the family decided to escape. Within three weeks they had arrived in Northern Ireland. Their ability to speak several languages, their Jewish heritage, and Franz’s wide experience in setting up a youth recreation centre in the mountains of Bohemia, made them especially suited to the job as administrator at the Millisle Refugee Settlement Farm, and gained them the vital UK entry visa. Sadly many relations, including Franz’s mother, were unable to leave and were murdered in the Holocaust. Meanwhile Franz’s brother Rudi also escaped, later returning to Bradford where he had previously studied textile manufacturing with the expectation of taking on his father’s business in Podersdam, Bohemia.
Edith related in an interview (Belfast Telegraph: June, 1955) that in Czechoslovakia her father was in the linen trade and there she had learned dressmaking and pattern cutting. After the war she “started on one machine at home. Then I sold a diamond ring I had managed to smuggle out – and with that I was able to buy two more machines”. And so in 1946 Belart Ltd. (Nursery Goods & Children's Wear) was incorporated. First they made dolls’ dresses and soft toys in a small terrace house at 203 Donegall Street, Belfast, as they did not have the necessary coupons to purchase cloth. When the Ministry of Commerce offered them coupons they switched to quality children’s wear using fine Irish handkerchief linen and other fabrics. Franz Kohner related that he heard once from a misinformed buyer that "Belfast produced shoddy goods", so he was determined that all his labels would incorporate the name ‘Belfast’ to show how wrong that was. He received special permission from Belfast City Council to use the Seahorse from the Belfast City Coat of Arms as the company’s trademark.
As business grew, a factory was opened in Trinity Street, Belfast. By 1960 Belart was producing ranges of children’s clothing and looking at export markets. The company had “an enviable reputation for good design, finish and imaginative use of linen and other fabrics”.
New premises were opened in 1961 on Northumberland Street between the Falls and Shankill Roads.
However, in August 1969 at the outbreak of the Troubles, the Belart factory in Northumberland Street – then employing about 150 people - was burnt down by rioters. At this point Billy Kohner, aged 22, took over management of the firm due his father’s failing health. He organised the recovery, and factory relocation, and later expanded sales into new markets. Rallying round the recovery, the employees took items home to complete while others managed to work in a part of the damaged factory. Production then continued at temporary accommodation at the Adelaide Industrial Estate, Belfast and delivery deadlines were mostly met. Planning permission was soon given for a new, larger factory at Longlands Road, Newtownabbey. This was opened in 1970, complete with a canteen and social club and giving much local employment. The factory was bombed again in 1971 but managed to continue production.
So from small beginnings almost 30 years before, the factory now produced about 120,000 garments annually for children up to ten years of age – selling in the UK and exporting about 30% of its production to 19 other areas world-wide.
By this time the Kohner children, Ruth and Billy, were company directors. Ruth was already responsible for design and Billy Kohner became managing director in 1971, aged 24.
In June 1972 Dr Franz Kohner received the OBE in recognition of his work on the farm, with the forces during the War, and his services to Northern Ireland through the family business and the Belfast Rotary club. The staff at Belart presented him with a bannerette and silver salver to mark the occasion.
Franz sadly died later that same year, aged 73. Billy and Ruth Kohner continued the business after Franz’s death. Edith later retired to Newcastle and died there in 2009 aged 94. She gave many talks to adults and children about her war-time experiences and the Millisle refugee farm.
Belart continued until 2000, having expanded into several export markets, additional brands, and over twenty retail outlets in Britain. At this point the Company closed as the directors determined that both the retail market and supply markets had changed so rapidly as to make existing operations untenable.
PostScript: Dinah Kohner
Franz and Edith’s eldest daughter Dinah studied medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast graduating in 1959, with the Queen’s Gold Medal in paediatrics. She was awarded a Rotary Club scholarship to the Harvard Medical School and then worked at the Boston Children’s’ Medical Centre. She was invited to join the hospital ship SS Hope in Ecuador, and there she initiated an extensive programme of nutrition and preventative medicine where she was known as the ‘Queen of Hope’. She survived a serious plane crash, but tragically later died of her injuries in 1964.
Thanks to Billy Kohner and Ruth Kohner for helping with information.
Further Reading and Links:
‘My Father's Roses’ by Nancy Kohner (Hodder Paperbacks, 2009) tells the story of the Kohner family in Europe before and during the War.
• For more information on Dinah: http://www.newulsterbiography.co.uk/index.php/home/viewPerson/1926
• Edith Kohner's story: https://wartimeni.com/person/edith-kohner/
• Ruth Kohner Interview (Aug, 2018) about Millisle Farm: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn694077
The Manse, Crosshill, Crumlin, Co Antrim
Zdenka (Zdena) Wolf (née Gluck) was born in 1899 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire and which later became Czechoslovakia after the end of World War I. She was an aunt of Frank Kafka (see Ulster Pearls Ltd, Dunmurry). She was deported from Prague in January 1942 to the Terezin ghetto and concentration camp (north of Prague) because she was Jewish, and was liberated at the end of the war. Her husband Viktor had died earlier and is thought to be buried in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague. There is a Terezin Camp record for her.
More than 150,000 Jews were sent to Terezin, including 15,000 children, and held there for months or years. Most were sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz extermination camps, as well as to smaller camps elsewhere. Although Terezin was not an extermination camp, about 33,000 died there, mostly due to malnutrition and disease.
After the war Zdenka re-established her wholesale business distributing costume jewellery in Czechoslovakia until the Communist take-over in February 1948. She then fled and came to Northern Ireland (via France) c.1949 where she had the Kafka family connections. She obtained a visa to establish a knitwear business on the condition it gave employment to local people. She established County Wear Ltd. - a factory located in Main Street in the village of Crumlin, Co Antrim which produced socks and other woolen garments. She lived at the Manse, Crosshill, to the north of the village.
After naturalisation in 1955, Zdenka reverted to her original wholesale dress jewellery business still using the name County Wear. The new operation was located on the third floor of the Queen's Building at 10 Royal Avenue, Belfast. She also moved to Belfast about this time living at Sicily Park, Finaghy.
Zdenka Wolf retired to north London in 1976 and died 25 years later in 2001, aged 101. She lies in the Bushey Jewish Cemetery. Her name is recorded in Jewish Holocaust Survivor Names printed in the Aufbau Newletter in 1945. From September 1, 1944, through September 27, 1946, the Aufbau printed numerous lists of Jewish Holocaust survivors located in Europe, as well as some victim lists. These were prepared by many different organizations, often by Jewish relief organizations or by officials in displaced persons' camps.
Thanks to the Kafka family, Stanley Coppel and the Wiener Holocaust Library for information and photographs.
For information about Terezin, see:
Crevilly-valley, near Ballymena, Co. Antrim
Henry Nathan was born in Bromberg, Germany in 1898. He married Betty Rosenthal and they had two daughters. He was managing director of Mechanische Weberei Krüger, a company manufacturing furnishing fabrics in Reutlingen, Baden-Württemberg. The company was sympathetic to the Jewish family's situation in Nazi Germany and in 1937 transferred him with his family to their London branch where the company had showrooms and an office in Dean Street. The family settled in Hendon, north London. But with the advent of war, business with Germany was finished.
An Internment record states that he was 'exempt from registration whilst serving in H. M. Forces' although there are no further details of his war service.
In 1947, with the help of government financial aid and factory premises, Henry started his own business, Tapestry Weavers (Ulster) Ltd in Crevilly-valley (near Ballymena) for the production of carpets, upholstery and tapestry. He commented that he liked Northern Ireland, the people, and the traditional craft skills available, and also the stately trees and picturesque river of Crevilly-valley . A key craftsman was brought over from Italy, and taking advantage of the local weaving skills, production soon started with one loom and half a dozen workers in a requisitioned RAF storage unit.
Tapestry patterns were period reproductions of century-old French and Italian schools, and used woollen, linen, worsted and nylon threads as well as cotton thread from Lancashire. Some home-spun yarn made locally on old-style spinning wheels were also incorporated into fabrics. The firm concentrated on high-quality production and so had a limited output.
By 1948, the Northern Whig reported that fabrics made by the company were ‘decorating royal palaces, and furnishing palatial embassies throughout Europe, as well as ocean-going liners and stately homes’. About 80% of production was for export and local purchase tax made the cost quite prohibitive for the home market. By this time, 70 local women were employed in skilled production.
Queen Mary (the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth) visited the company’s stand at the Wool Secretariat London exhibition in 1948. She was impressed by the product quality and chose some cotton and worsted fabric for use in Marlborough House. This was delivered just in time for her 80th birthday.
In 1951 the NI Prime Minister Sir Basil Brooke visited the factory. Henry Nathan spoke of their export success and the importance of the high standard of craftmanship. A presentation of hand-sprayed cushion covers was made to the dignitaries.
Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Ballymena on Friday 3 July 1953 (coronation year) as part of the NI state visit just one month after her coronation. The visitors were greeted by cheering crowds with many people staying up overnight to get the best views. The Queen was presented with a Royal blue box containing six cushion covers with a hand-painted floral design set against a woven mushroom background made by Tapestry Weavers Ltd.
The early 1950’s saw steady company growth and a multitude of ‘situations vacant’ adverts for Jacquard weavers, tapestry weavers, winders, warpers, darners and other associated technicians – with offers of transport to/from Belfast.
But in May 1955, the factory announced its imminent closure due to ‘practical and economic reasons’ – namely, the cost of transporting raw materials in and finished goods out was too high. A merger was planned with a similar Burnley factory closer to the centre of a cotton producing area. Machinery was to be dismantled and transferred over to Burnley and about 70 workers to be laid off. Henry Nathan died in 1959.
See Wiener Holocaust Library Ref.1702/1: https://wiener.soutron.net/Portal/Default/en-GB/RecordView/Index/71135
Larne, Co. Antrim
In the 1950s there were still many English landladies who displayed that infamous welcoming sign on their boarding house doors: "No Irish, no Jews, no theatricals". For the then budding actor, Harry Towb, that sign spelt trouble. He found himself barred on all three counts.
Harry Towb (1925-2009) was born in Larne – a seaport just over 20 miles north of Belfast. His father had a small shop in the town which supplied Irish linen.
At the age of two his family moved to England, but they returned to Northern Ireland in the early 1930s. Harry Towb grew up between the Oldpark and Crumlin roads, in north Belfast.
The family's circumstances were far from comfortable, even before tragedy struck. In 1943 Towb's father died when Harry was barely 18. The teenager found himself the chief bread-winner for the family.
An education which began at Finiston PES and continued at Belfast Technical College came to an abrupt halt. Harry frankly acknowledged he struggled as a businessman. But, ironically, it was only once he began to turn things around that he decided to jack it all in, and become an actor.
Harry Towb came into the theatre as a result of one amazing week in his life. He had made a name for himself in some amateur productions when, to his immense surprise, he received three openings for professional acting all in the space of seven days. He opted for a five-week stint with a Dublin touring company. Looking back, he marvelled that his mother and sister didn't try to talk him out of it.
"I owe my acting career to the generous spirit of my mother" Towb recalled. "When I announced I was off to London to seek my fortune on the stage, my horrified mother made me swear only one thing. If I hadn't made the grade in a year, I would come back home to Belfast".
Towb, aged 21, left Ulster with £20 in his pocket and wearing an awful bottle green suit with heavily padded shoulders, which he took for metropolitan fashion.
It took him much more than a year to make the grade, but thanks to his ambition, tenacity and talent, make the grade he did. He enjoyed over 50 years of work on the stage, in films, and on the radio. By the 1950s he had made the breakthrough into television as well, which fell into his lap almost by accident.
"In about 1951 I had my first audition for a real part in a stage play. It was after this audition that the director caught sight of the back of me walking through a door.
"I was wearing my awful bottle green suit which I had bought years before in Belfast. The director called me back and said I had just the look of the person they needed to play a spiv in a new television drama".
He enjoyed guest starring roles in popular TV series like Dr Who, The Avengers, Callan, The Professionals, and The Saint.
As an Ulster Jew Harry Towb had two cultural traditions to fall back on to save himself from being typecast. He even managed to combine his Irish Jewish background by playing George Nathan, the "Jew finder in chief," in the 1991 sit-com, So You Think You've Got Troubles. In this programme, Towb, as president of the ailing Belfast Jewish community, seeks to persuade the militantly atheist Warren Mitchell, recently arrived from London, to join the local synagogue.
Towb took much pride in his award-winning short story, Cowboys, (1981) which he adapted into a television play. It’s about a Belfast-born American Jew who comes back to the city to revisit the streets where he grew up. Towb warmly evokes the innocence of his own Belfast childhood, touching on the mutual misunderstanding which he acknowledged existed between the Jews and their non Jewish neighbours. But in Cowboys he also celebrated the warm friendships which emerged across Belfast's other, less well-known, religious divide.
Harry Towb died in 2009.
Adapted from an interview with Harry Towb by Steven Jaffe, published in the Belfast Telegraph 4 July 2008
The Diamond, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim
Described as "the community's lonely outpost in Ballycastle", Mr Bands or Bendas owned a shop at the Diamond, close to the Holy Trinity Church. Every year at the end of August, Ballycastle hosts the "Lammas fare", which dates from the 17th century, and the Diamond is at the heart of it.
Mordechai (Mark) Bendas was born in Derezen, near Minsk, in Belarus in about 1879. He was the son of a rabbi. He came to Britain in 1908 and settled first in Tredegar, south Wales, and then in Cardiff. He crossed over to Northern Ireland in 1934. Scarcely giving Belfast another thought, he made his home in Ballycastle, about ten miles east of the Giant's Causeway.
His drapery shop - remembered by his grandson Edward as an Aladdin's cave - was a landmark in the town for a quarter of a century, and he was still trading there after his 80th birthday in autumn 1959.
Mr Bendas was likened to the yishuvnikes of Eastern Europe - the Jews of the rural areas of the Pale of settlement who would come to the towns and cities to worship during the main Jewish festivals. He came from Orthodox stock and passed the tradition on to his children - one daughter, Bella, married Rev. Ruben Abenson, principal minister of the prestigious Princes Road synagogue in Liverpool and another a Rev. Fertleman of London. A third was prominent in the Swansea Jewish community.
While he chose to live largely isolated from the wider Jewish world, Mr Bendas was well known and respected in Ballycastle and was a prominent member of the town's bowling club. He retired to Southport in about 1960.
City Cemetery, off the Falls Road, Belfast
Belfast’s City cemetery, opened in 1869, was intended to have different Protestant and Catholic sections. An underground wall was built to separate them. A third tiny section is the Jewish burial plot which has its own wall around it, above ground!
The Jewish community first requested a burial ground in 1870, and permission was granted by Belfast Corporation the following year. The Jewish section had a separate entrance from the Whiterock Road – which has been bricked up for many years. But still visible is a Hebrew inscription which reads Bet Ha Chayim – which can be translated as House of Life. The Jewish section had its own Tahara House, or chapel, where the body was prepared for burial and prayers were recited.
In all 295 Jews are buried here. About half that number are stillborn and young children who died under the age of 13. The small burial ground reflects a proud religious and cultural identity. But also apparent is the stark reality of class differences.
The dominant monument is the obelisk to Daniel Joseph Jaffe, who founded the Belfast Hebrew congregation and was the father of the Lord Mayor, Sir Otto Jaffe. Daniel died at his holiday villa in Nice in 1874 and his family brought his body back to Belfast for burial. The cremated remains of Daniel’s wife Frederike have also been placed here.
But many of the burials are in that part of the Jewish section known as the Jewish Poor Ground. In 1884 the cemetery authorities prohibited the erection of headstones on graves for “the poorer class of Jews” who were unable to pay for their funerals (this mirrored the by laws in the rest of the cemetery).
One of the babies buried in the Jewish Poor Ground was called Lesbia Smith. She died in 1910 aged seven weeks. In 2016 a family member, Rabbi Alex Goldberg, reflected: “She was born the daughter of persecuted migrants. She could only be buried in that section of the Jewish cemetery where the city would not allow those buried to have gravestones. It must have been very hard for her family to leave her in an unmarked grave.”
Lesbia Smith was born and died in poverty. Rabbi Goldberg believes her death was associated with poor nutrition and lack of free medical services.
In 1931 Rabbi Shachter obtained permission to erect a single monument to commemorate all those buried in the Poor Ground.
The first burial at the Jewish section was in 1873 of a stillborn child named Herschman from 57 Divis street. The last was Abraham Herbert, a well-known shop keeper from Lurgan, who died in 1964. Those buried include Jews from Dundalk, Lurgan, Armagh and Derry as well as Belfast.
The Jewish section of City Cemetery has long been the scene of vandalism – as has the cemetery as a whole. By the 1980s the Tahara house had been destroyed. In more recent times gravestones have been overturned and graves desecrated. Former Lord Mayor Tom Hartley, has been instrumental in recording the history of the Jewish section - which comprises a chapter on his book on the City Cemetery - and also in ensuring its proper maintenance and repair. Now Belfast City cemetery has attracted heritage funding it is hoped the story of its Jewish section will become better known in the local and wider community.
Would you like to know more?
Tom Hartley’s book, Written in Stone, on the history of City Cemetery includes a full chapter on the Jewish section, and lists the names of all those buried there. The chapter provides an excellent account both of the burial ground and the congregation it served.
In 2009 Stanley Coppel presented a video record of the Jewish section which can be watched here:
Burial records for the City Cemetery Jewish section can be searched on line at dof.belfastcity.gov.uk/burialsearch/ . If you can’t find who you are looking for, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland hold gravestone recordings taken by John and Patrick Holden at the Jewish section of City Cemetery in 1955. This is a valuable source for those gravestones which have since been vandalised or destroyed.
Lanark Street (today Lanark Way), Belfast
Joe Abrahams, born in 1876, was a Jewish footballer who played in the top flight both in Scotland and Ireland. One of his first senior clubs was Partick Thistle in his native Glasgow. In 1899 Abrahams made the move to Belfast and signed for Belfast Celtic.
Joe participated in Celtic's first ever title-winning season in the Irish League (1899-1900), playing 22 matches across all competitions and scoring six goals. In demand, he was selected for the Co. Antrim representative side and invited to guest for Distillery FC in a friendly against Blackburn Rovers. The following season, Joe turned out for Celtic's arch rivals, Linfield. He is known to have played at least one game for another great Belfast club, Glentoran.
When not playing football as a part-time professional, Joe worked as a shipyard labourer. According to the 1901 census, his home was at 41 Lanark Street, near the Springfield Road. He lived with his Scottish wife Fannie and their Belfast-born son, also called Joseph.
Joe’s stint in the Irish League came a decade before that of a more famous Jewish footballer, Dubliner Louis Bookman (1890-1943). Bookman, the son of a Cantor at synagogues in Cork and Dublin, played with Belfast Celtic (1910-11). He went on to star in the English First Division, but returned to Belfast to play for Glentoran (1915-16). Bookman won senior international honours for Ireland in both football and cricket.
After his two seasons in Belfast, Joe Abrahams played briefly for Ayr FC (a forerunner to Ayr United) back in Scotland. He then started a new life, first in Australia and then in America. After the tragic death of his first wife in child birth, Joe married Sarah Rosenburg. The former Irish League footballer died in 1961 and is buried at the Home of Eternity Jewish cemetery in Oakland, California.
Do you want to know more? Gerard Farrell’s excellent article about the Irish League's first Jewish footballer can be read here: A Bohemian Sporting Life Thank you to Gerard for permission to quote from his article.
A blog about Louis Bookman's career, which took in spells at Belfast Celtic and Glentoran and international honours, by Eoin O'Callaghan here
Waterford Street Belfast
In the early 20th century, Josef Sochor and his wife Paula (née Bauer) established a textile print factory in Dvur Králové, Czechoslovakia. The company quickly became a world leader in pioneering new printing technologies, and by the 1930s employed over 1500 people. Josef's son Zdenek took over management in 1924 and Josef died in 1931. Zdenek designed textile machinery and had several patents to his name. After the German occupation of Sudetenland, the company was confiscated. Of Paula and Josef ’s five sons, only two survived the Holocaust.
Zdenek was in England just before the outbreak of war. He had already received a grant from the Ministry of Commerce to establish a textile printing company in Belfast when the war broke out. He managed to obtain visas for his wife Eliska (later Elizabeth) and son Pavel b. 1933 (later Paul). He also brought over some of his key workers. The Belfast Silk and Rayon Company in Waterford Street, west Belfast (near the Royal Victoria Hospital) was established in 1939. A cousin, Alfred Landsberger, who had also escaped from Czechoslovakia and was in the textile industry, was a co-director.
Silk-screen printing was a very skilled operation and the company had soon trained about 140 local employees. It printed and produced tablecloths and tea-towels for many outlets including Lamonts, Ulster Weavers, and also indirectly to Marks & Spencer via Ewart-Liddell, a local linen textile company. The company also had an active social side and football team.
Henri Matisse, in collaboration with Zika Ascher, produced in 1948 a pair of Irish Linen hangings (Océanie - Le Ciel and Océanie - La Mer) based on wall compositions by Matisse. The Belfast Silk and Rayon Company was commissioned to formulate the dye to replicate the exact colour of the wallpaper in Matisse’s bedroom. (ref: 'Matisse and Decoration' by John Klein: Yale University Press, 2018).
Zdenek then diversified into weaving cloth – a mixture of linen and synthetics - for dress printing and established Crepe Weavers Ltd. in 1948. According to the Northern Whig (April,1948): “Factory premises at Newtownards Aerodrome, previously used by Miles Aircraft Ltd., are to be adapted for the manufacture and weaving of crepe yarns. Operations will be run by a new company, Crepe Weavers Ltd., a branch of the Belfast Silk and Rayon Co. which currently employs 300 people. One of the directors, Mr. Sochor, expects the company to have about 100 employees.” The factory was operational by the end of the year. Customers included Ulster Laces in Portadown (trimming for Ladies Underwear) and also Daintyfyt of Cookstown - companies that were also established by Jewish refugees.
He worked together with Josef Mladek and his son Milan, who had patented a new way of weaving crepes. The families knew each other through their textile businesses in Czechoslovakia. The Mladeks had suffered political persecution after the communist take-over in 1947/8 and so also then relocated to N. Ireland. Josef Mladek was became a director of Crepe Weavers and later, in 1951-52, the company was sold to him. Meanwhile the Sochors kept on with Belfast Silk & Rayon.
Around this time Zdenek’s son Paul completed a textile technology degree at QUB and joined Belfast Silk & Rayon. The company was taken over by Carrington and Dewhurst in 1966. Paul Sochor stayed on for several years as marketing director. By then, his father Zdenek had retired with Elizabeth to Montreaux, Switzerland.
In the 1970s Belfast Silk & Rayon moved to a new site at Whitehouse, Newtownabbey. Waterford Street was retained as a design office. The company at that time employed about 300 people.
Zdenek died in 1988 in Montreux, and his wife Eliska some years later. Both were cremated and their ashes are buried in Roselawn Cemetery, Belfast. Paul died in Belfast in 2021 where he was also cremated.
Jenny and Mandy Sochor for photographs and information.
Further Reading and Links:
Testimony and Textiles - Czech Republic: https://sfi.usc.edu/content/textiles-czech-republic
Linen - the story of Mladek and Sochor in Northern Ireland:
The History of Crepe Weavers, Newtownards - Interview with Milan Mladek:
Living Linen Interviews:
Royal Victoria Hospital, Falls Road Belfast
The following list of Jewish doctors from Northern Ireland is not complete - please contact us if you have any additions or corrections!
Professor Leonard Abrahamson (1896-1961), elected President of the Royal Physicians of Ireland in 1949. b. Odessa, educated at the Christian Brothers Abbey school in Newry and Trinity College Dublin. Pioneer of cardiology in Ireland. Bio here
Dr Hetty Barnett nee Hool (1921-2006), b. Dublin, practiced as a GP in Belfast. One of few female Jewish doctors of her generation. Sister of Dr N B Hool.
Dr Norman Barnett (1912- 1989), son of cantor Saul Barnett of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, qualified QUB, President of the Queen's Literific society. Practiced in Crosby, near Liverpool.
Dr Solomon (Sol) Bender (1914-2012) b. Belfast. Baltic Avenue, qualified Liverpool University. Served in the RAF Volunteer Reserve for five years. Obstetrician and gynaecologist, senior lecturer. Practiced in Chester, England. Died in Liverpool. Son of Isaac Bender, head teacher at Belfast Hebrew school.
Dr Arnold Berger, b. Bangor, Co. Down, qualified London University, practiced in Milton Keynes.
Dr David Black b.1915 Lisburn, son of Abe and Hetty Black, eye specialist, lived in Cheltenham.
Dr Steven Black b. 1944 Belfast, son of Louis and Stella Black, 734 Antrim Road. Qualified Dublin 1968, practiced in Canada.
Dr Aubrey Cahill (1950-2008) b. Belfast, QUB MB B Ch 1974, GP practiced in Cheadle, Greater Manchester.
Brothers Drs Abraham and David Clarke b. in Belfast in 1883 and 1884 respectively. Sons of Vice President of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, Gusman Clarke of Twickenham Street, Belfast (previously of Lurgan). Both practiced in England.
Dr Michael (Mick) Cohen (c.1898-1964), b. Belfast, Bedeque Street, son of Berl and Mera Cohen, educated Jaffe school. Died in Belfast.
Dr Dennis Coppel, (1935-2022), b. Belfast, educated at BRA and QUB, consultant anaesthetist, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast where he was director of the Intensive Care Unit for 15 years. International reputation in trauma treatments. He was a visiting Professor of Anaesthesia at the University of Texas and the Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem, and a Trustee of the Irish Intensive Care Society. Joint President of the Belfast Jewish community from 2008 and President from 2018.
Dr Lara Coppel, b. Belfast, Consultant anaesthetist at St Mary's Hospital, London. Daughter of Dr Dennis Coppel.
Dr George Csonka (1916-2000), b. Austria, refugee from Nazi oppression. Graduated QUB 1941 and became a house surgeon and house physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. A consultant venereologist in Cambridge, Watford and London and a renowned researcher, Dr Csonka was a world authority on Reiter's syndrome. Tribute here.
Dr Isaac Eban (1890-1981), b. Joniskis, Lithuania, grew up and qualified in Scotland. He practiced in Belfast during the First World War. He was later a distinguished radiologist in London. He became step father of Aubrey Solomon, later known as Abba Eban, Israel's Foreign minister and leading diplomat.
Dr George Edelstyn (1930-1979), b. London, son of Max and Maroussia Edelstyn (from Ukraine). The family came to Northern Ireland in 1934. Senior oncologist at Belvoir Park Hospital, Belfast, pioneer of combination cancer chemotherapy. He founded the charity Action Cancer in 1973. He was also a board member of the charity Cancer Fund for Children.
Dr David Julius Edwards (formerly Blumberg) (1914-1979), graduated MB QUB in 1937, Captain, Royal Army Medical Corps. Served with the RAF Volunteer Reserve and 14th/20th King's Hussars. He married Elsie, daughter of Barney Hurwitz, president of the Belfast Hebrew congregation. Died in Southport.
Brothers Drs Abram (1898-1954), and Morris (Moses) Elliott (b.1902), of Vicinage Park, Belfast both qualified at QUB, Abram in 1920 and Morris in 1923. Abram or Abraham was captain in the Royal Artillery and Morris a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Dr Derek Enlander, b. Belfast, in practice at Fifth Avenue, New York. Educated at BRA and QUB. Dr Enlander trained and worked at Stanford University from the 1960s. Author of Computers in Laboratory Medicine (1975) and other works. Since the 1990s a specialist and campaigner concerning chronic fatigue syndrome or ME/CFS.
Dr Estelle Faith nee Sharp (1925- 2004), b. Belfast, qualified QUB 1948. Specialised in Ophthalmology, firstly working in the Benn Hospital and then transferring to the Royal Victoria Hospital when the new Eye Hospital opened there in 1964. In retirement, counsellor for the Samaritans and Mastectomy Society. Died in Belfast. Mother of Dr Lesley Faith.
Dr Lesley Faith, b. Belfast, qualified Manchester University with distinction in psychiatry 1980, consultant psychiatrist practicing in NW England. Daughter of Dr Estelle Faith.
Dr Sonny Myer (Michael) Fisher (1916-1984) b. Belfast, Regent Street. Qualified QUB 1940. Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Husband of Dr Ida Fisher née Summ (see below). The couple practiced together in Sydenham, south London.
Dr David Fisher b. Belfast, son of Charles and Jessie Fisher. Practiced San Francisco, USA.
Dr Sarah Ida Fisher née Summ (1917-1986) b. Clones, Co Monaghan, later of Eia Street, Belfast, qualified QUB 1940. Wife of Dr Michael Fisher (above). They pioneered advanced ideas in community health care at a time when group practice and health centres were still innovations. They also commissioned a design for the conversion of a shop into the surgery, which was later illustrated in Stephen Taylor's book 'Good General Practice' (1955). Older sister of Dr Marion Fish and younger sister of Dr Julius Cecil Summ MBE (below).
Dr Eli Freeman, b. in Newry in 1894. Great uncle of Lill Saether (see From Newry to Norway - the Holocaust story of Lill Saether's family).
Dr Jack Freeman, b.1899 Belfast, qualified QUB. Son of president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, Samuel Freeman JP. Irish international hockey player. A physician who later qualified and practiced as a dentist in north London.
Dr Thomas Freeman (1919-2002), QUB 1942, founding fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, practiced at Holywell hospital, Co. Antrim. For a time the only qualified psychoanalyist in Northern Ireland, he encouraged its wider study and practice. Tribute here
Drs Isaac (1926-2005) and Joseph Gay (1918-2001) (Gaychinsky), brothers, of Butcher Street, Londonderry. Joseph was a nose and throat specialist. Joseph died in London and Isaac in Jerusalem.
Dr Raymond Stanley Goldberg (1934-2013) b. Belfast, grew up in Manchester and qualified Manchester University 1958. Lieutenant Colonel Royal Army Medical Corps. Consultant paediatrician at Darlington Memorial hospital. Dr Goldberg was president of the Darlington Hebrew congregation. Two of his uncles were GPs who qualified at QUB.
Dr Michael Goldberger, b. Belfast, qualified at QUB, Family practice in Vancouver, Canada.
Dr Maurice Goldblatt CBE (1895-1967), graduated from QUB BSc in 1915, MD in 1925. He served with Royal Irish Fusiliers. PhD University of London, 1929. Research career in industrial medicine, in particular with ICI. Dr Goldblatt was an international authority on industrial toxicology. Awarded CBE in 1957 for services to industrial medicine. Died in Florence, Italy. Brother of actor Harold Goldblatt. Obituary here
Dr Ivan Goldblatt (1927-2018), b. Belfast, qualified at QUB. Also qualified and practiced as a dentist in north Belfast. A private on call doctor for hotels in Belfast, including the Europa. Son of actor Harold Goldblatt.
Dr Leslie Goldring qualified MB QUB 1930, served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He started in general practice at Thornhill Park, and moved to 1, St John’s Wood Park, Dundonald, in 1951. He retired from the Dundonald practice in 1985.
Dr Jack Gordon (1906-1995), b. Belfast, qualified at QUB 1928, practiced in Sheffield and Wales before settling in London in 1936. During the War he served in the RAF. Dr Gordon was a GP in Hendon, NW London.
Brothers Drs Louis (1910-1980) and Bernard (Barney) (1918-1986) Gore (Gorfunkle), Fairview Street Belfast. Practiced in Sheffield and Liverpool respectively.
Dr Alex (Isaac?) Hammel (1901-1989), b. Lurgan, qualified Queen's College Belfast, practiced in Streatham, south London. He pioneered the use of medical hypnosis in child birth. Son of J. Hammel, Vice President of the Belfast Hebrew congregation.
Dr Sidney Hepworth (1915-1980), b. Belfast, Major in World War II. Practiced in Southport, Mayor of Southport 1962.
Brothers Dr Benjamin and Dr Leo Herbert, both b. Lurgan, sons of Joseph and Fanny Herbert. Dr Benjamin Herbert (b.1897) qualified at QUB 1919. Dr Leopold Herbert (b. 1900) took his first year exams in medicine at QUB in 1919 (not to be confused with his younger cousin, Capt. Leopold Herbert MC, see below).
Captain Leopold Herbert MC (1912-1943), b. Belfast, qualified at QUB 1937. Royal Army Medical Corps, killed on active service in Sicily on 27 July 1943. He was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. In 1946 the Leopold Herbert Prize was instituted at the school of medicine, QUB, by a number of Jewish fellow-graduates and friends of Captain Herbert (Jewish Chronicle, 7 June 1946).
Dr Bernard Hirson (1885-1953) b. Belfast, son of Harris and Minnie Hirson of Lincoln Avenue. Chemist's apprentice in 1901. Qualified as a doctor in Dublin. Honorary physician to the home for aged and needy Jews in Manchester; honorary doctor to Manchester yeshiva; honorary Medical Officer to the Manchester Society for the Care and Guidance of Jewish Women; and to the Sarah Laski Children's Home. Died in Manchester.
Dr Eli Hodes (1910-1993) b. Glasgow, educated at Jaffe school, Belfast, practiced in Manchester. Father of Dr Robert Michael Hodes.
Dr Frank Hodes (1902-1988), b. Belfast, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. P. Hodes, 6, Baltic Avenue, qualified at QUB 1923. Died in London.
Dr Harold Hodes (1930-2003), b. Belfast, qualified QUB, practiced in Vancouver, Canada. Died in Canada.
Dr Robert Michael Hodes, b. Belfast, brought up and educated in Manchester, qualified Manchester University, and practiced as a GP in Prestwich, Greater Manchester. Son of Dr Eli Hodes and Rose Herbert.
Dr Alex Hoffer, b. USA, graduated QUB 1964. Psychiatrist, New Rochelle, New York, d.2014.
Dr Nathan Bernard "Sonny" Hool (1924-1988), b. Dublin, qualified in Dublin, practiced as a GP in Belfast. Irish international cricketer. Hon. doctor to Glentoran FC. Brother of Dr Hetty Barnett.
Brothers Drs David and Joel Hurwitz. David was consultant anaesthetist in Belfast, Joel specialist in Geriatrics in Ontario, Canada. Nephews of Dr Louis (Lewis) Hurwitz.
Dr Jane Hurwitz, daughter of David, consultant oncologist in Belfast.
Dr Louis (Lewis) Hurwitz (1926-1971), b. Belfast, educated BRA and QUB. Consultant neurologist, Royal Victoria, Claremont Street, and Belfast City hospitals (1962–71). Youngest son of Mr. B. H. Hurwitz, OBE J.P., President of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation. Outstanding medical researcher, a collection of Selected Papers by Dr Hurwitz was published as a memorial volume in 1975. Tribute here
Dr Aaron Lawrence Hyman (1918-1991), b. Belfast, Vicinage Park, practiced in London.
Dr Adrian Hyman (1925-2021) b. Belfast, Campbell College, qualified QUB 1948. Doctor at Belfast City Hospital, Sunderland Royal Hospital and on board Blue Funnel Line. Business career as director of Lees, Hyman & Lees Ltd, household furnishers Corporation Street, Belfast, and owner of SOLAR cinemas including Comber Picture House. Returned to medical work in 1982 as Attendance Allowance Medical Assessor until retirement in 1994.
Dr Alfred Hyman (1917-1994), b. Belfast, qualified QUB. He worked in Paisley, Liverpool and on board ship in the Far East. GP in Cockfosters, North London. A founder of Cockfosters and North Southgate synagogue. National chairman of the charity Magen David Adom UK (which supports Israel's national medical emergency service).
Dr Charles Sampson Jaffe (1869-1920), b. Strandtown, Belfast, educated and practiced in London. He was the grandson of Daniel Joseph Jaffe, the founder of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation.
Dr Janet Kafka, grew up in Dunmurry, Belfast, practiced as a GP in Nottingham as Dr JC Polnay and was an associate specialist in pediatrics.
Dr Sidney Kay (c.1922-2008), Shandarragh Park, Belfast, practiced in London. Died in London
Dr Dinah Kohner (1936-64), b. Czechoslovakia, daughter of Franz and Edith Kohner, administrators of Millisle refugee farm. Head girl Richmond Lodge school Belfast, graduated QUB 1959 with the Queen's Gold Medal in pediatrics. Worked for children's health charity Hope in South America, initiating a nutritional programme. Died in Havana, Cuba, from injuries sustained in an air crash in Ecuador. Tribute here
Dr Harold Korentager (1927-2009) b. Belfast, son of Sam and Ettie Korentyre. Graduated QUB, served in the Merchant Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force. Practiced in Malton and Toronto, Canada, for over 45 years.
Dr Jonah (Joe) Lazarus (1914-2009), b. Belfast, pupil at St Mary's Christian Brothers, Barrack Street. Medical doctor at RVH. Practiced in Belfast, diabetes specialist. Died in Belfast.
Dr Israel Myer Librach (1914-1994), b. Belfast, Brookvale Drive. GP, practiced in Chadwell Heath, Essex.
Dr Rachel Leopold, b. Belfast. GP in Manchester.
Dr JN Joey Lewis (1924-2004), b. Glasgow, educated at RBAI and QUB. GP in North Belfast. Active in all aspects of the Belfast Jewish community. When he retired in 1989 he was stated to be the last Jewish GP practicing in Belfast. Tribute here
Dr Anthony Michael Myers qualified QUB MB 1941. He served as Captain in the Royal Engineers.
Dr Isadore Philip Reubin (1912-1974) b. Belfast, Lonsdale Street, graduated QUB 1937. Served with Royal Army Medical Corps in North Africa and Burma. Consultant chest physician, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.
Dr Brian H Robinson, educated Jaffe school, graduated QUB 1959. Practiced in London. Warden Ealing synagogue.
Dr Maurice Robinson qualified MB at QUB 1921. Served as Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Dr Maurice Isaac Robinson (aka Rubinstein) (1913-1990) b. Lurgan, Co Armagh, educated in Belfast, qualified MB and BSc at QUB in 1934. Major in the Royal Ulster Rifles. Practiced in London and died in London. Represented the Belfast Hebrew Congregation on the Board of Deputies of British Jews until 1975.
Dr Moses (Mosie) Rosenberg JP (1903-1962), b. Lurgan, Co. Armagh, graduate of QUB. Stated to be the first Jew to start up a medical practice in Belfast. His surgery was on the Crumlin Road. He was honorary physician of the Mater Inforium Hospital. Dr. Rosenberg was a treasurer of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation from 1956 to 1961 and a trustee of the synagogue.
Dr Montague Rosenfield (1905-1995) b. Belfast, qualified at QUB 1928. Brother of journalists Judith and Ray Rosenfield. Practiced in Birmingham.
Three brothers Dr Oswald Ross (1924-2005), practiced in Harlow, Essex; Dr Josiah (Joey) Ross and Dr Benny Ross. They were sons of Michael and Annie Ross, Avoca Street, Belfast.
Dr Harry Ruben (1896-1954) b. Dundalk, resident in Londonderry and Banbridge, Co. Down. Practiced in Catford, London.
Kurt Sachs, from Vienna, psychiatrist. A refugee from Nazism, practiced in Belfast.
Dr Janice Samuels, b. Belfast, a microbiology graduate of QUB, post-doctoral research fellow in virology at Warwick University. A former secretary of the Belfast Jewish Students' Society.
Dr Joseph Saperia, b.1923, in Bialystock, Poland, raised and educated in Belfast. GP in north London. Represented Belfast Hebrew Congregation on the Board of Deputies of British Jews until 1985.
Dr Jacob Schrager, (1914-1981) b. Ukraine, educated at yeshiva in Eastern Europe, secular education in Vienna. Qualified QUB 1944, supporting himself as a student in Belfast by teaching Hebrew. Served in the British army, demobilised 1946. Resident biochemist at RVH Belfast. Consultant pathologist in Wigan and later medical researcher and lecturer in London.
Dr Benzion Shein (1901-1966) b. Klykoliai, Lithuania, qualified as a Dr in Switzerland and later qualified at QUB MB, B.Ch 1942. Practiced briefly in Portrush, Co Antrim c. 1945/6. Zionist speaker and emissary to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa he was also an active speaker and educator while in Ireland. Later lived in London, in France and from 1949 he practiced in Muizenberg, near Cape Town, South Africa.
Dr Leonard Sherski, b. Belfast, qualified QUB 1959, GP in Belfast until early 1970s, then practiced in England. Represented Belfast Hebrew Congregation on the Board of Deputies of British Jews from 1975.
Siblings Dr Marcus Shrage (1915-1993), b. Belfast, practiced in Dublin and Dr Esther (Renee) Barnett (nee Shrage) b. Belfast 1921 practiced in Birmingham, children of Henry (Aaron) and Sophia Shrage, Lonsdale and Kinnaird Streets, Belfast.
Dr Sydney Sefton (Shaffner) (1926-2011), b. Belfast, qualified QUB 1949. Senior ship's surgeon in Merchant Navy (1949-53). GP practiced in Leeds
Dr Ben Steinberg, (1924-2018), b. Latvia, son of Cantor Josiah Steinberg of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation. Educated in Belfast, qualified QUB 1946. Consultant psychiatrist, Southampton. Tribute here
Dr Julius Cecil Summ MBE, (1912-1961) b. Clones Co Monaghan, MB Queen's University Belfast 1936. Captain RAF Volunteer Reserve, temporary Major Royal Army Medical Corps. Awarded MBE 1943 for gallant service in North Africa. Died in Midway, south Derbyshire where he practiced. Older brother of Drs Ada Fisher (above) and Marion Fish.
Dr Marcus Sundle (1929-2004), b. Belfast, qualified QUB 1953. Practiced in north west London, died in London.
Dr Karen Trew, psychologist, academic at QUB, retired 2008.
Four Jewish Queen's University medical and dental students from London were among those killed when their Vickers Viking flight from London crashed near Belfast on 5 January 1953. The four were returning to Belfast for the start of the term. They were: Leonard Rees, Naomi Brudno, Clive Mishon and Hugh Wilks.
Maroussia Zorokovich (1898-1943) was born into a wealthy, cultured, Jewish Ukrainian family which, before the revolution, owned land, a sugar factory and a vodka distillery. She was a dancer, played violin, and painted and wrote. She had a very privileged and cosmopolitan background – ‘my dentist was a Swedish lady, my music-master a Czech, the drawing-teacher a Frenchman and the ballet master of the opera a German’.
But life changed drastically for the wealthy classes with the start of the Russian revolution (1917-1923). She fled her home and found work as a dancer in a touring company entertaining soldiers in the White Army. There she met a White Russian, Mordko (Max) Edelstyn (1897-1978), and they later married. They fled Russia and made their way to London. The early history is not completely known but it is thought that Max befriended Sir James Johnston (d. 1924), a flax merchant who had been Lord Mayor of Belfast 1917-1919. Johnston offered Max a job in his company - and so Max and Maroussia probably relocated to Belfast. They later returned to London, where a son George was born in 1930. By 1935 they were back in Belfast living in the Upper Newtownards Road area.
During the period 1937-1943, Maroussia wrote, under the name Marie Delston, a series of articles in the Belfast Telegraph about the life and country she had left behind, with many comparisons between her old and new lives, and the kindness she had experienced in Ulster. She also gave lectures (many at the Belfast Museum, Stranmillis) on her life in Ukraine, on modern French literature of that time (Jules Romain , Georges Duhamel), and on dance – including exhibitions (‘Dancing through the Ages’, ‘History of Dancing’ - 1940) - and concerts of Russian folk songs. She also arranged a very successful programme for a Russian-themed concert towards Mrs. Churchill’s ‘Aid to Russia’ fund in 1942 at the Empire Theatre. She was a member of PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) – a literary society which she addressed many times- and was also the inspiration behind The Belfast Ballet Club.
This sophisticated and complex Jewish woman from Ukraine made a significant impact upon the Belfast cultural scene. But she was also highly political. She drew parallels between the Ukrainian struggle against Russia and Ireland's conflict against Britain, and later converted to Catholicism.
She died in October 1943, aged only 45, leaving behind her husband Max and her young son George, and was buried in the Catholic Milltown Cemetery on the Falls Road. In April 1944, the Ballet Club performed a tribute recital of her dance routines.
Her son George (1930-1979) was educated in Northern Ireland and became a leading oncologist, but tragically died aged 48. He founded Action Cancer in 1973 with the purpose of funding research into chemotherapy as well as providing support to patients and their families in Northern Ireland during the treatment processes. He was a consultant at Belvoir Park Hospital in south Belfast.
From 1940 Max was in the business of dealing with flax, tow and yarn waste – and later paper, scrap metal and other forms of waste. He opened premises at 16a Upper Frank Street and later in Brown Street during the war, then moved to Little York Street after the war. He died in 1978 and is buried in the Jewish cemetery at Carnmoney, beside his son George.
In 2012, Maroussia’s grandson Daniel Edelstyn released the documentary film “How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire” which recounted his journey to Eastern Europe to explore the family history. This was based on a diary of Maroussia that he discovered in a family attic. For more details of the film story see https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/oct/09/vodka-ukraine-holocaust-dan-edelstyn .
The film is available to watch on Netflix at https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81409152 .
The Belfast Telegraph newspaper articles by Maroussia, published under the name of Marie Delston, are:
• ‘Ukraine – The Ireland of Russia’ (29 Oct 1937).
• ‘Things Belfast and Kieff Have in Common’ (16 Jul 1941).
• ‘Soul of the Russian Soldier’ (15 Aug 1941).
• ‘From the steppes of the Ukraine to Ballyhackamore’ (14 Oct 1941).
• ‘The woman who made a fortune from fortunes’ (28 Nov 1941).
• ‘The woman whose soup saved her city from invasion’ (04 Dec 1941) – contains a reference to the Jewish festival of Purim and the traditional food ‘hamantaschen’.
• ‘War puts Russian borscht on the Ulster Menu’ (16 Jul 1943).
• ‘The place where horses get drowned – Konotop’ (01 Sep 1943).
Belfast Telegraph (16 April 2022): article by Dr. Maurice J. Casey (Research Fellow in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast) - “Migrant life: How A dance instructor’s ‘Ukraine is the Ireland of Russia’ remarks in the1937 Belfast Telegraph article have unsettling echoes today”.
The full article is available (with Belfast Telegraph Premium Access) at BT article.
Northumberland Street, Belfast
Northumberland Street links the Protestant and Loyalist Shankill Road with the Catholic and Republican Falls. Security barriers across the street are closed each evening.
On the Protestant Shankill side a large and detailed display pays tribute to Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson DSO (1867-1947). Patterson was the commander of the Zion Mule corps and Jewish Legion during the First World War. The display proclaims in Hebrew and English: “The future is yours, if you have the will, if you have the faith.”
Patterson has a genuine connection to west Belfast. Born in the south of Ireland probably to an Irish Catholic mother and a Protestant aristocrat father, he enlisted as a private in the British army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was also a big game hunter in East Africa and his books about his hunting exploits were best sellers of his day. Patterson’s life was not without scandal and he has been the subject of more than one Hollywood movie.
Immediately prior to the Great War he commanded the West Belfast battalion of the Ulster Volunteer Force, whose members were recruited from the Shankill district. The UVF was a paramilitary force established by Unionists in 1913 to oppose Home Rule for Ireland. Patterson was commended for his work in instilling military pride and discipline to the West Belfast battalion, composed mainly of working men – and he achieved similar results with the raw recruits in the Jewish units he came to command in the Great War.
Patterson led the Zion Mule Corps which served with distinction at Gallipoli in 1915, maintaining vital supply lines to the front. Later he commanded the Jewish Legion (composed of five battalions of Jewish volunteers) which fought against the Ottoman Turks towards the end of the war, at Megiddo and near Jerusalem. These are reckoned to be the first all Jewish fighting forces to take the field of battle in almost 2,000 years, since the defeat of the Bar Kochba rebellion by the Romans. Patterson remained a champion of the Zionist cause for the rest of his life.
A Zionist leader, Ze'ev Jabotinski, who served in the Jewish Legion said of Lt. Colonel Patterson: “never in Jewish history has there been in our midst a Christian friend of his understanding and devotion.”
Two Belfast Jews to serve in the Jewish Legion were Dan Levey (who opened Levey's shop on the Antrim Road) and Isaac Bloomberg.
Over three thousand miles to the east of Belfast, in Israel itself, the remains of Lieutenant Colonel Patterson now lie alongside the men of the Jewish Legion he commanded. In 2014 his ashes were brought from the USA to the veteran's cemetery at moshav Avihayil, near Netanya. The remains of his Belfast-born wife, Frances Helena Gray, were also brought to Avihayil. A nearby museum tells the story of the Jewish Legion and includes a talking hologram of Lieutenant Colonel Patterson.
The then Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the ceremony of Patterson's reinternment at Avihayil. The Prime Minister's brother, Jonathan, was named after John Henry Patterson.
Suffolk House, Dunmurry, south Belfast
Otto Karl Herrmann was born in 1900 in Germany near to the Czech border. He worked with his wife Gertrude (1903–1970) in Jablonec nad Nisou, which was a small town in Austro-Hungarian Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. It was an important centre for the glass and artificial jewellery business. In October 1938, the town, part of the Sudetenland, was occupied by the German Reich after the Munich Agreement. The Herrmanns escaped to London in 1939 before the war, settling in Mill Hill and started a wholesale jewellery business, Pompadour Products Ltd., in February 1941. They later changed their name to Harriman.
In 1945 the Herrmanns leased a wing of Suffolk House in Dunmurry, Co. Antrim, where they established a small factory, Ulster Pearls Ltd., to manufacture artificial pearls for necklaces, bracelets, earrings and glass beads. This was started without financial assistance from the NI government.
In 1947, both branches of the business had the distinction of making the pearls used on the Queen's wedding dress. According to the Northern Whig (21 November 1947), about 30,000 pearls were used in the embroideries on the dresses of Princess Elizabeth and her bridesmaids. Ulster Pearls made the glass bases for the pearls, and the actual pearls were manufactured by the sister firm, Pompadour Products, in London. (Fish scale pearls were made by inserting wax into a glass bead and coating it with fish scale iridescence and varnish).
The Foreign Commerce Weekly in November, 1948 reported that ‘the firm exported 20,000 dozen pearls annually’.
According to an interview with Mr Herrmann (Northern Whig, Jan 1949) the business had grown considerably and now exported to Europe, Australia and India. Raw materials were imported from the USA but the chief problem was obtaining an adequate supply of quality fish scales caused by limitation of the dollar allocations for purchases. He remarked that “we are more expensive than the principal manufacturers in France and Spain because we make a better grade.”
Otto Herrmann died in 1950, passing the business onto his wife. Gertrude continued as the company designer, travelling widely to research international fashion and styles. In 1953 the British Industries Fair listed the entry for Pompadour Products as ‘Manufacturers of High-Grade Imitation Pearls and Pearl Costume Jewellery’.
After the death of Gertrude in 1970, Frantisek (Frank) Kafka, who had been the works manager in Ulster, took over both companies. He was also a Czech refugee and a cousin of Gertrude Harriman. Frank had come to pre-war England to study engineering and when war broke out he joined the Free Czech Army. He took part in the liberation of Europe and later found out his parents had been killed in the Holocaust. After the war he joined Pompadour Products where he met his wife-to-be, Dinah Barnet, who was working as a secretary for the Herrmanns. They married in 1948 and later relocated to N. Ireland to mange Ulster Pearls, living in a bungalow built in the grounds of Suffolk House.
By 1957 Ulster Pearls Ltd. employed 160 workers (mainly female) and occupied 10,000 sq. feet of space in a part of Suffolk House which was allowed to retain its Georgian features. Although part of Suffolk House was demolished in 1975 to make way for road improvements, the remaining building continued as the pearl factory to 1983. But production finished after a fire-bombing incident. Eventually, the remainder of Suffolk House was demolished and the site is now a housing development, although much of the grounds still remain as part of the Colin Glen Park.
In 1972, Frank and his family returned to London and he continued to manage Pompadour Products until his retirement in 1990. Frank (b.1922) died in 2004 and Dinah in 2011.
Malone Road, Belfast
Zoltan Frankl (1894-1961) was born in Hungary and served in a German Hussar regiment during the Great War. He was awarded the Iron Cross. In 1924 he married Anny Lewinter (1908-1999) in Vienna. The couple developed a large factory producing knitwear. However as Jews they were forced to flee Austria in 1938 after Nazi Germany annexed the country.
Having reached London the couple planned for a future in Australia. But through the efforts of the Northern Ireland government the Lewinter-Frankl’s were persuaded to visit Northern Ireland to investigate the possibility of opening a factory there. Anny Lewinter Ltd was established in Newtownards, specialising in machine-knitted haute couture garments for export, and later also knitted sportswear. The factory started in a former cinema before moving in 1945 to a purpose built factory in Church Street.
Shortly after taking up residence in Northern Ireland, Zoltan Frankl began collecting paintings by local artists. According to the Dictionary of Ulster Biography: “As a patron Zoltan played a significant role in supporting a group of artists who have come to define Irish art in the mid 20th century.” He was Northern Ireland’s only significant private patron of fine art during the 1940s and 50s.
The artists he supported included Colin Middleton, Markey Robinson and Jack Yates and later, Basil Blackshaw and TP Flanagan.
Zoltan’s role as patron of fine arts in Northern Ireland was impressive in its scale. In 1958 the Belfast Museum staged an exhibition of the highlights of his collection. The catalogue ran to 248 items. The couple displayed many examples of their art collection along the corridors, and in the canteen and offices at their Newtownards factory.
Estranged from his Jewish origins, Zoltan became a Presbyterian shortly before he died in 1961. The name Lewinter is commemorated in Newtownards by LeWinters, a dining and entertainment venue at the Strangford Arms. 93 Malone Road, Belfast is the home where Zoltan and Anny loved to entertain artists, literary figures and other friends.
"Zoltan Frankl is very much remembered and appreciated by the arts community. He kept the arts scene in Northern Ireland going through very lean times." Patrick Devlin, Ulster History Circle, on the unveiling of the Blue Plaque in 2013.
Queens University Belfast
Philip Hobsbaum held a lecturing post at Queen’s University Belfast for only a few years in the 1960s. But during that time (1962-66) he encouraged and mentored a new generation of Northern Irish writers and poets.
He organised a weekly discussion group, which became known as the Belfast Group. He invited a number of emerging writers to join it, including John Bond, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Joan Newmann, Derek Mahon, Stewart Parker and Bernard MacLaverty. Later Paul Muldoon, a student at Queen's in 1969, was close to the Belfast Group.
For Seamus Heaney membership of the Belfast Group “was an important step." By attending meetings and sharing his poems Heaney "experienced the responses of sharp poetic minds.” (David Fawbert OBE).
"What began as a verse speaking group quickly evolved into a forum for participants to read their own poems, novels or short stories, and freely critique those of others."
The Belfast Group has been described as "at the centre of the poetry renaissance in Northern Ireland in the 1960s".
Born in East London in 1932, Philip Hobsbaum was raised in Bradford, where on his first day at school he was punched in the face and asked: “Who killed Christ?” While secular in his outlook, he maintained a deep pride in his Jewish identity, and contributed articles and letters to the Jewish Chronicle. After Belfast, Hobsbaum lectured at Glasgow University where he became professor in 1985. Professor Hobsbaum died in Glasgow in 2005.
A reading by Seamus Heaney of his poem Blackberry Picking, which the poet dedicated to Philip Hobsbaum:
For more information, including interviews with its members, see ‘The Belfast Group: A Symposium’ in The Honest Ulsterman, No 53 (November/December 1976). This article is available for consultation at Queen's University Library Special Collections which also holds a collection of manuscripts donated by Philip Hobsbaum about the Belfast Group.
Crescent Arts Centre, 2-4 University Road, Belfast
Helena Katz was born in Trutnov, Czechoslovakia in 1916 and she studied in Prague with the dancer and choreographer Milca Mayerová. She obtained her diploma in 1938, and married Pavel Herrmann in the same year. In March 1939, the Germans invaded Prague and life quickly became worse for the Jews as deportations started. Pavel and Helena were sent to the Terezin ghetto and deported to Auschwitz in 1944. They were later separated and Pavel died or was murdered in the spring of 1945 in an unknown location on an evacuation death march from Schwarzheide Concentration Camp.
Helena was sent to Stutthof Concentration camp near the Baltic Sea.
There took place one of those bizarre occurrences when the Nazis combined high culture with their brutal killing. On New Year’s eve 1944 Helena was forced to dance for her captors and fellow prisoners. Wracked by starvation, disease, extreme cold and the rigours of slave labour, she was a week or so from death when the the camp commandant became aware of her pre-war career as a dancer. Helen was forced to dance in front of the commandant and audition – quite literally – for her life. A cold blooded psychopath, whom Helen had witnessed shooting prisoners, the commandant ordered her to be put on special rations and nursed back to health – so that she could dance in a series of Christmas shows. She was to perform in front of SS Guards and half-starved prisoners – all in the shadow of a nearby gas chamber and incinerator. Once the shows were over, Helena was returned to slave labour. In the last days of the war she survived the infamous death marches across Europe due to individual acts of kindness of both German and Russian soldiers and finally returned to Prague.
In June 1947 in Prague she married Harry Lewis (b. Leon Harry Lewy, 1909). He was an old friend from Prague who had escaped to Belfast just before the start of the war to work in the linen industry. They reconnected after he spotted her name on a Red Cross survivors' list. She returned to Belfast with him and became Helen Lewis. She described Belfast as “that faraway city in foreign lands.” It was there that she found a new life away from the horrors of Hitler’s Third Reich and the encroaching Communism in her native Czechoslovakia. For generations of Belfast dance students, when Helen rolled up her sleeves to demonstrate a new routine they saw a number crudely tattooed on her arm. Many must have known what it signalled, but their teacher did not open a conversation on the subject and few felt it proper to ask.
She created the first modern dance work in Northern Ireland for the Belfast Ballet Club in 1956, founded the Belfast Modern Dance Group and choreographed their first performance in 1962. She worked at the Lyric and other theatres, and choreographed and directed many performances over the years. She worked several times with the artist Alice Berger Hammerschlag. Alice was also a Jewish refugee who had fled Austria and who designed several stage sets for Helen's performances. (A memorial exhibition of Alice's work was held by the Arts Council Gallery in Belfast in 1970).
Helen understood the importance of sharing her experiences with her two sons, but it was only through friends that she was encouraged to talk to wider audiences. Whether it was at Belfast synagogue or a cultural centre on the Falls Road, you could hear the proverbial pin drop as this tiny, increasingly frail and hard of hearing woman could command an audience of several hundred with her story – told very simply, without self pity, exactly as it happened to her.
In 2001, she was was appointed MBE for her services to contemporary dance, and was also awarded honorary doctorates by Queen's University, Belfast and by Ulster University.
She died at her home in Belfast on 31 December 2009, aged 93. Harry pre-deceased her in 1991. He had managed County Down Manufacturing Ltd at 71 Linenhall Street, Belfast which made quality handkerchiefs. After it closed in 1969, he was employed at Crepe Weavers.
Helen’s experiences are written down in her book, A Time to Speak (Blackstaff Press), which has been translated into many languages and read by thousands across the world.
A blue plaque at the Crescent Arts Centre honours Helen Lewis MBE (1916-2009) Dancer, Choreographer, Writer Holocaust Survivor “who found peace and a home in Belfast”. A studio at the Centre, where she taught for many years, has been named after her.
The Linen Hall Library's tribute to Helen Lewis:
There is an in-depth interview with Helen Lewis at the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive at https://vha.usc.edu/testimony/47708 . You will need to register first.
Helen Lewis's entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography can be read here.
113 Great Victoria Street, Belfast
From the London Jewish Chronicle, 14 July 1871:
"On the morning of the 7th., the seat holders of the congregation, which was constituted scarcely two years ago in Belfast, assembled in Great Victoria Street - one of the best thoroughfares in the town - to witness the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of a new synagogue and Jewish school by their generous president, Mr D[J] Jaffe.
The synagogue, with minister's residence and schoolrooms, is being erected at the sole expense of Mr Jaffe, according to the plans of Mr NS Joseph of London....[Mr Jaffe addressed] a few appropriate words to those assembled. He referred to the harmony existing between religion and progress, and urged that it was the duty of all to take to heart instructing those less favoured by circumstances than themselves.
This is a noble and pious act on the part of Mr Jaffe. May his example be often followed in the community. "
The Great Victoria Street synagogue was on the site of what is today the Hope Apostolic church. Previously services had been held at private homes and in 1869 a small room had been fitted out as a temporary synagogue at Inkermann Terrace, off the Lisburn Road.
According to the 1871 census there were only 55 Jews living in Ulster. The synagogue capacity was about 80.
Contemporary reports state that the synagogue blended in well with neighbouring buildings. There was nothing visible outside that advertised that it was a Jewish place of worship - for example, no Star of David or Hebrew inscription. The main external feature was a large rose window and there were plaster sculptures of flowers and plants mentioned in the Bible. Years later (in 1899), Otto Jaffe confided the site at Great Victoria street was chosen after the congregation had been rebuffed by many landlords who did not want to lease their land for a synagogue - he expressed the hope that the congregation was now much better known in the city.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Chotzner and his wife Helen lived in the flat on the upper floor (which also included a Ladies Gallery). Rev. Chotzner was minister of the congregation from 1869 until 1882. During a second term, from 1893 until 1897, he introduced Bible readings in English, regular lectures also in English, and a children's service "which have brought about a change for the better in regard to the attendance on Sabbaths and festivals".
We can visit the Great Victoria street synagogue for a service in the year 1902. The “Critic at Church” visited during the Passover festival and found the services “most impressive.” The cantor, Mr Marwich (Simcha Myerowitz), "rendered the prayers excellently" and there was a “hearty participation in the singing.” However, there was no regularly trained choir and the Critic described the quality of the singing at the synagogue as “not good.” A sermon was preached in English by the minister, Rev. JE Myers. Rev. Myers contrasted the persecution of the Jewish people in Tsarist Russia with the tolerance and harmony which the Jews enjoyed in Britain.
One half of the synagogue was taken up by about 40 boys of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, all in uniform, who marched into the synagogue as on “church parade.” They had a captain and drill sergeant in Mr Schwartz, a recently returned veteran from the war in South Africa.
In 1902 the days of the Great Victoria Street synagogue were already numbered. The building was sold in 1904 to make way for a new larger synagogue at Annesley Street, off Carlisle Circus, in north Belfast, where most of the Jewish population now lived. The former synagogue became first an Independent Orange Hall and then an Apostolic Church. In 1993 the building was redeveloped. The original façade – which was to be preserved - collapsed during the work. A unique part of Belfast’s architectural and faith heritage was lost.
10 Donegall Square South, Belfast, today Ten Square Hotel
The three storey building to the rear of City Hall was constructed in 1862 as the offices and warehouse for Jaffe Brothers, linen merchants. The building has been altered many times over the years. But an intriguing feature remains from Daniel Jaffe’s original design. Between each of the ground floor windows, staring out at passers-by, are the faces of scientists, artists, poets, politicians and even one or two mythical figures.
No one knows for sure who sculpted the faces. And how was such an eclectic mix chosen? The faces range from George Washington and Sir Isaac Newton to Homer and Columbus, Michaelangelo and Shakespeare. “Stevenson” is probably the engineer Robert Stephenson. There are depictions of Flora; Minerva; and Mercury. Even the beguiling face of Peace looks out onto Belfast city centre. Only Jacquard, the French inventor of a device to spin textiles, has an obvious connection with the linen industry.
The key to the mystery is undoubtedly Daniel Joseph Jaffe himself. Like many mid Victorians, Jaffe confidently believed in the power of progress. Scientific and economic advancement, fostered by international trade, would bring prosperity, happiness and freedom. Daniel saw himself in the vanguard of promoting European science and culture as well as global trade. Decorating his premises this way was a statement of his vision of Belfast’s place in the world.
Once Belfast manufacturers had depended on overseas agents to export their wares, paying them on a commission basis. The Jaffe’s - who retained offices in Hamburg, Paris and Leipzig, had direct knowledge of the designs and products which would sell in continental markets and their family connections enabled them to export much more directly and effectively. In one selling mission to Russia alone, the firm’s salesman, Marcus Robert Mendelsohn, sold Ulster linen to the value of £100,000 (Mendelsohn had married Daniel's daughter Malvine in 1859). Otto Jaffe crossed the Atlantic on over 40 occasions to sell Irish linen across North America. He opened an office of Jaffe Brothers in New York.
In addition to exporting, Daniel was also engaged in production as a partner in Banford Bleach works at Gilford, Co. Down.
Daniel Jaffe, who died in 1874, passed the business over to his sons. As well as Otto, Alfred, Martin and John were the partners. Each followed in Daniel’s footsteps in communal and public work. But the older brothers were to leave Belfast and the youngest, Otto, was left in sole charge of Jaffe Brothers.
Today Ten Square Hotel boasts the Jaffe Penthouse, named after Sir Otto. Sir Otto Jaffe’s civic and philanthropic contribution is also remembered by a blue plaque on the outside of the building.
In this video you can watch Belfast history buff, Tom McLean, muse on the sculptured figures at Ten Square Hotel:
Belfast City Hall
Otto Jaffe was born at Altona, a suburb of Hamburg, in 1846. He was the fourth son of Daniel and Frederike Jaffe. Otto was 12 years old when he joined the rest of his family in Belfast and attended Mr Tate’s private school at Holywood. He completed his education in Switzerland. Aged about 16 or 17 he joined the family business.
As a young man, Otto crossed the Atlantic over 40 times to sell Ulster linen in North America. He opened a branch office of Jaffe Brothers in New York. Otto returned to Belfast in 1877 to join his brothers – Martin, John and Alfred, to run the business. He later assumed sole control. In 1879 he married Paula Hertz in Germany and the couple were to have two boys, Arthur and William, both Belfast born. From 1891 the family home was Kin Edar in Strandtown, East Belfast.
Otto immersed himself in Belfast's civic and commercial life. He was active in the Harbour Commissioners, Chamber of Commerce and Linen Merchants Association. He was a Liberal unionist, who opposed Home Rule for Ireland for economic reasons, and was a member of the Reform Club. He entered Belfast Corporation in 1892.He was a representative for St Anne's Ward in 1892-93, St George's Ward 1895-97 and Windsor 1897-1916 . Otto served as honorary treasurer of the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children for over 30 years and he and other family members were life governors of the Royal Victoria Hospital.
He was one of the best known figures in Belfast and was often the subject of cartoons and profiles. One local journal described him as: “shrewd, sharp witted, far-seeing and almost parsimonious in business, he is lavish in unostentatious charities.”
Not everyone approved of Otto's election as Lord Mayor in 1899. At least two Councillors argued it was unfitting for a Jew to be chief magistrate of a Christian city, or for a man speaking with a foreign accent to be Lord Mayor of Belfast. One quoted Hebrew scripture to suggest that the spirit of Ichabod ("the glory has departed") would befall the city. They warned that in any future conflict between Germany and Britain, the position of the new Lord Mayor “would be an unenviable one”.
By all accounts Otto acquitted himself well as Lord Mayor and even previous opponents spoke well of his record. The Jewish Chronicle described him as a Jew standing impartially between rival Protestant and Catholic factions - both in the Corporation chamber and on the streets. At a moment of high tension he had preserved the peace of his city "to an extent beyond the hopes of its most experienced inhabitants". He and the Lady Mayoress established a fund for soldiers serving in the Boer War. After completing a one-year term, he was knighted, then served as High Sheriff, and became Lord Mayor again in 1904-5.
Sir Otto was life president of the Jewish community. In 1904 he made the largest donation which enabled the congregation to open its new synagogue at Annesley Street, off Carlisle circus. He was a benevolent leader of the congregation. Despite class differences and a much less Orthodox religious outlook, he assisted the immigrants when they approached him for practical help - although he also complained that the cost of heating and lighting the synagogue exceeded that for his stables and servant quarters combined!
Sir Otto and Lady Jaffe paid for Jaffe School, opened on Cliftonville Road in 1907, as a memorial to Lady Jaffe's parents. The state of the art elementary school was open to Protestant, Catholic and Jewish pupils. Sir Otto served on the senate of Queen’s College and then the first senate of Queen's University. He was described by a colleague as “the bald headed, high minded Jew”. In 1907 the Jaffe Physiology laboratories at Queen's were named in his honour following a significant donation for better equipping the college. Sir Otto was also an advocate of technical education in Belfast.
But Sir Otto was also honorary consul to Germany. When war broke out in 1914 he was indeed in an unenviable position. He had long taken up British citizenship and de-naturalised as a German. In 1914 he resigned as consul and returned to the Kaiser a medal he had been awarded. But former friends and neighbours held him in suspicion. In the archives of Winston Churchill, a Belfast resident claimed that Sir Otto was seen by the docks sketching pictures of warships for use by the enemy. Members of charity boards threatened to resign unless the Jaffes were excluded from involvement. Lady Spender, invited to spend the day with Lady Jaffe, referred to her host as “so German, so Jew.” The police intercepted the family’s mail. There were rumours that Lady Jaffe had been indiscreet in some of her utterances about the war.
Their son Arthur joined the London Irish Rifles in Autumn 1914, became a Captain and fought in France. But the position of the Jaffes worsened following the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat in May 1915, which claimed 1,200 lives. Anti-German riots broke out in many British cities and it is said Sir Otto’s carriage was stoned on the streets of Belfast. Sir Otto wrote to the local papers to protest his loyalty to Britain and its allies. But the following year he felt obliged to resign from the Corporation and leave Belfast with his wife. They are thought never to have returned. In November 1918 applause broke out at a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council after a vote was taken to remove the Jaffes from the register of members.
Sir Otto died in London in 1929. Today his portrait is displayed at City Hall in a prime position at the entrance to the banqueting hall. The Jaffe fountain, erected in tribute to his father, has returned to the city centre after a long exile in a far corner of the Botanic Gardens. A blue plaque on his former business premises records his civic involvement and philanthropy and the hotel which occupies the building today, has named its most expensive rooms the Jaffe Penthouse suite. The new Portview urban visitors centre (originally the Jaffe spinning mill) today celebrates Sir Otto's entrepreneurship - and even his horticultural accomplishments. In various ways the Jaffes have symbolically returned to Belfast.
For more information, there are two articles, “Ireland’s First Jewish Lord Mayor: Sir Otto Jaffe and Edwardian Belfast’s Civic Sphere” by Gillian McIntosh, Jewish Culture and History, 2009 and “The Betrayal of Sir Otto Jaffe” by Keith Haines, Due North, the magazine of the Federation for Ulster Local studies, (2019-20).
Steven Jaffe (no relation!)
Cenotaph, Belfast City Hall
Every year the Jewish community is represented at the Remembrance service at the Cenotaph in the grounds of City Hall. For many years the Belfast branch of the Association of Jewish Ex Servicemen and Women (AJEX) held a service at Belfast synagogue - the names of the community's dead in the two wars were read out and the memorial prayer - the Kaddish - was recited.
During the First World War most Jewish families were recently-arrived immigrants and noticeably foreign. In war time foreigners often come under suspicion. Writing from Newry in 1914, Leonard Abrahamson warned that the majority of the population are "labouring under the delusion that all the Jews are German," and that as a result, "hostile manifestations against the Jews have become almost a daily occurrence". In Belfast, Aaron Shrage was interned as an enemy alien and another Austrian citizen, Mr Berber, contracted TB in an internment camp and was repatriated to Vienna. Sir Otto and Lady Jaffe felt obliged to leave Belfast in 1916 because of anti-German sentiment.
Despite hostility and suspicion the Jews were determined to prove themselves loyal citizens. In 1914 a Jewish Ladies Sewing and Knitting Guild was established and a dance in aid of the Tommy's Cigarette fund was held.
In Autumn 1914 Arthur Jaffe joined the colours, B. Berwitz the North Irish Horse and Lieutenant Freeman the Officers' Training Corps of Queen's University. Another young man, Isaac Gorfunkle, left for the front in 1915. His fellow members of the B'nai Brith lodge in Belfast held a special gathering to wish him God's speed. Three brothers from the Freeman family enlisted, Joseph and Louis in the Royal Irish Rifles and Ike in the Highland Light Infantry - the local press referred to them as three Belfast boys whose "feelings of loyalty are not lessened by the fact that while their father is British born, their mother is a Russian lady".
By January 1918, it was estimated 34 members of the congregation were serving in His Majesty's Forces. As there was no conscription in Ireland, these men served as volunteers.
Michael Isaac Freeman (referred to as Ike above) was the first Belfast Jew to be killed in the war, at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
Private B. Goldie, Royal Irish Fusiliers, was killed on 22 October 1916.
Captain Isaac Gorfunkle, Lancashire Fusiliers, was injured at Gallipoli and hospitalised in Malta in January 1916. Returning to front line duties he was killed at the Western Front in 1918, "leading his men to capture an important piece of ground," in one of the last offences during the War.
Air Gunner or Machinist Bennett Sergie, of the United States Naval Service, was born in Belfast in 1892. He was killed in a sea plane accident, 11 October 1918. His body was brought back to Belfast for burial. He was an uncle of the late actor, Harry Towb.
In addition to those who fell, other veterans remained scarred mentally and physically from their war-experiences. A member of the Berwitz family lost an eye in a mortar attack. Isaac Bloomberg and Dan Levey served in the Jewish Legion under the command of Lt Colonel JH Patterson.
The impact of the Second World War on the Jews of Northern Ireland is told in many of the stories on our Map, particularly the community's efforts to support refugees from Nazi persecution. The Holocaust decimated the Jewish heartlands in Poland, the Baltic States and western Russia, where many of the Jewish families in Belfast had come from a generation before.
For instance, the Hurwitz and Mathews families and others came from Zhagar (Zagare), today in Lithuania. On 22 August 1941, on the orders of the Šiauliai Gebietskommissar Hans Gewecke, all half-Jews and Jews in the district were to be moved to Žagarė ghetto. The Jews were allowed only to take clothing and at most 200 Reichsmark. Many Jews were shot on the spot instead of being sent to the ghetto. In a massacre committed by Einsatzgruppe A on 1-2 October 1941, the date of Yom Kippur that year, all Jews were killed at the marketplace in Zagare and buried in a near by Park.
Here we list the Jewish war dead connected with Northern Ireland who fell in the struggle against Nazism:
Private Norman (Noach) Apfelbaum, Pioneer Corps, from Manchester, died at sea in August 1940, and is buried in Belfast;
Pilot Officer Leslie Sharp (originally Shapiro), 96 Squadron RAF, b. Belfast 1917, was killed in December 1940 in a night-training accident, he is buried in Belfast;
Flight Sgt Bernard Samuels, Royal Canadian Air Force, died January 1943. From Montreal, he is buried in Belfast;
Air Bomber Jacob Domnitz served in 76 Squadron, RAF. He was shot down over Holland in June 1943. He was the son of Rev. Isaac Domnitz, minister of the Londonderry Hebrew congregation. He is buried at the general cemetery in Eindhoven;
NH (Hirsz or Pawel) Kuflik, served in the Polish 304 air squadron, RAF. He was killed in December 1943. In bad weather his plane veered off course and crashed into a mountainside in Co. Kerry. The bodies of the crew were brought to Belfast for burial;
Sgt. Pilot Albert Goldstone, RAF Bomber command 143 squadron, was killed in August 1943, shot down off the Dutch coast on his first bombing mission. His brother, JP Goldstone, RAF navigator, took part in the same bombing mission (he survived 40 bombing trips over Germany). Another brother, William (Billy) left QUB in 1943 also to join the RAF and was based in North Africa;
Captain Leopold Herbert, Royal Army Medical Corps, qualified as a doctor at Queen's University Belfast. He was killed on active service in Sicily in 1943;
Able Seaman Abraham (Abram) Taylor was lost following the sinking of HMS Charybdis in October 1943;
Aircraftman Anthony Myer Silverman (RAF) and Maurice Jacobson, civilian, were killed in the Belfast blitz of 1941.
We are grateful to History Hub Ulster researcher, Nigel Henderson, who has recorded moving presentations about the Jewish servicemen and women in the world wars and the contribution of the community on the home front. Both Nigel's presentations can be viewed here:
Some additional reading:
The name "Isador Freeman" appears on the war memorial of the Arlington baths in Glasgow. An on-line article traces the life and career of Isaac (Michael) Freeman - "a man of many names" - back to his previous life and family roots in Belfast and Newry:
The life and service of Captain Isaac Gorfunkle is explored here as part of the Masonic Great War project.
16-18 Donegall Square North, Belfast
The Linen Hall library, the oldest lending library in Belfast, has been at its current location since the 1890s. However, the building was not purpose built as a library. It first opened in 1864 as the impressive business premises of Moore and Weinberg, linen merchants.
The original proprietors of the business were Isaac Julius Weinberg and James Moore. Weinberg was born in Hamburg in 1833 and was brought up in a very Orthodox Jewish family. As a 13 year old he was apprenticed to work for Jaffe Brothers (Isaac and Daniel). In 1850 the Jaffes asked him to go to Belfast to establish an office for them there, although he was only 17.
Weinberg recalled that the Jaffe business in Belfast was initially quite small and that he grew it significantly over the next three years. He opened their first premises in Fountain Street, just round the corner from where the Linen Hall library is today.
He was then approached by a customer, James Moore, of Wellbrook, near Cookstown. Moore induced Weinberg to leave the employ of the Jaffes. The pair set up a rival firm, Moore and Weinberg, in 1855. According to Isaac Weinberg it was his departure from Jaffe Brothers that obliged Daniel to settle permanently in Belfast.
Isaac Julius Weinberg wrote a private autobiography for his family. This provides a remarkable glimpse of the life of a German Jewish businessman in mid-Victorian Belfast. Weinberg also writes about his extensive travels overseas to sell Irish linen. The firm focused on markets in South America and the Far East as well as in Europe. Weinberg undertook sales missions to Egypt, Spain, Italy and Russia, and he recalls a particularly stressful visit to the USA to recover a bad debt. He returned to Germany on many occasions both on business and to visit family. In 1864 he married his cousin Ada in Hamburg. He brought her back to his recently-acquired home on the Malone Road in Belfast.
Isaac recalls how he abandoned Orthodox Jewish practice on his journey from Germany to Belfast as a teenager in about 1851. He remarks that his brother Jacob combined his Orthodox faith with leading one of the most prominent lace businesses in Nottingham.
A bad investment in a Scottish textile company obliged Isaac to leave Belfast in about 1870 and establish himself in Dundee. There he not only turned his business fortunes around, but became a patron of the arts, a governor of University college, and President of the Dundee Chamber of Commerce.
In 1906 Isaac stepped down completely from the Belfast business. His former apprentice and long-term partner, Julius Loewenthal took control. Julius Loewenthal's home was at 3 Lennox Vale, off the Malone Road (today the family home is owned by Queen's University). Loewenthal was elected President of the Ulster Linen Merchants’ Association in 1881, and for about 30 years he was a Council member of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce. Three sons joined him in the business, including John who was to inherit 3 Lennox Vale.
While Julius Loewenthal was Jewish by birth, and hailed from the same part of northern Germany as Daniel Jaffe, he appears to have had no connection with Belfast synagogue. In 1861 he married Jane Rea McCulla, at Malone Presbyterian church. He is buried at the City Cemetery but not in the Jewish section.
However, a grand daughter of Julius, John's daughter Peggy, devoted herself to rescuing Jews from Nazi Germany before the war. She co founded the Belfast Committee for Refugees from Germany and Austria. She spent three years after the war in Germany assisting Holocaust survivors from Belsen who were confined to Displaced Persons camps. She worked for the American Joint Distribution Committee, one of the largest Jewish humanitarian relief organisations in the world. She later assisted impoverished Jews from Morocco to emigrate to Israel. Peggy married a former fighter in the French Resistance, Egon Fink, who was Jewish. A head of school at Richmond Lodge, Peggy wrote of her remarkable experiences from a middle-class childhood in Belfast to the aftermath of the Holocaust in Europe, in her book, From Belfast to Belsen and Beyond (2008). Peggy died in Cambridge in 2013, aged 100.
With thanks to the staff of the Linen Hall library for providing information on the history of the building. The library holds amongst its treasures a seventeenth-century Bible of the Dutch Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel.
A memoir published in 1909 by Isaac Julius Weinberg is available to read here.
John McCaldin Loewenthal: Letters Home from a Victorian Commercial Traveller, 1889 – 1895, a collection of travel letters by the son of Julius Loewenthal and Peggy's father , can be viewed on line here.
51-55 Fountain Street, Belfast
The firm Jaffa Furs was founded by Sam Jaffa and his wife Renee. Sam was brought up in London’s East End, the youngest of a family of eight, and the only boy. He was apprenticed into the fur trade at the age of 14. Moving to Belfast, his first job was as a cutter at the Siberian Fur Company at Wellington Place. He also provided a repair and alterations service for the main Belfast Department stores.
Sam and Renee began their own business from the front room of their home at Galwally Avenue in south Belfast. It was Renee who first found suitable premises in the city centre - at Fountain Street. By 1950 the firm had become established and successful. Jaffa Furs claimed to offer “the largest collection in Ulster of beautiful furs chosen personally by Mr Jaffa, the noted fur specialist." The shop expanded its premises to 51-55 Fountain Street.
Many recall Jaffa Furs for its stylish window displays and salon and fashion shows across Northern Ireland for charities and institutions. In the 1970s and early 80s branches were opened in Aberdeen and Blackpool. But fashions change and views on the fur trade altered radically. The family business was sold in 1989.
For a full and illustrated History of Jaffa Furs you can watch an excellent presentation by local historian and qualified tour guide Richard Graham, courtesy of History Hub Ulster:
Donegall Square North, Belfast
Maurice Solomon and Harold Peres were brothers in law who established the business of Solomon & Peres as young men in the mid 1920s. Maurice had grown up in Donaghadee, Co. Down, one of 12 siblings. Harold was originally from Leeds. Their first venture was to open a wireless shop in Winetavern Street in Belfast.
Solomon & Peres became the leading music and entertainment retailer, distributor and music production house based in Northern Ireland. It was closely associated with Decca Records.
Phil and Mervyn Solomon were the sons of Maurice and Evelyn. In the 1960s the brothers ran concerts in dance halls across Ireland as well as major events and tours by artists.
Major Minor Records was a Northern Irish record label started by Phil Solomon. An early break was promoting Belfast singer, Ruby Murray, to chart success in the 1950s. Artists on the label included the Dubliners and the American singer song writer, Johnny Nash. Major Minor's two biggest hits were "Mony Mony" by Tommy James and the Shondells (no. 1 in the UK in 1968) and the controversial "Je t'aime..." by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, banned by the BBC (1969). Major Minor Records was sold to EMI in 1970.
Phil Solomon was also co-director of the pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, in the mid-1960s. His wife Dorothy was founder of the management company, The Dorothy Solomon Associated Artistes Ltd.
Mervyn Solomon became equal partner in Solomon & Peres on the death of Harold Peres in 1968. He opened the Gramophone Shop in 1952, which quickly became a place to be seen at. The shop boasted four sound-proofed rooms with listening tables and headphones. Its neighbour - on the other side of the Linen Hall library - was at a later stage Petal, a fashion store chain owned by the Hamilford family.
Later Mervyn opened Laser stores, the largest independent electrical superstores in Ireland.
Mervyn founded Emerald Music in 1964, which specialized in recording and promoting Irish, Scottish, and Celtic music. Emerald Music featured music by Rory Gallagher and also Them, a rock band formed in 1964 which included vocalist, guitar player and song writer Van Morrison. The label recorded local comedians like James Young and Clubsound. Mervyn sold his interest in Emerald Music in 1992.
The Solomon and Peres families were noted for their communal involvement. Harold Peres helped organise hospitality and welfare for British and American troops stationed in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Maurice Solomon was one of the leading supporters of the refugees at Millisle, to the extent that he stepped back from many of his business responsibilities to help manage the farm's finances. Mervyn became chairman of the Ulster Cancer Foundation and of the Ulster Museum. He was awarded the MBE in 2002 for his charitable services.
The original partners, Maurice Solomon and Harold Peres, were neighbours at 688 Antrim Road and 686 Antrim Road respectively, for over 40 years.
A recent post on Facebook featuring the Gramophone shop received nearly a thousand likes and many comments such as these:
"Loved going in to the Gramophone shop. They had a booth to listen to records and I remember buying the Rolling Stones."
"Spent a lot of time and money in The Gramophone shop truly wonderful place an emporium of delight"
"Bought my first transistor radio there when it was Solomon & Peres having earned £5 for a few days work helping with the hay!"
In the 1980s the Gramophone shop had branches at Co-op House, York Street and at Wellworths at Waterloo Place, Londonderry and Ards Shopping Centre, Newtownards.
24 Donegall Place, Belfast
After the First World War, three Jewish brothers, Isaac, Harry and Morris Adlestone, came to Belfast from England. Without a shop to trade from, they began their business by selling silverware and jewellery items out of a suitcase. What they lacked in capital and other resources, the brothers made up for in ambition and skill. Their first store, Adlestones, was opened in Belfast city centre in the early 1920s.
The Adlestone brothers expanded the business quickly. A head office was established in Manchester and soon stores had been opened in many towns and cities across the north of England. In the 1930s the trading brand Beaverbrooks was launched. Remarkably the firm remains in the same family ownership today.
In 2019, its centenary year, it was the Belfast shop on Donegall Place which kicked off the celebrations. Beaverbrooks today has 69 shops in the UK and a staff of over 900. The Company has been commended in national Best Workplaces awards and Best Companies to Work For.
According to the Beaverbrooks website: “Our story began in 1919 when the three Adlestone brothers, Isaac, Harry and Maurice, moved to Belfast to pursue their dream of selling fine jewellery and gifts.”
Although few are aware, Beaverbrooks the jewellers is one of the greatest retail success stories to come out of Northern Ireland.
Castle Place Belfast
Nathan Goorwitch (sometimes spelt Goravitch) described in the Belfast Telegraph how he had come to London in 1911 as a boy of 16 from Odessa, then in southern Russia. He had walked much of the way, spoke no English, but was determined to live in a land of freedom. He claimed to have spent his first night in England sleeping on a park bench. Through the kindness of a man who found him there he obtained a job in Brick Lane, in London's East End.
We know little about Nat Goorwitch's career from 1911 until 1924 when he stepped ashore at Donegall Quay, Belfast. His first ladies fashion store opened in Belfast in December 1924 at 24/26 Castle Place. The first of very many clearance sales (‘50% below cost’) was announced in the Northern Whig and Belfast Post, Dec. 1924. This was the forerunner of many amusing and eye-catching notices and adverts including:
‘Hundreds of Belfast Ladies were reluctantly refused permission to the Goorwitch’s sale: the shop was so crowded Mr. Goorwitch had to harden his heart and close the doors. It would be just as easy to put a quart into a pint pot as to have admitted all who clamoured for admission. But not to worry, as further consignments will soon be on their way’.
Garment design, cutting and assembly were all produced in-house facilitating quality at a moderate outlay.
By the end of 1927, the House of Goorwitch was famed ‘throughout Ulster as a real bargain centre’ and a new branch opened in Ann Street, Belfast in 1928. The next innovation in 1929 was coupons in newspapers, valid for 24 hours, which entitled the holder (after filling in name and address details) to claim garments (‘even those priced as high as 8 guineas’) for 25/-.
He married Annie Zekansky in 1929 in London. On the marriage certificate, the professions of both the bride’s and groom’s father were noted as master tailors!
In December 1937 the company went public with Nathan Goorwitch as chairman and managing director, and Louis Lewis as general manager. Further stores opened in Dungannon and Londonderry. Refunds in full of one-day rail or bus excursion fares were advertised for customers spending two guineas or more in either of the Belfast shops. This was followed by ‘sensational early morning bargain festivals’ lasting 7am – 11am, to help those ‘who find it difficult to do their shopping in the ordinary business day’.
In September 1938, Goorwitch's announced the opening of a modern Fashion Store at 175-179 Oxford Street, London, consisting of 4 floors and a basement. An innovation was a ticket attached to each garment whereby the purchaser could return the item (with ticket) within 48 hours if not satisfied. The basement was to be ‘serve yourself’. The store was opened in October 1938 by Bobby Hayes, a well-know screen and stage actor. Nat Goorwitch thanked all those responsible for the successful opening. However, with war looming, the timing was not good and the store closed down in December 1939. The stock was liquidated and the fittings brought to Northern Ireland.
During the pre-war period 1938-39, the Goorwitch family was involved (with many others) in fundraising for German and Austrian refugees. With the outbreak of war, business continued ‘as usual’ but some of the advertising took on a different tone:
‘To protect your gas mask, buy a Rexine Cloth Waterproof Carrier for it (price 1/6)’.
‘We have received another consignment of best quality double knitting wool in the official Army, Navy and Air Force colours’.
‘Use your coupons wisely. Buy tailor-made clothes of good quality at Goorwitchs’.
‘All prices compare favourably with their peace-time values’.
‘Because of clothes rationing, quality today matters more than ever.’
The annual staff dances carried on during the war and were used for various war-funding efforts. The January 1940 event had 700 guests with many from H.M. Forces. The company directors and family donated funds and time to many causes including the Ulster Spitfire Fund, and especially to help evacuees (see the ‘Stuart Hall’ story on the map). Mrs. Goorwitch ran a series of fund-raising events throughout the war at their Belfast home. Nathan also helped the continuity of the Newtownards handicraft project after its founder, the refugee Alfred Neumann, returned to England (see the map story ‘An Ulster Schindler’).
After the war, the business carried on with a succession of offers and sales. In 1949 the company celebrated its Silver Jubilee with a sale ‘surpassing in extent, variety and value their most outstanding efforts in the past’.
By 1959 the company had two large stores in Belfast and also branches in Derry, Dungannon, Coleraine, Ballymena, Bangor, Ballymoney, Portrush, Larne, Lurgan and Omagh. However, emerging rumours of a takeover turned out to be true and in November 1959 Mr. Goorwitch recommended shareholders to accept an offer from an English firm, Hide and Co. Ltd., which owned over 100 stores throughout the UK including the Belfast Linen Warehouse. The trading name Goorwitch continued.
“An Ulsterman’s Diary” in the Belfast Telegraph (Nov. 1960) featured an interview with the 65-year-old Nathan Goorwitch. He remarked that he was now enjoying a quieter life and spending much of his time gardening. He reflected how the people of NI had been very kind to him over the years. But the entrepreneurial family spirit was still thriving. His wife Ann was now running a children’s outfitting business in Belfast, and his sons Sidney and Arnold had also gone into the drapery business.
Nathan died in London in 1970 and Ann in 1976.
Nine of the fifteen Goorwitch stores were bought in 1962 by The London Mantle Warehouse, owned by John Hamilford, and traded under the name of Paul’s Fashion.
Pictures of Nathan and Annie Goorwitch at Stuart Hall can be viewed at: https://niarchive.org/owner/dungannon-and-south-tyrone-borough-community-archi/
Several other chain stores in the province were founded by members of the Jewish community. These included:
• Bennets Stores founded by Benny Enlander (b. 1897, Lublin) first opened in York Street, Belfast in 1935. By the late 1930's there were branches also in Londonderry, Bangor, Omagh and Strabane. This was 'Ulster’s answer to Woolworths' with ‘nothing over 5/-'. The Belfast store was destroyed in the blitz in 1941 and the company was wound up in 1952.
• Berriss Ltd, which sold household furniture, also opened in 1935. The main store was at the corner of York Street and Royal Avenue in Belfast. Trading as Berwoods, there were also branches in Lisburn and Portadown. The owners were the brothers Emanuel and Alec Berwitz who also owned the Central Furniture Company in North Street, Belfast. (see the presentation by Richard Graham for History Hub Ulster on the Berwitz family, here ) .
Victoria Square, Belfast
The public drinking fountain was erected in around 1874 to commemorate the German-born linen merchant who did much “to foster Ulster’s linen industry”. Daniel Jaffe (1809-1874), was the founder of the Belfast Hebrew congregation and built the first synagogue at Great Victoria Street in 1871. He and his brother Isaac were proprietors of Jaffe Brothers – an international textile firm with offices in Hamburg, Leipzig, Paris, Dundee, New York…and Belfast.
Daniel first arrived in Belfast in the 1840s to buy Irish linen. In 1851 he was persuaded to set up a permanent business in the town. He exported the products of Ulster’s linen factories across Europe and to America. He had offices in Fountain Street and then Bedford Street. In 1862 he built new business premises at Donegall Square south – today Ten Square hotel.
It says much for Daniel Jaffe’s reputation that it was his competitors in the linen trade who paid for the new drinking fountain to be erected in his honour. They recognised in Daniel Jaffe a leader in their trade who was remembered for honesty in his business dealings, for his charity and practical good deeds.
The iron fountain was cast by Sun Foundry in Glasgow. It was originally located at Victoria street, in a prime location opposite what was then Belfast’s Town Hall. But in about 1933, as a result of traffic improvements, the fountain was moved to a forlorn corner of the Botanic Gardens, opposite Kings Bridge, “to better serve the public.” It languished there for over 70 years. There were many calls for the fountain to be returned to its rightful place in the city centre.
“It’s flowing home,” was the Sunday Life headline in 2004. The developers of the Victoria Square shopping centre, Multi Development UK, agreed with Belfast City Council to include the fountain as part of their multi-million pound redevelopment in Belfast city centre. In 2007 the fountain was carefully dismantled and brought to Shropshire, England, for restoration to its former glory by specialist company. Scientific analysis was carried out on various layers of paint in order to identify the original colours - and the fountain was restored to an eye catching yellow, white and gold. Now positioned at the Victoria Street entrance to the Victoria Square shopping centre, the Jaffe Fountain is within a coin’s throw from where it was first located.
“If the magnificent glass dome is what makes Victoria Square shopping centre iconic, then the Jaffe Fountain is its hallmark” – Belfast Telegraph.
Belfast's Lord Mayor, Councillor Jim Rodgers said at the official installation of the fountain in February 2008: "I am delighted to see this monument of Belfast returned to its historic site. It represents a link between the city's Victorian entrepreneurship and the massive regeneration and renewal of energy we are seeing in Belfast today."
High Street, Belfast
Michael Longley remembered the Atantic Records shop as “a dusty cubbyhole at the end of a corridor off Belfast’s High Street… windowless, smelling of cigar smoke and freshly opened record sleeves.”
BBC broadcaster, Walter Love recalls: "It wasn’t just a record shop. It was to become throughout the 1950s and into the 60s, a gathering place and a debating chamber. Solly always loved an argument and you had to demonstrate that your interest was genuine to be fully accepted."
Solly Lipsitz was born in Dublin in 1920 to Oscar (Osher) and Jessie Lipsitz (nee Marcus) who were both from Eastern Europe. The family moved to Belfast when Solly was a child and they lived at Kansas Avenue off the Antrim Road. He attended Jaffe School. Solly traced his love of jazz to Sabbath walks along Ballysillan Road with his friend Jackie Morris (who later served as an Israeli ambassador to New Zealand). At the Morris home "when having tasted Mrs Morris's excellent apricot jam there was always a current issue of Melody Maker to be examined (the MM was at that time the jazz bible)". Professional musicians in the community included Louis Barnett and pianist Eddie Pearl. Sidney Sandman was first principal violin in the Belfast City and BBC Symphony orchestras.
Solly reviewed jazz for the Belfast Telegraph and the Belfast Newsletter. He advised the Belfast Festival at Queen’s on its jazz programmes, and he co-founded the jazz club on the Embankment. Solly occasionally played guitar and ukulele with several local bands, including the Embankment Six and the Tony Martin All-Stars. He was a lecturer at Belfast College of Art and Queen’s University. He was awarded a research grant to study the Jewish and Irish influence on jazz in Chicago in the 1920's and 1930's.
"Solly and Dougie Knight, another great music man, imported jazz and blues records into Northern Ireland at a time in the '60s when that kind of music was practically unknown," said broadcaster Ivan Martin.
Michael Longley attended Solly's funeral in 2013 and wrote: “The rabbi swayed as he chanted the prayers, his long beard wagging in the wind. We might have been gathered in a corner of Warsaw or Lodz. At the graveside I stood next to Van Morrison, for whom Solly procured his first guitar. We were both acknowledging our friend’s profound and lasting influence."
Solly's lifelong hero was Louis Armstrong and he was one of the first people to welcome 'Satchmo' when he played the King's Hall in 1962.
Walter Love: "In a region where so many are labelled as either Protestant or Catholic, Solly was different. He was an active member of the vibrant Jewish community, which once flourished in Northern Ireland and he was the fount of all jazz knowledge."
Here you can watch Solly introduce the two-part programme And All That Jazz: 50 Years of Jazz in Ulster (UTV) https://digitalfilmarchive.net/media/and-all-that-jazz-50-years-2833
Custom House steps, Belfast
Simon Greenspon was born in 1891 to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who settled in south Dublin, near the South Circular Road. By July 1897 the family found themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. Simon's mother, Shellah, had been admitted to a Lunatic Asylum (as it was then named), leaving his father Solomon struggling to cope with looking after four boys. Simon, then aged 6, was awarded a place in the Norwood Orphanage in south London and it is not clear how the rest of the family coped. Solomon died in early 1901 and by this time Shellah had recovered and had moved to Belfast. It is likely Simon remained at the Norwood Orphanage long enough to complete an electrician's apprenticeship.
Shellah died in 1908, aged 47, by which time Simon was back with her in Belfast. Simon married Fanny Levington in Belfast in 1915 and at some point they were living in the Levington family home, at 45 Dargle Street, off Clifton Park Avenue.
Simon worked as an electrician for Harland and Wolff certainly during the First World War, and possibly earlier. As a skilled worker, he was better off than many, but working conditions were harsh. The working week was a standard 60 hours and industrial injuries and workplace deaths were commonplace. After the war ended, there was a general desire to improve the standard of living for the working population and many, including Simon, saw the Russian Revolution as a positive example of how this might be achieved.
Many trade unions in Belfast campaigned for a reduction in the working week, and when this call went unanswered, a strike was called for 25th January, 1919. In Belfast the docks were silent, the electricity supply ceased, and the trams stopped running. Municipal workers joined in the action. It is estimated that 40,000 workers went on strike and 20,000 others were locked out and unable to work. At the beginning of the strike Simon and a small number of others used strike meetings to talk about socialism.
The movement for shorter hours impacted every industrial centre in the UK. The docks in Glasgow were also on strike and there soon developed a political aspect. On 1st February, the Morning Post printed an antisemitic article claiming that the strikes in both Glasgow and Belfast were not being articulated by the British working man, rather both strikes were led by Jews, whose aim was to destabilise the British government. Manny Shinwell was named as the leader of the Glasgow strike, and Simon was named as the leader in Belfast. A series of similar newspaper articles - in local and national newspapers - appeared over the next few months which highlighted Simon's role as a revolutionary, agitator and strike leader.
A closer look at the Belfast strike tells a different story. Simon was at best peripheral to the strike organisation and his oratorical interventions on behalf of militant socialism were not welcomed by the strike committee. The strike was led by trade union officials and officers, not revolutionaries. The strike leaders were as likely to be members of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association as the Independent Labour Party. As one heckler put it, ‘the black north can take care of itself without Larkins, O’Hagans or Russian Jews.’
The strikes had ended by mid February. The strikers were back at work without their demands for a 44 hour week being met.
Simon continued to speak about Socialism at public meetings in Belfast during the months following the strike. In June 1919 he and two others who had engaged in similar public speaking were arrested. Simon was convicted of Unlawful Assembly and spent six months in jail. Shortly after his release, he made another speech supporting left wing ideals, this time on the Custom House steps with some 400 people in attendance. He was arrested again and this time bound over to keep the peace.
Sadly, Simon and Fanny’s son Harris died on 11th June, 1920, aged 5.
In July, 1920 an expulsion took place on the Belfast docks of Catholics, and those who were known to be Trade Union activists during the strike the previous year. This was the beginning of two years of heightened political and sectarian strife in Belfast as elsewhere in Ireland during the Anglo-Irish war. Nationalists described the violence in Belfast as a "pogrom" - a word first used for anti-Jewish massacres and riots in Czarist Russia.
Simon joined a small delegation who travelled to England and met with the British Trade Union Conference to advocate on behalf of those who had lost their jobs. This was to no avail. Simon and another Shop Steward, John Hanna, then embarked on a lecture tour of Britain to raise awareness of the plight of the expelled workers and to raise money to assist them and their families.
Simon returned to Belfast and he and Fanny remained there and had three daughters, Rosie born in 1920, Stella born in 1926 and Esther born in 1930. The family left Belfast in 1931 and moved to Putney, south London.
Simon died on 12th February, 1938, aged 46. He is buried in Marlow Road Cemetery, East Ham, in East London under the name Simon Green.
Ruth Angel (Simon's granddaughter).
Benjamin Glazer was born in Belfast on May 7, 1887. His parents were Hungarian Jews for whom Belfast was a stop along the way on their journey westwards to America. A former president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation was once asked if he could recall the young Glazer before the family's departure to America. Barney Hurwitz's reply was: "It would be fair to say that at that time he had yet to make his mark on the world."
But, as Hurwitz acknowledged, "Belfast was then a very hard school."
In May 1929 the first ever Academy Awards were presented at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Douglas Fairbanks and William C de Mille presented the honours that later became celebrated as "the Oscars". Janet Gaynor was voted Best Actress for her performance in Seventh Heaven. When the winner of the first award for Best Writing/Adaptation was announced, up stepped the Belfast boy who had now made his mark, Benjamin Glazer, the script writer for the same hit film.
A decade later, Glazer returned to the awards ceremony in 1941 to pick up a second Oscar, this time as co-author of the comedy, Arise, My Love (1940).
Glazer, therefore, deserves to go down in history as the first Ulster-born Oscar winner, long before the exploits of Liam Neeson and Sir Kenneth Branagh (who won the coveted award in 2022 for best original screenplay for the film Belfast).
For Glazer the two Academy Awards were the culmination of achieving the American dream.
The path to Hollywood fame began inauspiciously enough, at law school in Philadelphia, after the family moved from Ulster to America. Glazer practised as a lawyer, and then turned his hand to journalism.
Before his 30th birthday he was editing the local newspaper, the Philadelphia Press. As a sideline he translated and adapted European plays for the American stage. He soon had a string of adaptations running on Broadway, as well as scripting his own dramas and comedies.
By the 1920s Glazer was ideally placed to take advantage of a new industry then establishing itself in America. At that time ambitious actors, writers and producers were flocking to the centre of the movie picture industry in Hollywood. Glazer found work as a scriptwriter for all the leading film companies. He was employed by First National, MGM, Paramount and Fox. By the end of the decade he was production chief at Pathe Studios.
Amongst the greats the Belfast-born Glazer worked with were Erich von Stronheim, (whom he assisted in writing and producing The Merry Widow, 1925). He also worked with Greta Garbo; and, with the coming of sound, he helped launch Bing Crosby's career in the movies.
Glazer's stature in Hollywood grew in the 30s. According to one critic: "With the coming of sound Glazer's theatrical experience stood him in good stead". His work has been described as "stylish and often sentimental." Glazer wrote over 30 films — including the first screen adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” (1932). He was also a successful producer.
Despite his success in America, Glazer never forgot his origins. His Academy award in 1941 was for an anti-Nazi comedy set in contemporary Europe (Arise, my Love, 1940). Glazer struck a sombre note at the awards ceremony that year. Accepting his Oscar he announced that his co-writer was a Jew caught under Hitler's rule, and whose life would therefore be endangered if his identity became known.
As a much-in-demand Hollywood scriptwriter and producer, Benjamin Glazer did not just achieve the American dream, but he helped package and export it for worldwide consumption. Glazer's films were watched avidly in cinemas around the globe, nowhere more so than in the "picture house city" of his native Belfast.
Benjamin Glazer died still working in Hollywood on March 19, 1956. His last film was an adaption for the screen of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel. His films were stylish extravaganzas. They no doubt encouraged many to set sail for America themselves, to seek out their own fortune in the land of opportunity.
Adapted from an article by Steven Jaffe, published in the Belfast Telegraph, 8 December 2012.
You can watch Glazer's Farwell to Arms (1932), starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, on Youtube here
A short biopic about Belfast-born Benjamin Glazer:
Harland & Wolff shipyards, Belfast
Gustav Wilhelm Wolff was a contemporary of Sir Otto Jaffe and a leading industrialist and citizen of late Victorian Belfast. He was also like Jaffe born in Hamburg. His parents were both Jewish but had been baptised as Christians before he was born. Wolff trained as a draughtsman in the north west of England and came to Belfast in about 1858. By 1862 he and Yorkshireman Edward Harland had established their own firm - Harland & Wolff - which grew into one of the largest shipbuilders in the world.
Wolff joked that Sir Edward Harland built the ships, another partner, Lord Pirrie, made the speeches, and he smoked the cigars. What he brought to the firm was initial funding (through his uncle Gustav Christian Schwabe), technical skill as a draftsman, strong organisational ability, and his connections which helped keep the order books full. For example, Wolff established a good relationship with Albert Ballin, of the Hamburg America Line, who was also of German Jewish background.
Wolff served as a Belfast Harbour Commissioner. He also co-founded the Belfast Ropeworks (claimed to be the largest in the world). He was MP for East Belfast (1892- December 1910, unopposed in five elections). He retired from the shipbuilding firm in 1906, so several years before it launched the ill-fated Titanic. He was awarded the freedom of the city of Belfast in 1911.
Wolff's Belfast residence was the Den in Strandtown. In retirement he lived mostly in London, where he died in 1913. He never married.
The Jewish Chronicle in 1895 made the following observations about Gustav Wolff:
"A correspondent wishes us to include Mr G W Wolff of Belfast in our list of Jewish Members of Parliament.
Although the son of Mr F M Wolff, of Hamburg, by his marriage to Miss Fanny Schwabe, we do not think Mr Wolff can be classed among our Jewish MPs. We should be glad to count him among them, for Mr Wolff is a member of one of the most distinguished firms of ship builders in the world...
Mr Wolff has lived for many years in Belfast, a town where there has long been a synagogue, and where there is now more than one congregation. He has never shown any desire to be ranked as a Jew, and though we are glad for reasons of race, to recognise his descent, we can only regret that not only does he on religious questions not concur with ourselves, but he has shown no desire to co-operate with our charitable institutions".
For more information, see this extensive and well documented on-line article.
Newtownards Road, Belfast
In the industrial heartland of east Belfast - where neighbouring concerns included Belfast Ropeworks, Ross's mineral water factory and of course the shipyards, Sir Otto opened the Jaffe Spinning mills in 1911 at 310 Newtownards Road. The new mill was equipped with the latest machinery in order to spin tow yarns, a by product of flax after it is heckled. The factory made sacks and similar rough goods. The Jaffe mills are said to be the first in Belfast to spin tow yarn and therefore claimed not to compete with any other local mill.
Forced to leave Belfast in 1916 as a result of anti-German feeling during the Great War, Sir Otto sold the premises and the business to the Mackie family. It became known as the Strand spinning mill. The mill was later to produce synthetic fibres.
Since the mid 1980s the complex has been known as the Portview Trade Centre. Today it provides workshops for cutting-edge artisan and creative businesses - maintaining the tradition of innovation in technology and entrepreneurship which was begun on the site by Sir Otto Jaffe.
Thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage fund the history of the building is also being told in a lively and innovative way. Since October 2021 the grim industrial buildings have been the unlikely host of "the Banana Block" – an urban banana plantation, living museum and events space which will attract visitors to this part of East Belfast.
Why bananas? Well that is another link to Sir Otto Jaffe. In 1911, William Henry Richardson, head gardener for Sir Otto, successfully grew five bunches of bananas in the glass houses at the near-by Jaffe residence on Sydenham Avenue (Kin Edar). It was claimed to be the first time ripe bananas were cultivated in the British Isles and created a minor horticultural sensation.
Watch the Video: The new Banana living museum in the former Jaffe Spinning Mills is promoted here by Allie Nickell, the great grand daughter of William Richardson, the Jaffe's head gardener.
Ravenhill Road, Belfast
Judith and Ray Rosenfield grew up on Cliftonpark Avenue in north Belfast. Their parents were Myer (from Russia) and Ettie (who was raised in Wolverhampton). Judith was born in 1903 and Ray in 1911. They had six other siblings.
The poet John Hewitt also grew up on Cliftonpark Avenue and later wrote of his neighbours:
but for romance, for mystery I'd choose
the Rosenfields, the Weiners, our own Jews.
(Our Avenue, 1980)
The following information is from the catalogue of the Queen's University library which holds a collection of papers from the sisters:
In local journalism the names of Judith Rosenfield and her sister Ray were well known for their contributions to the Northern Whig and Belfast Newsletter. They were accomplished art critics, reviewers, editors of a woman’s page, journalists, dramatists, columnists and writers. These two women had a warm and enduring relationship with Israel. Their papers at Queen’s University reveal their visits and charitable support for the fledgling state of Israel.
Judith started her career as a newswoman on the Belfast Telegraph. She later worked for the Northern Whig, as a reporter and also as a theatrical and literary critic. She spent part of her working life in Manchester as a feature writer for the Guardian. In the 1930s she lived in London and was a speaker for the Jewish Defence committee, countering fascism.
Ray, like Judith, was a graduate of Queen's University. She was president of the Jewish students' society. Ray's first job was with the editorial staff of the Northern Whig where she wrote her own column. She was also a regular contributor to the Manchester Guardian and in 1963 took up a post at the Oxford Mail.
For well over 30 years the sisters served as the Belfast correspondents for the Jewish Chronicle. While most of their output was published in newspapers and magazines, they also wrote scripts for radio and theatre. In 1978 Judith and Ray co-wrote a short souvenir history of the Group Theatre published by Belfast City Council.
Judith was a member of the Northern Ireland Liberal Party. She stood unsuccessfully as their candidate in Ballynafeigh constituency for the Northern Ireland House of Commons in 1962 and in the 1964 Westminster general election in South Belfast.
The sisters lived with three other unmarried siblings at 333 Ravenhill Road - one of few Jewish households in East Belfast. Sister Gertie (a nurse) was the chief housekeeper and brothers Raphael and Sampson were in business. Judith died in 1981 and Ray, who was the last surviving family member in Belfast, died in 1998.
Jackson Street, Belfast
It stood on a corner site in the maze of streets packed tightly with terraced housing, in the Peter’s Hill area of north Belfast. Here from about 1892, Jewish immigrants established what they called in Yiddish the shtiebel (a small place of worship and study). In English they called themselves the Belfast New congregation - in opposition to the established Belfast Hebrew Congregation.
Many decades later, prior to the redevelopment of the area, the last resident at No 2 Jackson Street was Miss Elizabeth Thompson. Her mother (Martha) and grandmother had lived in the house before her. Shortly before her home was demolished in 1968/9, Elizabeth told the newspaper, City Week, that although it seemed unlikely, she believed that the house had once been a Jewish place of worship.
“Apparently my mother was sitting by the fire one day when a man came to the door and asked if he could see over the house. My mother in typical fashion, invited him in and after a tour of inspection he explained he was Jewish and he knew the building from the time it was a synagogue, many, many years before…
He came back a few times for a seat by the fire and always seemed happy just being there. I think there was some reference to his having made his confirmation – Barmitzvah - in the house.”
The visitor turned out to be Barney Hurwitz OBE JP (1891-1971), long-term president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation. He remembered attending the Jackson Street shtiebel as a young child. It comprised two terraced houses knocked together and consisted of seven irregular shaped rooms.
Barney recalled: “I was there on quite a few occasions and remember that in the region of 40 families attended the religious services there ..and when I point out that 40 families means man, woman and children, you can realise just how many people packed into that old house. They jammed into every corner, sat on the benches, stood and crammed the doorways”.
“The simple facts are that when the East European settlers arrived in the city, they lived in the immediate area of Jackson Street and didn’t relish the idea of walking from there to Great Victoria street every Sabbath. On top of that few, if any of them had a word of English and they decided to open a synagogue of their own in Jackson street where they all had the common tongue of Yiddish.”
Henry Shrage (1879-1975) of Kinnaird Street also spoke to City Week: “Very few of the present Jewish community in Belfast know – or ever knew – of its existence. But it is a fact. Even though it was long before I came to the city I heard of the Jackson street synagogue. From what I gather the original synagogue was already established in Great Victoria Street but that didn’t stop the immigrant East European Jews setting up their own place of worship. Working class Jews if you like, they didn’t hold with the rather liberal religious outlook of the original congregation and decided to have their own completely Orthodox synagogue.”
The rabbi associated with the Jackson Street shtiebel was Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Levin who was later to become a leading figure in the very Orthodox community in Manchester.
Other converted houses in North Belfast that were used as shtiebels include 27 Fleetwood Street, off the Crumlin Road, where for a while the Great Victoria Street synagogue had a branch synagogue, schoolrooms and possibly a mikvah. In 1898 the new schoolroom at 5 Regent Street, at the back of the Orange Hall on Clifton Street, doubled up as a small minyan room, where prayers were said daily, every morning and evening, and also on Sabbaths and festivals.
The house at Jackson Street is believed to have ceased hosting regular services about the time the Regent Street school was opened in 1898. By 1904 the entire congregation of Jews in Belfast had united under one roof – at the new synagogue in Annesley Street. The age of the north Belfast shtiebels was over.
Regent Street, Belfast
A remarkable initiative of the small but growing Jewish community in the late 1890s was to establish its own National School. A house at 5 Regent Street, at the back of the Orange Hall on Clifton Street, was converted into schoolrooms.
In 1897 there were reckoned to be 143 boys and girls in Belfast, aged from 3 to 14, who were receiving very little Hebrew education except that passed on by their parents. Many Jewish children were attending the school attached to St Enoch's Presbyterian church, at Carlisle Circus.
The driving force behind establishing a new Jewish National school was the soon-to-be appointed minister of the Belfast Hebrew congregation, Rev Joseph Myers. He had a track record of establishing Jewish day schools for regional communities, most recently, as minister to the Cork Hebrew congregation. He brought with him to Belfast two teachers, Mr and Mrs Patrick McCarthy, who had experience of teaching at the Cork Jewish school.
The cost of acquiring and fitting out the school placed a severe financial burden on the immigrant Jewish community of north Belfast. Funds had to be borrowed from the Burial Society and the Society for Visiting the Sick to pay the deposit. In order to complete the purchase and fit out the school an appeal for support was made to the Jewish community in England.
The school opened in March 1898 under the supervision of the National Board of Education. The starting roll was 90 children. All the children who attended the school were Jewish (except for the children of the McCarthys). The school earned the highest mark attainable in the Irish National schools examinations three years in succession. Hebrew lessons were taught as part of the school day.
Over 400 pupils are said to have passed through Regent Street school. According to a Belfast correspondent to the Jewish Chronicle, the school "has conferred the greatest benefits on the foreigners, many of whom come direct from Russia. They have met children who can converse with them in their own language, and their first lessons in English are conveyed in the medium of Yiddish."
By 1907 the building was bursting at the seams with about 120 pupils and was considered unfit by the school inspectors. Sir Otto and Lady Jaffe opened a new school at the bottom of the Cliftonville Road. Jaffe School was the successor to Regent Street and the teachers and children transferred there. The new school was much more spacious, had up to date facilities and true to Sir Otto's educational principles, Protestants and Catholics, as well as Jews, attended as pupils, were on the teaching staff and served on the management committee.
Do you want to know more?
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland holds the school registers of Regent Street and Jaffe schools. The registers are of great use to family historians - providing information on the children's dates of birth, addresses, parental occupations and destinations on leaving school. See the article Researching Jewish Families, by William Roulston and Pamela Linden, Familia 2004: Ulster Genealogical Review: Number 20.
York Street is one of the major thoroughfares connecting Belfast city centre to the north of the city.
In the early 20th century there was much commercial activity on York Street, most notably the Belfast Co-op society. But the street was also home to a number of Jewish businesses which were involved in the furniture trade. Along with tailoring and shoe and boot making, cabinet making was an artisan skill that some Jews brought with them from Eastern Europe and which they took up again in Belfast.
Perhaps the first Jewish furniture business on York street was the Empire Furnishing Company. The Empire traded from 83 York Street from the mid 1890s. They were cabinet makers, upholsterers, and bedding manufacturers. The proprietor was Samuel Freeman JP (1863-1929), who became President of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation after Sir Otto Jaffe left Belfast in 1916.
By 1901 another furniture business on York Street was the Central Furnishing Co., Cabinet Makers & Upholsterers. Louis Berwitz was the Proprietor.
The Berwitz family lived at Vicinage Park off the Antrim Road. Louis's two sons, Alec and Mandy (Emanuel), were to serve in the army during the Great War. They expanded the business into the retail sale of furniture. The brothers bought the Grand Metropolitan Hotel, at the corner of York Street and Donegall Street. By 1935 they had demolished the hotel and replaced it by Berriss Walk Around Furniture Store - one of the largest furniture stores in the city.
The Berwitz family also opened large Berwood stores in Lisburn and at 29 Market Street, Portadown. The business was sold in 1963 to Sir Isaac Wolfson of Great Universal Stores. Mandy Berwitz was chairman of the Belfast Jewish Institute and was closely involved in supporting the Millisle Refugee farm.
From at least 1907, the Ulster Furnishing Company, cabinet makers & upholsterers, traded from 43 York Street - S. Gorfunkle, proprietor.
By 1918 Hyman Ayon, cabinet maker and upholsterer, had established an enterprise at 13 York Street which was later to become the Grand Furnishing Store and Bazaar ("the complete house furnishers").
Mr Ayon was a vice president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation. He was president of the Belfast Dorshei Zion and his wife Leah president of the Daughters of Zion (amongst the earliest Zionist organisations in the community). The Ayons were also active in the revival of Hebrew as a modern language - they helped form a Hebrew speaking circle and a Hebrew Literary society in Belfast.
By the 1930s the shop had expanded to 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21 York Street and was known as "Ayon Arnold & Co".
Another Jewish owned furniture store in York Street was the Model Furnishing Co., owned by the Coppel family. This was at 21-23 York Street until damaged in the blitz in 1941. The business then moved to 137-141 Upper North St. Another member of the family, Markey, owned Emco, bedding and mattress manufacturers.
Here are some other well-known Jewish family furniture businesses that flourished in other parts of Belfast:
Universal Furniture - the Goldring family.
Gilpins, Sandy Row and Woodstock Road - the Black family.
John Flemings furniture and textile business 19-25 Great Victoria Street - proprietor Issy Couts.
Lees, Hyman and Lees, Corporation Street, Belfast - proprietor Louis Hyman JP, later his son Dr Adrian Hyman and Captain Harold Smith CBE (president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation and a Belfast city councillor).
Coles Furniture, Newtownards Rd - proprietor Ronnie Freedman.
Monty Rosenberg owned a second-hand furniture store in Belfast.
History Hub Ulster researcher Richard Graham gives a Zoom presentation on the history of the Berwitz family firm, in Belfast:
Between the Crumlin and Old Lodge Roads, Belfast
The Old Lodge area of Belfast consisted of tightly packed streets with small terraced houses – now long gone: including Bedeque Street; Twickenham Street and Fairview Street. It was here that many of the Jews from Eastern Europe first settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The late Mendel Cohen, born in 1902, was one of a family of eight, five boys and three girls, the children of Joseph Tovia and Minna Cohen. His parents came from Russia but he and his siblings were all born in Ulster. The family lived in Groomsport Street, then Fairview Street and then Dargle Street. Mendel attended the Jaffe School on the Cliftonville Road. After school hours, he was taught at the cheder (religious school) which was also held there. Mendel was taught Hebrew by Mr Lask, Mr Bender and Mr Arnstam. The discipline, he recalled, was tough and physical!
Much of Mendel’s youth was spent at Annesley Street synagogue, a short walk from where he lived, to attend daily services. When he was old enough he occasionally went to the Chevra Gemara shiur – the study of the Torah and its commentaries, which took place each evening at an upstairs room in the synagogue.
Mendel had no difficulty in reeling off the names of Jewish shops in and around the Old Lodge Road. He was sent by his mother to do the family “messages,” from Mrs Lazarus the grocer, Hodes the butcher, Sternberg’s kosher dairy, and Klotz the greengrocer and fishmonger. His favourite shop was his aunt's, Mrs Levington, who ran a sweet shop from her front room - a Jewish "Aunt Jane".
Other local businesses were Mendel Miller, picture-framer, and Davis the cap maker. Mendel also remembered another Davis in Adela Street who was a “picture faker” – someone who coloured, enlarged and framed photographs, a popular fashion of the day.
However, most of Mendel’s Jewish neighbours did not work locally. Mendel recalled how after the Sabbath was over, the itinerant pedlars would set off for the country. Their goods were wrapped in a waterproof sheet secured by a long leather strap worn over their shoulders – a heavy load. They would be away for most of the week, but return to Belfast in time for the onset of the Sabbath, before sun set on Friday evening.
One of the outstanding religious leaders of Belfast's Little Jerusalem was Rabbi Gedalia Silverstone (1901-1906) of Twickenham street, who went on the become one of the leading figures in Orthodoxy in the USA - as principal rabbi of Washington DC.
Zadok Simons – who came to Belfast's Little Jerusalem from the real Jerusalem - sold Hebrew books and silk and woollen taleisim (prayer shawls), from his home in Hanover Street. He also worked as beadle and collector for the Annesley Street synagogue. Another character was Mrs Evans, who wheeled a cart along the streets of Little Jerusalem, laden with delicious bagels and pickled herring.
Mendel had happy memories of family holidays in Donaghadee. 1911 was the year he learnt to ride a bicycle during one of these idyllic vacations by the sea. Another highlight of the year was the Cheder outing. Mendel recalled the excitement of the Jewish boys and girls boarding the train at York Road station for a day trip to Whitehead – for some of the children, the cheder outing was their only experience of life beyond the city. The Cohens also had an allotment in Ardoyne, off Brompton Park.
By the 1920s and 1930s many families had moved half a mile or so away from the Old Lodge district to the larger family houses in and around Cliftonpark Avenue. For many years this became the new hub of the Belfast Jewish community.
Mendel, who was a much-loved member of the community, died in 1980. We are grateful to the late Cyril Rosenberg who interviewed Mendel for the Belfast Jewish Record.
Annesley Street, Carlisle Circus, Belfast
The former synagogue, off Carlisle circus, is a simple two storey building almost invisible from the main Antrim Road. But its continuing appeal to Belfast Jews lies beyond its architectural merits.
Martin Sieff, who began his career as a journalist with the Belfast Telegraph, sums up the hold of the synagogue on him: “To me it really was a shul from the long centuries of Galut (Jewish exile), with all the romance, atmosphere and mystery that accrued.”
The synagogue, which was opened in 1904, accommodated 355 male worshippers and the ladies gallery held 212. Annesley Street was located close to where most of the community now lived – around the Crumlin and Old Lodge Roads. The Jewish population of Belfast had increased from about ten families in 1871 to about 1,000 individuals in 1904.
The character of the community had also changed. Many of the founding German families of the Great Victoria Street congregation had left Belfast. The vast majority of the congregation were now recently-arrived immigrants from Lithuania and Poland. They tended to be much more Orthodox in religious practice and beliefs. Unlike the previous synagogue, the Annesley Street site included a mikvah, a bath used for ritual immersion. A mikvah is considered in Jewish law to be more important than a place of worship.
The architects of the new synagogue were Young and Mackenzie, assisted by a Jewish architect, BS Jacobs of Hull. The cost of £3 – 4,000 was largely met by Sir Otto Jaffe, president of the Belfast Hebrew congregation, who opened the synagogue dressed in his full robes as Lord Mayor of Belfast.
The first minister at Annesley Street was Rev. Jacob Rosenzweig (later known as John Ross). It became the synagogue of Rabbi Isaac Herzog (1916-19) who, after becoming Chief Rabbi of the Irish Free State, held the most senior position in the Orthodox Jewish world, as Chief Rabbi of the land of Israel.
Rabbi Jacob Shachter dominated the religious life of the synagogue for almost 30 years (1926-54). He has been described as “every inch a Jewish archbishop”. The synagogue’s last rabbi was a refugee from Nazi Germany, the scholarly Dr Alexander Carlebach (1954-65). In October 1954 he initiated the community's journal, the Belfast Jewish Record, which is still published today.
Annesley Street synagogue was an off shoot of that East European Jewish world which was to be destroyed in the Holocaust. For many immigrants, recently arrived in Belfast in the early years of the twentieth century, the synagogue was a place of spiritual refuge after a hard day’s work. The familiar rhythm of the Jewish year, with its festivals and fast days, and its regular Shabbat and daily services, was comforting and sustaining for many of the immigrants for whom the synagogue was their 'second home'.
In addition to its rabbis, Annesley street synagogue was graced by a succession of cantors who led the main services. Most of them had trained in Eastern Europe, including: Simcha Myerowitz, Saul Barnett, Hosea Steinberg and Saul Polakoff. The last chazan or cantor was Shmuel Aharoni from Israel.
It was the shamasim, or beadles, who ensured the smooth administration of the synagogue. They collected the weekly subscriptions from the members. The beadles included Zadok Simons (who came to Belfast from Meah Shearim in Jerusalem), his son Joe and a former refugee from Nazi Germany, Abi Becker.
And what of the community’s women? The ladies gallery still exists, high and remote from what were the male-dominated proceedings below. One female congregant likened attending a service at Annesley Street to watching an opera from the gods. The women organised themselves into a Ladies Guild and undertook many charitable and pastoral duties both in the synagogue and the wider community.
Annesley street synagogue held its last service in October 1964. No one would deny that the current synagogue, further north in the city, is more modern, comfortable and its original design more architecturally prestigious. But few Jews travelling down the Antrim Road approach Carlisle Circus without glancing sideways at the glory that was Annesley Street.
For more information:
Bernard Jaffa remembers Annesley Street synagogue https://greatplacenorthbelfast.com/project/bernard-jaffa-on-annesley-street-synagogue/
About the religious significance of a mikvah (ritual bath) see https://greatplacenorthbelfast.com/project/annesley-street-synagogue-mikvah-bath/
The Upper Room at Annesley Street synagogue
Every evening a group of men gathered in the room on the upper floor of Annesley Street synagogue to learn the Talmud –a vast Biblical commentary and compendium of Jewish law and customs.
The language of the Talmud is Aramaic and the lesson was given mostly in Yiddish. The class was usually led by learned lay members of the congregation, like Joseph Hurwitz, Chaim Weinstein and Chaim Rose. These men had learnt in the yeshivot - Rabbinical academies - of Eastern Europe.
Chaim Weinstein conducted the class with his eyes shut - such was the knowledge and intensity of his learning. "For why are you asking such a stupid question" was the rebuke he gave to an unwarranted break in his concentration.
The Belfast Chevra Gemorah learnt a page of Talmud a day. They completed their learning of the entire Talmud approximately once every 11 years when a siyum gadol - or a great celebration was held by the entire community. They achieved this milestone on five occasions. There was a reception and a dinner - and many speeches.
A number of younger Jews - Belfast born and educated remember attending the shiur (lesson) of the Chevra Gamorah. Educated for secular and professional careers, and with a much more basic Jewish education, the old style Chevra Gemorah had little appeal and attracted few new recruits from that generation.
However, today, across the Jewish world, more people are learning Torah to this standard than at any time in history.
You can watch - but unfortunately not hear, a lesson of the Belfast Chevra Gemorah in the course of this video on Youtube (see 5 minutes in)
Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast
Eddie Cullens (born Isaac Jacob Cohen) was born in Smyrna (now Izmir) Turkey on the 4th February 1903. In 1920, he joined his brother Joshua in New York, just as the US government began to restrict immigration from Europe. He was naturalised as an American citizen in 1928 and changed his name to Eddie Cullens.
Cullens had a number of odd jobs in New York. While he was working as a film projectionist he met a man named Assim Redvan who had formed a syndicate with fellow Turk Ahmet Musa. The purpose of the syndicate was to promote Zaro Agha with the Bertram Mills Circus in Europe as "The Oldest Man in the world". Agha claimed to be 156 years old. The syndicate travelled by ship from New York to Southampton, England in April 1931. They split the money made from postcards of Zaro Agha and from spectators who were admitted to his tent at the Circus.
In the summer of 1931, Ahmet Musa struck another member of the circus while they were in Liverpool. After Musa was told to leave the circus temporarily, Cullens and Musa moved from the Circus grounds to rent dwellings and a lock-up garage in Liverpool. Cullens negotiated a flat for the duo under the alias “Barney Bermann.” On the 29th August, Redvan lent Cullens and Musa his car and they sailed from Liverpool to Belfast to explore potential venues to accommodate Zaro Agha, before they were to rejoin the circus. Upon arrival the following day, the two men rented a room in a B&B run by bookmaker Matthew Ryan and his wife along Donegall Quay in Belfast city centre.
In court, Cullens claimed he and Musa accompanied Ryan to the greyhound races on Wednesday the 3rd September. Cullens said he and Ryan left Musa in the car as he had no interest in dog racing and when they returned to leave, Musa had vanished. Cullens said he thought Ahmet Musa had gone to meet a woman. Ryan testified in court that the last time he saw Cullens and Musa was on Wednesday evening before the races in Belfast. Both he and his wife told the court that neither Cullens nor Musa had spent the night at their B&B. Cullens sailed back to England on Thursday the 4th September. When asked by other circus members in England about Ahmet, Cullens said he’d met a rich woman in Belfast with whom he was living.
On Friday, the 5th September, the naked body of Ahmet Musa was discovered in a remote stone-walled field at Seskin, near Carrickfergus. He had been shot once in the head and stripped of all his clothes which were later found dumped in Belfast. His killer(s) placed a ladies blue and white bathing cap on his head. Due to the lack of blood in the field, detectives were certain that Musa had been shot somewhere other than the field where he’d been transported by car. During Cullens’ trial, his defence barrister pointed out that it would have been physically impossible for 5’6” 140 lbs Cullens to have transported Ahmet, who was over 6 feet tall and weighed 200 lbs, to the field unaided and dump the body without disturbing any stones in the wall.
Despite excellent counsel who were paid for by members of the local Jewish community, and lawyers dispatched by his brother Joshua from America, Cullens was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. The evidence against him was circumstantial. After exhausting all avenues of appeal, he was hanged on Friday the 13th January 1932. Cullens, who’d been visited daily by local Rabbi Jacob Shachter during his time at Crumlin Road Gaol, protested his innocence to the end.
Rabbi Shachter told the newspapers: “He went to the scaffold with the deep conviction that his hands were clean and clear of the blood of this man.”
Cullens's remains are buried against the wall in the yard of Crumlin Road Gaol alongside those of others executed at the prison. Today the gaol is a tourist attraction. The prison authorities kept no record identifying which grave belongs to Cullens. Therefore efforts by the Jewish community to have the body transferred to a Jewish cemetery have proven unsuccessful.
Annlucien Senna, research student at Reading University.
Video of Zaro Agha, "the world's oldest man"
Vicinage Park, Belfast
In 1967, in the tense weeks leading up to the Six Day War, Abba Eban engaged in shuttle diplomacy on behalf of the State of Israel – meeting in quick succession, General De Gaulle in Paris, Prime Minister Harold Wilson at Ten Downing Street, and President Lyndon Johnson at the White House. The eyes of the world were on this man – who as an infant had lived at 24 Vicinage Park, off the Antrim Road.
Abba Eban's Belfast years occurred from the tender age of two in about 1917. He was sent there following the untimely death of his father. Struggling to make ends meet, his London-based mother was forced to dispatch the youngster to the care of relatives in Belfast – Samuel and Yette Elliott. Then called Aubrey Solomon, he lived near the Herzog family in the north of the city.
If Abba Eban betrayed little of his Belfast childhood in later life, his time in the city was the first of a set of coincidences which had his career run parallel to Belfast-born Chaim Herzog's. Both men were educated in Cambridge, where they became friends. Both fought Hitler, serving as officers in the British Army. Both Eban and Herzog immersed themselves in the Zionist movement.
Both rose to the highest diplomatic rank possible in the new state of Israel. They represented their country at different times at the United Nations. Eban became Israel's first UN ambassador in 1948, and two years later served also as ambassador to the US. Herzog took up the reins at the UN in 1974, when Israel stood isolated in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.
Even greater prizes lay ahead. Chaim Herzog became president of Israel in 1983. Eban was for eight years Israel's foreign minister (1966-1974). These two men were right at the heart of Israeli politics for over four decades. They even married sisters. Eban married Suzy Ambashe, from a distinguished Jewish family living in Egypt. It was through his former neighbour off the Cliftonville Road, that Chaim Herzog met his wife, Suzy's younger sister, Aura.
Belfast provided more for Abba Eban than his first link with Chaim Herzog. It also gave him a step-father and his new name. Eban's mother was working for her brother, a doctor in a run-down district in the east end of London. The surgery was overwhelmed by a flu epidemic. A young Scottish doctor then practising in Belfast was called Isaac Eban. Eban agreed to help out at the surgery in London, where he met Abba's widowed mother, and they fell in love. After their marriage, Aubrey Solomon was brought back to London, where both he and his elder sister adopted the family name of their step-father.
The remarkable legacy of Chaim Herzog (who died in 1997) and Abba Eban is not without controversy in Israel. They were perceived by their fellow Israelis as being patrician and aloof, and were respected rather than loved by an electorate who prefer their leaders to be more dogmatic and emotional. The success of Herzog and Eban at almost everything they turned their hands to, from journalism to broadcasting, as well as politics and diplomacy, inevitably gave rise to envy as well as to admiration.
But in Belfast, at the end of the Great War, few in the local Jewish community could have foreseen in their wildest dreams what lay ahead for these two children in their midst. The Jewish people had then been without a state to call their own for almost two millennia. From this tiny outpost of the Jewish diaspora emerged two statesmen who were to play a pivotal role in the establishment and the survival of Israel in a largely hostile world.
“History teaches us that men and nations only behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives….” - Abba Eban
Adapted from an article in the Belfast Telegraph by Steven Jaffe written on the death of Abba Eban.
15 Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast
In addition to a future President of Israel and Chief Rabbi, Cliftonpark Avenue Belfast can also claim a future Soviet Foreign Minister. For some time between about 1908 and 1910 Maxim Litvinov lived at no.15 – the home of his sister Rifka and her husband David Levinson.
Litvinov was born in 1876 to a middle class Jewish family in Bialystock, today in Poland. His original name was Meir Wallach. Litvinov joined the revolutionary Social Democratic party in the late 1890s. As a Bolshevik activist he escaped from prison in Kiev. In 1908 he was arrested in Paris in possession of a large quantity of stolen bank notes. Deported to England, it is believed he soon made the journey to Belfast – under the assumed name of Max Harrison – to stay with his sister.
Little is known about Litvinov’s stay in Belfast. In 1940 - seven years after the death of Rifka - the Belfast Telegraph published an interview with David Levinson and his two daughters, Ray and Estar. According to the interview, there was a deep bond of affection between Litvinov and his late sister and they corresponded regularly.
The Belfast Telegraph piece states Litvinov got a teaching job at a language school on the Antrim Road. However, the historian Neil Cornwell believed it was more likely he taught at the Berlitz school which was on Royal Avenue and then Wellington Place. Litvinov is said to have enjoyed walking on Cavehill and often visited the Free (now Central) Library. He must have been an unusual sight walking around Belfast dressed in a white linen suit and panama hat.
As a committed Marxist, Litvinov is unlikely to have associated himself with the Jewish community while in Belfast. He and his observant sister clashed over religion. Litvinov also seems to have avoided any political activity. However, leading Irish trade unionists who met with him in London in 1918 were surprised by the depth of his knowledge about Irish socialism.
David Levinson told the Belfast Telegraph that at least two agents of the Czarist secret police followed Litvinov to Belfast and took up watch on the house on Cliftonpark Avenue. One day Litvinov left Belfast as suddenly as he arrived – receiving instructions from party leaders that he had to return to London. Certainly Litvinov never spoke of his Belfast connections during his long career and the Levinson family also remained tight lipped until after Rifka had passed away.
In the mid 1930s, Maxim Litvinov was tasked by Stalin to improve relations with the West in order to establish a common front against Nazi Germany. As Soviet Foreign Minister he was an affable and smiling face to a ruthless regime. When his efforts failed he was dismissed and replaced by the more hardline Molotov. In August 1939 Molotov secured the Nazi-Soviet pact which led to the German and Russian invasions of Poland. The Second World War had begun.
During the War, Litvinov served as the USSR’s ambassador to America. Back in Belfast, David Levinson greeted this appointment by remarking: “We knew that sooner or later Litvinov would come back into the public eye…People like Litvinov cannot be held down.”
True enough, Litvinov survived the political purges under Stalin – which amidst the carnage killed off many of his friends and at least four of his personal assistants. He died in his bed in 1951. Litvinov's grandson, Pavel, campaigned for civil rights in the USSR and publicly protested against the crushing of the Prague spring in 1968. He endured five years' exile in Siberia and left the country in 1974.
Newsreel: Commissar Maxim Litvinov arrives in New York 1933 video
62 Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast
In 1938 the Belfast Jewish community converted vacant premises at 62 Cliftonpark Avenue into a hostel for children from the kindertransport. The Black family in particular were involved in acquiring the premises and furnishing it.
Immediately before the war, the UK permitted up to 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to enter the country but unaccompanied by their parents or other family members. Most of these children never saw their families again.
Over 30 kindertransport children came to the hostel in Belfast. The youngest, Max Eindfeld, from Vienna was aged six. Robert Sugar was aged nine. We know the names, ages and places of origin of those children aged 15 and under from the register of the nearby school they attended, Jaffe school on the Cliftonville Road.
Amongst the children in the hostel was Walter Kammerling, aged 15 (see photograph).
The children were given special lessons in English at Jaffe school by the vice principal, Mrs Moore. During the summer holidays many of the children were taken to the Millisle refugee settlement farm, purchased by the Belfast Jewish community and established by older teenagers from the religious Zionist Bachad movement. This move to Millisle became more permanent following the blitz on Belfast in April 1941 which particularly affected the north of the city. At Millisle the children attended Millisle Primary school and later some went to secondary schools in Bangor and Newtownards (see the separate story about the Millisle refugee farm).
According to one child refugee: the hostel on Clifton Park Avenue was: ‘not so nice as on the farm. In a big room eight girls sleep. It looks like a hospital. It is always cold.'
The school register of Jaffe school, Cliftonville Road, Belfast - 1938-9 lists the following children from the kindertransport:
Max Eindfeld, Vienna, aged 6
Robert Sugar, Vienna, aged 9
Walter Koechen, Germany, aged 12
Walter Lemberger, Germany, aged 13
Albert Buttkas, Germany, aged 14
Hans Lemberger, Germany, aged 15
Leopold Dux, Germany, aged 13
Robert Muller, Germany
Paul Bass, Vienna, aged 14
Walter Kammerling, Vienna, aged 15 (photo)
Erich Meirstein, Gottingen, aged 15
Harry Borgenich, Vienna, aged 10
Robert Furst, Berlin, aged 15
Max Weinberg, Vienna, aged 12
Alex Blumenburg, Munich, aged 12
Joseph Frey, Germany, aged 15
Erne Saefer, Germany, aged 10
Annie Graf, aged 12
Alice (Litzie) Lemberger, aged 13
Heddy Kalz, aged 15
Alice Muller, aged 14
Eina Hoene, aged 15
Clara Nussbaum, aged 14
Kitty Dux, Germany, aged 14
Betty Fassberg, Cologne, aged 14
Annie Nussbaum, Vienna, aged 10
Annie Horne, Vienna, aged 13
Sonja Mechlovitz, Vienna, aged 10
Gertrude Neufeld, Vienna, aged 10
Gusti Blumenberg, Munich, aged 13
For more information, you can read the Imperial War Museum's story of another child who came to Northern Ireland, 14 year-old Edith Jacobowitz. Edith remembers the journey to Northern Ireland and her experiences while living there: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/edith-jacobowitz-and-millisle-refugee-farm
See also the Map story of Millisle Farm which gives additional resources about the children of the farm.
The video testimony of Willie Glaser:
Willie Glaser, from Furst in Germany, was a refugee from Nazism who arrived in Belfast a week before the outbreak of war. He followed his sister Lottie (later married name Lottie Black) - who came on the kindertransport. Neither stayed at the hostel on Cliftonpark Avenue. Willie lodged with Barney Spiro. Barney tried to fix up Willie with a job in the shipyards. During his time in Belfast he was befriended by Rabbi Shachter. Willie joined the Polish forces in exile. He took part in the Normandy landings of 1944 and the liberation of Europe.
185 Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast
Sarah Herzog's son, Chaim, described her as “clearly the dominant individual at home. She was very pretty and gracious and, although petite, almost regal in her demeanour. Wherever her home was, it was a centre of grace and culture and, later, in Israel, a magnet for the Jewish community from around the world.”
Sarah Herzog was a prominent figure in the development of the leading geriatric and psychiatric hospital in the Middle East, which is named after her – the Sarah Herzog Memorial hospital in Jerusalem. She was awarded two honorary doctorates and was an accomplished speaker – in English and in Hebrew.
Sarah’s communal responsibilities began in Belfast when in 1917 – still in her teens – she married the Belfast rabbi, Isaac Herzog. It was in Belfast where she first assumed the title of rebbetzin, the designation of a rabbi’s wife, and took on pastoral and charitable responsibilities. Born in Riga (Latvia) in 1899, to a distinguished rabbinical family, she was brought up in London. Her husband was destined to become the first chief rabbi of the Irish Free State and then, from 1936, chief rabbi of the Holy Land - the most senior position in Orthodox Judaism.
In 1977, Sarah Herzog became the founding president of World Emunah, a Jewish women’s organisation which today has 180,000 women as members from almost 30 different countries. As she had been widowed for almost 20 years by that time, Sarah didn’t owe this appointment to the status of her husband.
Emunah is one of the largest social providers in Israel. Emunah’s many projects include two named after Sarah: Neve Sarah Herzog, in Bnei Brak, which brings educational and employment opportunities to religious Jewish women; and the Sarah Herzog Children’s Home in Afula, in northern Israel, which provides a residential home to children who are unable to live with their families.
In the years that she lived in Belfast (1917-1919), Sarah Herzog’s principal task was to bring order to the home of the rabbi. Isaac was an outstanding Jewish scholar, but very unworldly. The community paid him a weekly salary in cash on a Friday morning. He was often left penniless by the onset of the Sabbath on Friday evening. His generosity attracted every hard up case from within and outside the Jewish community. Never refusing anyone, the rabbi was left unable to pay his own rent. Following marriage, it was at Sarah’s insistence he was paid by cheque and all charitable donations had to be signed off by both of them!
On the morning he was sworn in as president of Israel in 1983, Belfast-born Chaim Herzog crossed Jerusalem to pray at the graves of his father and mother. He reflected: ” my mother continued on as a grande dame, even as she lost her husband and her younger son.. ..She devoted her life to Israel – starting schools, helping immigrants and setting up the largest mental and geriatric hospital in the Middle East. As I stood by their graves, I so wished they could have witnessed this day.” Sarah Herzog’s remarkable record of communal activism flourished in later life in Israel, but the seeds were sown as a young rabbi’s wife in north Belfast.
To find out more, visit the ‘Chaim Herzog in Belfast’ on-line exhibition about the Herzog family and its connections to the city: click here Chaim Herzog in Belfast
Chaim Herzog, sixth President of Israel, wrote many books, including an autobiography, Living History.
Cliftonville Road, Belfast
School historian, Edward McCamley, writes: "an appealing feature of the Academy over a long span of years was its reputation as the school favoured by the Jewish community. This aspect of the school's history is important to its liberal ethos and to its academic reputation."
Founded in 1785, BRA is Belfast's oldest School. It has occupied its current site on the Cliftonville Road since the 1880s.It was a non-denominational school open to all which nonetheless was shaped by the Presbyterian enlightenment.
As early as 1897 David Clarke (son of the congregation's vice president, Gusman Clarke) carried off academic and sporting honours at the school. Another promising pupil in the 1890s was BJ Fox. He went on to become Judge Fox CBE, QC. In the days of city scholarship examinations a steady stream of Jewish pupils made the short journey up the Cliftonville Road from Jaffe elementary school to further their education at BRA.
The school's liberal ethos provided a welcoming environment for its Jewish pupils. It came as no surprise at the school prize day in 1936 that the then Head Master, A R Foster, spoke out in the strongest terms against Nazi antisemitism. A subsequent headmaster, Mr Darbyshire, turned away Jewish pupils who came to school on the Jewish festivals because he believed they should be attending synagogue at Annesley Street. From the mid 1950s until the 1980s there were enough Jewish pupils at the school to justify separate Jewish Assemblies four mornings a week (taken by non-Jewish schoolmasters, Mr Kane and then Mr Clarke).
Both Rabbi Shachter and Rabbi Carlebach sent their children to BRA. In 1942 Louis Levi became the first Jewish Head Boy. When a distinguished old boy, Sir Francis Evans, was appointed ambassador to Israel in 1952, he was already no stranger to Jews thanks to the friends he had made at school. Judge Fox and his son Jackie, QC RM, served as governors. Martin Blake was Head Boy in 1965 and a rugby player of note was Alan Rosenberg who was selected for the Ulster Schools team in the early 1970s.
Distinguished former pupils include:
Marion Meek, inspector of Historic Buildings in Northern Ireland;
Israel Shachter, senior partner in the largest patent agency in Israel;
Ronald Coppel, chair of the Stock Exchange in Sydney;
Rose Moss, president Old Girls association;
Leading Medical consultant and researcher, Dr Louis Hurwitz;
Martin Sieff, senior journalist in the USA and Pulitzer Prize nominee; and
in 2020, Tony Danker was appointed director general of the CBI.
According to the school website: "Although the community and its numbers at the Academy have diminished in recent years, many former pupils remain in contact with the school and the congregation's current President, Dr. Dennis Coppel, and its Chairman, Michael Black, are both alumni".
Jewish children attended many other north Belfast schools, including St Mary's Christian Brothers then at Barrack Street; the Boys' and Girls' Model; Dunlambert and Belfast High School. Others went to Methodist College, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (where Michael Fredlander was head boy in 1976) and Victoria College/ Richmond Lodge schools (Head girls Margaret (Peggy) Loewenthal in 1930, Dinah Kohner 1953).
Steven Jaffe (BRA 1976-1983)
Cliftonville Road, Belfast
Jaffe school was opened in 1907. Sir Otto and Lady Jaffe – the lay leaders of the Belfast Jewish community – presented the school as a gift to the people of north Belfast. The school was a memorial to Lady Jaffe's late parents, Moritz and Bertha Hertz, of Brunswick, Germany. The opening ceremony was performed by the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava.
The Jaffes wanted the new school to be a model for elementary schools across the city. At a time when many schools were overcrowded and unfit for purpose, the Jaffe school stood out for its large and airy rooms and state of the art heating and ventilation systems. It claimed to be the first elementary school in Belfast to have purpose built rooms for science and needlework. The capacity of the school was 250 pupils.
The Jaffes stipulated that the school should be open to all to attend as pupils, serve on its management committee, and be employed on its staff. Protestant and Catholic pupils therefore outnumbered the Jews. But generations of Jewish schoolchildren attended Jaffe school, and received both their religious and secular education there. Hebrew lessons were taught after school hours, and in the early years of the twentieth century, the building also served as a cultural centre for Belfast’s Jews. Many important community events were held there.
Jaffe school had an excellent reputation in the days of city scholarships and grammar school entrance exams. Former pupils include the actor Harold Goldblatt (a founder of the Group theatre), Solly Glover, who played a key role in the development of Tel Aviv, as senior building inspector, and Solly Lipsitz, the well-known local jazz commentator.
The first headmaster was a Corkman called Patrick J McCarthy, who transferred from the predecessor school at Regent Street. He instilled a love of the sport of handball at the school. His wife also taught there. Another popular teacher was Mrs Jean Moore who was for many years Vice Principal. A former pupil at the school – the late Harold Ross - remembered how during religious assembly, Mr McCarthy took the Jewish pupils (although not Jewish himself, he helped the children with their Hebrew prayers); Mrs McCarthy looked after the Catholic children and Mrs Moore the Protestants. Joffre Hurwitz recalled the "unerring accuracy" with which Mr McCarthy could hit an inattentive pupil with a piece of chalk.
In 1924 the management of the school was transferred to the Belfast Education Authority. During the headmastership of W J O’Hanlon (1935-49) Jaffe school took in an influx of refugee children from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and Mrs Moore gave extra English classes to help them.
Jaffe school closed in 1958 to the regret of local residents and former pupils. The building became known as the Jaffe Centre, and from about 1960 it was a place of Further Education and training for unemployed youngsters. In eight years over 10,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 16 passed through the Jaffe Centre's doors. The Centre closed in 1968 due to “the Government’s winning battle against unemployment.” For a short while the building was used by the College of Commerce.
The Centre lay empty for some years until it reopened in the mid 1970s as a special school for children with behavioural difficulties. As one former pupil put it, the Jaffe was “a last chance saloon for lots of us education wise”. The Jaffe Centre retained its Edwardian facade but inside it was a bright and up-to-date school which remained true to the principles of its founders, Sir Otto and Lady Jaffe – it was open to children from all communities and backgrounds, despite the sectarian violence raging around it.
Sadly, the building fell victim to the Troubles too – it was burnt down during disturbances in July 1996. The then principal, Mr McConnell, remarked, “Burning schools is burning the future”. It also destroyed a significant part of north Belfast's past.
This story is adapted from an article by Steven Jaffe for the North Belfast Historical magazine, vol. 3.
Despite the opening of Jaffe School, many Jewish schoolchildren continued to attend St Enoch's school at Carlisle Circus during the early decades of the twentieth century. Later, Skegoneill Primary school was also popular with many Jewish families as they moved up the Antrim Road.
Ashfield Gardens, Belfast
"Pride of our community was the Belfast Jewish Institute or "the Club" as we knew it. It was a large building with a huge upstairs room complete with a stage. I can still hear the dance music floating out of the windows on a Sunday night. The room was full of American service personnel stationed nearby during the war. The ballroom was also used for table tennis, badminton, meetings etc. Almost every simcha (family celebration) was held in the Club and our lives were centred there. " Eddie Price.
The BJI was originally called the Jewish Social and Tennis club. The late actor Harold Goldblatt explained its origins: “Something quite unbelievable happened. Two brothers, friends of mine, applied for membership of a tennis club. The reply received was that the application was rejected. The reason given, that they did not accept Jewish members.”
This incident in 1926 galvanised the community. First, some younger members took a lease of land at Ashfield Gardens, off Glandore Avenue, and laid some tennis courts there. Then a meeting was held in the Capitol Cinema on the Antrim Road, with the object of raising funds to erect a club house. Everyone donating more than £20 – quite a sum in those days – had the honour of having their name inscribed on a tablet to be placed on the wall.
The laying of the foundation stone in May 1927 was an impressive ceremony attended by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, the High Sheriff and City Chamberlain.
In a city where so many social and sporting activities were organised along denominational lines, it made sense for the Jewish community to organise its own social club. It also meant activities could take place on a Sunday – tennis players were asked not to change into their whites before they arrived at the BJI on a Sunday so as not to offend their Christian neighbours.
As well as tennis courts outside, the BJI boasted a dining room, committee rooms which could be used by the various sections, and the large ballroom upstairs. The kitchens and catering facilities were the envy of many much larger communities.
It would be impossible to summarise all the activities which took place at the BJI during its 55 year history. However, mention must be made of its Dramatic section which in the 1930s became one of the most important amateur theatrical groups in Northern Ireland. In 1940, under the direction of Harold Goldblatt, it was one of the three troupes which combined to form the Ulster Group theatre. The Bridge section produced a number of Northern Ireland international bridge players. The Literary section invited speakers from Queen's University and from wider afield.
During the Second World War, hundreds of Jewish servicemen from the British and US armed forces found much needed recreation at the BJI. A plaque in the foyer recorded the thanks of the GIs. One wartime visitor who was not so impressed was the social reformer, Basil Henriques. In 1941 there was so much card playing going on he complained that the Club looked like a “gambling den” on the day he visited.
There was the tennis season, starting with an American tournament and culminating in the Kaitcer cup; inter visits to and from Dublin and Cork; the “Blue and White” ball in support of Israeli charities; stage shows; record hops; table tennis; the annual Junior Forum oratory contest, and the children’s Chanuka parties. For many the Club was simply a place to have a kosher meal, a lemon tea and a game of cards.
When the Club was burnt down by vandals in May 1982 there was an outpouring of nostalgia amongst former Belfast Jews now living around the world: they recalled "the dances, the laughter, the parties and simchas, the debates and the general meetings, full of cut and thrust", which had graced the now burnt out building.
“For those of us who can remember, the Club was lovingly looked after by the incredible Harry Waterman and Mendel Hodes, and the great cook Sally…My family still fondly remembers the Sunday night suppers of Vorst, saveloys & chips and Sally’s amazing soup and apple pie.” - Jacqui
Glandore Avenue, Belfast
From the Belfast Jewish Record, 2006:
“With the departure of Jackie and the passing of Sadie, I am the last member of the Jewish community residing in the Glandore area. It is a very eerie and sad feeling and although I have very good neighbours, one misses the Jewish atmosphere.
When I arrived as a bride in 1957, Harold and I went to live at 42 Glandore Avenue and directly across the road were the Dankers, Ginsburgs and Cohens. To the left were Harris’s, Aharonis and Robinsons. Further up the road were Kenny and Sadie Lewis and at the top of the road were the Levey’s. In the small streets off the Avenues I remember the Tillmans, Cahills, Hodes and Jennie Abrahams.
Harold’s aunt and uncle, Bessie and Isy Simon lived in the Drive and also the Hymans. There were also Abe and Jean Cohen, Mrs Glover, the Franks and Rose Weiner.
These are just some of the people I remember. I know that most of the community who lived in the Glandore area eventually moved further up the Antrim Road or emigrated.
So it’s almost the end of an era. I shouldn’t feel sad, as they were great days. “
499 Antrim Road, Belfast
The first kosher butcher shop in Belfast is believed to have been run by the Hodes family, probably from as early as the 1890s. In the 1930s two shops competed for the trade. One was run by Mrs Diamond and the other by Mott Nemtzov.
Victuallers opened in 1931 at 127 Old Lodge Road, when Mott Nemtzov and his family relocated from Manchester. Along with the Nemtzov family came an orphaned teenager who was an apprentice in their butcher’s shop in Manchester. He was Abraham Joseph Moss (known as Joe), and he went on to take over the shop in the early 1970s, when Mott retired to Southport.
Joe Moss settled in Belfast and married a local Jewish girl, Sadie Shear, in 1934. They had one son, Harold, who did not follow his father into the business.
The butchers shop which moved to the Antrim Road served the community through thick and thin. In its heyday the shop employed a team of assistants, until the mid-1980s when there were just two.
Popping into the shop, exchanging news and having a chat, were an important part of Belfast Jewish life. Meat deliveries were made across Northern Ireland, and also meat parcels were dispatched to Jewish families in the Isle of Man.
The “Troubles” in the 1970s had quite an impact on the business. Many long-standing customers, members of the Jewish Community, decided to move away from Northern Ireland. The steel lined vans belonging to the business were regularly hijacked.
A quirk of the Troubles meant that Joe Moss was probably the only kosher butcher in the world to require an explosives licence from the police. The salt peter used in the pickling of the meat for salt beef can also be used in manufacturing explosives.
The further decline of the community in the early 1980s, and his poor health, meant that in 1984 Joe Moss retired, well into his 70s. He had served the Belfast Jewish community for 53 years.
Amanda Jackson (nee Moss, Joe's granddaughter).
493 Antrim Road, Belfast
Daniel Levey, originally from Leeds, served in the Jewish Legion during the First World War, under the command of Lt Colonel JH Patterson. He fought the Ottoman Turks in Palestine, where he contracted malaria. After the war Dan joined his brother in Belfast and married local girl, Esther, in 1929.
The business he established on the Antrim Road, Levey’s delicatessen, was for decades a vital part of Jewish life in Belfast. Levey’s was one of few shops to specialise in “Foreign and continental delicacies.” It was definitely one place where you could buy delicious rye bread, pickled cucumbers and pickled herring. The shop strove “to offer the Jewish housewife, right through the year, a great variety of kosher fare.” Many customers came from outside the community as well.
Dan Levey died in 1970. The business had been taken over by Frank Armstrong. A much-awaited event each springtime was the opening of the Pesach shop which sold the Matzah (unleavened bread), special cakes and other permitted food for the Passover festival. In some years the rooms above the neighbouring Cherry Tree bakery were used for this purpose. The last proprietor from the mid 1980s was Mr J. Glackin. In 1997 he closed the shop at 493 Antrim Road for the last time. Another great Jewish institution in Belfast had come to an end.
Adrian Levey remembers: “The rye bread came by ferry from Glasgow. Dad supplied the smoked salmon for BEA at Nutts Corner airport, for those passengers who wanted Levey’s smoked salmon with their meal.”
Cavehill Road, Belfast
“I’m sure most of you remember Bloody Friday 1972. I was 8 and was with my Mum at the Cavehill shops at the time of the bombing. Apparently (I don’t remember most of the events) we were walking past a parked car on the way to the post office when Stephen Parker, a 14-year-old assistant in the sweet shop, called out to Mum and warned her that the car had been there for a while and that we should move away. Mum grabbed me, and we had not run more than 50 meters when the car exploded, killing three, among them Stephen Parker. (Apparently he had warned others besides us.) At the time I was too young to understand the tragic enormity of the event and I had never given it much thought over the years. That is until a few years ago, two minutes after I got on a bus near my home in Israel, there was a stabbing attack at the bus stop I had been waiting at. After this second brush with death, the memory of 1972 came flooding back and I was overcome with emotion. Even though many years have passed, I want to contact Stephen Parker’s family and tell them that I was one of the people whose lives he saved.”
The following is from the Jewish Chronicle, 11 August 1972:
“Until recently, the area in which the Jewish community live – around the Antrim Road – was relatively quiet. Then came Bloody Friday, which blew a local shopping parade to pieces and killed several people.
To date, the only Jewish casualties have been property, not lives. But this is providential – one Jewish family lives only 100 yards from the shops which suffered on that terrible Friday.
Most of Belfast Jews share a fatalistic attitude, although in the past 18 months 13 families have emigrated to Israel, Australia, Canada or England. Of the 47 people who left it is known that at least 35 went because of safety, leaving behind their livelihoods.
…there is certainly a draining of this viable and hitherto happy community.”
The Jewish community in Belfast took no part in the violent conflict. Community premises were used as a neutral venue by Catholic and Protestant groups wishing to iron out some difficulty. On occasions they asked that the chairman of a joint meeting be a Jew.
Amongst the over 3,500 victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland (from the late 1960s until 1998), three Jews are known to have been killed.
In October 1973 a British soldier, Lindsay Dobbie, was killed at his post in Londonderry when an IRA booby trapped parcel exploded. Another Jewish soldier was blinded in this attack.
Simone Chetrit, a French student visiting Dublin, was murdered in May 1974 on a day of Loyalist bomb attacks in the Republic of Ireland. These left 33 people dead and 258 injured.
Leonard Kaitcer, a member of the Belfast Jewish community, was abducted and murdered by a Republican gang in February 1980.
The home of a senior magistrate, Jackie Fox, was bombed in 1971. In 1977 Leonard Steinberg was shot several times by the IRA on the door step of his home and was fortunate to survive. He left Belfast for Manchester, expanded his business, Stanley Leisure, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Steinberg of Belfast.
Like so many others in the wider community, many Belfast Jewish shopkeepers found themselves facing bomb attacks on their premises, incendiary devices, armed robberies, bomb scares, threats and protection rackets.
There is no doubt that the Troubles hastened the decline of the Belfast Jewish community. It was difficult to attract a communal rabbi and for much of the period the community had to make do without a resident spiritual leader or qualified teachers for the Cheder, its religion school. Younger members of the community were leaving – and were often joined in later years by their parents. Few newcomers chose to make Belfast their home to replace them.
Alongside the Troubles, there were other reasons for the numerical decline of the Belfast Jewish community. Many smaller Jewish communities across the UK and Ireland have also declined or disappeared altogether - Cork; Sunderland; Swansea for example. Many Jews have gravitated to the larger communities in Manchester or London, or further afield to Israel, USA or Australia, to find marriage partners and jobs, and enjoy the facilities that only the larger communities can provide - such as Jewish day schools and kosher restaurants. Other Jews have assimilated and secularised and no longer seek membership of an organised Jewish community.
But there is no doubt the Troubles accelerated these trends.
In 1964, just prior to the civil unrest, the community had invested in a large new synagogue in north Belfast with capacity for over 800 worshippers. By the time of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the total numbers of Jews in Northern Ireland had declined to 365 individuals, not all of whom were synagogue attenders. Today there are fewer than 70 members of the Belfast Jewish community.
Glenalla, Co. Donegal - Netta Franklin
Kennedy Place, Londonderry - A Stalwart Outpost: Londonderry Synagogue
Fountain Street, Londonderry - A Jewish saint and scholar
Strabane - A code breaker and manufacturer in Strabane
Sion Mills, Co. Tyrone - A Sephardic Commander
Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry - The Silver Screen
Cookstown, Co. Tyrone - Corsetry and Hat Factories in Cookstown.
Stuart Hall, near Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone - The County Tyrone "Kibbutz"
Valley Hotel, Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone - Handkerchief manufacturers
St James Church, Moy, Co. Tyrone - A Churchyard mystery
Armagh city - A Congregation in the 1890s
Portadown, Co. Armagh - Ulster Laces: the Bloch family
North Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh - The Minyan Rooms
Union Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh - A Suitcase of Memories: the Matthews Family
Newry, Co. Down - From Newry to Norway: A Holocaust story
Kilkeel, Co. Down - A refugee from Hitler and Stalin
Market Street, Downpatrick, Co. Down - Waterman's shoe makers and repairers
Shrigley, Co. Down - Saviours of a Village
Saintfield, Co. Down - Between a Rock and a Hard place
Millisle, Co. Down - A Place of Refuge: Millisle Farm
Tudor Hall, Holywood, Co. Down - At the Home of Martin and Kate Jaffe: the First Service
Amalie Croft, Marine Parade, Holywood Co. Down - The will of James Jacob Mautner
Court Square, Newtownards, Co. Down - An Ulster Schindler: From Vienna to Newtownards
Longlands Road, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim - Belart
The Manse, Crosshill, Crumlin, Co Antrim - A Survivor of Terezin Ghetto
Crevilly-valley, near Ballymena, Co. Antrim - Cushion covers for Queen Elizabeth from Tapestry Weavers (Ulster) Ltd
Larne, Co. Antrim - The only Jew born in Larne?
The Diamond, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim - A solitary presence
City Cemetery, off the Falls Road, Belfast - Set in Stone: A Victorian Jewish Burial Ground
Lanark Street (today Lanark Way), Belfast - A Jewish Football Star: Joe Abrahams
Waterford Street Belfast - Belfast Silk and Rayon Factory
Royal Victoria Hospital, Falls Road Belfast - Jewish Doctors
Milltown Cemetery - Maroussia Zorokovitch
Northumberland Street, Belfast - Patterson Mural
Suffolk House, Dunmurry, south Belfast - Pearls for a Princess: Ulster Pearls
Malone Road, Belfast - Patrons of the Arts: the Lewinter-Frankls
Queens University Belfast - Philip Hobsbaum, Poet
Crescent Arts Centre, 2-4 University Road, Belfast - First Lady of Dance and Survivor: Helen Lewis
113 Great Victoria Street, Belfast - The First Synagogue
10 Donegall Square South, Belfast, today Ten Square Hotel - Who's Looking at You? Jaffe Brothers Premises
Belfast City Hall - A Jewish Lord Mayor: Sir Otto Jaffe
Cenotaph, Belfast City Hall - Jews who fell in the Wars
16-18 Donegall Square North, Belfast - Linen Hall Library: Moore and Weinberg Linen Merchants
51-55 Fountain Street, Belfast - Jaffa Furs
Donegall Square North, Belfast - The Gramophone Shop
24 Donegall Place, Belfast - Beaverbrooks the Jewellers
Castle Place Belfast - Goorwitch's
Victoria Square, Belfast - The Jaffe Fountain
High Street, Belfast - Solly Lipsitz Atlantic records
Custom House steps, Belfast - Simon Greenspon: Socialist revolutionary
Belfast Port - An Emigrant from Belfast: the Oscar winner
Harland & Wolff shipyards, Belfast - Shipbuilder to the World: G W Wolff
Newtownards Road, Belfast - Jaffe Spinning Mills, today Portview Trade Centre
Ravenhill Road, Belfast - Pioneers in Journalism: Judith and Ray Rosenfield
Jackson Street, Belfast - A Belfast shtiebel
Regent Street, Belfast - A Jewish School in the 1890s
York Street - The Furniture Shops
Between the Crumlin and Old Lodge Roads, Belfast - Belfast’s Little Jerusalem
Annesley Street, Carlisle Circus, Belfast - The shul at Annesley Street
The Upper Room at Annesley Street synagogue - Belfast's Chevra Gemorah
Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast - A Jew hanged at Belfast prison
Vicinage Park, Belfast - Abba Eban’s House
15 Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast - A Bolshevik in Belfast: Maxim Litvinov
62 Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast - Kindertransport hostel: child refugees from Nazism.
185 Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast - Herzog Home
Cliftonville Road, Belfast - Belfast Royal Academy
Cliftonville Road, Belfast - Jaffe School
Ashfield Gardens, Belfast - Belfast Jewish Institute
Glandore Avenue, Belfast - Glandore Memories
499 Antrim Road, Belfast - Kosher Butchers: Victuallers Limited
493 Antrim Road, Belfast - Levey’s Delicatessen
Cavehill Road, Belfast - The Troubles: Bloody Friday
With special thanks to:
We dedicate this project to the pioneers of the Jewish community of Northern Ireland who often arrived as penniless refugees and who wanted to provide a better life for their children and grandchildren. And to the people of Northern Ireland who accepted and welcomed them.
We would like to thank all the individuals, libraries and local history organisations that have researched and published aspects of Jewish history in Northern Ireland. In particular, we would like to thank Queen's University Library Special Collections and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. We are grateful to our design team at Creative & Commercial and Base 8 Innovations.
Funding for this project was made available by the Northern Ireland Office's Shared History Fund, administered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Northern Ireland Jewish Heritage Map © 2022 by Steven Jaffe (Belfast Jewish Heritage project) is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International