Born 1870. Deceased 1942.
I was born at the end of July in 1870, in the little town of Mestizka - Okmejan in the neighbourhood of Sawli, in the province of Kowna, South Russia, on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av. My birth took place on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar - the 9th day of Av (Tisebeav).
My father used to come home to Okmejan only once a year as he had big contracts in the north of Russia.
At the age of 6 my mother, by name of Sprinze, one of the best, good-hearted and noble souls God has created, was requested by my father to come to him in northern Russia. He came half way to St. Petersburg to meet us, and I remember him at the St. Pietersburg station as a handsome young man of about 35 years, happy and witty. As mentioned I was then six years of age and my sister two years. We remained three days in the Russian capital, and each day the Izwostzick took us round to see the sights of St. Pietersburg. We then took the train to Ribings, from there by steamer to the town of Zeropewitz, where I remained with my parents for twelve months, then, owing to certain differences my father had with the Hebrew Congregation about my Hebrew education, he sent me back to Okmejan - to my mothers brother (uncle Zelig Myburgh). The Hebrew teacher went home to Wilna, his native town, taking me with him as far as Popilan, where some of my grandmother's relations took me the twelve miles distance to Okmejan.
I remained with my uncle, aunt Golda and my grandmother Hoda (or Hilda) for three years, during which time my father used to send 100 rubles a year to pay for my board and lodging and education. I was treated unkindly by my aunt Golda but this my parents did not know. I was often hungry - my good grandmother, a tall slender woman, was a widow of about forty and used to receive from my mother (her daughter) pocket money, and she often fed me when I was left hungry.
My parents in the meantime had moved to a large town called Wologda, where there were two Hebrew teachers and a large Hebrew congregation. Wologda was a typical Russian town, with a Gubernator and in extent as large as England and France taken together. The population of the town was 40,000 and the Province 1,000,000.
In the year 1880 my little sister Dina died in Wologda at the age of 6; my parents, being very downhearted, asked me to go to them and a foreman in my father's works took me there. I remember we travelled a whole week, changing trains frequently. We passed through Dinaburg, Wittepesk, Smolensk, Mookwa, Jaraslav on the Volga, and at last reached Wologda, which borders on the Province of (Archangelesk. I found there two new little sisters, one of 2 years old and another only a few months - three years later there was another arrival - my only brother Simon, now junior partner in my business, the Handy Furniture House, 65 Princes Street, Port Elizabeth.
From 1881 to 1890 I was a diligent reader of the only weekly "Yiddish" paper in Russia which catered for six million Jews - called the "Yiddise Volks Blatt" issued in St. Petersburg. This paper, which I read and re-read every week (now in my home bound in book form) made a great impression upon me. The pogroms of 1881, 1882, 1886 and 1889 - (the Vreme Pravela of Ignaties) revealed the tragedy, the degradation of my Jewish brethren - of the whole Jewish race. I felt in full the words of the Poet, How I longed to get out of that Hell - out of Russia
"No longer to hide my Jewish race
 for fear of torture or disgrace
 No more to expose my soul for sale
 and beg the air that I inhale."
I attended the Russian schools until I reached the age of fourteen years and commenced reading a great deal - the Russian classics and other works translated into Russian - Shakespeare, Ruskin, Le Monou, Necrassoff, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and a lot of French novels, even Pal-de-kak. Vologda, like most Russian towns, lived a Bohemian life and was very immoral. I was proud, full of dignity, bashful and reserved and kept away as much as possible from Bohemian life. I was romantic between the age of seventeen and twenty years, without however of any incident. At twenty-one I was taken as a soldier into the Russian army and sent to Grodno (South Russia). I was the only Jew amongst 2,000 Russian recruits, and became very popular. We stayed four days in Moskva on our way to Qrodno, called Alexanderskay Polk, near the Kremlin. I was treated badly by my Dodka - my Superior in the Kazarme, but this is the fate of every new recruit or soldier.
I decided to leave the country, which, because I was born a Jew, treated me worse than any dog. I felt I was as good as any Russian, and even better than some. After six weeks in Grodno, I left the town never to return, and three weeks later I arrived in Limerick, Ireland. To relate all that happened, how I passed the Russian frontier, what I lived through, etc. etc., would fill a good sized book.
My cousins in Limerick and Cork did not play the game, they were very unkind. I told them I wanted nothing from them and that I would pay for board and lodging as I had with me sufficient money. I only wanted them to show me how to start in life, but it was left to Jews unrelated to me, but of the same town (Akmejan), and who new my parents well - to educate me as to how to start in life. When I arrived in Ireland I knew only three words in English - yes, no and thank-you.
I began travelling with sponges, cheap jewellery, and pictures. Many a day I covered 20 to 30 miles, always on foot, with a load of 80 to 100 lbs. weight. I travelled to nearly every town and village in Ireland - the length and breadth I may say of that green and beautiful country. The Irish people were very good, particularly the Catholics. I met in Ireland many Jews from Russia. I also met and travelled with two brothers who are now the biggest furniture dealers in South Africa.
I mastered the English language within twelve months. In 1893 my father, mother, sisters and brother Simon arrived in Limerick, Ireland. They came for the reason that they were sent out by the Russian government from Vologda because they were Jews. They appealed to Ignatius (Vremans e Pravela). Any chief of police could send them out of Russia without giving cause or reason - perhaps in this case the Chief of Police was not sufficiently bribed. The same thing happened twelve months before in Moskva, where 40,000 Jews were ordered to leave within 3 weeks. They had either to go to the South of Russia or clear out altogether from Russia. Most of those Jews were born, educated and well-established in Moskva. Deputations were sent to the Czar's Ministers, but it was of no avail. The Czar left it to the Chief of the Holy Synod of Russia - Pobedonoschef. At least they made a concession, namely, that the Jews of Moskva were to pay ONE MILLION RUBLES to Pobedonoschef, for which an extension of 3 weeks to 6 months would be granted, BUT they must leave Russia - and go to Hell - I mean anywhere!!! Where? - a people without a country. Thus our family left Russia for good, where, for 200 years and more, our parents and great-grandparents had lived. I assure that my father, mother and children were as good as any of our non-Jewish people in Russia, and my father was not in business but had a trade in his hands, having worked all his life in the building trade.
Will those who are not Jews and who may read this have sympathy and understand the great Jewish tragedy? Oh how I yearned for
A Jewish Land, a Jewish Home,
No longer all the wide world to roam,
No longer all the earth to tramp,
No longer bear the servile stamp.
Will anyone understand why I dedicated my life to Zionism. Perhaps as my wife often said, I was not a success in life because I gave my mind and time to Zionism more than to my personal concerns. Remember, my life's story bears out the story of millions of my brethren in faith.
I had a great hope to go to our old Land - Palestine, our's by the will and promise to our first Father and Patriarch Abraham, as it says in the Holy Bible. This is the Land Canaan - now Palestine, in Hebrew caEretz Isroel - The Land of Israel. I will give to thee and thy children and children's children for ever and ever. We lived there and had the Jewish Kings and Prophets, and although we are divorced - temporarily, from our inheritance, we have prayed for the last two thousand years three times a day:-
May it be Thy Will, Oh God, that we may live to see with our own eyes in our own days, the return to our Land, Eretz Isroel, to Thy City Jerusalem, and to Thy Sacred Place - Zion - that we may be privileged to serve Thee in Peace - Amen.
Such and similar are in our every day prayer. Peace! Peace! is our slogan - our pass-word.
In serving Zionism I was only doing my duty as any OTHER good Jews do.
We answer Mother to Thy Call
We come, we come, thy children all
From North and South and West we hail
To build Thy own, to Plant thy Vale.
Thy wounds to heal, thy shame to drive
from Foreign Lands we hasten Home -
0, Motherland, we come, we come.
My father came to Ireland with money - I believe 3,000 to 4,000 Rubles. At that time (in 1893) I had been about 18 months in Ireland, knew the English language, the life and business of the place, and helped my father to establish himself in business, under new conditions. A few years later my father managed his own affairs and started for myself. 5 or 6 years later we became British subjects. To become a British subject there are two essentials - namely, to have been resident in the country for five years and to have a clean record and not once to have been concerned in a court case, even of a civil nature; in other words one must prove himself a law-abiding, peaceful, honest and hard-working citizen. So we, the rejected and persecuted in Russia, became worthy adopted children of the British Empire, respected and protected under the "British Flag". The cost was a small consideration - 5 pounds to the Home Office and a further 2 pounds and ten shillings covered other necessary expenses - in all amounting to seven and a half pounds.
In 1898 I married. On the 17th January will be the 30th Anniversary of a happy marriage. We have eight children (4 daughters and 4 sons) all, thank God, alive. Three were born in Limerick, Ireland, three in Johannesburg and two in Port Elizabeth. My eldest daughter is married in Johannesburg, my eldest son has his own chemist shop in this town, and is doing a good business. My youngest child, a son, is now 13 1/2 years - but I must turn to my earlier history.
In 1903 I decided to seek better pastures by going to South Africa. My wife had a well-to-do brother in Pretoria, and in Johannesburg a rich brother-in-law. The lure of gold, diamonds and sunshine brought me like many others here to South Africa.
An incident occurred before I left Ireland, which is worth recording. I was presented by the Jewish people of the two congregations in Limerick (the two congregations were hostile to one another but made truce for the time being to honour me) with an illuminated Address (now in my dining room) and a Gold Medal for twelve years communal and Zionist work. A party of 40 or 50 gathered together in the Treaty Hotel, Thomas Street, Limerick, on Friday afternoon, and the great illustrious Irish patriot - the eminent John Daly, the Phenian, the mayor for many years in Limerick - presided. I can never forget his wonderful oration. This great Irish patriot was kept for 14 years in Portland Prison for a political crime for which he was said to have been a party. No King, not even Julius Caesar returning home after conquering France received a better reception than John Daly did when he returned to his native town. The mayor of the town resigned immediately and John Daly became chief citizen. I am proud that such a man should have presided in my honour.
I left my wife sufficient money for nine months. I spent 60 or 70 pounds on new clothes, among which were three overcoats, as I had been told that clothes were very expensive in South Africa, and, with my letters of recommendation from the Wholesale Houses with whom I had dealt, particularly from McBeans and Cannocks, the leading House in Limerick, I sailed on the "Gaika" arriving on the 2nd August 1903 in the Cape of Good Hope.
Being a British subject I had no delay whatever in proceeding to Pretoria, where I opened a business. After 9 months, as I was making no progress, I sold the business and went to Johannesburg. Three months later my wife and three children came to Johannesburg quite unexpectedly; from the sale of her furniture she had realised sufficient money to enable her to join me in Johannesburg. The reason for coming out so unexpectedly was this - the French Government became aware that the schools, over which they had no control (Convent Schools) were encouraging monarchism amongst their students - this being against the Republic of France. The Government issued an edict or order that they (the Government) must have a representative in such Schools. There was a great fight but the government had the support of the people and became masters of the situation. Many good staunch Catholics left France.
As in every trouble under the sun, the despised and defenceless Jew is blamed - so it was in this case. Father Creagh, a native of Limerick and a member of the Jesuit Order, who was in Paris and saw the struggle, came to Limerick. It was not long after the Kishinev pogrom or massacre. Father Creagh preached a sermon at the Holy Father's Chapel to about 7,000 or 8,000 Irishmen to the effect that the Jews were the cause of all troubles. The speech was full of poison. Afterwards hundreds went up and kissed his garments and said - "Father, shall we kill them?" "Nay" he said, "Don't kill them, it will be the worse for you. Starve them. Drive them out." I was told this and that the sermon appeared in the press.
The great and noble Irishmen, Catholics and Protestants, who were struggling for Home Rule got alarmed. I was told that about 6,000 English soldiers in the Limerick barracks were ordered to be ready to suppress any violence.
Father Creagh was right. There was often spasmodic violence. God Bless England for the freedom she gives to all religions and fairplay to everyone. The Chief of Police received instructions that no Jew should know that he was being watched - 50 yards from his house, his children and himself - wherever a Jew went - a private detective followed (The Jewish people in Limerick did not know that). I a Jew went into a house a detective waited at a distance of 50 or 100 yards, so I have been told. There were a few assaults. My poor old father, being then over 60, went one Sunday morning to the synagogue for morning service. When returning a tall Irishman with a big heavy stick aimed a blow at his head and would surely have killed him, but a detective and police ran up; my father dodged the blow, but he fell on his back and the ruffian managed to hit him on his knee, breaking his kneecap. He spent 6 weeks in bed through this. The man was arrested and the magistrate put that gentleman under observation, as he was thought to be not quite sane - a great uncle of his WAS insane.
My poor old mother went to live with her married children. She was one of the best women, both as wife and mother, that God ever created. She too was knocked down near my wife's house (I was in Johannesburg then). My wife, hearing her cry "Gwald, Gwald", rushed to her assistance. Many people had seen this outrage. My wife followed the ruffian to his house, at the back of our house in Wise's Lane - called "Wise's Field", but they could get no witness. All knew who it was. This is typical Ireland, they mix politics with civil law.
Twelve months after the above incident my father and mother sold everything and went to Jerusalem, Palestine, to end their days, where they lived happily for 6 and eight years respectively and were buried side by side on the Mount of Olives - within two miles of Solomon's Temple.
At this time my wife took fright, sold the furniture, as already mentioned, and joined me in Johannesburg. In the seven years of our residence in Johannesburg my wife presentedme with three more children.
I have given much time as well as thought and deed to the cause of Zionism. No-one, more particularly my wife, knows a tenth part of what I have done on the quiet for Zionism. Just as France fought in the Great War and sacrificed her best element - the youth of her country - so that future generations should enjoy peace and prosperity, so I too felt that I should sacrifice the comfort and ease of my family in helping to build up the Zionist Ideal - the aspiration and prayer of our people for 2,000 years - and so that our children should have their own home - not by favour, but by right and by justice - our Old Homeland -Palestine - and be a Nation among other Nations, having a place under the sun.
I worked in those years with Harry Grauman, Chaimowitz, Benzion Hersh, Jannower, I. Abrahams, and many others.
In 1911 I left with my family for Pietersburg, Northern Transvaal, as manager and operator of the Pietersburg bioscope, in which position I remained for nine months, after which I secured a position as chief operator to the newly built Grand Theatre in Main Street, Port Elizabeth, with promises of better prospects.
I arrived in Port Elizabeth on 8th May, 1912, took a liking to the town and the people, and on the 14th of May the local Grand Theatre was opened with films and vaudeville turns. John Lawson was the first company. I was the only Jew. The late Mr. Brewster was the manager. I was treated very unkindly by one of the directors present; he wanted to get rid of me. I showed things up too much. Any improvements I wanted were not approved of. I had an old converter (dynamo) which did not give sufficient amperes (light) to screen a good picture, particularly if the film was a dark one. I had to turn the handle, which a little motor could have done without any extra expense. I remained with the company for fifteen months, and then I established my present business, of which I am the senior partner - the Handy Furniture House - my brother joining me in 1917.
The following is an incident which occurred while I was with the Grand Theatre and is worth relating - during the evening I used to operate; in the daytime I had to be in the office for the sale of tickets and reserved seats. One day I had a very nice elderly Jewish gentleman, who had his business in Main Street, and was booking some reserved seats. He conversed with me for half an hour or so (he has now retired from his business). "Pardon me", he said at the end of our talk, "to what nationality do you belong?" My answer was "Surely to the Jewish race." He was astonished. "Your name Weinronk, your appearance and English do not imply that you are a Jew." He looked carefully around to see if there was anyone nearby, then coming a little nearer to me said "this is no prospect or place for you." "I realise that" was my answer. "I have a wife and children and therefore cannot ignore 25 pounds a month (in 1913 this was better than it is today).
"Look here", he said quietly and deliberately, "I have 14 white people in my employ, some over 20 years, and I have never made a mistake in judging a man's capabilities. You are destined for bigger things than to operate or mark seats on a plan for a theatre. My 14 men are good as gold and true as the stars. I can see", he continued, "there is trouble ahead in this Grand Theatre. Should you at any time be in difficulty or wish to establish a business you may count on me." He shook hands and left.
Strange to say, 8 or 9 months later I got the push. I had worked for 15 months and under 3 proprietors, the last one being Schlesinger - the head of all the bioscopes under the Empire TruSt. I called on my good friend and benefactor. I told him I wanted no money, only credit for goods in his wholesale department. "As much as you want" was his genial reply and thereupon he introduced me to his manager. I have since done business with that firm to the extent of thousands of pounds, and we are at present the best of friends. For the last 8 or 9 years we have done no business with them as we IMPORT DIRECT from all the factories in Europe and America.
During the first few years of the World War I had a hard time, so much so that a meeting of all my creditors took place at Messrs. Lawson, Brown and Brown's office. The position was such that the creditors would have accepted any offer, 5 or 10 shillings in the pound, but I insisted that they get 20 shillings in the pound, and begged them to grant me a period of two years in which to pay off my liabilities at the rate of 25 pounds each month to J.W. Jagger & Co. No thanks are due to me, but I may say that I have managed so that each creditor got his money.
Apart from business I led a very busy life in the 16 years I have resided in Port Elizabeth. I have been president of the Port Elizabeth Orthodox Hebrew Congregation for 18 months in succession, chairman several times of the Port Elizabeth Zionist Society, established the Ladies Zionist Societies, the "Daughters of Zion" and the "Jewish Ladles Zionist League", the first with the help of my eldest daughter and the second with the assistance of my wife. I have been a member of committees too numerous to mention. I have taken part in the early stages of the North End Debating Society I have been on the committees of the Ratepayers Association Ward VII, also for a short time on the Library Committee of the North End Grey School, Port Elizabeth Publicity Association, and many others.
My 5 books and albums, with hundreds of cuttings and reports, addresses and articles etc. will reveal some of my activities.
In Port Elizabeth my wife presented me with two sons, so I am the proud father of 4 sons and 4 daughters. Three of my children have carried away coveted bursaries, and so saved me a few hundreds of pounds in education. As I have already mentioned, my youngest child is a son of 13 years. I am at the end of my chapter and ill in bed - and whether I shall be privileged to write more of my life's works is in the hands of God. Good-bye, good-bye.
Bernard Weinronk
104 Cape Road, Port Elizabeth.
11th January, 1929.
Note: Bernard Weinronk went to live in Palestine in 1941. He died about a year later. All his papers had been shipped to Palestine; the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine and all his papers were lost.

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