A MAN OF CONSCIENCE

 

 

 

In 1880, the 18-year-old Jew Franz Ginsberg left his native Germany both to improve his economic prospects and also to distance himself from anti-Semitism. He travelled across the Equator to King Williams Town in (what is now) South Africa.

In South Africa he was judged on his merit, rather than his religion. He was free to improve his prospects. As a man of conscience, he quickly realised that he was privileged in comparison with his non-European neighbours. Throughout his life in South Africa, Franz tried not to abuse this privilege. In contrast, he used his advantage to try to ameliorate the lives of his non-European neighbours, who were becoming increasingly oppressed during the latter part of the 19th century and most of the 20th.

By 1885, Franz had begun making domestic products in South Africa on an industrial scale. In 1890, Franz entered politics as a Town Councillor. From then onwards, he was involved in both local and then later national politics. Eventually in 1927, he became a Senator in the Parliament of the Union of South Africa. Even before the Nationalists gained power in 1924, things were going from bad to worse for the non-European people. Being involved in debates about legislative matters, Franz did what he could to try to dissuade his political colleagues from passing laws that were unfair to the non-European people of South Africa.

Both Franz Ginsberg’s life and his political activity are described in great detail in Adam Yamey’s book “SOAP TO SENATE: A GERMAN JEW AT THE DAWN OF APARTHEID”. The book reveals a great deal about the Eastern Cape of South Africa as well as the history of law-making that laid the foundations for apartheid.

Franz not only managed to improve his economic status, but he also was able to help those who were far less advantaged than him. He exemplified the words of the famous Jewish scholar Hillel the Elder:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?

After his death, one of Franz's obituaries included the following words:

Ginsberg erected his own lasting memorial especially in the hearts of his fellow human beings. He was the personification of an ideal Jewish immigrant to be upright and honest and to help his community. He realised the words of the prophet Micah: ‘Always do good. Be just and humble before God


"Soap to Senate: A German Jew at the dawn of apartheid" 

is available as both a paperback and a Kindle  from Amazon by clicking H E R E