Ten days after the creation of the State of Israel there was another turning point, this time in South Africa’s history, when the United Party under General Smuts lost to the Afrikaans National Party under DF Malan, the man who had introduced the Alien’s Act, who had opposed the arrival of the Stuttgart. The National Party gained power with more seats but 100,000 fewer votes than the combined opposition and their government was, according to the Afrikaans historian, Krüger,[i] “conservative and reactionary to a man.” The Nationalist government discarded their public antisemitism and Dr Malan[ii] issued a statement saying that “both he and the Government stood for a policy of non-discrimination against any section of the European population in South Africa” and that he looked forward to the time when there would be no more talk of the so-called ‘Jewish Question’ in the life and politics of this country.
The Holocaust had wiped out Afrikaners fears of being invaded by hordes of unassimilable Asiatic Jews - who would have brought trade, commerce, jobs and learning with them into the farthest corner of the back of beyond, to every corner of the Karoo and the platteland. These aliens were no longer there - their ashes were blowing in the winds of Europe; their bones were buried in every forest in Lithuania. South Africans had been in the British forces that had liberated Belsen and the newsreels of the camps and the information that came out had left uncomfortable feelings approaching guilt in those who had held pro-Nazi feelings. That side had lost and no one wanted to be on the losing side. The very idea that Jews had not been allowed into the Transvaal branch of the Nationalist Party was now an embarrassment. The Afrikaners also admired the fight the Zionists had put up in Palestine against the British, their old enemy and with the establishment of Israel, the Jews had a homeland, and many Afrikaners wished them good luck and were happy to help them keep the homeland that the Lord had promised them and encouraged them to leave South Africa and go there.
Note that Malan’s policy of non-discrimination applied only to the European population. Against every section of the non-European population in South Africa both he and the Government stood for a policy of discrimination. Malan gave the world a new word ‘APARTHEID’. Within a short period of time his government had passed laws to enforce racial segregation, banning mixed marriages, making sex across the colour bar illegal, imposing forced residential separation, banning Communism and introducing a new immigration policy which by limiting immigration to the existing composition of the White population, only welcomed Northern European Protestants. Few Holocaust survivors or displaced people were given permits for permanent residence although the Board of Deputies gave what assistance they could to those refugees who managed to reach South Africa or the neighbouring territories during the war.[iii]
It is a sad reflection on what the future might have been had Malan’s party not won the elections. When his political opponent General Smuts laid the foundation stone of the synagogue in 1934 he had remarked that in South Africa conditions more than ever called for mutual tolerance. They should not think of themselves alone. They should think of all the multiplicity that provided the texture of the South African people, and yet while at the same time there was racial co-operation and tolerance, the snake of intolerance still raised its head.[iv]
Sadly, that snake was to thrive under the new government. At the beginning Jewish reactions to the elections were muted. They did not welcome the change of government. They remembered the antisemitic statements made by the National party when in opposition, particularly from the antisemitic Eric Louw. They felt bitter at the State’s firm adherence to the ungenerous pre-war immigration machinery which doomed many of their family members to extermination and which did not alter during the war or in the period following cessation of hostilities in Europe.[v] Many people saw apartheid as a survival of the Nazi doctrine of racial superiority and Jews, unhappy at the prospect, were starting to leave South Africa, particularly those with liberal and socialist beliefs - a trend that was going to continue into the future and would fracture the congregation’s cohesive family structure. However, most were happy to have found themselves on the white side of the divide and to benefit from the advantages that brought.