Arthur Goldreich 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Arthur Goldreich, founder of the architecture department at Bezalel
Academy, previously a famous anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa and a
colleague of Nelson Mandela, passed away on May 25 at the age of
Goldreich, who had been chairman of the Arthur Goldreich Foundation
for the Promotion of Art, Design and Architecture at Bezalel, and his late wife
Tamar moved to Beth Protea retirement home in Herzliya in June 2009; she passed
away in September of that year.
During a chat a few years ago, Goldreich
and I recalled the days when we both served in Machal (volunteers from overseas
who participated in the 1948 War of Independence). We also discussed one of his
least-known achievements: Way back around 1950, he and a friend, Abe Abramowitz,
had produced probably the first ergonomically designed chair, and he regarded
this with as much pride as winning South Africa’s Best Young Painter Award in
In 1948, while I had the luxury of traveling to Israel in a Dakota
airplane, Goldreich arrived on an overcrowded immigrant ship, the Fabio.
Designed to carry 50 people, her holds had been converted into dormitories with
boards, enabling it to transport exactly 292 souls. In Henry Katzew’s book South
Africa’s 800, one of the volunteers, Morris Smith, is quoted as saying “You
couldn’t have put a razor blade between us. If you slept on your back, you had
to stay on your back.”
The Fabio’s passengers were mainly displaced
persons – survivors of the Holocaust – including a group of stunted
concentration camp children in the charge of a Hungarian girl, and a group of
about 30 South African Machal volunteers. There were nine pregnant women aboard,
and two gave birth on the voyage.
On returning to South Africa, Goldreich
became an early member of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, led by
Nelson Mandela. In 1961 Goldreich and his lawyer friend Harold Wolpe acquired a
farm named Liliesleaf in Rivonia (a suburb of Johannesburg) to be used as
headquarters for the underground movement. Mandela hid there, posing as a
gardener and occasional driver. Mandela wrote in his autobiography how he turned
to Goldreich as one of the few in the ANC’s nascent guerrilla army who knew how
to fight because of his experience in Israel.
On July 11, 1963, security
police raided the farm.
The 19 persons arrested and charged with sabotage
included five whites – all Jews, namely Goldreich, Rusty Bernstein, Dennis
Goldberg, Bob Hepple and Hilliard Festenstein. Wolpe was arrested shortly
afterward and imprisoned at Marshall Square, where Goldreich was already being
held. Before they could be tried, Goldreich and Wolpe escaped and fled to
Swaziland disguised as priests. Their escape infuriated the prosecutors and
police, who considered Goldreich “the arch-conspirator.”
Mandela, who had
been arrested previously and was serving a five-year sentence, was brought from
Robben Island to stand trial, which resulted in life sentences for eight of the
accused, including Mandela.
IT IS good to know that the Liliesleaf farm
acquired on the initiative of Goldreich and Wolpe for use by the anti-Apartheid
underground will not be forgotten. In December 2001, Goldreich attended a
reunion of the Rivonia trialists that was attended by about 150 guests,
including then-president Thabo Mbeki, where it was announced that the Liliesleaf
Trust had been formed to return the house and outbuildings to their original
condition as a museum. Fittingly, the chief executive of the museum is Nicholas
Wolpe, Harold Wolpe’s son.
An intriguing sidelight is that a Makarov
pistol given to Mandela by Col. Biru Tadesse in Addis Ababa (when the former was
on a trip to seek military assistance) has now become the target of a treasure
In 2003, when Mandela visited his former hideout, he recalled
burying the weapon there. So far, although the garden has been dug up and a
neighboring home was bought and demolished, the pistol (now valued at 22 million
rand, approximately $3 million) has not been found.
imprisonment, several houses were built on the grounds of Liliesleaf, and it is
now believed that another neighbor’s home is one of three possible hiding
places. This building was put up for auction at an asking price of 3 million
rand (some $433,000), which the Trust cannot afford. To its relief, the house
failed to sell on May 5. Although there were many potential bidders, they fell
silent at the opening bid of 2 million rand (approximately $288,000), so there
is still hope that the Trust will manage to recover this first weapon intended
for use in the struggle against Apartheid.The writer is a commentator on
current affairs. His website is www.2nd-thoughts.org