Port Elizabeth of Yore: Adolf Schauder aka “The Father of Housing”

Adolph Schauder is one of a number of residents who have played a pivotal role in Port Elizabeth’s development but foremost amongst the Jewish community’s contribution was Adolph Schauder who, despite being an immigrant, was instrumental in the provision of housing for its underclass and poor population. More pertinently, what drove this man to see the world through the lens of the needs of the indigent and the needy thereby marking him as the most significant of PE’s Jewish mayors?

Main picture: Councillor Adolph Schauder turning the first sod of the slum eradication scheme at New Brighton on the 21st November 1937

Adolph was born to an extremely poor Hasidic Jewish family in Kolomyya, then in Austria-Hungary, now Ukraine on 16th December 1880. After being apprenticed as a furniture maker for a carpenter in Vienna and then a hatmaker, he travelled from Vienna to Germany, and then to Norway, but in all these countries he found it difficult to obtain work because of rampant anti-semitism. Ultimately, he secured a job as a cap maker in Manchester, England. Being restless, and no doubt with a dollop of wanderlust, he obtained a berth on a ship bound for Australia and disembarked in Cape Town.

As the Anglo-Boer War was still raging, few jobs were available. Undeterred he travelled to Port Elizabeth and managed to secure a job as a medical orderly in Grahamstown. On the strength of this experience, he joined the Red Cross Detachment of the Prince of Wales Light Horse Regiment in 1901. He was issued with a rifle, bandolier and horse, and not given any nursing work. Initially his unit was trailing General de Wet in the Free State and thereafter it was active in the Standerton area in the Transvaal. It must have been his experiences with the anti-Jewish pogroms of Eastern Europe which informed Schauder’s sense of deep sympathy for the plight of the Boers. For him the scorched earth policies of the British must have been reminiscent of the plight of the Jews back home. On encountering refugee families, his natural instinct was to offer assistance where possible. In all probability whatever he could offer was extremely limited given the fact that he was a member of a military force. In sadness he noted, “What a tragic picture it was. The men were barefoot and almost naked. The Boers will be ruined. Even if they were to stop fighting now there would be famine.”

When the war ended in 1902, Schauder returned to Port Elizabeth, where he started a small shop selling everything on a penny basis. Fish, bread and even beer were sold for a penny. It was here he met the Patlansky brothers, refugees from the Transvaal, and assisted them with letters of reference to the authorities in the Transvaal. He became a partner in their wholesale trading company and was the first of the ‘foreign’ Jews to enter the wholesale business in Port Elizabeth, up to that time dominated by the Mosenthals, Frasers and Dunns. He had a reputation for trying new things, such as liquid soap and electric light bulbs.

In between setting up his business, Adolph met Frieda Shear whom he married on the 3rd June 1906.

The Great War

When WWI broke out, Schauder volunteered for service, but was rejected on medical grounds. Anti­-German riots broke out in the town, with the German Club in Western Road being torched, putting him at risk since he was considered to be of ‘German’ origin.  A prominent Baptist minister, Rev. Clapp, came to his rescue by allowing him to use his name in an announcement in the local newspaper calling attention to his war service and patriotism. Schauder was involved in relief work during the war, at one stage sending a donation of a ton of cheese to England.

The German Club in 1922 after being destroyed by fire

In 1923, Schauder, by now a merchant and industrialist and a partner in the firm, Patlansky Bros and Schauder, was elected to the city council and remained a member for 43 years. During March 1937, a national ORT-OZE organization, dedicated to promoting retraining and health of central and eastern Europe’s Jews, was established in South Africa at a conference attended by 200 Jewish leaders. Amongst Schauder’s many senior roles in society, he was elected as President of this organisation.

Sub-economic housing

In the 1930s and 1940s, Schauder was involved in promoting sub-economic housing for low earning Afrikaners who had abandoned their farms due to a devastating drought, and employment opportunities for families in very low-income groups as well as promoting various schemes to clear Port Elizabeth’s slums.  Amongst his innovative ideas he arranged that crates from the Ford and General Motors be converted into wooden houses.

On 21st November 1937, Councillor Schauder, as Chairman of the Housing and Slum Clearance Committee, turned the first sod of the planned 3000 houses at New Brighton under the Council’s five-year plan. The money was borrowed from the Government at a rate of three quarters of a percent.

Schauder’s greatest achievement was in the provision of housing for the non-white residents of Port Elizabeth. In this regard, Schauder was not only Chairman of the Municipal Housing Committee of Port Elizabeth, but also a member of the National Housing and Planning Commission. In recognition of his work for non-whites, Schauderville, a township for coloured people was named after him. For this role, Schauder was known as the “Father of Housing.” 

Under his leadership over 30 000 houses were built for all races and he was able to clear out the unhygienic slum area of Korsten. In 1951 he visited the UK and lectured extensively to local councils and housing authorities on the housing schemes of Port Elizabeth.

The War Years: WW2

During these years, South Africa was at war with Germany. To this end, the Prince Alfred’s Guard was mobilised. On the 10th October 1940, Major Schauder addressed the men on the Donkin Reserve. By 21st October 1940, the Regiment was up to full war strength of 926 officers and men. During November, 30 officers and 696 men left by train for East London.

On 16th August 1942, Schauder opened the Eastern Province Primary School situated at the seventh milestone on Cape Road. It offered hostel facilities for children from outside the city and became the high school for the Chinese community.

Schauder would attribute the driving force of his work as coming from his Yiddishe Neshama (Jewish soul).

Jewish faith

The Western Road synagogue, known as the English Shul, was dominated by Jews of English and German origin. The East European immigrants were not comfortable with the forms of service and low levels of observance, considering the English to be ‘goyish’ and ‘ignorant’. The English Jews in turn found the Litvaks to be crude and lacking in manners. In 1912, the Litvaks put together sufficient funds to build their own synagogue, in Raleigh Street. Schauder was one of the founders. This had some art nouveau elements but preserved traditional synagogue elements, and commissioned a well-known Pretoria architect, Orlando Middleton, to design it. This is now a national monument and houses a Jewish museum.

Raleigh Street Synagogue

Schauder belonged to both the congregations. He also organised the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) so that no single section of the community could control burials to the disadvantage of another. Although he was only 33 years old at the time, he remained as President of the society for 25 years. In 1918 he established a Hebrew school along modern lines. This was the first school in South Africa to get Hebrew recognized as a modem language. On a national level he served on the boards of the SA Zionist Federation, Ort Oze and SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

Western Road Synagogue

Other achievements

Schauder served as mayor in 1940–44 but continued to serve Port Elizabeth as a Counsellor until his retirement age.

Schauder was also president of the Orthodox Hebrew Congregation for some years.

He was made a Freeman of the City on the 6th September 1958 and received an Honorary Doctorate of Social Sciences from Rhodes University in 1967. Even the Xhosa conferred on him an honorific title; “Sonceba,” he who strives for mercy.

Schauder was to die the following year on 4th March 1968.

Schauder’s legacy

Schauder can claim 65 years of public service and a selfless devotion to conciliation and building goodwill amongst all sectors of the population. His main interest was in mass housing and the elimination of slums, in which respect Port Elizabeth could claim, in those years, to be way ahead of the rest of South Africa.

Source

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

Colonial Port Jews: The Jews of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape by Saul Issrof (SA-SAG, Vol 15, Issue 1, April 2017)

Photographs from Donald Davies

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