THE FORMER anti-apartheid activist Professor Arthur Goldreich, founder of the architecture department at Bezalel Academy, was a former colleague of Nelson Mandela, writes Maurice Ostroff. Arthur who had been chair 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, whereTamar passed away in September of that year. During a chat with Arthur a few years ago, he and I recalled the days when we both served in Machal, (volunteers from overseas who participated in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.) We also discussed one of his least known achievements which he recalled with pride. In about 1950 he and a friend, Gerald Abramowitz, had produced probably the first ergonomically designed chair and he was as proud of this as he was of being awarded South Africa’s Best Young Painter in 1954.
In 1948, while I had the luxury of travelling to Israel in a Dakota airplane, Arthur arrived on an overcrowded immigrant ship, the Fabio. Designed to carry 50 people, her holds had been converted into dormitories by boards enabling it to carry 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 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, two giving birth.
On returning to South Africa Goldreich became an early member of the ANC’s military wing 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 covertly as headquarters for the underground movement. Nelson Mandela hid there posing as a gardener and driver.
On July 11, 1963, security police raided the farm. The 19 persons arrested and charged with sabotage, included five whites – all Jews, namely, Arthur Goldreich, Rusty Bernstein, Dennis Goldberg, Bob Hepple, and Hilliard Festenstein. Harold Wolpe was arrested shortly afterwards 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. From there they were flown to Botswana. Their escape infuriated the prosecutors and police who considered Goldreich to be “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.
In December 2001 Goldreich attended a reunion of the Rivonia trialists, attended by about 150 guests including then President Mbeki. At the reunion it was announced that the Liliesleaf Trust had been formed with the object of returning the house and outbuildings to their original state as a museum to record the history. The chief executive of the museum is Nicholas Wolpe, son of Harold Wolpe.
A Makarov pistol that was given to Mr Mandela by Colonel Biru Tadesse in Addis Ababa when the former was on a trip to seek military assistance has now become the target of a treasure hunt.
This is how. In 2003, when Mandela visited his former hide-out he recalled burying the weapon there. So far, although the garden was dug up, and a neighbouring home was bought and demolished, the pistol now valued at ZAR22million (£1,898,000) has not yet been found.
During his imprisonment, several houses were built in the grounds of Liliesleaf and it is now believed that another neighbour’s home is one of three possible hiding places.
This house was put up for auction at an asking price of ZAR3 million (£435,000) which the Trust cannot afford.
To the relief of the Trust the house failed to sell at an auction on May 5. Although there w e r e m a n y potential bidders, they fell silent at the opening bid of ZAR2million (£172,000) and there is still hope that the Trust will manage to recover this first weapon intended for use in the anti-apartheid struggle.
Arthur Goldreich is survived by his four children, Nicholas Paul, Amos and Eden and five grandchildren.