In search of Adolf Guttmann 3. Marriages

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Is this Anna?
This phantom floating through the room fallen asleep?

Family album:
Alba 1867
Pretoria 1880
Pretoria 1885
Pretoria 1890
Hong Kong 1897
Marseille 1900
Paris 1904
Valenciennes 1918
Buenos Aires 1930
Or is this Anna?
This woman, a little bit strong, squeezed in mourning clothes that are too tight for her?
This is the one that Adolf will marry.

They marry in 1885 in Cape Town: Anna, a descendant of French Huguenots, a Protestant born in a family of farmers in South Africa’s Cape region; and Adolf, a Jew born in Kalisz, in Russian Poland.


There are of course several Annas: the one described by the family legend, transmitted by my grandmother and her cousins, the children of Myra and Madge; and the ones evoked by the various documents conserved in the South African archives.

The first one is a very young and innocent girl, who escapes from the family farm near Cape Town to join her beloved Adolf Guttmann. She later discovers that he is a miserable person, and requests a divorce to protect her children, Madge, Myra and their brother. She remarries, and dies in childbirth in 1896. According to a more romantic version, transmitted by Myra, she died in the opera, and her ghost, wearing her evening dress, opened the door of the children’s room – Myra was 12 or 13 years old –, and looked long at them. This is my favorite Anna.

The second one is a completely different character, a businesswoman, who owned houses and shops in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and managed them with skill. Friend of the mayor of Johannesburg, distant relative of General Piet Joubert, she also ran her own farm in Buffelspoort.

Finally, there is also a third Anna, whose portrait only partly agrees with the above, a woman known from the multiple procedures filed against Adolf Guttman. This one was born in 1848 on a farm near Cape Town, in Stellenboch, whence she would flee very young to marry an English schoolmaster who was by almost thirty years older than she. The schoolmaster died, and the fate of his widow remained a mystery until she met Adolf Guttmann.

From then on, it is quite clear: Adolf and Anna, known as Annie, had three children (Madgalena in 1881, Salomina Franciska in 1883, and Adolf junior in 1884), before they married in 1885. Although this woman, as a widow, was free to marry, she found herself with three illegitimate children in the strict Afrikaans society of her times. Either the couple was so poor, so much at the margins of the society, that the marriage did not count; or she did not want to marry Adolf, a simple traveling merchant without any fortune; or she did not want to marry him as a Jew; or Adolf did not want to marry her (as a peddler traveling throughout the country, he only saw her from time to time, and for the rest of the time he left her to fend for herself); or, finally, Adolf could not marry her, because he was already married.

In truth, this is the “official” version, because the 1885 marriage certificate shows the husband as a “trader” and “widower”, and the wife as “widow”, but one wonders: Adolf was only 23 years old in 1881, at the birth of his first daughter – and already married? And to whom? Moreover, during the divorce proceedings, which Annie would begin in 1889, she would present an earlier marriage certificate dated 1880, that the court did not hesitate to reject as false.

And anyway, even if Adolf was not in a position to marry the woman who gave him three children, this entire story assigns a somewhat questionable status to Annie. Besides, they say, the youngest of the family, Adolf junior, was rather the son of Joseph Guttmann, the cousin and associate of Adolf, the son of Isaac Guttmann of Sheffield.


In 1884, when his cousin Bertha Guttmann marries the magnate Sammy Marks, the situation of Adolf changes, and she can think to arrange his situation in compliance with the expectations of his new relatives. Adolf and Annie marry in the Anglican chapel of All Saints of Durbanville. One can imagine, that Annie would use this new relationship and the enrichment of Adolf to integrate into the society frequented by the Marks, including that of President Kruger.

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But could Bertha attend Anna Guttmann, née Joubert?

Bertha, daughter of the wealthy bourgeoisie of Sheffield, feels exiled in her large farm near Pretoria – well, not so near, it takes two hours to cross the twelve miles of bush. She was used to an easy urban life, and now she’s relegated to a “golden cage” at the bottom of an Africa she does not want to know.

In 1884 his father, Tobias Guttmann was the president and treasurer of the Jewish congregation of Sheffield. The Judaism of Bertha Marks is the very secularized one of the Jewish elites in Victorian England. In her receptions she serves lobster and crayfish, the butchers providing her home are not kosher at all, and Christmas is largely celebrated parallel to the great Jewish festivals and the bar-mitzvah of the children. The receptions are frequent, but the weeks between them often flow in the greatest solitude: there is nobody around her except her children and servants.

She subscribes to newspapers, and exchanges several letters with her family and with her husband (who does not answer, or reproaches her for wasting her time on writing, but of course being a woman you must be excused). That she is not very happy is an understatement: her husband leaves her little freedom, he monitors her expenditures, forbids her theater and balls, multiplies his reproaches, and has many children with her – at most he admits, that her conversation was an “amusing little thing”. Every weekend he organizes great dinners with the participation of the economic and political notables of the country, from President Kruger to Cecil Rhodes. The rest of the time, she complains of having no one to talk to – since she cannot talk to the servants (most of whom come from England, and have to accept, she writes, to work with some “slightly colored” local servants – but if their reluctance were too strong, she could provide them separate accommodation). In her nostalgia for England, she systematically replaces the native plants in her garden with the rose bushes, flower bulbs and seeds she orders every week from the nurseries of Kent.

The only way for her to bear this isolation is to travel as often as she can – and mainly to Europe.

But to receive Adolf? and Anna?

No. First, Sammy Marks hates mixed marriage, and second, Bertha comes from a Victorian world, where every slightly independent woman is suspect of bad manners – so it was with Anna and her three children born out of wedlock… And then, Adolf himself does not demonstrate much will to live a moral life: at the end of 1886 he leaves Annie, and moves in with a certain Dorothy la Rouge, which does not sound any more respectable.

Finally, in 1889, there is the scandal of the suicide of Joseph Guttmann, the son of Isaac, the cousin of Adolf and Bertha – exactly when Anna starts divorce proceedings against Adolf. The two men jointly borrow money from Annie to open a hotel in Klerksdorp, one of the gold rush sites in 1886. What happens next is unknown, but £ 1000 seems to disappear, and Joseph, having made a will in favor of Annie and Adolf junior, shoots himself. The will is sufficiently scandalous that Isaac Guttmann writes from Sheffield to the South African authorities and President Kruger to declare it null and void.

Bertha Marks née Guttmann obviously cannot be seen with  woman, the proof of whose adultery are so obvious and come from so near.


In this world of quickly seized and often quickly lost fortunes, there are many women ostracized by proper society. There is another Jew coming from Russia, but who grew up in Whitechapel, Barney Barnato (originally Barnet Isaacs), who starts his career in a music hall as a magician, boxer and singer, before having his share of the easy money from the mines of Kimberley and becoming governor from there of De Beers. But his wife, Fanny, was the daughter of a “Cape colored”, one of European and African or Malaysian origin, and when he got acquainted with her, she worked as a bartender in a Kimberley hotel. It goes without saying, all his gifts to Jewish charities, aids to the poor immigrants from Russia, the building of the synagogue of Kimberley, were of no help for him to be received by the polite society of Pretoria.

In the mean time, Annie seems not to have needed the poison heritage of Joseph, because unlike Adolf, she does get rich. In fact, the will she writes during her third marriage (she remarries immediately after the divorce judgement separating her from Adolf) shows that she had a large number of independent properties. Being rich, and married to an (obviously Catholic) Italian adventurer, she becomes more “respectable”, and perhaps she can also set forth her own relatives, maybe even the distant General Joubert.

The religious affiliation of the children nevertheless remained a problem. They had been baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church, and Annie denies the claim that they should be raised in the Catholic faith. Nevertheless, the two girls are later educated in the Convent of Our Lady of Loreto – either because their mother remarried a Catholic, or because the public schools linked to the South African Reformed Church closed their doors to the recently arrived uitlanders, including the Jews.

All were baptized, but nevertheless the Guttmann children remain associated with the Judaism of their father. When the grandson of President Kruger, the Frikkie Eloff, who was ill at the time, presents Madge to his grandfather, Kruger “carefully examined her to see if she had any Jewish air”, before being assured that “if this is the Jewess whom Frikkie wants to see so often, he will quickly heal”.

And Adolf ?

Map of South Africa with the Matabeleland and its gold mines in the north. Johannesburg does not exist yet. The farm of Anna Guttmann Joubert, where the children grew up, was located west of Pretoria, towards Rustenburg

After leaving his wife, in 1890 Adolf goes to the conquest of Matabeleland, following the Pioneer Column of Cecil Rhodes. Nothing shows that he made any wealth there; we only know that he caught the fever, and lay stricken for months. In any case, he was not able to come to Pretoria to defend himself at his divorce, or provide for the maintenance of his children afterwards. Anna forbade him to see them, and the girls also chase their father with a whip when he appears in the estate in 1896, after the death of their mother.

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Stripped of their father, orphans of their mother, the Guttmann children will get closer to the Krugers, until Frikkie Eloff marries Madge, and Myra will be adopted by the family.

Adolf junior, engaged in the Boer War, like many other young boys, dies on the battlefield. But of him no picture survives.

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And Adolf senior?

He melts into the crowd, and disappears.

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