The history of the Jews in Namibia goes back a little more than one and a half centuries. Non-existent in Namibia before the 19th century, Jews played an important if minor role in the history of Namibia since that point in time, despite their continuous small population. The most famous Namibian Jew was “businessman, philanthropist and Jewish communal leader” Harold Pupkewitz (1915–2012).
In the mid-19th century, Jewish merchants from Cape Town named the De Pass brothers became the first Jews in what is now Namibia when they established a trading post on the Nawaqualand Coast. The De Pass brothers began the Pomona Copper Company in Pomona, Namibia in 1861. After Namibia became a German colony in the late 19th century, more Jews established connections (such as business ventures) in Namibia. However, under German rule, only about 100 Jews lived in Namibia, most of whom lived in Swakopmund. After the German defeat in World War I, the newly created League of Nations gave South Africa a mandate over Namibia. The Jewish population of Namibia (which had close relations with the Jews in South Africa) began increasing after this point, and there were 400 to 500 Jews living in Namibia (mostly in Windhoek) in 1965 (Jews were still less than one percent of the total White population in Namibia during this time, though).
Because the League of Nations mandate for Namibia was cancelled by the United Nations and the fact that Namibia became independent, the Jewish population in Namibia dramatically declined since 1965, with only 60 to 100 Jews living in Namibia today. Despite this extremely low number of Jews, Windhoek “has a Hebrew congregation dating from 1917, a synagogue built in 1925, a Talmud Torah, a communal hall, an active Zionist movement supported by generous contributions, and the only Jewish minister in the territory.” Other than at Windhoek, the only other place in Namibia today where Jews live in is Keetmanshoop, where about twelve Jewish families currently live.
DE PASS , family of Sephardi Jews who settled in England in Cromwell’s time. Some members migrated in the 19th century to South Africa, where they helped to develop the shipping, fishing, and sugar industries.
aaron de pass (1815–1877) arrived in Cape Town in 1846 with his family and his younger brother Elias, and became a merchant. He established the firm of De Pass Brothers in 1848 and, having acquired his own ships, engaged in the export of guano from islands on the southwest Cape coast. His ships developed the coastal trade as far north as Walvis Bay. In 1857 the firm, by then known as De Pass, Spence and Company, started the sealing and whaling industries. It built the first ship-repair facilities at the Cape and laid patent slipways for the government in Simonstown and Table Bay. A leading citizen of Cape Town, Aaron de Pass was appointed justice of the peace and commissioner of the municipality. He was an elder of Tikvath Israel, the first Hebrew congregation in *Cape Town. He brought the first Sefer Torah from England in 1847, and was founder and first parnas of its synagogue in 1849.
elias de pass (1834–1913), Aaron’s younger brother and partner. In 1848 he enlisted with the colonial troops in the war with the Xosa tribesmen on the eastern frontier. He served throughout the campaign and became a lieutenant. He was for a time honorary secretary of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation and a founder-member of the first synagogue.
daniel de pass (d. 1921), son of Aaron, joined the family firm in 1860 and interested himself particularly in exploiting the Ichaboe guano islands under a government lease. He established fisheries in South-West Africa and was the first to work a copper mine there. He later acquired extensive diamond interests. He contested in the courts the German claims to the territory and succeeded in retaining the guano offshore islands and Walvis Bay for the Cape Colony. He made an important contribution to the Natal sugar industry by introducing from India a variety of sugar cane which became the mainstay of the industry. On a visit to England, Daniel De Pass raised money toward the building of the Durban synagogue, the first in Natal.
alfred de pass (1861–1952), Daniel’s son, was born in Cape Town. Trained as a chemical engineer, he worked in the family business and developed its sugar interests in Natal. In Cape Town, where he spent the later part of his life, he was best known as a philanthropist and a patron and connoisseur of the arts. The De Pass collections of art treasures, donated during and after his lifetime, are to be found in South African and British galleries and museums. His bequests included sums for the upkeep of Jewish cemeteries in Cape Town and in Britain.