Fonds BC707 - The Purwitsky Collection

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The Purwitsky Collection


  • 1982 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

Five archival boxes

Archival history


Hilda Purwitsky was born in 1901 in the province of Kovno, Lithuania. She came as a baby to South Africa with her parents and the family lived in Cape Town, where her father worked as a blacksmith. She was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in Somerset Road, Green Point and the Cape Town Training College.
In 1920, when a student teacher at the De Villiers Street School, she met Roza van Gelderen, a member of the staff and when Miss van Gelderen was appointed principal of the Girls' Central School, at that time in Buitenkant Street, Hilda Purwitsky also obtained a post there.
At about this time they both became friendly with Irma Stern, who had not yet made a name for herself in South Africa as a painter and sculptor and the three were close friends for over forty years.
While teaching at the Girls' Central School, Miss Purwitsky attended evening lectures at the University of Cape Town and obtained her B.A. degree. Also at this time she was local correspondent for the S A Jewish Times, the Zionist Record, the S A Jewish Chronicle and Afrikaner Yiddische Zeitung, often writing articles in conjunction with Roza van Gelderen. After nearly twenty years at the school, they both left for posts in Johannesburg, but afterwards returned to Cape Town.
Miss Purwitsky continued her journalism and also travelled extensively, accumulating an interesting and valuable collection of historical material. She lives in Sea Point, Cape Town, and intends writing a history of the Girls' Central School.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Miss Hilda Purwitsky via the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies

Scope and content

The Purwitsky Collection was donated to the University of Cape Town Libraries in 1981 by Miss Hilda Purwitsky through the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and numbers 448 items.
Miss Purwitsky was a journalist, so a large part of the collection comprises interviews with and articles about prominent and interesting Jewish personalities during the years 1919 to 1979, everyday as well as important events in contemporary Jewish life and also early days in Southern Africa from the Jewish angle. The section on Jewish Benefactors to South Africa includes the 1850's to the 1930's.
One of the most interesting parts of the collection deals with South African Jewish Art and artists, particularly the section on the painter Irma Stern (1894-1966). Hilda Purwitsky and Roza van Gelderen, who was headmistress of the Girls' Central School, Vredehoek,,were personal friends of Irma Stern and their biographical notes reveal interesting details of how this remarkable artist lived and worked.
Together, Hilda and Roza wrote many articles under the pseudonyms Rozilda, Hora, Zora Dailh, V G Purvis and Hillel Ross. Hilda Purwitsky also wrote under her own name, her initials H.P., and the pseudonyms Elia Stamm, Aleph Beth and Clara Way. She wrote mainly for the South African Jewish Times, the South African Jewish Chronicle, the Zionist Record and the Cape Times and regular articles appeared in columns headed "Out of the Ordinary", "The Human Angle" and "What shall I read?"
The collection is an enthusiastic record of Jewish affairs and personalities and Miss Purwitsky stresses the contribution made financially and the talents they showed in different fields by Jewish South Africans to the land of their adoption.


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