Copy of original article by Jordan Moshe, published in the Jewish Times January 24, 2019
This article was published after the medal to the family. The Bergman family made a donation to charity in order to compensate me for my loss. However there was no loss to me as the happiness of the family, who are still in possession of the original photograph of the Bergman brothers the the Town Guard meant more than the medal.
Antique military medal finds its way home
It’s not every day that someone calls to tell you that they’ve found an antique military medal which belonged to your ancestor. Bill Bergman received such a call, but soon realised the ancestor was not his, but that he knew who the descendent was.by JORDAN MOSHE | Jan 24, 2019
When militaria enthusiast and collector Munro Swerski found a Queen’s South Africa medal on auction in November last year, he was surprised to find that it had been awarded to a Jacob Bergman. He bought the medal there and then because it bore the same name as that of his good friend Bill.
Given that Swerski’s friend was a decorated veteran of the South African National Defence Forces, the likelihood of the two Bergmans being related seemed too great to overlook.
“Munro phoned me and said he’d come across a medal that must have belonged to an ancestor of mine,” says Bergman. “He had bought it from another collector after seeing the surname, and was very excited at the thought that it would find its way back to its original family. Jacob was the Hebrew name of my late father, so the fact that this had turned up was amazing.”
After conducting some research, however, Bergman learned that it did not belong to his father. “The medal had been awarded for service in the Boer War, and because my father was born only in 1910, it couldn’t have been his.”
However, after discovering that this other Jacob Bergman had lived in Port Elizabeth, he believed he might know the rightful descendent. Through a cousin of his, he met a woman who, despite having the same surname as him, was not related. “I knew that Myra Bernstein, whose maiden name was Bergman, was from a family hailing from Port Elizabeth. When I contacted her, she not only told me that Jacob was her late grandfather, but that his surname had not always been Bergman.”
In fact, explains Bernstein, the family’s previous surname had been Gochin, one which itself was not the original surname. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, she and her nephew, MP Darren Bergman, outlined the fascinating history of their family’s heritage, which can be traced back to the Spanish Inquisition.
“Our family settled in India after fleeing the Inquisition,” says Bernstein. “Like many other Jews, they settled in Cochin, a city which would inspire them to change their surname to Gochin. They eventually ended up in Europe, and settled in Lithuania where Jacob was born.”
According to their extensive research, Jacob Bergman was born Jacob Gochin in 1873 in Papile, Lithuania. Just after 1892, the Gochin cousins – Joseph, Jacob, and Abraham – decided to leave their country of birth for South Africa where, rumour had it, fortunes could be made.
When they decided to settle in Heidelberg, they chose to change their surname once again. “They bought a general dealer business in town that was established and trading under the name ‘Bergman se Winkel’,” Darren says. This purchase resulted in Gochin becoming Bergman which, in spite of being an Afrikaans surname, was equally suitable as a Jewish one.
When the second Anglo Boer War broke out in October 1899, Jacob and Joseph packed their belongings and set out for the Eastern Cape, knowing that most of the family had recently arrived and settled there. Motivated equally by the unpalatable prospect of finding that they were fighting for the Boers against family conscripted on the British side, they headed for the Cape Colony – specifically Middleton, near Cradock.
Given their business transactions in Heidelberg, it was almost inevitable that they would become known as the Bergman Brothers. For the sake of business, they had already assumed the name, and upon arrival in the Cape, officially registered themselves under the surname Bergman. Jacob, his brother Joseph, and cousin Abraham enlisted in the newly created Town Guard of Middelton in which they served for the duration of the war. It resulted in Jacob earning the esteemed Queen’s South Africa medal for his service.
Bernstein and her nephew says Jacob eventually started farming in the Uitenhage area in about 1918, and went on to rise to considerable prominence in the Jewish community. “In 1912, he became the first president of the Raleigh Street Shul in Uitenhage,” Darren says. “During this time, he married, was involved in the community, and continued to be engaged in business. He was certainly very prominent in his community.”
In spite of his reputation, the discovery of this medal is the first real opportunity his descendants have had to better understand the man Jacob was. Says Bernstein, “Growing up, I knew of my grandfather only through a picture hung on the wall at home.
“Our family history was a closed chapter in our story, much like the Holocaust was for many Jews at the time. My parents never spoke about him, and though we’ve found out much about my grandfather over the years, this medal is something concrete and exciting for us.”