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    Family Biographies


    (updated 12.6.14 with corrections and input from John Beemer, nephew of Sonya Beemer Jacobs. With thanks to Wendy Winkelman )

    Mrs. Sonya Jacobs (Sisi)

    Husband – Cecil


    Sonya’s family:

    Father:                   Joseph Beemer from Lithuania

    Mother:                  Antoinette Therese Renner from Vienna

    Grandfather:           Abraham Beemer, came to Bulawayo during Lobengula’s time and was granted by Lobengula a trading concession (approximately 1895).  However, he returned to Lithuania and sent his 5 sons to take up this concession.  Sons: Harry, left to Johannesburg where he opened a chain of stores, did very well but died years later in a tragic manner, falling into a lift shaft of a building while under construction.  Joseph, remained trading in Bulawayo.

    Mother’s Sister:      Mother had a married sister, Jeanette Palk in Bulawayo.  They had a bakery and a citrus farm in Carmi Ruins.  Antoinette came from Vienna to visit her sister (about 1908) aged 18 and met Joseph Beemer and married him.  They had 5 children.

    Siblings:                Pearlie (1903), Sonya (1905), Abraham (1907), Ellie (female Approx. 1910), Hilda (1915).


    In approximately 1909, mother went with 3 children to visit family and friends in London, Vienna and Russia, not realizing as yet that she was expecting another child.  Ellie was born in Russia and as a result had no birth certificate which caused her difficulties later on. 


    On return from Russia, mother brought back with her a Jewish peasant girl as nursemaid who was educated and eventually married in Bulawayo.


    Home:                Quite wealthy.  Large, with all comforts.  No lawns in those days, but plenty of flowers planted mainly in tin drums (the mainstay of all at the time).  Had a swing.  Private well with pump and windmill.


    Education:         Eveline School attended on 1st day of schools opening in 1909 by Pearlie and Sonya (5 years old).  As Pearlie spoke no English on return from Russia, Sonya was sent to school with her in spite of tender age, so that she would have someone to talk to, who would understand her (check date of 1st opening of Eveline School). 


                              Family had Basuto and Shetland ponies.  When Abraham started school, he was taken back and forth daily by pony.  Pony used to come into the dining room to deliver its charge.


    Also, had a Ford car (one of the 1st in the country).  It was a great pleasure, but on outings into countryside often had to push car up hills.  (Mother involved in car accident badly injured when steering wheel broke while she was driving, but recovered).


    Family:              Orthodox.  Hebrew/Jewish education provided through private lessons by Rabbi who came to the house.  Parents civic minded.  Led full Jewish life.  Entertained, attended synagogue regularly.  Children enjoyed collecting moths and butterflies and setting them on boards in glass cases.  Father very prosperous merchant, owner of properties.  However, in 1918, tragedy struck family.  The flu epidemic attacked the whole family.  Dining room was converted into a hospital ward to facilitate nursing all the sick children.  Joseph (father) was very ill with it and died.  The children were not informed of his death until they all recovered.  Father died intestate.  Mother left Bulawayo with all children to settle in Johannesburg – with five children, the eldest aged 14 and the youngest 5).  Mother was widowed at age 52.  Girls were placed in Park Town convent for schooling as boarders.


    Sonya matriculated at 16, then attended Art School at Polytechnic as part time student with Prof. Austin Wintermoore and Persival Small.


    Prior to move to Johannesburg, family was very friendly with the Jacobs family.  Riddley and Cecil Jacobs, the two sons of the family were constant visitors at the Beemer’s and Riddley was Pearlie’s childhood sweetheart, although boys were much older.


    In 1914, Cecil volunteered to serve in the British army.  Before leaving, a farewell party was given to him by his family to which the Beemer’s were invited.  Cecil had a private rondavel in his family grounds and Sonya went to visit him there on her own – an unheard of activity.  She was 10 years younger than him.  To spite society at the time, she asked him to give her his cigarette case to prove that she had visited him in his private abode, which he finally did.  Quite a daring act.  Cecil served in France and was decorated as an ordinary soldier for Bravery (M.B.E.) on the field.  He returned to Bulawayo I n 1918 and was honored by all as a Rhodesian war hero.


    On return from war, Cecil was instrumental in forming the British ex-servicemen league and later on became its honorary life President.  When demobbed, he joined a firm of solicitors and was articled to Sir Charles Cochrane.  In 1931, Cochrane died.  Sir Allan Welsh become head of the firm and at his demise, Cecil became head of firm.  Cecil was very active in civil affairs.  He was chairman of the Jewish Guild for many years.  Chairman of the Gilbert and Sullivan music society (he was a pianist in his own right).  He served as Chairman of Jewish Board of Deputies for many years.  Sonya was very active too.


    The Beemer’s (after moving to Johannesburg) used to come yearly to Bulawayo to visit father’s grave and used to stay with the Falk’s at Carmi Ruins.  Cecil would visit them there as all the Beemer’s adored him.  He too would visit the family in Johannesburg resulting in his engagement to Sonya in 1929 and their marriage in 1931 (took place in Walmarans Street Synagogue) by Rabbi Dr. Landau.  The reception was in the Beemers’ magnificent garden.


    While on their honeymoon in Durban, Cecil built a home in Bulawayo by correspondence.  (The house is still inhabited by Sonya today 52 years later and is surrounded by a magnificent garden which she looks after).  The couple returned to Bulawayo in July 1951 to settle in their new home.  However, Cecil’s mother thought that the ceilings were too low and paid 100 to the builders to raise the ceiling another 3 feet.


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