by Fred N. Sanders
Cape Town, South Africa
In the early part of this century, many people from Eastern Europe immigrated to South Africa to escape the rampant anti-Semitism at home. Our country appeared to them as the land of opportunity, sunshine and gold. And besides, it wasn’t as far away from Europe as the United States.
At that time, however, the South African government had fairly stringent immigration regulations. One rule was that immigrants had to have a medical examination, and they would only be accepted if they were adjudged healthy. Another requirement was that the immigrant had to deposit “security money” with the government until the medical examination had been performed. That way, if ill health produced non- acceptance, the immigrant’s repatriation would not cost the South African government anything. If the person was of good health and accepted to enter the country, the money would be repaid to the immigrant.
One young man came to South Africa from Latvia, leaving behind his wife, two daughters and two sons. His intention was to make enough money to bring his family to a better life, but things did not go well for him. One after another, his business ventures failed. Finally, after two years, he managed to save enough money for his family’s sea passage to South Africa. But he did not have enough for the government’s “security money” deposit.
Feeling very depressed, he was sitting in a Cape Town restaurant one day, disconsolately staring into his plate of soup, when an old man approached him. “Why do you look so sad, my boy?” asked the old man. The younger man explained his predicament. The old man looked at him for a minute in silence, as if sizing him up. Finally he pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down the name and address of a business not far from the restaurant in which they were sitting. “If you go to that address tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, the money will be there for you. You can pay me back when you get it back from the authorities.”
The younger man was skeptical, but nevertheless the following day he presented himself at the business address. To his great and pleasant surprise, the money was there, waiting for him. He went ahead and arranged for his family to come, knowing that they were all healthy and would be accepted. They were indeed accepted by the medical authorities, and after a joyous family reunion he duly returned the money to the old man.
The family who benefitted from this man’s generosity still retell the story today to honor the memory of his trust in a stranger. I heard about it from the woman who has been married to the immigrant’s eldest son for 62 years. They have two children, six grandchildren, and two great- grandchildren. One small sum lent briefly in trust has paid dividends for generations.