Herman Bliden (1878 – 1932) and Family
Note: Herman and his family used “Bliden” as the spelling of their surname, while his American siblings and their children used “Blieden”.
Herman, Hillel Tewel, Bliden, was the son of Aron Itzah and Hannah Wolfson Blieden. On his passport application, it shows he was born in Zagare, Lithuania, but was living in Riga, Latvia, at the time he emigrated.
Growing up, he lived on the family mill which was probably a sawmill since the children liked to go floating on the logs down the river near their home. The mill and their home was probably in Wenden (Csis), Latvia, based on ship manifests of his brothers’ and mother’s arrival in the United States.
When he emigrated to South Africa, he was married to Rachel Malka (Male) Lazarus, daughter of Moses and Reve Leah Lazurus.
According to his daughter, Milly Blieden Simmons, in a family history that she started writing, her parents emigrated in 1904 with 2 small sons, Isaac and Robert. They left because Herman was concerned about being forced to join the Russian army. They chose South Africa because Rachel, Milly’s mother, had 2 brothers (William and Abe) already living there and Herman, Milly’s dad, had an uncle (Judel Reuven, “Zeider”) living there.
Herman was a trained watch maker and jeweler and Rachel Malka was the manager of a large haberdashery shop. It is not clear if this was in Riga or in Cape Town.
In South Africa, Herman and Rachel Malka had 3 more children: Fanny, Samuel, and Milly.
Millie remembered that her father opened a drapery shop on Adderley Street. She remembered living over their next shop on the corner of Long and Wald Streets. They then moved to a “double-storyered block of 5 houses.”
Soon after MIllie was born in 1911, her mother, Rachel Malka, came down with “Consumption” (Tuberculosis). Millie first went with her to Beaufort where Rachel Malka was sent to recover. However, she got worse and they then went to stay in Bloemfontein. Rachel Malka rallied and felt so good she insisted on going home to be with her beloved Herman. She was told, probably by doctors, that it would be dangerous to her health to return to Cape Town. However, she insisted and went. She died on August, 16, 1918, leaving 4 young children.
Also, in 1918, Millie’s Uncle Meyer, a brother of her father, died from the 1918 flu epidemic. Meyer lived in Pennsylvania in the United States and died a few months vefore his first child was born.
After his wife died, Herman insisted that his children write regularly to their relatives in the United States. We know that Millie wrote to her Aunt Reve Blieden Bricker, while Fanny wrote regulary to her cousin, Rebecca Garfinkle, daughter of Herman’s sister, Rose Lily.
On August 1, 1920, Herman’s beloved, oldest son, Isaac Oliver, died while attending medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he is buried. He developed a Tetanus infection after surgery on his foot. The Tetanus vaccine did not exist until 1924.
On May 9, 1922, Herman (aka Harris) arrived in New York City for a 2 two month visit with his mother. I am sure he got to see his siblings on this, trip, too.
From the ship manifests, we learn that he had black hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. He also spoke English and German.
Herman prospered but unfortunately, he decided to start a money-lending business. The business fell into the hands of crooks and Herman lost nearly everything.
Herman eventually remarried. Miriam Struel was a divorcee who had one daughter of her own. Herman’s daughter Milly was 7 years old when her mother died. She was about 18 when her father remarried. Milly was never fond of Miriam, her step-mother. Probably no one could ever replace the mother she lost so young.
Three years after they were married, Herman and Miriam were hit by a motorbus in Woodstock on June 11, 1932. Herman died in New Somerset Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa on June 20, 1932.
After their father and step-mother both died, when their children were cleaning out the house, they found a suitcase packed with all of Miriam’s jewelry. Herman’s daughter, Milly, told her sons that she assumed Miriam was planning on leaving Herman. How sad.
The Children of Herman and Rachel Malka
Below is a little bit about each one of their children.
Isaac Oliver Bliden (1900 – 1920)
Isaac was the first son born to Herman and Rachel Malke Lazarus Blieden. We believe he was born circa 1900 in Riga, Latvia, since, according to his sister, Milly, his parents emigrated to South Africa about 1904.
Acording to his sister, Milly, Isaac always wanted to be a doctor.
He studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, but was in an accident in his second year. He had surgery on his foot and died from Tetanus in 1920.
A Tetanus vaccine was not developed until 1924
Isaac is buried in Edinburgh, Scotland, in Piershill Cemetery.
Robert Louis Bliden (1902 – 1970)
Robert was the second child born to Herman and Rachel Malka. He was born in Riga, Latvia, circa 1892.
Millie had fond memories of her older brother. She thought of him as sweet and kind.
He became a dentist, studying at Guy’s Hospital. He married but never had children, and died frm lung cancer in 1970.
His wife, Sadie Freeman, was a cousin of his sister Fanny’s husband, Dave Harris.
This is what Milly had to say about Robert:
Samuel Bliden (1904 – 1977)
Sam was the fourth child born to Herman and Rachel Malka. He was born in Cape Town on April 5, 1904.
Sam became a lawyer and married Milly Purwitsky in 1932.
Sam and MIlly got married in November of 1932. Sam’s niece, Molly Rose, daughter of his sister Fanny, was their flower girl.
Sam and Milly had 2 sons.
Cousin David Simmons had this to say about Sam:
Sam and Milly Bliden lived on High Level Road in Sea Point, then moved opposite the Reform Shule in Green Point just off the Main Road. They invited me there a few times.
Sam first studied Medicine, then Law and became a Lawyer. Once I went to his rooms near the Law courts in the center of Cape Town, when I was there I heard him shouting at a client while he was giving him advice.
Sam died on October 23, 1977, in
Cape town, Cape Province, South Africa
Fanny Bliden Harris (1905 – 1990)
Fanny was the third child and first daugther born to Herman and Rachel Malka. She was their first child born in South Africa. After her mother died in 1918, thirteen year old Fanny helped look after her siblings. Her sister, Millie, declared that “she tried to mother us all”.
After his wife died, Herman insisted the children write to relatives in the United States. Fanny thus corresponded with her cousin Rebecca Handler Garfinkle, Herman’s sister’s daughter.
Fanny met Dave Harris when she was 16 years old. After she turned 19, her father gave her permission to marry. Dave had a furniture factory in Cape Town. They had a beautiful home called “Shangri-la” in Avenue Desandt in Fresnaye which looked out over the sea.
In 1928, Fanny gave birth to a little girl they named Molly Rose. She was very loved and adored I can remember my father telling me that she was a piano prodigy and had performed throughout Europe.
When she was about 12, she was tragically shot by a neighbor child who found a gun in his backyard, picked it up, and it accidentally went off and killed Molly Rose. Fanny and Dave were out for the evening when this occurred.
Molly rose died on July 10, 1940, at 14 Avenue Normandie, Sea Point, Cape Town, South Africa
Cousin David Simmons recalls:
We sometimes went to stay in Shangri La for holidays, I remember the large entrance, large veranda overlooking the sea, bathroom, the colored maid, Rachel who was a lovely, young gentle woman.
They then moved to an apartment in the Beach Road in Sea Point, the address was 18 Ostende, which was a large 2 bedroom unit on about the 3 rd floor looking out over the sea. I remember watching the seagulls diving into the sea for a meal.
Fanny was able to travel to the United States to visit her mother, Hannah, and Uncle Harvey Blieden.
Cousin Jud Bricker remembers the excitement that surrounded her visits. However, he also remembered his fear in going into stores with her. She sometimes referred to people using words that were not used in the United States anymore which caused him much concern and embarrassment.
In July of 1934, she sailed to the US and got to see her brother, Harvey, just a few months before he died. It was the last time she also saw her mother, who died a few months after her son.
According to the ship manifest below, Fanny was 5’4″ tall and had fair hair and a fair complexion and gray eyes. We also learned that she was travelling with $250 and her contact in the US was a cousin of her husband Dave.
Dave and Fanny liked to go to the races. Fanny used to send her old fur coats to her sister, Milly, but by then they were out of style!
After Molly Rose died, Fanny devoted her time to Jewish Women’s Charities.
Dave Harris died on September, 4, 1988.
Fanny died on October 21, 1990.
They are both buried in Pinelands2 Cemetery, Cape Town.
Mildred (Milly) Bliden Simmons (1911 – 1998)
Mildred, who also went by Milly and/or Mase, was the 5th child born to Herman and Rachel Malka. At the time she was born, her siblings were 6, 7, 9, and 11.
Later in life, Milly set out to write her family history. This was long before computers so she was using a typewriter. It was not easy to correct mistakes on a typewriter, and you often had to retype an entire page. I posted parts of her history below. In the clippings, you can see where she corrected some mistakes by hand.
She talks about her mother coming down with “Consumption” (Tuberculosis) soon after Milly was born and then passing away when Milly was just seven.
After her mother died, her father had her correspond with her Aunt Reve in the United States.
Milly goes on to say how she was sent to boarding school and how she met her husband Jack.
in 1935, she married Jack Simmons in Bloemfontein.
Her husband had a printing business. Her sons still remember the linotype machine and the printer boxes which later became popular for holding miniatures.
David remembers the following about his father’s business:
Jack had a printing works called Crystal printing works, called after Mr Crystal, whom he bought it from. Mr Crystal gave me a book called Jewish humour, I regret I never got around to reading it. Then Dad rebuilt Crystal Printing works when I was a young boy of only about 10 years of age. So it was in about 1955 that Dad built Floreat Press, I remember jumping in the builders sand, across the road from Mr Zarchi who had sheep hides in his shop in East Burger street. The main streets were Maitland Street and St Andrews Street. I can still smell the odour of sheep skins from Mr Zarchi’s shop.
David also has fond memories of his childhood home and describes it in great detail:
We had a bush fence in front of our house, which was later replaced by a wire fence. In front was gravel with flower beds with stone borders. There was a huge tree in the middle, with mainly irises in the flower beds, plus some roses. In the back were grapes growing on the carport in front of the garage. I remember when Dad planted the vines, which gave delicious red grapes. The car I remember most was a Chevrolet Fleetwood. It had a dark green roof and cream coloured body. The seats, which Dad covered with thick leather. We drove to Cape Town through the Karoo a few times in it, passed Beaufort West, Middelburg, Paarl, Worster. Dad sold the Chevrolet and years later the man who bought it thanked him, as it was still going well. At the back yard were apricot and plum trees in rows plus a fig tree and separating us from the Mahers was salt bush and reeds, from which we used to make flying kites.
The front veranda had 2 poles on the 2 corners. There was an entrance room in which, were wooden furniture with leather riempie strips on which we sat. The dining room had a lovely dining table with 6 chairs, which I remember Dad re-covering, there was an upright Steinway pianoforte against the inside wall. Then there was a long passage, on the right was a pantry, in front the kitchen. Down the passage on the right was Ivor’s bed-room, east facing, on the left Mom and Dad’s bedroom. At the end of the passage north fdacing, was Mike and my common bed room and leading off from it, was the north facing veranda, which was enclosed with wire netting. There was a bed on the veranda, on which Dad used to smoke his pipe, read and listen to radio playhouse. We used to listen to Alex Jay, ‘Missing persons’ and ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’. There was a porch at the back off the kitchen and a shed for bicycles and the maid’s quarter’s at the back.
In a letter dated to me in 1981, Milly talks about travelling to the United States where she met her grandmother, Hannah, and her Uncle Harvey (her father’s brother). On subsequent trips, she met some of her first cousins, including my “darling” father, who she met a few weeks before he died. She mentions that the reason for her trips to the United States was to visit her son, Ivor, who settled in Canada.
Although she corresponded with her Aunt Reve throughout her life, she met her for the first time in London, England.
In 1975, Milly visited her first cousin, Arthur Blieden, at his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, in the United States, where there was a gethering in her honor. Here she is talking to my mother-in-law, Lillian Rothman during the gathering.
Besides being a talented pianist, Milly enjoyed the sport of bowls.
Her beloved, Jack, died on June 25, 1989, in Bloemfontein. Milly died on August 16, 1988, at age 87.
Thank you to:
- Dr. Naomi Rapeport for her extensive research on the Bliedens of South Africa.
- The late Millie Simmons for the many letters she wrote me and for the family history she wrote
- Jud Bricker for sharing family stories and remembrances with me both on the phone and via email.
- Elizabeth Bricker Stephens for all the photos she sent me and for tirelessly asking her father questions on my behalf.
- Ivor and David Simmons for sharing stories and photos with me.
- Ancestry.com: 1934 Ship Manifest for Fanny Harris
- FamilySearch.org: Sam’s marriage reocrd
- FamilySearch.org: Sam’s death record
- South Africa, Cape Province, Probate Records of the Master of the High Court Name Isaac Bliden Event Type Probate Event Date 1920 Event Place Grahamstown, Albany, Cape Province, South Africa Age 20 Relationship to Deceased Deceased Birth Year (Estimated) 1900 Birthplace Riga Russia Death Date 01 Aug 1920 Death Place Edinburgh Scotland
- South Africa, Cape Province, Western Cape Archives Records, 1792-1992 Name Davis Harris Event Type Marriage Event Date 09 Jun 1924 Event Place Cape Town, Cape, Cape, South Africa Age 25 Birth Year (Estimated) 1899 Spouse’s Name Fanny Bliden Spouse’s Age 19 Spouse’s Birth Year (Estimated) 1905 Entry Number 282