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Kallenbach and foundation stone.JPG

Herman Kallenbach, back to the camera, watches Mayor Maurice Freedman lay the foundation stone of Temple Israel on 22 September 1935. Rabbi Moses Weiler is on the left.

Herman Kallenbach, architect of Temple Israel

The man who planned and built Temple Israel in Hillbrow in 1936, Herman Kallenbach is today more famous for his companionship with Mahatma Ghandi than for any of his architectural work.



et he was, for several decades, one of the most influential architects in the city. Many of the most important architects of the next generation worked as juniors in his office. He was senior partner in one of the busiest architectural practices of his day, Kallenbach, Kennedy, Furner (although it was the youngest partner, Arthur Furner, who was the forward-thinking design talent in the firm.)

Kallenbach became wealthy at an early age, thanks to a talent for property speculation and township development. The suburb of Linksfield was his, and one of its most beautiful streets, Kallenbach Drive, is named after him. A sportsman, amateur boxer and bodybuilder, and a devotee of physical labour, he helped build roads with his own hands.

But he led the life of a wealthy playboy until meeting Ghandi in 1904. He became a vegetarian, rid himself of material comforts and became Ghandi’s devoted companion, sharing a house with him in Orchards and donating large properties, such as Phoenix Farm and Tolstoy’s Farm to Ghandi’s non-violent, egalitarian cause.

He joined Gandhi on the 1913 passive resistance campaign for which he spent several weeks in prison. It was remarkable at that time for a white man to join a black protest against white racism, and to go to jail for it.


Herman Kallenbach

He also joined Gandhi on the latter’s return trip to India, via England, for which Kallenbach packed his worldly goods, expecting never to return to South Africa.

They arrived in England just as the First World War broke out. Despite his South African citizenship, despite never having lived in Germany, Kallenbach was arrested as an enemy alien (his parents were German Jews, but they lived in Lithuania). He spent the war in an enemy aliens’ internment camp on the Isle of Wight.

Gandhi – together with Kallenbach’s luggage – continued on to India. Kallenbach returned to South Africa, although he visited India many years later (he found it far too hot).

The increasing anti-semitism of the nineteen twenties and thirties transformed Kallenbach into a Zionist, and he served on the executive of the South African Zionist Federation. The passivist Zionism he espoused – no military, no state, no industry – bore little resemblance to Zionism in practice. It was, however, rather similar to the cultural Zionism of Rabbi Weiler’s hero, Achad Ha’am.

Kallenbach was planning to emigrate to Palestine when he died in 1945, bequeathing his vast library to the Jewish Museum in Jerusalem. His funeral was conducted by Rabbi Weiler.



The only memorial to Kallenbach is to be found not in Johannesburg, but on the Baltic coast of Lithuania. A statue of Kallenbach and Gandhi, modelled on the actors in the Richard Attenborough movie Gandhi, was recently erected, the two gazing over the ocean. Kallenbach was thus reclaimed by the country he had left as a boy. (Lecture by Dr Kathy Munro at Beit Emanuel synagogue, 23 September 2017).

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