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MOSENTHAL , South African family, who, in successive generations, played a major part in the 19th-century development of the country's commerce, banking, and, especially, agricultural export trade. The family came from Hesse-Cassel, Germany, and the first to immigrate was joseph mosenthal (1813–1871), who settled at the Cape in 1839. He was joined by his brothers adolph (1812–1882) and julius (1819–1880), and the three set up in business in Cape Town as Mosenthal Brothers. The firm continued to flourish under family control until well into the 20th century. From their main business centers in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Graaff Reinet, the Mosenthals spread their activities throughout the Cape Colony, and later through the Transvaal. They established numerous trading posts in the interior and organized transport to and from the coast. Their first interest was the marketing of wool and hides, but they gradually expanded their activities to embrace gold and diamond mining, industrial enterprises, and banking. In the early years they issued their own banknotes, which were widely circulated but were withdrawn by the firm with the development of the colony's commercial banking system.

The Mosenthals made a special study of ostrich farming and opened up export markets for its products. They introduced merino sheep from France and Angora goats from Turkey; Adolph Mosenthal himself went to the Black Sea to arrange for the importation of the goats after earlier attempts had failed. This was the beginning of South Africa's staple mohair industry. In 1857 Julius Mosenthal was the first professing Jew to be elected to the Legislative Council of the Eastern (Cape) Province, and Joseph Mosenthal was elected to the same body in 1861. A fourth brother, Salomon Hermann *Mosenthal, became well known as a Viennese dramatist. Other leading members of the family were harry (1850–1915) and william (1861–1933), both sons of Adolph.

In the 19th century, the Mosenthals helped a number of German-Jewish immigrants to settle in South Africa. Joseph Mosenthal, like his brothers, was a conforming Jew and was one of the founders of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation in 1841. In later years the Mosenthals, like many of the other early Jewish families in South Africa, married out of the faith, and their descendants were no longer identified as Jews.


L. Herrman, History of the Jews in South Africa (1935), index; G. Saron and H. Hotz, The Jews in South Africa… (1955), 349–52; I. Abrahams, Birth of a Community (1955), index.

[Lewis Sowden]