Merthyr Tydfil - South Wales
Marcus Roberts


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This latter working class community of eastern European Jews is of particular interest and they suffered the most from the decline of the iron industry, with many being forced into mass emigration to Canada in 1903-7, after serious threats and disturbances at the hands of fellow Irish workers at Dowlais - an episode that could be interpreted as an industrial ethnic cleansing, though there was also in-fighting between the Polish and Russian Jews in Dowlais in 1904. This event anticipated the Tredegar Disturbances a few years later and it may also be noted that Irish Catholics were often highly intolerant of Jews in the East End of London and Jews would be driven out if they attempted to live near to the Irish Catholics.

The severity of the problems can be gauged from this description of the troubles: "At the beginning of September 1903, the situation deteriorated further. There was fighting in the streets, several Jews were beaten up, and a number of Irish labourers were charged with assault. Large crowds congregated in the streets and several houses occupied by Jews were hit by stones. To relieve the tension, charges against the Irish labourers were withdrawn when they assured members of the Jewish congregation that such assaults would not happen again". During the later Tredegar riots, or Pogrom, of 1911, Jews fled from the western valleys, to Merthyr and the coastal Jewish communities, to find sanctuary.

The last Merthyr synagogue was built in 1875, after the industrial hey-day of Merthyr and the community declined into the 20th century, in concert with the local economy. In 1914, there were some 300 Jews in Merthyr - around 0.5% of the local population.

In the 1930s the largest Jewish industrial concerns in Merthyr, was OP Chocolates (know predominantly for the Pischinger Torte and Walnut Whirls, both plain and Coffee flavor) and they also produced seasonal chocolates, along with the Easter and Christmas novelty chocolates. The factory is still in operation, next to Dowlais High Street. There was also the Welsh Button Factory, founded by German Jewish refugees.

In the 1930s one of the leading Jewish families were the Shermans. The 4 Sherman brothers, raised (and born, according to some sources) in the Riverside area of Cardiff with their 4 sisters), were Isaac, Jack, Abraham [Abe] and Harry (1887-1961). Having set up the bookmaking business, Isaac, Jack and Harry emigrated to America during the First World War. Harry returned and he and Abraham then set up Shermans Pools Ltd. The Shermans had betting shops in Victoria Street and also at 8 Glebeland Street, in Merthyr. The latter premises was shared with local solicitor, Benjamin Hamilton. The two businesses made the brothers a fortune, a significant portion of which they passed on to various charities in Britain and Israel, via The Sherman Foundation. Harry lived in Cardiff, Abraham in Merthyr at Park Lodge, Thomastown. Abe Sherman always lived in Merthyr and was extremely fond of his home at Park Lodge, adjacent and up-hill from the synagogue. Eventually the pools business was bought by Littlewoods in 1961 and the betting business by William Hill. The family business was also celebrated in a 1938 home movie, now archived and available to see on the BFI Archive, as well as home movie of their garden. The Shermans were also patrons of the arts and donated the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff.

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