OPINION | Jonathan Ancer: Cutting edge heritage

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The scissors that belonged to writer's grandfather, which are now in his study. (Supplied)
The scissors that belonged to writer's grandfather, which are now in his study. (Supplied)

Jonathan Ancer describes the journey of a giant pair of scissors that made their way from Poland to South Africa. He writes that it is a piece of history that links him to a Polish village, whose name he can't pronounce, but also it connects him to his grandfather.


When I was 12, I would sneak into my father's study, open his drawer, and take out a giant pair of scissors. I loved holding the scissors and feeling its weight in my hands. These were scissors unlike any other I had ever seen. The heavy metal scissors resembled two swords crisscrossed. They were also sharp, and I was sure they could cut through steel. 

I grew up on stories of the Holocaust and persecution and devoured books like When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Friedrich and The Diary of Anne Frank. These books profoundly impacted me, and I remember them vividly.

As a boy, I often wondered who would hide my family if the Nazis came for us. I had decided that if we had to flee, I would take my dog Zardoz, my foreign coin collection and the giant pair of scissors. 

It wouldn't be the first time these scissors had fled persecution. 

Journey from Poland to South Africa

The scissors had made their way from Poland to South Africa a century ago. 

They had belonged to my grandfather, Chaim Ancer, a Jewish tailor who fled eastern Europe persecution to find refuge in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. 

Chaim was born in Poland on 4 February 1900. 

When he was 12 - the same age as I was when I would sneak into my father's study to play with the scissors - he was sent to become an apprentice to a tailor. He was their servant, at their beck and call.  

READ | OPINION: Chris Jones: Our heritage is not just our past, we are creating it every day

He woke before the family he served got up to make a fire for them. He cleaned the home and washed and dressed the children. He didn't get paid. In between all his household tasks, he learnt his tailoring. Six years later, when he was 18, he was conscripted into the Polish army for three years. 

Life was tough. Jews were banned from becoming professionals, and there were frequent pogroms that left many dead, women raped, and people's meagre possessions stolen or destroyed. 

Chaim left his bride, my grandmother, and he and his oversized scissors sought sanctuary in South Africa, where he managed to find a job as a tailor and machinist in a clothing factory. 

Holocaust

The conditions were terrible, and he earned a pittance. It took him six years to save enough money to bring my grandmother to South Africa. 

She arrived just before the Nazis invaded Poland. The rest of their families perished in the Holocaust. 

Chaim and Tauba-Bella, my grandmother, built a new life in a new country.   

Last year, my father was sorting through his possessions, and he asked me if there was anything I wanted. 

Just my grandfather's scissors, I told him. 

I sometimes wonder what Chaim would have thought of me; a Polish immigrant’s grandson whose DNA is encoded with unique South African cultural, social, and political peculiarities like umqombothi, koeksisters; fynbos; shisa nyama; robots; Sister Bettina; Evita Bezuidenhout; tjatjarag; chakalaka; Stage 6; Jerusalema; now now; Nkalakatha, Nkandla; biltong; smileys; Pata Pata; #PayBackTheMoney; Scatterlings of Africa; and My Fok, Marelize. 

The giant pair of heavy metal scissors my grandfather used to carve a life for his family when he landed in South Africa a century ago is now in my study.

But I've come to realise that it's not just a pair of scissors: it's a piece of history and a part of my heritage that links me to a Polish village whose name I can't pronounce, and I've never been to, and, more than that, it's a connection to my grandfather.  

- Jonathan Ancer is a News24 sub-editor.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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