01 Sept 2002
Jack BUCHWEITZ has died in Cape Town at the age of 88. He owned a junk shop
behind Cavendish Square, in Claremont.
To a generation of Capetonians, BUCHWEITZ was the King of Junk. If you
wanted anything, >from books to bedpans and curling tongs to trombones,
BUCHWEITZ had it. Not only did he own the junk shop but he lived in it.
On most days, when he wasn't at auctions, he was to be seen sitting outside
his junk shop tinkering with an old iron or radio and sporting nothing but
a pair of shorts, a deeply tanned torso and a friendly smile. Next to him
was a sign that read "Closing Down Sale!"
Since at least 1989 the city council tried every trick in the book to get
rid of BUCHWEITZ, complaining that his shop lowered the tone of the
upmarket neighbourhood. But BUCHWEITZ, once feeling so put-upon that he
enlisted the support of the minister of justice, won the war and his junk
He was born on 04 July 1913 in Eringham, Bavaria, one of 13 children. His
grandfather was Baron VON BUCHWEITZ tsuERINGHAM, a title that he later
dropped because he didn't see the point of paying good money to keep it.
The family had substantial wealth and property.
BUCHWEITZ''s father, a medical doctor, was the burgermeister of Eringham.
BUCHWEITZ himself was a medical student at the University of Frankfurt.
In 1937 BUCHWEITZ managed to get out of Germany in a light plane with some
friends. The plane was over North Africa when it crashed and BUCHWEITZ
sustained burns to his shoulder and down one side of his body. He made his
way to South Africa and fought in the South African Air Force as a pilot in
North Africa during the war, for which he received several medals for bravery.
After the war, he learned that his mother and siblings had died in
Auschwitz. His father had died before the war. In 1970, after reading an
article in the Jewish Chronicle, he discover that a brother, David, had
survived and was living in the USA.
In spite of his war service for South Africa, BUCHWEITZ was classified as
an "alien" and was granted citizenship only when he married his wife, Hetty.
He became an amateur boxer and what he lacked in size and weight - he was
1.65m and weighed in at no more than 50kg - he made up for in enthusiasm
and sheer chutzpah. He fought under the name "Popeye".
He became the manager of The Star Bakery in Rosebank, Cape Town, but left
after about 12 years when it was taken over by a much larger outfit. He
then started a swop shop in Mowbray, one of the first - if not the first -
of its kind in Cape Town. When the lease expired he opened another in
Wynberg, then Maitland, Southfield, and Rondebosch East. His aim was never
to be rich, but simply to survive and be happy. If he made more than he
felt he needed to support his modest lifestyle he gave it to charity. He
moved into his famous junk shop in Claremont in 1982, soon after the
collapse of his second marriage.
He was an avid reader of everything >from history and philosophy to cowboy
stories. He also loved talking - he spoke German to his dog and a heavily
accented English to everyone else - but seldom spoke about his years in
Germany or his war experiences.
His daughter Bernice only discovered that her great-grandfather had been
an aristocrat when she saw his name written in faded ink inside a book, one
of the few possessions BUCHWEITZ carried with him out of Germany. In his
will he instructed that he be buried under a small stone so that he could
shift it aside when he wanted to, that forget-me-nots be planted around his
grave and that self-raising flour be sprinkled over it to help him rise again.
He is survived by three children.