A pocket watch made by a Jewish watchmaker for his brother and who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp has found its way back to his relatives almost 80 years later.
Belgian farmer Gustave Janssens found the watch in his field in 1944 in Molenstede in Flanders. His farm had been requisitioned by the Nazis and Janssens thought one of the soldiers, who used the field as a toilet, must have lost it there.
‘My grandfather was no friend of the Nazis,’ his grandson Pieter Janssens told local broadcaster Rijnmond. ‘He knew immediately the watch couldn’t have belonged to any of the soldiers. He didn’t say anything but kept it, perhaps with the intention of one day giving it back to its rightful owner.’
Janssen hid the pocket watch in a big clock where it was found after Janssen’s grandfather and father died.
Paul Janssens, intent on finding its true owner of the watch, said the inscription on the watch proved a good starting point. ‘It said ‘Neufchâteau 1910, made by A.A. Overstrijd, pour mon frère Louis’ and it was apparently a birthday present for someone who had turned 18,’ he said.
An internet search put him in touch with Rotterdam heritage historian Rob Snijders. With the information Snijders gave him, Janssens wrote an article about the watch and put it on Facebook and Twitter.
‘Not 24 hours later I had a message from someone telling me to look for a R. van Ameijden. I wrote tot he first person of that name on social media and asked it they were related to Alfred Overstrijd and they were.’
The man Janssens had contacted was Richard van Ameijden, Alfred’s grandson. It turned out watchmaker Alfred Overstrijd had been arrested in 1942 and died in Auschwitz in 1943. His brother Louis had been arrested on the same day and died shortly after the war.
Van Ameijden and his two older sisters were surprised and touched by the find. ‘We have very few tangible reminders of our grandfather which makes this very special’ Richard van Ameijden said.
How the watch, which is still in working order, ended up in Belgium in the first place has not become clear. Historian Rob Snijders thinks it may have something to do with the mass deportations which took place in 1942 and 1943. A Nazi soldier probably stole the watch when searching the house or took it off the owner,’ he said.
Janssens said he was happy the watch was back were it belonged ‘as my grandfather intended’.
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