A watch taken by a Nazi soldier during WWII, lost in a cornfield, and then buried in a clock on a farm in Belgium has been returned to its maker’s grandchildren after nearly 80 years.
And it’s still working.
Alfred Overstrijd, a Jewish man from the Dutch city of Rotterdam, created the pocket watch in 1910. It was made as a present for his brother, Louis. On the back of the watch, there is an inscription with Overstrijd’s name, the place and time it was manufactured, and the information that it was intended for his brother.
In 1942, Louis Overstrijd was arrested by the Nazis, at which point it’s likely that a soldier took the watch, according to Rob Snijders, a Dutch historian who specializes in Jewish history.
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For Richard van Ameijden, the grandson of the watchmaker, the reunion with his grandfather’s watch was uplifting, but it was also a rude awakening to continuing atrocities.
“When I look at the watch, it touches me partly because there’s a war now as well,” van Ameijden said, referring to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
The route the watch took from Rotterdam to Belgium is unknown, but Snijders has reconstructed the journey.
People in Belgium and the Netherlands were obliged to house Nazi soldiers throughout the war. Three troops were sheltered by a Belgian farmer named Gustave Janssens, who had them use a cornfield nearby as a bathroom. According to Snijders, the watch most likely dropped from the pocket of one of the soldiers in the field.
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Janssens must have assumed the soldier had stolen the watch when he discovered it, according to Snijders. So the farmer kept it instead of returning it.
According to Pieter Janssens, the farmer’s grandson, the farm in Belgium was just sold, and members of Janssens’ family combed through the possessions. The family stumbled across the watch by chance, he claimed.
He sent an email to Snijders in an attempt to track down the original owner and also shared the information via a post on social media.
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Within 24 hours Snijders received word that the watchmaker’s daughter had survived the war and had three children.
Later, Snijders found van Ameijden on LinkedIn. He called a meeting of the descendants, at which the watch was officially returned. Snijders stated, “There were tears, I saw them.”