When Mr. Janssens found the watch, he must have seen the Dutch name on the back and thought that the soldier had stolen it, Mr. Snijders explained. Instead of returning it, the farmer hid it in a clock in his house.
That’s where it stayed for the next 80 years.
Recently, the farm in Belgium was sold and members of Mr. Janssens’ family went through the properties, said Pieter Janssens, the farmer’s grandson. By chance, he said, the family stumbled upon the spotless 1910 pocket watch with the inscription on the back.
He then emailed Mr. Snijders, in an attempt to trace the watch back to its original owner.
Such requests can be difficult, says Mr. Snijders. “It’s very complicated, most of the time it doesn’t work,” he said. “It can take years.”
Finding remnants of Jewish history in Rotterdam is difficult. In May 1940, Germany bombed the city, wiping out the center, killing 1,150 people and destroying 24,000 homes. In the Netherlands, approximately 75 percent of the Jewish population perished during the Holocaust.
Still, Mr. Snijders posted details about the watch’s history on social media and hoped for the best.
Within 24 hours, Mr. Snijders received the message that the watchmaker, Alfred Overslagen, had a daughter who had survived the war and had three children living in the Netherlands. (Louis Overslagen, the watch owner, had no children.)
Mr. Snijders later found Mr. van Ameijden, one of the watchmaker’s three grandchildren, on LinkedIn. He arranged a meeting between the descendants of the farmer and the watchmaker, where the watch was officially returned. “There were tears, I saw them,” said Mr Snijders, who attended the two-hour meeting in Rotterdam this month, previously reported by Radio Rijnmond, a Dutch radio station.