When Mr. Janssens found the watch, he must have noticed the Dutch name on the back and figured that the soldier had stolen it, Mr. Snijders explained. Instead of giving it back, the farmer hid it inside a clock in his house.
Which is where it stayed for the next 80 years.
Recently, the farm in Belgium was sold and members of Mr. Janssens’s family went through the belongings, Pieter Janssens, the farmer’s grandson, said. By chance, he said, the family came upon the pristine pocket watch made in 1910, with the inscription on the back.
He then emailed Mr. Snijders, in an effort to trace the watch to its original owner.
Such requests can be difficult, Mr. Snijders said. “It’s very complex, 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 its center, killing 1,150 people and destroying 24,000 homes. In the Netherlands as a whole, about 75 percent of the Jewish population was killed in the Holocaust.
Still, Mr. Snijders posted details of the watch’s history on social media and hoped for the best.
Within 24 hours, Mr. Snijders received the information that the watchmaker, Alfred Overstrijd, had a daughter who had survived the war and had three children living in the Netherlands. (Louis Overstrijd, the owner of the watch, did not have 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, during which the watch was officially handed back. “There were tears, I saw them,” said Mr. Snijders, who attended the two-hour gathering this month in Rotterdam, which was earlier reported by Radio Rijnmond, a Dutch radio station.