THE POCKET WATCH
I am so often told by my clients they are going through the worst time of their lives and they see no way forward through the black clouds that surround them. They say they feel like their lives are over, whether through abuse; financial stresses; the loss of self-esteem through having stayed with someone who is abusive; dealing with the legal system; or because they fear what has happened, is happening, or will happen with their children.
They are going through an enormous change in their life and they often feel betrayed by their ex-partner and even by family. They feel their friends have deserted them and they just feel very down.
As a lawyer, you live your client’s stresses, grief, anger, pain, and fear.
Often when I hear my clients’ stories, I think of the story that I grew up with that I have called through the years “The Pocket Watch”. This is a true story. It is a story about a young teenager. The story dates back to the early 1930s in Berlin, Germany, as Hitler was rising to power and of a young boy who was all alone.
Over the years, I have tried to inspire my clients with a feeling of courage, resolve, and fearlessness for the future. I think the story of this young boy is perhaps one of the best that I can tell them about.
David was approximately 15. He was a Jew living in Berlin as Hitler came to power. He was born in Poland but had lived in Berlin since he was two. His father had abandoned the family when he was a toddler essentially because David had red hair. His father could not believe that David, with his light hair, fair completion and grey eyes, was his son because the father was swarthy. He felt that he could not have produced a red haired and gray-eyed child, or at least that is what he believed.
David was about to be deported to Poland for military service in Poland but little Jew boys were used as target practice at that time by some of the Polish military. This is in no way to blame the Polish people; it was the unfortunate reality of the anti-Semitism existing at that time through most of Europe especially Eastern Europe as was to be seen in the horror of the coming Holocaust.
David’s maternal grandfather had somehow obtained two Exit Visas from Germany. One for his eldest daughter, who was David’s mother, to get out of Berlin and for David to get out of Berlin. David’s mother was the oldest of nine children and the grandfather was concerned about getting the family out of Europe, starting with Germany, because he could see what was coming.
David’s mother left Berlin first arriving in Palestine.
Before David could use the Exit Visa, David, who was in a work farm at the time outside Berlin, (think orphanage and work camp combined) had an accident and was struck with an axe blade into his leg. He was taken to a hospital and above his bed was a large yellow Star of David.
At the hospital they actually offered to feed him but David, being from an observant Jewish family would not eat food that was not kosher. To visit him came an Officer (of what would later become the SS) to see a curiosity that would not eat food that they were actually offering to feed him. David explained himself and maybe because of his appearance and patrician features, the SS Officer did not actually believe he was Jewish. At that time however, being half-Jewish or what was called a “Mishling” was enough to get you killed. David never understood why instead of shooting him, he was brought food he could eat.
David got out of the hospital and returned to the work farm.
Life at the work farm was not easy. The boys were so hungry they ate raw potatoes out of the fields and wrapped their legs in rags to keep warm while they worked in the fields. The authorities running this place tried to be good to them there but there was never enough money, food, or supplies.
David had managed over a number of years at the work farm, how we are not entirely sure, to save a little bit of money. Perhaps he had done tasks for other boys whose family visited and gave them money. His mother could not afford to come visit. He had also saved by going hungry mostly and trading food for small coins. He was always afraid that tomorrow he would be hungrier so he saved his little bit of money and often went hungry.
When the time came for David to utilize his Exit Visa that would allow him to leave Germany for then Palestine, David had to get rid of his coins that were German currency. He bought a pocket watch. To him, that pocket watch was a symbol that he could survive and overcome any obstacle in his life and that he had a future. He kept that pocket watch his entire life.
When I became an adult, David gave me the pocket watch. I, in turn, gave it to my eldest daughter. You see David was my Father. He always believed in himself and his ability to overcome any crisis or any obstacle and that optimism he passed on to me as my inheritance.
I am hoping that the same optimism will inspire you.
Life was never easy for David, but he always persevered and he always had hope.
Hope and the strength to persevere is an essential part of survival and creating a new future.
About the red hair, my grandfather remarried and had several more sons. They all had red hair. Apparently, it was a recessive gene in the family and as my grandfather’s sister told my mother at my parents’ wedding, that they produced a red haired child in every generation. I guess someone above had a real sense of humour about my grandfather that all his sons were red-haired. My grandfather died in the war but his other sons and my Father survived but his half-brothers refused to maintain a relationship with my Father.