When Memory Project speakers attend speaking engagements, they are often asked to bring artefacts or photos from their military experience to share with the audience. These artefacts might be a brick, a stone, a picture of a loved one, a postcard, a badge, a helmet, or something else entirely.
This Memories Continued submission, from Leo’s Pantaleo’s daughter, Teri Osler, is a story of how an artifact can bring meaning and remembrance to the families and fellow soldiers of those who served.
The Pocket Watch
“If captured, a soldier’s duty is to try to escape”.
In August 1942, my father took part in the Dieppe Raid. The results were dismal: he and many other Canadian soldiers had no choice but to surrender. Captured by the Germans, my father and his comrades became prisoners of war.
Within the prisoner of war camp in which my father found himself, he and the other prisoners spent time bartering and trading with other prisoners. It was through a trade that he obtained a pocket watch. Instead of the usual winding knob on the top it wound with a small key attached to the watch by a chain, this watch became something of value which my father held onto, while he planned his escape
Before one of my father’s escape attempts, he entrusted the watch to a fellow prisoner, a sergeant, for safe keeping. Initially, the escape was successful, but my father was re-captured and later brought to a different POW camp. He lost contact with the sergeant.
My father was never able to reconnect with the sergeant following the war and eventually forgot about his pocket watch. Thirty-five years later, at a Dieppe POW Reunion, the sergeant who has also survived being a prisoner of war, found my father again. He had remained true to his commitment and kept the pocket watch safe all this time, until he was finally able to return it.
Sargent Moe Hurwitz was “a fierce looking individual” according to those who served with him. He commanded a tank squadron in the 22nd Canadian Armoured Regiment during their advance through France and the Netherlands. Known for his courage under fire, he passed up promotions in order to remain with his squadron, earning the loyalty and deep respect of his men.
Hurwitz’s was dedicated to the allied cause. He was a superlative athlete, drafted by the Boston Bruins in 1939, but he set aside a career as the NHL’S first Jewish player, in order to enlist in the fight against fascism.
He and his Regiment served in some of the worst fighting in France; his Regiment lead the Canadian push through the Falaise Gap, after the fleeing German Army. He was awarded the Military Medal for capturing and holding a German position, opening up a kilometer wide gap in the German defences.
Hurwitz’s courage was widely recognized. His Regiment’s Captain, R.B. Verner, recounts how in one instance, during the Battle of the Scheldt in Belgium, Sgt. Hurwitz led his troops through house-to-house fighting, armed only with a pistol, capturing over twenty-five German soldiers and saving his Lieutenant from a burning tank. For these actions and others, Moe was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Tragically, Moe Hurwitz did not survive the war. Advancing through the Netherlands, Moe was leading the vanguard of his unit in a risky nighttime charge against a German emplacement. Moe’s tank was separated from the squadron. Trapped, Moe and his unit fought against insurmountable odds. Forced to continue onwards pursuing the German Army, Moe’s regiment were unable to discover what happened to him, and he was listed as Missing in Action. It was not until 1946, that his family and friends discovered the end of his story
Sgt. Hurwitz who proudly wore his Star of David emblazoned dog-tag, as a symbol of his Jewish faith, died under mysterious circumstances in a German military hospital, near Dordecht, Holland. He was not officially reported to the Red Cross as a Prisoner of War, as was required. Moe died at the age of 25, leaving a lasting impact on friends, family and fellow soldiers.
His legacy has not been forgotten. His niece Debra Hurwitz writes that like “Uncle Moe” the next generation of Hurwitz’s are tough, good in a crisis, dark and broad-shouldered. Generations later Moe Hurwitz lives on in the memories and recollections of his family and comrades.
Read about Moe Hurwitz’s brother, Harry Hurwitz.