Pawn­bro­ker from line of sur­vivors

Post-Tribune - - Post-Tribune Neighbors - JEFF MANES All Worth Their Salt jeff­manes@sbc­global.net

“First they came for the com­mu­nists, and I did not speak out — be­cause I was not a com­mu­nist. Then they came for the so­cial­ists, and I did not speak out — be­cause I was not a so­cial­ist. Then they came for the trade union­ists, and I did not speak out — be­cause I was not a trade union­ist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out — be­cause I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.” — Martin Niemoller

There are vari­a­tions of Niemoller’s poignant poem. Maybe he al­tered it, depend­ing on his au­di­ence when pre­sent­ing the piece at dif­fer­ent speak­ing en­gage­ments.

Two things for cer­tain: First, Niemoller, a Lutheran pas­tor, spent eight years in con­cen­tra­tion camps and he was none too pleased with the ed­u­cated class of Ger­man cit­i­zens who stood back while in­no­cent peo­ple were be­ing an­ni­hi­lated. Sec­ond, “they” also came for David Zacharias’ grand­par­ents and his fa­ther.

Zacharias, 65, is a pawn­bro­ker and the pres­i­dent of Mer­ril­lville Loan, lo­cated di­rectly across U.S. 30 from the Lake County Public Li­brary. He lives in Ch­ester­ton with his wife, Brie.

*** “I grew up on the west side of Gary and grad­u­ated from Ho­race

Mann High School,” Zacharias said.

Mem­o­ries of Gary?

“Gary was great — Gold­blatt’s, Sears, Gor­don’s, the Palace Theater, the State Theater. ... The whole down­town was like grow­ing up in ‘Happy Days.’ With that said, there were geo­graphic lim­i­ta­tions.”

Geo­graphic lim­i­ta­tions?

“Cer­tain ar­eas could be some­what danger­ous. There were some gangs, but that wasn’t hard to find out. You stayed away from those ar­eas. If you did end up in an area where you weren’t com­fort­able you learned how to sur­vive.”

Ex­plain, please.

“I was never a real big guy. Ei­ther you had to use your head and talk your way out of it by drop­ping some names that some­body rec­og­nized or you learned how to fight dirty like kick­ing some­one ... and run­ning your (butt) off.

“I will say this: Back in those days, I don’t re­mem­ber guns. I re­mem­ber chains and knives, but no guns. Even the gang guys didn’t have guns. It ain’t like it used to be. When I was grow­ing up, al­most all of the moth­ers were home tak­ing care of the fam­i­lies. If a kid did get into a lit­tle trou­ble, break­ing a win­dow, what­ever, his mother would know about it be­fore he got home. My mother knew every­body in a 10-mile ra­dius.”

I see by your hat you’re a Sox fan. Did you play a lot of base­ball as a kid?

“Oh, yeah. Check out this photo of my 1964 Babe Ruth League team. We fin­ished sec­ond in the state. We lost to a down­state team. The kid who pitched against us was the son of a fa­mous ma­jor league pitcher for the Dodgers. Carl Eller?”

Ersk­ine?

“That’s it.”

What po­si­tion did you play?

“Pitcher and third base.”

Did you at­tend col­lege?

“Yeah, In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity. I ma­jored in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Tell me about the Zacharias fam­ily.

“My fa­ther was born in Ger­many. Our name had the let­ter ‘z’ on the end of it back then. The fam­ily left Ger­many right af­ter Hitler took power and they started per­se­cut­ing the Jews.

“My grand­fa­ther was well-to-do. They had a large house with ser­vants and horses. My grand­fa­ther was a fur­rier in Ger­many. I don’t have a lot of de­tails. There were two things my fa­ther would not talk about: Ger­many and World War II. I got most of my in­for­ma­tion from his sis­ter.”

Con­tinue, please.

“My grand­fa­ther did busi­ness

with the aris­toc­racy — all the peo­ple in power all over Europe. That’s how they were able to get out of Ger­many. My old­est un­cle knew what was com­ing. He kept try­ing to talk my grand­fa­ther into leav­ing. My grand­fa­ther told him not to worry about it.”

What even­tu­ally hap­pened?

“They came and took my grand­par­ents to jail. They took their house, cars — ev­ery­thing. Thank God my grand­fa­ther knew enough peo­ple where he could bribe his way out of jail. They ran for their lives, got on a boat and left with noth­ing.

“It was dur­ing Passover when they were com­ing over on the boat. My grand­fa­ther was a very re­li­gious man who had trained to be­come a rabbi. He wouldn’t let his fam­ily eat while they were on the boat be­cause there was no Kosher food. They drank wa­ter for four or five days.”

Com­ing to Amer­ica?

“Af­ter they landed in New York, my grand­mother still wouldn’t eat un­til the fam­ily earned money for the food them­selves — no hand­outs. They got jobs as jan­i­tors at a tem­ple. I can only imag­ine. Com­ing from noth­ing is one thing, but when you come from a lot and go to noth­ing it has to be worse.”

I’d imag­ine so, David. Let’s talk about your trade. Is this your first pawn shop?

“It’s the first one I’ve owned. I worked at a pawn shop in down­town Gary for 10 years.”

The life of a pawn­bro­ker?

“A lot of times I’ll make the mis­take of ask­ing a cus­tomer why they’re get­ting rid of some­thing. I had a lady bring in a very ex­pen­sive piece of jew­elry. I think it was a Tif­fany. I asked her why she was get­ting rid of it. She told me: ‘To pay

for a mas­tec­tomy.’ Yeah. That’s all I needed to hear.”

That’s some sax­o­phone you have there. It looks like it has never been used.

“It’s a Selmer Paris and was hand-en­graved in France. Brand new, it sells for al­most $10,000. It came in as a loan. I own it now.”

How long have you had it?

“A cou­ple of years.”

That Rolex you have dis­played?

“It’s 18-karat and stain­less. It’s called a Sub­mariner. Brand new, it sells for $13,400. It has all the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and pa­per­work with it.”

How much for that ring made by Bac­aro?

“I’m ask­ing $13,580. In a jew­elry store, they’d ask $50K.”

I’m sure it takes a chunk of change to open a pawn shop.

“The State of In­di­ana re­quires that you have to have at least

$75,000 in liq­uid as­sets be­cause you have to be li­censed by the same peo­ple who li­cense banks. We’re reg­u­lated by the Depart­ment of Fi­nan­cial In­sti­tu­tions. I’ve loaned up to 10 grand be­fore.”

Fi­nal thoughts?

“To this day, most peo­ple are still a lit­tle bit con­fused about pawn shops. The movies have made pawn shops look like seedy places that front stolen mer­chan­dise. A lot of peo­ple still have that mis­con­cep­tion.”

Have you ever seen the 1965 film “The Pawn­bro­ker”?

“Yeah, with Rod Steiger.”

A pow­er­ful movie.

“Yes it was. Steiger’s char­ac­ter lost his en­tire fam­ily dur­ing the Holo­caust.”

*** In­ter­est­ing man, David Zacharias. Glad to have met him.

| JEFF MANES

David Zacharias dis­plays a sax­o­phone made in France.

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