Pawnbroker from line of survivors
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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.”
“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.”
“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.
David Zacharias displays a saxophone made in France.