The moment occurred deep in Dad's interview with the USC Shoah Foundation on his Holocaust experiences. He had talked about family repeatedly, describing the losses and the discoveries, and now he summed it up:"So we have built up a family again."
He said it with as much pleasure and as much pride as anything he talked about in the 2 1/2-hour interview.
Family was the most important thing to Louis Van Thyn. That was clear.
And what would one expect? He had lost so much. Not just lost it; had it taken away -- death in the concentration camps, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other horrible places.
He lost -- as I have noted in previous blogs -- two families: His original family (father, mother, two brothers) and his second family (wife, in-law parents), plus his older brother's wife and their baby. Dad was the only Holocaust survivor.
With his original family, he had a bunch of uncles and aunts -- his parents' siblings -- and thus a bunch of cousins. The great majority also died in the gas chambers. But there were a few survivors.
|My Dad, left, with his mother Sara, dad|
Nathan, and older brother Hyman.
Hard to imagine his despair.
But not hard to imagine his joy when he did find those survivors, that indeed some of his aunts and uncles and cousins made it through.
It's not just Dad's story. It's my mother's, too. She also lost her original family (father, mother, sister) and her first husband, and her sister's husband. It's thousands of Holocaust survivors' stories.
I intend to write about Mom's Holocaust story and her family. But the current series is about Dad. So in this piece and the next few, I'm writing about his side of the family.
Some of the material I'm sharing is from Dad's Holocaust interview. Some is from a Van Thyn family genealogy (more on that in a moment), and some is from nine long-sheet handwritten pages done by my mother in 1981.
Dad's name at birth was Levi Van Thijn. (It feels strange to type that.) From the start, he was called Louis; the people who knew him well called him "Louietje," his Dutch nickname.
When we immigrated from Holland to America in 1956, to simplify matters, his name was legally changed to Louis Van Thyn.
From the genealogy done by Marion Fahrenford-Nietfeld and Leo Van Thyn (of Mississauga, Ontario, a Toronto suburb) -- like me an Amsterdam native and son of Holocaust survivors and a distant cousin who found us a dozen years ago -- here is an explanation of the last-name variation:
It should be noted that “van Thijn” is Dutch and “Van Thyn” is North American. The Dutch letter “ij” becomes “y” in North America and “van” becomes part of the surname, and therefore becomes “Van.” As such “van Thijn” becomes “Van Thyn.”
Going back through the generations, Levi (or Levie) was a common name in the Van Thijn family. But I've seen only one Louis. He was a good one.
The name Nico is common in Europe, especially in Holland, and uncommon in the United States, although we're seeing it more often these days.
|Nico Van Thyn:|
my cousin, born 1941,
When Hyman, Dad's older brother (by two years) and his wife, Regina Kok, had a child in 1941, they named him Nico.
Those two Nico Van Thyns -- my grandfather and my 2-year-old cousin -- died in the gas chambers.
So did another Nico in our family -- Nico Fierlier, the husband of my mother's older sister Anna (my mother called her Annie). Three months after they married, that Nico -- a tailor -- was sent to Auschwitz.
So, yes, I like the name Nico because it's unusual here in the U.S., but more because of the family heritage. Wish I could have known the other Nicos.
Hyman was my Dad's constant companion as they grew up.
"We were real close," Dad recalled. "Like boys, we were fighting sometimes too, but we were a real close family.
"We played together. We were members of the same club, a youth organization from the labor parties. When I was 12 and he [Hyman] was 14, we go camping, and we go walking, and every week we came two times together and have dancing, square dancing, and all those kind of things."
In 1932, they gained -- surprise -- a little brother. His name was Jonas, although the family called him Sjohnny (don't why the "S" was part of it; European, I suppose).
As Dad noted in his interview, "I was a good babysitter in that time already."
|Sara, my grandmother, and |
Jonas, my uncle -- died in 1943
Jonas was 10 when, with his mother, he was sent to Auschwitz ... and to the gas chambers.
The pain of losing so many relatives, much of the family, was something Dad could accept, or at least reason with, over the years. But the deaths of 2-year-old Nico and 10-year-old Jonas was as painful to him as anything that happened in the Holocaust.
Near the end of his interview, he answers a question about his religious views and his views on life.
"I cannot say I'm 100 percent religious," he said. "I believe there is something, I believe there is a God. I still have in the back of my mind what happened in the war, why did that happen?
"Why was my little brother killed? Why was the baby of my brother killed? They have do nothing in this world. That my father and mother maybe were not good, I can understand ... but they were good. Why did they [the Germans] have to do that?
"That is something I ask my rabbis a couple of times already, and I never got a straight answer about that from my rabbis before. You know, I still cannot understand that."
Next: My grandparents, Dad's side