Friday, August 8, 2014

Finding the survivors

(29th in a series)
      Dad (Louis Van Thyn) wasn't one to wallow in his grief. In his life, he always seemed to bounce back and keep a positive outlook on the world. And after his world -- everyone's world -- was rocked by the Holocaust, he found a way to go on.
      As much as he missed his lost family -- and he always would -- I can just imagine his joy when, after returning home to Antwerp and later to Amsterdam, he found fellow survivors.
      He was asked about the remaining family as his return was discussed in his 1996 USC Shoah Foundation interview.
      The first person he mentioned was a woman, Sien Lisser. She was born Sien Van Thyn.
      "I got back a sister from my father; she was hidden by some gentile people, with her husband (Jacob)," he recalled. "They were hidden in a houseboat in the north of Holland. She lost a daughter (Lisbeth) 21 years old, and he and she nimmer [never] come over that. He died in 1965 and she died in 1972."
      That was the closest relative from his father's side of the family to survive, but there also was "my first cousin (Maurits Van Thyn), whose father Bennie was a brother of Dad's father, my grandfather."
      In 1996 at the time of the interview, Maurits was, Dad said, "living in Israel, in the same town [Nahariya] my friend (Appie van de Kar, mentioned in a previous chapter) lives. We were two times in Israel and we visit him. Maar [but] they have no children. [His wife] was in Block 10."

Jacques and Eef Furth, 1955: Both Holocaust
survivors, they married after World War II. They
were my parents' best friends in Amsterdam, and
my fill-in uncle and aunt in my first eight years.
      (Block 10 was the infamous Auschwitz medical experimental block where my mother also was imprisoned).
      There were two even more significant survivors he would find again soon after the war, both would be among the most important people in my father's life -- and my family's -- for the next 40-50 years.
      One was his sister-in-law from his first marriage to Estella Halverstad -- Eva. I have written about her previously: This was my and my sister Elsa's adopted aunt  in Amsterdam -- Tante Eef.
      She also was a diamond cutter and an Auschwitz survivor, and after the war would marry another survivor, a gentle man named Jacques Furth, yet another diamond cutter who would be Dad's closest friend in The Netherlands for the rest of their lives.
      The other I mentioned in the previous chapter: Joseph "Joopie" Scholte. He was one of the two sons, and the only survivor from his family; his mother and my father's mother were sisters (maiden names: Lena and Sara Van Beem).
      "From my mother's side, I got a cousin," Dad said in the interview. "He was in the same camps (Auschwitz and then Jawisowitz) that I was, and he stayed in Jawisowitz and did the 'Death March,' and he came back."
      (As noted before, Dad was in the camp hospital and remained there while most of the men in the camp were either killed, died on the Death March, or like Joopie -- fortunately -- survived."
      But as Dad then added about his cousin, "And his wife not come back. He remarried a French girl, she died, and he's living in Nice, France."
      That's condensing a story which I will tell later. Joopie had his sorrow, too -- the loss of his parents and his first wife and their infant daughter in the Holocaust, and when he remarried, he and the French girl never had children.
      Sum of the story coming later: Joopie, a diamond cutter who retired to live on the French Riviera, made Dad the heir of his finances and his possessions. Theirs was a friendship and a connection to remember.
      In his interview, Dad also said that "We find some second cousins later on in Holland, and I find one in Brussels. I was in Brussels, and he knows me real well -- he was a diamond cutter in Antwerp -- and he say, 'You going met [with] me to home; you got nobody, you're going to my home.'
      "I was living in Amsterdam and he was married to a gentile girl, and I knew her, too, and they took me in in Amsterdam for a month. And that's when I met Rose."
      Later, "I find out that they come to the United States. We were [on vacation] in Los Angeles, we were at the farmers' market, and there was a second cousin of mine living there. We find that out  [from] one of Rose's girlfriends from [Auschwitz] Block DD. They say, 'We have a visitor tonight,' and she called her name. She got her husband's name -- he was a German -- and she comes in and says, 'You are a cousin of mine.' And my wife says, 'You was in school with me, in the same trade school.' "
      Then he added that they had spoken to the couple by phone the previous week "and they're both sick." (This was in 1996, remember.)
      And then we found Uncle Alex.
      "We were in Amsterdam, and we had a second cousin from my father over there," Dad remembered. "My father had three second cousins still in Holland; I find that later on. And we visit him sometimes, and we were in Holland -- we were already [living] in the United States about 10 years -- and he says, 'You miss your cousin from New York.' And I say, 'We no have no relatives in the United States.' He say, 'Yeah, your father had a cousin that lived in New York.' And he gave us his name and address in New York."
      Dad remembered that when Elsa was a student at LSU (early 1970s), "She looked in every telephone book in the United States, and she found the name 'Van Thyn' in New York, but we never wrote. And that was that cousin."
       Alex Van Thyn, who was in his upper 70s when we met him in 1976, was a cousin of my Dad's father.
       "And Rose sent him a letter, and three days later, he was here [in Shreveport]," Dad said. "He wants to see us. He was a diamond cutter, and he left before the first war [World War I] to the United States. He came here [Shreveport], and then six months later my son (me) married, and he came back for the wedding."
       So for a couple of years, he was Uncle Alex to us -- and Bea and our little Jason.
       Then, as Dad said, completing the story, "he died. But he had two daughters living in Long Island, and we still come together. And he had a sister, that cousin of my father, and we still come with their children; one lives in Florida and one lives between Philadelphia and New York. We visit him, too."
       As I've written previously in this series, family meant so much to Dad. He lost most of two families in World War II, but he took a lot of joy in his "new" family. 
       "So we find some relatives again," he told the interviewer. "We find some second cousins; they were all married. And -- what is a good thing -- all the three cousins of my father, or four -- three in Holland and the one over here -- died over 80 years old. One died six weeks ago, and we got a letter, he was 94. He was the last one of that generation."
       Yes, finding all those cousins was important. But the most important person he found just after World War II was the little woman named Rose.
       (Next: Rose and Louis: starting a new family)            

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