Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Holocaust survivor ... in the photo with Dad

       Please look at the photo on the right ... because there is more to the story than I previously published. It is part of my father's Holocaust story, and someone else's story .
     This is four concentration-camp survivors from The Netherlands who, in early 1945, somehow were in Odessa (then Russia) on the Black Sea, waiting for a ship to take them to Marseille, France, (on the way home) and posing for this photo in Russian Army uniforms and caps they had been given.
     That's Dad -- Louis Van Thyn -- at age 25, on the upper right.
     The young man sitting in front of him (bottom right), the youngest in the group at 20, is Jack Frankenhuis. And I now have much of his story.
     A month ago, Jan. 28, I received this comment on my blog site from "Jacq" in response to the July 7, 2014, blog piece that included this photo. That blog was entitled "A tour of Eastern Europe ... a boat ride west."
     It also is Chapter 26 of the book on my parents -- Survivors: 62511, 70726 -- and the photo is on Page 96.
     Here is the note from "Jacq":
     "Beste Nico, Dear Nico.
     "I am the daughter of Jack Frankenhuis, you mentioned in your article. The story is exactly as my father always told me. Thanks for sharing it!!!"

     It is remarkable -- and interesting -- for me to receive this kind of feedback, and so I wanted to pursue this story.

      Fortunately, through Facebook, I was able to locate Jacqueline Frankenhuis, a 64-year-old mother of three who lives in Baarn, The Netherlands, a small town 35 miles (22 kilometers) southeast of Amsterdam.
Jacqueline Frankenhuis
     Jacqueline was a film editor for the Dutch public broadcasting service in Hilversum, not far from Baarn. Hilversum is where television and radio networks have been based in Holland dating to before and when we lived there in the late 1940s/early 1950s.
     It was the oldest of her two daughters -- both live in Berlin -- who found my blog and the photo when she did a Google search for Jack's name on the Internet. Jacqueline also has a son who lives in Tel Aviv.
     Since she posted her note, and I answered, we have  exchanged Facebook and e-mail messages, talked on Skype for more than a half hour (ah, the wonders of today's technology), and she has provided details, thoughts and photos on her father's life.
     So read on for his story, and know that I share Jacqueline's sentiment. "It is very exciting for me," she wrote.
     At the outset, it is my feeling that Jack Frankenhuis -- as

with all Holocaust survivors -- was fortunate in several ways, blessed to live a couple of decades after this photo.   
     He was not as fortunate as my father, though, in this  regard: Jack died in 1969, and he was only 44. Consider that my Dad lived until a month past his 89th birthday.
     Like Dad, Jack had deep pain from the Holocaust years and the loss of most of their families in the Nazi gas chambers. Unlike Dad, Jack's pain was more visible.
     I have written and often said that my father outwardly handled the camp memories, and his life, in about as good a manner as one could -- and that my mother's experiences left her more haunted than many people realized. Jacqueline describes her father's post-war life as busy, often restless  and tormented.
     For most of his final two decades, Jack Frankenhuis was a physical therapist.
     "My father worked and lived very hard," Jacqueline wrote. "Worked 10-12 hours a day. Ate well, and smoked and drank a lot. He was making up for lost time. This lifestyle was not healthy, and he died of a sudden heart attack in May 1969.
     "I have thought a lot about his life, and decided that [his early death] it was good in the end because his psychological problems were getting more and more manifest."
     Jacqueline said her father's death could be linked to what has been described as "concentration camp syndrome," which in recent years has been linked to the more commonly known term -- PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). (I referenced a study of this previously in speaking and writing about children of Holocaust survivors.) 
     "So [doctors] could not have helped him anymore," Jacqueline concluded.

     Jack was born Sept. 8, 1924, in Amsterdam, the only child of Jacob Frankenhuis and Jenny/Schoontje Trompetter (it was his mother's second marriage).
     When the Nazis, the German Army marched into Amsterdam and the Netherlands and took over in May 1940, Jack was in school. His uncle, a physical therapist at a Jewish hospital in Amsterdam, helped him find a job at that hospital, cleaning and doing odd jobs.
     After the Nazis began restricting rights and imposing curfews and access for Jewish residents, the "arrests" and transports to holding camps -- such as Westerbork in east Holland -- and then the concentration camps and/or gas chambers increased greatly in 1942-43.
     And here was one piece of Jack's good fortune. His parents were deported in May 1943, but he had -- through the help of the hospital and some friends -- a "Schperr," a paper which said he was needed for work and exempt from being taken. The Nazis, not exactly benevolent, agreed ... but only for so long.
     When he finally went to Auschwitz, it was late in 1944. Another break: It meant he only had a few months there until liberation in January 1945.
     One more "break" came when he arrived on the cattle-car train at Auschwitz-Birkenau. On the ramp where the prisoners -- Jewish and others -- were waiting, two Jewish men from Amsterdam, Siegfried van den Bergh and Gerard Levy (they were brother-in-laws), decided they might be safer if they picked out what Jacqueline described as one of the Amsterdam "tough (or cheeky) boys" as a mate in a threesome. 
     Jack was a stranger to them, but he fit the "tough" look. He was sturdy looking and, at 19, had been an amateur boxing.
     One of the men was a doctor, the other an attorney, and the Nazis decided that they -- and Jack -- could be useful workers, thus saving them from the gas chambers. (Dad, too, was fit, having been in the Dutch Army, so he also was placed in a work detail -- mostly in the mines.)   
     One of the brothers-in-law worked in the sick bay at Auschwitz (and had access to medications), the other did administrative work. Jack, says Jacqueline, was sent to a forced labor camp at IG Farben, a large chemical plant the Germans had built on the eastern edge of the town of Oświęcim -- the southern Poland site of Auschwitz. (The Germans razed the houses and cleared the land for several miles around the concentration camp.)
     Jack, his daughter believes from years-ago discussions, also worked for a while in stone quarries.
     They survived. As allied forces closed in from both sides, Sieg and Gerard went on one of the Nazi-enforced "Death Marches" headed west and wound up in a hospital in the town of Szestochowa. Their story is in a book written by Sieg, the older of the two: Kroonprins van Mandelstein.
     (After Jack's death in 1969, Sieg became Jacqueline's legal guardian; she was 16 at the time.)
     Jack's liberation was out of Auschwitz. It must have been about the same time Dad and 26 other men left behind in a hospital were free to walk out of the nearby mining sub-camp, Janina.

     Somewhere on the road -- we are not clear exactly where, and we will never know for sure -- Jack and Dad met.
     It is unlikely that they knew each in Amsterdam before the Nazi occupation and the war because Dad was five years older and had moved to Antwerp, Belgium, while Jack was still in grade school.
     It is likely they met on the road in southern Poland, or in the town of Katowice, where the Russians had told them there was help -- perhaps the Red Cross -- awaiting them. From there, they went to Krakow, en route to Odessa.
     We have a hint about their connection, though, in Dad's story when he mentions that one of their group was a boxer, and he put on boxing exhibitions in the Polish towns to collect money (to buy food). That had to be Jack.
     "I suppose they knew each other well enough to have this photo taken," Jacqueline points out.
    As with Dad, when Jack returned to Amsterdam -- early summer 1945 -- he found ... emptiness.
    "There was nothing and nobody left," Jacqueline related to me. "He lived with Gerard Levy for a while and did some odd jobs" (such as working at a wine-bottling plant).
     Eventually, "out of desperation" Jacqueline suggests, he joined the Dutch Army. "Where he was dismissed after he shot a German prisoner, who he had to guard one night. He had asked not to have to do this ..."
     But he soon found his future: a job and his wife.
     He didn't have much schooling, but following his uncle's career path, he managed to get into physical therapy school and in 1950 earned a working certificate.
     "He always said he got a different secondary education [in the concentration camp]," said Jacqueline, and I'm sure Dad would have identified with that.
The wedding photo, 1952
     Then Jack met Cornelia Van Scheijen, and they married in February 1952. She was not Jewish, but the baby girl they had late that year has always kept the faith. (At one time, in fact, she married a rabbi, and before our Skype talk Saturday -- 4 p.m. Dutch time, 9 a.m. in Fort Worth -- Jacqueline had been to Amsterdam to attend synagogue.) 
     He bought a physical therapy practice outside of Amsterdam, in the small town of Zaltbommel (in a small country, there are lots of small towns.)
       "I was born there and grew up as a single child in a well-to-do family," Jacqueline said. "But I did not have aunts, uncles or grandparents, like the other children."
     There was sentiment to name her Jenny or Schoontje, after her grandmother, but Jack insisted. "This child is being named after me," he said. "We are making a new start."
     The daughter and father had an admirable relationship, she said. There was much she loved about Jack, and much she noticed early on.
     "By the time I was maybe 4, I could see that he was restless," she said. "He could not be alone. He had problems sleeping. The job of my mother was to keep visitors here or find places for us to go visit."
     Who knows how the camps, the war experience, affected him, or if that was just part of his personality? I have often thought how different my mother and father might have been without the Holocaust years.
     He was driven work-wise.
     "He would get up at 6 a.m. and go visit patients at their homes, and then at 8.30 a.m. he would see patients at the room where he had his practice," Jacqueline recalled. "Then when he came home, he needed to be entertained. He could not sit still. It was a survival mode. Some nights, at 9 p.m., he say to someone, let's get in the car, 'We're going to Amsterdam.' "
     He was a chain smoker -- "even in the [Odessa] photo, I noticed he's smoking," said Jacqueline, and the same in a portrait photo she sent me -- and he enjoyed his alcohol.
     "He was a party animal," his daughter said.
     And this: "He was very temperamental," she added. "He was very social, though. He could not see any injustice; he had real trouble with people who were aggressive. If he saw people mistreating people, he would get upset, and when he got angry, he could be violent."
     Jacqueline recalled an instance on a vacation trip to France when they saw some "monocycle artists performing tricks in the streets, hoping to earn money from spectators. When a group of young thugs began to attack the artists, there was a fight. Within minutes the whole terrace was in shambles. The police came, and luckily he was not arrested."

     But there was a competent, compassionate side to her father, Jacqueline said.

     He was very warm, a good physical therapist," she offered. "He was good with his hands; he had a good diagnostic view. He was cheerful. He could see what was wrong with his patients."
     The years, though, took their toll. "Because of his lifestyle," Jacqueline said, "he had a mild heart attack. Today you would be catherized and be back on the road in a short time. But then [late 1960s], the doctors told him it would be best if he rested for six weeks."
     That wasn't Jack's way. He got angry, and suffered a fatal heart attack that same afternoon.

      "I know it sounds very cruel, but it was maybe for the best," his daughter says now, thinking of the mental stress he had endured.
      Cornelia survived him for 36 years until her death in 2005.

       I asked Jacqueline if she knew the number the Nazis had tattooed on her father's left arm. She wasn't sure -- "I have it here somewhere," she said, -- but she remembered first noticing it as a little girl.
      "That was the phone number of your grandmother," she remembers being told, a common answer to survivors' children. I had heard it; my mother's number, in fact, was the phone number -- when it was still five digits in the late 1950s -- for Kappen's Restaurant at the Shreveport airport.
      And it reminds us of when our Jason, at about age 5, asked his mother, "Why does Oma have her phone number on her arm?"
      The Russian Army uniform photo was taken, according to the information we have, just before the ship -- the Monoway (out of Australia) -- left out of Odessa on May 25, 1945.
     "I have had a copy of this photo since I was young," Jacqueline said. And her mother, she said, sent it to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam for an exhibition about repatriation (prisoners returning to their home country).
     Dad also had that photo, and a newspaper clipping about it. He had, as I noted in the blog and the book, the clipping laminated on a plaque that is with us now.
     Looking at that, at the top of the description, it says "Picture 26," an indication that it likely was part of the exhibition for which Cornelia Frankenhuis provided the photo.
     Another clue is that Jack is the subject of the first couple of paragraphs.
      One note, one discovery: The description lists Jack's age as 21 and Dad's as 26, but by my reckoning that should have been 20 and 25.   
      Three of the men -- including Dad and Jack -- are wearing caps adorned with a pin of the symbolic red Soviet sickle and hammer.
      "My mother had that pin for years and years," said Jacqueline.
      She also tells a story her father related to her. When the men reached the harbor in Odessa, they had not been deloused (lice were such a problem in the camps and afterward). "That's not a pleasant process," Jacqueline noted, but after they did it once and then received money and had a pile of clothes available, "my father said to the others, 'Never mind, I'll go again.' And he did."
      (I can imagine Louie Van Thyn also making a second trip through.)
      She also confirmed, and slightly corrected, a story Dad related about one survivor who hid a girlfriend in a big back and smuggled her on board for the trip west. Jack Frankenhuis said the woman was a Romanian, not a Russian as Dad had said. But, yes, "I had heard that story," said Jacqueline.
      During our talk, Jacqueline showed me a ring on a chain. It belonged to Jack's mother; "it's my grandmother's wedding ring," said Jacqueline.
      Before his parents were picked up by the Nazis, they gave the ring to Jack, and he kept it hidden for the next couple of years. When he returned after the war, after the camps, after the long journey and the Odessa adventure, he dug it out.
      As Jacqueline pointed out, he had a date inscribed inside the ring: 20 Mei (May), 1943 -- the day the Nazis took his parents.
      Records -- of course the Nazis diligently kept these records -- show that only eight days later Jacob and Jenny died in the gas chambers at Sobibor, Poland.

      Two weeks later, at the same place of horrors, my grandmother Sara -- Dad's mother -- and my uncle Johnny -- Dad's 10-year-old brother -- met the same fate.
      Jack, his daughter said, "always wore [the ring]" on the chain around his neck. "And I wear it now, every day," said Jacqueline. "It is very important to me." 

      It is the link to her history, to her father. To the young man in the long-ago Russian Army uniform photo sitting in front of my father.


  1. From Philip Kopuit: Thanks. It's amazing how pieces of this puzzle meet. I'm sure Louitje would have wanted to talk to this lady. He and Rootje would certainly have been very proud of you for working on their stories and digging it out. Thanks again for sharing it. It means a lot to me.

  2. From Ken Sins: I read all the way through. Fascinating, the result of much research by you.

  3. From Dick Hicks: Great story. You favor your father. Amazed also at the clarity of the photos.

  4. From Jason Brown: That post about Jack Frankenhuis was remarkable. What a heartbreaking, sweet story. Thank you.

  5. From Richard T Priddy: Very interesting. It is a good read. Thank you. Those were grim times, even on this side of the ocean. Even though I was a very small child, I can still recall the hardships and anxiety as family members embarked into military service or coped. Pray never again.

  6. From Sandi Atkinson: It must have been a bit surreal to encounter someone whose life paralleled yours in many ways, as the children of the Holocaust survivors. I am sure there are a great many of you around the world. Every time you add to the story, my heart aches even more for the loss of so many innocent people and the damage done to the survivors. It's hard to fathom what went on in the minds of your parents over the many years they lived after the war. Again, thank you for telling their story. It needs to be told over and over.

  7. From Kitty Wiener: Indeed it is very interesting. I know my father (Abraham "Appie" van de Kar) was also working for IG Farben (I think he repaired shoes; that was what he learned at his parents' shops). He often mentioned it, and also that he was on the same route as your father, but I know very little about his experience during the war as my mother always talked about her past and I guess he let her, although when a Dutch Jewish man who was with him in the camp visited Israel they talked about having to box against each other (they were both in a boxing club before the war) and they would whisper to each other who would fall and not get up since the Nazis wanted to see a lot of blood and someone beaten half to death, but still able to work the next day.
    My father never had time to dwell about the war. When he left The Netherlands, he enlisted in the Israeli army as reserve soldier as soon as he could and served many years as reserve sniper (before the war he was in the Dutch army and served as a paramedic, and was a prisoner of war for a while). I do not know how he was released, he never got a chance to tell his story, but in Israel he did participate in the Sinai war as a sniper and was very proud about it, was very much liked by his fellow soldier friends. I think it helped him feel much better about himself to be able to defend our country. One sentence he loved repeating -- "Old soldiers never die." I guess it was something they used to say to each other while in reserve (they were usually people who did not speak Hebrew very well so mostly talked either in English or Yiddish. His Yiddish was not good; he learned it from his friends in the army.