Thursday, April 27, 2017

How close to death on the Death March?

Jannie and Rose: Together again in
Shreveport, 1977 (Shreveport Times photo)
     They shared the Holocaust years, the terrible days in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the painful sterilization attempts and hundreds of shots, the repetitive surrender of blood, and finally the three-month ordeal of the "Death March."
     They were best friends then, and forever. But when Rose Van Thyn (Mom) and Jannie van de Kar each wrote their stories -- their memoirs -- they did not quite follow the same path.
     To see Jannie's version, as we recently did (and wrote, in part, in a blog published last week, my mother was very ill -- at times unable to walk -- during the horrific months after Auschwitz.
     When they finally found freedom, thanks to the Red Army of the Soviet Union and then the U.S. Army, Mom was hospitalized for a couple of weeks.
     Mom never wrote that, never mentioned it. It was not part of the narrative she wrote and told for so many years.
     I was surprised by Jannie's recollections, and so was my sister Elsa.
     Our memories play tricks on us, or we play tricks on our memories. Maybe Rose Van Thyn repressed her brush with death on the "Death March," or maybe she just couldn't deal with it. (Don't we all have memories we don't want to recall? I know I have many.)
     We know this: There were times over the next 65 years when life -- and memories -- were too much for her, when she needed a mental "timeout," when she stayed home in seclusion or was hospitalized.
     Please, please, please, don't misconstrue what I am writing here. She was a little woman physically, but a giant in some many ways.
     There was no questioning her courage, her determination, her willpower, her impact on her world as an educator about the Holocaust. She was an admirable character, with loads of character.
     She could be quite serious when she spoke publicly or privately, and she could be funny (or zany) at times.
      But her great friend Jannie, who left Amsterdam to settle in Israel with husband Appie (also a Holocaust survivor) and young son Loek six years before our family left Amsterdam for the United States, reminded us of events that Mom saw differently -- or not at all.
       It was difficult to digest this. And we were reminded this week, while listening to an audio-book version of The Monuments Men, that the winter of the "Death March," 1944-45, was one of the coldest, most brutal, winters in history in Western Europe.
      As I have written several times, it is unfathomable how these women, especially my tiny Mom -- frozen, starved, tortured, humiliated for 16 months at Auschwitz -- survived. Mom, only about 5 feet short, said she weighed 65 pounds shortly after their rescue.
       Always an amazing story of survival.
       My mother's name was Rozette, but in America she was Rose to most people. In The Netherlands, that was shortened to Ro (that's what Dad called her), and in the Dutch method, many friends and what family we had left called her "Rootje."         
Appie and Jannie van de Kar, with their children
Kitty and Loek in Israel, late 1950s.
        That's what Jannie called her in her memoirs.
        So let's start when they meet -- again -- just after leaving the cattle car transport arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. This part, by Jannie, is much as Mom recalled it.
         It begins with a gruesome story.
         "On arrival in Auschwitz on the ramp," Jannie wrote, "the women had to go to the right, the men to the left. It was immediately a madhouse; we had to put everything down, we were not allowed to have anything in our hands. An old woman standing next to me did not want to put down her handbag. I told her she had better put it down, but she said: I need it. The SS [men] then hit her so hard on the head that she lay there dead.
        "At that moment I knew I had arrived in hell. I looked over at where Appie stood, and with his hands he gave me a sign: chin up. ... That was the last I saw of Appie."
         Enter Mom.
         "Suddenly someone took me by the hand and asked: 'Can I stay with you?' It was Rootje, who had been in my class at the school for domestic science [in Amsterdam]. From that time on we stayed together. It was a long walk to the camp. A lot of women had been taken by car. We said 'and we have to walk,' not knowing that those women were taken straight to the gas chamber.
         "On our arrival at the camp we -- Rootje and I -- asked if we could go to the toilet somewhere. We were allowed to go, wonder of wonders we were allowed to do that, but very quickly. When we arrived at a block [dorm-type building], all women were already standing there naked and we were shouted at to undress. We were shaved from top to toe, then rubbed with a dirty rag with petrol. We were no longer human.
       "We had a number tattooed [on their left arms]. My number still is 62506 [Mom only five numbers later, 62511].
       "From first to last I was in shock. I always had the feeling, this is not happening to me, I was an onlooker. From first to last, it was a nightmare."
      Later in the story, Jannie told of working in a herb commando -- tending to herbs in a garden, and picking the ripe ones. Mom told a similar story, but there is a twist.
       Mom said she was given a dress that was far too long and Jannie, much taller, had a dress that was much too short. So Mom said they traded.
      Jannie's version: "By then we had been given coats. All the clothes we had been given initially were rags. I had a dress which was very short and a pair of knickers. Rootje had a dress which was too long, and when I said, shall we exchange, she said: No, this way I’ll be warmer. Of course, she was right.
      "Everyone thought only of himself, your own survival, it was everyone for himself. Later we did share everything, later we were able to organize -- that’s what we called it -- other clothes."
      The Death March began on January 18, 1945, when the Nazis, knowing the Russian Army was closing in from the east and the Allied forces, led by the U.S., were coming in from the west. The women at Auschwitz were told the night before they were being transported, but had no clue where they were headed.
     Jannie wrote: "As I said in the beginning, Auschwitz was hell. We thought it could not get any worse. But it did get worse and worse. Soon we forgot the pain of the [medical] experiments. For we set off without any food, in the snow, I don’t know how many degrees below zero. We walked for three days and nights. ..."
      That was only the start. There were trips on overcrowded open coal wagons -- Jannie and Rose's group had to stand, no place to lay down (and some of those who did froze to death) -- and just a little bread to divide up -- and, Jannie wrote of the walks, "hunger was not as bad as thirst. We wetted our lips with snow."
       After a stop at Gross Rosen, a well-known camp that was full -- "no place for us" -- it was three more days on the coal train to the Ravensbrück camp. There they had no barracks, but no beds. When they finally did get beds, they slept four women to a bed. 
     The next stop was Malchow and Jannie, because she was bigger than most of the Jewish women, was chosen to unload wagons with provisions and later to do heavy work, felling trees. 
      After seven weeks, "we were all so weak and many were sick." And then came another transport -- to Taucha -- followed by "a march; it was what later would be called the Death March.
     For 14 days and nights, "we marched in between the fronts," Jannie wrote. "... We walked day and night." The Nazis still present -- many had gone into hiding -- would call a halt occasionally, but not for long.
     After a stay in a barn and a night spent sleeping in a valley -- Mom had references to those -- the Nazis said, "Tomorrow you are free." And while the women still feared being shot, indeed the guards soon were no longer with them.
     "We were free without knowing it," Jannie wrote. "Our group of 10 [Dutch women] did not believe it."
     Some men pushing wheelbarrows passed and they were Dutch forced laborers, who had food in their barrows. They shared, and advised them to walk to the next village, which was overcrowded with released prisoners.  
     They came upon a farm, where a young woman was the boss, and they were given room in a barn and food -- "real food." They were told they could stay until they had regained some strength.
     My mother also wrote this. But here is the part she did not mention.
     "By then, Rootje was still very ill," Jannie wrote, "and we asked the woman if she did not have a bed for Rootje."
    Jannie added, "We didn't know it, but we were in no man's land. I don't know how long we were there. The war was not yet over officially. Suddenly the Russians came. The woman came to tell us that we were not occupied by the Russians and if we would tell those Russians that she had been good to us.
    "We could not say differently, for after all, she had given us lodging and food. All at once, she had a bed for Rootje. We were all in a big barn, in the straw."
       They were regularly delousing each other, and bathing, even with cold water, and finally they told the Russians they wanted to get to the west -- to Holland -- as quickly as possible. They found they were in the neighborhood of Leipzig.
        Another passage from Jannie concerning Mom: "Again we went on our way. We had taken a wheelbarrow, on which Rootje lay."
        Then came the story of the bridge, with the U.S. Army on the other side, and the lengthy process before they found an American officer who helped them finally get across that bridge ... and to freedom and great care. Mom always remembered that part.
      But here is another section by Jannie that is pertinent:
      "We asked a Jewish officer if he could arrange an ordinary house for us, and a hospital for Rootje. We got a house from which the owners had fled, close to the hospital so that we could visit Rootje all the time. We were then given vouchers for food by the mayor of that village.
       "... Only then could we delouse ourselves properly. From the curtains we sewed dresses. We also had vouchers for underwear. We were feeling a lot better by then. We were all waiting for a transport to Holland. I don’t know the exact dates. We learned to live again."
       By May, the war was over, and they were told to go to the train station to catch a train going west. But that didn't happen; the borders of Holland were still closed. An American soldier arranged for them to work for the U.S. Army -- Mom did write about this -- and after a thorough examination at a hospital in Leipzig, they were on their way back to good health.
     Wrote Jannie: "By then, Rootje had also recovered." 
     The road back to Amsterdam was much more convoluted for Jannie, and so was finding Appie again. It was a series of misses, a lot of hitch-hiking and some begging for rides and bargaining for passage, trips to Amsterdam and Belgium and back, and after some misdirection and misleading information, they were reunited in Amsterdam.
      Mom's road back, as I recall, went much more smoothly ... but she had no relatives waiting for her.
      Mom wound up housed in a facility especially for Holocaust survivors, a converted factory in Amsterdam. Jannie and Appie were there -- as the only married couple -- with a separate room in the attic. Louis Van Thyn -- who like Mom had lost his first spouse in the Holocaust -- came to visit Appie, his old friend (they had known each other before Auschwitz), and Jannie knew Mom, and so my parents were introduced to each other.
      Soon they were dating. The rest is obvious.
Like Rose, one of Jannie's great pleasures later
in life was to be a grandmother.
      At the end of her long story, Jannie wrote, "Of course there are a lot of things I have not written. We were often apathetic during our death marches. One after the other we collapsed and did not want to go on. I, too, wanted to remain sitting once so that the last guard would shoot me. But the 10 of us kept taking care of each other; that is why there is such a strong bond between us."
      Mom often wrote and said that.
      "Now we only need the peace we thought in 1945 would come," Jannie concluded.
      At times, Jannie's daughter Kitty Wiener has told my sister, her mother battled the demons the Holocaust had left with her. She could be difficult -- as we can tell you that Rose could be.
      But both -- Jannie and Rose -- were also lovable, admirable characters, and we were blessed to have them live so long (Jannie was 92, Rose was 88), and it was important for them to put their experiences on paper and, in Mom's case, to speak publicly so often.
       Bless their memories. We will not forget.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Jannie's Holocaust story: fortunate, painful ... and powerful

      "Jannie" van de Kar's story in the Holocaust is one of the most dramatic, most painful and most fortunate.
My  mother's great friend, Jannie van de Kar
    All Holocaust survivors were fortunate to escape the misery and the torture. But Jannie -- my mother's best friend in the Holocaust years -- had a remarkable experience.
    To have been pregnant for months in the concentration camp, to have had a guardian angel help keep that hidden from the Nazis, and to have delivered the child, and lived through all that ...
    The baby, a girl, had no chance -- and that pain never subsided for Jannie for the rest of her life. And she lived a full life, 92 years, the last 64 in Israel.
     Her given name was Marianna, but everyone called her Jannie. She and Mom somehow survived that hell on earth -- and to the end, they never forgot those days or each other.
     Unlike my mother, Jannie did not speak or write publicly on her life and specifically of the time as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz and the "Death March" that followed.

    But in 1994-95, she diligently typed those thoughts, for her family and the world -- and future generations -- to see and study. Her daughter Kitty now has given us permission to share them.
    Her story -- 13 computer pages on the copy I received -- is dated January 18, 1995, from Nahariya, Israel, where she and Abraham ("Appie") van de Kar eventually settled after moving from Amsterdam in 1949.
     They are the couple responsible for my parents meeting in Amsterdam in late summer 1945, a few months after they all had returned from Auschwitz and other camps.
     I have written about this previously, in Survivors: 62511, 70726 -- the book on my parents and my family -- and in a blog post two years ago:
     This particular blog piece will recount the ordeal of the pregnancy in her first few months at Auschwitz.
     It will not include other gruesome parts of Jannie's story -- the transportation to the "holding" camps and to Auschwitz, the medical experiments in which the Nazis tried to sterilize the women in Auschwitz's Block 10. I covered those in writing about Mom.
     And for another blog piece, I am saving the segment on the "Death March" because it contains a not-previously-publicized revelation about my mother. Rose Van Thyn did not tell you everything, or could not deal with it. 

     We received Jannie's memoirs as translated from Dutch to English by Joke Sterringa, Kitty's friend in Amsterdam who previously sent me some clarifications and corrections on several topics in my book. Much appreciated then, and now.
     Here is the introduction to Jannie's story:
      "Today it is 50 years ago that we left on foot in the cold and snow from Auschwitz. We were to be given bread on the road. We Dutch women wanted to do it well and had sewn extra bread bags for it. Our experiment block was the last to leave.
      "There was no more bread. There were women who had raided it. Filled with despair, we went on our way. That is when our sufferings really began. Auschwitz was indescribable, but it was a roof over your head. ..."
     Marianna van de Kar-Barend, daughter of David Barend and Naatje Gerritse, was born in North Amsterdam on April 12, 1921 (five months ahead of Mom). She had three older brothers and her father was head conductor for the Dutch Railways.
     When Jannie was 9, her mother died.
      "She had diabetes," Jannie wrote. "Why she died, I have never heard. Nowadays one can grow old with it. But later I was glad that she at least had a grave in Amsterdam, and had not been gassed, like my father and my brothers.
        "My mother was always a cheerful, beautiful woman who liked to laugh, just like me."
       The Great Depression soon followed in The Netherlands, and Jannie was sent to live with an aunt, her mother's sister, and three cousins. Her father paid board and lodging for her and her youngest brother, who went to live with grandparents.
      She was loved and cared for -- by that family, her father (who worked long hours but spent weekends with her) and her brothers. Still, it was a lonely life, and she missed her mother's nurturing and laughter.
      She loved reading -- all her life -- and as a good student wanted to go to high school, but her father refused to send her, explaining, "I have enrolled her at the school for domestic science. I don’t have a wife, and she must learn everything a woman must know."
My parents' friend, Jannie
and Appie van de Kar
      At that school, Jannie met Rozette Lopes-Dias (Mom) and "I learned sewing, knitting, home economics, cooking, pattern design, and other things. And what I could not do at home, I did there: I laughed a lot. I graduated from that school, even though I disliked going there. I was angry with the whole world. Why was it just me who was not allowed to study?"
       She went to work in the military clothing industry and her social life was limited to evenings at a sports club, where at age 16, she met Abraham van de Kar. But seeing boys, even allowing them to walk her home, was not allowed.
      Appie asked, she resisted, but he persisted, came to call on her at home -- not allowed -- and she answered, frightened.
      "I asked why he had rung [the door bell]," she wrote. "He said, 'I am a decent boy and mean well toward you.' He was a handsome boy, and he sang all kinds of songs by Bing Crosby for me. I was I n love, but did not show it. That's how things were."
      Her father heard of their walks together and intervened, telling her, "I want to see that boy here at home. That week Appie visited us at home, and everything was alright." Mr. Barend "was patient with Abram, and immediately loved him.
        "... It was winter and we walked in the snow and did not feel the cold. Appie visited us every evening, everyone loved him."
        Appie was in the Dutch military, serving in Venlo (close to the German border). He had been home on leave because his father, who had shoe repair shops in Amsterdam, was ill with stomach problems.
       When Appie returned to Venlo (he was a nursing orderly in the army), Jannie -- who could travel by train for free because of her father's job -- began visiting him.
        When the Nazis' occupation of The Netherlands began in May 1940, the Dutch army personnel immediately became prisoners of war.
         "Someone had told my [future] mother-in-law that he knew for certain that Appie had been blown up with the bridge," Jannie wrote. "I said: 'I don’t believe it, I am sure he is still alive.' I was always good at feeling things, and so it was this time."
          After three months, Appie came back to Amsterdam and became engaged on his birthday in August.
         "In the evening there was the blackout, but every evening after work [at the shoe shop] he came to me first," Jannie wrote. "He was my first love. And for me there never was anyone else."
      When her two oldest brothers were sent to a "work camp" at the end of 1941, Jannie and Appie -- trying to save up for their wedding in the 18 months since they became engaged -- pushed up their plans and were married at the Amsterdam town hall on March 25, 1942, and on March 29 in the synagogue.
      Jannie's family had little Jewish education -- she said she did not even know about the high holy days -- but Appie's mother "had her own God, she was kosher."
       Appie received his call-up for the work camp the day after their town-hall wedding.
       "My wedding was no feast for me," Jannie wrote. "My mother-in-law had really done her best, but I cried all day. I felt Appie would not come home anymore."
        Jewish men were being picked up everywhere by the Nazis and sent to work camps. In May, she learned she could go visit him ... if she brought children's shoes for the children of the camp commander.
     Done, and still with her railway pass, she traveled for free on the train -- although Jews were disallowed from doing so. She purposely left her identity card and required (yellow) Star of David decal at home.
      Back in Amsterdam, the Nazis were taking over Jewish homes. She returned to live with her father, but soon her youngest brother was "arrested" and sent to Auschwitz. When she went to a bath house -- no bathroom in their house -- she was forced to show her ID, which had "J" for Jew.
        The horror was beginning. A long standing wait in a museum, a walk across Amsterdam with a large group of Jews, imprisonment in the cellar of a school for three days ... and then a release: "I have never run through Amsterdam as I did that day."
     That day, too, Appie and her brothers were sent to Westerbork, the Dutch holding camp before transport to the concentration camps.
      On September 4, the Nazis "came for my father. I tried to protest that he was a retired civil servant." But off he went.
       A week later, after going out for material for her sewing work, she returned home to see the Germans emptying the house of furniture. She protested, but -- thanks to a neighbor sticking up for her -- was allowed to keep a bed and her sewing machine.
     Soon she went to live with a friend and her children. But they, too, soon were taken away -- and so was she, transported to Westerbork.
      Upon arrival, "the first person I saw was my father. In that brief period, he had already become old and thin." She looked for Appie, but could not find him ... until a long wait with her father in front of the shoe workshop.
     "My father had looked for him in his barracks and left a message that I had arrived and where we were waiting for him," Jannie wrote. "At long last he came, and of course, I was very happy to see him."
       But later she heard that Appie had been unfaithful -- "with a girlfriend and did not know I had arrived. My trust in him was badly shaken. ... There men went to bed with women when it was offered.
      "All my life I could only go to bed with one man out of love. In spite of everything I have only loved Appie, never longed for another man. We had our difficult periods, and that began in Westerbork. The war poisoned the whole world. For a lot of people there were no longer any norms, they took what they could get. Only strong characters remained themselves.
      "I always had to think of my father’s words when I got engaged. He said: Whatever you do, take care never to make me ashamed of you. And I always remembered that."
      Appie was on a "safe" list in Westerbork because he worked in the shoe workshop. So Jannie was safe, too, and so was her father because of his son Maurits' railway connection.
       Jannie was put on a transport list [to the concentration camps] six times, but spared each time, with Appie's help. She worked in the camp kitchen, then outside pulling weeds in the bitter cold, then inside as a cleaner in the barracks.
     Although men and women lived in separate barracks, they did eat together and she could go on walks with Appie, and he "always knew a place where we could do what should really have been normal for married people. So I got pregnant. It was May 1943, and my father had gone on transport."
       She had wanted to go with her father, but he urged her to stay near Appie as long as she could.
       "I was very unhappy because I was pregnant, and got no help at all," she wrote. "No doctor was willing to help me. They all insisted that I was a healthy young woman, and if I was sent to Auschwitz, I would not be the first one to go there in my condition."
        On September 14, that is what happened -- she was part of the packed-with-people cattle car, arriving in Auschwitz three days later.
        "From that moment on, we were no longer human beings, but beasts ..." 
         And as they were being separated after leaving the train, Rose -- our Rose -- grabbed her hand and became her best friend.
       After the undressing, the shaving of all hair, the washing with a dirty rag with gasoline, and then the number tattooed on her left arm (Jannie was 62506, five numbers before my mother), and their arrival at Block 10, they were put in quarantine.
    And then the greatest fear ...
    "Someone kept coming into our dormitory, asking if there were any pregnant women," Jannie wrote. "I kept my mouth shut, I did not know what they wanted.
     "We were with 200 Dutch women in a dormitory. I asked someone who had been there for some time already, why they kept asking that. She told me that they could not use such women for experiments, and they were sent away to be gassed. I kept my mouth shut, I was five months pregnant. I was plump, that’s how the Germans registered me. Ordnung muss sein. [Order must be.]
     "I could not sleep anymore. All the time I thought they were coming to get me. Outside SS guards were [pacing], you could hear it inside. I always thought they were standing next to my bed.
     "They began the [medical] experiments immediately. First they took women from their beds at random for operations. Everyone began to scream and shout. Then they started alphabetically. When I was called, I said to the doctor -- his name was Samuels; he was a prisoner too, a famous Jewish gynecologist from Germany -- that I was pregnant, and asked him not to operate on me.
     "I asked him if he could help me. He first examined me and then said: You are already too far [along] for an abortion. But I no longer wanted one. I thought that the war could be over any day now, and then I would have my child. He told me there wasn’t a chance of that.
      "He wanted permission to do a premature birth. I lived in great suspense. Apart from myself, only Rootje [Rose] and Hilde, my friends, knew about my situation. After a week, the doctor called for me and told me it was all right, he had the permission. He told me I just had to wait a bit longer, my number would be called, and then I would have to hurry to the operating room.
     "Suddenly, we heard he had been hanged. We did not know why yet, later it was said that he had done special operations so the women would still be able to have children. He should have sterilized us.
    "There were no longer any operations. But in the meantime another doctor had come, a woman, her name was Alina Brevda. So I told her of my situation, she became my guardian angel. She always called me 'my child.'
    "By then it was November and I had a big stomach. We had a blockalteste [block leader] who was a bitch, she hit us whenever she had the chance. She never touched me. When we had to stand downstairs for roll call outside in the cold, she would say to me: "Du schwangere Holländerin, du brauchst nicht Appel stehen" ["You pregnant Dutch woman, you do not need to stand at attention."] In all my misery I was always lucky.
    "So one day my number was called and I had to go to the operating room. There Alina Brevda did some surgery under anaesthetic, and when I came to, she said: 'You are not to sit down quietly anymore. I had to climb up and down beds and go up and down the stairs for the child to descend.
     "The waters had already broken, so at once I was walking with labor pains. I was racked with pain, but I gritted my teeth, for I was afraid that if I would make the tiniest sound, I would be gassed.
      "The sixth day I couldn’t endure it any longer, and I went downstairs to the sickroom, where I asked Alina Brevda to give me an injection so I could die. I could not go on anymore. She said: I’ll give you two injections, so that the child will come sooner. I was given a bed in the ward, and that night, 15 November, my first daughter was born. Of course, I never saw her. They said she had been born alive, but in the seventh month. Probably they have killed her immediately, like all children.
      "The next morning an SS officer was standing in front of my bed, and asked my name, where I was from and who was my husband, and if I knew where he was. I felt as if I was sinking into the earth with bed and all, I thought this is the end. He turned on his heel and left.
     "Suddenly all the nurses came and embraced me, and told me I was saved, for I was the first woman not to be gassed after a childbirth. The next day Alina Brevda came to the ward very early and said I had to leave it, for there was an outbreak of diphtheria which was contagious, and she did not want me to catch it. I was transferred to another ward where there were only Greek girls whose ovaries had been given radiation treatment, so that those girls were completely burnt, shrivelled, unhappy for the rest of their lives.
      " ... After the delivery, which understandably was very difficult, and when I was with those Greek girls, was the only time in all the days I was in the camps that I cried. My first child, that I could not have kept, alone without any love around me. A mother of one of the Greek girls came to comfort me, without our being able to understand each other.
    "When at last I came back to my own dormitory, my friends were overjoyed. From then on I was a guinea pig just like the others. ..."
       In April 1944, Jannie -- still in Block 10 -- received a letter from Appie through a prisoner who had to visit a dentist on the men's side in Auschwitz.
       "He wrote that he would do everything to stay alive, and if I were still alive not to lose courage, so that if we survived  we could start again, for he loved only me. He wrote the names of all the men with him who were no longer alive. They were all of them my friends’ husbands.
      "Of course, I was very happy to have heard from him, but sad for all those husbands of my friends. I was able to give a letter in return, in which I wrote that he would always be my only love, and told him our daughter was no longer alive, and that I didn’t know if I would ever be able to give him another child because of the experiments. But I would do my utmost, in spite of everything, to hold out.
    "So I knew Appie was still alive and to the last I always felt he was still alive."
      There was much more to come, of course; they heard about the Allies' Normandy invasion (on June 6, Jannie's father's birthday), and the "Death March" was arguably a greater test for the survivors than the camps themselves.
     Jannie and Appie each went through those -- and survived.
      "I never forgot when someone had been good to me," Jannie wrote. "There [in the camps] you got to know the real person. There were decent people and bad people. Your true character came out there. Someone who was decent would remain human there as well. But in your life you also need luck. I learned a lot from a great many women. I was still very naive. A person is what life makes him."
A still-young couple with Loek (probably early 1949)
     Making her way back to The Netherlands and then finding Appie again were long, torturous adventures. But reunited and through good times and bad, they were fortunate.
       They were able to have two more children together -- Loek (Luke, in English) born a couple of months before me in 1947, and Kitty, born a few months after my sister Elsa in 1951.
    Jannie and Rose were similarly fortunate; Jannie and Appie emigrated to Israel in 1949 ("I never wanted to, but all my life I always did what Appie wanted," Jannie said); we moved to the United States at the end of 1955.
    The van de Kars made it together through 51 years of marriage -- "the last years were the best," Jannie wrote, although Appie's heart was failing. Despite his ills, his death while hospitalized at about 3 a.. m. on October 6, 1993, was unexpected and sudden.
    "Now I am alone, I miss him very much" is what she wrote near the end of her memoirs.
     And Loek, who came to the U.S. to study, died of cancer in 2004 at age 57. He lived in the Chicago area and was a respected research scientist in the medical field and a professor.
An Israeli family in Dutch garb -- Loek, Jannie,
Appie and little Kitty
     Telling portions of Jannie's story, said her daughter Kitty, "is exactly what she would have wanted. It was very important for her that people will know every detail, including the loss of the baby.
    "She used to cry on the date it was done and Loek told me once why she is crying; as a child I never saw her cry so I asked him what happened. He was 4 1/2 years older and always asked her many questions, especially about Auschwitz.
     "I used to hate these conversations they had since I never wanted to hear about it. It was painful for a child that such horrible things happened to the mother, but he was persistent and (until he was a teenager and busy with his own life) never stopped asking as long as we had lunch together."
     The photo below is of Jannie on her 91st birthday -- "the last nice one she had," said Kitty. "The next year, when she turned 92, "she felt it was the end and indeed 2 1/2 weeks later she passed away (cancer)."
      Some 70 years earlier, she had been cursed and blessed at the same time.




Monday, April 17, 2017

The shrinking newspaper in Shreveport (and other places)

     What in the heck are the people in charge of The Shreveport Times thinking? What are they doing?
     Who knows, and really it is getting to the point, who cares?
      Don't mean to be a newspaper basher; anyone who knows me knows how much I loved (past tense) newspapers, and they helped me make somewhat of a living for 40-plus years.
      But, good gosh, newspapers these days are hardly worth the paper they are printed on. If they are printed at all. And it's getting worse.
      They are going digital; it might be only a matter of (short) time before printed papers are relics. They want you to read their content online; that is the emphasis, and has been for several years. The printed papers be damned.
     Not entirely true, however, if the market is big enough. You might have heard -- or seen someone tweet -- that The (mighty) New York Times and The (powerful) Washington Post are failing. That's fake news on those tweets. Those papers probably are hitting closer to the truth than this tweeter wants them to be. 
      I digress. I'm not here to judge the entire newspaper business. I'll stick to more familiar territory -- papers I worked for in my well-traveled career -- and what's happened to their sports departments.   
     Where I have The Shreveport Times listed above, I can sub Fort Worth Star-Telegram or Florida Times-Union or Knoxville News Sentinel. And I know that their sports desks -- as we once knew them -- are practically dissolved.
      Most readers are familiar with the bylines they see in newspapers -- the columnists and reporters' names they see day after day. When we say "sports desk," we mean the people who worked "inside" -- the copy editors, page designers (layout) and decision makers who put the actual product together.
       I was one of those for much of 45 years, mixed with writing duties. So when I see so many of those jobs disappearing, it's personal.
       Read on, and I will give you a summary of what's happened at some of my career stops.
       It has been a couple of years since I wrote about newspapers. Here, if you care, are the links to two previous blog pieces about newspapers, my view of them and my career background:
       Back to Shreveport, and the shrinking Times. If you have seen that paper lately, you know how small it is -- just a bit bigger than tabloid size, and most days as light as a feather.
       Here are some significant (to me) Times developments of the past few weeks:
        -- Dropped the very popular Teddy Allen slice-of-life columns after some 27 years. When I posted about this on Facebook -- actually a re-post of a post by Monroe/Ruston area friend Tom "Temo" Morris -- the response was a slew of unhappy replies. The Monroe News Star, like The Times owned by Gannett, also dropped Teddy. (More on this in a moment.)
        -- Dropped the sports agate page entirely (after some 30 years). No standings, no box scores, no linescores, no transactions, etc. 
        The message: You want it, go to your I-Pad, computer or phone and get it online on The Times web page. 
        -- Space for sports, already great diminished, was cut by 25 percent.
        -- And then, astoundingly, a 7 p.m. deadline (it had been 11:30 p.m.), every night, for copy. Wait, 7 p.m.? Really?
        Last I looked, news still breaks after 7 p.m. Games still are played at night. But if you want to read the news the next day, go online.
        Good grief. It's supposed to be a newspaper.
        These decisions, we are told, were made by the Gannett leaders in McLean, Va., not by people at The Times. The Gannett leaders who made three-days-a-week print papers recently in Alexandria and Opelousas, La., and Hattiesburg, Miss. (Same thing happened, not necessarily by Gannett, a few years ago in Mobile, Huntsville and Birmingham, Ala., and -- most significantly -- at the New Orleans Times-Picayune.)
        I am told that the rollout of the early deadlines was hush-hush by Gannett until it happened -- no planning -- and that even the press room/production people (the "design" for Shreveport now is done in Des Moines, Iowa -- go figure) were uninformed.
        The explanation is that The Times (1) wants to stress its online presence and (2) "enhance its storytelling."
        Where we had six fulltime sportswriters/desk people at The Times when I started my career there five decades ago, and about 10 when I left there -- after a few stops -- two decades later, they now have two sportswriters and two desk people (one also a sometimes writer) who work for Shreveport and Monroe.
        My opinion: They are good people, conscientious. The material they write -- I see it online -- is good reading. There is just not enough they can cover.
        For example, Times sports last Saturday -- four pages including 1 1/2 pages of ads -- included a  story on the Mudbugs' minor-league hockey playoff game, two high school softball stories, a Pirates-Cubs baseball story, an AP preview story on the NBA playoffs, day-old baseball standings and no Friday scores. 
        I have a friend in Shreveport who knows sports and knows newspapers -- grew up in both -- who calls that the enhanced storytelling line "BS" and says, "They have given up" on decent sports coverage.
        He also contends that the digital content The Times touts is not appealing, "no good" and "weak," and that the paper doesn't "have any interest in quality. [They] completely have lost their voice as a local entity."
        He wraps up with a two-word salutation -- unprintable here -- and one of Coach/Dr. James C. Farrar's favorite expressions, something about "the horse they rode out on."
        Another friend said: "As a kid who turned to agate and the baseball page immediately, it sucks, no doubt. But I certainly wasn't getting my national agate from the paper anymore.
       And he added: "Depressing, to say the least."

       About interest in quality, dropping Teddy Allen's column is an example. Yes, I am not impartial. We are friends and have been since before he left The Times sports the first time to join our sports staff at the Shreveport Journal in 1986. We remain on great terms.
        Teddy's columns for The Times and Monroe paper were not sports, per se, the last couple of decades. But many of his topics were sports-related and, as he proved again two weeks in covering The Masters for the Ruston Daily Leader and his Facebook friends, he is as good at writing sports (and everything else) as anyone out there.
        So if Gannett is cutting Teddy's column to save a little money, quality obviously doesn't matter.
        Working on a sports desk was, mostly, a joy. I worked with many talented people, most of them very conscientious, and I worked with some mediocre people, and only a couple of duds who messed around or weren't that interested and were out of place.
        It was intense work at times, but also enough down time, and there was lots of cutting up and ribbing and arguing, and even a few fits (with some thrown objects -- guilty, as charged. Paid the price for that at times).
        Two of my favorite newspapers to work for -- great days  -- are gone, the Shreveport Journal (for 26 years now) and seven years ago The Honolulu Advertiser (folded by Gannett into the afternoon newspaper, the Star-Bulletin, into the newly formed Star-Advertiser).
         Four of the friends I worked with in sports in Honolulu survived that development and moved to the new paper, but one who didn't was a very talented assistant sports editor and friend.         
         Here is a summary of what's happened at the sports desks/departments of some of my other papers:
         -- Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville): In the early 1990s, we had a fulltime staff of about 25 people, plus several parttimers who got plenty of work. They are down to nine fulltime sports people (three from my time there). Their "desk" is in Augusta, Ga., where the paper owner, Morris Communications, is based.
        The Augusta desk does layout for all the Morris papers (several in Georgia). Some 15 desk people in Jacksonville -- from all sections -- were offered jobs if they moved to Augusta, and the money offered was substantial. No one took it, receiving buyouts instead (one week's pay for every year of service, capped at 26 weeks). Two sports desk people (one of my old friends) remained in Jacksonville and, with the sports editor, submit budgets, supervise breaking news and approve the pages before they go to press.
       -- Knoxville News Sentinel: Purchased by Gannett less than two years ago, layoffs began soon afterward and so did a universal desk, meaning "design" was done in part elsewhere and somewhat breaking up the sports department (where I worked in 1995 to 2001).
       Another layoff a couple of weeks ago cost 11 newsroom people their jobs -- including some of my friends, one of whom had been in sports since a year after I started there --  and the writing staff has been combined into a USA Today network of coverage in Tennessee (Gannett owns USA Today and the papers in Memphis and Nashville).
        One of the N-S sports columnists -- one of the two best on-deadline writers I worked with in 45 years -- is now mostly  a general-assignments sports writer. The assigning sports editor, who arrived there just after I did, now adds on breaking-news writing duties.  
      The emphasis is on shooting videos, and traditional game stories are being shortened or eliminated because the staff has been told "nobody reads the bottom half of your story anyway." What's popular -- with the Gannett "brains" -- are such listings as "five things to know" and "three things that happened."
      That's the "new" journalism, thank you.

      -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram: When I arrived in December 2001, we had as many as 25 fulltime people on the sports desk, and many nights, we were producing -- including "zoned" sections -- 20-25 pages per shift.
      Now, with the McClatchy Corp. (which bought the paper from the Knight Ridder chain in 2006) continuing the series of layoffs that began in 2008, they have maybe eight people working on sports copy and design -- and some of that is for the McClatchy-owned papers in Kansas.
       The writing staff, including parttimers, is about a dozen people. 
       The paper is thin several days a week; in the previous decade, the sports section some days was as big as the entire paper is now.
       This year the Star-Telegram dropped baseball box scores, except -- of course -- for the Rangers. For the last decade, because of space limitations, we were cutting out many elements of the traditional baseball boxes. For a true baseball fan -- I consider myself one -- that was untraditional.
       The good news is that several of my ex-co-workers, who are my friends, are still employed there. I'm for that.          

       I have empathy, of course, for the people still working for The Shreveport Times and especially the people in sports. I have not lived in Shreveport-Bossier for almost 30 years, but it is -- as I have said many times -- "home" and that paper gave me my start and many good experiences.
       It does not feel good to see the paper sink to the level it has. It was never, I have to say, what I consider a "great" paper; I thought the afternoon Shreveport Journal was, in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, especially for its size. But The Times was important to our city and our area.
        As for Gannett, the year I spent under its management was not fun. There were reasons, and one of them was me. I did not fit or like the job. But I tried hard. 
        I will say this: I worked for four newspaper editors in Shreveport. One really did not know much about sports and never showed he cared. One was a tremendous and knowledgeable sports fan, and very much a booster of the sports department, providing resources and space. Another knew sports and was helpful, but rigid in his management. Another also knew sports, but did not show much interest -- and showed less interest in me and my work. Again, maybe my fault and my mindset then.
        I have a friend who says he does not "blame Gannett for what happening. Their folks have been welcoming and cooperative as much as they can be. It's just the condition of the industry."
        I am guessing that Gannett is still making money from The Times, thanks to classified ads and the many advertising insert for the paper, mostly on Wednesdays and Sundays. That's likely the case with most newspapers in cities of any size. If I am wrong about that, let me know.
          But "the condition of the industry" in Shreveport might be reflected in an old acquaintance and more recent Facebook friend. Let's call him Bubba and say he's been involved in media for four decades. This week he canceled his Times subscription and was happy to do so, plus talk about it on Facebook.
         He was fed up with the lack of coverage, with the "liberal" slant -- take that any way you want -- and he was not interested when the paper called and offered him a $13 discount to renew his subscription.
         The comments on his Facebook posts indicate that the subscription price was $34 a month. And I saw multiple comments of people who had dropped their subscriptions or were about to do so.
         One of my close friends, who like me began reading the paper -- especially sports -- regularly when we were kids in Sunset Acres 60 years ago, is thoroughly disgusted. I'm hearing and seeing the complaints from him.
         When you lose Sunset Acres, you lose.
         I'm not rooting against The Shreveport Times, but, hey, bring back Teddy Allen's column and go back to those 11:30 p.m. deadlines. Get the darned news in the next day's newspaper.