|Rose and Louis Van Thyn, with symbols of the Holocaust|
Many things define who I am, but none is more critical to shaping my personality than being the son of two Holocaust survivors.
What is a little surprising is that many people from my past were not aware of that. A coaching friend of mine, dating to the days at Louisiana Tech in the mid-1960s, expressed his regret at not knowing until I sent out a notice recently about my parents being honored in a program at Centenary College.
Classmates from a long time ago also have told me they had no idea.
My mother and dad received a tremendous amount of recognition in Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana, primarily because my mom's "mission" was to speak to school, civic and church groups about the Holocaust experiences.
The first publicity my parents received in Shreveport was in the fall of 1957 just before a stage version of "The Dairy of Anne Frank" came to town. A lengthy article in The Shreveport Times, written by Patsy Farmer, appeared in the Sunday magazine section with a large photo of Rose and Louis, and it told their story to that point. I remember the reporter and photographer coming to our house in Sunset Acres, just a couple of months after we moved there.
My mother occasionally would speak to a class at my school or my sister Elsa's school, but the bulk of her speaking "career" came over a 25-year period long after Elsa and I had been out of the house for years.
Actually, while my mother was the noted speaker, my dad was the more engaging story teller. My mother had her story, and she stuck to it. My dad's experiences were much broader -- he traveled much more; for instance, he wound up in Russia right after the war -- and he had fantastic recall of events and places, dating to his boyhood.
But my mother was much more comfortable with the English language, and she deserved the honors for her dedication to educate people about the Holocaust. My dad almost always went along and he was supportive. He was much more than her chauffeur, as he was laughingly described.
Some survivors didn't want to talk about the Holocaust at all. Some, it was all they could talk about. When my dad and I returned to Holland in 1991 -- my first trip back since we left in late December 1955 -- we were with a group of survivors, and the Holocaust was almost the only topic of discussion, to the point of almost everyone watching old newsreels and films.
My parents weren't obsessed with it. They answered any questions we had -- or anybody had -- but it was not a topic they forced on people.
The numbers on their arms were enough of a clue to people who noticed. The kids in the schools where my mother spoke noticed.
My dad was 70726 -- in fairly large numbers. My mother was 62511, a smaller tattoo.
When he was about 5, our son Jason asked his mother, "Why does Oma have her telephone number on her arm?"
NEXT: Survivors' son, Part 2