Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nathan and Sara ... my Dad's parents

   (Fifth in a series)
   All I know about my grandparents is what my parents told me, what they said on their USC Shoah Foundation interviews as Holocaust survivors, and what they wrote in a nine-page family history.
    I never knew the grandparents, as I've written several times previously. Wish I had. But if the Holocaust hadn't happened, if much of my family hadn't perished in the concentration camps, my parents would've had their original spouses and ...
    That's not how it went.
    I can just imagine, though, if you had told my grandparents that their grandson would be a sportswriter and their granddaughter a social worker, they might've liked it.
    If you had told them it would be in the United States of America, they would've been astounded.
    But this piece is about my Dad's side of the family in Amsterdam (and Antwerp) in the 1920s, '30s and early '40s. About Nathan Van Thyn and Sara Van Thyn-Van Beem, and about the two grandparents that Dad -- Louis Van Thyn -- knew.

      From what Dad told me, the thing I like most about my granddad was ... he was a sports fan. Shocking, isn't it?
Nathan Van Thyn
     I remember Dad talking about when he was 9 going with his father to attend events at the 1928 Olympics, especially at Amsterdam's Olympic Stadium -- the place where I walked to by myself on weekends regularly in 1954 and '55 to be a 10-cent standing-room-only spectator for pro soccer games.
      Nathan was born March 5, 1893, the fourth of seven children of Levi Benjamin Van Thyn and Elizabeth Mozes Van Bergen (married in 1887). One child died as an infant; only one, the youngest (a female, Sippora), survived World War II.
       The rest, including my grandfather, died in the concentration camps.
       They grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood, educated in the Jewish traditions. My great-grandfather was a strict Orthodox (more on him in a moment). My grandfather, and the others, I suspect had only high school-equivalent educations -- if that -- and went to trade school. That's how it was for Dad and his older brother, Hyman.
        Nathan -- they called him Nico -- was, Dad recalled, "a hard worker. He worked all the time." He was, by trade, a butcher, but he also worked as a gardener and a carpenter.
         "He was very handy, liked people and was very outgoing ... He was mild and easygoing," my mother wrote.
         Then, as Dad noted, "in the Depression time (1932-37), nobody was working in Amsterdam. ... He got some odd jobs, so he worked sometimes. ... He was working in wholesale plumbing supplies as a truck driver."
         Asked about their relationship in the 1996 interview, Dad replied, "Real good. We were going out all the time, he took me on the bicycle as a young boy (he laughed and said, "cars were not going then") -- and sometimes we went fishing, and we'd go see sports events -- I loved sports, and I still do.
        "He was a nice man."
Sara Van Thyn-Van Beem
      My grandmother Sara, like my granddad, was one of seven children; only one was older. She was five years older than Nathan, whom she married in 1916 (she was 28, he was 23).
        She was, as was common then, a stay-at-home mom, but she worked as a seamstress at the house.
        "I never knew when she worked out of the house," Dad recalled. "When I was young, many times she worked in the house, other than her housework.
        "She worked for a manufactory. She was making pants and many times when she was finished, my father, on his bicycle, took the pants back to the manufactory. When I was older, I did that too for her and then brought the material back home."
        Mom, in her family history, wrote -- obviously information provided by Dad -- that my grandmother also enjoyed knitting and "loved opera and would sing whole arias while doing laundry." Then in typical fashion for Mom, she added, "The poor neighbors closed all the windows."
        Sara was "really a straight-forward woman and would tell it 'like it is,' not always in her best interest."
          So let's see -- my granddad was a sports fan, my grandmother was outspoken. Hmmm.
         Next: My Dad's grandparents


  1. From Carolyn Groves Pierce: Nico, write faster! LOL It is very interesting -- and devastating at the same time -- finding out about your family.

  2. From Maxie Hays: Your grandfather would have loved you and ALL of your stats. Love your father's story.

  3. From Dr. Donald E. Webb: Beautiful! Emotion, humor... Love it.