Monday, June 10, 2013

A place for memories ... and tears

      There were many emotional moments for me on this trip back to The Netherlands, but nothing like the emotions at the Hollandsche Schouwburg.
      It is a place of deep meaning, of symbolism, of a time before I was born, of confinement and suffering, of goodbyes ... and of death.
      It was part of a personal four-stop tour of Jewish history in Amsterdam, with the Joods Historisch Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue and the Auschwitz memorial. I'd seen them all before, on previous trips (in 1991 and 2004, both with my Dad), but I wanted to see them again -- and Beatrice, too, wanted to see them.
      Visiting them, and reading the material in panels on the wall and watching the informational videos provides a sense of Jewish life in Amsterdam and Holland for centuries, with specific emphasis on the buildup to and the events of World War II, and the Holocaust.
From the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam,
an explanation of the Holocaust survivors' plight
after the end of World War II.
        The Schouwburg is the place where I could, somehow, touch my family, honor their past. This is as close as it comes to a memorial -- a gravesite, so to speak -- to those who didn't survive the Holocaust.
      Here, from the Schouwburg's web site, is the history of what this building represents:
      Until 1940, The Hollandsche Schouwburg was a popular theatre, putting on many well-known Dutch plays. In 1941 the Nazi occupiers changed the theatre's name into Joodsche Schouwburg, or, Jewish Theatre. After that, only Jewish actors and artistes were allowed to perform there -- for a strictly Jewish audience. Over the years the function of the Schouwburg changed drastically. Between 1942 and 1943 Jews from Amsterdam and surrounding districts were obliged to report at the Hollandsche Schouwburg before being deported. Most of them were brought to the theatre by force. They were transported to the Dutch transit camps in Westerbork or Vught. These were the last stops before they were herded onto trains bound for one of the extermination camps.
      After the liberation, attempts to put on public performances in the Hollandsche Schouwburg led to a storm of protest. In 1947 the theatre was sold to the Hollandsche Schouwburg Comittee, aimed at preventing the Schouwburg from ever being used again as a theatre. In 1962 the city council of Amsterdam placed a monument here in remembrance of the Jewish victims of the Nazi terror. In 1993 a memorial chapel was installed, listing the 6.700 family names of the 104.000 Jews from the Netherlands who were murdered in the war. Today the Hollandsche Schouwburg is a monument and war memorial.
      There's not that much to the site, really. The building doesn't jump out at you; it's in the middle of a block on Plantage Middenlaan, not far from the popular Amsterdam zoo (Artis), and about four blocks walk from the Jewish Historical Museum and the Portuguese Synagogue.
     But three elements stand out: (1) An eternal flame just inside the front entrance; (2) a wall, a bulletin-board type wall, with hundreds of family names; and (3) outside the back door, a garden area with a plain stone wall, a memorial to those who fought to save the Jews of Amsterdam and Holland. There are benches to sit and reflect -- or offer prayers.
Videos shown on a brick wall in the Jewish Historical Museum
give a view of what life was like for Jews in Amsterdam and
The Netherlands pre- and post-World War II.
      The eternal flame -- just as the one for President Kennedy and his family at Arlington National Cemetery -- is a beautiful symbol.
      The wall of names ... I remembered it. Now, you can use a hand computer-like device to center on a name and find a link to a digital directory/history.
      I also remember that, on a previous visit, those names could be found in books -- names of those who had come through the Schouwburg on the way to the deathly concentration camps. Now it's computerized ... and you can link to it through the web site.
      I searched out the name "Lopes Dias" -- my mother's family -- and found the link to Abraham, my grandfather, plus the links to family (my grandmother, Rachel Lopes Dias-Kopuit, and my aunt, Anna Fierlier-Lopes Dias, and a reference to one child, no name listed, who survived the war. My mother.)
      A link to the page:
      Confession: I could not find "Van Thyn." Brain cramp. Here's why: I forgot that it was listed as "van Thijn." Moreover, it was listed alphabetically as starting with a T, as in "Thijn, van."
      After getting help with that, I found Nathan Van Thijn, my grandfather, and the link to his wife, my grandmother Sara van Thijn-van Beem, and my uncle, Jonas van Thijn -- my Dad's younger brother (who died at age 10). Had to look in another spot for my dad's older brother, Hyman, and his wife (Regina Van Thijn-Kok) and 2-year-old son (Nico).
      And again, the notation ... one child that survived the war. My father.
      Here's the page:
      Each time I found one of these links brought tears.
      My Dad, for those who aren't familiar, wasn't in Amsterdam or Holland in the early 1940s when the Nazis moved in. So he didn't experience the Schouwburg. He had moved to Antwerp, Belgium, and was living there -- and was deported to the transit camps in Belgium and France from there. And he also lost a family there -- his first wife and her parents.
      Also looked up the name "Lezer," as in Moses Lezer, my mother's first husband, and found that link.
      And searched for the name "Kopuit" and found my mother's uncle (Philip) and his wife (Helena) and their son (Maurits). But they didn't go to the Schouwburg or the camps ... they were hidden out on a farm in South Holland. There, Philip Kopuit died young of a heart attack.
      But that family's history is included in the Schouwburg records ... I suspect because Maurits supplied the information. He became the editor of the Jewish newspaper in Amsterdam until his death of heart disease in 1992.
      Best thing about our visit to the Schouwburg was that the people there gave me the information I needed to link into the digital site, and make the connections to my family's pages. And if you're interested, here are the links ...

      Next: I return to my series on my Dad and his family's history. It's "A Search for My Great-Grandfather."




  1. From Elsa Van Thyn: Tomorrow (June 11) is the 70th anniversary of the deaths of Sara van Thijn (our grandmother) and her son (our uncle) Jonas. How very sad.

  2. From Rod Chandler: So sad. The more we learn about it, the more grotesque it becomes.

  3. From Christy Bickham: Such an interesting story to read. So moving, to go back and connect the dots of life! Enjoyed this very much. I had great grandparents named Van Landingham and some named Wise. Van Landinghams were from Holland and not sure where Wises were from, but that name sounds German to me and in German it would be pronounced "Vise." Sounds a bit Jewish to me. I will see what I can find out.

  4. From Jimmy Russell: One of the things I would like to visit is Auschwitz. I probably never will, but my sister went. When I was working in Washington D.C., I took Peggy, and she went to the Holocaust museum. She said it was most humbling.

  5. From Jesse Carrigan: Just a note to let you know I went to each of the links you posted on this mail ... and it I'm glad I took the time to do so.
    Regards to you and your family and their remembrance.

  6. From Gary Ferguson: Your article was very interesting, Nico. I'm eager to see your next one. Have you seen the Holocaust Museum in D.C.?

  7. From Philip Kopuit (cousin): Thanks for all your blogs on your trip to Holland and especially these very emotional ones on the family.
    I'm looking forward to my trip with Puah and the kids to Amsterdam at the end ofJuly, but somehow afraid as well to confront them with the past, like Anne Frank Huis, Hollandsche Schouwburg, the Jewish Historical Museum and the Portuguese Synagogue, as well as some other signifacant spots, like the offices where my dad worked.
    I just noticed that you are a fan of Barbara Streisand, just as my dad was. You might find it interesting to know that she just performed in Holland, and paid a visit to the Portuguese Synagouge, where she signed the Golden Book. She is about to come to Israel as well to perform.

  8. From Leo Van Thyn (cousin): I cried each time we visited. You're correct, Nico, it's the closest we come to people who have no graves. The other way was through stories our parents told us. According to Jewish tradition I recited Kaddish each visit for all our family members.

  9. From Adam Wellen (nephew): Great blog post. I remember visiting the theater and looking up all the names when I was there. Glad to hear it will be easier to find the family when I go back. I especially like that the site gives you links to the family's addresses.

  10. From Kitty van der Woude (cousin, in Holland): I really enjoy the blogs about your trip. You should publish them as a great advertisement for this country! And do come back ...