Friday, August 15, 2014

When Rose met Louis: Starting a new family

This might be the first photo of Rose and Louis Van
Thyn together: Taken in Amsterdam's Vondelpark
late in 1945 -- a year before they married.
(30th in a series)
      They did not know each other before World War II, although they lived in the same neighborhood, only a few blocks apart. They knew of each other's families.
      They each lost every member of their immediate families; all died in the Nazi prison camps. They each lost their first spouse.
      Maybe the marriage of Rozette "Rose" Lopes-Dias-Lezer and Louis Van Thyn was one of need, one of convenience. Hard to say how deeply in love they were when they married in Amsterdam on Oct. 14, 1946 -- some 14 months after they met.
      But we know this for sure: For the next 62 years, they were bonded, they were a team.
      They became, among others, symbols of the Holocaust, at least to their friends in Shreveport-Bossier and to the many people who over a couple of decades heard their stories.
      I also know this: My sister Elsa and I owe our lives to them.
      My mother didn't even know she could have children after the Nazis' medical experiments on her and so  many other women in infamous Block Ten of Auschwitz. So I was a surprise; Elsa, not so much so.
      When they met after the war, after the Holocaust, after they each had survived the terror and the imprisonment of roughly 2 1/2 years in concentration camp (in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and also in my father's case, a couple of mining satellite camps), it was almost by chance.
      Almost, because Dad had come from Antwerp -- where he had lived since 1936 -- to see what Amsterdam looked like in August 1945. I'm not sure he was looking to date anyone, or for a new wife ... like my mother, he was at a loss, just looking to start his life again somehow.
      Like Dad, who from the time the Nazis deserted the camp where had been held spent four months traveling through eastern Europe before returning home, my mother had spent a few months working for the American Army in Germany before she came back to Amsterdam.
      I intend to tell her story when I finish this series on Dad, but in a 2006 speech she gave in Shreveport she described her living conditions as "a meager situation." She was among a group of women Holocaust survivors being provided for -- barely -- by an organization in Amsterdam.
      They met not long after she got back to town.
      They were, as Mom recalled, in a building "that used to be a place where people worked cutting and polishing diamonds. The machines, called 'mills,' were still there. They had put cots between them so we had a place to sleep. The women were in one room and across the hall was a room for the men -- all Jewish survivors."
         And along came Louis, who temporarily was living in his parents' apartment back in the old neighborhood.
          They met because of Appie and Jannie van de Kar, both survivors who were married before they were sent to Auschwitz and both old neighborhood friends of my parents. Dad had reunited with Appie in Amsterdam after the war; Jannie was my mother's constant companion in Auschwitz and her close friend afterward.
         In his 1996 USC Shoah Foundation interview, Dad was asked: "How did you meet your second wife?"
         "We were coming together, the girls from Block 10 in that house where Rose was in a diamond manufactory," Dad said. "They put cots down there. And that couple that live in Israel [Appie and Jannie], they had a little attic [in the building].
        "We came there on one Sunday afternoon all together met [with] 10, 15 people," Dad went on. " They were all single people; that [the van de Kars] was the only married couple. But many coupled up, and married later on.
         "And I met Rose, and I was still living in Antwerp. I date her a couple of times, and she decided to come to Antwerp. She smuggled her way to Antwerp; she had no passport to go to Antwerp. She stayed with us [his uncle and aunt]. She and another girlfriend -- she's still in Antwerp -- also from Block 10. So we stayed together and married later on."
          That's Dad's recollection. Here is my mother's, in the 2006 speech:
           "He [Dad] came to Amsterdam in July 1945 in the hope he would find some family. He came to the building where I was living with some friends. We started dating and had a good time together.
           "We also had a lot in common. He invited me to come to Antwerp where he was living. After a few weeks, I gave it a try. And I liked it. Louis had a lot of friends there and they all were so kind and helpful. We lived there for a few months and we went back to Amsterdam."
          That is not exactly how Elsa and I remember it being told over the years.
A 1995 photo taken by Scarlett Hendricks
and published in SB Magazine.
          Dad tried to go back to learn to become a diamond cutter, the original reason for his move to Antwerp. But he found the work tedious and uncomfortable; he found he could not handle the quiet and the confinement indoors. He had to try something else.
          And although Mom maintains she liked it in Antwerp, we always were told that she missed Amsterdam, what friends she had remained there. It had always been her home; Dad, on the other hand, had had many experiences outside that city.
           So Rose wanted to go back to Amsterdam. Believe me, what Rose wanted, Rose got -- and not much would change over the next 60 years.
           Dad took care of all the financial matters and most of the logistical matters throughout their whole marriage. But I think he would have told you that when my mother made up her mind about important matters and moves in their lives, that's the way it was going to be.
           And even though they spent the next nine years living in Amsterdam, life and marriage became routine, Dad got a steady job that he liked (more on that later), they built a group of friends -- many of them fellow survivors or those who escaped the Nazi horrors by being hidden -- my mother maintained she knew that someday she would leave The Netherlands for America.
           I really believe that if it had been his choice, Dad never would have left Holland. But he was willing to try, willing to give up most of what they had to make the big move late in 1955.
           It took some fortitude.
           Worked out pretty well, because they were courageous and -- no doubt about this -- they received a tremendous amount of help from people in Shreveport-Bossier.
           They persevered through the early days when they were homesick and when learning the new language was difficult and Dad could not find a job he liked and Mom had a little one at home who had to learn English on her own.
           "Life for us after the war was real good," Dad said in his Shoah Foundation interview. "We were blessed with two children; I had a good job, and made a nice living. We love our life."
           And if, starting in August 1945, Rose and Louis had to learn to like each other and then love and appreciate each other, and to live together, there was one commonality that resonated. At least that's how Dad saw it.
            "That I married a wife who was a survivor herself makes much difference," he said in 1996. "We can talk over things that many people not can talk over, and that makes it much better for us. We know some marriages where the wife or the man was not in the camps. They have a different lifestyle. We come from the same town, we come from the same neighborhood, that makes much difference for us."
              (Next: Life in Amsterdam, a new job)


  1. From Tom Arceneaux: These [stories] are tender and wonderful. Thank you for the heart and soul that go into them.

  2. From Johnnie Pegues: What a warm and courageous story. Thank you so much for inviting us to read it. And what a lovely life. You are a lucky man.

  3. From Scarlett Yerger Hendricks: I had the honor to photograph Rose and Louis almost 10 years ago. I love this portrait (bottom photo in blog). I have this portrait displayed in my office.