Tuesday, September 2, 2014

For Dad, friendship to the end

(32nd in a series)
      One unforgettable remembrance of my Dad, he was a great friend.
      When Louis Van Thyn considered you his friend, you knew it. Two friendships that tied him to Europe after we came to the United States were enduring and endearing.
       Few people were as close to my Dad as Joseph "Joopie" Scholte, his first cousin who lived for decades in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the largest suburb of Nice, heart of the glamorous and beautiful French Riviera, and Jacques Furth, the husband of Dad's sister-in-law of his first marriage.
Joopie Scholte and his wife Judith married in
 1939; that's my Dad in the back on the left.
        Those two men enriched Dad's life -- and ours. Dad outlived them both by at least four years -- Joopie died in 2002, Jacques in 2004 -- and he was loyal to them, and they to him, to the end.
         Like Dad, both were Holocaust survivors who spent time in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and lost their first wives. Unlike Dad, Joopie and Jacques had to survive the infamous "Death Marches" -- the Nazis forcing them to walk for days and days, miles and miles, near the end of World War II.
          As with all Holocaust survivors, they had their own compelling stories, with practically their entire families wiped out. Joopie not only lost his wife Judith -- Dad had been part of their wedding party in 1939 (note the photo) -- but also a 2-year-old daughter, Helene. Jacques lost his wife "Fietje," but their son Dave, 2 when the Nazis sent his father to the camps, was hidden away with a foster family in Limburg, as far south in The Netherlands as possible, and reunited with Jacques after the war.
          And while Dad was an apprentice to become a diamond cutter, Joopie and Jacques were in that business pre- and post-war ... and made comfortable livings.
          It was with Joopie's family -- father, mother (my father's aunt, his mother's sister) and older brother -- that Dad came to live in Antwerp, Belgium, when he left Amsterdam in 1936 at age 17.  But after the Holocaust, only Joopie returned from that family.
          So you can imagine the joy Dad and Joopie -- only survivors of their immediate family -- must have felt when they found each other back in Antwerp in the summer of 1945. They had been through Auschwitz together; it's no wonder that they remained close for all the years thereafter.
          It was a really special bond, as you will see.
          A note here: My father and mother built many strong relationships. There were dozens of people in Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana to whom they were close, who were dear friends. And they always remained friends and in contact with couples from Holland who like them had lived through World War II.
          Some were Holocaust survivors: Several who lost spouses and/or children in the gas chambers and then remarried fellow survivors; a few who were married before the war and each survived the camps; and a few in which the man went to the camps and the woman was hidden away.
          I knew some of these people from my early days in Amsterdam.
          As close as my Dad was to Joopie Scholte, another survivor with whom he went way back was Coenraad "Coen" Rood, a kid who lived around the corner from Dad's family in Amsterdam and was best friends with Dad's older brother, Hyman. They were in a youth workers' group (AJC) together.
           Coen, his wife Bep and daughter Marleen -- at my parents' urging -- immigrated from Amsterdam to Shreveport (and joined us in Sunset Acres) in 1960. He eventually settled in White Oak, Texas, with his own tailor shop in Longview, and he was quite the character.
           He, too, remained close to my folks and I wrote a blog piece about him just after his death http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-dutch-connection-part-ii.html.
          Just as Dad found my mother, both Joopie and Jacques remarried after the war. Joopie married a French woman named Francoise and they made their way from Antwerp to the posh Nice area, where my father visited them several times on trips to Europe.
           Dad did not know Jacques Furth before the war, but when Jacques married Eva Halverstad, whose younger sister Estella was my father's first wife --  after the war and settled in Amsterdam, they became my parents' closest friends. And Dave, seven years older than me, was often my babysitter, probably more than he wanted to be.
            The few trips my parents made back to The Netherlands, they stayed with Jacques and Eva -- "Tante Eef" to us. After she died in the mid-1980s and my mother refused to go back to the old country (except for her first cousin's funeral in 1992), it was Jacques who made Dad feel at home during several visits.
            Joopie and Francois never had children. As it turned out, that was important for us.
            Because after Francois died in the mid-1990s, Joopie told my father that if Dad wanted to, he was going to make him the sole executor of his estate. Dad was his closest relative.
Dad and Joopie: This was a late 1990s photo in the
Nice, France, area, perhaps their last visit.
             In the files my parents kept a 2001 letter from Joopie in which he outlines the details of the estate for Dad. It is written in Dutch and I can translate some of it, but not all (the handwriting is difficult to interpret). He lists his assets and the contents of a safe deposit box, and explains that the French government will take about 60 percent of the package.
              In the letter, Joopie says he hasn't been doing well physically, that he just returned from a trip to Antwerp and Amsterdam, and says that's probably his last visit to both places. But he also is hopeful of making a trip to the United States.
              That didn't happen. He died June 27, 2002, and Dad then began the process of dealing with the estate.
              Long story short: It was a big hassle.
              The translation was difficult. The French laws of succession were a maze. The French government was difficult. The taxes kept piling up. French attorneys were vague.
              It took some 2 1/2 years, and dozens of letters and phone calls by Dad and his Shreveport attorney, contacts with the French consulate in New Orleans and a visit there, translation of written material in French by an LSU-Shreveport French professor ... and finally a visit to Cagnes-sur-Mer by Dad. By this time, he was 83 years old. He didn't speak French. It was no easy trip.
               In the end, the French government did get its fair share -- ha! -- and so, we think, did the French attorneys handling business on that end. But what we gained, what Joopie left us, was worth it to Dad and to our family.
              Joopie always treated Dad, my mother, me and my sister as if we were family -- he was "Oome Joopie" to us -- and extended that to Elsa's family and my wife and kids. He was a generous, kind man.
              And so was Jacques. For me, one of the great highlights -- there were a lot -- of my first trip back to The Netherlands in 1991 (after 36 years) was seeing him again and having him as our host and often as our driver.
              Sadly, while Dad was still working on settling Joopie's estate, we lost Jacques in 2004.
              Dad -- also a generous and kind man -- had lost a lot of people, much of his early family, in his lifetime, but losing Joopie and then Jacques two years apart was hard to take.
              I look now at the pictures of Dad with those two men late in their lives, and it's a reminder that those were very special bonds. He loved them, and they loved him.
              (Next: Going back to Auschwitz)



  1. From Bob Basinger: The only reason you needed to tell us that the picture in the background was your dad was so we wouldn’t think it was you ... amazing resemblance.

  2. From Jesse Carrigan: Good story, Nico. I've been to Nice a couple of times, reading about your Dad and friend being there, and it inspires me to go back ... I shall.

  3. From Bea Van Thyn: My father-in-law had a remarkable story. He was a kind and loving man who remained true to himself and his family. I am so grateful to have the good fortune to have known and loved him.

  4. From Elsa Van Thyn: My Dad and two "uncles" were incredible men. When I was younger, I was so fortunate to spend extended time with Oom Jacques and Tante Eef. They were such special people.

  5. From Jesse Grubbs: Another great blog about your father and family history. I so enjoyed the blog for the love and history that you expressed. Your father and his friend had a bond of love and friendship that is so hard to find in these times. There's no way that our human brain can accept the horror that your family and all the victims suffered in those horrible days. It's unbelievable that the survivors were able to keep their sanity after seeing their families ripped apart, tortured, raped and killed in such savage ways. Their children being dragged and screaming as they ripped them from their mother and father to be killed and used for terrible experiments of all kinds. It's hard for me to even accept the amount of evil that was forced upon your people. I have such high regard for you and your family and how much they accomplished in America due to hard work with all those horrible memories still locked into their mind. It instilled in you and all the next generation that your problems seemed small to those that the early generation had experienced.