Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rose wanted to live in the palace

     She left us five years today. She was Oma Rose to our family, "our dear Rose" to some of her closest friends and supporters, and Mom to Elsa and me.
     I don't intend to honor her memory each June 27, but this fifth anniversary is special, and of course, so was she.
One of my favorite photos of Rose Van Thyn (Mom):
reading to a class during a lesson on the Holocaust.
     If you follow this blog or my Facebook posts regularly, you know that I have written about Rose Van Thyn frequently as part of my family's history and my parents' remembrances of their Holocaust experiences.
     She became a celebrity of sorts in Shreveport-Bossier and beyond with her role as a speaker and educator on the Holocaust.
     Perhaps, as I mentioned in my speech in Shreveport at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Service a couple of months ago, that helped give her -- and Dad -- a sense of entitlement.
     I don't mean to exaggerate that, but there were times when that surprised some of the family and maybe irritated or exasperated us. I will cite a couple of examples in a moment, but I want to stress this: Mom and Dad basically were humble people, and they were particularly humbled by the honors they received.
     Of course, they were pleased to be honored. But Mom took those honors in stride (most of the time). Over the 25 years or so that she spoke publicly on the Holocaust, she did not do so to receive attention; she did it because she felt it was her "mission," it was important to let people know -- especially young people -- what could happen if a country went out of control, if prejudice turned into evil.
     But a sense of entitlement, well, I wrote about that in a blog piece three years ago:
     This concerned the honorary doctorate she received from Centenary College, making her Dr. Rose, a title she loved. She was proud of that.
     And so one day, this was late in her life when she was quite infirm, barely could walk, could not keep up with her mail and her bills (she buried some of them in drawers).
     She was looking at some address labels and she was quiet, but she didn't seem too happy. After a few minutes, while I was on the phone doing an interview, she somehow got herself off the couch and, using her walker, made her way over to the kitchen table where I was sitting, tapped me on the shoulder, threw down the labels and exclaimed, "This says Rose ... I want it to say Dr. Rose!" And she slammed down the walker to emphasize it.

      We could say "old age" was responsible that day. But 12 years earlier, during her USC Shoah Foundation interview about her life and the Holocaust, that sense of entitlement also emerged late in the 2 1/2-hour video.
      She was talking about her return to Amsterdam after almost three years and the harrowing days in the Auschwitz concentration-camp and then the "Death March" in the brutal cold of a German winter.
      "Now I had nothing," she told the interviewer. "I mean my parents had some money in the bank, but I couldn't touch that because it was all frozen. I had the clothes I had on my back, I had no home, no place to go, and I always said, when we came back to Holland I was very, very disappointed in the welcome we got.
      "Here was Holland, here was Amsterdam, we had two palaces in Amsterdam, and they put us in a rinky-dink hotel in the red-light neighborhood, and we had to work in the kitchen there, which we refused to do, and we stayed there a week and we all complained and then they put us in what used to be a diamond factory, where they cut and polished diamonds, and they still had the diamond mills in there, where they polished, but no one was in there.
      "They put cots in between those mills. Food was catered in; we had no privacy, no bathroom. There were some faucets in there where we could wash.
      "... All of us were very upset with how we were treated. They could have opened one of the best hotels in Amsterdam, where the queen stayed, and should have let us in there. They could have opened the palace for us, which they should have. Not because we had to be treated different than other ones, but we were. They owed us that, I felt."
      Yes, she wanted to be in the palace -- like the queen, or maybe just a princess.
      Some people might look at that video and say that Mom was just kidding; she was capable of that. But I don't think so; I think she was indignant. She felt entitled to royal treatment.
      And you know what? She might not have received that royal treatment in Amsterdam in 1945, but my view is that she -- and Dad -- were treated royally and honored by so many people for many, many years.
       Were they "entitled" to that? No, but thank goodness, it turned out the way it did. We -- their family -- are so grateful and thankful. After what they had been through, it was right that they got a lot of breaks.
       She lived to be almost 89, having outlived almost all her family of origin and her early years friends by some 65 years, going from a devastating time in Europe to a comfortable -- and meaningful -- life in America.
       I think Mom would have loved to know that she and Dad have five great-grandchildren (it will be six soon). There were two when she left us.
       I think she would have loved watching her only great granddaughter color and write and read ... just as that girl's mother once did at Oma and Opa's house. She would have loved those great grandsons; she might have hugged them and squeezed them, saying, "What a body, what a body," as she once did her beautiful blond first grandson.
       We do miss our dear Rose. But she left us great memories and I believe she knows we were proud of her.

The two great grandchildren she lived to see: Josie and
Jacob on visits to the house on Schaub Drive in Shreveport.



  1. She was a wonderful person, Thanks for sharing your memories with me, Roy,

  2. From Cynthia Sellman Mendez: Dr. Rose was quite a woman. Thanks for sharing your memories.

  3. From Tim Looney: Very nice. She was surely a treasure! Thanks for keeping her memory (and your father's) alive and for sharing.

  4. From Elsa Van Thyn: Today, we celebrate Jim's birthday, but it is always a bittersweet occasion, since my mother died on my husband's birthday. She left many gifts, but I have to say that the greatest one I received was the ability to find the lighter side of most situations. Her humor was infectious and whenever my children find humor in their lives (which is quite often), I thank her for the legacy of laughter.

  5. From Glen Gordon: One great lady. I loved her sense of humor.

  6. From Jimmy Russell: Good. Your mother certainly did not feel entitled but she was right in the mission she took. The world should never forget this. Look now. I wish we would eliminate the extremist Muslin groups no matter what it takes.

  7. From Tommy Youngblood: Great woman. Hell, she was entitled.