Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rose, the Holocaust ... and poetry

      Mom -- Rose Van Thyn -- wrote and spoke extensively about the Holocaust and her experiences in it, and the stack of material she left included a dozen poems.
    I was reminded of that when I received an e-mail this week concerning the 33rd annual Holocaust Remembrance Service in Shreveport-Bossier on Sunday, May 1 (3 p.m., St. Mary's of the Pines Catholic Church, 1050 Bert Kouns Industrial Loop, Shreveport).
    The e-mail was about one of the winners of the literary competition -- in this case, a poem -- for high school students. Mom would have liked that.
    One aspect of her "mission" to speak about the Holocaust was to educate the young people. So she always approved of the literary contests -- essays or narrative poems -- for middle school, high school and college students that are part of the annual event in Shreveport-Bossier.
     In a recent blog piece, I shared Mom's "Silver Linings" story. Here, because we've mentioned poetry, I am sharing a few of her Holocaust-related poems. 
     First, two poems that were published in The Shreveport Times in January 1981 with Mom's story marking the 25-year anniversary of our arrival in Shreveport as immigrants from The Netherlands in which she tells of her Holocaust days (and Dad's), and the aftermath.

I often sit and think
Of times gone by.
When days were sweet and good,
My childhood, my parents, my sister
My family and friends.
The fun, and also the pleasures
It's all so dear to me.
I thank the Lord for all of it
and for the memories.

Then came the darkness.
It was darker than night.
The clouds were dark and black.
The tears, the fear, the anguish.
The sorrow, but mostly the pain.

The great tragedy,
Out of the dark,
They never came back,
The ones I loved so dear.
I could not understand,
I felt so alone.
My soul was torn apart
But I still thanked the Lord
For letting me be.
I still had my memories.

Then back came the sun
And with it the light.
The sky became blue again,
Life anew, a new family,
Hope in my heart once more.
A chance at life.
To live one more time
With people so dear to me.
What a joy, to see my children grow
And the love I receive in return.
I thank the Lord
Time and time again
For letting me be.
I still have my memories.
In the dark,
Hearing trains
Children voices,
Stepping boots.

Where to? Where to?
Out of our restful life
With nothing left but hope
Into the unknown.

Oh, Dear Lord,
For what reason
Do we have to go?
     At the end of her interview for the USC Shoah Foundation, done in 1986, she put on her glasses and read a poem.
    Here is the video:
      And the poem ...

(This poem I wrote and dedicated to 1 1/2 million children so barbarically exterminated)
They were too young for their lives to end
Without any compassion to the gas chambers they were sent

Because they were Jews, a danger to the Nazis' plan
All murdered by fanatic, sadistic, vicious men

The babies who could not yet talk,
The toddlers who had just learned to walk,
The teenagers with their spirits still high
Could not accept they would shortly die

I often wondered what the children thought
Of this devil's place where they were brought

Each one had feelings and a beating heart.
Did they realize their lives were torn apart?

They could not understand why all the hurt
They try desperately to hold onto their mother's skirt

They were confused and so very scared
It seemed that no one in the free world cared

Why did they have to leave the house where they felt safe?
Were they being punished, did they maybe misbehave?

They were no more allowed to play games they enjoyed
Everything around them would be destroyed

They were denied an education
Many died of disease and starvation,

For experiments they were used.
They were kicked and beaten and criminally abused.

Their heads were shaved, they were so cold.
They soon would be hot, they were simply told.

There were naked people, waiting in rows.
Were they waiting for food, or maybe new clothes?

Why were their moms and dads suddenly gone,
and left them, the children, all alone?

What did it all mean, what was it all for?
Did they not love their children anymore?

What terrible sights their young eyes had to see.
Too much sadness, grieving and cruelty.

Not a chance to win this horrendous battle.
They were all thrown together like herds of cattle.

I think of the children day by day,
especially when I see other children at play.

Not enough of the children can be said.
History must not be allowed to forget.

We must all remember them all --
the wide-eyed teenagers, the toddlers, and the very small.

I carry them all in my heart with me,
wherever I go and wherever I will be.

Now they are at rest, no more pain and misery.
Dear God, grant them peace in eternity.
    Finally, one more poem, which is untitled. She wrote it in 1990 and it sums up why she felt her Holocaust education role was important.

I was there and I saw it. I can still feel my eyes burning.
I was there and I felt it. My body still shivers at the thought.
I was there and I heard it. My ears are still burning.
I was there and I smelled it, and I almost choked.
This unbearable pain is always there.
It is all engraved in my subconscious.
Often, suddenly, a sound, a word, a smell.
That overwhelming feeling of emptiness,
Comes back in all its severity.
Harsh, unexpected, shocking.
I hear six million quiet voices like an echo in the distance.
So heartbreaking, so sorrowful.
I cry without tears,
Deep from within my soul.
The past and present flow together,
And I know that their memory
Will be with me all the days of my life.
I vow I will tell about their suffering, over and over again
Till I will be no more.
-- Rose Van Thyn


  1. Thanks for sharing your mother's poetry within which her voice and mission continues to live.

  2. Thank you Nico - You are doing my work as I will never be able to - I failed to let my children hear my mother since it seems too hard to hear it day in and day out as I did, and thought she could not stop talking about the horrors, and now I realize it is my fault they never heard her, and seem to forgive... I keep Roo's memories hoping some day they will be willing to read - right now I am just a nag who insists to hate the Germans - I will never forgive and hope my children and grandchildren will some day understand why we must never forget, nor forgive.

  3. Nico--Thank you for publishing these hear. As I was reading them I could actually hear Rose's voice in my memory reading one of these poems, which I must have heard her deliver either at B'nai Zion, Centenary College or one of the years that she visited Caddo Magnet High School. Your parents were remarkable, and they are sorely missed. Robin and I spoke about them with our kids last week when our family did a Shoah remembrance walk. So glad that even though they have gone you are doing so much to preserve their legacy. Wishing you and the rest of your family a good Pesach.--Evan

  4. From Richard T Priddy: Very moving. A lump on the throat.

  5. From Liz Wallette: Thank you for sharing your Mom's writings. She should be shared with all the world to hear. So sad, but yet so beautiful.

  6. From Cynthia May: Your mom was amazing! Loved her so.

  7. From Kathy Miller Regan: Beautiful Mrs. Rose! Loved her!

  8. From Loretta Geneux: A very remarkable lady who still helps the world not to forget!

  9. From Tom Arceneaux: Very moving. I had not read these before.

  10. From Patricia Bates: Her memory is a blessing. Wishing you Godspeed.

  11. From Maureen Barclay (Captain Shreve High School English teacher): Thank you for sharing that.
    I feel so lucky to have met her when she spoke to our school and shared her poetry during one of my first years at Shreve. I think back to little Alex Fliss and his English class when Mrs. Van Thyn made a personal visit and spoke about her experience.
    I'm so thankful.

  12. From Cindy Marrus: Thank you for sharing. So moving, sad, hopeful, kind.

  13. From Barbara Spinks Waite: I am so in awe of your parents and the life they lived! Beautiful, inspiring words! She certainly was a gifted writer/speaker!

  14. From Tommy Canterbury: These are fantastically written. Unbelievable to hear the heartfelt truth of such horrendous and unspeakable events as witnessed by your mom.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Sad the little things WE complain about.

  15. From Alan Stonecipher: You’re doing a great job honoring your parents and their legacy.