Monday, June 28, 2010

Rose Van Thyn: 1921-2010 (Updated - Obituary & Editorial Added)

Local Holocaust survivor Rose Van Thyn has passed away.  With apologies to The Shreveport Times, I'm going to quote their entire article here, the reason being, when Louis Van Thyn passed away in 2008, I quoted from and linked their article, only to find it a missing link later on when the article was taken down.  I had lots of people find my blog by doing searches for Louis Van Thyn and surely they were disappointed when they got here to find the article missing.

So, here's the story in The Times, then I'll add a brief comment:

Holocaust survivor and community educator Rose Van Thyn, who spoke to literally thousands of local schoolchildren during her life about the horrors of the Jewish genocide, passed away Sunday at the age of 88.

"Rose was the most remarkable human being you would ever meet in your life," said Ron Nierman, a family friend. "She and (husband) Louis escaped horrors none of us could even imagine."
Van Thyn, originally from Holland, survived internment at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and emigrated to the United States in 1956. Both she and her husband, Louis, who passed away in 2008, met after they were liberated in Europe. They were originally married to separate spouses, both of whom died inside Nazi concentration camps.

"My mother was a very determined, very deep, very complex person," said her son, Nico Van Thyn. "She loved to speak at schools and civic clubs for anyone who wanted to hear about her experiences."
For the past 25 years, Rose and Louis were prominent fixtures at numerous community events, reminding children of the pain she and six million others had to endure at the hands of Nazi persecution. In May, she received the Shreveport Bar Association's Liberty Bell Award, given annually to a person or organization for outstanding community service.

"I'm very sad to hear that she has passed away," said Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover. "It is a tremendous loss not just to Shreveport but to the entire world to know that someone who possessed the knowledge and experience and the history that she lived has now passed on."
After World War II, Holocaust survivors could be granted permission to live and work in the United States if sponsored by a family here. The family that brought the Van Thyns to Shreveport was that of Abe Gilbert, who owned the A.A. Gilbert Pipe and Supply company in Shreveport, which still exists today.

Nierman, who is Abe Gilbert's grandson, recalled how when the couple first arrived they could speak only a little English, and originally thought the pipes in question Louis was supposed to be working on were smoking pipes. Learning to convert his measurements from the metric system to English units took a little while, Nierman said.

Though in declining health recently, Van Thyn still obliged as many requests to speak as possible, saying that as more and more Holocaust survivors pass away, remembering each one of their legacies became doubly important so that what they had to endure would never be repeated again.
"She felt like it was her mission to try to educate as many kids and people in general about the Holocaust," Nico Van Thyn said. "She wanted to teach them about why it happened and how it happened, what happened to her, and about racial and religious prejudice."

Van Thyn is survived by five grandchildren, Nico and daughter Elsa, and two great-grandchildren.

I was fortunate enough to hear Rose tell her story about five or six years ago during a Holocaust seminar taught by Lisa Nicoletti at Centenary College.  Rose brought the entire class to tears with her story.  I can only imagine the impression she left on the minds and hearts of the thousands of young people she has spoken to through the years.  She was funny; she told the saddest, most tragic story you can imagine, but she still kept a sense of humor and could make you smile while she talked.

Someone asked her at the end of her story that day if she would ever be able to forgive Hitler for what he did to the Jews.  She said, "It's not up to me to forgive Hitler.  It is up to God." 

In my sophomore English class we always read an excerpt from Elie Wiesel's Night and we also read The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen.  I have three poems Rose gave us at that seminar that I share with the class and I tell them about her.  Some of the students have heard her speak before, but not all of them.  I believe Rose wanted to speak to every young person she came across.

She truly did believe it was her mission to share her experience with young people today.  Never forget.  It can happen again.  And as more and more of these survivors leave us, Rose's words are even more poignant.

She will truly be missed.

You can hear Rose tell her story here.

Update: Via KTBS: A memorial service is set for Sunday, July 11 at 2 p.m. at Brown Chapel on the campus of Centenary College. A reception will be held immediately after the memorial at Kilpatrick Auditorium.

Update:  Again, apologies to The Times, but here's a copy/paste of the obituary:

SHREVEPORT, LA - Rozetta "Rose" Van Thyn, 88, honored often in Shreveport-Bossier and the area for her commitment to educating the public about the Holocaust, passed away Sunday, June 27, 2010.

She was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she was a prisoner for three years as a young woman. Over the past three decades, she told her story to thousands at area schools, churches and civic groups, and was often a featured speaker at Shreveport-Bossier's annual Holocaust memorial service. As an Attaway Fellow in Civic Culture, she made regular visits to speak to students at Centenary College.

Born and raised in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, she lost her parents, sister and first husband in the camps. She met fellow survivor Louis Van Thyn in Amsterdam after the war and they married in 1946. Louis died on Aug. 27, 2008.

Rose was liberated from Auschwitz by American soldiers and vowed to someday live in the United States. In 1956, the Van Thyns and their two children immigrated to Shreveport, with sponsorship from the Shreveport Jewish Federation and the A.A. Gilbert family.

A homemaker, excellent cook and professional seamstress, she was most proud of her family, of becoming a U.S. citizen in May 1961, and of receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Centenary in 2002. In 2003, she and Louis were recognized by the National Conference of Community and Justice for service to the city. Her most recent honor was the Liberty Bell Award from the Shreveport Bar Association.

Survivors are son Nico (wife Bea) of Fort Worth, Texas; daughter Elsa (husband Jim Wellen) of Voorhees, N.J., grandsons Jason Key (wife Ann) of McKinney, Texas, Adam Wellen (fiancee Tania Welker) of Washington, D.C. and Josh Wellen of Baton Rouge; granddaughters Rachel (husband Russell) Smith of Knoxville, Tenn., and Abby Wellen of Pittsburgh, Pa., and great-grandchildren Josephine Smith and Jacob Key.

A memorial service will be Sunday, July 11, at 2 p.m. at Centenary's Brown Memorial Chapel. She will be honored with a plaque in the Centenary rose garden and a bench at LSU-Shreveport. At her request, her body was donated to LSU Medical Center.

Memorial donations may be made to Van Thyn Endowed Professorship Chair at Centenary College and the Rose and Louis Van Thyn Master of Liberal Arts Scholarship at LSUS.

And here is their editorial today:

Rose Van Thyn's survival of the Holocaust meant succeeding generations would hear of humanity's capability for darkness. But her life also illuminated mankind's great capacity to heal, to find hope and purpose in the indelible marks of tragedy.

Just as the passing of each World War II citizen soldier robs us of living reminders of the nobility of sacrifice for a greater good, so does the passing of Holocaust survivors separate us from the eyewitness testimony to horrors we forget at our own peril.

"People tell me I was lucky. That is really not the word," the 88-year-old Auschwitz death camp survivor told attendees at April's Holocaust Remembrance Service. "Lucky is when you win a lottery. I did not win anything. I was given something, the most precious gift, a second chance at life."

We count it fortunate that after Nazi death camps, northwest Louisiana and businessman A.A. Gilbert were able to provide a fresh start to the Dutch couple, Rose and her husband, Louis Van Thyn, who died in 2008. In return, they gave back productive lives and friendship.

More important, they taught any who would listen the value of justice and compassion, having witnessed a society that lost both. The Holocaust claimed 11 million victims, 6 million of whom were Jews.

Despite their passing, the Van Thyns' mission will continue not just in the memories of those they reached but in the halls of academia. The Rose and Louis Van Thyn Endowed Professorship is being established at Centenary College in Shreveport, a chair that will focus on issues related to the Holocaust.

More than a half century after her liberation from Aushwitz, where she was subjected to medical experimentation and beatings, Van Thyn wrote as a survivor of that "hell on earth" that her mission was to speak for those who could not, "to educate as many people as we can so that the truth will be known."

Her work is done. Ours continues.

And finally, The Times has a photo gallery here in commemoration.  I love the one of Rose and Mayor Glover; she was so tiny and anyone who knows Mayor Glover...well, he's not tiny.


Red said...

May she truly rest in peace reunited with her Louis.

Fenway_Nation said...

Godspeed, Rose....

The nurse that was being kissed by the sailor in that famous VJ Day photo passed away recently, too.

Tina said...

Thank you for posting the entire article. As contemporaneous news-in-print (uneditable) becomes scarce, this is kind of the equivalent of putting a clipping into a scrap book. And preserving the truth matters very much.