Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Local Heroes

In honor of International Holocaust Memorial Day, which is observed on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Jewish Treats presents the stories of two survivors who became leaders in local Holocaust education.

Rose Van Thyn (nee Rozette Lopes-Dias, 1921-2010) was a young bride in Amsterdam when the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Netherlands. She was squeezed into a cattle car with over a hundred other people - including her husband, parents and sister. Rose survived gruesome medical experiments, being shipped to Ravensbruck, as well as a brutal death march, only to find herself a lone survivor. She met Louis (Levie) Van Thyn, who had lost his first wife, and they married in 1946. In 1956, the Van Thyns, now with two children, were sponsored for immigration to the U.S. by the Shreveport (Louisiana) Jewish Federation and the A.A. Gilbert family.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Van Thyn began to speak publicly about her experiences. She made a particularly favorable impression at the local Centenary College, which granted her an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2002 and created the Rose and Louis Van Thyn Holocaust Awareness Professorship Program in 2009.

Rose Van Thyn, and her husband until his passing in 2008, received numerous awards in recognition of their work. But, the greatest reward she received was knowing the impact her story had on thousands of schoolchildren.
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When the Nazis came to the Netherlands, Leon Greenman was living in Rotterdam. Greenman, his wife Else, and their son were actually British citizens. They had stayed in Rotterdam after being assured that, in case of war, they would be evacuated. But when the Nazis came, all the diplomats fled, their papers were lost and, consequently, they had no proof of their British citizenship.

The Greenmans were shipped first to Westerbork and then to Auschwitz. Leon Greenman had no idea that their separation upon arrival at Auschwitz would be the last time he would see his family. But, the hope of reunion carried him through numerous camps and a final death march.

After the war, Greenman returned to England, but  never remarried. After hearing the leader of the British fascists speak at a rally in 1962, Greenman was moved to fight back. He began to visit schools and to share his experiences. He took an active role at the Jewish Museum in North London, wrote a book and gave guided tours of Auschwitz. Greenman passed away in 2008, but his legacy remains, as his story is now a permanent exhibit at the Jewish Museum in North London.

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