(June 28, 2010)

Contact: Rick DelaHaya, Centenary News Services, 318.869.5073

Holocaust survivor, educator Rose Van Thyn passes away
Memorial Service Set for July 11 at Brown Chapel

By Drew Pierson
Courtesy of the Shreveport Times

SHREVEPORT, La. — 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."

Rose Van Thyn
Rose Van Thyn

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.

"Today, we mourn the passing of a dear friend of the College," said David Rowe, President of Centenary College. "Even though I did not have the privilege of meeting her, I know that the death of Dr. Rose Van Thyn is a great loss for Centenary, Shreveport and the world."

As an Attaway Fellow in Civic Culture, she regularly visited the Centenary College campus and spoke to students about her experiences. "Dr. Rose" as she was affectionately known on the campus, dedicated herself to retelling her story so that people would not forget or repeat the horrors that she, her family, and millions of others faced during World War II. She was a regular guest during Dr. Lisa Nicoletti's Holocaust seminar, sometimes bringing the class to tears with her story.

For her extraordinary community service, Mrs. Van Thyn was awarded the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Centenary's 2002 commencement exercises.

"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.

Click HERE to read Van Thyn: Angel of Auschwitz (62511) by columnist Wiley Hilburn.

"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."

In order to preserve her and her husband's legacy, the Rose and Louis Van Thyn Holocaust Awareness Professorship Program was established at Centenary College in November 2009. The program will provide education opportunities to the students of the College and to the surrounding community, with a goal of teaching about the history of the Holocaust, and how to recognize signs of intolerance and provide a means for preventing prejudice and hatred.

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

A Memorial Service will be held Sunday, July 11 beginning at 2 p.m. in Brown Chapel on the Centenary College campus. A reception will be held in Kilpatrick Auditorium immediately following the memorial service.

Family members of Rose Van Thyn have asked that in lieu of flowers, people send contributions to the Van Thyn Endowed Professorship at Centenary College. The professorship focuses on issues relating to the Holocaust. Send gifts to the attention of the Office of Advancement , Centenary College, 2911 Centenary Blvd., Shreveport, La. 71104.