Sunday, June 19, 2011

Four Fathers

My father, William R. Thompson was born February 26, 1904 in Berlin, ND, a forbidding flat plain mostly populated by German immigrants, unlike his family that had come from Ireland in 1764 setting originally in upstate New York.  Prior to their time in Ireland they had lived in Scotland but clashed with locals over their religious beliefs. My father Bill Thompson was the sixth William Thompson.  His family moved to a rock pile of a farm in north central Minnesota south of Milacs Lake where he grew up and until he was 26.  His father RR Thompson made him quit school in 8th grade to work full time on the farm.  My father was soft-spoken with handsome features my mother likened to the actor Clark Gable.   My mother later told me that my father was frequently whipped by his father with a razor strap when he as a child. When I was a teenager my father told me that he didn’t think “the Race problem” in America would be solved until everyone was light brown.  In the 1930s he was beaten up every Friday night as he came out of the Union Hall by goons hired by the Citizens Alliance, a businessmen’s organization. They were eventually unionized.  I learned most of my basic values from him, altruism, the virtue of hard work, tolerance toward others, persevering in the face of adversity and honesty.  For many years after his death, when faced with a difficult decision I would ponder, “What would Dad do?”

My wife had three fathers, her biological father, Erich Kohnke, Johannis Blacquiere, a Dutch Christian man who took Anneke into his family during WWII and saved her from the Nazis, and Erich Leyens who brought her to the US and served as her surrogate father in New York when she was growing up having been orphaned during WWII.  Erich Kohnke was born in Berlin, December 1, 1900.  Erich Kohnke studied music with several of the foremost musicologists, composers and music professors in Germany.  Erich Kohnke graduated from the Berlin Conservatory. From August 1926 through early April 1933 Erich Kohnke resided in Chemnitz at Henriettenstraase 42, (a Stolperstein, i.e. a memory stone, will be placed in front of his residence in his memory in October 2011 by the City of Chemnitz) approximately a mile and one half from the municipal theater where he performed (Jürgen Nitsche, personal communication, 6-8-11). He was initially recruited to perform as a solo pianist with the Chemnitz Theater Orchestra.  His job at the Municipal Theatre also included solo vocal coach. As such, he rehearsed with the musicians and singers on stage works, he was transferred to the musical director for shows at the Playhouse. In operas and operettas, he was responsible for the choir, so including in the new production of Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin" (1932) and Paul Abraham operetta "Flower of Hawaii" (1932). His contract was 1926-1933 extended several times, increasing his salary. As an active member of the Jewish community, he also became involved as a choral conductor in the synagogue choir club, who devoted themselves to the care of Jewish song in worship.  Erich Kohnke was forced to leave Germany with most other Jews at the beginning of the Nazi era.  Later he and his Wife Leni Leyens Kohnke sought help from the Dutch resistance to hide their  18 month old child with a Dutch Christian family, Johannis and Jacoba Blacquiere. That child grew up to be my wife.  Erich and Leni Kohnke went into hiding in rugged eastern Netherlands, but were capture by the SS, eventually murdered in Auschwitz about 9 months later.  Our son Peter resembles Erich Kohnke and he and my wife Anneke, like her father has musical gifts.

Anneke's third father was Johannis (Jan) Blacquiere, Jan (Johannis) Blacquière, a 31 year-old man when he took Anneke into his family, originally from Geertruidenburg, in the far south of the Netherlands. Jan had married Co (Jacoba) Henriëtta Tissot van Patot, 30 years of age, who was from  Halsteren, in southwest Netherlands.  Jan had  several technological jobs before the war.  Co had been a teacher before her marriage with Jan and continued to use her training and commitment to young children in her daily care for Anneke and her own children. Theirs was a remarkable act of courage and kindness by taking this young Jewish girl into their family.  The Blacquière’s daughter Ron was 8 months older than Anneke, son, Fred, who was 11 months younger than Anneke, and Christa, three years younger than Anneke.  The Blacquière family told neighbors that Anneke, was a Dutch child orphaned in the Nazi bombing of Rotterdam, which was one of the more common ways of hiding Jewish children.  Anneke nominated Johannis and Jacoba Blacquiere for recognition by Yad Vashem as Righteous of the Nations for non-Jews who saved Jewish people during WWII, a ceremony will be held in their honor August 4, 2011.  Here is Jan in his backyard in 1944. 

My wife Anneke’s third father, Erich Leyens was born in Wesel, Germany in 1898.  He was Anneke’s uncle, his mother Leni’s brother.  His father was a successful commercial building contractor and mother was a benefactor of human service organizations.  Erich Leyens and his brother Walter fought for the Kaiser in WWI where he won the equivalent of the Silver Cross for valor and a Purple Heart.  He was 16 years old when he enlisted.  After the war, he and another Jewish German man purchased a department store in Wesel, which was confiscated by the SS within a year after the Nazi Boycott day April 1, 1933.  Eventually he narrowly escaped to Switzerland, then Italy, then Spain, then Cuba and finally was permitted entrance into the United States in 1942.  He lived in New York City most of the rest of his life until a year or two before his death in Konstanz, Germany.  His sister, Greta served as my wife Anneke’s “mother” and he as her “father.”  He was an exceptionally bright man with enormous courage,  broad interests and vitality until shortly before his death.  I have very fond memories of Erich who shared a great interest in art with me. Here he is in Konstanz around his 100th birthday.

We remember our fathers with great affection and admiration.

1 comment:

  1. Dear mr. Thompson, dear Travis,

    Yesterday I saw the documentary about the Yad Vashem award, you're referring to in your well-written blog 'Four fathers'. As I was fascinated by the story behind it, I am also curious if you consider an update about the latest developments.

    Kind regards,

    Wout Visser