May 5, 2016

June 1992: We Track Down the Gay Baron of Eindhoven

West Hollywood, February 1992

Have you ever wondered what happened to the Jews and other prisoners liberated from the concentration camps in 1945?

A few returned to their homes.  But 800,000 had no homes to return to, or refused to go back to the neighbors who wanted to kill them.

 They were put into displaced persons camps or residential facilities for up to two years, until a friend or relative could send for them, or until they could be repatriated

When she was liberated from Auschwitz, Lane's mother Rosa was sent to a residential facility run by some Catholic nuns in Weert, Netherlands, just over the border from Germany.  She spent her first two weeks walking up and down the streets, stopping in every pastry shop, and eating all she could hold.

Then she set about returning to life again.  She was planning to become a journalist before the War, so she found a typewriter and began writing.  She brought articles around to the local newspapers, first in German, then, as she learned the language, in Dutch.  Soon she was making enough money to move into an apartment with a female friend.

But in August 1947, an American cousin found Rosa and offered to bring her to Los Angeles.

Palm trees and movie stars!  She eagerly agreed.

That's all we knew about Rosa's life in the Netherlands until after she died unexpectedly in February 1992, a few days after her 67th birthday.

When Lane and I were sorting through four decades of cards, bills, business papers, old school assignments, clipped magazine and newspaper articles, Jewish society newsletters, playbills, programs, and miscellaneous records, we found a packet of old letters addressed to Rosa at the Zusters Birgittinessen, and then at her apartment in Weert, and finally at her cousin's house in Los Angeles, with the postmark Eindhoven, Netherlands.

It's hard to decipher one side of a conversation in a foreign language after 47 years, but we got the general plot: Rosa was dating a member of the Dutch nobility, a Baron Hein Van Tuyll, who lived about twenty miles away in the Eymerick Castle.

In February 1947, Hein apparently proposed, and Rosa turned him down.  She explains why: Je niet moet trouwen.  We zullen vrienden altijd (You should not marry. We will always be friends).  

He gamely continued to write to her every week through 1947, when the letters suddenly stop.

The Van Tuyll family is important in the Netherlands.  Hein's father was the first president of the Dutch Olympic Committee.  This statue outside the Olympic Stadium was erected in his honor.

This is the family coat of arms: three hounds, a crown, and two half-naked wild men carrying flowers.

"You should not marry," I repeated.  "Maybe Hein wasn't the marrying kind.  Could your Mom have been dating a gay guy?

"We should go to the Netherlands next summer," Lane said, "And look him up."

"Look up your mother's old boyfriend, and ask if he's gay?"

"It wouldn't hurt.  Or...maybe he has a hot gay son who will invite us to live in his castle.  We would be sort of like brothers, after all."

I was hesitant.  We spent last summer looking up Lane's heritage in Poland, and now we had to do it in the Netherlands?  But I could wrangle a side-trip to Amsterdam out of it, and maybe even Paris, so I agreed.

In the days before Google, family research was tough.  We couldn't track down Hein, but we found his son: 41 year old Sammy, the current Baron Van Tuyll.  We made the call, and got an invitation to visit.

Disappointingly, he didn't live in the family castle.  He had a house in Den Haag, where he worked for the Dutch Ministry of Finance.

Den Haag, Netherlands, June 1992

We spend three days in Paris (not nearly enough time), overnight in Brussels to look at the Grand-Place and the Mannekin Pis, and then take the 2 1/2 hour train trip across the border to Den Haag.

We're only going to spend a few hours: in the late afternoon, we'll get on the train to Amsterdam, where the bars and bathhouses of Warmoesstraat await.

But we have time to see the Escher Museum, walk through the Haagse Bos, an ancient forest in the city center, and meet the Dutch deputy minister of finance at the Allard Restaurant.

Sammy is youthful-looking and athletic, surprisingly hip, a rock musician as well as an economist.   But straight -- he shows pictures of his wife and four children.  We show him the letters.

"You must not marry.  We should be friends," he translates.  "I can't imagine what your mother meant.  Papa married in 1947.  There were never any problems between him and my mother, none that I could see."

Remembering the evidence that my grandfather was gay, I ask "Did he have a lot of male friends?  Maybe Rosa didn't want to compete."

"Oh, yes, Papa was very sociable.  He had a passion for sports.  He was always bringing home athletes: football players, rowers, bodybuilders...."

Lane and I exchange glances.  "Was he into bodybuilding?" I ask.  "I used to work for Muscle and Fitness."

"He didn't lift weights himself, but he loved bodybuilding as an art form.  I remember when Reg and Marian Park came to dinner -- a former Mr. Universe -- he was as excited as a schoolgirl with a crush on a pop star.  And this in a man who is the godfather of Queen Beatrix!"

A crush on Reg Park?  Shouldn't marry?  Was Hein gay or bi?

We keep our suspicions to ourselves.

Lane offers Sammy some of the letters. He takes four, including the last, written to Rosa in Los Angeles.

It ends with "After all, my dear Rosa, vriendschap is het enige dat telt."

Friendship is all that matters.

The uncensored post is on Tales of West Hollywood.

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