January 22, 2001
BOOK PUBLISHED BY UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM DETAILS LIFE IN DISPLACED PERSONS CAMPS
Special Program January 30, Celebrates Publication
WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the end of the Second World War tens of thousands of Jews who survived the horrors of the Holocaust found themselves without homes, countries, families or friends and living in displaced persons (DP) camps.
There, they soon established committees that governed the Jewish DP camps politically, and created schools, newspapers, religious institutions, theater companies and orchestras. In short order, yesterday’s candidates for death rediscovered love, married, and began new families, often in the shadow of mass-graves.
Life Reborn: Jewish Displaced Persons 1945 - 1951, published this month by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is the documentation from a four-day conference which detailed the often painful process of people putting their lives back together again and how a community came together to heal and grow and be reborn.
The keynote address at the conference was delivered by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, the founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The book also includes presentations by historians Yehuda Bauer and David Engel; Sam E. Bloch, who was the youngest member of the Jewish committee that governed the Bergen-Belsen DP camp in the British zone of Germany; Rabbi Herbert A. Friedman, former assistant to the advisor on Jewish affairs to the U.S. military authorities in Germany; novelist Thane Rosenbaum; psychologist Eva Fogelman; and Jean Bloch Rosensaft, curator of a photographic exhibition on the Bergen Belsen DP camp.
“This book is an important compendium of witness by the survivors and by the Second Generation,” says the Chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Rabbi Irving Greenberg. “All wisdom — and morality — starts with witness, which also provides the raw material for the history and analysis that will follow. We are also given an essential instruction that the witness dare not be apologetic or propagandistic; that would cheapen the awesome dignity of this topic. It is still too early for definitive scholarly treatments of this history. But this is a wonderful down payment, if you will, a first approximation of the comprehensive portraits that will follow.”
While much has been written about the Holocaust, until now relatively little has been known about the years immediately after World War II when the small number of survivors of the death camps returned to life in the DP camps scattered throughout Germany, Austria and Italy. Last January, a four-day conference organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and its Second Generation Advisory Group, chaired by Rositta Kenigsberg, in association with The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, shed light on the Jewish DP camps and their unique place in contemporary history.
In his introduction, Menachem Z. Rosensaft, the editor of the book, who was born in Bergen-Belsen — a notorious Nazi concentration camp that after liberation was transformed into the largest of the DP camps — explains that “Most people, including most Jews, think of Holocaust survivors as skeletal figures in striped uniforms staring aimlessly into the distance on the day of their liberation. And then they fast-forward 40 or 50 years to somber commemorations at which gray- and white-haired men and women mourn their dead by lighting candles and reciting memorial prayers. But what happened to the victims when they ceased to be victims? The main purpose of the conference was to expand the histographical boundaries of the Holocaust to incorporate what the survivors experienced and accomplished once they regained control of their destinies.”
Dr. Romana Strochlitz Primus, the chairperson of the conference, who was also born in Bergen-Belsen, points out that Jewish DPs did not succumb to despair. “While mourning the murdered and seeking desperately for possible living relatives, while living in deplorable housing on inadequate rations, they nonetheless understood the need to build new lives and regenerate the Jewish people. And so they did just that.”
To celebrate the publication of the 165-page book, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will host a special program at 7 p.m. on Tuesday January 30, 2001, which will include a book signing. The program is open to the public and reservations are suggested.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has hosted more than 15 million visitors since it opened in 1993, is the national institution for the documentation, study and interpretation of Holocaust history and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people who were murdered. The museum’s primary mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about the unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.