Displaced Persons After the Holocaust

The survivors said: "We were liberated, but we are not free."

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Cultural Life

The aftermath of the Holocaust witnessed for a few years a flourishing of Jewish life on German soil unknown in Imperial and Weimar Germany. The survivors created secular and religious forms of culture in Jewish languages--Yiddish and Hebrew--as opposed to German, which had been the language of the prewar German-Jewish culture and religion.

They published close to 100 Jewish newspapers in Europe during the immediate postwar years. Initially, the mostly Yiddish papers had to be printed in Latin characters owing to the lack of Hebrew printing presses. The first Yiddish newspaper, Tehiat Hametim (Resurrection of the Dead), in Buchenwald, appeared even before the war had ended, on 4 May 1945.

The most significant Yiddish newspaper in postwar Germany was Unzer Veg (Our Way), which appeared in Munich between 1945 and 1950 as the official organ of the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in Bavaria. Among the newspapers produced in the camps, the Landsberger Lager Cajtung in the American zone and Unzer Sztyme in the British zone received the most attention.

Besides news, the newspapers and journals published lists of survivors, recollections of concentration camp experiences, and literary supplements. An especially important historical source, the journal Fun letztn hurban (From the Last Destruction) was published by the Central Historical Commission of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the American Zone and contained numerous testimonies of survivors, pictures of the horror in the camps, and songs composed by the inmates.

The larger camps had their own theater troupes, the best known of which was the Munich Jewish Theater (MIT). Often the traumatic experiences of the previous years were reenacted on stage. The MIT troupe performed plays with such telling titles as Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of the Holy Name, which in Jewish tradition means martyrdom) or Yizkor, the name of the prayer for the dead.

Schools were established both for the few surviving children and for adults eager to acquire language skills and to prepare for new occupations. Many camps had their own yeshivas, often led by famous rabbinical authorities. Almost each camp had its own sports club, and Jewish soccer teams played each other in several regional leagues.

Most survivors had lost their entire families, and one of the most vivid expressions of their recovered will to live was to found new ones. Weddings were a regular scene in the larger DP camps, and the extremely high birth rate among Jewish survivors stood in blatant contrast to the birth rate among the German population.

Thus in 1945 there were 14 births per 1,000 Jewish DPs in Bavaria, but only five births per 1,000 among the non-Jewish population. The high number of births was also related to the atypical age structure among the survivors, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the University of Munich.