“From lager to lager until when?” accusingly shouted a banner in a refugee camp (DP) in the United States area after the British Mandate administration refused entry to Palestine. It was 1947. Only a year later, when the state of Israel was founded, conditions changed radically. The Jewish DPs leave the camps for Israel, the target of Zionism, others for the United States, which initially welcomed only 100,000. The waiting time between the end of the war and the Nazi regime is over.
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The German word “camp” has migrated into various languages as a synonym for the inhumanity to which Nazi Germany had systematically escalated. Reception camps were now also called “camps”, where displaced and uprooted people from all over Europe found temporary accommodation from May 1945, sometimes for years.
We must beware of false and trivializing analogies
The first special exhibition is dedicated to the three and a half million Jews in Europe who survived the Holocaust.
We must beware of false and, above all, trivializing analogies; however, in view of the refugee movement triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and which is increasing day by day, our thoughts turn to the omnipresence of flight and expulsion at all times in this restless world.
The documentation center shows a historical perspective
It is obvious that the foundation’s documentation center cannot give an up-to-date answer. Rather, it is the strength of the institution to always show the historical perspective for the present. The current exhibition, while dealing with a closed chapter of history, shines the spotlight on the present.
Because most of the Jews who survived 1945 came from those regions that are once again in the spotlight today: from Central and Eastern Europe whose political affiliations have continually changed. Regardless of the composition of the population, separating it according to ethnic-religious criteria is the most terrible achievement of the twentieth century.
Tens of thousands of Jews have fled to DP camps in the American zone
Significantly, at the beginning of the seven cities series in which the exhibition “Our Courage” chronicles the postwar interlude is Bialystok, subtitled “The Dead City”. In the catalog, exhibition curator Kata Bohus describes the futile attempt to reconstruct Jewish life, which failed due to the renewed outbreak of anti-Semitism. In Reichenbach in Silesia, which had become Dzierzoniów in Poland, a large Jewish community of up to 16,000 members, half the population, was formed, mainly because Lower Silesia was designated as a settlement area for 100,000 Polish Jews returning from the Soviet Union.
The pogroms of the summer of 1946 in Kielce and elsewhere then led tens of thousands of Jews to flee to DP camps in the American part of Germany. And only Dzierzoniów, with its Jewish infrastructure of schools, hospitals and sometimes even a Yiddish theater, remained exempt until the criminalization of Zionism emanating from Stalin’s Soviet Union in mid-1948 ended Jewish life.
Amsterdam, Bari and Budapest are other cities that are each presented in a separate chapter of the exhibition featuring exemplary fates, personal memorabilia and audio documents. Frankfurt am Main as the headquarters of the US area and consequently the DP camps, as well as East Berlin as the center of SBZ and communist activities, also reflect postwar political contrasts in their Jewish aspects.
The Zeilsheimer camp newspaper bore the title “Unterwegs”
Up to 165,000 DPs found refuge in the American zone, 110,000 of whom fled Poland in 1946/47 after the pogroms. During its existence in the Zeilsheim camp near Frankfurt lived about 3,000 Jews. “From their presence in the American occupation zone”, reads the book accompanying the exhibition, which is worth reading, “the refugees expected greater chances of emigrating to the US or Palestine” – which was also worth the overwhelming majority of the summer of 1948. A camp newspaper was started in Zeilsheim; its Yiddish title “Undzer mut” comes from a partisan song from 1943 and has given the current exhibition its significant title.
Because living in Germany, the country of the bombers, even if only “on the road” – as the Zeilsheim camp newspaper was soon renamed – required a lot of courage. Under communism, which rejected the persecution of Jews as a mere marginal social problem, independent Jewish life took place only temporarily after 1945.
[Dokumentationszentrum Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung, Stresemannstraße 90, bis 30. September. Katalog bei de Gruyter, 29,90 €.]
In 1945, Jews literally had to force their recognition as “victims of fascism”. On the “Day of the Victims of Fascism” of 1948, the Israeli flag flew between the pillars of the Old Museum, just before Stalin revolted against the Jewish state. Soon after, most of the Jewish community moved to West Berlin.
It is therefore not only a moving exhibition on a short chapter of the twentieth century in the description of individual destinies, but also a look at the global political processes in which the fate of the Jewish “displaced persons” was woven. Refugees who have lost their homeland are returning to Berlin again, are being looked after here and perhaps continue from here. History is never found only in hindsight, it is also what is happening in the present.