Last week we featured the personal journal and artwork of Holocaust survivor Reb Simcha Dobner. Reb Simcha was among the fortunate ones who survived to see the defeat of the Nazis, ym”s.
The end of the war, however, brought a host of new challenges. The liberating troops were horrified by the atrocities they confronted and did whatever they could to assist the survivors, but in the weeks and months that followed, those soldiers moved on to other areas or were rotated home, and they were replaced by newly drafted men who were often much more apathetic. Reb Simcha records in his diary the following disturbing account of mistreatment at the hands of Allied soldiers.
In the displaced persons camps after the war, there was a shortage of food. Bread was especially in demand; after years of malnourishment, the former inmates were unable to digest heavier foods properly. Out of sheer desperation, Reb Simcha and a friend went out to a civilian neighborhood to try to find something to eat. They knocked on the door of a German home. In the house were two British soldiers who brandished their rifles and told the Jews to “get lost” or they would be arrested. Reb Simcha and his friend were so weak and dejected that they could barely make it back to camp.
In addition to his memoir and drawings, Reb Simcha also donated to the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center several issues of the magazine Unzer Sztyme (Our Voice), published by survivors in Bergen-Belsen shortly after the war. In an editorial commemorating the first anniversary of the liberation, the author laments the sorry state of affairs for the surviving Jews in Europe. He writes that after all they endured, they had expected to be treated by their liberators with “a rushing surge of human emotion,” with excellent medical care and enough food to speed their recovery. Sadly, however, this was often not the case. Especially painful for them, according to the editorial, was their mistreatment by the German police, who “gloat once again when they have a Jew in their power.”
The magazine juxtaposes two illustrations, one of an arm tattooed with a number by the Germans, the other of a card with an ID number. These cards were issued to everyone in the DP camps to ensure efficiency and fair food distribution, but it struck a raw nerve for the survivors once again to be identified numerically.
These frustrations were expressed not only by the survivors. There were many Jewish servicemen in the army, and their letters bear testimony to the desperate situation of Jews in the DP camps.
KFHEC has a large collection of letters written by soldiers to Agudas Yisroel leader Reb Elimelech (Mike) Tress in New York. In one letter dated June of 1945, US serviceman Selig Chaim Tetove wrote from Linz, Austria: “The average G.I. sees to it that he gets food to his Austrian girlfriend and her family but treats the D.P. like a leper—wouldn’t go near him with a 40-foot pole… [He] knows by now how much the Jews have suffered and either doesn’t [care] or thinks they haven’t suffered enough.”
Some of the problems were rooted in the general attitude of the Allied forces. At other times they were the result of strict military regulations. For example, when an Allied solder entered enemy territory, any interaction with the enemy, even after liberation, was forbidden. Aaron Berger, an American soldier stationed in Possneck, Germany, made the following observation: “Our hands are tied. If we speak to [the Jews,] it’s called fraternizing…When they were tortured, it was because they were Jews; now we can’t talk to them because they are Germans!”
These were only a few of the difficulties endured by the newly liberated. They also faced deadly diseases, mental anguish, and anti-Semitic local residents, all of which posed serious threats to their stability and recovery. When we learn about these setbacks, we must not forget the efforts of individuals, organizations and many in the Allied armies who worked tirelessly to ease the plight of the survivors.
Even before KFHEC opens its doors, we hope that we will have the opportunity to present additional articles to enhance readers’ knowledge of the years following the war, the unique challenges faced by the survivors, and the siyata dishmaya it took for them to rebuild.